Discursive psychology

Key tenets, some splits, and two examples

Authored by: Margaret Wetherell

Handbook of Critical Psychology

Print publication date:  April  2015
Online publication date:  April  2015

Print ISBN: 9781848722187
eBook ISBN: 9781315726526
Adobe ISBN: 9781317537182


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This chapter focuses on discursive research and its links with critical psychology. Discourse approaches emerged in social psychology in the UK in the 1980s, along with the first intimations of critical psychology. Indeed, there was a lot of overlap in the early years, especially in the key proponents. Both intellectual movements were a response to the sense of crisis and dead ends experienced in the 1970s in social psychology (Parker 1989). Key early texts in discursive research included Changing the Subject (Henriques et al. 1984/1998), Discourse and Social Psychology (Potter and Wetherell 1987), Arguing and Thinking (Billig 1987), and Common Knowledge (Edwards and Mercer 1987). The ‘turn to language’ these and subsequent texts initiated in psychology drew creatively and generatively on larger intellectual developments such as post-structuralism and postmodernism, Foucault’s analyses of knowledge/power, theories of ideology, Lacan’s thinking, microsociology and social constructionism, conversation analysis and ethnomethodology, ancient studies of rhetoric, the sociology of science, Rom Harre’s ethogenics, speech act theory, and Wittgensteinian philosophy. Discursive work was exciting and liberating at a point where social psychology was almost entirely dominated by experimental research in laboratories, or quantitative questionnaires and surveys. It offered new ways of working with people’s meaning-making and with their talk and texts focused directly on everyday life.

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