Critical and Discursive Social Psychology (PSYL10134)

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Critical and Discursive Social Psychology (PSYL10134)

Semester 2, Thursday 2:10pm-4pm

BPS core area - Social Psychology, Cognitive Psychology


What will be covered?

This course draws on ideas and arguments from other disciplines (such as studies of science, social constructionism, Foucault, and 'the turn to language') to examine the basis and nature of social psychological knowledge, how it affects individuals' lives, the role of language, and assumptions about self that underpin psychological theory and research. We ask whether social constructionism and the analysis of discourse can provide an alternative approach for social psychologists. If so, what kind of discourse analysis? We explore how these different discursive approaches have been used empirically in studies of gender and other identities; attitudes and prejudice talk; power; subjectivity, memory, and emotion. 

How will it be delivered?

This course includes lectures, in-class discussions, some group work out of class, debates about key issues, and sharing examples of the application of the ideas discussed in class. Throughout lectures, there are group exercises and discussions which provide opportunities for feedback. An essay plan is included as one of the weekly class discussions. Online discussion threads will be set up for each class discussion topic and students and the CO will comment on questions, essay plans, debates and summaries of key articles.

Lecture recording policy: Lectures will be recorded.

What skills will be gained?

Regular class work and formative feedback will help students develop skills in critical analysis, presenting and structuring arguments, understanding, verbal communication, and group work/collaboration. The short coursework assessments and final essay will help to develop further skills in information integration and writing.


Lecture Date Title and description
16/01/2020 Lecture 1: Introduction - crises in social psychology

In this lecture, we will discuss the criticisms of social psychology’s methods, key concepts and assumptions, and ethics that came to be known as ‘the crisis in social psychology’. We will consider early attempts to resolve the crisis.

23/01/2020 Lectures 2: The social construction of social psychology

This lecture will introduce social constructionist thinking, and several case studies which highlight various ways in which the discipline is constructed (for example, through research interactions).

30/01/2020 Lecture 3: Discourse and Social Psychology

We discuss the introduction of discourse analysis (DA) into social psychology by Potter and Wetherell (1987), and how this reconceptualised key concepts in social psychology, by shifting from cognition to discourse and situated practices, along with a new methodology.

06/02/2020 Lecture 4: Prejudice: from cognition to discourse

We look at how discourse analysis and later discursive psychology have been applied to studies of prejudice, especially racism.

13/02/2020 Lecture 5: Categories and Identities in Talk

In this lecture, we discuss how discursive psychology shifts our perspective on categories and identities from ‘what you are’ to ‘what you do’ and we will look at national, gender and other social identities as well as work on resisting categories to illustrate this. The lecture will conclude by considering reactions to DP from more mainstream social psychologists.

13/02/2020 Mid-term coursework deadline 12 noon
27/02/2020 Lecture 6: Foucault’s legacy: knowledge, power and the creation of modern individualism

This lecture will outline Foucault’s work and show how his ideas were adopted in Psychology to highlight the role of psychology in social management and in producing the ‘modern individual’.

05/03/2020 Lecture 7: The power of Discourse: developing Foucaultian Discourse Analysis

We will look at how Foucault’s work has inspired a different kind of discourse analysis, and we will discuss examples of studies using this approach.

12/03/2020 Lecture 8: Contrasting Approaches: discourse, power and politics

We will discuss key differences between FDA and DP, especially with regard to whether we should adopt a political agenda in research, and how power and inequality is addressed.

19/03/2020 Lecture 9: Rethinking the subject of social psychology

We will examine how DP and FDA have reconceptualised the self and cognition as truly social (and hence avoid individualism), and why some have turned to psychoanalysis. We will use studies of masculinity, intention and memory to illustrate the issues.

26/03/2020 Lecture 10: Summing up: Have we found a way to resolve the crises?

This lecture will cover an overview of the arguments, debates and controversies we find in Critical and Discursive Social Psychology today and we will discuss whether we have – or can – resolve the paradigm, conceptual and political crises with which we began this course.

09/04/2020 Final essay deadline 12 noon

Learning Outcomes:

1. Present informed arguments and debate social psychology’s methodological and epistemological claims

2. Be able to discuss social psychology's paradigm, conceptual and moral/political crises, their solutions and further controversies

3. Be able to describe and discuss discourse analysis studies of a variety of social psychological topics (identities, attitudes, emotions)

4. Be able to describe and assess efforts to reconceptualise psychological concepts

5. Be able to apply ideas and arguments from the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, Foucault’s work, linguistics and the philosophy of language; social constructionism to Social Psychology


30% Mid-term (500 words; submission deadline Thursday 13th February, 12.00 noon)

Choice of two out of three mid-course assessments (30%): (i) 500-word essay plan, (ii) 500-word critical summary of an article; (iii) 500-word debate presentation.

70% Essay (3000 words; submission deadline Thursday 9th April, 12.00 noon)

Reading Resources

Indicative reading:

Tuffin, K. (2005) Understanding Critical Social Psychology, London, Sage.

Potter, J. & Wetherell, M. (1987). Discourse and Social Psychology. London: Sage.

C. Tileaga & E. Stokoe (2016) (eds.) Discursive Psychology: Classic and contemporary issues. Routledge.

Burr, V. (2015) Social Constructionism, 3rd edition. Routledge.

Resources list:

Lecture 1

  • Tuffin, K. (2005) Understanding Critical Social Psychology, London, Sage. See Chs. 1 & 2 for a critique of experimentation in social psychology.

Lecture 2

  • Kitzinger, C. (1987) The Social Construction of Lesbianism, London, Sage. Ch. 1 is an example of how insights from science studies can be applied to social science, in particular, to examine how psychology studies homosexuality.
  • Rozin, P. (2001). Social Psychology and Science: Some Lessons from Solomon Asch. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5(1), 2-14

Lecture 3

  • Potter, J. & Wetherell, M. (1987). Discourse and Social Psychology. London: Sage.
  • Wiggins, S. (2016) From Loughborough with love: How discursive psychology rocked the heart of social psychology’s love affair with attitudes. In C. Tileaga & E. Stokoe (eds.) Discursive Psychology: Classic and contemporary issues. Routledge.

Lecture 4

  • Dixon, J. & Taylor, S. (2016). Fact and evaluation in racist discourse revisited. In C. Tileaga & E. Stokoe (eds.) Discursive Psychology: Classic and contemporary issues. Routledge.
  • Condor, S., Figgou, L., Abell, J., Gibson, S. & Stevenson, C. (2006). ‘They’re not racist …’: Prejudice, denial, mitigation and suppression in dialogue, British Journal of Social Psychology, 45:441-462.
  • Kirkwood, S., McKinlay, A. & McVittie, C. (2013). 'They're more than animals': refugees' accounts of racially motivated violence, British Journal of Social Psychology, 52(4):747-62.

Lecture 5

  • Antaki, C. & Widdicombe, S. (1988). Identities in Talk. Ch. 1. Routledge.
  • Edwards, D. (2012). Discursive and scientific psychology, British Journal of Social Psychology, 51(3), 425-434.
  • Potter, J. (2012). Re-reading Discourse and Social Psychology: Transforming social psychology, British Journal of Social Psychology, 51(3), 436-455.

Lecture 6

  • Hepburn, A. (2003) An Introduction to Critical Social Psychology, Ch. 6, pp.135-148 includes a very useful overview of Foucault’s contribution to deconstructing the subject.
  • OR see Burr (2015), Social Constructionism, 3rd edition. Ch. 4 outlines key elements of Foucault’s work.
  • Rose, N. (1990) Social Psychology and government. In Parker, I. & Shotter, J. (1990) Deconstructing Social Psychology.
  • Billington, T. (1996). Pathologizing children: Psychology in education and acts of government. In Burman, E et al (1996) Psychology Discourse Practice: from regulation to resistance. Taylor & Francis.

Lecture 7

  • Gillies, V. & Willig, C. (1997). ‘You get the nicotine and that in your blood’ – constructions of addiction and control in women’s accounts of cigarette smoking. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 7, 285-301.
  • Gill, R. (2009). Mediated intimacy and postfeminism: a discourse analytic examination of sex and relationships advice in a women’s magazine, Discourse & Communication, 3(4): 345-369.

Lecture 8

  • Weatherell, A. (2016). Interpretative repertoires, conversation analysis and being critical. In C. Tileaga and E. Stokoe (eds) Discursive Psychology: Classic and contemporary issues. Routledge.
  • Stokoe, E. Hepburn, A. & Antaki, C. (2012). Beware the ‘Loughborough School’ of Social Psychology? Interaction and the politics of intervention, British Journal of Social Psychology, 51, 486-496.
  • Wooffitt, R. (2005) Conversation Analysis and Discourse Analysis: A Comparative and Critical Introduction, London, Sage. See Chapter 7 for an excellent overview of critical and Foucaultian DA.

Lecture 9

  • Gough, B., McFadden, M. & McDonald, M. (2013) Critical Social Psychology: an introduction. See ch. 6 (useful overview).
  • Hepburn, A. & Jackson, C. (2009). Rethinking subjectivity: A Discursive Psychological approach to cognition and emotion. In D. Fox, I. Prilleltensky & S. Austin (eds.) (2nd edn) Critical Psychology: An Introduction. Second edition. Sage.
  • Gough, B. (2004) Psychoanalysis as a resource for understanding emotional ruptures in the text: The case of defensive masculinities. British Journal of Social Psychology, 43, 245-267.
  • Edley, N. (2006). Never the Twain Shall Meet: A Critical Appraisal of the Combination of Discourse and Psychoanalytic Theory in Studies of Men and Masculinity, Sex Roles, 55, 601-608.
  • Butler, C. (2016). Recasting the psychologist’s question: Children’s talk as social action. In C. Tileaga & E. Stokoe (eds.) Discursive Psychology: Classic and contemporary issues. Routledge.
04/09/2019 - 1:05pm