Colonialism Declaration

EFPA EMC 16/2015: EC proposes a Colonialism Declaration

Feedback provided 26/04/2015 by David Fryer (Scotland, Australia South Africa), Former President of the ECPA, at the invitation of the Convenor of the Standing Committee on Community Psychology to be put forward to the next EFPA Presidents Council Meeting.

The April 2015 Colonialism Declaration of the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations (EFPA) is to be welcomed for explicitly drawing attention to the issue of colonisation and the importance of recognising the centrality of European and United Statesian psychology with respect to colonisation. The EFPA is also to be congratulated on its recognition that colonisation is an ongoing contemporary phenomenon which has a continuing impact i.e. is not yet relegated to history and that historically and contemporarily located colonisation has beneficiaries as well as maleficiaries.

Weaknesses in the declaration include omission of an explicit statement that: intellectual, cultural and ideological colonisation are as oppressive as social and economic colonisation; that the continuing domain of colonisation is far wider than “Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia” but also includes Australia; Canada; New Zealand, Polynesia and many other countries; that colonisation is intensifying rather than atrophying; and that psychology is implicated in key ways both in the process of colonisation and the results of colonisation.

A particularly strong weakness is the assumption that yet more European (Western / Northern) psychology is part of the solution rather than part of the problem and that Western and Northern psychologists in general and European psychologists in particular have a    intellectual, cultural and ideological colonisation in a context where ‘under-development’ is a direct consequence of politico-economic policies in the North and West.

A particular culturally specific version of psychology which had its origins in Europe and especially Great Britain and was then evangelised in and by the USA has come to be dominant in most so called developed countries in the world, obliterating Indigenous ways of knowing, in an apparently inexorable process of intellectual, cultural and ideological colonisation (Fryer and Fox, 2014; Fryer, 2008).

Indigenous scholar Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999: 1) has explicitly stated that “from the vantage point of the colonised . . .  the term ‘research ‘is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism. The word itself, ‘research, is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary” and “the ways in which scientific research is implicated in the worst excesses of colonialism remains a powerfully remembered history for many of the world’s colonised peoples.”

Palestinian scholar Professor Edward Said (1978 cited in Smith, 1999: 2): long ago documented the Western discourse of the Oriental other’ which is constituted through “institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles” with the scholarship bestowing authority on knowledge claims within Western / Northern epistemological, ontological and ideological frames of reference. Organisations like EFPA should not consider themselves exempt from critical scrutiny in this regard’ either generally in terms of ‘othering’ Indigenous peoples in colonised countries or of continuing to construct the oriental other.  

South African psychologists, Mohamed Seedat, Norman Duncan and Sandy Lazarus, wrote that “Community Psychology in the northern hemisphere has tended to assume an accommodationist position seeking greater influence within the mainstream fraternity without necessarily challenging the restrictions and outcomes imposed by exploitative economic arrangements and dominant systems of knowledge production.”

They specifically mentioned European psychologists as part of the problem: “The European Community Psychology Network (ENCP), for example, does not explicitly address the issues of theoretical and methodological ethnocentrism in their statement of objectives. Instead the ENCP seeks to promote community psychology within the wider discipline of psychology, perhaps inadvertently excluding an analysis of the possible restrictions imposed by the general discipline on the theory, method, and praxis of community psychology.  . . .  In contrast, in the southern hemisphere (for example, in South Africa and Latin America), community psychology came to be associated with broad democratic movements  seeking to dismantle oppressive state structures and ideological state apparatuses, which were also embodied in the disciplinary practices of the social and medical sciences during the previous colonial and apartheid eras. In South Africa, community psychology as it formally emerged in the 1980s embraced a radical challenge to the discriminatory foundation, method and practice of psychology. Community psychology was accordingly identified as the ‘promise’ that would ‘liberate’ South African psychology from the discriminatory approaches and hegemonic and epistemological domination evident in Euro-American psychology” (Seedat, 2001: 4). The ENCP, since renamed ECPA is a member of the EFPA and the criticisms of Seedat are even more relevant today than on 2001.

Colonisation is “a process of dynamic, subjugating, subjective re-constitution accomplished through a nexus where administration, bureaucracy, culture, discourses, economic regimes, epistemological systems, history, judicial systems, legislation, ethical precepts, politics, ‘science’, spatial imperatives etc. interconnect”( Rivera Santana and Fryer, 2014).

Psychology as a discipline and the related psy-complex (“the heterogeneous knowledges, forms of authority and practical techniques that constitute psychological expertise” (Rose, 1999: vii) which discursively universalistically position domains of human life as ‘psychological’, construct and deploy expertise in relation to them, regulate them and in so doing individualise, psychologise, essentialise and naturalise what are socially constructed features of particular politico-socio-economic arrangements, including colonising arrangements, and organisations like EFPA are fully implicated in that nexus of colonisation.

It will take more than a declaration to address that but a declaration is a welcome and progressive start by EFPA. However if commitment to decolonisation by EFPA ends in a declaration it will be an oppressive finish. In the meantime, whilst mainstream Western / Northern psychology continues to be colonising and oppressive (rather than decolonising and emancipatory) it will continue to be seen in circles which are critical and Indigenous as part of the problem (Fryer, 2014)


Fryer, D. (2008) ‘Some questions about the history of community psychology’, Journal of Community Psychology, 36(5), 572-586.

Fryer, D. (2014). Psychology, Indigeneity and Science. Chapter 8, 91-97 in S. Cooper (Ed.) Psychology Serving Humanity. Routledge-Psychology Press-Taylor & Francis.

Fryer, D. and Fox, R. (2014). Swampscott: a critical commentary. The Community Psychologist, volume 47 Number 3, 39-40.

Rivera Santana C. and Fryer D. (2014). Colonisation. In: Teo T (Ed.). Encyclopaedia of Critical Psychology. Springer, New York. Pages 262-267.

Rose, N. (1999). Governing the Soul: The shaping of the private self. London: Free Association Books.

Said, E, (1978). Orientalism. London: Vintage Books.

Seedat, M., Duncan, N. and Lazarus, S. (2001). Community Psychology: Theory, Method and Practice – South African and Other Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tuhiwai Smith, L. (1999) Decolonising methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London and New York, Zed Books Ltd.

David Fryer (26/04/2015)

Professor Extraordinarius, University of South Africa Institute for Social and Health Sciences and Medical Research Council-University of South Africa Safety and Peace Promotion Research Unit  

Honorary Lecturer, University of Stirling, Scotland

Associate Fellow, the Critical Institute ( 

Honorary Research Associate Professor, University of Queensland