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.
Karyna Pryiomka and Joshua Clegg
Susan C. Baker, Bernadette M. Watson, and Cindy Gallois
Language is a social behavior and a key aspect of social interaction. Language is ubiquitous and usually occurs with other human behaviors across diverse contexts. Thus, it is difficult to study it in isolation. This difficulty may be why most, albeit not all, social psychologists tend to neglect language, in spite of the prominence of language in early 20th century social psychology and the presence of numerous handbooks and reviews of this area. Language use has implications for many social psychological processes, and, given its role in daily social life, it is important to understand its social underpinnings. The field of language and social psychology highlights the relationship between language and communication and foregrounds the differences between the social-psychological and communication approaches. One central issue is bilingualism and the relationships among language, identity, and culture. Another is methodology, where social psychologists have tended to choose experimental and survey strategies to look at language (not always to the best advantage). This century has seen the development of new technologies that allow us to look at language on a large scale and in rich detail and that have the potential to transform this research. In part as a consequence, in the early 21st century there are many new topics emerging in language and social psychology that help to set a new agenda for future research.
Jeanne Marecek and Eva Magnusson
Qualitative inquiry is a form of psychological research that seeks in-depth understanding of people and their social worlds. Qualitative researchers typically study the experiences of people as meaning-making agents, relying on verbal material. Qualitative inquiry has a long history in psychology, beginning in the 19th century with founders of psychology like William James and Wilhelm Wundt. However, for much of the 20th century, qualitative inquiry has occupied a marginal position in the discipline. This marginalization is best understood in relation to the discipline’s early struggle to be regarded as legitimate. Adopting the methods of the natural sciences—notably quantification and measurement—was a means to that end. Qualitative approaches, though suppressed for much of the 20th century, were not entirely eliminated from the field. Personality theorists, for example, continued to make use of them. The 1970s marked the advent of new forms of qualitative inquiry in psychology, which drew from a variety of intellectual and philosophical movements. These developments continued to gain acceptance and adherents. Since the turn of the 20th century, national and international organizations of qualitative researchers in psychology have been established. Venues for publishing qualitative research in psychology have increased. Nonetheless, qualitative inquiry is still marginalized in many academic psychology departments, and training in qualitative methods is seldom part of the methods curriculum.