Debating the nature and role of psychology in South Africa’s Higher Education Institutions and society more broadly, Professor Cheryl de la Rey, called for a new approach to the discipline which would be better suited to addressing the challenges experienced by millions of South Africans.
Prof De la Rey, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, is the recipient of the 2012 Psychology and Social Change Project Award, which is presented annually by the Rhodes University Psychology Department to prominent members of the Psychology community for contributions they have made to social change in South Africa.
In her lecture, entitled “Psychology: Private – Public Good?”, presented during the award ceremony Prof De la Rey, provided an overview of trends within South African psychology over the last 40 years and reflected on the current debate in Higher Education pertaining to the role of psychology in South Africa.
A dominant theme within psychology is the challenge to its relevance as a discipline in a country ravaged by widespread inequality, said Prof De la Rey.
“How does one reconcile the advocacy we do for more funding for our courses when at the same time we live in a country with such huge deficits,” she asked. ,
She argued that while much attention is paid to interrogating the private good of psychology, not much is dedicated to understanding its role in relation to the public good.
“The question I hear people asking is whether psychology is addressing the socio-political concerns of the day and whether psychology is responding to the national priorities as set out by government,” she said.
This quest for understanding its relevance has resulted in a dominance of applied psychology within the field, which Prof De la Rey described as comprising “little more than descriptions of individual lives”.
This approach is thin on theory based research and tends to focus on the individual as the primary unit of analysis, thus retaining a core focus on the private aspect of psychology. This, Prof De la Rey said, is resulting in a dearth of psychological literature and analysis which is equipped to confront aspects of South African society.
“We have to move past description and produce research that debunks the binaries. We need to develop an approach that combines applied and basic research, theory and practice, individual and community and private and public to begin to address the challenges facing us in this country,” she said.
According to Professor Michael Guilfoyle, Head of Department for Psychology at Rhodes, Prof De la Rey continues to challenge understandings of psychology in both the South African, post-apartheid era and the global environment.
“There is an overarching sense of perspective that underpins her work. She is a leader of which psychologists can be proud,” he said. .
Prof De la Rey has published books and several journal articles in psychology. She has done extensive work on gender issues, leadership and higher education policy, sits on several national committees, and is a member of the International Council for Science’s strategy and planning committee, among other leadership positions.
This was the fifth annual Psychology and Social Change Project Award lecture, which was hosted by Rhodes University’s Department of Psychology. Last year’s recipient was Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Professor Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize.
By Sarah-Jane Bradfield
Photo by Ettione Ferreira
Professor Cheryl de la Rey receives the Psychology Department’s Annual Psychology and Social Change Project Award.
Last Modified: Sun, 01 Jul 2012 17:08:32 SAST