The Discursive Mind


Rom Harré & Grant Gillett

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    The rapid rise of “discursive psychology” in the last five years indicates the appearance of a genuinely “new psychology” compared with what has gone before. Behaviorism passed away, leaving only its experimental methodology behind, and even that is kept in being more by institutional pressures than by any scientific merit. The new dawn seemed to many to be heralded by the development of computer-oriented “cognitive science,” but that too proved to be an illusion. The technical sophistication of the programming model was not matched by a coherent theory of the relation between formal computation and real-life human thought. Pressure from within cognitive psychology to achieve ecological validity led to an examination of human function in actual social and cultural settings. The ubiquitous role of symbol use in human life was immediately evident and has finally been reflected in an orientation in psychology that takes that fact centrally into account.

    Discursive psychology is the culmination of a number of independent developments, reaching as far back as the work of G. H. Mead and L. Vygotsky. It incorporates such contemporary movements as ethnomethodology, social constructionism, and ethogenics. There has been a flood of new publications in the new style, but none of them is pitched at a level suitable for undergraduate study, nor do they attempt an overview of the new orientation and its working synthesis of linguistically oriented methods with the study of neuropsychology.

    This book is an attempt to make the main tenets and some of the research results of discursive psychology easily available. It is meant too as an introduction to the forthcoming Sage text, the three-volume Rethinking Psychology edited by Rom Harré, Jonathan Smith, Luk van Langenhove, and Peter Stearns. Together the four volumes are intended to provide a basis for course work at both an intermediate and an advanced level.

    Though the chapters in this book are new writing, the themes of several chapters have been developed in articles in Common Knowledge, Theory and Psychology, and Research on Language and Social Interaction.

    In nearly every context in this book, psychological observations are meant to apply to human beings of either gender. To avoid some of the clumsy circumlocutions currently in use, we have adopted the vernacular device of the gender-neutral third person singular usage of they, their, and them as recommended by Muhlhausler and Harré (1991, Chap. 9).

    We are grateful to Kevin Weinfurt, of the graduate psychology program at Georgetown University, for giving us a “student's eye” view of an earlier draft of this text, from which we drew some valuable lessons in more “user friendly” exposition.

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    Name Index

    About the Authors

    Rom Harré is truly a Renaissance man. As lecturer, teacher, and philosopher, he has long been a preeminent and influential voice whose work is recognized in many disciplines. In the last 20 years he has been a pioneer in developing the theory and practice of discursive psychology. He is presently a Fellow of Linacre College, Oxford; Professor of Psychology at Georgetown University in Washington, DC; and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at SUNY, Binghamton, NY. Author of more than 200 journal articles and 24 books, including The Philosophies of Science, Second Edition (1986), Personal Being: A Theory for Individual Psychology (1983), Physical Being: A Theory for Corporeal Psychology (1991), and Social Being: Revised Edition (1993). He has also edited or co-edited another 26 volumes, including the Blackwell Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychology (1985). He is the recipient of many academic awards including an honorary D.Pol. (Helsinki), an honorary D.Sc. (Brussels), and the Royden B. Davis Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies (1993). His interests range from the analyses of emotions to social theories and linguistics. A New Zealand native, Harré has held posts and lectured all over the world, most recently in China, the United States, Spain, the Netherlands, and Canada.

    Grant R. Gillett has a unique combination of experience and interests as an internationally known neurosurgeon, philosopher, and teacher. He is currently a consultant neurosurgeon at Dunedin Hospital in New Zealand; Associate Professor in medical ethics, Bioethics Centre, University of Otago Medical School (where he established and developed the bioethics teaching course); and Honorary Lecturer in Philosophy, Otago University. In addition to teaching clinical neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology courses, Gillett serves as ethics adviser to the New Zealand Health Department and holds editorial board positions on eight journals, including the Journal of Mind and Behavior, Social Science and Medicine, and the British Journal of the Philosophy of Science. Widely published in the fields of philosophy, medical ethics, and philosophical psychology, he is also author of Representation, Meaning and Thought (1992), coauthor of Practical Medical Ethics (1992), and coeditor of Medicine and Moral Reasoning (1993). He is a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons and a member of the New Zealand Neurological Association, Oxford Society for Applied Philosophy, and the Australian Association of Neurological Surgeons. He has also presented over 100 academic papers and addresses in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia.

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