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The Shackles of Practice: History of psychology, research assessment and the curriculum

Bunn, GC and Collins, AF (2016) The Shackles of Practice: History of psychology, research assessment and the curriculum. In: Centrality of History for Theory Construction in Psychology. Springer, pp. 91-109. ISBN 978-3-319-42759-1


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The history of psychology is being increasingly marginalized in British universities. In this article we argue that this marginalization has been brought about by a combination of material circumstances resulting from the marketization of the UK Higher Education sector. One consequence of this, the statutory audit known as the Research Excellence Framework, has made it increasingly difficult to undertake historical work as it has traditionally been done in UK Psychology Departments. At best such a situation challenges the ambition for historical work to have an impact on psychology. At worst it potentially renders the history of psychology irrelevant. Yet the theoretical justification for history of psychology has never been stronger. Psychology’s subject matter is neither exclusively natural nor entirely socially constructed, but lies on that “somewhat suspect borderland between physiology and philosophy” as Wilhelm Wundt put it. The discipline’s ontological claims are therefore always made from within epistemological frameworks which are themselves products of particular historical contexts. Such arguments have persuaded us that history of psychology has a fundamental role to play within the wider discipline. Yet as historians we cannot ignore the constraining social and material circumstances in which our field operates. We conclude that although the constraints of practice suggest that its prospects for influencing its parent discipline are seriously challenged, there are nevertheless opportunities for the history of psychology areas such as the undergraduate curriculum.

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