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Applying Social Psychology - Social Psychology - An Introduction to Critical Social Psychology
November 28, 2003

These books explore social psychology in very different ways. Applying Social Psychology explores the relevance of social psychological theories and research to various aspects of life or, as the authors suggest, "how the science of social psychology can be applied so as to help further our understanding of significant social concerns". After the introductory chapter, which defines social psychology and the domains of social concern, the next chapters highlight the environment, work, health and illness, peace and conflict, communication and the media, education, economic life and consumerism, crime and the law, and sport and exercise. The final chapter provides readers with Swot analysis - helpful in strategic decision-making by highlighting strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats - which is relevant to all domains of social concern.

Each chapter is followed by questions, class activities and further readings. The class activities will help to create an interactive and lively learning environment. The book is primarily geared to advanced undergraduates or postgraduate social psychology students who know the theory or research of primary social psychology sources. It is well written and illustrates the usefulness of social psychological theory on "real life" and social issues.

Social Psychology: Experimental and Critical Approaches combines traditional research and theories in experimental social psychology, such as attitudes, communications and language, social cognition and attribution theory, social perceptions and group behaviour, with the added value of including the new paradigm of critical social psychology. The last is more qualitative and ethnomethodological than experimental social psychology.

The book opens with "What is social psychology?", followed by the two different paradigms, critical and experimental. The third chapter highlights the different methods and forms of data analysis in the two paradigms: a worthwhile summary of the broad spectrum of methods available across the experimental and critical social psychology divide. The second part of the book comprises six chapters on "topics in social psychology": communications and language; understanding the social world; values and attitudes; constructing the social world; selves and identities; and groups.

The final chapter explores "Where next for social psychology?", examining how the two paradigms can work together in understanding such topics as ethnocentrism and institutional racism.

Throughout the six topics, the different paradigms are inter-mingled and the best of both worlds brought out. A very difficult book to write but done with laudable scholarship, confounding Einstein's dictum that "imagination is more important than knowledge" by interweaving the two in a readable way. There is also further reading, questions for students, summaries of research in tables and experiential exercises. This is a good undergraduate or masters book in social psychology.

Finally, An Introduction to Critical Social Psychology , which focuses entirely on the "critical" social psychology paradigm found in Social Psychology . It reads more like a sociological rather than a psychological book, with little reference to traditional topics in social psychology (apart from social cognition theory). The opening chapter is on "What is critical social psychology?" and the remaining chapters fall into two parts: mind and society, and resolutions and dilemmas. The first part deals with social cognition critics, Marxist critics, psychoanalytic critics and feminist critics. These topics are explored primarily from a critical sociology perspective, which raises some interesting theoretical and research issues.

The second part covers subjectivity critics, discourse critics, postmodern critics and integration and subversions. This breaks new ground in psychology by introducing sociological constructs and perspectives in trying to understand behaviour, but the narrow focus on social psychological issues makes it of limited use for undergraduate students.

This is a book for other academics and postgraduate students in psychology and sociology to explore how a critical theory approach can be applicable to psychology.

While Social Psychology shows the relevance of critical approaches to social psychology, An Introduction to Critical Social Psychology is meant for an academically more mature market. It is well written and will be appreciated by certain academics and postgraduates.

Cary L. Cooper is professor of organisational psychology and health, Lancaster University.

Applying Social Psychology: First edition

Author - John Kremer, Noel Sheehy, Jacqueline Reilly, Karen Trew and Orla Muldoon
Publisher - Palgrave Macmillan
Pages - 245
Price - £16.99
ISBN - 0 333 77617 8

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