Model disciplines, research traditions, and the theoretical unification of psychology

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Will psychology ever become a unified science? The history of the discipline shows a number of bold attempts to place the available knowledge in an encompassing system, or at least to trace out a route to greater unification (Staats, 1983). In the meantime the number of schools and persuasions is growing instead of diminishing. In America, cognitive psychology disputes with (neo-)behaviorism for its leading position. In Europe, the cultural-historical theory and theories of action enjoy an increasing popularity. When we also include psychological practice in our picture, the diversity becomes still more evident. Psychoanalytic and humanistic approaches compete with applied behaviorism with its background theories of behavior modification and therapy. The aim of this paper is to explore the feasibility and the limits of a theoretical unification of psychology. Understanding the dynamics of the way science and its practice develop appears to be a way to get a better insight into this matter. At the Foundations and History of Psychology Unit of the University of Groningen the dynamics of the history of psychology in the Netherlands are being studied in a way that might also shed light on the dynamics of the development of psychology in general. In the first paragraph I will give a brief exposition of the components of our ‘multi-relational’ approach to the dynamics of history that are relevant to our problem. In the next section this approach will be used to explain the origination of so many competing schools in the history of psychology. In the final section I will discuss the unity and disunity of the discipline in the light of our findings. © 1987, Elsevier Science & Technology




van Strien, P. J. (1987). Model disciplines, research traditions, and the theoretical unification of psychology. Advances in Psychology, 40(C), 333–344.

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