Not in with the in-crowd

Psychology, Humour and Class: A Critique of Contemporary Psychology by Babak Fozooni (Routledge, £38.99); reviewed by Barry Morgan.

Dr Babak Fozooni takes the reader on an interesting journey in his three-part book. Firstly, he writes about what he describes as Mainstream Psychology, that of the upper-class with their stock-in-trade of psychoanalysis, behaviourism and humanistic psychologies. Devoting a chapter each to Freud, Hirschfield, Watson, Maslow and Rogers, he argues that there are more similarities than differences between these paradigms, and that the protagonists of these psychologies are largely agents (often inadvertently) of capitalism and the state, seeking to control and subdue the working class.

Taking a similar approach to Critical Psychology, which he downgrades to middle class musings, he is much kinder to the quintet he selects – Frankl, Laing, Foucault, Billig and Parker – describing them as smart and original. He derides the new wave of critical psychologists who follow this quintet as lacking innovation yet he proclaims that his omission of a chapter on social identity theory (SIT) featuring Tajfel and Drury as a weakness, claiming simply to have run out of time and patience. He seems to separate out John Drury from the other followers of Tajfel yet argues that SIT is too mired within cognitive psychology to be worthy of liberation. Perhaps he is guiding readers towards Drury’s innovative work regarding class?

The first two sections are but a scene setter for the main thrust of the work, the final section introducing Postpsychology, laying the foundations across what could be loosely termed the social sciences. Fozooni discards the socially constructed boundaries between the disciplines and casts Postpsychology not as interdisciplinary but rather as trans-disciplinary. We are then taken on a whirlwind tour across the disciplines starting somewhat before the birth of what we currently term Psychology in the latter part of the 19th century. Citing ‘thinkers’ from the 17th century to modern day neuro-psychologists Fozooni cleverly weaves the disciplines together to create the holistic Postpsychology. Contributions are made from such seemingly diverse characters as The Earl of Shaftesbury, Vygotsky, Luria and Fromm. This holistic Postpsychology, Fozooni argues, attempts to salvage the best from what he terms the upper- and middle-class psychologies, adding in the adjacent social science disciplines e.g. philosophy and economics. To complete the mix, he seeks to involve the class struggle against capitalism to create Postpsychology with the holistic attributes required ‘for a global remaking of humanity’.

Fozooni, however, surely errs in positioning Postpsychology as working class. I’m minded of the classic class TV sketch with Barker, Corbett and Cleese, I can imagine Fozooni (who describes himself as an ‘oompa loompa’) perhaps associating more with Corbett than the others. The delight in the sketch of course is that it is Corbett who comes out on top! If the argument is that Postpsychology is trans-disciplinary should it be trans-class too? Or maybe Fozooni you’re arguing we are mostly working class now anyway? Nonetheless you’re not currently with the ‘in-crowd’, instead seeming more at ease with the common people ‘who dance and drink and screw’.

In society we tend to learn more and more about less and less, becoming expert on the minutiae, but incapable as experts to consider the whole. Perhaps that is a lesson that will be learned from the Covid-19 crisis. The lesson from this tome is that the ‘technicolour’ Postpsychology as constructed by Fozooni is somewhat more than the sum of its component parts. In addition, it is a valuable reference book guiding the ‘student’ of psychology well outside the conventional boxes.

- Reviewed by Barry Morgan BA BSc MBPsS  [email protected]

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