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Article

German E. Berrios and Ivana S. Marková

Writing the history of mental disorders is an unfinishable task. Each historical period is expected to write its own, and in a style designed to satisfy its own conceptual and social needs. In the 21st century such a historical account seems to be one that conceives of mental disorders as natural kinds, that is, as entities that for their meaning and ontology require to be related to a brain change. However, being aware that, after all, concepts are just instruments in the hands of humans opens up the possibility of writing a more comprehensive history of mental disorders, one based on their historical epistemology, that is, on the manner in which madness has been culturally reconfigured throughout the ages. This approach should be more fruitful in regard to finding ways of helping people with mental sufferings, a task which is about the only justification for the existence of the discipline called psychiatry.

Article

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman

Jean Piaget (1896–1980) is known for his contributions to developmental psychology and educational theory. His name is associated especially with Stage Theory. That we believe him to have focused solely on cognitive development, however, is not because he did. This is instead the result of the popularization of his writings in the United States during the Cold War. (A period of crisis and subsequent education reform.) The overpowering influence of those interests blinded us to his larger framework, which he called “genetic epistemology,” and of which his stages were just a part. To address the resulting and continuing misunderstandings, this essay presents original historical scholarship—distilling over a thousand pages of archival documents (correspondence, diary entries, budgets, and reports)—to provide an insider’s look at Piaget’s research program from the perspective of the Rockefeller Foundation: genetic epistemology’s primary funding agency in the United States from the mid-1950s through the early-1960s. The result is an examination of how a group of interested Americans came to understand Piaget’s writings in French in the period just prior to their wider popularization in English, as well as of how Piaget presented himself and his ideas during the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. My goal, however, is not to summarize the whole of this misunderstood program. Instead, I aim to provide a source of archivally-grounded perspective that will allow for new insights about the Genevan School that are unrelated to American Cold War interests. In the process, we also derive new means to see how Piaget’s experimental examinations of the development of individual knowledge served to inform his team’s investigations of the evolution of science (and vice versa).

Article

Cynthia E. Winston-Proctor and Michael R. Winston

Within racialized societies, the meaning of race is an important topic of psychological study. As Helms and colleagues have pointed out, however, race has no consensual theoretical or scientific meaning in psychology, although the term race is frequently used in psychological theory, research, and practice as if it has obvious meaning. A recent cultural historical analysis of race scholarship concluded that race as a label has developed over time, leading to the treatment of race as a “thing.” Such ideological use of race as a thing has been discredited. Nevertheless, socially destructive ideological concepts of race have been embedded in racialized societies to varying degrees through social, economic, and political institutions and their practices. In the history of the field of psychology, race has had various theoretical conceptualizations (i.e., definitions). Most of these theoretical conceptualizations can be linked to larger scientific and societal movements within racialized societies. Relatedly, psychologists have adopted various epistemological and methodological approaches to studying race, although positivist empiricism has dominated. The complexities of the theoretical conceptualization and methodological approaches in the field of psychology for studying race have led to multiple analyses of how to address “psychology’s problems with race.” Multiple features of a racialized society provide the broader context for the study race within the field of psychology.

Article

Like science in general, psychological research has never had a method. Rather, psychologists have deployed many methods under quite variable justifications. The history of these methods is thus a history of contestation. Psychology’s method debates are many and varied, but they mostly constellate around two interconnected concerns: psychology’s status as a science, and psychology’s proper subject matter. On the first question, the majority position has been an attempt to establish psychology as scientific, and thus committed to quantification and to objective, particularly experimental, methods. Challenging this position, many have argued that psychology cannot be a science, or at least not a natural one. Others have questioned the epistemic privilege of operationalization, quantification, experimentation, and even science itself. Connecting epistemic concerns with those of ethics and morality, some have pointed to the dehumanizing and oppressive consequences of objectification. In contrast to the debates over psychology’s status as a science, the question of its proper subject matter has produced no permanent majority position, but perennial methodological debates. Perhaps the oldest of these is the conflict over whether and how self, mind, or consciousness can be observed. This conflict produced famous disagreements like the imageless thought controversy and the behaviorist assault on “introspection.” Other recurrent debates include those over whether psychologists study wholes or aggregates, structures or functions, and states or dynamic systems.

Article

A sociocultural-constructionist epistemology stands alongside more traditional psychology epistemologies for the study of aging. These positions are not commensurable. Based on Donald Peterson’s classic position on how science and practice differ in fundamental ways, on his view of “disciplined inquiry,” and Trierweiler’s view of the “local clinical scientist,” this epistemological position is more-directly relevant to practice. Within the constructionist context, it emphasizes the importance of “local” as a key level of description, along with particular levels of local knowledge. All of this is consistent with Knight’s Contextual Adult Lifespan Theory. Bruner’s ideas on cultural psychology and how culture is embedded in narrative take these ideas further. They are consistent with Bruner’s metacomments on epistemology.

Article

Feminist psychology as an institutionalized field in North America has a relatively recent history. Its formalization remains geographically uneven and its institutionalization remains a contested endeavor. Women’s liberation movements, anticolonial struggles, and the civil rights movement acted as galvanizing forces in bringing feminism formally into psychology, transforming not only its sexist institutional practices but also its theories, and radically challenging its epistemological and methodological commitments and constraints. Since the late 1960s, feminists in psychology have produced radically new understandings of sex and gender, have recovered women’s history in psychology, have developed new historiographical methods, have engaged with and developed innovative approaches to theory and research, and have rendered previously invisibilized issues and experiences central to women’s lives intelligible and worthy of scholarly inquiry. Heated debates about the potential of feminist psychology to bring about radical social and political change are ongoing as feminists in the discipline negotiate threats and dilemmas related to collusion, colonialism, and co-optation in the face of ongoing commitments to positivism and individualism in psychology and as the theory and practice of psychology remains embedded within broader structures of neoliberalism and global capitalism.