chapter  Chapter 12
29 Pages

Application, specialization and fragmentation

WithL.S. Hearnshaw

The character of twentieth century psychology differs markedly from that of all previous centuries, largely as a result of fundamental changes in its institutional setting. These changes have been brought about above all through the application of psychology to the solution of practical problems. By providing a career structure for psychologists, this has led to a steady growth in their numbers, to a rapid expansion of university departments of psychology, and to a substantial increase in research funds, which were indeed at the beginning of the century minute. Psychology has ceased to be an esoteric pursuit of a select few, and has become a sizeable profession with all the paraphernalia of professionalism. Growth of this sort has led inevitably to specialization within psychology, necessitated by the sheer quantity and diversity of subject matter attracting the attention of psychologists, and to their increasing technological sophistication. Further fragmentation of the subject has been caused by ideological and cultural differences, due partly to the variety of roads of entry into psychology, which have exacerbated the philosophical divide of earlier ages. By the middle of the century it was hard not to agree with the philosopher Ryle, who advocated the ‘abandonment of the notion that “psychology” is the name of a unitary inquiry or tree of inquiries’, and maintained that the term could more appropriately be used ‘to denote a partly fortuitous federation of inquiries and techniques’. 1 This was echoed by one British psychologist who wrote a book entitled Psychological Sciences. 2 We must look, therefore, first at the applications which brought these changes about, secondly at the specialization and fragmentation that has taken place in psychology, and finally at how psychologists have responded to this threat to the unity of their subject.