Psychologization and its vicissitudes

  • Susannah MulvaleEmail author
  • Thomas Teo


Psychologism and psychologization refer to the ways in which psychological thinking oversteps disciplinary boundaries and permeates other areas of study, as well as how we understand ourselves and act in the world. Critiques of psychologism and psychologization have been put forth since the beginning of the 20th century by philosophers and sociologists, who have unilaterally depicted it as a negative phenomenon. Discussed here are claims that psychology neglects the pre-scientific lifeworld and requires a philosophical foundation (Husserl), that the social sciences adhere too strictly to methodological empiricism and fail to theorize the relationship between the individual and society (Mills), that the psydisciplines are involved in power relations, as psychological discourse and practice constitutes subjects in individualized ways (Rose), that psychologization is so pervasive that even the critiques themselves end up falling back into psychological vocabulary that reifies ideas of an individualized subject (De Vos). Given that psychologization is ubiquitous the questions arise as to whether a critical psychology is possible, and if there is a way in which psychologization can be directed in a positive and constructive manner. Following Norbert Elias and Charles Taylor we show both the difficulty and undesirability of returning to a pre-psychological state. Rather than attempting to move beyond psychologization, then, there is a need for critical psychologists to derive better concepts that capture the relationship between the individual and society. Such concepts have been provided in German critical psychology and in the cultural-historical school. Methodologically, counter-concepts have also been developed in psychological thought including “repressive tolerance”, “circuits of dispossession” and “epistemological violence.” Given the inevitability of psychologization as a historical outcome, traditional psychological concepts should be dialectically overturned to form new concepts that align with those of the kind suggested here. Critical concepts that capture the societal dimension of human being can be used by psychologists in the development of counter-narratives that avoid individualizing psychologization.


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Copyright information

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.York UniversityTorontoKanada

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