Psychology and politics
The American political scientist Charles E. Merriam described psychology as a ‘kindred’ science (Merriam, 1924). McGuire (1993) writes about the ‘long affair’ between psychology and political science underpinned by frequent transformation of topics, procedures and theories. What Merriam and McGuire have in common is that they understand the relationship between psychology and politics as the study of ‘political behaviour’. A variety of ‘definitions’ of this relationship has been suggested. For example, Sears et al. (2003) see the relationship between psychology and politics as the ‘application of what is known about human psychology to the study of politics’ (p. 3). For others, it is about discerning how ‘human cognition and emotion mediate the impact of the environment on political action’ (Stein, 2002, p. 108). According to Lavine (2010), the relationship is ‘defined by a bidirectional influence: just as the psyche influences political orientation, the polity leaves its mark on who we are’ (p. xx, emphasis in original).
This book does not attempt to offer yet another definition. Instead, it tries to qualify the relationship between psychology and politics by proposing alternative approaches, different conceptual tools and a different vision of human psychology and political behaviour with roots in epistemological, theoretical and methodological presuppositions arising from the discursive (Billig, 1987; Harré and Gillett, 1994; Middleton and Edwards, 1990), narrative (Bruner, 1986; Polkinghorne, 1988) and sociocultural (Middleton and Brown, 2005; Valsiner, 2007; Wertsch, 2002) turns in psychology, the human and the social sciences, giving rise to what can be broadly termed an interpretive political psychology. An interpretive political psychology suggests that political psychologists can attain a deep level of understanding of political behaviour by researching different social and political orders – discursive, cultural and semiotic – in their own terms. When political psychologists research attitudes, racism, public opinion, political ideology, and so on, they are, arguably, describing universalistic and particularistic presuppositions of modern culture. An interpretive political psychology likens the work of the political psychologist to that of the anthropologist who uncovers the various meaning-making layers through which society is organised and reproduces itself (Moscovici, 1972).