SITUATING INDUSTRIAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY: THE INFLUENCE OF CONTEXT
At tertiary institutions, the subject of Psychology is typically nested within the university faculties of humanities or social sciences, where it is surrounded by related disciplines such as anthropology, philosophy, sociology, communication, and many more. Industrial and Organizational psychology (I/O psychology) with its focus on the inter- and intrapersonal relations among humans at work, the nature of work and the work environment itself, typically emerged from and constitutes an important facet of psychology - the latter being the embracive discipline. I/O Psychology is typically taught from within the Psychology departments or schools, which reside in the social sciences or humanities faculties. Apart from this general premise, I/O psychology often is represented at postgraduate business schools by one or two prominent academics. I/O Psychology is rarely taught as such at these institutions and is more often manifest, to a greater or lesser extent, in subjects such as Organization Behaviour or Organizational Management and Leadership. In the South African context, however, we also find that I/O Psychology is often located within the faculties of Economic and Management Sciences and Management Sciences.
A multitude of often opposing perspectives argue the case for situating I/O Psychology within the humanities / social sciences, while others argue that it should be situated within the economic and management sciences. Indeed, some have also expressed the view of situating it within the natural sciences. Arguments that are advanced, for example, include that of relevance to the discipline’s “consumers”. Proponents of this view posit that I/O Psychology taught from within an economic and management sciences context allows more effective reach of the primary market and client, and more efficient dissemination of I/O psychological knowledge, technologies, and skills to those disciplines where I/O Psychology is more likely to find application. Proponents for example state that managers, economists, accountants, organisational theorists, among other, are bound to develop a greater appreciation for the psychology of work, workers and the workplace - by virtue of the closer proximity of these disciplines to I/O Psychology (within a faculty or school structure). Those who advocate the view that I/O Psychology should be nested within the humanities, do so on the assumption that the fundamental character and integrity of psychology as discipline is retained in a purist form through such positioning, while the fundamental social nature of the discipline is simultaneously recognised and better served. Each of these absolute positions has been opposed with logical and persuasive arguments, which invariably raise the question of the relative influence of the context in which the discipline is embedded. Does the situatedness of the I/O Psychology discipline materially influence the character of the discipline as taught and hence the reification of the discipline in practice? At a more fundamental level the question speaks to the appropriateness and consequential impact of locating any scientific discipline within any of a range of institutional contexts and as such has implications for the teaching of that discipline.
Against this setting, the current paper employed a case study approach to explore the dynamics, issues, and impact of the situatedness of I/O Psychology. It does so by considering I/O Psychology (at inception) located initially with Psychology in the Humanities faculty at the pre-merger Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), and later as part of the Human Resource Management Department in the faculty of Management at the post merger University of Johannesburg. The analysis reveals identity, leadership, and focus as crucial and central considerations in the teaching of I/O Psychology. The implications of the findings extend also to the teaching of Psychology and most disciplines with associated professions. The implications and recommendations are briefly discussed.
© 2008 Victor Karandashev