Reflections on the Local and the Global in Psychology: Innovation, Liberation and Testimonio*

By Bakker, Terri M. | The Qualitative Report, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Reflections on the Local and the Global in Psychology: Innovation, Liberation and Testimonio*


Bakker, Terri M., The Qualitative Report


This paper presents some reflections on the process of creating research, from the point of view of a psychologist working in an academic environment in a developing country which is undergoing social transformation. It explores some tensions between global and local concerns in research, and reflects on the relation between research, art, narration, and the person of the researcher. The ideas presented are based on the personal reflections of the author after developing a methodology for a qualitative research project. The aim is to open up areas of inquiry into the process of constructing research, rather than providing final answers, thus honouring the postmodern assumptions that are tentatively put forward as vehicle of innovation in research in a global psychology. Key Words: Local, Global, Psychology, Testimonio, and Postmodern

Between the Local and the Global: Innovation, Liberation and Testimonio

"The challenges of today's world require a 'new' psychology... We need to be aware of the risks of a global 'monocultural' psychology" (Marsella, 2007, p. 5).

Working as a psychologist in an academic environment in a developing country which is currently in the midst of social and political transformation, confronts one with many ambiguities and tensions in terms of local and global issues in psychology. Having lived almost my whole life in Pretoria, South Africa, and being a white middle class woman, necessarily impacts on the way I view psychology and research. Having also spent the last 18 years working on a university campus in Mamelodi, a township1 to the east of Pretoria, further impacted on these views. Lecturing psychology, doing research, and training counsellors and professional psychologists in this context brings an awareness of the limitations of mainstream approaches in the field and a sensitivity to social justice issues. It forces one to become aware of the differences between social worlds that have been historically, politically, geographically, economically and culturally separated. It highlights issues of in-betweenity, marginalisation, culture, and difference. This paper presents some of these tensions and reflects on possible ways of developing a truly global psychology that is inclusive of the knowledge at its margins and may be revitalised thereby. It explores how processes of qualitative inquiry could serve as avenues towards the development of such a psychology.

The ideas presented are based on personal reflections after developing a methodology for a qualitative research project. The aim of the project was to conserve and document the local knowledge developed in a psychology department, in response to experiences of marginalisation of staff after being incorporated into other institutions. This situation offered a challenge of responding appropriately to a complex situation through developing a qualitative method to address the research problem. Social constructionism, narrative psychology and postcolonial theory informed the premises of the study. These epistemological lenses position the person and socio-political location of the researcher at the centre of the research endeavour. Issues of power/knowledge, voice and marginalisation prompted the researcher to investigate ideas around research as activism and vehicle for liberation, resulting inter alia in the use of a testimonio to document the research findings.

Between the Local and the Global - Situating the Researcher

It was with hesitation that I wrote the first paragraph above. Many years of training in psychology has taught me not to draw attention to the person of the researcher in a discussion of research, especially not in a first paragraph! First-person writing belongs to literature and art, or, at most, to the subjects of qualitative psychological research studies, to be analysed afterwards by an invisible researcher. I have come to question these assumptions and I am emboldened in this by Ian Parker (2002) who proclaimed: "The first rule to break is, "don't talk about yourself" (p. …

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