Psy-Complex in Question traces a series of key debates in and against the psy-complex through critical reviews of twenty-five key texts over the last twenty-five years, with an emphasis on recent critical psychological, psychoanalytic and critical social theory contributions to how we think about human agency and subjectivity. The reviews together set out the unfolding context for the debate, and situate the texts under discussion in the cross-cutting debates that define critical psychology today. It also provides an accessible introduction to how psychoanalysis and social theory, with a particular focus on the work of Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek, bears upon work carried out by a new generation of researchers. Ian Parker's book is written from the perspective of a critical insider to the discipline of psychology, psychoanalysis and social theory, and it will serve as a primer for those new to the ideas searching for compass points and radical arguments, as well as examples of how to write and how not to write a book review.
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Constructing the Subject
Danziger, K. (1990) Constructing the Subject: Historical Origins of Psychological Research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kurt Danziger's book, which we can take to be about how to read the history of psychology, also necessarily raises issues as to how we should read the critical history he presents. The final chapter, 'The social construction of psychological knowledge', foregrounds a number of theoretical positions that the reader could mobilise to make sense of the material in the preceding ten chapters. The tensions between these theoretical positions are the source of both the weaknesses and the strengths in the book overall.
It is fitting to start this review with the author's glance back over his text, a text which is now intractably there as the condition for what can be said next; for the conceptual apparatus of psychology is a text of this type, and we can only glance back as subjects and objects of its gaze, positioned by the discourses of the discipline. Danziger argues that 'we have been examining the dependence of the knowledge product on the conditions of its production, and this has necessarily entailed a deconstruction of the generally false claims to universality that were commonly made on behalf of psychological knowledge' (p. 191). Accounts of the production of knowledge, the deconstruction of that knowledge, and a position of truth from which we could evaluate it are assumed here and back in the rest of the text.
Danziger presents, in chapter six, 'Identifying the subject in psychological research', a history of the constitution of the object of psychology (that object which experimenters, in a typically bizarre elision of human and machine, call the 'subject'), a history which is open to a Foucauldian recasting later on in the book but which mercifully does not, in the actual account, incant the terms 'observation', 'surveillance', 'calibration' and 'regulation' in every paragraph. It would perhaps have been appropriate, however, to extend the theoretical gloss on the history to show how the relationship between researcher and researched (and subject and object) became part of the conditions of possibility for the emergence of the 'psy-complex'. The 'psy-complex' is the set of institutions, practices and popular representations of psychology within which each member of the population is understood (and within which they understand themselves). The Foucauldian complement of Danziger's book here would be Rose's (1985) The Psychological Complex.
The meticulous tracing of the relationship between the theoretical architecture of our academic research sector of the psy-complex and the economic practices of professional investi- gation in chapters five, 'The triumph of the aggregate', and seven, 'Marketable methods', is an effective destruction of the truth claims of psychology, but whether this is a deconstruction is another matter. The use of the term 'deconstruction' has come to mean many things, and it is used often now as a synonym for 'critique'. But Danziger's use of the term a page after a fairly lucid account of Foucault's (1977) work raises the question of how we should undermine the privilege accorded to psychological expertise, and use, as leverage against that expertise, other subju- gated forms of knowledge. When Danziger argues that psychology makes 'generally false claims' to universality, he quickly (too quickly, perhaps) turns to address critics of his position who might read this as an abandonment of any true knowledge and reassures them that interdisciplinary work should be able to sift through the history of psychology and rescue findings that could be treated as true. There is a brief appeal in earlier pages to Roy Bhaskar's (1989) realism, but the style of argument here is closer to the programme of German 'Critical Psychology' around Klaus Holzkamp (1992) (though shorn of Marxism).
Through most of the book the adjudication as to how material from psychology's past should be treated as true or false would seem to be for Danziger, in some form, a scientific question. Chapter three, 'Divergence of investigative practice: The repudiation of Wundt', for example, retells in detail the story of the ways in which Wundt, as a kind of sorcerer's apprentice, constructed a variety of laboratory experimentation by means of which he did not intend to investigate all mental processes, and which carefully demarcated forms of introspection not amenable to psychological investigation. Laboratory experimentation then became the fetish of followers (such as Titchener) whose work then distorted and consumed Wundt's own: 'Virtually everything that happened in modern psychology was a repudiation of Wundt, explicitly or implicitly' (p. 34). Elsewhere, however, the (explicitly 'false') positivism of most psychology is counterposed to (implicitly 'true') 'common sense'. The question which must be asked whenever the category of 'common sense' is appealed to, or counterposed to scientific knowledge, is 'whose common sense?' (For many white male middle-class psychologists, the discipline of psychology is their common sense.) Some varieties of common sense enjoy power over others, and a critical history of psychology needs to connect with those who suffer this power and the complex that buttresses it.
At the very end of the book, Danziger takes up the political nature of his history, and (quite rightly) explores the alliances that psychologists could make with those outside the discipline. This is a fraught question at present for social constructionist psychology, particularly in the United States, for it now seems clear that the success or failure of a critique of psychology rests not so much either on the internal coherence of the argument or on the probity of 'our' scientific community, as on the links between researchers 'inside' the discipline and those 'outside'.
Danziger carefully describes in chapter two, 'Historical roots of the psychological laboratory', the split between subject and object in scientific procedures which constituted Wundtian modern psychology, and he deals well in chapter eight, 'Investigative practice as professional product', with the construction of a community which takes certain procedures and 'facts' as given, and other ways of seeing as outside the domain of proper science. The question is, then, an 'alliance' with whom?
An instructive case in point here concerns the quite different reception of two different critical psychology texts in the public realm, and the reasons why there were those different receptions. Compare Carol Gilligan (1982) counterposing the (stereotypically masculine) 'objectivity' of positivist psychology to a feminist understanding of women's 'common' sense (the 'different voice') with Ken Gergen (1991) who counterposes the truth claims of modern 'sciences' such as psychology (which think they are arriving at the truth) to postmodern and fragmented forms of narrative (in which no social construction is 'true'). Gilligan gained the respect and support of many women inside and outside psychology, while Gergen has recently attracted some (very) negative public attention (e.g. New York Times Book Review, 23 June 1991). The issue is not so much that Gilligan replaced psychological truth with feminine truth and that Gergen will replace psychological truth with nothing, as an issue to do with the nature of the alliances that each account permits. Gilligan succeeded in producing an account which resonated with the experiences of women oppressed by the institutions of the psy-complex and made an effective alliance with them, while Gergen has succeeded in ruling out an appeal to the experience of any oppressed group 'outside' the discipline, and has thereby necessarily failed to make an alliance with anyone. Like most other histories of psychology, Danziger's is, by default, male (etc.), but he does pose the question as to who we write our histories for.
Constructing the Subject is a thorough account of the production of the science of mental life, a science which has succeeded in simultaneously sapping and feeding the forms of individuality that people in the dominant culture of the West experience themselves as possessing. At many points, through the rhetorical devices of cautious style, the use of figures and tables and standard photographs from the history of psychology, the text could be read as a standard history. At other points, when the connections with theoretical and historical perspectives are identified (albeit buried in the footnotes), the account touches a deconstructive dynamic and a radical social constructionism which really could, as Danziger hopes, reach out 'to groups of people who are more interested in psychological knowledge as a possible factor in their own emancipation than as a factor in their management and control of others' (p. 197).
Foucault, Psychology and the Analytics of Power
Hook, D. (2007) Foucault, Psychology and the Analytics of Power. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Psychology is a conceptual apparatus that now functions as one of the most important disciplinary mechanisms in contemporary neoliberal society. It provides and furnishes dominant models of the self in much of the English-speaking world, and it operates as a moral compass for how we should make sense of our behaviour, our thoughts and our sentiments. It is also one of the most powerful pretenders to scientific legitimation of psychotherapeutic practice, and so it is a force that professionals working in all fields of mental health have to reckon with. There have been many critiques over the years, but psychology has succeeded quite well so far in defending itself against various Marxist, feminist, humanist and psychoanalytic attempts to displace it from centre stage, to challenge its peculiar normalizing definitions of what health and happiness should be like. The resources psychology mobilises in response to these critiques - resources it often mobilises without even having to think about what it is doing - have been the focus of critical analytic work in the last 30 years, work that draws on the theory of Michel Foucault. Now Derek Hook has seized the baton and runs faster and further than other Foucauldians to date.
Foucault provides an invaluable alternative historical vocabulary, a counter-language and counter-memory, to tackle the way the discipline of psychology has become embedded in networks of practical-theoretical space, the 'psy-complex'. Those networks of power-knowledge at the one moment warrant the turn to the individual subject as target of programmes of social engineering. At the very same moment, apparatchiks in those networks call upon this particular discipline, psychology, to implement those programmes. The detailed analytic study undertaken by Foucault and a number of associated historians and social theorists begs a question as to how psychology could really continue when it has been dismantled by such critics so effectively, so many times.
It is necessary to remind ourselves that the survival of psychology in the face of these waves of critical work cannot only be put down to how it is intermeshed with other elements of the psy-complex and with even more deep-rooted ideological and state practices. The problem is twofold. Either Foucauldian work on psychology has tended to be elaborated in painstaking detail from outside the discipline, which makes it too easily discounted by those inside who pull down the shutters against the rabble and their representatives in sociology, who should not speak about what they do not understand. Or Foucault has been mixed and matched with a variety of deconstructive or so-called postmodern complaints inside the discipline, complaints that can then be dismissed as being but parts of a chorus of illegitimate political grievances.
Now, at last, in Foucault, Psychology and the Analytics of Power, Hook draws the reader into a sustained engagement with and deployment of Foucault's work that cuts from inside the belly of the beast. This book shows how psychology is embodied in the subjects upon whom the discipline works, and he shows how it is located in forms of space that must be configured as forms of power. At the same time he deals with those who have diluted Foucault's arguments on grounds of political expediency, and the book traces an ambitious arc of argumentation that dispatches along the way 'discursive' psychologists who reduce genealogy to the play of language. So, there is discussion of therapeutic constructions that treats them as disciplinary practices, and an analysis of embodiment that proceeds by 'desubstantializing' power. Historical analysis, which Hook demonstrates through a close reading of the construction of aberrant forms of sexuality, must take seriously Foucault's dictum that knowledge is not made for understanding but for cutting. The reference Foucault makes to 'heterotopia' (in lectures at the Collège de France in 1975-1976, published in 2003) is used to good effect to open up relations between power, knowledge and the organisation of space in gated community spaces in South Africa (from which many of the examples in the book are drawn). And then we are plunged back into the heart of psychology again in the final chapter with an examination of how affect might be retrieved by those working with Foucauldian ideas in the discipline.
So far, so good. There are, however, some points in this inspiring and energetic book where we have to be careful not to get swept along by the argument, and these actually turn around Hook's allegiance to Foucault. On the one hand, there is an attempt to remain faithful to his master, perhaps too faithful. On the other hand, there are some departures, and these departures are also quite problematic. So, for example, Hook too quickly endorses a particular reading of Foucault that loyally sides with him against Marxism and a class analysis. Does being faithful to Foucault really require such a sharp differentiation from Marx? There is a peculiar moment, for example, when we are told that Foucault shows us that power does not only function as a commodity, and this is linked to what is glossed as Foucault's 'wider critique of Marxist forms of thought' (p. 64). But this really is precisely where Foucault coincides with Marx, for their analyses of commodification under capitalism concern, among other things, how phenomena like power come to be understood, how they come to operate for each individual subject. Hook's representation of Marxism makes it seem complicit with capitalism, both concepts to be studiously avoided, of course. This line of argument is also unfortunately symptomatic of much contemporary Foucauldian scholarship, an ideological trend of work that is actually itself complicit with capitalism and hostile to political traditions on the left that still insist that another world is possible.
It is one of the conventional wisdoms of much Foucauldian work that even references to capitalism should be treated with suspicion, and while Foucault himself was often quite explicit about the connections between his work and the Marxist tradition, there is a danger now that refusal of all forms of power will simply fold into a refusal to take responsibility for the process of social change. Or, to put it more bluntly, that the social forces that can really challenge psychology and the psychologi- sation of politics - Marxism and feminism to name but two such social forces - will be blocked by those who see these political traditions as simply new manifestations of power knowledge.
And then, Hook takes another tack late in the book where he seems to want to take a distance from Foucault. There are intima- tions of this right back in the first chapter where there is a to-and- fro worrying about whether this line of work means dispensing with all of psychology or whether there might possibly be room for a little bit of it, the little that might be for good rather than bad. This good psychology could, perhaps, Hook suggests, draw on the work of Vygotsky, but he does not then show us how that particular framework might, as he puts it, 'fill in the blanks' (p. 61). By the last chapter, which is an impressive discussion of the place of affect in forms of governmentality, this possible good psychology has a new name, psychoanalysis. Here we are pulled into a puzzle about whether it might be possible to put psycho- analytic and Foucauldian analysis together. One of the advan- tages of Foucault's work is that it can be used to show the difference between psychoanalysis and psychology, and it would be irony indeed if Hook succeeded in conflating the two; at least, in a first move, running some kind of 'critical psychology' together with an avatar of psychoanalysis that then, necessarily, must betray psychoanalysis.
We could instead turn Foucault against Hook so that our Foucault becomes allied with Marxism, albeit in a tense uncertain relationship with it - and then it would be even more useful to interrogate forms of therapeutic practice like psychoanalysis, drawing attention to class dynamics that suffuse transference and interpretation. And we should then ensure that this Foucault never gives ground on the critique of psychology, and so is all the better able to resist the lure of what appears to be the reverse of psychology while it all the more insidiously inscribes it; that is, what now masquerades as psychoanalysis in 'scientific' evidence- based versions of treatment but simply does the work of psychology more efficiently because it is better attuned to the vagaries of neoliberalism. Debate on these issues - the opportunity to weigh up the arguments and find our way to a more tactical political reading of Foucault in and against psychology-is what Hook opens up in this marvellous book.
Excerpted from "Psy-Complex in Question"
Copyright © 2017 Ian Parker.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Review and Critique in the Psy-Complex, 1,
Part I: On Psychology and Psychotherapy, 9,
1. Constructing the Subject, 10,
2. Foucault, Psychology and the Analytics of Power, 15,
3. Psychology without Foundations, 20,
4. A Critical Psychology of the Postcolonial: 'Race', Racism and Psychology, 26,
5. Research in Practice, 36,
6. The Politics of Psychotherapy, 41,
7. Implausible Professions, 51,
Part II: On Psychoanalysis and with Lacan, 55,
8. Freudian Repression, 56,
9. Freud and American Sociology, 69,
10. Psychoanalysis Outside the Clinic, 73,
11. Reading French Psychoanalysis, 82,
12. The Art of Shrinking Heads, 86,
13. The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, 89,
14. A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis, 96,
15. The Subject of Addiction, 105,
16. Loving Psychoanalysis, 110,
17. Lacan on Madness, 113,
18. The Subject of Psychosis, 118,
19. Being Irrational, 123,
20. The Lacanian Left, 136,
Part III: On Social Theory and with Zizek, 143,
21. The Sublime Object of Ideology, 144,
22. The Parallax View, 147,
23. Zizek, Theology, Psychoanalysis and Trauma, 151,
24. Zizek's Politics, 156,
25. On Zizek's Dialectics, 163,