What Is Critical Social Psychology?


Martha Robinson

Critical Social Psychology is a subfield of social psychology that examines how social structures and power relationships affect individual behavior and identity. It is concerned with understanding the ways in which individuals are influenced by their social contexts, including cultural norms, political systems, and economic structures.

Origins of Critical Social Psychology

Critical Social Psychology emerged in the 1970s as a response to the dominant positivist approach in social psychology at the time. The positivist approach emphasized objectivity and scientific methods to study human behavior, often neglecting the role of power and inequality in shaping social phenomena.

Critical Social Psychology challenged this perspective by highlighting the political nature of psychology and arguing that research should be conducted with a critical lens towards power relations. This approach emphasized that psychological processes are embedded within broader social, cultural, and historical contexts.

Key Concepts in Critical Social Psychology

One key concept in Critical Social Psychology is reflexivity. Reflexivity refers to self-awareness of one’s own positionality within society. This entails acknowledging one’s own biases, assumptions, and privileges based on race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.

Another important concept is discourse analysis. Discourse analysis examines how language constructs reality by shaping our perceptions of ourselves and others. How people talk about certain topics can reveal underlying power dynamics and reinforce or challenge dominant ideologies.

Power also plays a central role in Critical Social Psychology. Power refers to the ability to influence others’ behavior or decision-making processes. Power can be expressed through institutionalized systems such as laws or policies but can also manifest through interpersonal relationships.

Applications of Critical Social Psychology

Critical Social Psychology has many applications in various fields such as education, healthcare, media studies, etc. In education, it can be used to understand how certain groups may be disadvantaged by traditional teaching methods or curriculum content. In healthcare settings, it can help identify disparities in access to care based on socioeconomic status or race.

In media studies, Critical Social Psychology can be used to analyze how news outlets frame certain issues or how advertising reinforces gender stereotypes. By examining these power dynamics, Critical Social Psychology can inform interventions that promote social justice and equality.


In conclusion, Critical Social Psychology offers a unique perspective on the study of human behavior by emphasizing the role of power and social structures. By recognizing our own biases and examining discourse and power dynamics, we can better understand the complex ways in which individuals are influenced by their social contexts. This approach has important implications for promoting social justice and equity in various fields.