Psychosocial Research

Stephanie Taylor


The most notable feature of psychosocial research is its exploration of problems in terms of the interconnections between subjectivities and societies, in contrast to more conventional research approaches which might separate ‘personal’ and ‘social’ or ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ as distinct categories and levels of analysis. Some of the best-known psychosocial research has therefore been transdisciplinary, bringing the foci of psychology and psychotherapies to topics like class and climate change which have more usually been studied by academics from, respectively, sociology and geography rather than psychology. However, the relation of psychosocial studies to the psychology discipline remains complex. Many psychosocial concerns are those of social psychology, including self, subjectivity and identity, relationships and intimacy, and emotions, sometimes linked to the newer concept of ‘affect’. In addition, there has been substantial input from psychologists into the development of psychosocial studies, through the work of both historic figures (William James, Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein) and contemporary social and critical psychologists, including Stephen Frosh, Wendy Hollway, Paul Stenner, Valerie Walkerdine and Margaret Wetherell. Yet, many psychosocial academics have come from other disciplines, such as sociology and geography, and one sociologist suggests, in a rather caricatured criticism, that a major attraction for [1]

many students and researchers is that psychosocial research addresses conventional psychological concerns, such as ‘minds’, ‘feelings’ and ‘people’, without ‘the besetting positivism and scientism of much academic psychology’ (Rustin, 2014, p. 198).

The first section of this chapter outlines how psychosocial studies developed in part as a response to claimed deficiencies in the tradition of psychology which includes social constructionist and discursive psychology. The following section looks at a definition of psychosocial studies and sets out three key concepts which are common to the variety of theoretical and research- based writing presented as psychosocial. These are the concept of an interface or ‘inbetweenness’, implicit even in the term psychosocial, the concept of the ‘extra-rational’ as aspects of problems and situations which psychosocial researchers attempt to capture, and the concept of ‘affect’ which has varied meanings but relates in some references to the extra-rational. The following section discusses several published studies as examples of the application of psychosocial research to real-life problems, with a special focus on the different methods which have been used. The final sections of the chapter review current trends in psychosocial research and discuss its future relationship to the psychology discipline.

  • [1] Taylor (*) School of Psychology, The Open University, UK© The Author(s) 2017 B. Gough (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Social Psychology,DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-51018-1_12
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