01 February 2017 | by Peter Kinderman
Political engagement is an uncertain enterprise. It can be time consuming, expensive and, often, both thankless and unsuccessful.
America’s National Rifle Association spends around $3m a year on political activity (a sum the British Psychological Society cannot match, and, of course, pursuing goals we cannot share), not all politicians welcome expert advice and, ultimately, we do actually want to live in a society where elected officials – not academics – have power.
On the other hand, great progress and significant change has been achieved by the actions of individuals and communities without boundless resources at their disposal, from the Jarrow marchers, the family of Stephen Lawrence, to the Hillsborough campaigners.
We face challenges in how to engage with politicians and decision makers, how to promote the value and usefulness of psychology and psychologists, and how to play our part in positive social change.
As a Society, we need to understanding how our political systems work, the procedures that allow us to influence decision makers and naturally the people who take those decisions
We are taking steps to raise wider awareness of psychology and our psychological knowledge, skills and concerns directly with political decision makers – whether via protest and other forms of communication, or engaging in policy advice – sometimes jointly with like-minded professions.
But, as psychologists, we can also use our particular skills to our advantage – by conducting research into the best ways to influence, communicate with, persuade and change the minds of decision makers and the public more generally.
We’re living through a period of profound social and political change. Recent political events have shown we can no longer even take for granted a shared sense of fairness and equity.
More clearly than ever, we can see how political decisions impact on the lives of citizens and on those of us working in health and social care. These are exactly the kind of issues the field of Political Psychology seeks to address through academic debate, research and meaningful dissemination.
In a timely move, the International Society for Political Psychology (ISPP) has chosen to celebrate their 40th anniversary in the UK with their annual conference in Edinburgh at the end of June – it is only the third visit to the UK in their history and the first for 24 years.
The ISPP is a worldwide body comprising both psychologists and political scientists who face similar issues to those encountered by the wider psychology community including the BPS and its members.
The ISPP conference is an opportunity to join with other psychologists facing similar challenges to those facing the whole of our profession and to share ideas with and learn from them, as well as working with political scientists whose interest in political psychology shows their commitment to change at a societal and policy level.
The BPS does not yet have its own Political Psychology section. However there is a proposal to begin one, which requires members to register their expressions of interest. I understand there are over 300 signatories to date.
Further details about how to support the proposed BPS Political Psychology section can be found online.
As Ashley Weinberg, a driving force behind this campaign, said: "Perhaps now is the time for psychologists of the world to unite." You have nothing to lose ("period", as someone once said).