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Monday, March 7, 2011

A Newly Minted Discipline

Word has reached us of a job posting at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. The post is in the Psychology Department.
   Traditionally, psychology examines thoughts and behavior reported among, or exhibited by, all humans, then posits theories as to how they emerge. There are various theoretical schools-of-thought on the matter of human psychology: Freudianism, behaviorism, etc. It's customary for a psychology department to teach all approaches as having potential merit, while suggesting to students that they can focus on applying one philosophy after graduation. Also, it's customary for the department to subject ALL approaches to logical critique and scrutiny.
   The posting we have is for a professor of "feminist psychology." In other words, for a teacher of theories of the mind whose background is in feminist theory. In an of itself, that's no issue. But it does raise a serious educational question: How rigorous, how neutral, and how pluralistic is the U of PEI's psychology department in the matter of curriculum?
    It is unclear from the posting (see below) whether the new hire is to examine the psychology OF feminism, or to ESPOUSE it as THE PSYCHOLOGY of choice... and teach that to students. For example, the hired professor will be paid to teach the theories of Gender construction as a basis of psychological construction; however, Gender Theory is simply a re-interpretaton of things: of actions, culture, history, etc. Therefore, Gender Theory is itself a human thought construction, not a critique of the way we humans construct thoughts.
    Feminism does, of course, theorize about the way people think. However, a feminist will suggest that, if a woman is unhappy, it's probably because she's oppressed by a man (or a male culture). So now we have to ask the question: Is this the psychological counselling that UPEI's graduates are typically going to give their clients?
     Feminism is not a branch of mainstream psychology, in this sense: it does not stand back from its own political biases and critically examine them; it does not base its conclusions on its own field research, through rigorous clinical trials; it would not seek to accredit hypotheses that contradict its own, received opinions. On the contrary, as a body originating in ONE identity group, but not humanity, it would want to validate findings that comfort that identity group and are welcomed into that group.
     Also, it would want to see findings that denigrate scholars that it felt were adversarial. So it would favor political advocacy, not scientific research.
     In the recently politicized academy, this is not unusual. For example, there is a university subdiscipline called Feminist Stewardship of the Planet. Some call this a pseudo-branch of Environmental Science. Certainly, its mission is to examine the way pollution has happened; however -- ominously -- its mission is also to validate the theory that women NURTURE the Earth, while men tend to despoil it.
     If you, dear reader, are a feminist who wants a job as a feminist psych prof, here's a posting for you:

The University of Prince Edward Island is inviting applications for a ten-month term position in Critical/Feminist Psychology at the Assistant Professor level beginning August 1, 2011. Qualifications include a Ph.D. in psychology (or a Ph.D. in final stages of completion), demonstrated teaching ability, and a student centered approach to teaching. Evidence of research potential and evidence of research success, while not requirements for this position, would be strong assets. The teaching assignment is three courses in each of two semesters, and would involve courses such as:  Psychology of Women; Gender and Sexuality; Media, Sex, and Power (or other courses that can be cross-listed with Women’s Studies, as this position involves 2-3 courses per year that are cross-listed); Adolescent Development; and, Introductory Psychology. 
     The Psychology Faculty are a team of dynamic, creative, and diverse educators and researchers. At UPEI, faculty have the freedom to develop their unique professional and personal potentials in a variety of ways...

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