Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.
For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.
Society is undergoing a process of deep change and transformation as the neoliberal order moves into crisis. Contemporary psychology, mired in exceptionalism and individualism, fails to address this broader context and continues with a fragmented reductionist approach which is alienating to students and practitioners alike. In the lifetime of the discipline there have been several distinct frameworks to emerge - psychoanalytic, behaviourist and cognitive. To these one might add Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory as the last attempt to present a coherent and challenging framework for how to understand our lives. As society moves into a new phase, Ron Roberts argues the need for a new way of ‘doing’ psychology which challenges not only the existing epistemological and reductionist outlook, but the centrality of a scientific professional discourse as a suitable vehicle for improving lives and making sense of the world.
|Publisher:||Hunt, John Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.44(w) x 8.65(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Introduction: Psychology, Old and New?
I always thought psychology goes on in the writing. So one of the questions I used to ask was how do you write psychology? Well, you must write it so that it touches the soul, or it's not psychology. It has to have that moving quality of experience, and that means it has to have many sorts of metaphors and absurdities and things that go with life. Otherwise you're writing an academic or a scientific description of something but it's no longer psychology
– James Hillman (in Hillman & Shamdasani, 2013, p.200)
The truly important thing is to discover the conditions of life
– Walter Benjamin (1999, p.147)
The art and practice of attempting to make sense of the human condition, to follow the flow of what Baudelaire (2010, p.33) described as "the great rivers of the human heart," has almost entirely disappeared from contemporary psychology. It has joined the long list of activities superseded by the relentless onward march of scientific rationalism with its accompanying misplaced belief that wisdom comes through technological prowess (Burak, 2016). Any attempt to grasp the essence of the human organism, to be deemed worthy, must be evidently "modern" and measurable – willing and able to keep at arm's length what the artist Paul Cezanne referred to as the "rainbow of chaos." The "strange, the disorderly and the uncertain" (Starosta, 2007, p.147), what Freud referred to as the "uncanny," much of the rich complexity and quirkiness that makes human life interesting, has been pushed aside: it is a quest for intellectual respectability and, it must be said, a media-driven aesthetic to convey the essential and by now expected technological geewhizz factor in the fifteen seconds or so available before the presumed attention span of the audience disappears down a black hole. This is not a recipe for deep thinking. The irony is that in this modernist quest to advance psychological science, it is the very trappings of modernity, "the transient, the fleeting, the contingent" (Baudelaire, 2010, p.17) present in human life, which are most easily overlooked in the search for enduring universals. Baudelaire set his critical gaze on the relationship between industry and art – seeing the former as the "mortal enemy" (ibid, p.110) of the latter.
The sceptical gaze of the modern (public) critic however is seldom directed to the problematic relation between industry and science. While art critics exist in abundance and regularly dispense their wares to the viewing and reading public, media critics of science are to be noted for their absence, with the long cold reach of Big Science and Big Pharma being acknowledged concerns only for political activists, disgruntled beneficiaries of dysfunctional psychiatry and that rare breed of critical psychologists and psychotherapists. A public appetite for critical science is one to which editors and proprietors remain oblivious. Social science meanwhile remains a distant speck on the televisual horizon. But what is presumed newsworthy about art rarely extends beyond the cost a work may fetch at auction or whether the performance and display of it is deemed worthy of public attention in the form of bums on theatre seats or a physical presence in galleries. The effect that a given work may have on one's outlook or understanding of the world is often no more than an afterthought. Art is commercial in a different sense to science. Science by comparison is reckoned to be of import only by virtue of its capacity to generate (or be a party to) industrial innovation; novel copy regarding dubious medical breakthroughs (cures for cancer treated as a single-disease entity top the list); the latest technological developments in the digital sphere; unreplicated findings about the human brain; and the occasional glimpse of outer space. Is there life out there? Sadly, discussion is precluded as to whether intelligent life permeates the media, or anything other than greed hangs in the polluted air breathed in by those mysterious entities periodically and enigmatically referred to as "investors."
Why truth should conform to institutional strictures on respectability, scientific manageability, profit potential or newsworthiness passes without comment, leaving behind a mood of dull intellectual caution and stupor. This has not happened overnight. Whereas scientifically minded psychologists now regularly chase the news, just a few decades ago students could study psychology, theoretically at least, as an arts based discipline and seriously engage in philosophical and existential contemplation of the vicissitudes of life, love and reason. The insights of psychoanalysts of a variety of different hues – Freud, Jung, Bowlby, Reich, Fromm, Winnicott, Laing, to name but a few – were open to contemplation. From the earlier years of the twentieth century and at least into the 1960s and 1970s – even if by then on the margins of the discipline – one felt entitled to grapple with the intangible problems of human existence, pose questions about the two-way street that links the individual and society, and interrogate the discipline and its methods. The freedom to address these larger questions permitted a more open and questioning relationship between the student and the subject matter. Much has since been lost. These were times when a place still existed for individual stories – where each tale could shine a light on the marvels and tragedies fashioned by the contingencies of life, where the multitude of feelings and meanings woven into the text burst out and made common cause with the life and times of the reader. Nineteenth-century psychology closed with William James' Principles of Psychology and Freud's nascent steps into the murky depths of the unconscious. In these works human feelings, desires and foibles occupied the centre stage of psychology.
As the curtain came down on the twentieth century, narrative flow had given way to the stagnant waters of statistical and experimental prose, Freud had been relegated to a sideshow – outlawed, rarely performed, seldom advertised and reliant on a crew of ill-informed academic players barely able to remember the lines. The "everyday struggle to maintain integrity" (Starosta, 2007, p.163) and the search for universal themes in the particulars of a single life disappeared into a labyrinth of enforced forgetfulness. This was the "decade of the brain" – and the scarcity of the soul, sponsored with billions of corporate dollars – the collection of one's neural matter having supplanted the psyche, which most psychologists had by then ceased to believe in. At one university I worked in, undergraduate students were informed at their induction that they were "not here to study the soul." Many seemed satisfied with the behavioural substitute on offer – but many I suspect were left with a profound disappointment. As the new century dawned psychologists had become convinced that neuroscience is not only the way to rescue the world from human folly, but also the sure-fire way to solve the mystery of being.
The malaise which besets contemporary scientifically minded psychology has scarcely registered amongst the majority of its practitioners. This may have something to do with the ongoing exclusion of such human preoccupations as justice, democracy, purpose, feeling and love – not to mention the everyday business of getting through the day – from its impersonal lexicon. It is also closely connected with the fact that the art and practice of reflecting on the nature of what is practised is seldom encouraged or engaged with. Psychology assumes and institutionalises the primacy of (cognitive) representation over action in all matters that are supposedly relevant and that it thinks we ought to know. But this one assumption, like most assumptions, is never put to the test. While science as a social institution has received increasing attention from sociologists of knowledge – rarely to the pleasure of scientific practitioners, it must be said – psychology as such an institution has received none. Without this we are poorly placed to understand how its functions, practices and "products," as well as its aims, both reflect and affect the wider society of which we are a part, and how it has progressively transformed public as well as private knowledge of self, the world and others. Understanding of the political economy of psychology (Roberts, 2015) and its relations with other social institutions (e.g. education, publishing, defence, law, medicine) needs to be augmented by an appreciation of its epistemological and moral transformative power. To engage in such an undertaking one need not accept as a prerequisite the self-proclaimed unity of the discipline.
The many divisions within academic psychology can give the impression that there is little but the name to hold the floundering whole together, and afford little or no opportunity to reflect on what the whole actually is – if it is anything at all beyond a discursive deception, a linguistic fiction drowning in a sea of ideological emptiness. Most academics spend the entirety of their careers knowing little or nothing about what their colleagues do. This is encouraged by the culture of academic specialism and reinforced by the increasingly impersonal nature of psychology which can find no space for human interest. The cultivated image of what psychology now is carries the imprimatur and seal of corporate approval. Just as movie-goers were not so long ago instructed that Matt Damon is Jason Bourne, since the cognitive revolution we are told psychology is now neuroscience. Neuroscience however is not psychology nor as coherent as a Bourne film. The dominance of this approach carries the thinly veiled mechanistic veneer of a new authoritarian or totalitarian aesthetic – the human information-processing ballet in which man and woman are remade as machine – a "representational perversion" (Guéry & Deleule, 2014, p.103). It is a makeover many might not like if applied to themselves. The phantasmagorical ghost, guarding the secret of being, has been exorcised, left to roam the wild open spaces of public and poetic imagination, discarded from the psychological machine. The soul is the remit of the poet, the computational brain the remit of the scientist. Social science has undertaken the journey from Marcuse's one-dimensional man to zero-dimensional machine – all avenues beyond critical thought and the humanistic imperative squeezed from reality. But is this such a good idea? Is something not lost in the failure to embrace what poetry can tell us? Freud's psychology in James Hillman's eyes had been founded upon the poetic basis of the mind – not easy to reconcile with our contemporary faith in a coming scientific utopia. We may ask whether enlightenment only embraces the rational linear mind. And if so, is this enlightenment at all? The idea that a person is essentially a machine is a fantasy – but a fantasy seldom recognised as such.
Behind the clockwork make-believe lurks a disdain for and fear of the time-limited nature of our bodily existence and a palpable and unseemly craving to extinguish what is recognisably human on the road to cybernetic and bio-computational immortality. Psychology continues to build promises on the premise that fundamental psychological processes exist that can be isolated, identified and controlled outside of any discernible context in which human beings find themselves and seek to understand their predicament. Under the guiding hand of this fantasy our conception of the machine has evolved from a metallic to an organic-synthetic hybrid. This is an aesthetic built not upon a love of human nature, but a contempt for it. The result is free of the complexities of gender, class, culture or history. Similarly our desires for what a well-functioning society looks like shift imperceptibly from the chaotic and free toward the ordered and determined, in harmony with the increasing top-down corporate command-control abolition of autonomy and democracy. Big Business and the press tell what us what to think and the academy responds in kind on its way to what Terry Eagleton described as a "slow death" at the hands of global capitalism. It ought to be considered odd that as science fiction plays with these tropes, the brutalities of the economic cycle rarely feature in the utopian and dystopian visions of the future – as if even in our worst imaginings we have developed a sensibility beyond greed and evaded the inevitabilities of boom and bust.
A further oddity is that as acceptance of this scientific myth has seeped further into our cultural consciousness, writers, artists and filmmakers have continuously explored the philosophical, ethical and dramatic possibilities of intelligent, self-cognisant machines being embodied with emotions – recognising as they have done so the possibility that emotion is an intelligible, necessary and perhaps inevitable response to the challenges of life, rooted in the physical embodiment of consciousness. Being conscious, one is always necessarily aware of one's physical existence in the world and with it actual and potential changes in one's state precipitated by change in the world. That is, being aware brings with it a feeling of being aware. Feelings, therefore, inhabit the boundary spaces between self and not self and by virtue of this action, elude and resist scientific representation. For the artist questions of meaning, feeling and purpose are intrinsic to such possibilities of being. They are not explained away simply because the substrate of their being is an embodied one. So it is that as art has sought to imbue machines with emotions, scientists have sought to expunge them. In Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, the android "replicants" are even described by their makers as "more human than human" – an uncanny recognition that we are becoming "less than human" as we head into the future. Psychologists are among the chief culprits of this vanishing trick. But who then should we say is dealing most appropriately with reality – the artist who accepts an undeniable facet of it or the would-be scientist who, in the interests of simplicity, control and reductionist explanation, does not? And if we choose the artist – what then do we mean by science, once its connection with reality has been severed?
Maybe psychology has become too popular and too influential for its own good. Maybe like Narcissus it has become enchanted by its own reflection, coming to see itself as so successful and legitimate an enterprise that there no longer exists any need for professional scepticism or introspection. As this hubris has grown, it has been joined by a collective amnesia clouding the consciousness with which daily work is undertaken. Instead of a re-membering of the assortment of critical attacks launched against the mechanisation of humanity over the years and sober reflection upon its dubious past, what we have is a dismembering of this past. Not so much a re-construction of what has gone before, as an act of isolating and destroying its remaining constituent elements ... suitable preparation for researching the void. Billig (2008) provides a fascinating summary of this exorcism of inconvenient history and the interests it serves but provides no antidote for it. As technical specialism grows, he argues, memory grows shorter.
Amongst the critical works ejected into the wilderness we may find Szasz's libertarian crusade against the intellectual, philosophical and moral shortcomings of psychiatry and psychology; Kelly's pragmatic attempt to transform psychology into the study of the person; Laing's similarly determined efforts to mould psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy into a human science theoretically supported by existentialism and Marxism; European social psychologists' exhumation of the "crisis" in experimental social psychology; and Foucault's positioning of psychology as a new force in disciplinary social control. In recent years these critiques have been joined by Smail's dissection of the anatomy of power (and its denial) in psychological theory and practice; Kagan's lament for the lack of discernible context in most psychological research; Parker's exposé of the ideological nature of psychology; and Itten and Roberts' consideration of the neoliberal influence pervading the discipline. This has made psychology not merely a theoretically enslaved accomplice to the promotion of capitalist realism, a willing and able assistant to the mercenary society (Hutton, 2015) with a haunting presence at the scene of many political and military crimes, but also a contributor in large part to its divorce from everyday reality. The self-congratulatory neglect of all this comes at a considerable cost. The wholesale denial of these critiques and the daily "business as usual" approach in the psychological mainstream have had an enormous effect in shaping our ideas about the kind of problems we face and what the most effective means are for bringing about personal and social change. As for our salvation, this has never been on the scientific priestly agenda. We are already damned.
Excerpted from "The Off-Modern"
Copyright © 2016 Ron Roberts.
Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Introduction: Psychology, Old and New? 6
2 From Alienation to Estrangement 32
3 Toward an Off-Modern Psychology 69
4 Psychology of the Off-Modern: Psychogeography 86
5 Estrangement, Psychotherapy and Counselling 113
6 The Tao of Estrangement: Martial Art, Psychology and Reality 154
7 After Words and Last Words 181