Kitty Genovese. Situated knowledges debunks the bystander effect.

HOW IMPORTANT IS THE CONCEPT OF SITUATED KNOWLEDGES TO THE CRITICAL EVALUATION OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY?

Social psychology (SP) is a discipline which focuses on how thoughts, feelings and behaviours in humans may be influenced by the presence of others (Dixon and Mahendran, 2012, Parkinson, 2012, Brown, 2012 and Burr, 2012). The concept of situated knowledges (SK) is highly important to the critical evaluation of SP. SK is an interrogative theme used to analyse SP knowledge by focusing on the situatedness of its context and history (Phoenix and Lewis, 2012). Something which can highlight reciprocal relationships between researchers and the social world they investigate. A reciprocal dynamic that contributes to and re-shapes the realities of those being investigated referred to as power relations (PR). A critical evaluation of the effects PR produce in relation to a specific context, may provide a value judgement about how far it may be good or bad and for whom i.e. by providing a better understanding of social interaction. SK helps develop a productive scepticism about purported facts and certainty in SP. A way of critically evaluating both the reliability and completeness of research findings and widely accepted knowledge. This essay will first outline SP and SK. Then expand on how SP is situated historically and contextually producing reciprocal dynamics and PR. It will then outline Motzkau’s concepts of ‘productive scepticism’ and ‘mode 3’ (Motzkau, 2012) and how they may be used to critically evaluate Darley and Latané’s research on bystander intervention (Burr, 2012). It will discuss how Cherry (Burr, 2012) applies these concepts to Darley and Latané’s research revealing its overlooked situatedness. Then it will consider how important SK is in the critical evaluation of SP. Before concluding that the concept of situated knowledges has revealed how all knowledge is situated historically and within the location or context in which it is produced. How SK has highlighted, all research is situated and highlights how far each piece of research or perspective appreciates or overlooks the situatedness of knowledge.

SP’s history is situated within the local contexts, times and places in which its researchers live, work and conduct their research. The knowledge it produces is therefore, best understood and evaluated against the context it was gained in and seeks to explain. Limiting how easily SP’s knowledge can be transferred other contexts (Hollway, 2012). The history of SP spans more than one hundred years in USA and Europe. SP has produced changes to its theories, methods and topics of investigation. For example, the experimental method dominated research until 1967 when its use was criticised for overlooking agency (individual’s capacity to act). This event was termed the SP crisis and created ontological (what can be known) divisions. SP was soon characterised dualistically, viewing people as possessing agency or determined by the social structures in which they live. For example, the cognitive social (CS) psychological perspective defines people as information-processing individuals who exist separately from their social context. Whereas the discursive psychological (DP) perspective defines people and their environments as intertwined. Both perspectives will often investigate the same thing i.e. language, but differently and produce knowledge which is both complimentary and contrasting. Being unaware of or denying the situatedness of knowledge when conducting, evaluating or using research means overlooking crucial contextual information (Motzkau, 2012).

Understanding how SP’s knowledge is situated in its history and context provides a way of critically evaluating its research. A tool with which to reinterpret purported facts and certainty. By considering how historical changes, including the effects of SP itself (i.e. the ontological divisions after the crisis) affect them. Motzkau’s (2012) concept of a ‘reciprocal dynamic’ provides a critical tool which helps evaluate the situatedness of SP’s knowledge. It highlights a dynamic between researchers and the social world they investigate.

Motzkau’s reciprocal dynamic concept (Motzkau, 2012) captures how research questions, including those used in SP are influenced by social, political and historical contexts. For example, the title of Zimbardo’s (1969) classic paper ‘The human choice: individuation, reason and order versus deindividuation, impulse and chaos’ over-emphasises the negative consequences of crowds, suggesting they are always irrational and bad. As this was published before the major criticisms of the experimental method which followed the crisis in SP, it would likely carry considerable weight. Further, it is clear to see how data presented by such pre-eminent researchers would be highly convincing and broadly accepted. How these findings could inform the behaviour and judgements of researchers and the people being researched. Some years later, many theorists of social movements and historians e.g. Rude´ (1981) and Thompson (1985) (as cited in Dixon and Mahendran, 2012) underlined how crowds play a central role in positive processes of social change e.g. civil rights protests. Revealing aspects which have been overlooked i.e. how crowd dynamics can have potentially productive and pro-social effects (Dixon and Mahendran, 2012). This example illustrates how the reciprocal dynamic contributes to and continuously re-shapes the realities of researchers and those being researched. Creating PR which Motzkau suggests, are always present when knowledge is produced, generated and taken up. Considering the effects PR produce in relation to a specific context may provide a better understanding of social interaction. It may beneficially contribute to i.e. better education policies or preventing over-generalisation of insights as universal. Understanding PR’s may help evaluate or challenge accepted knowledge and its effects. It may help to overcome oppressive effects of knowledge which reinforce historically or contextually situated stereotypes or political agendas. Adopting such a critical stance can help evaluate SP knowledge by developing a productive scepticism about purported facts and certainty. About how these facts relate to historical changes including those within SP.

Russell (Parkinson, 2012) approached research into emotions with productive scepticism. Challenging the use of self-report methods in experiment research into emotions. Doosje and colleagues’ (1998) used the self-report method to measure participants agreement with statements such as ‘I feel guilty about the negative things done by my group’. Results suggested it is possible to elicit feelings of group-based guilt which are distinct from feelings of personal guilt. Russell criticised their results, suggesting they reveal little about the individual’s emotions and more about how they interpret them. That self-report experiments overlook the way emotion representations do not match up with phenomena being researched. He underlines how implied categories for cognitive representations of emotions are ambiguous. Russell’s critique led to a paradigm shift which elicited the development of alternative ways of defining emotion phenomena (Parkinson, 2012). DP researchers presented an entirely new model of emotion phenomena as discursive. Through understanding how the knowledge produced is situated. DP researchers exploring emotions focus on language and make no assumptions about what emotions are. They assume speakers draw on already existing cultural ideas in their discourse. Ideas which are historically and contextually situated. Which are produced in the context of giving an account and rhetorically constructed to perform justifications and blamings. Anger for example, is understood as a varying set of assumptions about how anger episodes typically unfold. Derek Edwards’ (Motzkau, 2012) discursive approach to researching emotions revealed how flexible emotion formulations may be deployed for rhetorical (persuasive) purposes. For example, if someone says they acted out of anger, this have been to undermine someone else’s response (BK1 CH6). When DP and in particular RP is used to explore social phenomena and reinterpret experimental data, it produces a strong explanatory power which challenges and sometimes compliments quantitative approaches. DP has challenged the individual–society dualism by revealing how people possess agency (Phoenix and Lewis, 2012) and are affected by power (Gibson, 2011). Such new paradigms form the basis of different new research perspectives but rarely replace the traditional ones they criticise. Productive scepticism has challenged and transformed SP into a multiple perspective discipline in psychology. While the different perspectives are sometimes complementary, they are often not compatible. It is therefore, important for researchers to employ a sceptical approach when carrying out SP research, as is reflected in Motzkau’s ‘mode 3’ meta-perspective concept which requires the evaluator to proceed from no particular perspective and focus on the way SP research is carried out.

Mode 3 provides a way applying the SK concept as a critical tool to multiple perspectives simultaneously. Such as the multiple perspectives which have evolved in SP since the crisis. It provides a way of asking questions about how political, ethical and the social sprit of the time impacts assumptions, design, procedure and interpretation of research in SP. Question such as ‘how far does a piece of research or a perspective appreciate or overlook the situatedness of knowledge? Cherry’s (BK2 CH8) critique of Darley and Latané’s work illustrates this. Darley and Latané’s (1968) journal article ‘bystander intervention in emergencies’ (1968) was inspired by the murder of Kitty Genovese to which tens of bystanders did not intervene. The paper presents a series of experiments in which a crisis would typically be enacted and variables i.e. group size and sex of participants would be manipulated. In an actual emergency however, it would be nearly impossible to control every variable, in particular the prevailing attitudes and values of the society to which the people present inhabit or their personal histories, demographic details (sex, race etc.). Cherry outlines how Darley and Latané’s account of the group’s behaviour overlooks the sociocultural elements of the group. Suggesting SP experiments reflect the experimenter’s cultural knowledge by locating an appropriate social context for displaying that knowledge. She notes how one bystander to Kitty’s murder reported held a particular attitude towards sex/gender violence, being reluctant to intervene in what appeared to be a lovers quarrel. That because this was not considered by Darley and Latané, the link to Kitty’s incident was stripped of its original gendered particulars. Cherry comments on the situatedness of the researchers and participants in 1964, who lived in a time when there was an unrecognised widespread abuse of women. Which informed the way the research was devised and carried out. Cherry outlines two experiments contrasting Darley and Latané’s study, in which social context does inform hypothesis generation. In the first study Borofsky et al. (1971) conducted a role-playing experiment with male and female dyads where an attack was simulated. They found that none of six male observers tried to stop a man assaulting a woman. In the second study, Shotland and Straw (1976) they staged assaults and captured bystanders reactions. They found that intervention occurred much more frequently when subjects perceived the attacker and victim as strangers (65%) rather than married (19%). These two studies form a bridge between understanding Kitty’s murder in terms of the unresponsive bystander paradigm and the context of changing sex/gender relations.

SK is highly important to the critical evaluation of SP. It has underlined how SP’s knowledge is situated both historically and contextually. That it is subject to reciprocal relationships between researchers and the social world they investigate, creating a reciprocal dynamic. Which contributes to and re-shapes the realities of those being investigated through PR. PR which are produced in relation to a specific context. SK has produced the concept of productive scepticism which has helped question purported facts and certainty in SP. Questioning the reliability of accepted knowledge which has for a long time, overlooked the situatedness of both researchers and participants in addition to the limitations of the experimental method. It has produced mode 3 which deals well with the multiple perspectives born from the crisis in SP. Providing a way to reinterpret many phenomenon such as bystander intervention or emotions.

In conclusion, the concept of situated knowledges is important to the critical evaluation of SP. It has revealed how all knowledge is situated historically and within the location or context in which it is produced. Concepts such as reciprocal dynamic, productive scepticism and mode 3 have enabled critical questions to be asked about the reliability of facts produced within the experimental method. Dealing with the multiple perspectives born out of the crisis in SP. SK has highlighted how all research is situated and highlights how far each piece of research or perspective appreciates or overlooks the situatedness of knowledge.

Essay by Keith Cowley

References,

Brown, S. (2012). ‘Group processes: social identity theory’. In Hollway, W., Lucey, H. Phoenix, A. & Lewis, G. (Eds.), Critical Readings in Social Psychology (2nd ed., pp123–152). Milton Keynes: The Open University.

Burr, V. (2012). ‘Bystander intervention’. In Hollway, W., Lucey, H. Phoenix, A. & Lewis, G. (Eds.), Critical Readings in Social Psychology (2nd ed., pp183–208). Milton Keynes: The Open University.

Dixon, J. & Mahendran, K. (2012). ‘Crowds’. In Hollway, W., Lucey, H. Phoenix, A. & Lewis, G. (Eds.), Social Psychology Matters (2nd ed., pp1–26). Milton Keynes: The Open University.

Doosje, B., Branscombe, N. R., Spears, R., & Manstead, A. R. (1998). Guilty by association: When one’s group has a negative history. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 75(4), 872–886. doi:10.1037/0022–3514.75.4.872

Motzkau, J. (2012), Block 6 online Commentary: The production of knowledge, How does social psychology matter? Producing knowledge — evaluating research [Online]. Available athttps://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=423386 (17 July 2014)

Parkinson, B. (2012). ‘Emotions’. In Hollway, W., Lucey, H. Phoenix, A. & Lewis, G. (Eds.), Social Psychology Matters (2nd ed., pp145–170). Milton Keynes: The Open University.

Phoenix, A. & Lewis, G. (2012). ‘Introduction: Navigating social psychology’. In Hollway, W., Lucey, H. Phoenix, A. & Lewis, G. (Eds.), Critical Readings in Social Psychology (2nd ed., ppx-xiii). Milton Keynes: The Open University.

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