Afro-Asian Critical Psychology Conference

This inaugural conference, supported by the BPS, emphasised scholarship from the Global South for the Global South. This was a broad and stimulating programme of talks and, as such, it is only possible to report on a small part of this rich and thought-provoking work. I refer those interested to the conference YouTube here: Afro-Asian Critical Psychology Conference 2022 – YouTube

The conference opened with a keynote by Prof Serdar Degirmencioglu covering themes of the corporatisation of psychology beginning with its alignment with the US military followed by the standardisation of psychology training and education from a global North perspective. Psychology is seen as a business of producing and exporting psychological ideas, knowledge, and research. Prof Degirmencioglu used this to contextualise the troubling observation of the neglect of mass suffering by Global North psychologists brought about by war, climate change, and colonising – these issues have not concerned ‘mainstream’ psychologists.

On the theme of exporting global North ideas about psychological functioning, Nyna Amin presented a critique of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Using case studies of children who had experienced profound poverty, uncertainty, rejection, and abandonment an inverted Maslow’s hierarchy was argued to be more appropriate – these children could be seen to begin with self-actualisation (“a richness in self”), that had allowed them to subsequently gain love, esteem, and belonging. Nyna Amin went on to critique self-actualisation as an “empty signifier” (no one knows how far they can go) and that the dominance of models like this cultivates dependency and impedes the development of creativity in children. This made me think that a similar critique might be applied to the conditions of positive development espoused by attachment theory. In her keynote Sonia Soans cautioned about the myth that all indigenous psychologies are timeless and unchanging, and noted that Global South theories are not always emancipatory; all national psychologies are political. Sonia Soans cautioned against any tendency to see indigenous psychologies as monolithic; choices need to be made regarding the perspectives we will align ourselves with, that whilst “decolonisation needs to be discerning of its political stance” it must also be invested in political issues. Thomas Teo focused his talk on the production of knowledge in psychology questioning how a “banality of violence” is possible in research. Teo drew attention to the context of justification and operationalisation in psychology that supports the status quo, narrows horizons, and ignores contextuality. Actions to take in response included temporality and contextuality, taking knowledge to the public, adding psychological humanities to the study of psychological phenomena (history, sociology, political science, anthropology) and reflexivity.