Decolonising psychology

Culture Across the Curriculum: A Psychology Teacher’s Handbook by Kenneth D. Keith (Ed.) (Cambridge University Press; Pb £29.99) reviewed by Julie Hulme.

Psychology has been criticised for focusing on research involving participants who are Western, educated, and from industrialised, rich and democratic countries (WEIRD). Increasingly, psychology educators seek to develop students’ understandings of diversity and cultural difference, preparing them for life, employment and global citizenship. Likewise, our students are diverse, and there is a need to represent their lives, cultures and realities in the psychology that they learn. This is not only a problem for psychology, but also across higher education, as illustrated by the recent National Union of Students movement ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ (e.g. Hussain, 2015) and a multitude of UK university-led initiatives around ‘decolonising the curriculum’.  

As a discipline, psychology offers a wealth of opportunities to explore culture, but traditionally, we have not fully grasped those opportunities. Academic psychologists were themselves generally educated in WEIRD psychology; integrating cross-cultural perspectives into the curriculum requires significant investment of time, resource and scholarly reflection, in the context of priorities set by market competition and league tables. Some courses offer modules on cultural psychology in an attempt to redress the balance, but the rest of the curriculum remains predominantly white, and they may reinforce the perception of diverse cultures as ‘other’ and somewhat ‘exotic’.

This book has been designed to address these challenges. It is an edited collection, authored by international experts on cultural psychology, although I was disappointed that the majority were from the US, Canada, Australia and Europe, with just two contributions from Japanese institutions. It offers a handbook for psychology teachers, covering the whole psychology curriculum, and aims to ‘provide resources and advice for psychology teachers who wish to more effectively highlight and integrate the role of culture in their various classes’.

The structure of the book is coherent; it begins with a conceptual exploration of the value of cultural perspectives in psychology education, in terms of globalisation and cultural competence, before moving to chapters that address specific psychological subdisciplines. All of the core areas recognised by the APA (and similar professional bodies, including the BPS) are covered, including research methods, biological, cognitive, developmental and social psychology, individual differences, and conceptual and historical issues in psychology. There are also chapters relating to health, wellbeing and clinical psychology. Each chapter is pedagogically informed, and takes a practical approach to teaching culture within the different core areas. The relevance of culture to each area is explained through exposition of relevant research from various countries, and accessible examples illustrate the point to a non-expert reader. The authors have provided useful practical examples from their own teaching, offering tried and tested ideas that can be picked up and easily adapted by the reader. I found it easy to locate culturally diverse examples that would be appealing and relevant to my own students. Activities for students are also suggested; for example, providing students with an extract of text from a standard introductory text book, and asking them to rewrite it through a culturally informed lens.

This edited collection provides an invaluable resource for psychology educators wishing to decolonise the psychology curriculum, and to refresh their teaching. It is a timely, and potentially transformative, addition to every psychology teacher’s bookshelf, that offers practical tools to facilitate the development of global citizenship in psychology students.

- Reviewed by Julie Hulme, who is Chair of the BPS Division of Academics, Researchers and Teachers in Psychology, and a Reader in Psychology at Keele University

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