Decolonizing Parapsychology

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Jacob W. Glazier1 
1University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA, USA 

Introduction: How does parapsychology continue to perpetuate colonial ideologies? Certainly, with the limited number of researchers in the field coupled with the underfunded institutional support for the discipline, this question may strike many as not pertinent or even unrelated to the study of psi. On the contrary, if parapsychology wants to forge new connections with other-than-Eurocentric worldviews, while perhaps even increasing the mainstream acceptance it has long sought after, this issue, now more than any ever, should arguably be the leading problematic in the field, after only, perhaps, investigating psi itself.  

The phrase ‘colonial ideologies’ signifies several historical and present-day values and norms that are implicit in the practice of scientific disciplines as well as their institutional sponsors (Dussel, 2012). They are the ways in which our knowledge practices, subjectivities, and own positionality color and shade the research that we conduct. In stronger terms, these ideologies do not just alter the object or subject under study but, necessarily, subjugate, subordinate, and erase other voices, knowledges, and lines of inquiry.  

Critical Methods: The term ‘decolonize’ generally comes out of postcolonial studies inaugurated by thinkers like Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, and Gayatri Spivak. The central tenant of postcolonialism is to critically examine the ways that colonizers pillage and install new material practices and values in the conquered community (Bashara, 2021). An adjacent pursuit, the field of critical psychology, a discipline that pursues those very aims listed above but does so, predominately, under the auspices of psychology, is a relatively recent historical development. Ian Parker (2015) is usually given credit for helping codify critical psychology into a thematic pursuit. Yet, many of the conceptual and interventive tools that critical psychology employs go back even further into the middle of the twentieth century and before. Most notably, the work of the poststructuralist thinkers, that of Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Jacques Derrida, among others, has helped shape a larger notion of critical inquiry: a style of interventive thinking that examines typically hidden or assumed forms of ideology that structure the individual and society.  

Take, for example, the work of Felix Guattari (cf. 2013, 2016). He is best known for his work with the philosopher Gilles Deleuze wherein they co-authored two well-known tomes entitled Anti-Oedipus (1983) and A Thousand Plateaus (1987). In these books, their overall aim was to not only criticize the way that traditional psychoanalysis works to uphold the ideology of capitalism, for instance, but also to offer a substantive or normative alternative to the subjugating effects of this agenda – this they termed schizoanalysis. The conceptual interrogation provides a style or even a template for how parapsychologists might work to disentangle the ways in which the field has become the unknowing servant to ideologies that remain just below the surface, so the speak. Parapsychology has followed the methods of the natural sciences for a century, and, in terms of scientific legitimacy, public acceptance, and institutional support, this has been a failure by all accounts (Reber & Alcock, 2019). This says nothing, of course, regarding the scientificity of the discipline, how scientific it has been regarding following these very methods, as we know that the experimentalists in parapsychology have been overly cautious and rigorous with designs and conclusions (Cardeña, 2018). 

A recent trend in psychology has been the call to decolonize the discipline, perhaps most typified in the recent conference held by Columbia University (Teachers College, 2021). The speakers offered tips for understanding the ways that, for example, in clinical supervision, supervisors may unwittingly be passing their values onto their supervisees by, put very curiously, not holding space for dissenting voices or alternative approaches. Even research practices in psychology that parallel to an extent those of parapsychology were held up to critical questioning: the fact that white supremacy is perpetuated by adhering to outdated protocols that were deemed the most scientific in the past while, at the same time, quashing dissenting, non-Eurocentric, or indigenous methods at investigating the world. The presenters were clear: the process of decolonization is a long one and psychology (and we could assume, here, parapsychology by extension), has a lot of work to do. 

Discussion: Decolonization is not just a political or social issue, as it may appear at first blush. Rather, critically examining the ideologies that are assumed as categorical and allowed to propagate goes for the heart of what it means to do good science. In terms of gender equity, Zingrone and Alvarado (2019) offer a brief overview but solid foundation upon which to build a more probing critique. As scientists, we must ask ourselves: if psi is that anomalous ‘what’ that seems to defy normal explanatory models, shows weak significance, or eludes attempts at replication, does that mean that psi doesn’t exist? Or perhaps the research methods that were co-opted from the colonizing heritage of the natural sciences that parapsychologists have been using have been the wrong ones all along. 

The call to ‘decolonize parapsychology’ inaugurates the couple first steps toward a much longer journey. If we are to take seriously the fact that forms of racism, colonialism, sexism, and other prejudices are alive and well in our disciplinary practices and circles, then it is incumbent upon us as ethical scholars to do the work to see the way our research adheres to, circulates, or, in the best case, rejects these kinds of ideologies.  

Fig. 1 Strategies aimed at beginning the decolonization process. 

Bashara, R. (2021). Freud and Said: Contrapuntal psychoanalysis as liberation praxis. Switzerland: Springer Nature. 

Cardeña, E. (2018). The experimental evidence for parapsychological phenomena: A review. American Psychologist, 73(5), 663-677. 

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1983). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and schizophrenia (R. Hurley, M. Seem., & H. R. Lane, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 

Dussel, E. D. (2012). Transmodernity and interculturality: An interpretation from the perspective of philosophy of liberation. Transmodernity, 1(3), 28-59. 

Guattari, F. (2013). Schizoanalytic cartographies (A. Goffey, Trans.). New York: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. 

Guattari, F. (2016). Lines of flight: For another world of possibilities (A. Goffey, Trans.). New York: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. 

Parker, I. (2015). Introduction: Principles and positions. In I. Parker (Ed.), Handbook of critical psychology (pp. 1-9). New York: Routledge. 

Reber, A. S. & Alcock, J. E. (2019). Searching for the impossible: Parapsychology’s elusive quest. American Psychologist, 75(3), 391-399. 

Teachers College: Columbia University (2021, April). Decolonizing psychology training: Strategies for addressing curriculum, research practices, clinical supervision, and mentorship. 

Zingrone, N. L. & Alvarado, C. S. (2019) On women in parapsychology. The Journal of Parapsychology83(2), 286-289. 


Jacob Glazier
Jacob Glazier

Jacob W. Glazier, PhD, LPC, NCC has a doctorate degree in Psychology: Consciousness and Society from the University of West Georgia. Currently, Dr. Glazier holds a limited term instructor position at the University of West Georgia. His most recent book with Bloomsbury Publishing is entitled, Arts of Subjectivity: A New Animism for the Post-Media Era.

Decolonizing Parapsychology


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