Critical Psychology: The most recent version (soon to be replaced), illustrated by the problem of motivation

  • Morten NissenEmail author


Critical Psychology (CP) cannot be defined as only critical in the classical, Enlightenment meaning: as a systematically reflective alternative to traditional ways of thinking, relevant to a changing society, since psychology, as I will argue, is already this. Rather, CP is critical in the sense of continuing the tradition of declaring a crisis of psychology and implying a need for refoundation, even as the mainstream sought to institutionalize psychology as an established science, at a time when institutions demanded psy knowledge and only a radically revised psychology could address the need for their transformation. CP cannot overcome the hope of a new psychology by rejecting psychology, nor by institutionalizing itself. This calls for rethinking the critical as performative, affirmative and immanent – and it could be called post-psychology as a way of flagging the uncertainty of its status. This general approach is demonstrated through the psychology of motivation. As the science of “why we do things,” psychology ignores other disciplines, defers the subjectivity it anyway implies to address, and stabilizes its object by formalizing standardized activities through which motives can be shaped. CP would protest these moves, and in the first phase seek to continue the movement toward expanding the needs recognized to motivate, taking up needs for social transformation; but psychology dodged the challenge mostly by pragmatically bracketing “needs” in favor of operationalizing formal self-regulation. The final section takes up Motivational Interviewing as a case of this pragmatics, which can be seen as neo-conservative and neo-liberal, but which might also be rearticulated as a “poetics of practice,” a production of motives that can be imagined to transcend the narrow standard of counseling. In conclusion, it is hoped that such rearticulations seek to address social problems of our own time, even if they do not add up to a grand strategy for a revolution.


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© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Aarhus UniversityKopenhagenDänemark

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