Reconstructing Political Psychology:
Current Obstacles and New Direction
University of California, Irvine
Political psychology, along with the rest of the social sciences, is at something of a crossroads. In part, this is an internal matter—the result of the exhaustion of existing paradigms. The product of psychological or sociological theorizing of the early and mid-20th century, these research paradigms have oriented political psychological research for most of the last 50 years. They did so because they were heuristically valuable and because they yielded considerable insight into the nature of political thought and behavior. Now, however, there is an increasing awareness that most of what can be done within these frameworks has indeed been accomplished. In response, there is a call for new direction emerging from within political psychology. The contributions in this volume by Robert Lane, David Winter, and Kristen Monroe are good examples of this.
At the same time, political psychology is being challenged from without. This is coming from two sources. Most direct is the challenge of contemporary social theory. Beginning with the poststructuralism of Foucault (1979, 1980) and continuing perhaps more radically with the postmodernism of the 1980s and 1990s (e.g., Derrida, 1978; Lyotard, 1984), theorists have challenged some of the foundational assumptions on which the social sciences in general and political psychology in particular have been built. They argue that our notions of what is true and real are less a result of some direct (or even mediated) experience of the world and are more a matter of culture. No longer anchored in an objective reality, free-