What's so critical about critical psychology?

Taught by Tod Sloan

Various forms of critical psychology have posed an alternative to mainstream "scientific" psychology for a century. Whether drawing on Marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, or a general social justice orientation, critical psychologists show that mainstream and pop psychologies tend to reinforce the injustices of the societal status quo. Critical psychologists instead push for a psychology dedicated to radical social transformation, and this means rethinking the nature of personality, motivation, and development. This course is an overview of critical psychology, and it serves as an introduction for those who may want to go on to pursue some of these threads more deeply. Topics to be studied include: Marxist Freudians, psychoanalytic feminism, and liberation psychologies from the Global South.  Students will have the opportunity to pursue their own special interests and share them with the class. 

Week 1:  Critical Philosophy and Political Economy; Marxist Psychology. We'll introduce the course by looking at the philosophical and political origins of critical psychology. What values and principles inform its proponents?  What key themes in early psychologies are inspired by Marxism?

Week 2:  The Freud-Marx synthesis and a Critique of Humanism-Existentialism. What happens when Marx and Freud collide?  What can we learn from Freudian Marxists such as Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse?  Why are existentialism and leftist psychoanalysis at odds with each other?

Week 3: Feminist Approaches and Liberation Psychology. We'll learn about socialist-feminist psychoanalysis and what can be gleaned from liberation psychologies from the Global South, like those of Fanon and Martín-Baró.

Week 4: Student Reports on Explorations in Critical Psychology. Our final week will be a chance to hear the results of students' deeper explorations into critical psychology's concepts and figures.  And, in the end, we'll discuss if there really are practical applications for critical psychology and whether or not it can contribute to social transformation.

Tod Sloan has taught psychology for 30 years. He is the author of Damaged Life: The Crisis of the Modern Psyche and the editor of Critical Psychology: Voices for Change.