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Ian Parker is a British psychologist who has been a principal exponent of three quite diverse critical traditions inside the discipline. His writing has provided compass points for researchers searching for alternatives to ‘mainstream’ psychology in the English-speaking world (that is, mainstream psychology that is based on laboratory-experimental studies that reduce behavior to individual mental processes).

The three critical traditions Parker has promoted are ‘discursive analysis’, ‘Marxist psychology’ and ‘psychoanalysis’. Each of these traditions is adapted by him to encourage an attention to ideology and power, and this modification has given rise to fierce debates, not only from mainstream psychologists but also from other ‘critical psychologists’. Parker moves in his writing from one focus to another, and it seems as if he is not content with any particular tradition of research, using each of the different critical traditions to throw the others into question.

Discursive analysis

Discursive analysis appears in his earliest writing, which is focused on the ‘crisis’ in laboratory-experimental social psychology during the 1960s through to the 1980s. In his first book, The Crisis in Modern Social Psychology, and How to End It (1989), Parker uses structuralist and post-structuralist theories to disrupt the claims that psychologists make to speak a professional expert ‘truth’ about human psychology. Toward the end of the book he moves beyond the ‘turn to language’ in social psychology to a ‘turn to discourse’, and this, he argues, will enable critical researchers to treat psychology itself as a set of discourses or stories about people rather than as things that are universally true. Analyses of ‘psychologisation’ are then necessary to critical discursive work.

This argument is taken forward in Discourse Dynamics: Critical Analysis for Social and Individual Psychology (1992), but now there is a discussion of the relationship between discourse and reality, and at this point Parker seems to think that ‘critical realism’ might be helpful to avoid problems with ‘relativism’ in the social sciences. He returns to these issues ten years later in Critical Discursive Psychology (2002), but by this time he is pessimistic about the critical potential of a purely discursive approach. He prefers the term ‘discursive practice’. His book on methodology, Qualitative Psychology: Introducing Radical Research (2005) includes a new version of discourse analysis that attempts to break down the divisions between the researcher and those they study.

Critical responses and commentaries on the impact of Ian Parker’s work on discourse analysis have often focused on what is seen as a reification of ‘discourse’. His conceptual work on discourse has been criticised on this basis from a traditional social psychological position (e.g., Abrams and Hogg, 1990) and from a ‘discursive’ position (e.g., Potter et al., 1990; Potter et al., 1999).

Marxist psychology

Marxist arguments are already present in his first book, and that book on the ‘crisis’ ends with a discussion of ‘transitional demands’ that borrow from Trotskyite politics (and these demands are designed to start from what it is reasonable to ask for but in such a way as to lead to a questioning of oppression). A co-edited book, Psychology and Society: Contradiction and Coexistence (1996) is explicitly concerned with Marxist approaches to psychology, and a note indicates that the original title was to be Psychology and Marxism. All the contributors to this book are Marxists, but using a variety of different psychological theories (and Parker’s chapter is on Trotsky and psychoanalysis).

Discussion of Marxist psychology is scattered throughout Parker’s work, but it is clear that he does still define himself as a Marxist. There is a reflection on this in the opening chapter of Critical Discursive Psychology, and Marxist ideas are outlined (alongside psychoanalysis, post-structuralism and feminism) in a paper ‘Discursive resources in the Discourse Unit’ written for the Discourse Unit, a research group which he founded with Erica Burman at Manchester Metropolitan University. Recent interviews indicate that feminist arguments have become more important to Parker, and that Marxism itself may not provide a complete true theory (or alternative to psychology). The discipline of psychology is now treated as an ongoing process of ‘psychologisation’ operating within institutions suffused with the power to define and manage individual behavior and experience.

Marxist responses to Ian Parker’s work have come from Vygotskian developmental psychologists using his work in the political domain (e.g., Holzman, 1995; Newman and Holzman, 2000), and from mainstream experimental psychologists (e.g., Jost and Hardin, 1996).


Psychoanalysis is discussed at length in Psychoanalytic Culture: Psychoanalytic Discourse in Western Society (1997), and traditions of theory from British, German and French psychoanalysis are examined critically. The book is a curious mixture of explication and analysis; Parker oscillates between a description of a psychoanalytic theory and a critical account of how it has come to seem to be true to people in Western culture. The most important conceptual contribution in the book is that of the ‘discursive complex’ to explicate how psychoanalysis operates as a social construction and in lived experience. He trained as a Lacanian psychoanalyst with the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research in London toward the end of the 1990s, and has written on psychoanalytic social theory, in his book Slavoj Žižek: A Critical Introduction (2004).

Parker’s discussion of psychoanalysis sometimes appears to be situated within a discursive or Marxist theoretical framework, but he then seems to use psychoanalytic theory as a framework to understand pathology in contemporary society. His argument is that psychoanalysis and a form of ‘psychoanalytic subjectivity’ has developed under capitalism, and so it is necessary to take it seriously in order to change society and enable individuals to change. It is not clear how this use of psychoanalysis fits with his radical work on mental health, which is contained in his co-authored book Deconstructing Psychopathology (1995) and in his edited book Deconstructing Psychotherapy (1999). (Those books draw heavily on the works of the postmodern philosophers Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida rather than the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.)

Mainstream psychologists argue that Parker is not doing proper psychological research at all, and that his work is merely destructive (rather than, as he claims ‘deconstructive’). These psychologists are at any rate unsympathetic to discursive approaches and to Marxism and psychoanalysis. Some psychologists who would like to use discursive or Marxist or psychoanalytic ideas have also attacked Parker, and from each direction the argument is that he distorts those ideas. His response always seems to be that these ‘critical’ psychologists want to be accepted by the discipline, and this has sometimes led to bitter public disputes.

Ian Parker’s work on psychoanalysis in relation to discourse theory has been discussed in cultural psychology forums (e.g., Hurme, 1995) and in psychoanalytic journals (e.g., Blackwell, 1996; Hinshelwood, 1996).

The three strands are sometimes referred to by Parker and other writers as part of ‘critical psychology’, and Parker founded a journal Annual Review of Critical Psychology which has published four print issues and which will go online from the Discourse Unit website from 2006 with issue number 5 which is devoted to critical psychology from different parts of the world. It seems clear though, that Parker does not want to build a ‘critical psychology’ as an alternative to mainstream psychology, for he believes that this would simply reinforce the power of psychologists. Instead of improving psychology, he still wants (as the subtitle of his first book indicates) ‘to end it’.

See also



  • Parker, I. (1997) Psychoanalytic Culture: Psychoanalytic Discourse in Western Society. London: Sage.
  • Parker, I. (2002) Critical Discursive Psychology. London: Palgrave.
  • Parker, I., Georgaca, E., Harper, D., McLaughlin, T. and Stowell-Smith, M. (1995) Deconstructing Psychopathology. London: Sage.
  • Parker, I. and Spears, R. (eds) (1996) Psychology and Society: Radical Theory and Practice, London: Pluto Press.

  • Parker, I. (1989) The Crisis in Modern Social Psychology, and how to end it, London and New York: Routledge. (link)
  • Parker, I. and Shotter, J. (eds) (1990) Deconstructing Social Psychology, London and New York: Routledge. (link)
  • Parker, I. (1992) Discourse Dynamics: Critical Analysis for Social and Individual Psychology, London and New York: Routledge. (link)
  • Burman, E. and Parker, I. (eds) (1993) Discourse Analytic Research: Repertoires and Readings of Texts in Action, London and New York: Routledge. (link)

Book Chapters

  • Parker, I. (2004) ‘Psychoanalysis and critical psychology’, in D. Hook (ed.), with N. Mkhize, P. Kiguwa and A. Collins (section eds) and E. Burman and I. Parker (consulting eds) (2004) Critical Psychology. Cape Town: UCT Press.


  • Parker, I. (1999) ‘Critical psychology, critical links’, Annual Review of Critical Psychology, 1, pp. 3-18.
  • Parker, I. (2003a) ‘Discursive resources in the Discourse Unit’, Discourse Analysis Online, vol.1, no.1 Full text
  • Parker, I. (2003b) ‘Jacques Lacan: Barred Psychologist’, Theory & Psychology, 13, (1), 95-115.

Online references

Parker, I. (1999) ‘Critical Psychology: Critical Links’, Radical Psychology: A Journal of Psychology, Politics and Radicalism (link)

Parker, I. (2003) ‘Discursive resources in the Discourse Unit’, (Discourse Analysis link)

Parker, I. (2003) ‘Psychology is so critical, only Marxism can save us now’, (link)

Parker, I. (2004) ‘Zizek: Ambivalence and Oscillation’, (link)

Parker, I. (2004) ‘Culture: Acting Out (Chapter 5 of Slavoj Zizek: A Critical Introduction), (link)

Papadopoulos, D. and Schraube, E. (2004) ‘“This World Demands our Attention". Ian Parker in Conversation With Dimitris Papadopoulos and Ernst Schraube’, Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research

Parker, I. (2005) ‘Narrative’ (Chapter 6 of Qualitative Psychology) (link)

Parker, I. (2005) ‘Criteria in Qualitative Research in Psychology’ (Chapter 10 of Qualitative Psychology, link)

Burman, E., Georgaca, E, Gordo-Lopez, A., Hodges, I. McLaughlin, T., and Parker, I. (2006) ‘Theorising Critical Psychology in Psychiatric Practice: Six Voices Interrupting Pathology’, Social Practice / Psychological Theorizing (link)

Paper publications

(available at

Banister, P., Burman, E., Parker, I., Taylor, M. and Tindall, C. (1994) Qualitative Methods in Psychology: A Research Guide, Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Foster, J. J. and Parker, I. (1995) Carrying Out Investigations in Psychology, Leicester: British Psychological Society.

Levett, A., Kottler, A., Burman, E. and Parker, I. (eds) (1997) Culture, Power and Difference: Discourse Analysis in South Africa, London: Zed Books / Cape Town: UCT Press.

Parker, I. (1998) Social Constructionism, Discourse and Realism (edited), London: Sage.

Parker, I. and the Bolton Discourse Network (1999) Critical Textwork: An Introduction to Varieties of Discourse and Analysis, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Parker, I. (1999) Deconstructing Psychotherapy (ed.), London: Sage.

Gordo-López, A. J. and Parker, I. (eds) (1999) Cyberpsychology, London: Macmillan.

Parker, I. (2002) Critical Discursive Psychology. London: Palgrave.

Parker, I. (2004) Slavoj Žižek: A Critical Introduction. London: Pluto Press.

Banister, P., Burman, E., Parker, I., Taylor, M. and Tindall, C. (2004) Métodos Cualitativos en Psicología: Una Guía Para la Investigación. Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara.

Hook, D. (ed.) (2004), with Mkhize, N. Kiguwa, P. and Collins, A. (section eds) and Burman, E. and Parker, I. (consulting eds) (2004) Critical Psychology. Cape Town: UCT Press.

Parker, I. (2005) Qualitative Psychology: Introducing Radical Research. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Critical Responses to Parkers work

  • Abrams, D. and Hogg, M. (1990) ‘The Context of Discourse: Let’s Not Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater’, Philosophical Psychology, 3 (2), pp. 219-225.
  • Blackwell, D. (1996) ‘Power and Heroism in Academia and the Movies: Discussion on Paper by Ian Parker II’, Group Analysis, 29, pp. 114-119.
  • Hinshelwood, R. D. (1996) ‘“Minus K” or “Minus L”? Discussion on Paper by Ian Parker I’, Group Analysis, 29, pp. 111-114.
  • Holzman, L. (1995) ‘“Wrong”, said Fred: A Response to Parker’, Changes: An International Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy, 13, (1), pp. 23-26.
  • Hurme, H. (1995) Wild man or golden bird: cultural readings of masculinity. Culture and Psychology, 1, pp. 477-486.
  • Jost, J. and Hardin, C. (1996) ‘The Practical Turn in Psychology: Marx and Wittgenstein as Social Materialists’, Theory & Psychology, 6 (3), pp. 385-393.
  • Newman, F. and Holzman, L. (2000) ‘Against Against-ism’, Theory & Psychology, 10 (2), pp. 265-270.
  • Potter, J., Wetherell, M., Gill, R. and Edwards, D. (1990) ‘Discourse - noun, verb or social practice’, Philosophical Psychology, 3, (2), pp. 205-17.
  • Potter, P., Edwards, D. and Ashmore, M. (1999) ‘Regulating Criticism: Some Comments on an Argumentative Complex’, History of the Human Sciences, 12 (4), pp. 79-88.

External links

Discouse unit website