You are on page 1of 5

A

20

explained, in part, by parental expectations
(Carducci, 2009). Discovering ways to lessen
the negative effects of evaluation apprehension
is an issue for future research and has serious
potential social consequence.
Recent research has revealed the connection
between framing and achievement motivation
(Hart & Albarracı´n, 2009). When primed for
achievement, participants with high levels of
achievement motivation performed worse on
a task when it was framed as fun than did those
with low levels of achievement motivation. When
that same assignment was framed as achievement
oriented, the participants with the higher levels of
achievement motivation performed significantly
better, suggesting that it may be the approach an
individual takes towards a certain task that determines their likelihood for success (Hart &
Albarracı´n, 2009). The results of this study relay
an important reality that is to be addressed by the
educational community: conformity to a
one-dimensional approach in teaching may not
be possible, and adaptation towards each individual will likely yield the best results and levels
of achievement amongst students. Future studies
on achievement might take into account multiple
personal goals and the contextual factors that
affect achievement (Pintrich et al., 2003).

Activism
Mazur, J. (2006). Learning and behavior (6th ed.). Upper
Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
McGlone, M. S., & Aronson, J. (2007). Forewarning
and forearming stereotype-threatened students.
Communication Education, 56(2), 119–133.
Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for
intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and
performance.
Journal
of
Personality
and
Social Psychology, 75(1), 33–52. doi:10.1037/00223514.75.1.33.
Pintrich, P. R., Conley, A. M., & Kempler, T. M. (2003).
Current issues in achievement goal theory and
research. International Journal of Educational
Research,
39,
319–337.
doi:10.1016/j.
ijer.2004.06.002.
Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal
versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied, 80(1), 1–28.
doi: 10.1037/h0092976
Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes
shape intellectual identity and performance. American
Psychologist, 52(6), 613–629. doi: 10.1037/0003066X.52.6.613
Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Becoming a self-regulated
learner: An overview. Theory Into Practice, 41, 64–70.

Online Resources
Dwyer, C. (n.d.). Using praise to enhance student
resilience and learning outcomes. American Psychological Association. Retrieved January 8, 2013, from
http://www.apa.org/education/k12/using-praise.aspx
Locus of Control Online Test. http://www.psych.uncc.
edu/pagoolka/LocusofControl-intro.html
Motivation, Power & Achievement Society. http://www.
mpa-society.org/

References

Activism
Carducci, B. (2009). The psychology of personality (2nd
ed.). Chichester, England: Wiley-Blackwell.
Dweck, C. S. (1999, Spring). Caution – praise can be dangerous. American Educator, 23(1), 1–5. Retrieved April
3, 2012, from http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/
cali/praisespring99.pdf
Elliot, A. J., & Dweck, C. S. (2005). Competence and
motivation: Competence as the core of achievement
motivation. In A. Elliot & C. Dweck (Eds.), Handbook
of competence and motivation (pp. 3–12). New York,
NY: The Guilford Press.
Hart, W., & Albarracı´n, D. (2009). The effects of chronic
achievement motivation and achievement primes on
the activation of achievement and fun goals. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 97(6), 1129–1141.
doi:10.1037/a0017146.
Huang, C. (2011). Achievement goals and achievement emotions: A meta-analysis. Educational
Psychology Review, 23, 359–388. doi:10.1007/
s10648-011-9155-x.

Kate Sheese1 and Wen Liu2
1
Department of Psychology, York University,
Toronto, ON, Canada
2
Social Psychology Graduate Center, The City
University of New York, New York, NY, USA

Introduction
The relationship between psychology and activism has taken many forms. Throughout the
history of the discipline, psychologists have
used psychological research in order to understand and address issues of inequality and injustice, to promote social and political change, while

Activism

others have taken activism and social movements
as objects of inquiry. Some of the most powerful
and radical activism within psychology has come
from those who have challenged the power structures and practices of the discipline itself. This rich,
though often omitted, history of activism in psychology has informed and inspired an ongoing
tradition of critical activist work in and around
psychology. This work has persisted and flourished
despite implicit and explicit efforts to marginalize
critical, radical voices throughout psychology’s
history (e.g., Deegan, 1988). Currently, the proliferation of such work is threatened and constrained,
even as it is experiencing a resurgence in many
parts of the world, by the expansion of neoliberal
policy and ideology, demanding conservative
shifts in the economics, structure, and purpose of
the academy and higher education.

Definition
Activism refers to actions that are directed
toward effecting sociopolitical change on
a number of potential dimensions including precisely articulated policy reforms to broader disruptions of hegemonic values and practices.
Activism is rooted in political ideologies and
can often be historically situated in broader social
and political movements. Critical psychology
conceptualizes activism as being specifically
concerned with systems of domination and
inequality such as capitalism, patriarchy, white
supremacy, settler colonialism, heteronormativity, and ableism. Conceptually, activism
can take a multitude of forms, within and across
a spectrum of collective, individual, deliberate,
and spontaneous actions. Some common
approaches to activism include public demonstration, civil disobedience, community building,
economic boycott, lobbying, propaganda, riots,
critical consciousness raising, and strike action.

Keywords
Feminism; liberation psychology; social movement; oppression; injustice; social change

21

A

History
Activism has a rich, though often forgotten, history in psychology. While the discipline of psychology is itself embedded within sociopolitical
systems that create and reproduce structural
inequalities, there are enduring traditions of
using psychological theories and methods to
challenge injustice. The relationship between
psychology and activism has taken a number of
different, sometimes overlapping, forms including using psychological research as a way of
enacting activism, as a way of understanding or
conceptualizing activism, or as a way of
documenting critical sociopolitical struggles,
movements, and/or counternarratives, as well as
political organizing by psychologists to challenge
injustice within and beyond the discipline.
Research as Activism
One of the field’s earliest examples of psychological research as activism is Leta Hollingworth’s
(1886–1939) feminist work on sex discrimination
and women’s employment. Hollingworth was
a founding member of the Feminist Alliance,
a group dedicated primarily to fighting sex discrimination in women’s access to employment
(Rutherford, Marecek, & Sheese, 2012). As chair
of the Alliance’s Committee on the Biologic Status of Women, Hollingworth collaborated with
Robert Lowie, a former student of cultural anthropologist Franz Boas, on an article for The Scientific Monthly entitled, “Science and Feminism.”
In their article, Hollingworth and Lowie
(1917) argued that empirical data should be used
to justify feminist objectives, reviewing anthropological, anthropomorphic, and psychological
research that would support “the alleged unfitness
of women to undertake certain forms of activity”
(p. 277). Following her review of evidence regarding women’s intellectual inferiority, Hollingworth
noted that beliefs about female inferiority were
unfounded (Rutherford et al., 2012).
More explicitly addressing issues of power and
oppression and rejecting the apolitical stance of
mainstream psychology in North America during
the Cold War, the work of Ignacio Martı´n-Baro´
demonstrates the effort to develop psychological

A

A

22

research methods and theories directed toward
social justice and liberation. As a psychologist
and Jesuit priest engaged in political struggles in
El Salvador, Martı´n-Baro´ was concerned specifically with the psychological dimensions of political
repression. Through his work, the pathologization
of the bodies and minds of everyday people was
shifted instead to conditions of oppression and
state-sponsored violence. His work not only broadened the psychological conceptualization of issues
such as trauma and depression but demonstrated
the urgent need for social scientists engage politically in order to develop theories and practices that
responded to the local sociopolitical realities facing
oppressed communities.
In the United States, one of the earliest organized psychological bodies to reject the apolitical
stance of mainstream psychology was the Society
for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
(SPSSI). Formed in 1936, SPSSI’s generated
a wealth of studies, employing diverse research
methods, on a wide range of social and political
issues, including racial injustice (e.g., Clark &
Clark, 1939), academic freedom, poverty, unemployment, and sexual orientation (see: Pettit,
2011). SPSSI’s engagement with diverse
research methods, such as the adoption of Marie
Jahoda’s immersion approach (see: Rutherford,
Unger, & Cherry, 2011), the use of community
self-surveys (see: Torre & Fine, 2011), reflects
not only the organization’s conviction that social
change could be enacted through social inquiry,
but also its epistemological commitment in
expanding the field of expertise.
These early theoretical and methodological
contributions informed contemporary critical
psychological research aimed at social and political action on a wide range of issues including the
criminalization of youth (e.g., Fox & Fine, 2012);
trauma, human rights, and war (e.g., Lykes &
Coquillon, 2009; Reisner, 2003); and gender,
incarceration, and structural violence (Fine &
Torre, 2006).
Research on Activism
The critical tradition of psychology has always
emphasized the importance of studying

Activism

individuals in social contexts. Hardley Cantril,
a British psychologist, was among the first to
systematically theorize social movements from
a psychological perspective while paying
detailed attention to the individual mental context. In The Psychology of Social Movements,
Cantril (1941/2002) provided a framework to
understand individuals as active agents in their
engagement with politics in the decades of world
wars, the Nazi’s rise to power, and racist violence. During the 1960s, a time of vibrant activism in the United States brought about through
the energy of the Civil Rights Movement,
scholars turned their attention to understanding
the behavior, motivation, and aspects of personality development implicated in this emergent
mass youth-led movement. Frederic Solomon
and Jacob Fishman’s (1964) analyses of political
activism cut across social, cultural, and individual levels. Through observations and interviews
with youth at peace demonstrations in Washington D.C., they examined not only youth’s perceptions and responses to the general uncertainty in
the broader social and political terrain, but also
the ideological contestation around the notion of
“nonviolence” in the movement. Since the
repressive regime of McCarthyism in the 1950s
and the emergence of the Cold War, Solomon
and Fishman’s work represents an attempt to
employ psychological research methods to
reconceptualize the phenomenon of mass movement previously understood as pathological
and created a theoretical basis for later research
on activism.
Challenging Injustice Within and Beyond
the Discipline
Some of the strongest activist challenges to the
discipline of psychology itself have come from
feminist psychologists whose critical examinations of psychological research and clinical practices led to the elaboration of more fundamental
critiques of the discipline’s epistemological foundations (Rutherford et al., 2012). Many second
wave feminist psychologists’ activism drew on
personal experiences discrimination, exclusion,
and harassment and from their participation in

Activism

political movements of the 1960s. These psychologists began to form organizations that would
support the development of feminist research,
practice, and activism. At the 1969 APA convention, a number of unofficial, independently organized symposia, paper sessions, and workshops
on women’s issues drew hundreds of attendees.
A number of petitions were circulated during
these sessions, including one demanding that the
APA examine and address sexist discrimination
in the organization and in psychology departments and another calling for an APA resolution
recognizing abortion as a civil right of pregnant
women (Rutherford et al.). These activities fostered ongoing political discussion and organizing
and eventually led to the formation of the Association for Women in Psychology (AWP), an
organization whose primary focus continues to
be on feminist activism. The AWP, along with
other organizations such as the Feminist Therapy
Institute, established in 1983, worked to challenge a wide range of concerns within the discipline, including existing codes of ethics in
clinical psychology, gender bias in psychiatric
diagnosis, and assumptions about the psychological natures of women and men. Feminist psychologists have also organized to address a broad
range of social issues beyond the discipline itself,
including reproductive justice, violence against
women, and intersecting systems of oppression
such as racism, classism, and ableism.
In more recent history, during the height of
Bush’s “War on Terror,” a group of psychologists
formed an organization, Coalition for an Ethical
Psychology, to challenge American Psychological Association’s (APA) continual involvement
with the interrogation and torture of political
prisoners. The coalition called to annul the 2005
Report of the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (the PENS
Report) which suggested that psychologists
played a critical role in keeping interrogations
“safe, legal, ethical, and effective.” The coalition
argues that this stance contradicts the international human rights’ as well as psychologist professional ethical standards and thus must be
annulled and discontinued to be held as

23

A

professional practice guide. Today the coalition
continues to work on reforming APA’s policies
with broader social justice movements.
On a different note, right-wing activism has
influenced the discipline’s research and practice.
At times, conservative political forces are able to
limit research on urgent social issues under the
guise of maintaining “scientific neutrality.” The
recent Connecticut gun violence tragedy, for
instance, has instigated a wave of psychological
organizations such as the APA and Psychologists
for Social Responsibility calling to lift the
20-year federal ban on funding research on
gun violence.

Critical Debates
One of the major tensions in the relationship
between psychology and activism is the interaction of theory and practice. Ian Parker is one of
the psychologists who has called attention to the
problem of depoliticization of the discipline and
the need to synthesize psychological knowledge
in activist work. In Revolution In Psychology:
Alienation to Emancipation, Parker (2007)
argues that psychology has become an alienating
science in which it either appropriates common
knowledge as disciplinary expertise or flattens
useful knowledge into readily consumable commodities. The result in either case is that people
are alienated from knowledge. Parker proposes
a set of transitional demands that would shift the
discipline away from its present operation as
a technology of social control toward
a becoming tool of emancipation. For Parker,
this transformation cannot be realized through
mere internal reform nor separated from other
social movements. To attempt meaningful transformation of the discipline in such a way would
simply bolster psychology’s operation as an
alienating science by further professionalizing
knowledge to be guarded within a narrow pool
of scholars.
While the field of critical psychology is
emerging and consolidating, there is also a risk
of it becoming merely a new commodity that

A

A

24

supplements the rapidly privatizing education
and the further marketization of academic work.
Parker (2009) argues that “critical psychology”
has become a technology of recuperation that
support reforms to the “old psychology” in
order for it survive in the current period of capitalist expansion. That is, those who claim to be
“critical psychologists” often stop at being “critical” of psychology without crafting new paradigms aimed toward radical social change. The
political economy of psychology as a bulk of
knowledge and as an academic institution, therefore, needs to be examined within the broader
context of capitalist development. That is, as
Fine and Burns (2003) argue, the transformation
of education and knowledge requires not only the
analysis of ideology but also of institutions in
how they structure classed-based privileges and
disadvantages.
Indeed a meaningful and sustainable transformation of the discipline requires that students of
psychology, graduate students in particular, be
offered real opportunities to bring together activist and academic work. However, such opportunities are scarce given the vast and ongoing shifts
in the economics, structure, and purpose of higher
education that have accompanied the expansion
of neoliberal policy and ideology in North America. As universities struggle to secure revenue,
there is increasing pressure on departments and
academics themselves to produce research that is
easily marketable. The increasing commercialization of research products and the commodification of knowledge and expertise powerfully
limit graduate students’ opportunities to engage
in radical activist work within psychology.
A critical psychology of activism, therefore,
needs not to examine activist practices or social
movements as an external object but to fundamentally challenge the practices and power structures within the academic institution and the
professional practice itself.

References
Cantril, H. (1941/2002). The psychology of social movements. NJ: Rutgers.

Activism
Clark, K. B., & Clark, M. K. (1939). The development of
consciousness of self and the emergence of racial
identification in Negro preschool children. Journal of
Social Psychology, 10(4), 591–599.
Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. (2011). Background
statement on annulment of the APA’s PENS report.
Retrieved from http://www.ethicalpsychology.org/
materials/PENS_Annulment_Background_Statement.
pdf.
Deegan, M. (1988). W.E.B. Du Bois and the women of
hull-house, 1895–1899. The American Sociologist,
19(4), 301–311.
Fine, M., & Burns, A. (2003). Class notes: Toward
a critical psychology of class and schooling. Journal
of Social Issues, 59(4), 841–860.
Fine, M., & Torre, M. E. (2006). Intimate details: Participatory action research in prison. Action Research,
4(3), 253–269.
Fox, M., & Fine, M. (2012). Circulating critical research:
Reflections on performance and moving inquiry into
action. In G. Cannela & S. Steinberg (Eds.), Critical
qualitative research reader (pp. 153–165). New York:
Peter Lang.
Hollingworth, L. (1914). Variability as related to sex
differences in achievement. American Journal of
Sociology, 19, 510–530.
Lykes, M. B., & Coquillon, E. D. (2009). Psychosocial
trauma, poverty, and human rights in communities
emerging from war. In D. Fox, I. Prilleltensky, & S.
Austin (Eds.), Critical psychology II (pp. 285–299).
London: Sage.
Parker, I. (2007). Revolution in psychology: Alienation to
emancipation. London: Pluto Press.
Parker, I. (2009). Critical psychology and revolution
Marxism. Theory & Psychology, 19(1), 71–92.
Pettit, M. (2011). The SPSSI task force on
sexual orientation, the nature of sex, and the
contours of activist science. Journal of Social Issues,
67, 92–105.
Reisner. (2003). Psychic trauma and the seductions of
a painful past. Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 4(3),
263–286.
Rutherford, A., Marecek, J., & Sheese, K. (2012).
Psychology of women and gender. In D. K.
Freedheim & I. Weiner (Eds.), Handbook of psychology: History of psychology (pp. 279–301). Hoboken,
NJ: Wiley.
Rutherford, A., Unger, R., & Cherry, F. (2011).
Reclaiming SPSSI’s sociological past: Marie Jahoda
and the immersion tradition in social psychology.
Journal of Social Issues, 67(1), 42–58.
Solomon, F., & Fishman, J. R. (1964). Youth and peace:
A psychosocial study of student peace demonstrators
in Washington, DC. Journal of Social Issues, 20(4),
54–73.
Torre, M. E., & Fine, M. (2011). A wrinkle in time:
Tracing a legacy of public science through community
self-surveys and participatory action research. Journal
of Social Issues, 67(1), 106–121.