Social Psychological Theory as History: Outlining the Critical-Historical Approach to Theory

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16 Scopus citations


The mainstream epistemology of social psychology is markedly ahistorical, prioritizing the quantification of processes assumed to be lawful and generalizable. Social psychologists often consider theory to be either a practical tool for summarizing what is known about a problem area and making predictions or a torch that illuminates the counterintuitive causal force underlying a variety of disparate phenomena. I propose a third vision of critical-historical theory. From this perspective, theories should be committed to deep interdisciplinarity and historical validity claims—understanding individual and group experiences as part of historically contingent forces. Theories also should be critical, containing an awareness of the researcher as implicated in the social process and committed to actively improving society. To demonstrate its viability, I review classic works from the history of the discipline that exemplify critical-historical theory and offer concrete implications for theorists interested in employing this approach in their own work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-99
Number of pages22
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • critical psychology
  • critical theory
  • epistemology
  • history
  • neoliberalism
  • theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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