Academic journal article International Journal of Psychological Studies

Evolution of the Links between Research and Applications in Psychology across the United States and France: Illustrations and Consequences of an Endless Conflict

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychological Studies

Evolution of the Links between Research and Applications in Psychology across the United States and France: Illustrations and Consequences of an Endless Conflict

Article excerpt

Abstract

The author focuses on a historical analysis of the conflicting links between what is called "applications" or "practices" on the one hand and "theoretical research" or "experimental research" or "fundamental research" on the other, by following trends and cultures. Despite numerous declarations of intent advocating the need to link practices and theories, the fact remains that both types of psychology tend to move further and further away from this aim, since the birth of psychology. This growing gap questions the possibility of a total division between "applied psychology" and "fundamental psychology". First, the author discusses the complexity of the terms used by the different authors, such as "applied psychology", "practical psychology" and "concrete psychology", compared to other terms such as "academic", "experimental", "theoretical", "fundamental psychology", etc. These different names are considered as an indicator of the fluctuations in the relationship between applications and theories. Second, the author shows that the field categories in psychology were built upon different foundations in France and underlines the consequences of this process. This viewpoint will be illustrated by a French case: that of the creation and dissemination of a new psychological discipline at the end of the 80s. The interest of this example is that it shows the disparities between the academic theories and practical developments. In addition, it allows us to highlight its tension lines, with considerable consequences for students and practitioners. The discussion shows the need to implement a real space that enables the analysis of concrete practices by psychologists considered as producers of new knowledge, and in this way to make the construction of new psychology models possible.

Keywords: applied psychology, concrete psychology, academic psychology, experimental psychology, conflicting links

1. Introduction

This text (Note 1) focuses on a historical analysis of the conflictual links between what is called "applications" (Geissler, 1917) or "practices" (Munsterberg, 1917) on the one hand and "theoretical research" or "experimental research" (Danziger, 1985) on the other, following trends and cultures. Indeed, despite numerous declarations of intent advocating the need to link practices and theories, the fact remains that both types of psychology tend to move further and further away from this, since the birth of psychology (Driesch, 1925; Cartwright, 1978). This distancing will even question certain researchers, as we will see, on the need for a total division between applied psychology and fundamental psychology.

In this article, we start by presenting the complexity of the evolution of the terms "applied psychology" (Geissler, 1917), "practical psychology" (Munsterberg, 1915) and "concrete psychology" (Politzer, 1928) compared to "academic", "experimental", "theoretical", "fundamental psychology" (Boring, 1950). We follow the debates on the various names given to "applied psychology" in the United States from its beginning to the end of the 19th century. These semantic debates, far from being anecdotal, show the fluctuations in the relationships between applications and theories (Kanfer, 1990; Louw, 1993).

Second, we briefly show how the categories of the various psychology fields were built on different foundations in France and what the consequences were. We illustrate our viewpoint with a case: that of the creation and dissemination of a new psychology discipline in France at the end of the 80s. Health psychology as designed in the United States. The advantage of this case is that it shows the disparities between the academic theories and practical developments and helps to better highlight the tension lines (Santiago-Delefosse, 2012). This comparison also underlines the risks of taking these concepts from a given culture without being aware of its historical origins, or of the debates taking place within that culture (Bayer & Shotter, 1998). …

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