Critical Disciplinary Approaches
Critical race perspectives in psychology also challenge psychologists to reveal and dismantle institutions and conventions that constitute racial power not only in society at large but also within the discipline itself. More broadly, critical perspectives within social and cultural psychology highlight the ideological assumptions that pervade psychological science and present alternative theoretical positions to challenge the relationship between science and inequality. Critical social psychologists problematize the ways in which mainstream psychological science largely considers individuals abstracted from social context and their (racialized) position in society (e.g., Hook &
Howarth, 2005). Notably, one of the key elements that characterizes critical psychology—an emphasis on the extent to which dominant discourses in psychological research can operate in the service of power and privilege—can be countered with self-critical reflexivity about the ways in which psychological science reproduces domination (Finlay & Gough, 2008). By rejecting assumptions of neutrality, an objective “view from nowhere” (Nagel, 1986), and the idea of a pure science abstracted from context, critical social psychologists aim to disrupt “business as usual” practices that ignore the ways in which everyday frames are gendered, classed, and racialized (also see Cundiff, 2012).
Conventional approaches to cultural psychology tend to highlight the extent to which mainstream psychological science often relies on a Eurocentric standard by either ignoring diverse samples or treating other patterns as a deviation from a natural baseline that requires explanation (WEIRD; Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan, 2010). Although cultural psychologists have tended to sidestep issues of oppression and domination (cf. J. M. Jones, 1991, 1997), cultural-psychological perspectives often reveal the particular positioning of allegedly positionless mainstream theory and research. When making efforts to diversify the science or make it less “weird”, Adams and Salter (2007) emphasize two strategies for psychological science. The first strategy is to provide a normalizing, context-sensitive account of “other” patterns that mainstream psychological science regards as abnormal. The second strategy is to “turn the analytic lens” or denaturalize patterns that mainstream psychological science tends to portray as standard. Applied to analyses of race, turning the analytic lens (Adams & Salter, 2007) can reveal the resonance between mainstream psychological science and White understandings and desires (e.g., defining and approaching racism from an isolated, individual perspective; Adams, Edkins, Lacka, Pickett, & Cheryan, 2008; Sommers & Norton, 2006). The practices and institutions that pass for “natural” standards in psychological science reflect preferential selection and the reproduction of the understandings of people in positions of power.
Notably, psychology has also traveled to critical race theory. Critical Race Realism utilizes research from across the social sciences and, in particular, from social psychology to understand the way racial bias manifests at every level of the legal system. These critical race theory legal scholars have drawn upon social-psychological research to challenge the narrow, conventional understandings of discrimination as individual, intentional, racially motivated antipathy, or prejudice that typically pervades legal doctrine (e.g., Krieger, 2004; Parks, Jones, & Cardi, 2008). While conventional legal standards of racial discrimination require “proof” of deliberate, differential treatment, Critical Race Realism instead draws upon empirical-psychological research, demonstrating the pervasive occurrence of discrimination that can occur without conscious awareness by people who sincerely strive to act in a nondiscriminatory fashion (e.g., Devine, 1989; Dovidio, Kawakami, Johnson, Johnson, & Howard, 1997; Fazio, Jackson, Dunton, & Williams, 1995).
Although Critical Race Realism utilizes contributions from social- psychological science to support critical race theory propositions, they do not necessarily challenge the disciplinary assumptions and conventions of social- psychological science that reflect and reproduce positivist (Richardson & Fowers, 1998), methodologically hegemonic (i.e., experimental, Potter, 1997; cf. Wilson, 2005), and individualist (Dixon & Reicher, 1997; Shweder, 1990) approaches that are regarded as “good” science within psychology. Instead, critical voices within psychology advocate a more identity-conscious, selfcritical, reflexive form of inquiry that acknowledges the positionality and ideology inherent in theory and method to produce good science.