The semiotic of accusation: thinking about deconstruction, development, the critique of practice, and the practice of critique

Motzkau, Johanna (2009). The semiotic of accusation: thinking about deconstruction, development, the critique of practice, and the practice of critique. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 6(1-2) pp. 129–152.



This paper explores the aim, structure and language use of the deconstructive critique of developmental psychology as a specific methodology, i.e. a specific practice of critique. The analysis focuses on the past work of a group of authors captured under the term “critical psychology of development” (e.g., Morss 1996; Walkerdine 1988; Bradley 1989). The aim is to examine why this valuable critique has apparently failed to effectively engage or unsettle the developmental mainstream. Exploring the efficacy of language use within this critique, it is argued that the “language of deconstruction” inadvertently engenders a semiotic of accusation, that is, a self-perpetuating structure of bizarre anti-theses and accusations. Inspired by the work of Deleuze, Stengers, and Latour the paper aims to disentangle the counter-effective use of language from the relevant critique, in order to revive the critique and illustrate its relevance to practice.

The analysis is developed alongside a case example from the author's past experience training as a psychological expert assessing child witnesses for courts in Germany. While examining the issues surrounding psychological knowledge used in legal practice, the analysis reflects on the dilemmas of being an expert practitioner, and a researcher with a background in discursive critical psychology trying to theorise psychological and legal practices critically. Highlighting the inherent volatility of practice operations, it is argued that practice itself could be seen as the interface, or relay, through which critical theorising becomes effective, by operating directly upon or alongside practitioners' already existing awareness of the paradoxes and instabilities of their practice. Engaging directly with such epistemologies of practice could open up wider perspectives toward critical methodologies for social change.

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