To be called critical, or to not be called critical? That is the question.

I’ll admit, when I first volunteered to be a contributor to the ISCHP blog, I almost hyperventilated due to feeling both underqualified, and a bit of an imposter when it comes to talking about critical psychology issues. [read more]

‘Growing up’ (academically) I was introduced to psychology through a positivist framework; one which emphasised ruling out variability and bias, and that research in psychology should ultimately be a united fight in the pursuit of ‘truth’. Embarrassingly, one of the earlier documents when I started my PhD, makes the bold statement: ‘I want to seek, and find, the truth.’ It’s now years later, and on reflection, I can now recognise that when it comes to talking about the experiences young people have during their transition to adulthood, and how they define adulthood itself, there probably is no one (or any) ‘truth’ to be uncovered.

It was due to my supervisor and PhD friends that I was exposed to critical theory; the value of qualitative research methods; the role of reflexivity when conducting research; methodological and ethical issues that arise from (what I view as) problematic experimental psychology; and really, how numbers can tell you anything you want them to. I became immersed in social constructionist theories, my personal worldview shifted, and I’m still known to occasionally shake my first and despair over our ‘neoliberal outcome focused society’.

However, I also started a cool job looking at youth substance abuse, which involved looking at large data sets and, *gasp*, numbers. And while a couple years ago I may not have considered this kind of work, I’m now able to approach my work using my own unique experience to guide, and influence, the research decisions I make. I have the opportunity to use both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. Not every piece of work that gets presented and has my name on it is critical. And I’m starting to be okay with that.

I can have it all image

Caption: Me, trying to eat both epistemological pies.

So, I describe myself as being ‘qual-lite’, or a constructionist trying to exist in a positivist world. It sometimes feels like I don’t fit in either camp – I’m too convicted by an alternative belief system to go back to how I was when I was an innocent undergraduate. But I also don’t see my future as being a gung-ho critical researcher who can recite Foucault at length.

But I think my position can also be a bonus. I think it would be great if multiple ontological positions could be considered and acknowledged within the same research project, and that is what I am aiming to do, and encourage others to do the same. So, when I’m writing for this blog, with my contributions hereby titled ‘To the Criti-sphere and back again’, it will be considering issues that I come across within positivist or mainstream research, and I will be seeking discussion and thoughts from a critical perspective on how to operate as a stealth critical researcher in a mainstream research environment.

I look forward to the ride!

Martin Luther King: “I am proud to be maladjusted”.

The civil rights leader Martin Luther King addressed the American Psychological Association at UCLA in 1967 at the APA’s Washington Conference in 1967:

It is particularly a great privilege to discuss these issues with members of the academic community, who are constantly writing about and dealing with the problems that we face and who have the tremendous responsibility of molding the minds of young men and women all over the country.

In the speech he criticizes psychology for medicalizing African American rational discontent with poverty and racism as “maladjustment”. He points out that “he is proud to be maladjusted” to racism and poverty and that the “salvation of society is in the hands of the creatively maladjusted”.

Although I can not find the actual recording of his speech, he said similar in 1963 at Western Michigan University:

In his APA speech, King goes onto to specifically outline the role of social scientists role in civil rights and justice. Importantly he shows that Whiteness as well as racism must also be analysed:

If the Negro needs social sciences for direction and for self-understanding, the white society is in even more urgent need. White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism and the understanding needs to be carefully documented and consequently more difficult to reject.

I think this is still very relevant to critical health psychologists and other social scientists.

Credits: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change; APA


Mattel’s new Barbies aren’t so good for their sweatshops makers

This is a cross post from here

So this week Matel announced its range of 33 new Barbie dolls. There’s a tall Barbie, a curvy Barbie and a little Barbie. Curvy Barbie has thicker thighs and a slightly protruding stomach. The 33 dolls also have 7 skin tones between them, including a dark skinned Black Barbie with natural hair. Progress? Not for the women making them.

Image: Mattel/EPA

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Guest post: On being an outsider

Outsider. This one word could be used to sum up my PhD experience. In my everyday world, I am hearing and I operate with relative ease within a society that assumes, and caters to, my hearingness. [ Through learning Australian Sign Language (Auslan) and my PhD research, I have been exposed to a complex world that is largely defined by deafness, where people have a visual (rather than auditory) orientation to the world. However, this is an orientation that is rarely acknowledged (at least, not beyond viewing it as a disability) in Western society.

I have been navigating my role as an outsider for the past several years. Recently, I attended (and presented at) the World Federation of the Deaf Conference in Istanbul, Turkey. This was an exciting time for me because I was also preparing to submit my PhD thesis. It was this conference that was my first venture into the international (and academic) Deaf world. Let me put this conference in context for you. There were 1, 310 delegates from 97 different countries. And if that weren’t overwhelming enough, there were more than 45 sign languages at the conference. And, I think most importantly, the majority of presenters were deaf. This marked an opportunity for me to communicate to the deaf community about the deaf-centered research I had been conducting in Australia and my passion for deafness and sign language.

auslan image

My experience at this conference was, by far, the most challenging experience of my short lived academic career, and my short time in the Deaf world (I started learning Auslan in 2011). Having limited skills in International Sign (IS) language and only knowing the alphabet of American Sign Language, made networking with international delegates an intimidating task. My conversations were mostly limited to whether I was hearing or deaf, my name and where I was from. Indicative of my status as an outsider, telling people I was hearing was frequently met with “are you an interpreter?” which was quickly followed by “oh, why are you here?”

Weaved throughout my whole experience at the conference were the subtle behaviours and implicit attitudes that suggested to me that hearing people (those who were not interpreters or family) were not particularly welcome. While I have always been an outsider as a hearing person, in Australia, I have mostly felt welcomed, or at least not unwelcome. It is rare that as a white, middle class, heterosexual, able-bodied woman I experience being an outsider because of my identity. So I found this experience really difficult, but an invaluable experience to go through. This experience has left me questioning, what is my role as an outsider, and do/should I even have a role? Do I accept being an outsider and if so, how? What does this look like in terms of how I should move forward with my research career? Alternatively, how do I demonstrate, without overstepping, that I am a hearing ally (i.e. I’m not someone who is looking to ‘fix’ deaf people)?

I know colleagues who also experience being an outsider within their field of interest and go through similar challenges. I don’t have answers, I only have questions, but this was certainly an interesting experience for me, one that has led me to question my (professional) role within the deaf community.

Danielle Ferndale is a PhD student in the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland. Her work focuses in the area of critical health psychology and her main interests are deafness and hearing loss, qualitative methods and privilege (and oppression).

@deafresearchau  Email:

“These Things”: An example of using creative methods in critical health research

by David Carless and Kitrina Douglas

“These Things” was written following an ethnographic research project, commissioned by the Addiction Recovery Agency and St Monica Trust, that sought to understand the experiences of residents and support staff of an urban local authority “elderly preferred” housing scheme. The scheme contained twenty-five self-contained flats, grouped under one roof, sharing an entrance, corridors, washing and communal room. The residents, aged 50 and over, comprised a diverse range of nationalities who had come to the housing scheme through varied and often complex life events. The support staff, a small group of female carers and mobile wardens, were charged with the responsibility of meeting residents care and support needs and maintaining the building. The research took place in the wake of a major recession and unprecedented cuts to services with the future of the housing scheme – along with the homes of the residents and livelihoods of the support staff – hanging in the balance.

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Why I use pictures of my cats in presentations: Gareth Treharne

I love the internet because it contains an endless supply of articles to read and pictures of cats to share. If you’re a friend of mine on Facebook or have ever heard me give a talk you’ll probably be more familiar with my cats than my writing. Cats make me happy. Oh, and writing does too. We all have things that can make us happy, even the cynics and the stressed amongst us I hope. But you may ask what have cats and the transient affect of happiness got to do with critical health psychology?
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ProfFile: Elizabeth Peel

This is the first in our new series ProfFile: informal interviews with leading or under recognized critical health psychologists.

ProfFile 1: Elizabeth Peel – who is (amongst other things) a Lesbian, Left-Handed, Left-Wing Critical Health Psychology

What is your current position?

I’m Professor of Psychology and Social Change, and Director of Research for the Institute of Health and Society at the University of Worcester, UK. I also Chair the BPS (British Psychological Society) Psychology of Sexualities Section.Liz Peel

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Toward an epistemology of precarity: Critical theory and participatory methods in times of widening inequality gaps: Michelle Fine’s ISCHP’15 keynote

Michelle delivered one of the three keynotes at the last ISCHP conference in South Africa. It was a powerful talk concerning 6 or 7 types (Michelle admitted she isn’t big on numbers) of precarity. Her bio, taken from the ISCHP 15 conference website is below:

Michelle Fine
is a Distinguished Professor of Social Psychology, Women’s Studies and Urban Education at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her work addresses theoretical questions of social injustice that sit the intersection of public policy and social research, particularly with respect to youth in schools and criminal justice. Fine’s work integrates critical psychological theory with feminist and post-colonial theory, participatory designs, qualitative and quantitative methods and strong commitments to research for social justice. Fine’s research is considered highly influential. Over the past decade, Fine’s scholarship has been recognized nationally and internationally with awards, fellowships and prestigious invited lectures. She is the founding faculty member of the Public Science Project. The Public Science Project designs and implements theoretically informed and historically enriched research with movements for educational justice and policy reform. The most influential report to be published by Public Science Project is Changing Minds, a participatory action research project conducted with women in and out of prison, studying the impact of college in prison on women, their children, the prison environment and post release outcomes. Fine is also a much sought after expert witness in gender and race discrimination education cases where her research and testimony has been influential in obtaining influential court victories.

Black & White photo of Michelle Fine leaning against brick wall

An audio recording of the majority of Michelle’s talk is below. Please note there’s a couple of points where the audio recording skips. I was sorry not to have recorded the other brilliant and humbling keynotes by Garth Stephens and Leslie Swartz.  In future I’ll definitely be much better prepared.

Michelle speaks for about 47 mins with the last 8-10 minutes left for questions. Enjoy.

For other recordings of Michelle’s keynotes see here and here.

Review of the 9th Biennual ISCHP conference: Grahamstown, South Africa

By Malvern Chiweshe

The first thing that comes to your mind when you hear about a critical health psychology conference, the 9th biennual ISCHP conference in Grahamstown, South Africa, held in July 2015, perhaps isn’t that it is going to be fun. When I first heard of the conference I pictured a group of experienced academics arguing and debating nonstop. To my surprise I had fun throughout the whole conference. In the words of Professor Leslie Swartz this was one of the best conferences ever held.

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Welcome Note From The Chair

Chris Stephens Chair of ISCHP
Chris Stephens
Chair of ISCHP

Chris Stephens, Massey University, NZ –

The 2015 meeting of ISCHP  in Grahamstown was very successful with a rich and varied programme of relevant events, visits and presentations, including three inspiring and engaged keynote speakers. Once again, many participants commented on the inclusive nature of ISCHP meetings, with many saying that this has been the best conference they have ever attended.

As the new elected chair of ISCHP I have been reflecting since on the development of the society and our future.  I have been fortunate to have been able to attend all of the ISCHP biennial meetings since the society was founded in Birmingham in 2001. At that meeting we elected Michael Murray, who had boldly initiated the first international meeting in St Johns in Canada, as our first innovative Chair. Kerry Chamberlain followed, and continues as ‘perpetual past chair’. Kerry’s contribution is notable for his visible ongoing commitment and dedication to the aims and functioning of the society. Wendy Stainton Rogers has also been an outstanding immediate past chair, fostering that sense of inclusion by actively encouraging the involvement of students and researchers from more difficult to reach places such as Eastern Europe and South Africa. Her sense of justice and ethical practice has been inspiring, and the hilarious social events that she led are memorable.

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