Austerity and psychology

The British Psychological Society’s monthly magazine, The Psychologist has been carrying a series on austerity and psychology.  At our request this month’s articles have been made open access, which seems correct given the theme.

Charting ‘the mind and body economic’  The Midlands Psychology Group introduce a special issue dedicated to the theme of ‘austerity’ Page Numbers: 232-235

“Neoliberal ‘austerity’ programmes – favoured by many governments across the globe since the ‘Great Recession’ of 2007 – add up to a toxic regime for the mind and body of the ordinary citizen. So far, psychologists have done little to challenge the dubious scientific assumptions upon which these programmes rest. If anything, they have sought to profit from them: chiefly through the mass promotion of therapies and techniques claimed to counteract the mental and emotional damage wrought by an ever more corrosive world. But there are other ways of doing psychology; and the articles in this special issue point the way towards a far more socially aware (and arguably more scientific) version of the discipline.”  read on

Austerity in the university Ian Parker on increasing pressure and emotional labour at work for academics in times of crisis Page Numbers: 236-239

Inequality and the next generation Gary Thomas explains how the gradient of difference can impact upon identity in the classroom Page Numbers: 240-243

Gary Thomas makes reference to Wilkinson, R. & Pickett, K. (2009) [1]. The spirit level: Why more equal societies almost always do better. London: Allen Lane. – For North American readers, I understand that the book didn’t sell over there partly because the title uses a British term:  a “spirit level” is the device builders and joiners use to check that something is horizontal.

Neoliberal austerity and unemployment David Fryer and Rose Stambe examine critical psychological issues Page Numbers: 244-249

The impact of austerity on a British council estate Carl Harris takes an ‘ecological model of systems’ approach Page Numbers: 250-253

For non-British readers, in Carl Harris’s article – ‘council estate’ means an area of rented  ‘social housing’ originally built by the local council (municipality) but now usuallly semi privatised (in terms of ownership and management).

If there is one thing missing from the issue it is treatment of the role of propaganda in promoting austerity as a social and economic policy.  The mantra that ‘there is no money’, repeated ad nauseam throughout Europe, is frankly a myth as heterodox economists like Steve Keen, and Ann Pettifor [2] have been showing. Why the myths about money and its creation are perpetuated is a complicated story but the kind of analysis of propaganda made by Alex Carey [3] in Australia and Noam Chomsky [4]  in the USA can help shine some light on what’s actually going on.

1. Wilkinson, R., & Pickett, K. (2009). The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. Harmondsworth: Penguin.  see also
2. Pettifor, A. (2014). Just Money: How Society Can Break the Despotic Power of Finance. London: Prime Economics. Retrieved from
3. Carey, A. (1997). Taking the Risk out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty (edited by A Lowrey). Champaign, Illinois, USA: University of Illinois Press.

4. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Pantheon, 1988)



New Pacifica Institute Newsletter on Community Psychology, Liberation Psychology, & Ecopsychology

This newsletter is becoming a useful resource on Liberation psychology and its connections with related fields of study and struggle.  Did you know, for example that despite Bhutan touting its high levels of “Gross National Happiness” (as an alternative to the flawed Gross National Product), its military has murdered, raped, tortured and/or imprisoned many citizens, some of whom are now refugees in other places.  The newsletter includes an article on work with Bhutanese refugees in the USA.  I’m looking forward to the book that will appear this autumn by Mary Watkins and Ed Casey on the Mexico-USA border wall.  They have recently visited  Palestine to learn about the parallels with the apartheid separation wall erected by the Israeli occupation power.  There are many other interesting things in this 36 page edition, with a lot of emphasis on ecological issues and indigenous traditions and knowledge.


Liberation practices in community psychology – a Brazilian view

Slides from seminar by James Ferreira Moura Jr, given at Research Institute for Health and Social Change, Manchester Metropolitan University, March 13th, 2014.
“Theoretical and methodological conceptions in liberation practices in Community Psychology: a Brazilian point of view”
Thanks to James for a fascinating talk and for making available the slides which do give some insight into the distinctive nature of Community Psychology in Ceará over the last 30 years.  Fortaleza, Ceará, is the site of the next International Congress of Community Psychology in September, 2014.



Collaborators for the 5th Int’l Conference of Community Psychology

Hello Colleagues,

Wondering if folks are looking for compatible presentations to propose symposia or roundtable papers at the conference in Fortaleza? I’d prefer be a part of a group rather than propose a solo paper.

If so, I intend to propose work on the idea of the downpressor as a problem in community life. (Reggae music artists Peter Tosh and Bob Marley coined the term “downpressor” to emphasize the weight of oppressive social forces based on class hierarchies). I’d like to explore how acceptance and understanding of the downpressor in the (post)colonial world could be a form of psychic/social movement that could lead to middle class resistance against state violence, extreme poverty and resultant trauma.

I would look forward to discussing ideas and can be reached at




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Liberation Psychology in Southern Italy


Memorial to judges murdered by the Camorra located at one of the community projects described in the article.

This article by Alfredo Natale, Catarina Arcidiacono and Salvatore Di Martino, recently appeared (in English) in the Colombian journal Universitas Psychologica.  It is a very intersting application of liberation psychology (and related) concepts and ideas in the challenging context of a Camorra (Neapolitan crime syndicate) – dominated area of Southern Italy.  People who went to the European Community Psychology Congress last autumn had the opportunity to visit the town in question, including a restaurant established using monies confiscated from the Camorra (under Italian law).

The article describes working experiences in relation to empowering activi-
ties, which have been carried out in a local community in the province of
Caserta (in Southern Italy), a place characterized by the widespread pres-
ence of organized criminal groups. In this study, workplace is intended as a
community network aimed at the promotion of coscientization, liberation,
and well-being. Specifically, this paper features initiatives and projects
aimed at establishing new community values through a re-construction of
a work-based social system standing against criminal clans, which tend to
dominate not only economical transactions but also civil life.
Key words: authors Network, social economy, conscientization, collective well-being.
Key words plus: Gomorrah, Criminal Power, De-Growth.

The authors also make the connection between de-growth and conscientisation. De-growth as they note “obliges us to question the concepts of social justice, freedom, health, welfare” and this also happens through the processes of conscientisation and re-signification within the project.  Here then is an example of a community-liberation psychology praxis that prefigures a different model of society where people share and live in peace, rather than the model of endless growth that is underpinned by, and generative of violence of exploitation and the meaningless materialism of consumerism.  As we ate at the restaurant I told some of the other congress participants about our Manchester work on a local Steady State Economy.  At the time the interest and receptiveness people showed in this economic and political work surprised me.  But maybe it shouldn’t and there is a greater connection between these ideas and practices than I had thought.  and maybe it was the inspirational project that we were enabled to vicariously experience that was subliminally making the connections for us all.

What do you think?

Natale, A., Arcidiacono, C., & Di Martino, S. (2013). From “Gomorrah domain” to “Don Peppe Diana lands”. A Southern Italian experience of work-based liberation, community networking, and well-being. Universitas Psychologica, 12(4), 1037–1047. doi:10.11144/6203
Mark Burton

Alternatives to the psychology curriculum: lessons from economics

There is a rather uncanny resemblance between the orthodox economics and the psychology most taught in universities.

Economics emphasises the rational, autonomous individual, making choices.  It’s conceptual models ignore the wider context of ecology and society.  It ignores the collective dimension, and those aspects of human life (such as domestic work) that aren’t subject to monetary exchange.  And its models were shown to be of staggering incompetence when the global economy tumbled – only a handful of economics professionals predicted the crash.  But the orthodox teaching goes on, with its quantitative models that bear little resemblance to the real world of human life in a finite world.

And orthodox psychology similarly likes to build models based on the individual level, better if they are quantitative.  It ignores the making of humans through their transactions in society via family, economy and community.  It can be hopelessly irrelevant when confronted with the real challenges facing humanity – war, exploitation, ecological collapse.  Much of this was said in the late 1960s and 1970s and that debate helped pave the way for both community social psychology and liberation psychology.

Now economics students are saying that enough is enough and the curriculum has to change to include other approaches, including ecological economics, Marxism and a proper treatment of Keynes.  This movement began here in Manchester but is spreading to other universities, supported by a few academic economists who fall outside the hegemonic neoclassical model.

Could something like that happen in psychology?  On Wednesday in London I gave a talk to some 35 people on community social and liberation psychologies from Latin America.  The audience was interested, engaged, enthusiastic – keen to find and build alternatives that more adequately respond to the profound threats such as organised violence, neoliberal austerity and climate change that challenge people worldwide.  Only a minority had heard of Paulo Freire, one of the greatest educators who ever lived.  Not their fault but that of the Educational system here in the UK.

We need change – are psychology students up for it?  If so, could the example of the Post Crash Economics Society established by economics students at the University of Manchester help?  What do you think?


Talk on Liberation Psychology and Community Psychology in London

Update: thanks to all who came and contributed your interest, openness, enthusiasm and questioning to what seemed to be avery successful evening.  And thanks to Sally for organising it!  I will upload the slides when I get back to Manchester too.

Talk and discussion – Mark Burton (coordinator of this network)

Community and Liberation Psychologies: Latin American Developments: How do we reconstruct a psychology in the service of the oppressed?
Click here for the pdf of the slides used.

Weds 26th Feb, 2014 6.40-8.30/9pm  venue and other details on the Events Page

organised by London Community Psychology Network


Coalition for an Ethical Psychology: Statement on the APA’s failure to investigate Guantánamo Bay affair

image of bare room



The Ethics Office of the American Psychological Association (APA) has announced that it will not proceed with formal charges against military psychologist Dr. John Leso, despite extensive public documentation that this APA member designed and participated in abusive interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In fact, Susan Crawford, the convening authority on military commissions at Guantanamo appointed by President George W. Bush, refused to refer the case of detainee Mohammed al Qahtani to trial because she concluded his interrogation met the legal definition of torture. Dr. Leso is known to have been a supervisor and participant in that interrogation.

Because Dr. Leso’s documented actions so clearly violated psychological ethics and because this abuse of psychological expertise was undertaken at the behest of governmental authorities, this case represents a landmark test of the independence of psychological ethics and professional standards from governmental and institutional pressures. The APA’s failure to pursue charges against Dr. Leso jeopardizes our profession’s fundamental ethical principles. In this synopsis we review (1) APA’s repeated vow to bring such cases to account; (2) the public record of clearly documented violations by Dr. Leso; (3) APA’s justifications for closing the Leso case without formal charges; and (4) our procedural and ethical assessment of the APA’s resolution of this case.

read the full statement.


APA fails to take action on collusion with Guantánamo torture

The following post is based on a request from Psychologists for Social Responsibility, a USA-based group.

It is possible you’ve heard the news that the American Psychological Association recently issued a stunning landmark decision on psychologist involvement in state-sponsored torture.

U.S. military psychologist John Leso was involved in the development of the post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” protocol at Guantánano Bay Naval Base and is documented as directly participating in the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani. This interrogation was described as meeting the legal definition of “torture” by Susan Crawford, the Bush administration convener of the Guantánamo military commissions. Yet despite substantial evidence of Dr. Leso’s involvement in cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, the APA recently closed a complaint against him, almost seven years after it was first brought, without proceeding with formal charges.

I am writing to you today to ask for your help in putting needed public pressure on the APA, an organization whose leadership continues to be as complicit in U.S. torture under the Obama Administration as it was under the Bush Administration.

While several mainstream media organizations in the UK and Canada covered this important story (e.g., BBC, CBC, The Guardian), it has been buried in the U.S. The American public therefore goes unaware, and, we suspect, most APA members as well.

This week, Psychologists for Social Responsibility sent the letter pasted below to the APA Ethics Office, demanding answers (the letter is also available in PDF format on the PsySR website).

I am sure that all liberation-orientated psychologists will want to join in deploring the APA’s action and in supporting PSySR’s call for clear explanations and transparency about the decision-making process by APA.  You can read about PsySR’s work on torture at this link.  Please do publicise this through your own networks.

Mark Burton
Co-ordinator, LIberation Psychology Network
and Visiting Professor, Manchester Metropolitan University.


Text of the letter to APA fromPsySR follows:

January 29, 2014

Stephen Behnke, JD, PhD Director, Ethics Office American Psychological Association 750 First Street, NE Washington, DC 20002-4242

Lindsay Childress-Beatty, JD, PhD Director of Adjudication/Deputy Director, Ethics Office American Psychological Association 750 First Street, NE Washington, DC 20002-4242

Dear Drs. Behnke and Childress-Beatty:

As representatives of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), we write to express our deep concern and dismay over the recent decision by the Ethics Office of the American Psychological Association to dismiss the Complaint against Dr. John Leso, a former military psychologist at Guantántamo Bay Naval Base. According to your 31 December 2013 letter to complainant Dr. Trudy Bond (a PsySR member), your office does not dispute that Dr. Leso was instrumental in devising and administering the Guantánamo “enhanced interrogation” protocol in 2002. Declassified government documents and independent reports have revealed that this protocol included, but was not limited to, weeks or months of solitary confinement; sleep deprivation; sexual humiliation; exposure to extreme cold; prolonged removal of sheets, blankets, wash cloths and religious items; 20-hour interrogations, and painful stress positions.

The Ethics Office took almost seven years to review one of the most egregious examples of unethical behavior in the history of American psychology. Due to unusual circumstances (leaks and release by Congress of classified documents) more information is available about Dr. Leso’s participation in government-sanctioned torture and abuse than may ever be the case for any other APA member. Dr. Leso co-wrote the plan for and is documented as directly participating in the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani. This interrogation was described as meeting the legal definition of “torture” by Susan Crawford, the Bush administration convener of the Guantánamo military commissions.

In the end, your office apparently decided that Dr. Leso’s months of involvement with the torture program were wholly mitigated because he did not volunteer to lead the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) that formulated the protocol; he was an early-career psychologist; and he reportedly expressed unease with the assignment and a preference for “rapport-building” methods. In reaching its decision the Ethics Office has set a stunning and disturbing precedent. Your office has now provided another layer of protection to psychologists who participate in the debilitating isolation of prisoners, the psychological abuses still permitted by Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, the brutal force-feeding of Guantánamo hunger-strikers, or other ethical violations. As well, this logic suggests that psychologists who engage in insurance fraud or sexual relations with their patients can evade censure if they are relatively inexperienced and express discomfort in advance of or concurrent with their actions.

For years APA has insisted that it would sanction any member for whom credible evidence existed of participation in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, yet no psychologist has ever been held accountable for involvement in our government’s post-9/11 torture program. Evidence clearly exists that Dr. Leso and other psychologists have utterly failed to ensure that detention and interrogation operations at Guantánamo and elsewhere were kept “safe, legal, ethical, and effective.” By closing this case in the manner you have chosen, it is only reasonable for members and the broader public to assume that APA will never sanction any psychologist participating in government-sanctioned abuses. No statements from APA’s PR office will change this perception.

At this point, your office must realize that the Leso decision is being widely discussed in the media and has become a matter of profound concern to many members of the profession. We therefore believe that it is important for the Ethics Office to provide greater clarity regarding two key issues: First, substantively, how does this landmark decision align with the specific principles and standards of the APA’s code of ethics, and with longstanding professional prohibitions against involvement in torture and abuse? Second, procedurally, how was the decision to close the case reached? While you state that the complaint was “carefully reviewed by multiple reviewers,” it is unclear who these reviewers were. Does this decision reflect an official vote of the entire Ethics Committee, or rather action taken by the Director of the Ethics Office, or some other group of reviewers, without the participation of the full committee? Confidentiality about these matters serves, in our perception, no constructive purpose and instead raises confusion and uncertainty about the priorities and procedures of the Ethics Office. We therefore request that this information be made public in order to begin to rebuild the moral authority of the profession.

We look forward to your timely reply. Thank you.


The Steering Committee of Psychologists for Social Responsibility

cc: Members of the APA Ethics Committee Members of the APA Board and Council of Representatives