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A History of “Relevance” in Psychology by Wahbie Long

By Wahbie Long

This booklet represents the 1st try to historicise and theorise appeals for ‘relevance’ in psychology. It argues that the patience of questions about the ‘relevance’ of psychology derives from the discipline’s terminal lack of ability to outline its subject material, its reliance on a socially disinterested technological know-how to underwrite its wisdom claims, and its consequent failure to handle itself to the desires of a swiftly altering global.

The chapters move directly to reflect on the ‘relevance’ debate inside of South African psychology, by way of significantly analysing discourse of forty-five presidential, keynote and establishing addresses brought at annual nationwide psychology congresses among 1950 and 2011, and observes how appeals for ‘relevance’ have been complicated through reactionary, revolutionary and radical psychologists alike.

The booklet provides, in addition, the provocative thesis that the innovative quest for ‘social relevance’ that started within the Nineteen Sixties has been supplanted through an ethic of ‘market relevance’ that threatens to isolate the self-discipline nonetheless farther from the anxieties of broader society. With strong curiosity teams carrying on with to co-opt psychologists with no relent, this can be a improvement that simply psychologists of moral sense can arrest.

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Whereas Ring’s (1967) version of “social relevance” was concerned mostly with what to study, McGuire (1973) believed that the demand for “social relevance” deflected attention from another, more troubling matter: the “socially relevant” hypothesis was based on a linear model of causality and did nothing to address the fundamental shortcomings of the experimental method itself.  583). “Social relevance”—and, by implication, social change— seemed inconceivable in an ahistorical psychology that, for decades, had dedicated itself to a mechanistic understanding of human action.

NOTES 1. Nonetheless, the activist population was anything but doctrinally consistent, reflecting perhaps its distrust of organized belief systems. Moreover, because of a noticeable predilection for individualistic values—and its being lumped with the politically disenchanted “Pot Left”—it invited charges of anarchy, irrationality, barbarism, and “ego-litarianism” (Axelrod et al.  206). 2.  26); the rapid dissolution of the student movement seems to have vindicated this skepticism.  33). 3. In his address, Miller suggested that psychologists needed to think beyond their scientific obligations in order to realize their responsibilities as citizens: “The demand for social relevance that we have been voicing as psychologists 38 A HISTORY OF “RELEVANCE” IN PSYCHOLOGY is only one aspect of a general dissatisfaction with the current state of our society.

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