Contemporary social psychology is dynamic, wherein social psychologists must understand the social interface between how society impacts individuals in their social contexts and how individuals affect society in an ever changing world, in order to progress change for the betterment.
There are many contemporary issues that benefit from being investigated further, ‘mediatisation’ (Hardt&Negris, 2012) ‘cross-cultural influences’ (Hermans&Hubert, 2006), and including one of the biggest inequalities, ‘gender.’ Gender can be explored through feminist theory, readdressing gaps in equality through social psychology.
Women have been successful towards advancing some gender inequalities within political movements, though not without great difficulty, even paying for it with their lives within the first wave feminism of the suffragette’s movement in the nineteenth-twentieth century, where women gained the right to vote (Pankhurst, 2015). In an ever-evolving world, women still struggle to be heard and accepted as equals though contemporary social psychology gives a voice to those fighting for social change by challenging the norm, ‘We can think of feminist theory as being produced precisely where social norms about gender are contested’ (Radtke, 2015). “Third-wave feminism emerged out of a critique of the politics of the second wave, as many feminists felt that earlier generations had over-generalized the experiences of white, middle-class, heterosexual women and ignored (and even suppressed) the viewpoints of women of colour, the poor, gay, lesbian, and transgender people, and women from the non-Western world.”(Routledge, 2016). Due to technological advances in a globalised society, it is easier for contemporary social psychologists to keep up to date and informed, challenging out-dated models and thinking through the contemporary development of increased use in the likes of social media, where we can make social inequalities heard more than ever before on a global platform. Change may be progressing at a slower pace than desired, and there is still much work to be done regarding inequalities in gender and socially that feminism would like to transform, readdressing power issues on an everyday level, and politically securing equal rights. “Ultimately, if feminism, broadly understood, is concerned with improving the conditions of women in society, feminist social theory is about developing ideas, concepts, philosophies, and other intellectual programs that help meet that agenda. Feminist social theory, like any theoretical tradition, is best seen as a continuing conversation of many voices and viewpoints.”(Routledge, 2016).
In contemporary society, we live in a world of inequality dealing with issues concerning power struggles, work positions and wage gap, which can be considered the norm. Some people don’t notice anything but a normal way of life to contest it, some don’t understand feminism, don’t accept feminism or don’t want to. Critical social psychology argues that this everyday living can be theory but contesters do not recognise this. It’s important to acknowledge that interpretation can be an issue within social psychology due to the influence of the researcher in qualitative and quantitative surveys. “It has been argued that qualitative methods are more appropriate for feminist research by allowing subjective knowledge and a more equal relationship between the researcher and the researched.” (Westmarland, 2004). Though critical social psychology suggests that research is believed to never be completely neutral due to an individual researcher being unable to be separate from the society they live in, their research would also be influenced by social beliefs and values, reflexivity must be acknowledged. “By acknowledging the influence of the researcher on interpretation, including in the processes of data collection and analysis, feminists have contributed to new ways of doing research.” (Phoenix & Pattynama, 2006).
Defining women as a collective can be another challenging aspect, women can be significantly different, situated knowledge, personal experiences, which reflect social, cultural and historical location and intersectionality “a perspective on inequality which argues that oppressions of race, class, gender, and sexuality cannot be understood in isolation from one another, but instead “intersect” and help mutually reinforce and shape one another.” (Routledge, 2016) make this complex topic so vast it seems impossible to measure.
There may also be greater influencing factors of importance; we have many roles and sometimes contrasting positions in life, different viewpoints and relationships with others. Also gender is not a fixed category, as many identify outside the considered norms, such as those who identify as trans, queer or non-binary and so forth. It is difficult to define what makes all women the same because in many ways we are very similar to each other and to men, yet unique. “This is a theory of the person or psychological subject as complex, divided and unfixed.”
In research terms, this theory also challenges the idea that a research participant can be approached as a universal individual who can represent all people and from whom findings can be generalised. “The goal of most qualitative studies is not to generalize but rather to provide a rich, contextualized understanding of some aspect of human experience through the intensive study of particular cases. Yet, in an environment where evidence for improving practice is held in high esteem, generalization in relation to knowledge claims merits careful attention by both qualitative and quantitative researchers.” (Polit, 2010).
Power is another topic of dispute in regards to the individual and society interface as it is difficult to measure and may not always be recognised. “An aim of research is to identify and challenge ideas and practices that support discrimination against people on the basis of their ethnic background, age, gender, sexuality, disability, and so on. Feminism is an important influence on critical social psychology because it highlights that power relations in society are related to ways of thinking and behaving.” (Tuffin, 2005). It may be argued that we are not really progressing forward in matters of equality. In a neoliberal society there is more pressure put on the few women power to prove their worth, which indicates that a larger global change needs to take place. Feminist theory and practice is relevant to critical psychology more generally because the theory and practice relate to all categories of ‘other’, “a relational theory of femininity that asserts that the category of woman is defined by everything man is not. De Beauvoir also focused on how control of women’s sexuality and reproduction has historically subjugated them to men, and was one of the first theorists to argue that gender was not an essential characteristic of people, but rather something that one becomes through socialization.”(Routledge, 2016).
In conclusion, social change is socially progressing towards greater freedoms and improved quality of life, using critique as a further means of achieving change with changing times. Feminists have changed the world and have challenged the norm in psychology to rethink the relationship between individual and social interface in new ways.
Feminist critique of psychology and an important driver for change in social psychology is using qualitative surveys and reflexivity, exploring the complexities of defining women, intersectionality, situated knowledge and unfixed categories for generalised findings and measuring power and looking at power struggles in everyday living.
However, since these roles are simply learned, we can create more equal societies by ‘unlearning’ social roles. That is, feminists should aim to diminish the influence of socialisation.
As long as gender inequality and oppression exists, feminism and feminist thought will continue to matter to millions of people throughout the world. Moreover, feminist intellectuals continue to develop cutting-edge and nuanced understandings of the social world that enrich the power and possibilities of social theory writ large.