Psychologist logo
BPS updates, Qualitative Methods

One on one... with Ian Parker

With Ian Parker, Fellow of the Society, practising psychoanalyst in Manchester and Professor of Management, University of Leicester. With online-only q+a.

09 July 2014

One inspiration
Historian, philosopher and political activist Michel Foucault. He worked as a prison psychologist, and then realised something was deeply wrong with the way that the discipline operated as part of an apparatus of surveillance in modern society. His studies of psychology, psychiatry and psychoanalysis – what we now know as the ‘psy complex’ – also came to focus on confession as the other side of the coin to discipline.

One Book
The Explanation of Social Behaviour by Rom Harré and Paul Secord was one of the sparks for the methodological ‘crisis’ in psychology in the early 1970s. It spells out why we should for scientific purposes treat people as if they are human beings in research. I was lucky to have  a PhD supervisor, Roger Ingham at the University of Southampton, who provided support for me to link these ideas with Foucault’s.

One nugget of advice 
You might do some good in your role as ‘psychologist’ perhaps but treat that identity and the knowledge as a set of powerful and sometimes dangerous stories about people. Find inspiration and strength in the many other kinds of story from outside the discipline that are told about what human beings can do to reflect upon and remake themselves.

One moment that changed the course of your career
Founding in 1990 of the Discourse Unit with Erica Burman as an independent research group. We realised only much later why it was so important. Time and again this international network of colleagues and friends has sustained us all 

One inspiring piece of research
Underground by Haruki Murakami. This amazing interview study of victims and perpetrators of the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo metro reinvents qualitative research in a way that combines ethics, cultural context and literary skill. My bet is that he managed it so well because he didn’t attend a psychology methods training module first

One cultural recommendation 
Kitchen Stories. Bent Hamer’s Norwegian film shows us that research which tries to screen out a relational dimension is quite impossible. This is a poignant exploration of separation and connection and the real stuff of psychology that is usually missing in journal accounts. Bit by bit, what it is to be human breaks through, and it shows the falsity of claims that neutral disinterested description of behaviour could provide anything worthwhile.

One alternative career path 
Acting. I connected with this again through some of work on Erving Goffman’s performance of self in failed attempts to build a ‘new’ social psychology, and now through Judith Butler’s queer political studies of the performative reiteration of identity. That feminist work brings together some elements of Foucault and psychoanalysis, and draws attention to the way we are always acting, for someone.

One hero from psychology  
Ignacio Martín-Baró was a Jesuit priest who founded ‘liberation psychology’ in Latin America. He was murdered in San Salvador together with five others by a military unit of the regime in 1989. He proved that a complicated contradictory mixture of theological, psychological and political commitment is possible, and he died striving for another world for us.

One hope for the future
That psychology reconnects with its past. In Izhevsk last December I held a handwritten note from Lev Vygotsky dated 1925 to the Russian Psychoanalytical Society asking to join it, and notes of the Society signed by Alexander Luria as meeting secretary. These connections with psychoanalysis and Marxism are airbrushed out of our textbooks. Now, re-energised by feminism, the connections open a window on another possible past, present and future. 

… online-only questions...

One problem that psychology should deal with
The combination of subjectivity, as something deeper and more mysterious than academic inquiry can fathom, with collective struggle to create changes in consciousness faster than psychologists can describe. Psychoanalysis and Marxism are each vigorously pushed aside by supposedly scientific psychology, and I suspect the reason for this is that in very different ways they speak to the impulse for critique and change.

One proud moment 
Well, this is one that is repeated, and each time as something different; the moment when a research student gains their PhD. The build up to the viva always fills me with anxiety, and it feels like a test of scholarship and trust in all those involved, including the examiners and the supervisor. Each time there is a little surprise, and relief and pride.

One magazine to read alongside The Psychologist
Asylum: Magazine for Democratic Psychiatry. This gives a little space to some psychologists and a lot of space for the voices of those who use psychological and psychiatric services.