Social Psychology and Modernity

Johansson, Thomas
Open University Press, Buckingham
0335201040 (pb)

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Cover of book Johansson's volume is an excellent critique of the more psychologistic social psychology in the United States. It nicely examines what I suggest is the emergence of a post-modern, rather than modern, assertion of paradigms in social psychology set out by Simmel and the Chicago school. Johansson provides an in-depth analysis of three seminal projects: Wirth's examination of the (Jewish) ghetto and the stranger, the discussion of authoritarian personality by Adorno and colleagues, and Giddens' reflection on relationships and intimacy.

Johansson's work should be spoken of as post-modern and not modern. This titling is only a slight misnomer which needs some clarification for the reader, but substantively the volume offers an alternative humanistic paradigm in social psychology. It also puts forward a trenchant challenge to social psychology's American hegemony haplessly confessing a (modern) Enlightenment positivist bias. Johansson's text emerges comfortably as a post-modern response to the psychologistic (modern) paradigm of the un-reflexive, de-contextualized self as a 'tabula rasa' in social psychology. Both Adorno and Wirth's reflexive and contextualized self challenges the modern (or Enlightenment) ideas of the psychologistic person. Given these sentiments I think Johansson's book comfortably fits within the postmodern theoretical paradigm. So, us sociologists should stop the winter of our discontent in the conflict between postmodern and modern definitions of society, and should rather look to the theoretical influences that apply these terms more antiseptically.

To return to the volume, Johansson discusses Giddens with attention to intimacy and returns to flesh out the significance of his contribution later in the volume, reflecting on the implications of increased communication and multiculturalism in globalization. I thought Johansson should also consider the American psychologist (influenced by the Chicago school) Kenneth Gergen and his seminal work, The Saturated Self, to uncover the dimensions of personhood in an age of multiculturalism, what Gergen defines as 'multiphrenia,' or multiple selfhoods.

Johansson more or less abandons his discussion of Adorno and Wirth after the introductory chapter, which is a pity to this reader who thinks that more detailed reflections on these two seminal authors would be productive to the overall argument. Nevertheless Johansson concludes the introductory chapter with further analysis of Wirth, Adorno and Giddens' reflexive self contra positive science.

The remaining content of chapter one highlights Simmel's contributions as a scholar of the 'emotionology' of modernity. Johansson sees Simmel as first and foremost 'psychologist' of social life, beginning as he does with the interacting individual as the unit of analysis and the tension between the subjective and objective experience. He also offers a postlude to Simmel, discussing his influence within the Chicago school.

The second chapter of the first part describes psychoanalysis' grip over social psychology. Johansson mentions Benjamin's discussion of dreams and utopia, Elias' meditation on the repression of desires in social change, and Marcuse's fusion of Freud and Marx.

The third chapter in Part I refines commentary on the Chicago School, looking more specifically at the contribution of Goffman who, according to Johansson, holistically explores the effects of narcissism in late modernity. Impression management, identity, and stigmatization are all results of this problem.

Part II of the volume explores empirical supports to these theoretical observations in thematic discussions of identity, 'the stranger,' narcissism, the body, 'mediaziation,' multiculturalism and gender. The book concludes with reflections on the future of social psychology into the twenty-first century. Johansson asks that social psychology be considered not as a separate discipline, but as a 'meta-theoretical field' within other perspectives. Social psychology should serve as a 'seismograph' sensitive to changes in the relationship between society and the individual. Overall, the volume offers a dazzling trip through an alternative paradigm in humanistic social psychology, albeit with a few significant lacunae. It lucidly discusses empirical applications of what to some might be 'abstract' post-modern concepts. This volume would best fit in a post-graduate seminar on contemporary theory or social psychology. Those with interests in psychoanalytic and Chicago school traditions within and outside sociology will also find it enriching.

Sarah MacMillen
Duquesne University