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A New Understanding of Mental Disorders A Theory of Feelings Addictions Memory and the Self"Intimate" Violence against Women1001 Solution-Focused Questions101 Healing Stories101 Things I Wish I'd Known When I Started Using Hypnosis50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God8 Keys to Body Brain BalanceA Brief History of Modern PsychologyA Conceptual History of PsychologyA Conceptual History of Psychology: Exploring the Tangled Web A Cooperative SpeciesA Guide to Teaching Introductory PsychologyA History of Modern Experimental PsychologyA History of Psychology in AutobiographyA History of Social PsychologyA History of the BrainA History of the MindA Hole in the HeadA Matter of SecurityA Mind of Its OwnA Natural History of Human ThinkingA Place for ConsciousnessA Scientific Search for AltruismA Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in ChildrenA Social History of PsychologyA Stroll With William JamesA System Architecture Approach to the BrainA 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IntentionsEffective Writing in PsychologyEffortless AttentionEmbodied Minds in ActionEmbracing MindEmbracing UncertaintyEMDR Therapy and Somatic PsychologyEmotion and ConsciousnessEmotion ExperienceEmotion RegulationEmotion, Evolution, And RationalityEmotional IntelligenceEmotionally InvolvedEmotionsEmotionsEmotions and LifeEmotions in Humans and ArtifactsEmotions RevealedEmotions, Aggression, and Morality in ChildrenEmotions, Stress, and HealthEmpathyEnjoymentErotic MoralityEscape Your Own PrisonEssays in Social NeuroscienceEssential Sources in the Scientific Study of ConsciousnessEthical Issues in Forensic Mental Health ResearchEthically Challenged ProfessionsEveryday Mind ReadingEvidence for PsiEvidence-Based Mental Health PracticeEvil MenEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and LearningEvolution, Games, and GodEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolutionary Psychology as Maladapted PsychologyExacting BeautyExperiences of DepressionExperimenterExplaining 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ConsciousnessGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGenerosityGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenetic Nature/CultureGeniusGetting Started with EEG NeurofeedbackGetting Under the SkinGlued to GamesGoing SaneGot Parts?Group GeniusGrowing Up GirlGuilt, Shame, and AnxietyGut ReactionsHallucinationHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Closeness and IntimacyHandbook of Critical PsychologyHandbook of Emotion RegulationHandbook of EmotionsHandbook of Personality DisordersHandbook of PsychopathyHandbook of Self and IdentityHandbook of Self and IdentityHandbook of Spatial CognitionHappinessHappinessHappinessHappinessHappiness at WorkHappiness Is.Happy at LastHard to GetHardwired BehaviorHatredHealing the SplitHidden ResourcesHope and DespairHot ThoughtHot ThoughtHouse and PsychologyHow Animals Affect UsHow Animals GrieveHow Can the Human Mind Occur in the Physical Universe?How Doctors ThinkHow Enlightenment Changes Your BrainHow Families Still MatterHow History Made the MindHow Infants Know 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PersonalityOn the Frontier of AdulthoodOn the Origins of Cognitive ScienceOn The Stigma Of Mental IllnessOnflowOpen MindsOpening Skinner's BoxOrigin of MindOrigins of PsychopathologyOther MindsOut of Our HeadsOut of the WoodsOvercoming Depersonalization DisorderPanpsychism and the Religious AttitudePanpsychism in the WestParenting and the Child's WorldPassionate EnginesPathologies of the WestPatient-Based Approaches to Cognitive NeurosciencePediatric PsychopharmacologyPeople Types and Tiger StripesPerception & CognitionPerception beyond InferencePerception, Hallucination, and IllusionPersonal Development and Clinical PsychologyPerspectives on ImitationPhantoms in the BrainPhenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal KnowledgePhenomenology and Philosophy of MindPhilosophical Foundations of NeurosciencePhilosophical MidwiferyPhilosophy and HappinessPhilosophy of PsychologyPhilosophy, Neuroscience and ConsciousnessPhrenologyPhysical RealizationPhysics in MindPieces of LightPlaying with FirePositive PsychologyPositive PsychologyPostcards from the Brain MuseumPostpsychiatryPosttraumatic Stress DisorderPoverty and Brain Development During ChildhoodPractical Ethics for PsychologistsPractical Management of Personality DisorderPractical Management of Personality DisorderPredicative MindsPredictably IrrationalPreference, Belief, and SimilarityPrenatal Testosterone in MindPrivileged AccessProcess-Based CBTProcrastinationPromoting Healthy AttachmentsProust Was a NeuroscientistPsychiatric SlaveryPsychiatry as Cognitive NeurosciencePsychiatry, Psychoanalysis, And The New Biology Of MindPsychological AgencyPsychological Concepts and Biological PsychiatryPsychological Dimensions of the SelfPsychologists Defying the CrowdPsychologyPsychologyPsychology and Consumer CulturePsychology and LawPsychology and the Question of AgencyPsychology for ScreenwritersPsychology of Women: A Handbook of Issues and TheoriesPsychology's GhostsPsychology's Interpretive TurnPsychology's 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WithinUnsettled MindsUnstrange MindsUnthinkingUnthoughtUs and ThemViolent PartnersVirtue, Vice, and PersonalityVision and MindVisual AgnosiaWarrior's DishonourWe Who Are DarkWednesday Is Indigo BlueWelcome to Your BrainWhat Do Women Want?What Dying People WantWhat Have We DoneWhat Intelligence Tests MissWhat Is an Emotion: Classic and Contemporary ReadingsWhat Is Emotion?What is Intelligence?What Is Mental Illness?What Is Thought?What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite What the Best College Students DoWhat the Dog SawWhat We Know about Emotional IntelligenceWhat We Say MattersWhat's Wrong With Morality?When Boys Become BoysWhen Perfect Isn't Good EnoughWhen the Impossible HappensWhen Walls Become DoorwaysWho's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWho's in Charge?Why Humans Like to CryWhy Love MattersWhy Lyrics LastWhy People CooperateWhy People Die by SuicideWhy Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human BehaviorWhy Smart People Can Be So StupidWhy the Mind is Not a ComputerWhy Us?Why We LieWhy We LoveWhy We SleepWider than the SkyWilliam James at the BoundariesWilling, Wanting, WaitingWittgenstein And PsychologyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWorking MindsYoga and PsychologyYou Are What You RememberYoung Minds in Social WorldsYour Brain on CubsYour Brain on FoodYour Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings,Your Brain on YogaYour Child in the BalanceZombies and Consciousness
Defining the twentieth century by its key achievements is clearly difficult: the discoveries of atomic energy, antibiotics, instrumentation for the exploration of the moon and the planets of the solar system, would obviously come to the mind first. The twentieth century, however, is also marked by psychology and psychoanalysis that have shaped our view of ourselves in a subtle, yet profound way. Our previously unrecognized "unconscious drives" are part of our everyday culture, to much a deeper extent than atomic energy. The century of psychoanalysis is so much different from the preceding ones that its influence on our cultural heritage is difficult to recognize: it changed our views so profoundly that we can hardly imagine doing without. Psychology revolutionized the education of children, sexuality and ethics much beyond its empirical and scientific merits.
Rom Harré has collected the different psychological theories developed during the XX century in a very readable, yet rigorous, exposition and his book is noteworthy for completeness and concision; perhaps at times it becomes too concise and one would like he had written more. He recognizes in XX century psychology no less than ten different approaches, and succinctly discusses the writings of least two authors of each, making this 280-pages book quite dense. The classification of the different approaches is somewhat personal: e.g. psychoanalysis is not a group by itself, but is classed together with Kraepelin's psychiatry, while the Gestalt is classed under the "psychology of perception". As a consequence, the book is not a classical manual of the history of psychology but an original critical analysis; readability is improved but some familiarity of the reader with the subject matter is presumed. The book is rewarding but demanding.
Harré's position is balanced: he has no difficulty in praising less known authors (e.g. Vygotsky) and in criticizing towering figures like Jean Piaget and Sigmund Freud. There is a discernible and appreciable effort in Key Thinkers in Psychology to overlook fame and success and to stick to the effective merits of each theorist. Indeed each author is presented in a stereotyped manner that includes a short biography and a discussion of his/her major contributions; no space is dedicated to the success and diffusion of the theory or to its impact on society. Some of the weaknesses of psychology are clearly exposed: many theories such as behaviourism, psychoanalysis and Piaget's developmentalism originated from beautiful ideas and experiments that were generalized beyond reason and used as the basis of whole systems, e.g.:
"... Skinner adopted an almost messianic ambition to redesign the human world and to redeem its evils by the universal application of the techniques of operant conditioning." (p.18)
"... psychopathology required a system for classifying the phenomena and a powerful set of explanatory concepts, reaching into the underlying and often unobservable causes of mental troubles. Kraepelin provided the former and Sigmund Freud believed he had provided the latter." (p.263)
Key Thinkers in Psychology is intriguing because it presents to the reader so many different, and often conflicting, theories. This is a great merit of its author who keeps a balanced view of the history of modern psychology, and stimulates his readers with open problems rather than soothing them with partial and unreliable answers. Yet, Harré's political correctness makes the book a collection of sketches, devoid of a clear logical thread. In the absence of a widely accepted theory, the field is fragmented into several different approaches and the reader would expect at least some comment on the reasons why psychology has not found a unifying view as chemistry or physics have. Harré does not venture into a global perspective, but the impression one gets is that there is no agreement on which phenomena need to be explained by psychology and how they are to be classified: each author painfully finds his way through a complex world of psychological phenomena and ends up with his own classification, that is not shared by others. One might perhaps remember and extend to individual psychology Jacques Monod's idea that biology is a historical science (because mutations arise casually and shape the further evolution of biological systems), to which the usual generalizations of chemistry and physics cannot be applied. Although this point is not explicitly stated by Harré, it comes out quite clearly in several points of the book, e.g. the comparison between Gordon Allport and Raymond Cattell.
Why so many of the authors cited and praised by Harré are almost unknown to the general public, whereas the best known ones are criticized, at times quite harshly? This is perhaps the strongest merit of this unconventional book and the point where it becomes more demanding for the reader. Harré implicitly poses this question but leaves the answer to his readers. He never goes as far as explicitly observing that his preferred authors are sound scientists who refuse to generalize and to simplify their discoveries to make them more palatable to the general public, and that psychology is a difficult science in which theorizing has often exceeded measurements and discoveries. In Key Thinkers in Psychology facts are plainly stated and conclusions are let to emerge almost by themselves, without the help of the author, who never renounces his scheme to allow himself more space to discuss his own views.
© 2007 Andrea Bellelli
Andrea Bellelli has an MD and a degree in psychology, and teaches biochemistry in the Medical School of the University of Rome, Italy.
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