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Putting Psychology in Its Place

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You might think doing history of psychology is a dusty pursuit most suitable for old fashioned book worms and of little relevance to today’s world. Think again! The future of psychology, and the health of today’s society, hinges on understanding the practices – and mistakes – of the past.

Last October the American Psychological Association (APA) issued a watershed apology to ‘People of Color for APA’s Role in Promoting, Perpetuating, and Failing to Challenge Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Human Hierarchy in U.S’. Backing up the text are some 61 scholarly references, including several texts from historians of psychology. One classic text cited as influencing the apology is R.V. Guthrie’s Even the rat was white: A historical view of psychology (Pearson 2004) and another is G. Richards’ Race, racism, and psychology: Toward a reflexive history (Routledge 1997).

History of psychology has helped to make a real difference. And here comes some Open Psychology Research Centre (OPRC) news from this summer. In collaboration with The Open University social psychologist Professor Paul Stenner, historian of psychology Graham Richards has just published the 4th Edition of Putting psychology in its place: Critical historical perspectives (Routledge 2022).

The book gives a critical introduction to the history of psychology and shows the ties between psychological knowledge and its societal, cultural and historical contexts. A key message of the book is to keep psychology open. That means psychologists must continue learning these lessons from history which teach that ‘human nature’ is something each new generation must continually re-discover, debate and re-create.

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