We’re looking for allies. We need allies… there are lots of people who’ve had enough and are thinking, feeling, and working in similar directions: it’s not a question of fashion but of a deeper “spirit of the age” informing converging projects in a wide range of fields (Deleuze 1995, 22).
Deleuze’s words remind us of the work of ISCHP’s international community of critical health psychologists. We wanted to write this blog to connect with ISCHP members and researchers around the globe who may be interested in our own experiences of networking and using critical psychology to effect positive change.
We started as a very small group of researchers and postgraduate students who came together to discuss critical research relevant to our work in social psychology, critical feminist studies, body image, media studies, and health psychology. We gradually met other researchers and students from across Aberystwyth university who used critical poststructuralist theories in their work in geography, history, sports and exercise science, sociology, business management, and international politics. We work in non-hierarchical way to support each other’s research, benefitting enormously from each other’s insights, and these alliances have developed into collaborative research projects.
We launched as the Centre for Critical Psychology (CC-Psy) at Aberystwyth University in 2018. Our mission maps onto ISCHP’s aims to pursue social justice through our international critical and affirmative research using analytical tools from poststructuralist psychology. And we collaborate with a range of outside agencies and institutions to provide psychological research and affirmative, solution-focussed insights. Researchers at CC-Psy ask: How do people make sense of themselves? What can people say, think or do when they understand themselves this way? And what social, political, economic or material conditions enable such understandings? These questions allow us to understand the person in context, value their sense making, identify new ways of reconceptualising problems and explore capacities for action.
We are a diverse group of researchers who bring extensive and varied backgrounds and experiences that inform our research. In our multidisciplinary approach, we draw on a broad theoretical toolbox. These analytics include Foucauldian ideas of genealogy, power, norms, confession and technologies of the self; and Deleuzian thinking on desire and flow. We draw on feminist philosophers and theorists such as Braidotti, Grosz, and Barad to explore materiality and affect, and also use Bourdieu’s sociological concepts such as symbolic violence, cultural habitus and capital. We incorporate psychoanalytic concepts such as melancholia and recognition based on the ways these concepts are used in cultural studies and, more recently, also on some of our members’ practical experiences and training in psychotherapy.
Recent projects include Sarah Riley’s work on postfeminism, including her co-authored books Postfeminism & Health and Technologies of Sexiness, which used ideas of genealogy, power, norms, confession and technologies of self, as well melancholia and recognition. Alison Mackiewicz’s work on postfeminist drinking cultures also takes a Foucauldian approach, linked with contemporary feminist work such as that by Amy Dobson, to explore the performance of shamelessness. Foucault again features heavily in Alex Hird’s exploration of Crisis Houses as a form of mental health provision, which – like much of our work – also draws on more recent critical health psychology, in Alex’s case the work of Paula Reavey and colleagues. Sue Black combines FDA with IPA in her analysis of women’s experiences and construction of tattoos as therapy. Deleuzian concepts, including assemblages, affect, desire, and his philosophy of time are also visible in our work, including Martine Robson’s analysis of negotiating lifestyle advice after coronary heart disease.
Sagar Murdeshwar is using a form of Foucauldian discourse analysis informed by Actor Network Theory in his ethnography of globalised drinking subjectivities in Mumbai. In contrast, Saffron Passam draws on Bourdieu’s notions of cultural habitus and capital, symbolic violence to explore the complexities of working-class women’s career aspirations, stigma and systemic barriers to achievement. Cross- and inter- disciplinary synergies are also a key motif of CC-PSY, evident in Emily Jacques’ bringing together of psychology with human geography in her examination of the masculinities practiced during a British lads’ night out. Nkechinyelu Edeh’s work encompasses critical Black feminist work on intersectionality, organisational studies, cultural studies, and psychology to understand the experiences of Nigerian women doctors and nurses working in the UK National Health Service. And Chris Moller is bringing a range of critical psychological analytics, informed by both UK and German discourse analysis, to an EPSRC funded project (https://epsrc.ukri.org/funding/edi-at-epsrc/inclusion-matters/) seeking to facilitate inclusive organisational cultures for women and BAME people working in STEM university departments.
Our mission is to create an intellectual space for the development of international critical, qualitative research, and to this end we continue to meet weekly, discussing external publications or developments in our own projects. While we work on a range of different issues, our work intersects around a contemporary preoccupation of transforming the self, itself located within wider assemblages related to neoliberalism, postfeminism, consumerism, gender, subjectivity, citizenship and health. We are energised by practical and generative applications of poststructuralist theory. We hope that our experiences of growing a research group from a small number of critical psychologists will demonstrate the importance of forming collaborative networks to recognised, valued, and incorporated into institutional policy and practice to enhance lives.
To read more from us, visit our blog.
 Deleuze, G., 1995. Negotiations, New York: Columbia University Press