Postcolonial theory

Towards a worlding of critical psychology

Authored by: Desmond Painter

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 considers postcolonial theory as both a vantage point for the critique of psychology and a theoretical resource for the development of critical alternatives to and in psychology. Mainstream academic psychology and currently existing critical psychologies alike arguably remain Western-centric in regard to their problematics and theoretical resources, and the locations, institutions, and principal agents of their reproduction. Moreover, critical historiography in psychology reveals the epistemological assumptions and representational practices by which the discipline had historically become entangled with – informed by but also informing – Western colonialism and racism (Bhatia 2002; Richards 2012). Taken at face value, then, post-colonial theory offers first, a critical perspective on the colonial assumptions, representations and omissions that continue to haunt psychology, even in its critical appearances; and second, a burgeoning, often psychologically disposed vocabulary for interrogating ‘postcoloniality’ as it is manifested in the cultural formations and transformations of specific postcolonial societies (i.e. former colonies) and a more generally posited postcolonial condition characterized by both symptomatic returns of colonial trauma and the appearance of new (frequently ‘hybrid’) forms of expression, belonging, and identification within liminal spaces of transnational exchange. Postcolonial theory’s strongest claim, directly relevant to critical psychology, is that it has contributed to a situation where, perhaps for the first time in the Western academy, ‘postcolonial subjects become subjects rather than objects of knowledge’ (Young 2001: 63).

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