Psychology and health after apartheid: Or, Why there is no health psychology in South Africa

Hist Psychol. 2016 May;19(2):77-92. doi: 10.1037/hop0000025. Epub 2016 Feb 15.


As part of a growing literature on the histories of psychology in the Global South, this article outlines some historical developments in South African psychologists' engagement with the problem of "health." Alongside movements to formalize and professionalize a U.S.-style "health psychology" in the 1990s, there arose a parallel, eclectic, and more or less critical psychology that contested the meaning and determinants of health, transgressed disciplinary boundaries, and opposed the responsibilization of illness implicit in much health psychological theorizing and neoliberal discourse. This disciplinary bifurcation characterized South African work well into the postapartheid era, but ideological distinctions have receded in recent years under a new regime of knowledge production in thrall to the demands of the global market. The article outlines some of the historical-political roots of key trends in psychologists' work on health in South Africa, examining the conditions that have impinged on its directions and priorities. It raises questions about the future trajectories of psychological research on health after 20 years of democracy, and argues that there currently is no "health psychology" in South Africa, and that the discipline is the better for it.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Apartheid* / history
  • Behavioral Medicine / history*
  • Behavioral Medicine / methods
  • Behavioral Medicine / organization & administration
  • History, 20th Century
  • Politics*
  • South Africa