To the CritiSphere and Back Again: What does it even mean to be critical?

Something I struggle with is feeling like I’m not a ‘good enough’ critical researcher. I am constantly amazed and taught by amazing friends and peers that just seem to get what it means to be critical – they can integrate neoliberal or constructionist theory effortlessly and seamlessly into a conversation. I do okay if I’m in the ‘academic brain space’, but when it comes to casually referencing critical psychology in my day-to-day life, I find it a struggle. It usually goes something like this:

Me: (Sarcastically) Well, better get that cancer screening done so you can continue being a good neoliberal citizen.

Other: Why is that neoliberalism and not just plain sensible? I think you’re being a bit dramatic here.

Me: Uh, because if you don’t get the screening, you can be constructed as being to blame if you get cancer…I think…

Convincing, right? And that’s just within the health sphere.


Image: Imgur

I’ve recently started reading about other areas of critical psychology – specifically critical developmental psychology, and my own thesis arguments have become largely informed by Erica Burman’s work. Feminism and Psychology have dedicated a couple of special issues to discussing the topic. Specifically: you’ve probably noticed the emphasis put on the Good Mother and being the vehicle for learning and development (let’s forget about her own feelings or autonomy and stuff). Also, let’s pathologize any child that doesn’t specifically fit within our (narrow) ideas of what ‘good’ development looks like. And varying factors like environment, socioeconomic status and culture are rarely recognised as being legitimate influences on outcomes; if they are, they are usually loaded recognitions (and swept under the carpet), rather than simply recognising that they just are going to create differing outcomes, without necessarily needing to be ‘explained’ away.

But I also know that if I was to try and have a conversation about this with someone in mainstream developmental psychology, I would be bowled over with a constantly-growing pile of research that ‘proves’ that my points are invalid, and that feminism has no role in discussions of development. And how can I argue with the evidence?

These observations remind me of similar elements of self-governing and neoliberalism within mainstream health psychology. Which I suppose is legitimate, considering that most critical psychology stems from questioning the mainstreaming, individualist nature of modern psychology theory (thanks, Ian Parker!) How, or what can we do to make challenging these mainstream issues more prevalent? I’m thinking specifically in conversations that occur with family, friends, or colleagues who are embedded within the institutions we critique. How can we communicate critical psychology in a way that is respectful, thought-provoking and convincing? Do we need to maintain respectful communication in order to make our point? Or should we go in guns blazing? (Perhaps that’s a topic for another post!)

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