Marxism and psychology: Forthcoming edition of the Annual Review of Critical Psychology

karl_marx The 2015 edition of the Annual Review of Critical Psychology, devoted to Marxism and psychology, will be available in the next couple of weeks. It consists of 10 articles previously presented as papers at the Second Marxism and Psychology Conference, held in Morelia in August 2012 (see previous Southern Psychologies post about the conference here), and two articles reflecting on the conference as event and on Marxist work in critical psychology.

The edition has been a long time coming, but I think it is a fascinating collection of texts, focused of course on Marxism and critical psychology, but theoretically and geographically diverse (and, importantly, not all originally written in English). And while it is very clear that Marxism remains a source of inspiration for critical psychologists around the world, it is equally clear that there is no single approach that can legitimately lay claim to being the definitive ‘Marxist psychology’, or that would even want to create and institutionalize such a psychology.

What follows is a slightly amended extract from the introductory article, written by myself, David Pavón-Cuéllar and Leonardo Moncada. The full article can be found here.


Although no single definition of critical psychology exists that could bring together under one banner the disparate and at times contradictory efforts claiming this name, there would be no meaning to the designation at all if it did not entail, at the very least, some sort of refusal of psychology in its dominant forms. What gives critical psychology the semblance of a shared agenda, of something approaching a collective practice — despite its diversity, despite often being at odds with itself — is that it positions itself and articulates its refusal of psychology from within psychology, seeking to overcome the strictures of the discipline and its practices, and to develop alternatives in and to psychology both through critique and reconstruction. Refusal, of course, can and does take many forms in critical psychology: epistemological, theoretical, methodological and political critiques cohabit in an uneasy relationship with the discipline, ranging from outright rejection to forms of institutional complicity by which critical psychology, as a more or less loyal opposition to the mainstream, plays its role in the diversification, exportability, and further academic and cultural entrenchment of psychology.

marxUndeniably, critical psychology is small compared to many other areas of the discipline, but it has certainly gained in visibility and even status over the last number of years and has proven viable as a source of academic distinction for a growing number of individuals employed in departments of psychology around the world. Academic markets in the time of the corporate university are replete with niche offerings; older tokens of academic standing are making way for marketability and commodity value, for and ethos of constant innovation, transformation and rebranding.

The hazard here, for critical approaches that remain unaware of or unable to theorize the political economy of psychology, and to account for its own role within it, is what Ian Parker refers to as recuperation: “the process by which radical ideas become neutralized and absorbed; […] become part of the machinery that they attempted to challenge” (Parker, 1999, p. 78). The threat is not simply that by becoming an established sub-discipline that peacefully co-exists with other sub-disciplines, critical psychology will unwittingly add momentum, by trading on psychology’s institutional success and cultural spread, and by offering it legitimacy and further applicability in some contexts, to the reproduction and further entrenchment of the discipline still primarily in terms of its dominant assumptions and practices. The threat, instead, is that the surplus value afforded the discipline by a ‘critical psychology’ that distinguishes itself in ameliorative terms by promoting qualitative alongside quantitative styles of inquiry, by focusing on embodied experience and affect instead of exclusively on cognition and behaviour, and by theorizing and rendering knowable the self as a relational, distributed, discursive achievement rather than a stable, transcendental entity, reinforces psychology’s entanglement with a capitalism increasingly invested in the local, the affective and the commodification and remaking of identities, experiences and lifestyles. Critical psychology, as an upgraded psychology, in this manner often contributes to the shaping of neoliberal subjectivities and cultures under capitalism rather than to its critique and undoing: “the ‘critical’ take on mainstream psychology brings the discipline closer to the requirements of contemporary capitalism” (Parker, 1999a, p. 85).

It is here that Marxism re-enters the scene to play an important, perhaps even necessary role in the critical refusal of psychology. Rather than merely an established theoretical tradition in the institutionalized social sciences and even psychology, Marxism as a still open frontier of political invention and modes of collectivization and revolutionary action, as a living and growing source of social movement oriented theory and practice, never fully captured by the insular interests of academic disciplines and the academic careers they support, forces even critical psychology to own up to its entanglement in the political economy of psychology and the university, and to how it profits from a deeply psychologized contemporary capitalism. Parker (1999) goes as far as stating that Marxism – and he specifies a revolutionary Marxism – is the only theoretical resource “left that can tackle the problem and reassert once again a properly radical stance toward academic, professional and cultural aspects of the discipline” (pp. 86-87). Some readers may feel that Parker is guilty here of hyperbole, or that he neglects to take into account that Marxism itself is not immune to recuperation in many different ways, including even facile forms of academic identity politics, the radical chic of an insular campus politics – however, even such readers would be hard pressed to suggest a theoretical and political resource more suitable, especially when engaged and developed in dialogue with many other critical traditions, as is displayed so richly in the articles in this edition, to interrogate psychology’s entanglement with capitalism, and to extricate from it a truly critical approach to subjectivity and the difficulties we face as individuals and collectives in this world. Marxism, accordingly, functions for us in a manner similar to the role attributed to it in relation to philosophy by Balibar (1993), namely Marxism “not as a philosophy, but as an alternative to philosophy, a non-philosophy or even an anti-philosophy” (p. 2, emphases in the original).

Significantly, Balibar does not therefore attribute to Marx an abandonment of philosophy; Marx does not leave philosophy to remain itself while he departs for political economy. Instead, his refusal shifts the very coordinates of philosophy: Balibar (1993) writes, once again in relation to philosophy, that “after Marx, philosophy is no longer as it was before. An irreversible event has occurred, one which is not comparable with the emergence of a new philosophical point of view, because it not only obliges us to change our ideas or methods, but to transform the practice of philosophy” (p. 4, emphasis in original). This too captures for us the role we want Marxism to play in relation to psychology. Marxism in psychology, or the effect of a Marxist refusal of psychology, is neither merely an abandonment of psychology as an academic enterprise, nor solely concerned with the reconstruction of a “better” psychology in its place. Marxism in psychology is rather a vector along which psychology is forced to become worldly: to be challenged, disrupted, detoured, forced beyond itself, occupied, deprovincialized, decolonized – from the perspective of subjects in struggle and in relation to their timely desire for change, not as effect of the unilateral implementation of a scholarly tradition.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ISTP 15 in Coventry

The 15th biennial conference of the International Society for Theoretical Psychology (ISTP) will take place in Coventry in the United Kingdom from 26-30 June 2015. The conference theme is Resistance and Renewal; you can find the call for papers and other relevant information, and submit your abstract, on the conference website. The deadline for abstract submissions is 16 January 2015. With its wide range of invited themes and a number of innovative presentation formats, ISTP 15 promises to be a rewarding academic experience.

Theory & Psych

The journal Theory & Psychology

Incidentally, the 2015 conference will mark the 30th anniversary of the first ISTP conference in 1985, which likewise took place in the UK (in Plymouth). It has certainly been an eventful 30 years, and the society, through its conference series, its published proceedings and its journal (Theory & Psychology), has given (meta-)theoretical and philosophical reflection in psychology, and critical and historical reflection on psychology, not only some of its most vibrant and durable forums, but has added tremendously to the field’s momentum, coherence and visibility.

To peruse three decades’ worth of conference programmes and published proceedings today, is to see the most significant theoretical debates in and critiques of psychology emerge and sometimes disappear again; to see some of the most well-known names in theoretical and critical psychology establish themselves and make their impact; and significantly also to witness a growing internationalisation of theoretical debate in psychology, with more and more voices from outside the UK, USA and Europe being heard the last 15 years.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Neville Alexander’s Thoughts on the New South Africa

This piece, a discussion of Neville Alexander’s Thoughts on the New South Africa (published posthumously by Jacana in 2013), will appear in PINS 46, which will be available before the end of the year.


Alexander bookWhen Neville Alexander died in 2012 he was 75 years old. He could look back on a long and significant – and certainly exemplary – life as an activist, scholar and public intellectual. Yet it is difficult not to think of Neville Alexander as someone who had died too soon. More than just a role model for a younger generation of academics, committed intellectuals, and campaigners for a democratic socialist alternative in South Africa, Alexander was at the time of his death very much still a fellow traveller; a generous, durable and effervescent participant and partner in all manner of critical and reconstructive dialogues and projects. Completed shortly before his death and published posthumously, Thoughts on the New South Africa certainly reinforces the impression of a vital voice interrupted.

Neville Alexander will be remembered as an anti-apartheid struggle icon, imprisoned on Robben Island (alongside Nelson Mandela and others) for a decade (Alexander, 1994), and moreover as a prominent scholar of educational practice and especially sociolinguistics and language planning in South Africa before and after the 1994 transition (Alexander, 1989, 1990, 1993, 2002). But rather than basking in the glory of his struggle credentials, being redeployed to the boardrooms of multinational companies or allowing himself to be commodified as a dispenser of either sanitised or faux revolutionary political sound bites, Alexander navigated the new South Africa as a principled, calm, yet unrelenting left critic of the new ruling elite. Late in his life he described himself as one of those “incorrigible revolutionary socialists […] who were clear that the 1993-94 agreements were in essence about stabilising the capitalist state and system in South Africa and creating the conditions for its expansion as a profitable venture” (Alexander, 2010: 4). In Alexander’s (2010) reading of what transpired in South Africa in the years following the commencement of negotiations between the apartheid regime, the business elite and the ANC and leading to the 1994 elections, the short-lived Government of National Unity and the adoption of the neoliberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy,

Alexander“we have been catapulted into the ugly world of modern-day capitalist barbarism with its devastating features of high and growing unemployment, increasing social inequality, horrific violent crime, racist and xenophobic dog-eat-dog conflicts, among many other things. This is very far from the almost utopian revolutionary euphoria with which most South Africans, unaware of what had been agreed upon in the devilish details of the negotiation process, had so proudly cast their votes on April 27-28, 1994.” (p 5)

This is by now, since the re-vitalisation of radical social movement politics in the late 1990s, and since the almost canonical left analyses of the transition by scholars like Bond (2000), Marais (1998) and Terreblanche (2002), a familiar critique of post-apartheid South Africa. However, its basic tenets were already present as analytic predictions and warnings in Alexander’s work throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, establishing him not only as precursor, but also as someone whose continued involvement reinforced the historical continuity between an established political tradition and the current left critique of capitalism in both its scholarly and radical social movement manifestations in post-apartheid South Africa. Here is Alexander a year before the first democratic elections:

“In spite of its vulnerability, the ruling elite has retained its grip firmly on all the repressive apparatuses of the state. In this regard, the triumphalist illusions still rampant in some circles of what is now fast becoming the ex-liberation movement amount to a dangerous condition that has to be cured quickly if we are to see the way ahead clearly and avoid catastrophic mistakes.” (Alexander, 1993: 8)

Of course, these catastrophic mistakes have not been avoided. Yet there is nothing defeatist or even disillusioned about Alexander’s last book. On the contrary. With a title that deliberately recalls a much earlier work by Olive Schreiner, Thoughts on South Africa, likewise published posthumously (Schreiner, 1923), Alexander looks back, takes stock, and seeks to inspire his readers. As he writes in his introduction, “I genuinely believe it is not too late to change course in the new South Africa”; and that he hopes, by revisiting his “intellectual, scholarly or journalistic interventions” over the last number of years, the book could acts “as a possible launching pad (one among many) for a national rethink and dialogue about where we are heading as a society and where we think we ought to be heading” (p viii). And whilst Alexander does not provide a blueprint for an alternative future, the change of course he advocates is not restricted to better governance, the attraction of “foreign investors” and black economic empowerment. Alexander in his last book had remained as resolutely anti-capitalist as he had remained resolutely non-racialist (and anti-nationalist) in his envisioning of a truly postcolonial South Africa. In the process he challenges political suppositions of both capitalist right and socialist left.

In the first three chapters Alexander looks back, almost cryptically, on neglected strands of struggle in South Africa, countering what he sees as “many distortions and, sometimes, conscious falsifications of the history of our struggle” (p 1). He focuses in particular on the Unity Movement and the Black Consciousness Movement – both movements Alexander had been intimately involved with and which are discussed “in an elegiac tone and in a biographical mode” (p 1). One wishes Alexander had had the time and inclination to write a full-length autobiography. These thumbnail sketches, with their tender recollections of the people who had inspired him and offered him his apprenticeship in struggle and revolutionary humanism – and the important role he affords women and educators in these accounts deserves mention – leaves one wanting for more historical detail.

After this all too brief historical and autobiographical excursion, Alexander revisits and reasserts the important work he had done in the areas of education, language planning and what used to be called “the national question” (constantly reinvigorated by Alexander, throughout his career and once more in this book, through questioning analyses of the ways in which national, ethnic and racial ideologies are being reproduced across the political spectrum in South Africa). Alexander’s reflections on education remain of vitally important in South Africa today; it is an account steeped in grassroots activism and community work, richly described in this book, which cannot be dismissed as impractical or “merely academic”. His writings on language planning represent perhaps the pinnacle of his scholarly career: it hasn’t been equalled, in scope, imaginative vision and political acuity, by anyone in South Africa, and even internationally Alexander still occupies an important place in the scholarship on language and (especially postcolonial) society. Finally, Alexander’s discussions of the pitfalls of race-based affirmative action and Black Economic Empowerment will be controversial, but is not meant to be merely provocative. Alexander’s integrity and insight as an intellectual and is such that he lifts these debates out of a mire where political mudslinging and self-interested commentary from all sides of the spectrum often set the rhetorical tone, and restore them to a level of fundamental refection on the questions of who we are, who we can be, and where we are going. After all, Alexander insisted to the end that “South Africa is the one country in the world where, for historical and cultural reasons, it is possible to demonstrate that a raceless society is possible” (p 171).

Towards the end of the book Alexander notes that he has refrained from developing yet another analysis of capitalism and its current global crisis. Indeed, it is not a demanding text theoretically. Alexander communicates simply and comes across as level-headed, clear-sighted and pragmatic – but he manages to do this without in any way compromising his idealism, critical humanism and anti-capitalist agenda. In other words, it is the kind of socialist text that even the liberal mainstream will not be able to ignore or dismiss easily, as they are wont to do with leftist ideas, as “ideological” (as opposed to their “realism”). That alone makes this a treasurable book, even for those of us who already know Alexander’s work well. But it is also more than that. It is a book that reminds one just how inspirational a single revolutionary life can be.


Alexander, N (1989) Language policy and national unity in South Africa/Azania. Cape Town: Buchu Books.

Alexander, N (1990) Education and the struggle for national liberation in South Africa. Johannesburg: Skotaville Publishers.

Alexander, N (1993) Some are more equal than others: Essays on the transition in South Africa. Cape Town: Buchu Books.

Alexander, N (1994) Robben Island prison dossier, 1964-1974: Report to the international community. Cape Town: UCT Press.

Alexander, N (2002) An ordinary country: Issues in the transition from apartheid to democracy. Pietermaritzburg: UKZN Press.

Alexander, N (2010) South Africa: An unfinished revolution? The fourth Strini Moodley annual memorial lecture, University of KwaZulu-Natal. Accessed 27 June 2014,

Bond, P (2000) Elite transition: From apartheid to neoliberalism in South Africa. London: Pluto Press.

Marais, H (1998) South Africa – Limits to change: The political economy of transition. Cape Town: UCT Press.

Schreiner, O (1923) Thoughts on South Africa. London: T. Fischer Unwin Ltd.

Terreblanche, S (2002) A history of inequality in South Africa, 1652-2002. Pietermaritzburg: UKZN Press.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ethical Statement on Human Rights in Gaza: South African Psychologists, Health Workers and Academics

I received (and signed) this statement on human rights in Gaza from colleagues at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa, over the weekend.

Ethical Statement on Human Rights in Gaza

As psychologists, health workers and academics in South Africa, it is both with horror and dismay that we respond to the atrocities and gross human rights violations committed in Gaza. We extend our support for and solidarity with the people of Gaza. Our own South African history of apartheid and its intergenerational impact on our psyches, urges us to respond with steadfast principled commitment against any actions that violate the human rights of all people. This continued bombardment has and will result in severe trauma and other mental ill-health, which will fuel the intergenerational transmission of conflict among the inhabitants of the region. Tasked with promotion of psychological well-being, it is our ethical imperative to speak out against the incremental genocide being enacted in Gaza on the Palestinian people.

The continued siege and blockade of Gaza has disturbing physical, social and psychological costs. The attacks on civilians, including the rocket attacks from Gaza, need to be condemned, noting that combatants have an obligation under international law to protect civilians. The disproportionality of Israel’s attacks on Gaza, and the indiscriminate killing of men, women and children as collective punishment for combatant resistance is wholly unacceptable. Furthermore, the Israeli armed forces and the Ministry of Defense’s contention that Gazan civilians are to be blamed for their own demise is deplorable.

As with Apartheid South Africa, human rights violations and extra-judicial assassinations are policy in the Israeli government policy, under the often quoted ‘right to self-defense’. The deliberate Israeli military targeting of hospitals, civilian shelters, and the prevention of medical aid reaching the injured, and medical supplies and equipment from entering the Gaza Strip is evidence of a blatant hypocritical disregard for international human rights standards and in direct violation of international human rights conventions.

These acts mitigate against a peaceful and just solution for all those involved. As psychologists we also draw attention to the impact of this and other attacks on Palestinians, including the psychological and social health, and well-being of all sections of the population, particularly children, the elderly and the disabled.

We urge all concerned people, including psychologists, academics and health workers, to add their voices to the global call for an end to this brutality, senseless killing, siege and blockade of Gaza. We further support the vision for a lasting and just peace in this region.

Signatories: 13 August 2014

Umesh Bawa (Clinical Psychologist, UWC)

Anthony Pillay (Clinical Psychologist, SAJP Editor/UKZN)

Mahomed Seedat (Clinical Psychologist and Director, ISHS-UNISA)

Shahnaaz Suffla (Clinical Psychologist, MRC-UNISA)

Kamal Kamaloodien (Clinical Psychologist, UWC)

Serena Isaacs (Research Psychologist, UWC)

Ashraf Kagee (Psychologist, Stellenbosch University)

Rashid Ahmed (Clinical Psychologist, UWC)

Rafiq Lockhat (Clinical Psychologist, Private Practice)

Charl Davids (Clinical Psychologist, UWC)

Desmond Painter (Psychologist, Stellenbosch University)

Tony Naidoo (Community Psychologist, Stellenbosch University)

Razack Karriem (Academic, ISD-UWC)

Anastasia Maw (Clinical Psychologist, UCT)

Erica Munnik (Clinical Psychologist-UWC)

Maria Florence (Research Psychologist, UWC)

Bronwyn Rooi (Registered Counsellor, UWC)

Shazly Savahl (Research Psychologist, UWC)

Crick Lund (Clinical Psychologist, PRIME-UCT)

Mohamed Adam (Psychologst, UWC)

Wahbie Long (Clinical Psychologist, UCT)

Sherine van Wyk (Clinical Psychologist, Stellenbosch University)

Fatima Peerbhay (Principal Dentist, UWC)

Naeema Parker (Clinical Psychologist, UWC)

Lameze Abrahams (Clinical Psychologist, UCT)

Ereshia Benjamin (Clinical Psychologist, UCT)

Ronelle Carolissen (Clinical Psychologist, Stellenbosch University)

Brigitte Swarts (Clinical Psychologist, UCT)

Nasera Cader (Clinical Psychologist, UCT)

Zareena Parker (Clinical Psychologist, UCT)

Clint Maggot (Clinical Psychologist, UCT)

Mariam Salie (Postgraduate student, UWC)

Claudia Sweeney (Postgraduate student, UWC)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Now Available: First Edition of Journal of Social and Political Psychology

pageHeaderTitleImage_en_USThe Journal of Social and Political Psychology, about which I had reported here a couple of months back, has now published its first edition. In their first editorial T. Christopher Cohrs and Johanna Ray Vollhard, the editors, again state their intentions with this new journal: ‘JSPP publishes articles at the intersection of social and political psychology that substantially advance the understanding of social problems, their reduction, and the promotion of social justice. The journal also welcomes work that focuses on socio-political issues from related fields of psychology (such as peace psychology, community psychology, critical psychology, cultural psychology, etc.) and encourages submissions with interdisciplinary perspectives.’ Importantly, the journal is open access and no author fees are charged.

As for forthcoming attractions, critical (social) psychologists might well be interested in the envisaged Special Thematic Section on ‘The Social Psychology of Citizenship, Participation and Exclusion’. The editor for this Section will be Clifford Stevenson, along with associate editors John Dixon, Nick Hopkins, Russell Luyt and Evanthia Lyons. The deadline for submission of manuscripts is 15 May 2014. According to the editors, they are looking for:

‘…submissions that examine the implications of various conceptualizations of citizenship for people’s everyday lives. This includes the study of how formal definitions of citizenship, as encoded and enforced by government policy, impact upon the perceptions and experiences of citizens and non-citizens; how the informal everyday regulation of the public sphere (such as public space or government services) affects the rights and entitlements of groups or individuals; and how different understandings of citizenship across gender, socioeconomic class and culture lead to different perceptions of what is worthwhile civic behaviour. In particular, we would welcome papers which consider the inclusive potential of concepts of citizenship in facilitating participation across the spectrum of political, civic and community life as well as papers which consider the exclusive nature of citizenship in marginalizing, stigmatizing and denying rights and entitlements to individuals or groups. In addition, we encourage submissions that offer innovative views and/or identify how the psychological study of citizenship might be enriched by other perspectives, within and outside of academia.’

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

‘Guantanamo Nightmare’: Roy Eidelson on American Psychology and Torture

Roy Eidelson

Roy Eidelson

Roy Eidelson, clinical psychologist, president of Eidelson Consulting and member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, published a fascinating essay in the latest edition of Counterpunch (available online here). It’s a cautionary tale for psychology: a futuristic, distopian vision of a discipline so entangled with the military machinations of the US army that the APA has moved its headquarters to Guantanamo Bay… The opening paragraph reads as follows: ‘It was June 2025, and balloons, streamers, and fanfare celebrated the grand opening of the American Psychological Association’s new headquarters and museum at the former Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba. Although a wave of mass resignations had followed the Association’s controversial decision to move its home from Washington, DC, pragmatists viewed the unsolicited offer from the White House as simply too good to refuse: rent-free use of the facility in exchange for the APA’s continuing and uncompromising fealty to the Department of Defense and the CIA.’

One could argue that Eidelson and like-minded critics, by focusing their attention primarily on the abuse of psychological knowledge and techniques by unethical psychologists, eschew a more fundamental encounter with the political history of psychology in relation to the nation-state, the military, and US imperialism in particular. Psychology, one could insist, is not a politically neutral tool (or set of tools) applied by either morally good or morally corrupt psychologists. In other words, psychology cannot be sanitized politically simply by taking recourse to the ethical principle of ‘do no harm’; or by portraying its current entanglement with torture as merely an aberration, something that runs counter to the discipline’s political logic. Even so, basically we are allies in recognizing the need to speak out against APA’s current stance (or lack of it) on the involvement of psychologists in torture. As Eidelson writes in an addendum to his distopian piece:

‘Addendum. There are important steps that the American Psychological Association can undertake immediately to ensure that nightmare scenarios like this never become reality. The APA can annul and repudiate the illegitimate 2005 PENS Report. The APA can enforce the 2008 member referendum prohibiting psychologists from working in national security settings (like Guantanamo) that violate the U.S. Constitution or international law. The APA can adjudicate the six-year-old ethics complaint against John Leso and remove the statute of limitations for violations involving torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The APA can establish clear ethical restrictions on psychologist involvement in national security operations and research where individuals are targeted for harm, where voluntary informed consent is absent, and where timely outside ethical oversight is infeasible. The APA can formally support bills introduced in state legislatures that would prohibit licensed health provider participation in the ill treatment of prisoners. The APA can invite and fully cooperate with an independent investigation of the Association itself, in order to promote appropriate measures aimed at greater transparency and accountability and institutional reform. I encourage fellow psychologists and other interested individuals to support these initiatives and to call upon APA leaders to do the same.’

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

‘Journal of Social and Political Psychology’: A New Forum for Critical Reflections on Psychology?

Vollhardt: Editor

Johanna Ray Vollhardt: Editor

Cohrs: Editor

Christopher Cohrs: Editor

As you know, there aren’t that many journals that are willing to publish critical work in psychology, so one is always intrigued by, and grateful for, any new initiatives. The recently announced Journal of Social and Political Psychology is such an initiative. According to its websiteThe Journal of Social and Political Psychology (JSPP) is a peer-reviewed open-access journal (without author fees). It publishes articles at the intersection of social and political psychology that substantially advance the understanding of social problems, their reduction, and the promotion of social justice. It also welcomes work that focuses on socio-political issues from related fields of psychology (e.g., peace psychology, community psychology, cultural psychology, environmental psychology, media psychology, economic psychology) and encourages submissions with interdisciplinary perspectives.’

Although not devoted to ‘critical psychology’ as such (in fact, critical psychology is not explicitly mentioned in the editorial statement), the journal nevertheless seems to envision itself as a forum where critical work in and about the discipline will be welcomed, and perhaps even supported. Indeed, one of the first calls for papers issued was for a special thematic section on ‘Decolonizing Psychological Science’. This important topic not only speaks to critical psychology concerns in general, but to the more specific concerns routinely addressed on this blog: the ‘provincializing’ or ‘worlding’ of psychology; or, let’s say, the development of ‘southern’ or ‘postcolonial’ psychologies.

The deadline for submissions has unfortunately already come and gone, but the publication of this thematic section is certainly something to look forward to. According to the call: ‘The Cultural Psychology Research Group at the University of Kansas in collaboration with members of the Liberation Psychology Collective at the University of Costa Rica is currently preparing a special thematic section of the Journal of Social and Political Psychology (JSPP) on the theme of “Decolonizing Psychological Science”. It will bring together contributions not just from perspectives of cultural psychology, liberation psychology, or social and political psychology, but also from such related perspectives as community psychology, critical psychology, communication studies, feminist studies, postcolonial studies, and regional or international studies (to name only a few).’

The envisaged publication date of the special section is winter 2013. The northern winter, that is… The journal editors are Christopher Cohrs (Jacobs University, Bremen, Germany) and Johanna Ray Vollhardt (Clark University, USA). We wish them a lot of success with this new venture!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Announcing Annual Review of Critical Psychology 10: Building Bridges and Expanding the Dialogue



The latest edition of the Annual Review of Critical Psychology (ARCP10), ‘Critical Psychology in a Changing World: Building Bridges and Expanding the Dialogue’, has just been published. The ARCP has, ever since its first publication in 1999, and especially since becoming an open-access, online journal in 2005, served as one of the most important forums for critical debates in and about psychology worldwide. Previous editions had focused on, inter alia, ‘Foundations’ (1999), ‘Action Research’ (2000), ‘Anti-Capitalism’ (2003), ‘Feminisms and Activism’ (2005), ‘Lacan and Critical Psychology’ and ‘Psychologisation Under Scrutiny’ (2010). These are all available on the Discourse Unit website. The current edition is a follow-up to the 2006 edition, ‘Critical Psychology in a Changing World’ (ARCP6), and likewise provides a survey of sorts of critical psychologies around the world.

The difference between ARCP6 and ARCP10 is the latter’s encyclopaedic scope. Incorporating 49 articles and spanning almost a thousand pages, the new edition covers an exhilarating variety of definitions of and approaches to ‘critical psychology’ from places as varied as Aotearoa-New Zealand, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latin America, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the USA. Significantly, contributions from the global South are in the majority; they (we!) are certainly not ‘afterthoughts’, a sprinkling of spice supposed to add exotic flavour to which is essentially the same old stew.

If I may recycle a paragraph from my own contribution to the introduction of this edition: One of the truly exciting – and certainly unusual, at least for psychology – features of this collection of articles is its sheer geographical spread and, along with this, the extent of its cultural and linguistic diversity. Considered by itself the encyclopaedic quality of the volume already represents a substantial intervention: drawing strength from numbers, from the irreducibility of its multiple origins and theoretical/political trajectories, the clamour of voices collected here lends momentum to a certain ‘majoritization’ – through amplification rather than synthesizing – of alternative critical paths in/to psychology. The aim of this collection was never to tame the rich dialectical diversity of these voices; to reduce the vernacular variety of critical alternatives around the world to the ‘standard language’ of a single critical psychology. Instead, the volume enacts the reclamation and perhaps even the occupation of psychology in various ways around the world… Occupy Psychology! might well have been our rallying call, and not because we seek representation (or demand to be heard) within the existing epistemological, cultural and political coordinates of the discipline – which would only assist the globalizing ambitions of mainstream psychology, as represented for example by the Internal Union of Psychological Sciences – but because we wish to assert our critical autonomy whilst we also strive for the establishment and strengthening of relations of solidarity which, in an accumulation of distributed forces, could relativize the mainstream ‘internationalization’ of psychology and offer more potent forms of ‘internationalism’ in its place.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Speaking in Tongues: A Report on the Second Marxism and Psychology Conference, Morelia, Mexico, 9-11 August 2012



Marxpsyposter“There was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air.” So sings Bob Dylan in his classic 1975 song, Tangled up in blue. When asked by colleagues and friends about my experience of the Second Marxism and Psychology Conference, held in Morelia, Mexico, in August 2012, I often wish I could just quote these words by Dylan and be done with it. Unfortunately, things are not as simple, not even at a conference explicitly devoted to Marxism. Music there was aplenty; this was, after all, an international academic conference in an exotic location, an opportunity for campus-weary academics to bust out a bit. But revolution? In the bar below my hotel room in central Morelia, a young singer delivered his nightly laments: beautiful cover versions of songs by Cuban troubadour Silvio Rodríguez. “Brillante exposición de modas, la desilusión” — Silvio on the disillusionments of life during the “Special Period” in post-revolutionary, post-Cold War Cuba …

Can a conference on Marxism be anything more than a brillante exposición de modas, a dazzling but transient display of seasonal academic fashion, a show that panders to an older generation’s political nostalgia and feeds the retro tastes of the young? Can it yield anything other, anything more, than the routine reproduction of bourgeois academic careers and an aftertaste (when one is finally on one’s own again and waiting, say, for a connecting flight to Cape Town in that seemingly unassailable fortress that is Atlanta’s international airport) of political disillusionment? The ironies and many contradictions of academic careers and transnational conference tourism notwithstanding, I can’t but insist that Marxism is indeed more than mere retro intellectual fashion; that Marx, and the riches of the Marxist tradition, is still better positioned than any other body of thought to help us make sense of and imagine life beyond the pervasiveness and crises of contemporary global capitalism. If ever there was a time to return to Marx – not just to invoke his name rhetorically but to reread and reactivate him – then certainly that time is now. In the words of Slavoj Žižek, commenting on the recent protests, social upheavals and (more or less) revolutionary energies everywhere from Egypt to Wall Street, this is indeed “a year for dreaming dangerously” (Žižek, 2012).

Marxism, yes; but psychology? Marxism and psychology? In another great song, Playa Girón, Silvio Rodríguez calls for a celebration of ordinary revolutionary heroes; of the brave Cubans who defeated US imperial aggression at the Bay of Pigs. He calls on his compañeros the poets, the musicians, and the historians; but not the psychologists… How does one dream dangerously in psychology? With great difficulty, it would seem. Even at this conference, which was explicitly aimed at advancing dialogue between Marxism and psychology, dangerous ideas were in rather short supply. Despite all the Marxism, there was not much revolution in the air. There were a number of very interesting panel discussions on contemporary political issues, ranging from the global financial crisis to the more local struggles of various Mexican social movements, but the majority of papers (my own included) dutifully engaged Marxism as an academic, rather than a revolutionary tradition: as a meta-theoretical vantage point from where to critique aspects of mainstream psychology; as a diagnostic system for thinking critically about social and political issues; and as a resource for various kinds of textual analysis. Marxism, in other words, as used to interpret rather than change the world. And perhaps it is almost inevitable, considering the often alienated nature of academic activity in general and the conservative nature of psychology in particular, that we should spend more time thinking about how to change psychology than we do thinking about how to change the world.

Communism, of course, remains one of the Marxist tradition’s more dangerous ideas — albeit not restricted to Marxism. Žižek, Badiou and others have tried in recent times to give the term new meaning and to restore it to political currency (eg, Douzinas & Žižek, 2010). Even so, at this conference communism was discussed only once: in a keynote address by Grahame Hayes (incidentally, the only other South African at the conference) titled “The spectre of communism is not haunting psychology” (Hayes, 2012). It seems it isn’t haunting Marxist psychology either. To be sure, the point is not that Marxists in psychology should feel compelled to embrace communism. There are good reasons for shying away from it; perhaps even from simply reactivating the concept. But be that as it may, and this was Hayes’ point, Marxists in psychology should theorise the nature of society, and should think about how social relations would have to be revolutionised in order to bring about a more desired future society. Hayes: “It is my contention that we — Marxists in psychology (I’ll use this designation, and briefly, just Marxists, rather than critical psychologists) — don’t seem to talk enough about the nature of society, and especially the (future) society that we would like to bring about.” I think Hayes’ critique of our somewhat restricted horizons of critique is spot-on: I missed explicit appeals to the future, bold but theoretically grounded ideas about how the world can be changed, in the majority of presentations and debates. (Again, my own included.)

Marxists in psychology are faced with a double task. They have to critique the present and imagine the future as Marxists and as psychologists. This raises the question: what kind of psychology is required? There are no easy answers to this question, but “psychology” was perhaps too narrowly defined (and interrogated) at this conference. The majority of the keynotes and paper presentations were psychoanalytic in orientation — and Lacanian to be more specific. There is indeed a long and significant history of dialogue between Marxism and (not only Lacanian!) psychoanalysis, but it is not the only dialogue between Marxism and “psychology” we should be paying attention to. What about the so-called Cultural Historical Psychology? What about German Critical Psychology? These were not well represented at this conference. More significantly even, considering the conference was held in Latin America, was the relative absence of locally honed traditions of critical and revolutionary psychology, such as Liberation Psychology. I travelled to Mexico hoping to encounter a greater variety of psychological languages and vocabularies, and a richer presence of vernacularized psychologies.

But I am beginning to sound too negative. This was in many ways a worthwhile, even fascinating conference. I listened to many excellent presentations and participated in many wonderful conversations. Despite the occasional administrative and organisational hiccups, our hosts from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Michoacán were nothing but warm and welcoming. One of the things that stood out and made this conference truly remarkable was the large number of students who attended, seemingly of their own volition. There were literally hundreds of students who came to listen to papers, who asked excellent, theoretically sophisticated questions, and who stayed the course until the very end, late on a Saturday evening. This is a testimony to the students but also the quality of the academic environment — and perhaps it means the future of Marxism in psychology, and critical psychology more generally, lies in Latin America.

Also noteworthy is the issue of language and translation. English was not a lingua franca at this conference. The majority of papers were presented in Spanish; quite a lot of them without the option of translation for non-Spanish speakers. I found this refreshing and politically important: the global hegemony of English (especially in academic spheres) is such that we easily forget this language (like capitalism!) also has limits; that it is not the air that all of us breathe. I think it is vitally important for academics that are from parts of the world where English is not just dominant but almost rendered invisible by its self-evident position as lingua franca to experience the feeling of not being able to understand; of being part of a linguistic minority. It can, of course, also be very frustrating. If one does not think very carefully and creatively about facilitating understanding, important opportunities for dialogue are missed and delegates easily default into language blocs. At this conference I sometimes found myself, rather despondently, trapped in sessions where not a word of English was spoken, not able to understand anything. At other times I found myself amazed at how successfully linguistic obstacles can be negotiated. One such instance was my own presentation. The translator disappeared just before discussion time, but questions and answers were collaboratively, and seemingly successfully, translated by a whole audience striving to create meaning together.

Will there be a Third Marxism and Psychology Conference? There was some serious debate about this, and it remains unclear. One the hand, some delegates felt we should not allow these conferences to slip too easily into the rut of biennial repetition, making it simply another academic institution that routinely reproduces itself. On the other hand, other delegates felt that since serious reflection on Marxism in psychology is so rare, it might make sense to institutionalise the conferences somewhat; to at least make sure the space for this important reflection does not altogether disappear. We shall wait and see.

(This report was originally published in the journal Psychology in Society, 43, pp. 72-75.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Imagine Africa / ‘We are human!’

Layout 1For quite some time now I have been wanting to introduce readers of this blog to a book that takes the idea of an autonomous ‘Southern’ perspective — on Africa in particular — quite seriously, and that attempts in a variety of ways, by both theoretical and aesthetic means, to move the discourse on Africa beyond the often predictable tropes (seemingly always oscillating between the extremes of an exotic romanticism and a dark defeatism) of the Western point of view. The book in question, Imagine Africa, was published about a year ago by the Pirogue Collective (the creative arts extension of the Gorée Institute in Senegal) under their own imprint, Island Position. As the Collective’s first print product, this yearbook was published in English (individual pieces were translated from various European and African languages), with the intention that it will be followed by further editions in major African languages.


Breyten Breytenbach

Imagine Africa is a strange, quite wonderful book: it defies any easy literary or scholarly categorisation. In the words of Breyten Breytenbach, the renowned poet, artist and executive director of the Gorée Institute, who wrote the introduction to the volume: ‘What you have here are fragments of analysis, indictments, exhortations, dreams, stories, and poems’ (p. 5) by a transnational collection of authors, some of whom are African, some of whom are not. It is a book that is defined rather by its ethico-political vision than by offering parrallel expositions of a shared topic by a group of ‘disciplined’ authors. The authors include, besides Breytenbach, Corsino Fortes, Adam Small, Édouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, Trudy Stevenson, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Eben Venter, and Charl-Pierre Naudé.

Central to the ethico-political vision of the book is the notion of ‘imagination’, which functions throughout as both point of departure and expanding horizon of sense-making. Imagination is not invoked here as an individualised, psychologised faculty; nor as purely an aesthetic category. Imagination prefigures, animates and sediments, in shared and translocated figures of meaning, the ethical and revolutionary movement of historical subjects towards a future — a future wrestled from the static (and often statist) metaphysics of both ‘tradition’ and ‘the market’; of both religious or political fundamentalisms and capitalist speculation (‘futures markets’). To imagine may refer to the cultivation of dreams; to the socialisation of hope; to the translation of unspeakable suffering; to what informs and results from the productive, world-making dimensions of human solidarities. To imagine may refer to the reclaiming of the political by worldly, historical, active subjectivies.

In his introduction to the volume, Breyten Breytenbach asks: ‘How to write about Africa? Can it be done? It must be possible because so many have tried and succeeded in proposing a pile of Africas — a vortex, a mountain, a sandstorm of footsteps whispering on the wind, islands, gorillas, people without shadows walking upside down.’ It must be possible, certainly; but writing Africa has historically been treacherously difficult, producing self-fulfilling prophecies much more frequently than illumination or hope. Africa has become, in so much writing, the paradigm case of the ‘hopeless’.

Africa-colonialism1Breytenbach continues: ‘Mentioning Africa brings to the fore either of two discourses. From outside, from the north (which is also the norm), the construct resembles a kind of big black bag into which everything disappears. You know it must contain unimaginable riches and incomprehensible cult artifacts. You suspect it holds something of the genetic pool of bygone expressions of knowledge that should be preserved, and maybe these would have to be artificially cultivated as is done with rare species in a zoo even though they may be no longer of any application in the real world. … Africa will be a luxuray item in the antique store of the mind. … Even well-meaning observers prefer to see the continent as one big black heart making for the projection of illicit expectations, ah, sweet terror, and the vicarious thrill (is the heart not a bag?) of being bitten if you were to put your hand inside, to bring back “home” an exotic disease’ (pp. 3-4).

This is the first discourse, as identified by Breytenbach; this is the outsider view, the Western or Northern view of Africa. The second discourse, however, he sees ‘rising from within through throats swollen with demagogical crap, giving us scraps of “unity” and “independence” shifting the blame, accepting no responsibility, feeding off the guilt of the liberal consciences, dancing and beating drums for the white man, bidding for a position of dependence that could be remunerated. Ah, to be an assisted one’ (p. 4, my emphasis). A philosophy, a theory, a politics, an ethics, a poetics from the South will have to transcend both these discourses; it is not enough for it to merely be geographically ‘local’.

jasmineThis is why Breytenbach (and the other authors who have contributed to the book) insists on a different approach to writing Africa: ‘Africa will be written — and not to please the masters of culture living in London and Paris and Berlin and New York, neither to comfort existing prejudices nor to inflame imperialist envy, nor yet to fuel utopian escapism. … I contend that the structures of exclusion, erasure, and homogenization which threaten our inclusive humanism, embodying a dream of justice and of modernity, are best revealed through an examination of the anomalous on the edge of the normative’ (p. 5).

Breytenbach ends his introduction by signposting the power of jointly imagining Africa differently, beyond local tyrants and ‘global’ interests, with the so-called ‘jasmine revolution’ in Tunisia: ‘And suddenly a people lose their fear and take to the streets and invent a moral imagination. A dictator and his entourage of buffoons and braggarts and butchers are chased out of the continent. This the people do not because they are dulled by the fanaticism of fundamentalists, not because they want to chase after the poisoned death wish of Western capitalism, not because they want to be Chinese or be slobbered over by Hollywood image-junkies, not because they have been invaded by a foreign power — but because they got to their feet and said: Enough! We have dignity! We have responsibility! We have dreams! We are human!’

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments