What is Descriptive Psychology?

Descriptive Psychology is an intellectual discipline, and a community of practitioners of that discipline. Founded by Peter G. Ossorio at the University of Colorado in the early 1960s, the discipline consists of a rigorous approach (1) to articulating the conceptual framework within which persons, behavior, language, communities and the real world can be described and understood, (2) to using that framework to in fact describe and understand, and (3) to using such descriptions and understanding to increase effectiveness in dealing within these realms.

Beyond that, it’s hard to say more without saying a great deal more. If you are interested, here are some links that say more:

And here is a bit more, from Anthony O. Putman’s Preface to Ossorio’s The Behavior of Persons:

"What is Descriptive Psychology? The short and most accurate answer is, read The Behavior of Persons and find out. But a longer and less exact answer seems called for  here. To begin with, the term “Descriptive Psychology” is a somewhat infelicitous compromise, which stuck only because no more useful or informative term could be found. Each word is both informative and misleading, to wit:

Descriptive. In his ground-breaking 1966 monograph, Persons, Ossorio found it necessary to address a prevailing misconception of the time, that “it’s all theory.” That is, anything anyone said about persons or behavior must be theoretical assertions. Ossorio vigorously pointed out that language in fact does not work that way, and further, that to make a theoretical assertion about any “something” you must first have a description of that “something” that reliably discriminates the “something” from other things it might be but is not. In other words, the task of describing accurately is a necessary precursor to theorizing – and “behavioral science” of the time had no place or method for describing behavior. Ossorio proceeded to articulate the conceptual structure within which descriptions of persons and behavior could be given, and in doing so demonstrated that, as Wittgenstein put it: “If you describe something well enough, there is often little left to explain.” So there is a point to the “Descriptive” term. But it can also be misleading. Descriptive Psychology is not essentially about giving descriptions of people and behavior (although that is done, and to good practical effect); it is more commonly and powerfully about articulating the conceptual structure and the methods available for describing accurately and in depth.

Psychology: If you were to tell someone at a holiday party that you were studying people and their behavior, chances are good they will say something like, “Oh, you mean psychology, right?” This ordinary language, common sense usage of the term is congruent with Ossorio’s approach. But the term “psychology”, as used in academic circles, carries with it a set of assumptions and commitments which are irrelevant or even antithetical to the Descriptive Psychology approach. Thus, many members of the Descriptive Psychology community find themselves in the awkward position of practicing Descriptive Psychology while at the same time needing to assert that they are not, in fact, psychologists at all."

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