Critical psychology and epistemological violence

My presentation is divided into two parts: First, I introduce the international movement of critical psychology, developed in opposition to the mainstream of psychology, and which understands the discipline as a cultural-historical and interdisciplinary rather than as a natural science. The historical background of this approach, its key issues, and its international contexts are discussed. In particular, traditional models of human subjectivity are contrasted with the notion of mental life as active, agentic and embedded in society; the problem of methodologism in traditional psychology is analyzed on the background of the idea that methods should follow ontological reflections; and the shortcomings of mainstream psychology in terms of ethical-political decisions are contrasted with the call for the practical relevance of the human sciences. Drawing on this research program, in the second part, I discuss the concept of epistemological violence in the empirical social sciences. The concept addresses the theoretical interpretation of empirical data obtained from social-scientific research on the Other. Epistemological violence is produced when empirical data are interpreted as showing the inferiority of the Other or when the Other is problematized, even when the data allow for equally viable alternative interpretations. Interpretations of inferiority or problematizations are never determined by empirical results; yet, they have a negative impact and may produce harm in relation to the Other. Thus, I suggest that interpretations can be violent, particularly when interpretations are presented as knowledge. The concept also shows that epistemological and ethical issues are often intertwined in empirical social research. Ideas, consequences, and practices surrounding this concept are discussed.

Bio: Thomas Teo (Dr. phil, Vienna, Austria) is Associate Professor in the History and Theory of Psychology Program at York University and editor of the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. He has published historical and theoretical articles in the leading journals of this area. His latest monograph The Critique of Psychology: From Kant to Postcolonial Theory (Springer) was published in 2005. His latest co-edited book, Varieties of Theoretical Psychology: International Philosophical and Practical Concerns, was published in 2009. Currently, he analyzes the historical and theoretical foundations of psychology, including the ontological, epistemological, and ethical challenges to psychology. He analyzes the history of psychology in terms of the history of the critique of psychology, studies the history of philosophical psychology, and analyzes the history and theory of race in psychology and the human sciences. He is Fellow of the Canadian Psychological Association and a member of the executive committees of the historical and theoretical divisions of various academic organizations.

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