How does one think and practice “psychology” from the South? From the global South? From southern Africa in particular? How would (or should?) pursuing this question impact on our teaching, writing, and doing of psychology in places like South Africa? Where and by whom should such questions be posed? Who will be our primary interlocutors? Are these even useful questions?
That theory and academic knowledge production and consumption are located in space and time, is not a new idea: it is a truism of much postcolonial critique. One of the classic meditations on the topic is Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, originally published in 2000 and recently re-issued with a new preface by the author. In short, according to Chakrabarty, mythical notions of “Europe” are assumed and reproduced in much humanities and social science discourses. These mythic assumptions may be brought to light, but are not easily disposed of: the globalization of capitalist modernities (amongst other things) makes any easy reliance on categories of “indigeneity” problematic, if not impossible. Thinking in and from (not just about) the third world (or the South) requires complex acts of translation and (re)positioning.
Whereas these kinds of questions and challenges are frequently taken up by humanities scholars in the South, they remain marginal concerns in psychology — even in so-called critical psychologies. There are exceptions, of course; I will return to these in future posts. What I will be contemplating on this blog is not the usual ethical and political angst that sometimes accompanies the issue of being a psychologist in Africa. I am more interested in what it would mean to “provincialize” psychology as such, or to articulate psychology from the South. Or perhaps: the worlding of psychology. What kind (if any) psychologies would this “psychology from the South” or “world psychology” be? What would its aims be? Its intellectual genealogies? Its theoretical, practical and political assemblage points? Its alliances with life, subjectivity, history, modernity, the future? Does this psychology (these psychologies) have a colour? A culture? What languages does it speak and understand? Is it fragmented? Will it rhyme or reason? Could it whistle a sorrowful tune?
Besides Chakrabarty’s writing I have in particular been stimulated by Raewyn Connell’s Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science (2007) and John and Jean Comaroff’s more recent Theory from the South: Or, How Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa (2011). Both these books debunk the continued Eurocentrism of much social science theory, and both suggest ways of thinking from the South.
I think it would be interesting and productive to take their challenge to my own discipline, psychology.