Critical and Discursive Social Psychology (PSYL10134)

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Critical and Discursive Social Psychology (PSYL10134)


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. This course includes lectures, in-class and online discussions, and debates about key issues.

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 Information
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.


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

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).


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

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.


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 contemoorary issues. Routledge.

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.


Dixon, J. & Taylor, S. (2016). Fact and evaluation in racist discourse revisited. In C. Tileaga & E. Stokoe (eds.) Discursive Psychology: Classic and contemoorary 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.

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.


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.

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’.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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 contemoorary issues. Routledge.

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.


Learning Outcomes: 


 Present informed arguments and debate social psychology’s methodological and epistemological claims
 Be able to discuss social psychology's paradigm, conceptual and moral/political crises, their solutions and further controversies
 Be able to describe and discuss discourse analysis studies of a variety of social psychological topics (identities, attitudes, emotions)
 Be able to describe and assess efforts to reconceptualise psychological concepts
 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


Additional Information: 


Detailed Assessment Information - 

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.

Elements Of Summative Assessment (With Weightings) - 

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.

3000 word essay (70%)