A Textbook of Social Psychology

By Lemery, Charles | Canadian Psychology, August 2001 | Go to article overview

A Textbook of Social Psychology


Lemery, Charles, Canadian Psychology


J.E. ALCOCK, D.W. GARMENT, and Sm. SADAVA A Textbook of Social Psychology (5th Ed.) Toronto: Prentice Hall, 2001, 604 pages (ISBN 0-13-026354-0, C$87.95, Hardcover) Reviewed by CHARLES LEMERY

"Three computer keyboards; six hands. Not bad, eh, for two guys from Saskatchewan and the Ottawa Valley renegade, who have now done this five times." Thus ends the preface to Alcock, Garment, and Sadava's new edition of "the only English-Canadian social psychology textbook in existence." The quote shows nicely the self-effacing and deferential character of Canadian humour and its rather intimate connection to our vast landscapes. While there is considerable Canadian content in the volume (studies of bilingualism, intercultural relations, etc.), there is little to distinguish it, as psychology, from mainstream American social psychology. In particular, a methodology focused on the individual as the unit of analysis and the statistical analysis of variables clearly reveals the metatheoretical ground upon which the text is built, Canadian content notwithstanding.

The authors appear, however, to recognize some of these problems. They question the relevance of American social psychology to Canadian contexts by comparing the u.s. constitutional dictum of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" within the cultural "melting pot" of America with that of Canada's British North America Act - "peace, order, and good government" - within the "cultural mosaic" north of the 49th parallel. They briefly discuss the possible naivety of applying reductive methodologies imported from the natural sciences to complex social phenomena. They note that the early history of social psychology was "marked by an euphoric optimism" about the application of the methods of science to human problems. "Surely ... the same approach that had yielded spectacular advances in our understanding of medicine, atomic physics, chemistry and geology would help us to understand and eventually solve the problems of violence, crime, poverty and prejudice" (p. 9). But, as they carry on to observe, "the serious social problems are still with us" (p. 9). Perhaps, they venture, "social problems are more complex than biological or physical phenomena and will not so easily be solved" (p. 9).

Following the introductory mention of such central issues, however, the text goes on to assume the now very familiar format upon which virtually all North American introductory texts in social psychology are patterned. There is a brief introduction, including a brief history of the field, followed by a chapter on methods, and then exposes, in turn, of all the familiar content areas of North American social psychology, from social cognition and attribution, to attitudes and conformity, to aggression and violence, to leadership and group behaviour, and, finally, to issues of social psychology and the law and health psychology.

The authors have produced here, for the most part, an example of the social psychology textbook that has dominated the North American academic landscape for more than a generation, which is a social psychology largely under the influence of naive empiricism, generally nonhistorical and nonideological in its approach, and otherwise (and amazingly) undisturbed by over 30 years of debate on the crisis in social psychology or more recent postmodernist and critical approaches based on history, language and discourse, politics, feminism, social/historical constructionism, and notions of community.

Indeed, what is most striking about the book is what is missing in it. There is no serious discussion of feminist psychology or feminism (e.g., Cherry, 1993). Nor is there any mention of postmodernist influences (hermeneutics, Derrida, Foucault), critical psychology (Fox & Prilleltensky, 1997; Tolman, 1994), symbolic interactionism (Mead, Blumer), community psychology, the analysis of discourse, intersubjectivity, Vygotsky's socio-cultural-historical approach, and so on. …

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