The history of psychology is characterized by unparalleled complexity of its methodology and uniquely ambiguous subject matter closely entangled with issues of power, social justice, and ethics. This complexity requires inordinate levels of reflexivity and conceptual sophistication. In effect, a historian of psychology needs to explicate no less than one’s worldview—a broad position as to how people are situated in the world, relate to, change, and get to know it, and how knowledge develops through time—all coupled with one’s broad sociopolitical ethos. Traditional histories of psychology have operated with an astonishing lack of reflection about these issues. One of many deplorable results is that psychology still grapples with its racist and sexist legacies and lacks awareness of social injustices in existence today. The recently emerging approaches have begun to remedy this situation by focusing on situated practices of knowledge production. This article addresses how human agency can be integrated into these approaches, while focusing on knowledge production as not only situated in context but also, and critically, as a world-forming and history-making process. In tackling the shortcomings of relational approaches including social constructionism, the transformative activist stance approach draws on Marxist philosophy and epistemology—infused with insights from Vygotsky’s psychology and other critical theories of resistance. The core point is that knowledge is achieved in and through collaborative community practices realized by individually unique contributions as these come to embody and enact, in an inseparable blend, both cultural-historical contexts and unique commitments and agency of community members. The acts of being-doing-knowing are non-neutral, transformative processes that produce the world, its history and also people themselves, all realized in the process of taking up the world, rather than passively copying it or coping with it. And since reality is in-the-making by people themselves, knowing is about creating the world and knowing it in the very act of bringing about transformative and creative change. Thus, the historicity and situativity of knowledge are ascertained alongside a focus on its ineluctable fusion with an activist, future-oriented, political-ethical stance. Therefore, the critical challenge for the history of psychology is to understand producers of knowledge in their role of actors in the drama of life (rather than only of ideas), that is, as agents of history- and world-making, while also engaging in self-reflection on the historians’ own role in these processes, in order to practice history in responsive and responsible, that is, activist ways.
Sheldon Solomon and Jeff Greenberg
Terror management theory (TMT) posits that the uniquely human awareness of death engenders potentially debilitating existential terror that is “managed” by subscribing to cultural worldviews providing a sense that life has meaning as well as opportunities to obtain self-esteem, in pursuit of psychological equanimity in the present and literal or symbolic immortality in the future. In empirical support of TMT, research has demonstrated that: self-esteem serves to buffer anxiety in general, and about death in particular; reminders of death increase defense of the cultural worldview and efforts to bolster self-esteem; threats to the cultural worldview or self-esteem increase the accessibility of implicit death thoughts; conscious and non-conscious thoughts of death instigate qualitatively different defensive processes; death reminders increase hostility toward people with different beliefs, affection for charismatic leaders, and support for political and religious extremism; and death reminders magnify symptoms of psychological disorders.
Michelle Bal and Kees Van den Bos
In the literature on prejudice and derogatory reactions, two prominent lines of research can be distinguished, one focusing on the expression and endorsement of (mostly) negative stereotypes and prejudice, and one zooming in on how defense of cultural worldviews can lead to derogatory reactions toward those who are different from ourselves. Research on both stereotypes/prejudice and cultural worldviews reveals how personal uncertainty can lead to the occurrence of derogatory reactions. In research on prejudice, the automaticity of stereotyping and prejudice has been the subject of debate. Some scholars argue for the inevitability of stereotyping, as these processes are assumed to be automatic and inevitable. By contrast, other scholars distinguish automatic stereotype activation from more controlled stereotype endorsement. Importantly, stereotype activation may be altered by stereotype-negation training reducing the expression of prejudice. In worldview defense research, it is shown how uncertainty-related motives and other worldview threats are related to the expression of derogatory reactions toward those who fall outside our scope of justice. In contemporary society, people frequently have to deal with feelings of personal uncertainty, especially regarding future-oriented delayed outcomes. To cope with these feelings, people adhere to their cultural worldviews. These belief systems enable people to strive for long-term goals, but also make them more vulnerable to expressing prejudice and other derogatory reactions. A wealth of research shows that when people’s worldviews are threatened, they tend to react more rigidly and negatively toward others, especially toward those who belong to an outgroup. For example, if one believes that the world is inherently just (i.e. in studies looking at “just world beliefs”), interacting with innocent victims of crimes can threaten this worldview. In the face of this conflict, people sometimes respond in derogatory and prejudiced ways toward those victims in order to uphold their belief that the world is a just place where bad things can only happen to bad people. Importantly, alleviating feelings of personal uncertainty (either by affirming personal certainty or by refocusing attention toward other aspects of an unjust situation) can reduce derogatory reactions and instigate benevolent reactions focused on helping those who are less well off.
The purpose of the article is to trace the intellectual history of the new postcolonial discipline of African psychology. African psychology as currently conceptualized in universities in the South and other regions of Africa is a proud heir to a vast heritage of sound and extensive intellectual traditions and psychological scholarship on Africa and its peoples found scattered in the multiple disciplines of the humanities (anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy, religion, etc.). Even before and after the critical evolution that led to the emergence of African psychology as a new discipline situated in the departments of psychology in some forward-thinking African universities, the different fields of the humanities offered legitimate research and writings on the nature of the life of the mind and culture in pre- and postcolonial Africa. The article reviews the variety and changing psychological themes that occupied the attention of the African and Western humanists and intellectuals within and outside Africa. However, the great limitation of all psychological research and writings which constitute psychological humanities is that they could not and, indeed, are not meant to replace the legitimate role being played by African psychology as a fledgling postcolonial discipline and center of thought and scholarship. This fledgling discipline came into being to argue against and partner with Western psychology and the black psychology popularized in North America, with a view toward the enrichment of both Western and black psychological knowledge with new perspectives for understanding the psychology of Africans in continental Africa. The purpose of the article is to elaborate on these issues.