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The Psychology of Neoliberalism and the Neoliberalism of Psychology: Neoliberalism of Psychology



In this article, we approach the relationship between neoliberalism and psychological science from the theoretical perspective of cultural psychology. In the first section, we trace how engagement with neoliberal systems results in characteristic tendencies—including a radical abstraction of self from social and material context, an entrepreneurial understanding of self as an ongoing development project, an imperative for personal growth and fulfillment, and an emphasis on affect management for self‐regulation—that increasingly constitute the knowledge base of mainstream psychological science. However, as we consider in the second section, psychological science is not just an observer of neoliberalism and its impact on psychological experience. Instead, by studying psychological processes independent of cultural–ecological or historical context and by championing individual growth and affective regulation as the key to optimal well‐being, psychological scientists reproduce and reinforce the influence and authority of neoliberal systems. Rather than a disinterested bystander, hegemonic forms of psychological science are thoroughly implicated in the neoliberal project.
The Psychology of Neoliberalism and the
Neoliberalism of Psychology
Glenn Adams and Sara Estrada-Villalta
University of Kansas
Daniel Sullivan
University of Arizona
Hazel Rose Markus
Stanford University
In this article, we approach the relationship between neoliberalism and psycho-
logical science from the theoretical perspective of cultural psychology. In the first
section, we trace how engagement with neoliberal systems results in characteristic
tendencies—including a radical abstraction of self from social and material con-
text, an entrepreneurial understanding of self as an ongoing development project,
an imperative for personal growth and fulfillment, and an emphasis on affect man-
agement for self-regulation—that increasingly constitute the knowledge base of
mainstream psychological science. However, as we consider in the second section,
psychological science is not just an observer of neoliberalism and its impact on
psychological experience. Instead, by studying psychological processes indepen-
dent of cultural–ecological or historical context and by championing individual
growth and affective regulation as the key to optimal well-being, psychological
scientists reproduce and reinforce the influence and authority of neoliberal sys-
tems. Rather than a disinterested bystander, hegemonic forms of psychological
science are thoroughly implicated in the neoliberal project.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Glenn Adams, Department of
Psychology, University of Kansas, 1415 Jayhawk Blvd., Lawrence, KS 66045–7556, USA. Tel: (785)
864-9481 [E-mail:].
The Cultural Psychology Research Group at the University of Kansas offered valuable feedback
on an initial draft of the article. The Jack Brehm Fund for Basic Research in Social Psychology
provided support for the project.
This is the last author version of an article published in a special issue (2019)
of the Journal of Social Issues, 75(1), on the topic of “The Social
Psychology of Neoliberalism” (Karim Bettache and Chi-Yue Chiu, Eds.).
Any quotation or citation of this work should refer to the published
article, which is available here:
A growing body of work has considered the impact of neoliberal systems on
psychological experience (Bay-Cheng, Fitz, Alizaga, & Zucker, 2015; Bhatia &
Priya, 2018; Teo, 2018). However, psychological science is not just an observer of
neoliberalism and its impact on mind and behavior. Instead, knowledge products
and practices of psychological science reproduce, legitimize, and bolster the au-
thority of neoliberalism and its colonization of everyday life (Arfken, 2018; Pick-
ren, 2018; Teo, 2018). From this perspective, an adequate account of the psychol-
ogy of neoliberalism requires an interrogation of the neoliberalism in psychology.
In this article, we draw upon the theoretical perspective of cultural psychology
to illuminate the mutually constitutive relationship of neoliberalism and psycho-
logical science along two primary routes. We begin by tracing how the neoliberal
movement has shaped psychological experience and therefore the knowledge base
of mainstream psychological science. Neoliberal systems build on and reinforce
characteristic psychological tendencies of liberal individualism—including radi-
cal abstraction of self from context, an entrepreneurial understanding of self as an
ongoing development project, an imperative for personal growth and fulfillment,
and an emphasis on affect management for self-regulation—that increasingly in-
form dominant conceptions of mind-in-general. We then consider how hegemonic
forms of psychological science, whether deliberately or unwittingly, have been
complicit in neoliberal projects. By studying psychological processes indepen-
dent of cultural–ecological or historical context and by championing individual
growth and affective regulation as the key to optimal well-being, psychologists
lend scientific authority to neoliberal ideology, grant it legitimacy, and amplify its
influence—even if they might intend to do otherwise.
Of course, psychological science is far from monolithic. The relationship with
neoliberalism may be more precisely evident for hegemonic forms of psychological
science. We use this phrase to refer to understandings that emerged from research
among people in settings that are Western, educated, industrial, rich, and (suppos-
edly) democratic—in a word, WEIRD (Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan, 2010)—
but have become global standards through processes of intellectual and cultural
imperialism. The relationship with neoliberalism may be less evident in traditions
of psychology—for example, cultural psychology (Adams & Kurtis¸, 2018), indige-
1994)—with epistemic foundations outside the WEIRD settings that dispropor-
tionately inform hegemonic psychological science. Indeed, these perspectives may
provide resources for resistance and illuminate potential alternatives to a neoliberal
psychology. We conclude the article with a brief consideration of this possibility.
Neoliberalism Impacts Psychological Experience
Drawing upon the theoretical framework of cultural psychology, we approach
neoliberalism as a cultural form: patterns of ideas and their material manifestations
in institutions, practices, and artifacts (Adams & Markus, 2004). Discussions
of neoliberalism often refer to an economic and political movement that came
to prominence in the late 1970s. The economic agenda advocated deregulation
of markets and free movement of capital with an emphasis on fluidity and
globalization (Harvey, 2005). The political agenda advocated minimal democracy
that limited the role of government to the tasks of securing property rights and
ensuring smooth functioning of markets. Associated with this neoliberal political
agenda was an understanding of civil society as a collection of individual entities
that relate to one another as competitors pursuing their own self-interest.
These economic and political manifestations of neoliberal cultural patterns
have links to a set of social philosophies and worldviews that bear strong re-
semblance to classical liberalism. However, neoliberalism deviates from classical
liberalism in its emphasis on freedom—especially from constraints on growth
and self-expression (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/2004)—above other liberal values
(e.g., equality and civic obligation). Sociocultural expressions of neoliberalism
extend the logic of market-based liberal capitalism to all aspects of life, includ-
ing love, family, and civic obligation (e.g., Harvey, 2005; Klein, 2017a; Teo,
2018). The emphasis on freedom and self-determination is attractive, especially
for upwardly mobile people eager to transcend constraints on pursui t of th eir as pi-
rations. However, the promise of neoliberal freedom comes with costs that (at the
extreme) include an antagonism toward social commitment that erodes democratic
participation (Brown, 2006; Esposito, 2013).
Just as neoliberalism resonates with and amplifies some aspects of classical
liberalism, so too does engagement with neoliberal systems resonate with and
amplify (some) liberal individualist habits of mind that have disproportionately
constituted the knowledge base of hegemonic psychological science. We summa-
rize these neoliberal selfways under the four themes that appear in the left column
of Table 1. They include (1) a sense of freedom from constraint that affords an ex-
perience of radical abstraction from context; (2) the creation of an entrepreneurial
self as project of ongoing development; (3) an imperative for individual growth
and personal fulfillment as the key to well-being; and (4) an emphasis on affect
regulation as a key to personal success. Although evident in the development of lib-
eral individualism over the course of Eurocentric modernity, the influence of these
themes has accelerated with the rise in neoliberalism over the last half-century.
Radical Abstraction
A first and perhaps primary feature of neoliberal selfways is a sense of
freedom from constraint—the liberal in neoliberal—that reflects and affords an
experience of radical abstraction from context. The idea of radical abstraction is a
key concept that distinguishes neoliberalism from classic liberalism, and it finds
expression in emphases on deterritorialization and fluidity that aim to eliminate
Table 1. Primary Features of Neoliberalism in Psychology
A: Feature of neoliberalism B: Implication for psychological experience C: Role of psychology in reproduction
Radical abstraction
(of person from place, time,
social and material context)
Entrepreneurial self
Growth imperative
Affect management
Relational mobility (experience of choice about creation
and dissolution of relational ties)
Conditional identification (i.e., choice about whether to
invest in collective solidarities)
Freedom from constraints on action via spatial and
temporal displacement of negative consequences
Exploration, innovation, and cultivation of self to create
and extend marketable brand
Prioritization of a self that takes risks and bears
responsibility for own success (and failure)
Freedom to pursue core aspirations, goals, choice
Freedom from obligations, expectation, norms
Necessitates exploration and elaboration of authentic
Emphasis on self-expansion, flourishing, and personal
Emphasis on high-arousal positive affect (excitement,
optimism, enthusiasm) as index of health and morality
Production of anxiety due to assxvvumption of risk
Affect regulation as key to success
Methodological abstraction: priority of WEIRD
standards, laboratory experiments, value neutrality
Ontological individualism: reduction of collective
phenomena (e.g., racism, well-being) to aggregate of
individual experience
Psychological essentialism: ability testing, trait
Responsibilization: blame misfortune on bad choices
Influential perspectives: growth mindset,
self-determination, self-control, attachment, positive
Individualist conception of empowerment
Love as fulfillment
Self-esteem movement
Happiness studies
Note. We define neoliberalism as a cultural pattern including both (a) a political–economic agenda emphasizing limited government and deregulation of
markets, and (b) a cultural ideology emphasizing freedom over other liberal values (e.g., equality). The table delineates four features of neoliberalism (Column
A), summarizes consequences of these features for psychological experience (Column B), and summarizes the contribution of psychological science to the
reproduction of these features (Column C).
barriers to the movement or growth of capital (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/2004).
At the socioeconomic level, one can observe this feature in the phenomenon of
globalization. A major function of global institutions such as the International
Monetary Fund has been to implement economic reforms to permit the free flow
of capital, so that the vagaries of local processes (especially in the Global South)
will no longer operate as limits to expansion (Graeber, 2014). Similarly, one
can observe this feature in the phenomenon of financialization: detachment of
wealth from place-based sources or concrete relationships (e.g., manufacturing
investments, banks) in favor of more fluid or liquid assets (e.g., financial markets)
At the cultural–psychological level, the emphases on deterritorialization and
fluidity manifest as form of mobility and radical independence from local context
(Oishi, Schug, Yuki, & Axt, 2015). On the positive side, the experience of mobility
and freedom from material and social constraint enables people to access education
and other opportunities, granting them enhanced agency or capacity to pursue
their aspirations (Sen, 1999) and choose satisfying social connections (Oishi et al.,
2015). Further, freedom of mobility increases intergroup contact and multicultural
experience, which can have positive effects on tolerance, intercultural awareness,
and personal creativity (see Shweder, Minow, & Markus, 2002). Similarly, settings
that afford mobility are associated with interpersonal openness and general trust
(Schug, Yuki, & Maddux, 2010; Thomson et al., 2018)
However, the experience of abstraction from context has negative conse-
quences that are often less apparent. The mobility associated with neoliberal
systems is associated with processes of cultural standardization as mobile actors
seek and create familiar products (e.g., chain stores; Oishi, Miao, Koo, Kisling, &
Ratliff, 2012). Standardization erases local identity—including the sort of cultural
knowledge that provides an epistemic foundation to question the status quo and
to imagine alternatives (Sugarman, 2015; Teo, 2018)—as it transforms cultural
patterns for ease of consumption and contributes to the cultural dominance of
hegemonic global forms. Because mobility empowers people to choose satisfy-
ing connections, it contributes to conditional identification that can undermine
collective solidarity and community participation (Oishi, Ishii, & Lun, 2009), par-
ticularly when it requires people to shoulder necessary, but potentially burdensome
responsibilities and obligations. Moreover, greater mobility does not necessarily
translate into psychological well-being; people in regions of the United States
characterized by high spatial mobility have better access to resources such as
healthcare and fresh food, but they do not report greater life satisfaction (Keefer,
Stewart, Palitsky, & Sullivan, in press).
Perhaps the most important negative consequence is the displacement of
costs required to preserve the neoliberal sense of freedom from constraint. Spatial
displacement happens when affluent communities outsource violent production
practices and harmful byproducts to impoverished communities (Davis, 2006).
Temporal displacement happens when present consumers mortgage the future,
passing financial debt and ecological consequences to future generations (Graeber,
2014; Lazzarato, 2015). Both forms of displacement enable a sense of freedom
not by eliminating negative consequences that would otherwise constrain action,
but instead by transferring those negative consequences to another place and time.
Entrepreneurial Self
In neo-liberalism . . . Homo œconomicus [is] an entrepreneur of himself . . . being for
himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer” (Foucault, 2008, p. 226)
Neoliberal processes of deterritorialization and abstraction from context in-
tensify a responsibility for radical self-authorship. The freedom to act in line with
one’s essential qualities or defining aspirations, without restrictions of time and
place, fosters an entrepreneurial self as a project of ongoing development. The
entrepreneurial self represents both a quantitative intensification of and qualita-
tive difference from tendencies associated with independent selfways. Whereas
interdependent self-construal marks tendencies to adapt self to demands of the
social and material environment, and independent self-constru al marks tendencies
to shape environment to better serve one’s sense of authentic self, the concept of
entrepreneurial self marks a tendency to develop oneself as a product or brand in
response to demands of the social and economic marketplace (Gershon, 2011).
The entrepreneurial self draws on two major traditions in European-American
thought: (1) “utilitarian” or “vertical” individualism, and (2) “expressive” or “hor-
izontal” individualism (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985; Trian-
dis, 1995). The first tradition derives from social contract theories of the Enlight-
enment and ideologies such as the Protestant Work Ethic. It emphasizes economic
freedom to acquire private property, to exchange goods and services, and to suc-
ceed or fail according to a person’s merits. The second tradition is more associated
with movements such as romanticism and postmodernism. It emphasizes politi-
cal and social freedom for self-determination and self-actualization. Traditionally,
these conceptions have been somewhat in conflict; classic liberal philosophers
and political conservatives championed utilitarian individualism, but advocates of
the welfare state or democratic socialism championed expressive individualism
(Bellah et al., 1985). Neoliberalism unifies these two traditions into an ultraindi-
vidualist conception of the person as the entrepreneurial self.
Research has documented the rise of the entrepreneurial self since the
beginning of the neoliberal social movement in the 1970s. Longitudinal analyses
of published books in the United States (Greenfield, 2013) and media language
in Norway (Nafstad, Blakar, Carlquist, Phelps, & Rand-Hendriksen, 2007) show
increased frequency over the last 40 years for words related to the entrepreneurial
self (e.g., choose, right or entitlement, feel), but decreased frequency for words
related to collective solidarity (e.g., obliged, common/communal, act). Other
research has documented an “entrepreneurial personality type” (Obschonka et al.,
2013)—scoring high in extraversion, openness, and conscientiousness, but low
in agreeableness and neuroticism—and has shown that the prevalence of this
type in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany is associated with
regional prosperity and greater entrepreneurial activity (e.g., startups). As income
inequality in these countries has grown, people who exhibit these entrepreneurial
personality traits have flourished. Meanwhile, people who exhibit traits more
adaptive to interdependence—and regions where they live—have experienced
Growth Imperative
Neoliberal systems promote entrepreneurial selves that continuously pursue
growth, self-development, and refinement of their own capital. Neoliberal sys-
tems do so not only by providing a sense of freedom from constraints (including
interference of oppressive others who would impose rules and regulations), but
especially by providing freedom to pursue defining aspirations—to do what you
want or what you like—and thereby to achieve happiness and well-being (see
Berlin, 1958, on negative and positive liberty). The U.S. Declaration of Indepen-
dence asserts life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the unalienable rights of
separate, abstracted individuals. Neoliberal individualism gives a particular form
to this pursuit of happiness: happy selves are those that are on the move, phys-
ically and psychologically. Being well in neoliberal systems requires selves that
are fluid, changing, and growing. They take risks; seek new opportunities; and
acquire new skills, talents, interests, and preferences.
Opportunities for choice are key to this neoliberal imperative for growth.
Choice not only allows people to express themselves and their preferences; in fact,
choice necessitates the elaboration of preferences. Entrepreneurial selves must
develop preferences, attitudes, and goals that they recruit and deploy to navigate
everyday worlds that require them to make good choices. Choice allows people to
individuate themselves, to reveal their uniqueness, and to exercise control with the
aim of getting exactly what they want from any situation. With choice, individuals
become the arbiters of what looks, tastes, feels, or indeed is good and true.
Entrepreneurial selves groomed in cultural ecologies of neoliberal individualism
develop habits to experience everyday life in terms of opportunities for choice and
to construct their behavior as the product of their own choices (Savani, Markus,
Naidu, Kumar, & Berlia, 2010; Sugarman, 2015; Teo, 2018).
The exercise of choice has demonstrably positive consequences for individual
motivation, health, and psychological well-being (e.g., Patall, Cooper, & Robin-
son, 2008; Iyengar, 2010), but these consequences are not distributed equally
across socioeconomic contexts. These benefits are particularly evident for people
in over-privileged settings (e.g., affluent White Americans), who get to make many
choices among good alternatives. Everyday realities of people in these settings
not only grant them choices about how to live their lives, but also encourage them
to express themselves through the choices they make. When local realities read-
ily afford easy exercise of choice, everything—including relationships (Adams,
Anderson, & Adonu, 2004; Carey & Markus, 2017)—can be a matter of choice.
People experience freedom to exercise this choice to contract relationships that
provide optimal opportunities for self-expansion (Aron, Aron, Tudor, & Nelson,
1991; Aron, Lewandowski, Mashek, & Aron, 2013).
Although the neoliberal emphasis on self-expressive choice can afford an ex-
perience of autonomy and freedom to pursue ever-expanding aspirations, research
suggests that it is not without costs. An excess of choice is associated with experi-
ences of paralysis and dissatisfaction with one’s decisions (e.g., Botti & Iyengar,
2004). In addition, an emphasis on individual choice contributes to the neoliberal
discourse of individual responsibilization, whereby people understand societal
problems as the result of poor individual choices. For example, studies show that
engaging in choice can increase tendencies toward victim-blaming, can reduce
empathy, and can reduce support for social welfare policies (Savani, Stephens, &
Markus, 2011).
Affect Management
We should think of consumption as an enterprise activity by which the individual, precisely
on the basis of the capital he has at his disposal, will produce something that will be his
own satisfaction (Foucault, 2008, p. 226).
Society as a whole will not be asked to guarantee individuals against risks. ........ Society, or
rather the economy, will merely [accord] everyone a sort of economic space within which
they can take on and confront risks (Foucault, 2008, p. 144).
Neoliberal systems are associated with an emphasis on feelings (over and
above Enlightenment rationality) that some observers have referred to as the
“affective turn” (Anderson, 2016). Part of the reason for the emphasis on feelings
has to do with the emphasis on freedom of choice and the pursuit of happiness
that Foucault notes in the first passage that we quote above. Faced with a wide
range of choices in an increasingly marketized world, knowing what one likes or
prefers becomes more important than ever as a guide to help a person navigate the
overabundance of possibilities. Positive affect is particularly important, both as a
goal of choice and as evidence that one has made the right choice.
The emphasis on feeling good is an active ingredient in many positive be-
havioral outcomes. As with the growth imperative, though, the significance of
positive feelings as a desired or ideal state gains particular legitimacy in neoliberal
individualist contexts. Most people want to feel positive states more than negative
ones, and the freedom of choice associated with the neoliberal individualist sense
of abstraction from context affords the opportunity to pursue such positive states.
Consistent with this assertion, research suggests that the difference in preference
for positive over negative states is greater in settings associated with neoliberal
individualism (for a review see Tsai & Clobert, 2019). The rise in positive affect is
evident in social discourse, where phrases such as “You have to believe in yourself
before anything is possible” or “You have to love yourself before you can love
someone else” became relatively frequent after 1980 (Twenge, 2006).
Another reason for the neoliberal emphasis on feelings has to do with the
emphasis on entrepreneurial risk that Foucault notes in the second passage that
we quote above. The entrepreneurial self is not only self-reliant, but actively seeks
risks in innovative enterprise to increase its value. Such risk seeking requires phys-
iological arousal. Accordingly, people who regularly engage settings informed by
neoliberal individualism tend to value what Tsai (2007) calls high arousal positive
states like excitement, energy, and enthusiasm. These states energize people to
engage in the risky business of entrepreneurial self-development.
At the same time, these risks can generate considerable anxiety. The neoliberal
experience of freedom from constraint can liberate people to achieve aspirations
and personal fulfillment, but it also renders them solely responsible for success
and weakens broader solidarities that might otherwise buffer against failure (Teo,
2018). In the face of such anxiety, successful behavior becomes a matter of
affect regulation. One must pursue and amplify positive feelings while avoiding,
reframing, or down-regulating negative feelings (Cabanas, 2018).
To conclude our initial discussion by way of summary, a cultural–
psychological approach illuminates how neoliberal systems afford habits of mind
and ways of being that we refer to as neoliberal selfways. The core features of these
neoliberal selfways include a sense of radical abstraction from social and material
context, an entrepreneurial approach to self as an ongoing development project,
an imperative for individual growth and personal fulfillment, and an emphasis on
affect regulation. In turn, these core features of neoliberal selfways increasingly
inform hegemonic models of subjectivity in mainstream psychological science.
Indeed, one can understand much of the knowledge base in psychological science
as it has developed over the last half-century as a descriptive account of life in
neoliberal systems.
Psychological Science as a Site for Reproduction of Neoliberal Systems
The preceding section considers how neoliberal systems promote the habits of
mind that constitute descriptive norms of hegemonic psychological science—what
scientists understand to be the typical patterns of normal human being. However,
the influence of psychological science is not merely as a descriptive account of
human experience; in addition, people actively appropriate the knowledge base of
psychology to promote some habits of mind and ways of being over others. Insti-
tutional actors take the neoliberal selfways documented in psychological research,
elevate them to the level of natural standard, invest them with prescriptive force,
and impose them upon institutional practices of social regulation (Klein, 2017a,
2017b). Far from being a disinterested bystander, hegemonic forms of psycho-
logical science provide an epistemic foundation for—and sometimes participate
in—the naturalization, legitimation, and institutionalization of neoliberalism and
its consequences. In this section, we consider how hegemonic forms of psycho-
logical science have contributed to the reproduction of neoliberal systems.
In some cases, this contribution has been relatively indirect. That is, psycho-
logical science has provided the knowledge base that proponents of neoliberalism
have appropriated as a useful tool. The intellectual architects of neoliberalism
crafted this worldview from an epistemology that prioritized psychology and sub-
jective experience over more sociological and cultural perspectives (Gane, 2014).
Due to the importance that neoliberalism places on investment in human capital
as a source of creativity, growth, and expansion (Foucault, 2008), proponents have
prioritized psychology as the scientific source of techniques for forming indi-
viduals who would exemplify neoliberal selfways (Bhatia & Priya, 2018; Klein,
2017b). Proponents of neoliberalism in U.S. and U.K. governments have appro-
priated techniques from behavioral economics—a discipline with deep roots in
experimental social psychology—to encourage individuals to behave more like
the self-interested, rational agents that neoliberalism assumes (Jones, Pykett, &
Whitehead, 2013; McMahon, 2015). Perhaps most tellingly, politically conser-
vative groups, economic institutions, and other proponents of neoliberalism have
provided generous support to perspectives of psychological science (such as the
positive psychology movement, which stresses personal growth and positive affect
as essential self-goals; Binkley, 2014; Ehrenreich, 2009) that provide knowledge
that supports neoliberal objectives.
In other cases, hegemonic forms of psychological science have contributed
more directly to the reproduction of neoliberal systems. To be clear, we do not
suggest that psychologists necessarily intend in some deliberate fashion to con-
tribute to neoliberal systems, and we acknowledge that they often may desire their
work to serve opposite aims. And yet, regardless of intention or awareness, psy-
chologists can unwittingly contribute to the reproduction of neoliberal systems,
even when they explicitly desire otherwise, to the extent that their work promotes
the neoliberal selfways that we noted in the previous section.
Radical Abstraction
Hegemonic forms of psychological science do not merely document the ne-
oliberal abstraction of experience from social and material context. Instead, they
reproduce and amplify this abstraction via choice of methods and roots in onto-
logical individualism (Stryker, 1997).
Methodological abstraction. Methodological practices of psychological
science are an especially powerful site for neoliberal individualist abstraction.
As cultural psychologists have argued (e.g., Shweder, 1990), methodological de-
velopments have increasingly incentivized psychologists to focus research and
explanation on isolated phenomenological (or even neurological) responses of
individuals in ways that abstract complex social phenomena from cultural and
historical context. Hegemonic psychological science has developed into a science
of variables (Schiff, 2017) committed to extracting universal mechanisms and
processes from the “noise” of multidetermined contextual experience (Shweder,
1990). Psychological scientists working in hegemonic traditions generally hold
great reverence for the artificial environment of the experimental laboratory be-
cause it provides control and relative precision of observation and measurment.
However, this control and precision amount to practices of abstraction that strip
away content and purport to transcend temporal and spatial boundaries.
It has become somewhat commonplace to observe that standard knowledge in
hegemonic psychological science has its basis in WEIRD cultural settings (Hen-
rich et al., 2010). Theory and research in hegemonic psychology typically ignores
experiences of the non-WEIRD global majority or assimilates their experiences to
WEIRD cultural categories. Beyond geographic abstraction, dominant approaches
also foster a temporal orientation toward a presumed universal present. Psycholo-
gists working in these approaches tend to employ historical data in a nomothetic
(rather than an idiographic) sense. Theorists point to historical examples only to
demonstrate the presumed universality of some phenomenon. The historicity of
phenomena—their grounding or delimitation in temporal and spatial contexts—
generally falls outside the province of hegemonic psychological science (Brown
& Lunt, 2002).
Connected to these deterritorializing and ahistoricizing methodological ten-
dencies is an emphasis on “value-neutral” and objective science. In recent years,
some psychologists have argued that researchers should construct studies in such
a way that they might lend equal weight to a variety of possible outcomes with
distinct political implications (Stevens, Jussim, Anglin, & Honeycutt, 2018; Wash-
burn et al., 2015). Although framed as a justifiable plea for greater objectivity,
attempts to eliminate observers and their values from the research process often
neutralize the capacity of research to directly confront the political forces and
social injustices that motivated it in the first place (Deleuze, 1983; Sears, 1994).
Rather than a positionless view from nowhere, value neutrality can maintain
commitments to the status quo and enforce assimilation to a WEIRD epistemic
standpoint (Adams & Salter, 2019).
Ontological individualism. According to Markus and Kitayama (1994),
social psychology suffers from a “collective fear of the collective”: an evaluative
stance that regards group and situational dependencies as the root of most evil.
This evaluative stance portrays obedience, conformity, and social influence as the
“dark side” of humanity’s potential, rather than features of human psychology
that make possible the benefits of social and cultural life. It tends to valorize
the rationality of free-thinking individuals and to document how group minds,
crowds, and social influence compromise this rationality (Greenwood, 2004).
This evaluative stance may have roots in justifiable concern about the complicity
of otherwise enlightened citizens in authoritarianism and mass atrocities, but the
point for present purposes is that this evaluative stance resonates clearly with the
disdain for public citizenship that is a key feature of neoliberal individualism.
Beyond an evaluative stance that denigrates sociality, psychological science
contributes to neoliberal abstraction via an ontological individualism—the re-
duction of sociocultural phenomena to the aggregated acts of inherently inde-
pendent individuals—that informs both theory and method (Stryker, 1997). A
particularly consequential example of this form of abstraction is th e way in wh ich
psychological science approaches racism and other manifestations of structural
oppression. Rather than define racism as a set of cultural patterns—structures of
belief and affect, made manifest in institutional practices and material realities—
psychologists tend to approach racism as the product of individual bias (Adams,
Biernat, Branscombe, Crandall, & Wrightsman, 2008; Gordon, 2015). This con-
struction of racism as individual bias is evident in both research reports and ed-
ucational resources (e.g., textbooks; Adams, Edkins, Lacka, Pickett, & Cheryan,
2008). One consequence of this construction is to minimize the problem; rather
than an issue of historical injustice and material violence, racism becomes a nar-
rower problem of individual bias that constitutes a less pressing social issue and
requires less stringent measures to address. Another consequence is to transform
antiracism efforts into prejudice-reduction interventions. That is, the con stru cti on
of racism as individual bias orients efforts at remedy toward changing hearts and
minds or producing intergroup harmony, rather than attempts to restore justice
and to overturn a racist status quo (Dixon, Tropp, Durrheim, & Tredoux, 2010;
Hammack, 2011; Wetherell, 2012).
Besides constructing racism as a problem of individual prejudice, mainstream
psychological theory and research amplifies neoliberal individualism by pathol-
ogizing racism perception. Survey research consistently shows that people from
historically marginalized racial groups tend to perceive greater ra cism in U.S. so-
ciety than do White Americans. One might understand such tendencies of racism
perception as reasonable vigilance about the dangerous reality of societal racism.
Instead, hegemonic perspectives of psychological science, disproportionately in-
formed by White racial sensibilities, tend to portray these tendencies as (excessive)
stigma consciousness (Pinel, 1999), (over)sensitivity about rejection (Mendoza-
Denton, Downey, Purdie, Davis, & Pietrzak, 2002), or other forms of “perceptual
baggage” (Johnson, Simmons, Trawalter, Ferguson, & Reed, 2003, p. 621). More-
over, hegemonic perspectives tend to blame these tendencies—rather than life in a
racist society—as the source of undue stress, underperformance, damaged social
relationships, and reduced well-being (Anglin, Greenspoon, Lighty, & Ellman,
2016; Orom, Sharma, Homish, Underwood, & Homish, 2017).
One might argue that tendencies to downplay or ignore racism are adaptive or
conducive to well-being to the extent that they enable people to manage anxiety
and to remain open to interpersonal and professional opportunities that concern
about racism might inhibit. This response helps to illuminate another manifes-
tation of individualist ontology in hegemonic psychological science that reflects
and reproduces neoliberal abstraction: a conception of well-being that emphasizes
(short-term) benefit to individuals without regard to temporal and social context.
Tendencies to ignore racism may enable persistence and individual achievement in
the face of adversity, but they also have negative consequences. At the level of indi-
vidual well-being, the prescription to downplay the threat of racism and to persist
in the face of racist adversity contributes to such forms of neoliberal responsibiliza-
tion as “John Henryism”: counterproductive tendencies to exert superhuman effort
to overcome structural barriers that, in the long term, undermine health through
exhaustion (Bennett et al., 2004). More generally, the pursuit of individual well-
being via successful adaptation or adjustment to racist realities leaves intact those
oppressive realities and the ongoing threat that they pose to the person and broader
communities. Rather than a strategy of individual adjustment to unhealthy reali-
ties, a more sociocultural conception of well-being suggests strategies of “creative
maladjustment” (King, 1968; also see Adams, Salter, Kurtis¸, Naemi, & Estrada-
Villalta, 2018; Allen & Leach, 2018) that reflect and promote the imagination of
alternatives and collective action to change an unhealthy status quo.
Finally, this example helps to illustrate a point we raised earlier concerning
the tendency of calls for value neutrality to enforce assimilation to a WEIRD
epistemic standpoint. Who is to say which views (e.g., about the extent of racism)
best reflect objective reality? Beliefs about objective reality can vary across social
location, and what an institution treats as reasonable or objective is often more
about the power to impose a collective construction of reality than it is the direct
perception of that reality. In terms of the present example, this reasoning suggests
that scientific consensus about the true level of racism is not a neutral or objective
reading of reality, but instead rests upon an epistemic foundation associated with
White racial experience that disproportionately constitutes the science. To the
extent that observers make judgments in terms of this standard, they are likely to
delegitimize claims of societal racism and undermine motivations to address it. In
this and other cases, calls for unbiased objectivity are likely to construct neutrality
in terms that are rooted in (and biased toward) White racial sensibilities.
Entrepreneurial Self
Again, psychological science does not merely document how engage-
ment with neoliberal systems affords habitual patterns of an entrepreneurial
self. Instead, psychological science reproduces and amplifies the emergence
of an entrepreneurial self via processes of psychological essentialism and
Psychological essentialism. The emergence of an entrepreneurial self im-
plies something like psychological essentialism: an understanding of mind and
behavior as the product of core individual attributes that are the defining or authen-
tic foundation of a person’s life trajectory (Fiske, Kitayama, Markus, & Nisbett,
1998). As part of the project of personal development, the entrepreneurial self en-
courages tendencies to discover, monitor, assess, amplify, and cultivate important
traits, abilities, or other core attributes. Many features of hegemonic psychological
science not only afford an essentialist understanding of the person as a bundle of
defining attributes, but also provide tools for measuring these essential attributes.
An important manifestation of psychological science that reflects and pro-
motes this feature of entrepreneurial self is the industry of psychological testing.
One focus of psychological testing is ability assessment. The industry of intel-
ligence and other ability tests played a prominent role in the development of
psychological science, and this industry continues to be a growth a rea of the field
(Croizet, 2008; Winston, 2018). Another focus of psychological testing is assess-
ment of broader traits and interests. Employers, managers, and human resource
professionals use such tests not only to select personnel with desired attributes,
but also to guide professional development in directions that match organizational
goals (Bhatia & Priya, 2018).
Again, the point is that practices of psychological testing do not simply
draw upon, but also bolster and extend a neoliberal understanding of the
person as a bundle of traits and abilities (Shweder, 1990). For example, Bhatia
(2018) illuminates how practices of personality testing and psychological
assessment in information technology firms and call centers of India shape young
employees to understand themselves in terms of neoliberal individualism and
the entrepreneurial self. Although the resulting neoliberal tendencies may be
productive in the industrial context, they colonize and displace habits of mind
and ways of being (e.g., concerning family, relationships, aspirations) that may
be more generally adaptive for life in the communities that these workers inhabit
outside the workplace (Bhatia & Priya, 2018).
Beyond issues of mental colonization, the widespread practice of testing
promotes a construction of ability as a feature of individual people abstracted
from context. It deflects attention away from sociocultural forces—both barri-
ers that inhibit performance of people from marginalized groups and scaffolding
that enhances performance of people from dominant groups—that systematically
structure performance on such tests, and it thereby affords the attribution of so-
ciocultural differences in performance to natural deficits in ability. Regardless
of practitioner intention or awareness, the widespread practice of ability testing
serves to legitimize inequality and to justify hierarchical societal arrangements
(Croizet, 2011). Proponents of neoliberalism draw upon such interpretations of
psychological testing to argue that economic inequality results from natural dif-
ferences in ability and to legitimize budget cuts to social welfare programs that
they see as futile, inefficient, or even pernicious (Winston, 2018).
Responsibilization. Another way in which psychological science ampli-
fies the entrepreneurial self is through personal responsibilization. By explaining
socially structured phenomena as the outcome of individual processes, psycho-
logical science renders people responsible for their outcomes. They not only bear
the onus for making good things happen, but also must shoulder blame when bad
things happen (Brown, 2006; McDonald, Gough, Wearing, & Deville, 2017).
For example, the emphasis on internal processes as the source of health prob-
lems not only obscures the effect of external structures on life outcomes and
well-being, but also renders people responsible for these problems. This is par-
ticularly evident in problems of overconsumption (e.g., obesity, substance abuse,
etc.). Patterns of explanation in psychological science reflect and reproduce the
idea that such problems arise from poor choices and lack of willpower rather than
the sociocultural constitution of desire and consumption behavior via ubiquitous
exposure to advertising media and marketing practices (McDonald et al., 2017).
Responsibilization is evident not only in standard explanations for health
and illness, but also in explanations for misfortune more generally. Social and
scientific explanations for misfortune tend to construct it as the result of bad
choices—for example, to stay versus evacuate when faced with a catastrophic
storm—rather than understand such responses as a negotiation with social and
material constraints (Stephens, Hamedani, Markus, Bergsieker, & Eloul, 2009).
Similarly, discourses of individual responsibility shape understandings of poverty
and economic inequality. Reflecting neoliberal individualistic models of mind and
behavior, prevalent constructions of economic growth emphasize characteristics
of self-interested individuals capable of acting independently from their material
and societal context (Klein, 2017b). From this perspective, economic scarcity is
the result of poor choices and deficient attributes, such as insufficient motivation or
grit (Duckworth, 2016), that deviate from the individualistic standard and require
corrective interventions (Estrada-Villalta & Adams, 2018). Again, policy mak-
ers draw upon these interpretations to legitimize neoliberal policies, as when U.S.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, defended plans for dis-
investment in public housing by expressing the belief that “poverty to a large extent
is also a state of mind” that social welfare programs perpetuate (Alcindor, 2017).
Growth Imperative
Hegemonic perspectives of psychological science have been a primary site
for the reproduction of the neoliberal growth imperative. Many theories within
social psychology consider personal growth and development to be the pinnacle
of human experience, a mark of optimal well-being. Indeed, a widely used scale
of psychological well-being (Ryff et al., 2007) includes the dimension of Personal
Growth (e.g., “For me life has been a continuous process of learning, changing and
growth”) as a defining feature, which survey respondents in the United States tend
to endorse at the highest levels (Plaut, Markus, & Lachman, 2009). Similarly, the
growth imperative is evident in the theory of growth mindset (Dweck, 2006): the
belief that individual qualities such as intelligence are not fixed or limited capaci-
ties, but instead are qualities that an entrepreneurial self can cultivate and extend
through effort and hard work. More generally, the growth imperative is evident
in attachment theory (Bowlby, 1988), self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci,
2017), flow theory (Csikszentmihalyi; 1990), broaden-and-build theory (Fredrick-
son, 2001), and positive psychology approaches more generally (e.g, Diener, 2000;
Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
Common to these perspectives is the idea that greater freedom—whether auton-
omy at work; novel experiences; or supportive, non-controlling relationships that
provide a secure base for exploration—promotes individual flourishing, personal
fulfillment, achievement of one’s dreams, and actualization of one’s potential. As
scholars have noted of positive psychology (Cabanas, 2018; see also Becker &
Maracek, 2008), the emphasis on growth and personal fulfillment in these in-
fluential theoretical perspectives not only reflects, but also serves to legitimize
neoliberalism and associated selfways.
The neoliberal growth imperative is similarly evident in the conceptions of
empowerment that inform hegemonic psychological science. Writing about this
topic in the context of feminism, Rutherford (2018) notes how hegemonic per-
spectives of psychological science construct women’s empowerment in ways—as
self-reliance, self-management, freedom from social constraint, c on t ro l o ve r o ne ’s
life, and liberty to chart one’s destiny—that are consistent not only with neolib-
eral individualism, but also (and somewhat ironically) with androcentrism (Riger,
1993). The connection to androcentrism helps to illuminate how this conception
of empowerment may be counterproductive for feminist (and other forms of) lib-
eration from social oppression. Although neoliberal empowerment may enable
individuals to pursue their aspirations, it often does so at the expense of broader
interdependence and solidarities (Dutt, Grabe, & Castro, 2015; Kurtis¸, Adams,
& Estrada-Villalta, 2016). Rather than forms of social constraint that constitute a
drag on individual growth and spectacular achievement of a well-endowed few,
these broader solidarities can constitute the basis for more collective forms of em-
powerment that create the conditions of possibility for broader, more sustainable
well-being. To be clear, the point here is not to argue against liberation (e.g., from
suffering or oppression), but instead to question the extent to which the neolib-
eral construction of liberation or empowerment evident in hegemonic forms of
psychological science is truly liberatory (and for whom; Kurtis¸ & Adams, 2015).
Affect Management
Finally, hegemonic perspectives of psychological science have been a pri-
mary site of the neoliberal emphasis on feeling (Teo, 2018). A prominent example
is self-determination theory (and similar perspectives; see Ryan & Deci, 2017).
Grounded in the neoliberal individualist experience of freedom from material
constraint, self-determination theory promotes the sense that people should pursue
core aspirations that express their most authentic strivings, beyond the compulsion
of mere material necessity. From this perspective, the force that directs pursuit of
fulfillment should be opportunities for full self-expression and deep emotional in-
volvement associated with expressive and romantic forms of individualism (Bellah
et al., 1985; Teo, 2018).
Love as fulfillment. An emphasis on neoliberal individualism does not nec-
essarily equate to a devaluation of relationship. Rather, neoliberal individualism
constructs connection—whether mating/dating, friend, or parent–child relations—
as another site for self-expression, self-expansion (e.g., Aron et al., 1991, 2013)
and pursuit of personal fulfillment. Here again, psychological science emerges as a
primary site for the (re)production of neoliberal relationality. Theory and research
in social psychology tend to equate relationship with mating and dating forms, and
they tend to reflect and promote a voluntaristic construction of these and other re-
lationship forms as the product of choice (Adams et al., 2012). This construction is
associated with tendencies to choose connections that provide optimal satisfaction
(with minimal constraint), a promotion-oriented pursuit of personal fulfillment
(versus prevention-oriented assurance of support), an emphasis on feelings and
emotional care (versus materiality of care; Coe, 2011), and narrow investment in
nuclear family (rather than broader solidarities; Kurti& Adams, 2015; Salter &
Adams, 2012). Consistent with neoliberal promises of personal fulfillment, these
voluntaristic constructions of love and relationship may liberate the fortunate
minority who are extraordinarily well-endowed or well-positioned in the relation-
ship market to obtain satisfying outcomes. However, research suggests that these
constructions of love are harmful to the majority of people with more ordinary
characteristics, who must struggle to attract and create their own connections in
the absence of environmentally afforded ties (Plaut, Adams, & Anderson, 2009;
see also Oishi & Kesebir, 2012).
Self-esteem movement. In addition to being the science of love, psychol-
ogy can also lay claim to being the science of happiness (Wilson, 1967; Diener &
Seligman, 2002). One source of the emphasis on happiness and positive affect in
psychological science was the self-esteem movement that emerged in the 1970s.
A central theme of this movement was that feeling good about oneself—rather
than, for example, attending to one’s shortcomings to better direct efforts at
self-improvement—is the key to successful achievement, relationships, health,
and life in general. Another central theme has been that self-esteem and happiness
are matters of choice and personal responsibility. They are individual rather than
group projects, and a person owes it to herself to ignore feedback from haters
who would undermine her self-esteem.
We do not deny that feeling good about oneself is usually preferable to the
opposite. Instead, our point is to recognize that this emphasis in hegemonic psy-
chological science on high self-esteem and positive feeling reflects and reproduces
the neoliberal emphasis on affect management. Having a high overall evaluation
of one’s value and a positive or optimistic outlook constitute an important survival
strategy in a world that, according to best-selling cultural products during the
height of the self-esteem movement, requires people to Be Your Own Best Friend,
and Learn to Love Yourself (Maasen, Sutter, & Duttweiler, 2007).
Happiness studies. The idea that individuals should feel good about their
actions and that feeling good is an end in itself (Binkley, 2014; Wierzbicka,
1994) gains force from the abundance of research in mainstream psychological
science on happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being (e.g., Diener, Seligman,
Choi, & Oishi, 2018). The neoliberal character of happiness studies in hegemonic
psychological science is evident not only in the centrality of the topic, but also in
prevailing constructions of happiness. Hegemonic perspectives of psychological
science typically impose a neoliberal individualist construction of happiness as
high arousal positive affect (Tsai, 2007). According to this standard, it is not
sufficient to achieve contentment or absence of negative feelings; in addition,
psychologists tend to prescribe the more active or energetic form of happiness
that fulfills requirements of neoliberal affect management: namely, to motivate
entrepreneurial risk and to counter anxiety associated with responsibilization of
failure (De La Fabian & Stecher, 2017).
Although this high-energy pursuit of high arousal positive affect may be
adaptive for neoliberal affect management, it also has drawbacks. Qualitative
studies suggest that people in a variety of contemporary neoliberal environments
internalize blame for anxiety and negative experiences, wishing they could be
more adept at focusing on the positive (Scharff, 2016; Sweet, 2018). A large meta-
analysis suggests that holding negative attitudes toward negative affect is strongly
associated with experiencing depression (Yoon, Dang, Metz, & Rottenberg, 2018).
The demand for positive affect demonizes and imposes silence on killjoys who dare
to spoil the party by raising awareness of injustice (Ahmed, 2010). Of particular
relevance for current purposes, critics argue that the emphasis on high-energy
positive affect is unavailable to most people on the planet (Becker & Maracek,
2008) and unsustainable at both a personal and collective level (Kjell, 2011). By
prescribing high arousal positive affect, psychological science may contribute to
overconsumption, production of social inequality, and ecological catastrophe.
Resisting Neoliberalism, Decolonizing Psychology
Rather than a detached observer of neoliberalism and its psychological con-
sequences, we have proposed that psychological science is an important site of
neoliberalism. More precisely, we propose that the relationship between psychol-
ogy and neoliberal selfways is particularly strong in hegemonic forms of psycho-
logical science with epistemic foundations in WEIRD societies. This relationship
may be less evident in traditions of psychology with epistemic foundations beyond
WEIRD settings. This qualification is important not only because it avoids an in-
tellectually imperialist assimilation of those traditions to WEIRD psychology, but
also because these traditions of psychology may provide inspiration and direction
for researchers and practitioners who desire to forge a psychological science that
resists neoliberalism.
A useful tool for theorizing resistance to neoliberalism (in psychology and
otherwise) comes from various perspectives of “theory from the South” (TFTS;
Comaroff & Comaroff, 2012; see also de Sousa Santos, 2014). A prevalent ten-
dency in academic work is to regard Majority-World communities of the Global
South (and racially marginalized communities in the Global North) merely as
peripheral sites for secondary application of basic theory. In contrast, the idea of
TFTS centers the experience of Majority-World communities as a privileged site
for the development of basic theory to explain events in general (including in the
Global North).
Perspectives of TFTS offer an epistemic standpoint from which to decolo-
nize psychology: to articulate new intellectual traditions free from the connection
to neoliberal individualist selfways (Fanon, 1961/1965, p. 316; see also Adams,
Dobles, Gomez, Kurti, & Molina, 2015). One decolonial strategy is indigeniza-
tion, in which researchers from marginalized settings draw upon place-based
knowledge (Tuck & McKenzie, 2015) to deflect the imposition of hegemonic
(typically WEIRD) knowledge traditions and to suggest habits of mind and ways
of being better attuned to local realities. If neoliberalism finds fertile ground in
the individualist selfways that inform hegemonic psychological science, then in-
digenous knowledge traditions in settings where more relational or interdependent
selfways are prominent may be an important source of alternatives to a neoliberal
psychology (Liu, 2015; Tomlinson & Lipsitz, 2013b).
However, the value of indigenous and other racially marginalized perspectives
as a decolonial tool is not simply to produce better knowledge for application in
associated communities. Resonating with the idea of TFTS, the decolonial poten-
tial of indigenous knowledge increases dramatically when one turns the analytic
lens, applies it to denaturalize taken-for-granted assumptions about supposedly
natural tendencies of human beings in general.
As an example, consider again the neoliberal psychological emphasis on
freedom and growth. Perspectives of decolonial theory (e.g., Grosfoguel, 2002;
Mignolo, 2011), rooted in epistemic standpoints of the Global South, emphasize
that the freedom from constraint associated with the neoliberal individualist pur-
suit of growth is not politically innocent. Instead, societies in the Global North
have obtained this freedom through appropriation of others’ land, resources, and
labor over the past 500 years of Eurocentric global domination. The violence re-
quired to make possible this freedom from constraint for some, while imposing
intolerable conditions on others, is one reason to question the neoliberal psycho-
logical emphasis on personal growth and expansion (Adams, Estrada-Villalta, &
Still, the violence associated with neoliberal freedom and growth is not sim-
ply about the unequal distribution of opportunities to enjoy them. More generally,
decolonial perspectives argue that the exercise of neoliberal freedom and growth
by the privileged global minority reproduces colonial violence through the pro-
duction of inequality and ecological degradation that prompts concerns about
sustainable well-being. In a synchronic sense, it is unlikely that all people who
presently inhabit the planet can have access to resources necessary to fuel the
prescription for neoliberal psychological growth (Becker & Maracek, 2008). In a
diachronic sense, there are indications that current consumption patterns spurred
by the desire for personal growth are driving Earth societies toward an impend-
ing ecological plateau, meaning that these ways of being will not be possible for
future generations (or even older versions of our current selves; Ad am s & Es tr ad a-
Villalta, 2017; Trawick & Hornborg, 2015). Simply put, epistemic standpoints of
the Global South illuminate the possibility that these core themes of hegemonic
psychological science are not just-naturally good, but instead reproduce violence
associated with colonialism and White supremacy (Adams et al., 2018).
Besides indigenization and denaturalization, a third decolonial strategy is ac-
companiment, whereby research er s come down from their ivory to wers and work
alongside inhabitants of marginalized communities in their struggles for social
justice (Tomlinson & Lipsitz, 2013a; Watkins, 2015). The decolonial strength
of accompaniment approaches is the emphasis on embedded engagement rather
than “basic” research or “pure” knowledge abstracted from social and historical
context. Whereas hegemonic psychological science reproduces neoliberal abstrac-
tion via emphases on quantification, experimental method, and laboratory control
(Shweder, 1990), proponents of the accompaniment approach argue that it affords
resistance to neoliberal abstraction—and comes closer to truth—via participatory
and place-based research that takes seriously particularities of context and content
(Segalo, Manoff, & Fine, 2015).
For readers who desire practical recommendations for resisting neoliberal-
ism, these decolonial strategies provide a sense of direction. The accompaniment
strategy recommends engagement with others in creation of community solidar-
ity. The indigenization strategy recommends commitment to educate oneself about
multiple knowledge traditions. The denaturalization strategy recommends that one
draw upon these traditions not (just) to understand cultural “Others,” but (instead)
as standpoints from which to appreciate one’s own experience in relationship
to cultural and historical context. Although relatively modest steps, the goal is
to promote epistemic disobedience (Mignolo, 2009) and creative maladjustment
(King, 1968) to neoliberal systems that promote atomistic responses to collective
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GLENN ADAMS is professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, where
he is active in the Kansas African Studies Center. His current work draws upon
collaborative research in African and Latin American settings as a resource for
decolonial approaches to cultural psychology.
SARA ESTRADA-VILLALTA is a doctoral student in the Department of Psy-
chology at the University of Kansas. She studies the sociocultural foundations
of the self and identity, as well as the relationship between identity and social
DANIEL SULLIVAN is an assistant professor in psychology at the University
of Arizona. He studies how cultural differences shape individual experiences of
suffering and threat. He is the author of Cultural–Existential Psychology (2016)
from Cambridge University Press.
HAZEL ROSE MARKUS is the Davis-Brack professor in the behavioral sciences
at Stanford University and faculty director of Stanford SPARQ. Her research
examines how cultures shape selves and on the role of selves in regulating behavior.
A recent book is Clash! How to Thrive in a Multicultural World.
... A critical psychology-rooted in cultural and liberation psychology-is simply the opposite of neoliberal psychology wherein psychologists are embedded and active participants in the politics and economics of racial capitalism (see Adams et al., 2019;Evans et al., 2017;Ratner, 2019). As a result, critical community psychologists are essential for addressing structural racism because they "a) work alongside those most harmed; b) expose the psychosocial and political systems that do the most harm; and c) engage in research and social action to promote fair and equitable allocation of social and economic resources, bargaining power, and obligations in society" (Evans et al., 2017, p. 107). ...
... Research shows participants (especially conservatives) who read about media coverage on wise interventions assigned greater blame to disadvantaged groups (especially in the context of racial disadvantage) (Ikizer & Blanton, 2016). These "quick fix" solutions reinforce individualistic attributions, a key tenet of neoliberal psychology, that undermine structural thinking of social issues (see Adams et al., 2019). Thus, harmful commercial determinants must be replaced with public-oriented TOWARD A MORAL RECKONING 12 determinants. ...
... Our interdisciplinary perspective uplifted research across community psychology, public health, and social medicine to (re)introduce activist scholars to the theories, concepts, and intervention approaches relevant for a moral reckoning. We applied aspects of critical race psychology, public psychology, and critical community psychology toward this vision (Adams et al., 2019;Eaton et al., 2021;Evans et al., 2017;Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2009;Ratner, 2019;Salter & Adams, 2013). We focused on structural factors, structural thinking, and reparative approaches to enhance a psychological framework on the denial of structural racism (Rucker & Richeson, 2021). ...
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The racial reckoning of 2020 involved the largest social movement protest in U.S. history, but support for the Black Lives Matter movement declined shortly after. To advance a moral reckoning on structural racism that dismantles racialized structures and redresses racial inequities, we call on scholar activists within the field of community psychology to realign their own practices by (a) examining structural factors; (b) encouraging structural thinking; and (c) supporting structural intervention for racial justice. Two structural factors–political determinants and commercial determinants–maintain the status quo of structural racism, undermining efforts for racial equity. As a result, we encourage the development of structural thinking, which provides a structural analysis of racism and leads to support for structural intervention. With an intersectional race and class perspective, we detail how structural thinking could be developed among the professional managerial class (through structural competency) and among the oppressed class (through critical consciousness). Finally, we discuss structural intervention factors and approaches that can redress racial inequities and produce structural change. Ultimately, we provide a pathway for community psychologists to support activists building a multiracial, multiclass coalition to eliminate structures and systems of racial, political, and economic injustice.
... The cultural context of neoliberal psychology: Toward a public and critical psychology After King (1968) urged social scientists to "tell it like it is" (p. 2) in reference to the immorality of racial injustice, APA President George Miller (1969) called on the field to "give psychology away" to the public. In the decade that followed, U.S. political and economic interests embraced neoliberalism-"an economic agenda [that] advocated deregulation of markets and free movement of capital" (Adams et al., 2019;p. 191)-that was quite simply the opposite of the antiracist sentiment expressed by King and pro-public stance expressed by Miller. ...
... A critical psychology-rooted in cultural and liberation psychology-is simply the opposite of neoliberal psychology wherein psychologists are embedded and active participants in the politics and economics of racial capitalism (see Adams et al., 2019;Evans et al., 2017;Ratner, 2019). As a result, critical community psychologists are essential for addressing structural racism because they "(a) work alongside those most harmed; (b) expose the psychosocial and political systems that do the most harm; and (c) engage in research and social action to promote fair and equitable allocation of social and economic resources, bargaining power, and obligations in society" (Evans et al., 2017;p. ...
... Research shows participants (especially conservatives) who read about media coverage on wise interventions assigned greater blame to disadvantaged groups (especially in the context of racial disadvantage) (Ikizer & Blanton, 2016). These "quick fix" solutions reinforce individualistic attributions, a key tenet of neoliberal psychology, that undermine structural thinking of social issues (see Adams et al., 2019). Thus, harmful commercial determinants must be replaced with publicoriented determinants. ...
The racial reckoning of 2020 involved the largest social movement protest in U.S. history, but support for the Black Lives Matter movement declined shortly after. To advance a moral reckoning on structural racism that dismantles racialized structures and redresses racial inequities, we call on activist scholars within the field of community psychology to realign their own practices by a) examining structural factors; b) encouraging structural thinking; and c) supporting structural intervention for racial justice. Two structural factors–political determinants and commercial determinants–maintain the status quo of structural racism, undermining efforts for racial equity. As a result, we encourage the development of structural thinking, which provides a structural analysis of racism and leads to support for structural intervention. With an intersectional race and class perspective, we detail how structural thinking could be developed among the professional managerial class (through structural competency) and among the oppressed class (through critical consciousness). Finally, we discuss structural intervention factors and approaches that can redress racial inequities and produce structural change. Ultimately, we provide a pathway for community psychologists to support activists building a multi-racial, multi-class coalition to eliminate structures and systems of racial, political, and economic injustice.
... Whereas the hubris of the zero point is a modern/colonial way of knowing characteristic of many disciplines, another manifestation of the coloniality of knowledge that is especially characteristic of psychology (and the psychological study of social issues) is a form of knowledge associated with modern/colonial individualist lifeways. Briefly stated, modern individualist lifeways are embodied habits of mind and ways of being that, among other things, orient a person toward opportunities for personal growth and self-actualization, exploration and expression of authentic desires, and the pursuit of defining aspirations (Adams et al., 2019;Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Theory and research in hegemonic global psychology, based disproportionately on research in WEIRD settings, has extensively catalogued the prevalence and properties of individualist lifeways. ...
Initiatives in international development and behavioral science rely predominantly on the independent models of the self and agency that are prevalent in individualist Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) cultural contexts. Programs that are guided by these independent models, explicitly or implicitly, as the default way of being and that neglect interdependent models can reduce the potential of development initiatives to advance poverty reduction and well-being in two ways. First, programs based solely on independent models of agency—centered on personal goals and values; self-advancement and self-expression; and autonomy—can limit the scope and effectiveness of the development science toolkit. Second, programs that are not responsive to interdependent ways of being—centered on relational goals and values; responsiveness to social norms, roles, and obligations; and social coordination—that are common in many Global South sociocultural contexts can be met with resistance or backlash. We propose that taking account of interdependent psychosocial tendencies is a promising way to diversify the behavioral science toolkit and to build a more comprehensive science of human behavior. Furthermore, culturally responsive program designs have the potential both to promote decolonized, inclusive approaches that preserve rather than override local ways of being and to enable diverse trajectories of societal development to flourish. We integrate experimental and descriptive research from psychology, economics, education, and global health to suggest how models of interdependent agency can be productively integrated into development program designs to advance quality of life in locally resonant ways.
Aim: Psychology can be implicated in the mitigation and exacerbation of injustice. Arguably, this results from conventional ways of knowing/being supported by long held distinctions between individual/community and psychology/sociality. The aim of this analysis is to offer a way to think about knowing, being, justice and relationships that transcend polemics to realise just practices in education. This orientation invites the pursuit of psychosocial justice. Rationale: Psychology plays a contradictory and complicated role in the pursuit of social justice. Practitioners in educational settings may claim they are challenging equity and fairness through their application of psychological frameworks and methods yet do so employing reductionist and ableist models implicated in reproducing inequality. Examples are reflected in commitments to measure and cultivate characteristics such as grit, growth mindset, lifelong learning and emotion regulation. Implications: Distinctions between research and applied psychologists are rendered redundant as historically separated actions and matters remerge. Resonant within and across all aspects of our work then is an ethic of relationality. There we recognise the consequence of theory in practice, the entangled nature of people and institutions and the continuing emergence of psychosocial life. Conclusions: Thinking about relationality in this way fundamentally challenges and changes how psychology impacts the use of certain concepts and methods, as well as the formation of assumptions and conclusions about education. If committed to just practice educational psychologists cannot be given to finding finalised outcomes because there is and always will be morethan to consider.
This article advances critical theoretical and methodological approaches to employability. From the perspectives of neoliberal governmentality and positioning analysis, we investigate graduate employability as a process of creating value for the self in the labour markets. The study analyses how young Finnish business graduates (n = 19) who work in business organisations perform themselves as valuable labouring subjects in their interviews. Based on our analysis, we develop an argument that being a young business professional is simultaneously presented as a problem and a virtue in terms of a valuable labouring subject. The analysis shows that graduates cultivate themselves as easily employable, mature job seekers and successful young employees equipped with personal social skills, enthusiasm and youthful energy and drive. They draw on the neoliberal discourse of employability to negotiate issues identified as problematic – their young age and lack of work experience – in terms of their value. Their performances of the self are thus purposeful responses to the contextual expectations and pressures they encounter while competing for jobs and striving to gain recognition as novice professionals in organisations. The study reveals that graduates’ whole subjectivity is at the core of the process of value creation in contemporary labour markets.
Full-text available
For three decades, advertisements for Orion Choco Pie, a chocolate-covered biscuit and marshmallow snack cake, have thematized jeong 情, becoming a benchmark for this reputedly quintessential Korean sentiment. A time-nurtured affective connection that dissolves boundaries between self and other, jeong first featured in the Orion Choco Pie commercials in the late 1980s, to be repeatedly elaborated on into the 2010s. This study examines differences in portrayals of jeong in Orion Choco Pie commercials over three decades and relates shifts in those popular-cultural representations to broad changes in South Korean society. Specifically, the article contrasts the inaugural campaign of 1989-1993, which celebrated jeong as enabling wordless communication, with the 2012-2013 campaign, which called for expressing jeong in words, suggesting a reversal in cultural scripts that govern this much mystified Korean emotion. Drawing on Eva Illouz's (2007) theorizations of "emotional capitalism," my analysis links changes in the advertising depictions of appropriate jeong expression to the dominant notions of emotions, selves, and human relationality under neoliberal hegemony.
In this paper, we invite psychologists to reflect on and recognize how knowledge is produced in the field of social psychology. Engaging with the work of decolonial, liberation and critical psychology scholars, we provide a six-point lens on precarity that facilitates a deeper understanding of knowledge production in hegemonic social psychology and academia at large. We conceptualize knowledge (re)production in psychology as five interdependent 'cogs' within the neoliberal machinery of academia, which cannot be viewed in isolation; (1) its epistemological foundations rooted in coloniality, (2) the methods and standards it uses to understand human thoughts, feelings and behaviours, (3) the documentation of its knowledge, (4) the dissemination of its knowledge and (5) the universalization of psychological theories. With this paper we also claim our space in academia as early career researchers of colour who inhabit the margins of hegemonic social psychology. We join scholars around the world in calling for a much-needed disciplinary shift that centres solutions to the many forms of violence that are inflicted upon marginalized members of the global majority. To conclude, we offer four political-personal intentions for the reorientation for the discipline of hegemonic social psychology with the aim to disrupt the politics of knowledge production and eradicate precarity.
In addition to the longstanding threat posed by narrow economism, faith in the possibility of peace and progress through democratic politics – central to the humanistic vision of the 1972 Faure report – today faces additional challenges. These challenges include the ascendancy of neurocentrism in the global policyscape. Whereas the effects of neoliberalism on education have been extensively critiqued, the implications of a newer, related ideological framework known as neuroliberalism remain under-theorised. Neuroliberalism combines neoliberal ideas concerning the role of markets in addressing social problems with beliefs about human nature ostensibly grounded in the behavioural, psychological and neurological sciences. This article critically examines a recent initiative of one of UNESCO’s Category 1 Institutes – the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) – that seeks to mainstream neuroscience and digital technology within global educational policy. Comparing the visions of the 1972 Faure, the 1996 Delors and the 2021 Futures of Education reports with MGIEP’s International Science and Evidence Based Education Assessment (ISEEA), the authors analyse continuity and change in UNESCO’s attempts to articulate a vision of “scientific humanism” which advocates the use of science for the betterment of humanity. They argue that ISEEA’s overall recommendations – as represented in its Summary for Decision Makers (SDM) – reinforce a reductive, depoliticised vision of education which threatens to exacerbate educational inequality while enhancing the profits and power of Big Tech. These recommendations exemplify a neuroliberal turn in global education policy discourse, marking a stark departure from the central focus on ethics and democratic politics characteristic of UNESCO’s landmark education reports. Reanimating, in cruder form, visions of a scientifically-organised utopia of the kind that attracted UNESCO’s inaugural Director-General, Julian Huxley, ISEEA’s recommendations actually point towards the sort of dystopian “brave new world” of which his brother, Aldous Huxley, warned.
This book raises the idea of a distinct discipline of cultural psychology, the study of the ways that psyche and culture, subject and object, and person and world make up each other. Cultural Psychology is a collection of essays from leading scholars in anthropology, psychology, and linguistics who examine these relationships with special reference to core areas of human development: cognition, learning, self, personality dynamics, and gender. The chapters critically examine such questions as: Is there an intrinsic psychic unity to humankind? Can cultural traditions transform the human psyche, resulting less in psychic unity than in ethnic divergences in mind, self, and emotion? Are psychological processes local or specific to the sociocultural environments in which they are embedded? The volume is an outgrowth of the internationally known Chicago Symposia on Culture and Human Development. It will appeal to an interdisciplinary audience of anthropologists, psychologists, linguists, historians, philosophers and hermeneutists interested in the prospects for a distinct discipline of cultural psychology.
Decolonizing Psychology sheds light on the universalizing power and the colonizing dimensions of Euro-American psychology. The book integrates insights from postcolonial, narrative, and cultural psychology to ask how Euro-American scientific psychology becomes the standard-bearer of psychology throughout the world, whose stories get told, what knowledge is considered as legitimate, and whose lives are considered central to the future of psychology. Urban Indian youth represent one of the largest segments of the youth population across the world and yet remain so utterly invisible in the discipline of psychology. By using ethnographic and interview methods, this book draws a nuanced narrative portrait of how urban youth in Pune, India, who belong to the transnational elite, middle and working classes, reimagine their identities within the new structural and neoliberal cultural contexts of globalization and neoliberalization. The book examines how particular class identities shape youth narratives about globalization and “Indianness” generally, as well as specific stories about self and identity, social inequality, dignity, poverty, family, relationships, work, marriage, and practices of consumption. The book articulates an alternative vision of psychology in which questions of social justice and equality are seen as central to its mission, and it is argued that a psychology is needed that urgently and meaningfully speaks to the lives of the majority of the world's population.
A New Narrative for Psychology is a far-reaching book that seeks to reorient how scholars and laypersons study and think about persons and the goals of psychological understanding. The book provides a challenging critique of contemporary variable-centered, statistical methods, revealing what these approaches to psychological research leave unexplored; it presents readers with a cutting-edge, narrative, approach for getting at the thorny problem of meaning making in human lives. For readers unfamiliar with narrative psychology, this is an excellent first text, which considers the history of narrative psychology and its place in contemporary psychology. The book goes well beyond the basics, however. A New Narrative for Psychology offers a fresh and innovative theoretical perspective on narrative as an active interpretive process that is implicated in most aspects of everyday life, and the ways in which narrative functions to make present and real subjective and inter-subjective experiences. Theory is grounded in vivid illustrations of what can be learned from the intensive study of how persons, in time and space, narrate their experiences, selves, social relationships, and the world. A New Narrative for Psychology reintroduces narrative psychology as a credible, trustworthy, and useful perspective for considering the hows and whys of human meaning making and argues for the necessity of narrative as a central, and complementary, perspective in scientific psychology. It is an invitation to a conversation about the critical questions of psychology, the most effective strategies for approaching them, and the future of discipline.