Insights from Societal Psychology: The Contextual Politics of Change


  • Caroline Howarth
  • Catherine Campbell
  • Flora Cornish
  • Bradley Franks
  • Lucia Garcia-Lorenzo
  • Alex Gillespie
  • Ilka Gleibs
  • Isabelle Gonvales-Portelinha
  • Sandra Jovchelovitch
  • Saadi Lahlou
  • Jenevieve Mannell
  • Tom Reader
  • Chris Tennant


In this paper we demonstrate that societal psychology makes a unique contribution to the study of change through its focus on the 'contextual politics' of change, examining the different interests at stake within any social context. Societal psychology explores the contexts which promote or inhibit social and societal change and can be seen as a bridge between social and political psychology. It focuses on how the context shapes the ways in which societal change is understood, supported or resisted. To understand the intellectual rationale of societal psychology, and how it aims to foster societal change, we first consider the history of the discipline. Second, we consider what is meant by 'context', as understanding the environment of change is the hallmark of societal psychology. Third, we lay out three distinct features of a societal psychological approach to change: the politics of change; interventions and planned change; emergent change processes. Finally, the paper examines possible future developments of societal psychology and its role in understanding and creating societal change, alongside its place within the wider canon of social and political psychology.