Psychology, Society, and Subjectivity: An Introduction to German Critical Psychology

Psychology, Society, and Subjectivity: An Introduction to German Critical Psychology

Psychology, Society, and Subjectivity: An Introduction to German Critical Psychology

Psychology, Society, and Subjectivity: An Introduction to German Critical Psychology

Synopsis

"One result of the European student movements of the late 1960s was a critique of the mainstream, bourgeois social sciences. They were seen as irrelevant to the real needs of ordinary people and as practically and ideologically supporting oppression. The discussions around psychology in Berlin at the time became increasingly focused on whether the discipline could in fact be reformed. Some insisted that any form of institutionalized social science was necessarily oppressive, while others remained optimistic about the possibilities for an emancipatory science. Among the latter was a group under the leadership of Klaus Holzkamp at the Free University who undertook an intensive critique of psychology with a view to identifying and correcting its theoretical and methodological problems and thus laying the groundwork for a genuine 'critical' psychology. Psychology, Society, and Subjectivity relates the history of this development, the nature of the group's critique, its reconstruction of psychology, and its implications for psychological thought and practice. It will be of interest to anyone keen on making psychology more relevant to our lives." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Is a science of the human subject possible? This is not a new question. Its roots are as old as the mind-body problem itself, but it first came noticeably to the surface with the development of a self-conscious social science. It thus lay at the heart of nineteenth-century debates around the natural sciences (Naturwissenschaften) and the mental sciences (Geisteswissenschaften). This debate had its focus in Germany, where the answer given to our question by such prominent figures as Wilhelm Wundt, Wilhelm Dilthey, and Edmund Husserl was an emphatic ‘Yes!’. They insisted that the human subject, being something quite special in nature, required its own science. For Wundt this was the Völkerpsychologie; for Dilthey it was hermeneutics, while for Husserl it was phenomenology. Each was marked both by a definition of its subject matter as distinct from that of the natural sciences, and by one or more methods that were also distinct and generally not ‘experimental’ in the usual sense of the term.

For some German but especially British and American philosophers, psychologists, and social scientists the answer to the question was less univocal. It could be ‘yes’, but only under certain conditions. The main one was a willingness to reduce the seemingly distinctive qualities of the human subject to the more familiar processes of physics, chemistry, and physiology. The answer was ‘no’ for some who denied that there was anything worth reducing in the first place. This is also a species of reductive answer and it helps to reveal an important ambivalence in reductionism. Nowhere is this more apparent than in John B. Watson’s attitudes towards consciousness. Unable to decide for himself which form of reductionism was more appropriate, he sometimes denied outright the existence of anything that could be called ‘consciousness’, while at other times he treated it as something that could be equated to the use of language, which, in turn, was understood as conditioned muscular movements. Watson exhibited yet a third position, again reflecting the fundamental ambivalence of his position: consciousness may exist, but it was of no concern to science. This view is actually a product of the other two and shows up the hidden dualist metaphysics that reductionism preserves while claiming to repudiate.

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