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The Oxford Handbook of Culture

and Psychology
O X F O R D L I B R A RY O F P S Y C H O L O G Y

edito r -i n-chi e f

Peter E. Nathan

area e di tor s:

Clinical Psychology
David H. Barlow

Cognitive Neuroscience
Kevin N. Ochsner and Stephen M. Kosslyn

Cognitive Psychology
Daniel Reisberg

Counseling Psychology
Elizabeth M. Altmaier and Jo-Ida C. Hansen

Developmental Psychology
Philip David Zelazo

Health Psychology
Howard S. Friedman

History of Psychology
David B. Baker

Organizational Psychology
Steve W. J. Kozlowski

Methods and Measurement


Todd D. Little

Neuropsychology
Kenneth M. Adams

Personality and Social Psychology


Kay Deaux and Mark Snyder
OXFORD L I B R A RY OF PSYCHOLOGY

Editor in Chief peter e. nathan

The Oxford Handbook


of Culture and
Psychology
Edited by
Jaan Valsiner

1
1
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


The Oxford handbook of culture and psychology / edited by Jaan Valsiner.
p. cm. — (Oxford library of psychology)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-19-539643-0
1. Ethnopsychology. 2. Culture–Psychological aspects. 3. Social psychology. I. Valsiner, Jaan.
GN270.O94 2012
155.8′2—dc22
2011010264

987654321
Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper
CONTENTS

Oxford Library of Psychology vii

About the Editor ix

Contributors xi

Contents xv

Chapters 1–1104

Index 1105

v
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O X F O R D L I B R A R Y O F P S YC H O L O G Y

The Oxford Library of Psychology, a landmark series of handbooks, is published


by Oxford University Press, one of the world’s oldest and most highly respected
publishers, with a tradition of publishing significant books in psychology. The
ambitious goal of the Oxford Library of Psychology is nothing less than to span a
vibrant, wide-ranging field and, in so doing, to fill a clear market need.
Encompassing a comprehensive set of handbooks, organized hierarchically, the
Library incorporates volumes at different levels, each designed to meet a distinct
need. At one level are a set of handbooks designed broadly to survey the major
subfields of psychology; at another are numerous handbooks that cover impor-
tant current focal research and scholarly areas of psychology in depth and detail.
Planned as a reflection of the dynamism of psychology, the Library will grow
and expand as psychology itself develops, thereby highlighting significant new
research that will impact on the field. Adding to its accessibility and ease of use,
the Library will be published in print and, later on, electronically.
The Library surveys psychology’s principal subfields with a set of handbooks
that capture the current status and future prospects of those major subdisciplines.
This initial set includes handbooks of social and personality psychology, clini-
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ogy, industrial and organizational psychology, cognitive psychology, cognitive
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to offer informed anticipations of significant future developments in that field.
An undertaking of this scope calls for handbook editors and chapter authors who
are established scholars in the areas about which they write. Many of the nation’s
and world’s most productive and best-respected psychologists have agreed to edit
Library handbooks or write authoritative chapters in their areas of expertise.

vii
For whom has the Oxford Library of Psychology been written? Because of its
breadth, depth, and accessibility, the Library serves a diverse audience, including
graduate students in psychology and their faculty mentors, scholars, researchers,
and practitioners in psychology and related fields. Each will find in the Library the
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Befitting its commitment to accessibility, each handbook includes a compre-
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the Library was designed from its inception as an online as well as a print resource,
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In summary, the Oxford Library of Psychology will grow organically to provide a
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this handbook, we sincerely hope you will share our enthusiasm for the more
than 500-year tradition of Oxford University Press for excellence, innovation, and
quality, as exemplified by the Oxford Library of Psychology.

Peter E. Nathan
Editor-in-Chief
Oxford Library of Psychology

viii oxf ord l i b r a ry of psycholo g y


A B O U T T H E E D I TO R

Jaan Valsiner
Jaan Valsiner is a developmental cultural psychologist. He is the founding editor
(1995) of the major international journal Culture & Psychology (Sage) and Editor-
in-Chief of Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Sciences (Springer, from 2007).
He is also the recipient of Alexander von Humboldt Prize (1995) for his interdisci-
plinary work on human development.

ix
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CO N T R I B U TO R S

Emily Abbey Mario Carretero


Department of Psychology Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and
Ramapo College of New Jersey FLACSO
Mahwah, NJ Argentina
Mayu Akasaka Pradeep Chakkarath
Graduate School of Letters Social Theory and Social Psychology
Ritsumeikan University Ruhr-University-Bochum, Germany
Kyoto, Japan Bochum, Germany
Cor Baerveldt Nandita Chaudhary
Department of Psychology University of Delhi
University of Alberta Department of Human Development and
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada Childhood Studies
Ana Cecília S. Bastos Delhi, India
Federal University of Bahia Michael Cole
Institute of Psychology/Institute of Public Health Department of Communication
Salvador, Brazil University of California, San Diego
Zachary Beckstead La Jolla, CA
Department of Psychology Carla C. Cunha
Clark University Universidade do Minho e Instituto Superior da
Worcester, MA Maia (ISMAI)
Tiago Bento Portugal
Department of Psychology and Communication Harry Daniels
ISMAI - Instituto Superior da Maia (ISMAI) Centre for Sociocultural and Activity Theory
Portugal Research
Angela Bermudez University of Bath
School of Education Bath, UK
Northeastern University Rainer Diriwächter
Boston, MA Department of Psychology
Christophe Boesch California Lutheran University
Max-Planck-Institut fur Evolutionäre Thousand Oaks, CA
Anthropologie Deborah Downing-Wilson
Leipzig, Germany Laboratory of Comparative Human
Ernst E. Boesch Cognition
University of Saarbrücken University of California, San Diego
Germany San Diego, CA
Angela Uchoa Branco Lutz H. Eckensberger
Laboratory of Microgenesis in Social Deutsches Institut für Internationale
Interactions Pädagogische Forschung
Instituto de Psicologia-Universidade de Brasília Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität
Brasília, Brazil Frankfurt, Germany
Jens Brockmeier Wolfgang Friedlmeier
Department of Psychology Department of Psychology
University of Manitoba Grand Valley State University
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada Allendale, MI

xi
Mari Fukuda Irini Kadianaki
Graduate School of Humanities Department of Psychology
Ritsumeikan University University of Cyprus
Kyoto, Japan Nicosia, Cyprus
Alex Gillespie Heidi Keller
Department of Psychology Department of Culture and Development
University of Stirling University of Osnabrueck
Stirling, UK Osnabrueck, Germany
Simona Ginsburg Nikita A. Kharlamov
Department of Natural Science Department of Psychology
The Open University of Israel Clark University
Jerusalem, Israel Worcester, MA
Alfredo González-Ruibal Ayae Kido
Heritage Laboratory, Spanish National Department of Psychology
Research Council (CSIC) Ritsumeikan University
Santiago de Compostela, Spain Kyoto, Japan
Rom Harré Kalevi Kull
Department of Psychology Department of Semiotics
Georgetown University University of Tartu
Washington, D.C. Tartu, Estonia
Bob Heyman Robert Lecusay
Centre for Health and Social Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition
Care Research University of California, San Diego
University of Huddersfield San Diego, CA
Queensgate, Huddersfield, UK Xiaowen Li
Tomo Hidaka Department of Human Development
Graduate School of Humanities East China Normal University
Ritsumeikan University Shanghai, China
Kyoto, Japan Angélica López
Manfred Holodynski Department of Psychology
Institut for Psychology in Education University of California Santa Cruz
University of Münster Santa Cruz, CA
Münster, Germany Ana Flávia do Amaral Madureira
Antonio Iannaccone Department of Psychology
Institute of Psychology and Education Centro Universitário de Brasília
University of Neuchâtel Brasília, Brazil
Neuchâtel, Switzerland Riin Magnus
Robert E. Innis Department of Semiotics
Department of Philosophy University of Tartu
University of Massachusetts Lowell Tartu, Estonia
Lowell, MA Hala W. Mahmoud
Eva Jablonka Department of Social and Developmental
The Cohn institute for the Psychology
History and Philosophy of Science University of Cambridge
and Ideas United Kingdom & Africa and Middle East
Tel-Aviv University Refugee Assistance
Tel-Aviv, Israel Cairo, Egypt
Gustav Jahoda Ivana Marková
Department of Psychology Department of Psychology
University of Strathclyde University of Stirling
Glasgow, Scotland, UK Stirling, Scotland, UK

xii contributo r s
Giuseppina Marsico Rebeca Puche-Navarro
Department of Education Science Centro de Investigaciones en Psicología
University of Salerno Cognición y Cultura
Fisciano, Italy Universidad del Valle
Mariann Märtsin Cali, Colombia
School of Social Sciences Elaine P. Rabinovich
Wales Institute of Social and Economic Catholic University of Salvador
Research, Data and Methods Bahia, Brazil
Cardiff University Susan J. Rasmussen
Cardiff, UK Department of Anthropology
Rebeca Mejía-Arauz University of Houston
Department of Psychology Houston, TX
ITESO University Carl Ratner
Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico Institute for Cultural Research and
Fathali M. Moghaddam Education
Department of Psychology Trinidad, CA
Georgetown University Barbara Rogoff
Washington, D.C. Department of Psychology
Kyoko Murakami University of California Santa Cruz
University of Bath Santa Cruz, CA
Department of Education Ivan Rosero
Bath, UK Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition
Behnosh Najafi Department of Communication
Department of Psychology University of California, San Diego
University of California Santa Cruz La Jolla, CA
Santa Cruz, CA João Salgado
Miki Nishida Instituto Superior da Maia (ISMAI)
Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Portugal
Sciences Sergio Salvatore
Ritsumeikan University Università del Salento
Kyoto, Japan Department of Educational, Psychological and
Cristina Novoa Teaching Sciences
Department of Psychology Lecce, Italy
Georgetown University Tatsuya Sato
Washington, D.C. Department of Psychology
A. Bame Nsamenang Faculty of Letters
Human Development Resource Centre Ritsumeikan University
Bamenda, Cameroon Kyoto, Japan
Ria O’Sullivan-Lago Lívia Mathias Simão
Department of Sociology Institute of Psychology
University of Limerick University of São Paulo
Limerick, Ireland São Paulo, Brazil
Seonah Oh Noboru Takahashi
Department of International Studies Department of School Education
Kyoai Gakuen College Osaka Kyoiku University
Gunma, Japan Osaka, Japan
Chengnan Pian Kazuko Takeo
School of Sociology Faculty of Science Division 1
China University of Political Science and Law Tokyo University of Science
Beijing, China Tokyo, Japan

con tribu tors xiii


Eero Tarasti Brady Wagoner
University of Helsinki Department of Communication & Psychology
Institute of Art Research Aalborg University
Helsinki, Finland Aalborg, Denmark
Iddo Tavory Zachary Warren
Department of Sociology Department of Psychology
The New School for Social Research Georgetown University
New York, NY Washington, D.C.
Aaro Toomela Meike Watzlawik
Institute of Psychology Beratungsinstitut für Analyse und
Tallinn University Berufsfindung
Tallinn, Estonia Bremen, Germany
Jaan Valsiner Cynthia E. Winston
Department of Psychology Department of Psychology
Clark University Howard University
Worcester, MA Washington, D.C.
René van der Veer Michael R. Winston
Leiden University Department of History
Department of Education Howard University
Leiden, The Netherlands Washington, D.C.
Bert van Oers Toshiya Yamamoto
Department Theory and Research in Education School of Human Sciences
Faculty of Psychology and Education Waseda University
VU University Tokorozawa City, Saitama, Japan
Amsterdam, The Netherlands Tania Zittoun
Theo Verheggen University of Neuchâtel
Department of Psychology Institute of Psychology and Education
Open Universiteit Nederland Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Heerlen, the Netherlands

xiv contr i buto r s


CONTENTS

Part One • Historical Linkages of Culture and Psychology


Introduction: Culture in Psychology: A Renewed
Encounter of Inquisitive Minds 3
Jaan Valsiner
1. Culture and Psychology: Words and Ideas in History 25
Gustav Jahoda
2. Völkerpsychologie 43
Rainer Diriwächter
3. Cultural-Historical Psychology: Contributions of Lev Vygotsky 58
René van der Veer

Part Two • Inter- and Intradisciplinary Perspectives


4. The Role of Indigenous Psychologies in the Building
of Basic Cultural Psychology 71
Pradeep Chakkarath
5. Cultural Anthropology 96
Susan J. Rasmussen
6. Cross-Cultural Psychology: Taking People, Contexts,
and Situations Seriously 116
Heidi Keller
7. Archeology and the Study of Material Culture: Synergies
With Cultural Psychology 132
Alfredo González-Ruibal

Part Three • Positions in the Field


8. Enactivism 165
Cor Baerveldt and Theo Verheggen
9. Positioning Theory: Moral Dimensions of
Social-Cultural Psychology 191
Rom Harré
10. Macro-Cultural Psychology 207
Carl Ratner

Part Four • Semiosis in Culture and Psychology


11. Social Life of the Sign: Sense-Making in Society 241
Sergio Salvatore

xv
12. Meaningful Connections: Semiotics, Cultural Psychology,
and the Forms of Sense 255
Robert E. Innis
13. The City As a Sign: A Developmental-Experiential
Approach to Spatial Life 277
Nikita A. Kharlamov
14. Modeling Iconic Literacy: The Dynamic Models for
Complex Cultural Objects 303
Rebeca Puche-Navarro
15. Existential Semiotics and Cultural Psychology 316
Eero Tarasti

Part Five • Action, Self, and Narration


16. Culture: Result and Condition of Action 347
Ernest E. Boesch
17. Culture-Inclusive Action Theory: Action Theory in Dialectics
and Dialectics in Action Theory 357
Lutz H. Eckensberger
18. The Other in the Self: A Triadic Unit 403
Lívia Mathias Simão
19. Dialogical Theory of Selfhood 421
Tiago Bento, Carla C. Cunha, and João Salgado
20. Narrative Scenarios: Toward a Culturally Thick Notion of Narrative 439
Jens Brockmeier
21. Culture in Action: A Discursive Approach 468
Kyoko Murakami
22. Social Representations As Anthropology of Culture 487
Ivana Marková

Part Six • Tools for Living: Transcending Social Limitations


23. Life-Course: A Socio-Cultural Perspective 513
Tania Zittoun
24. Being Poor: Cultural Tools for Survival 536
Ana Cecília S. Bastos and Elaine P. Rabinovich
25. Cultural Psychology of Racial Ideology in Historical Perspective: An
Analytic Approach to Understanding Racialized Societies and Their
Psychological Effects on Lives 558
Cynthia E. Winston and Michael R. Winston
26. Belonging to Gender: Social Identities, Symbolic Boundaries and
Images 582
Ana Flávia do Amaral Madureira
27. Risk and Culture 602
Bob Heyman
28. Constructing Histories 625
Mario Carretero and Angela Bermudez

xvi contents
Part Seven • Emergence of Culture
29. Roots of Culture in the Umwelt 649
Riin Magnus and Kalevi Kull
30. Culture and Epigenesis: A Waddingtonian View 662
Iddo Tavory, Eva Jablonka, and Simona Ginsburg
31. From Material to Symbolic Cultures: Culture in Primates 677
Christophe Boesch

Part Eight • Human Movement Through Culture


32. Encountering Alterity: Geographic and Semantic Movements 695
Alex Gillespie, Irini Kadianaki, and Ria O’Sullivan-Lago
33. Crossing Thresholds: Movement As a Means of Transformation 710
Zachary Beckstead
34. Never “at-Home”?: Migrants between Societies 730
Mariann Märtsin and Hala W. Mahmoud

Part Nine • Culture of Higher Social Regulators: Values,


Magic, and Duties
35. Values and Socio-Cultural Practices: Pathways to Moral Development 749
Angela Uchoa Branco
36. The Intergenerational Continuity of values 767
A. Bame Nsamenang
37. The Making of Magic: Cultural Constructions of the
Mundane Supernatural 783
Meike Watzlawik and Jaan Valsiner
38. Duties and Rights 796
Fathali M. Moghaddam, Cristina Novoa, and Zachary Warren

Part Ten • Cultural Interfaces: Persons and Institutions


39. The Interface Between the Sociology of Practice and the
Analysis of Talk in the Study of Change in Educational Settings 817
Harry Daniels
40.The Work of Schooling 830
Giuseppina Marsico and Antonio Iannacone
41.Collaboration and Helping as Cultural Practices 869
Angélica López, Behnosh Najafi, Barbara Rogoff, and Rebeca Mejía-Arauz
42. A Cultural-Historical Approach to University/Community
Collaborative Interventions 885
Deborah Downing-Wilson, Robert Lecusay, Ivan Rosero, and Michael Cole

Part Eleven • Social Networks and Cultural Affectivity


43. Affective Networks: The Social Terrain of a Complex Culture 901
Nandita Chaudhary

con ten ts xvii


44. Peer Relations 917
Xiaowen Li
45. Culture in Play 936
Bert van Oers
46. Affect and Culture 957
Manfred Holodynski and Wolfgang Friedlmeier

Part Twelve • Toward Methodological Innovations


for Cultural Psychology
47.Ambivalence and Its Transformations 989
Emily Abbey
48. Guesses on the Future of Cultural Psychology: Past, Present, and Past 998
Aaro Toomela
49. Culture in Constructive Remembering 1034
Brady Wagoner
50. How Can We Study Interactions Mediated by Money
as a Cultural Tool: From the Perspectives of “Cultural Psychology of
Differences” as a Dialogical Method 1056
Toshiya Yamamoto, Noboru Takahashi, Tatsuya Sato, Kazuko Takeo,
Seonah Oh, and Chengnan Pian
51. The Authentic Culture of Living Well: Pathways to
Psychological Well-Being 1078
Tatsuya Sato, Mari Fukuda, Tomo Hidaka, Ayae Kido, Miki Nishida,
and Mayu Akasaka
52. Psychology Courting Culture: Future Directions and
Their Implications 1092
Jaan Valsiner

Index 1105

xviii contents
PA RT
1
Historical Linkages of
Culture and Psychology
This page intentionally left blank
Introduction: Culture in Psychology:
A Renewed Encounter of
Inquisitive Minds
Jaan Valsiner

Abstract
This introductory chapter outlines the historical picture of the recent interest in the linking of culture
and psychology, as well as the conceptual obstacles that have stood on the way of re-introducing
complexity of human psychological functions—higher cultural forms—to psychological research
practices. The avoidance of complex and dynamic phenomena (affective processes in feeling, religious
sentiments that take the form of values, and of the high varieties of cultural forms displayed all over the
World) has limited psychology’s knowledge creation. In the past two decades, with the emergence of
cultural psychology at the intersection of developmental, educational, and social psychologies and their
linking with cultural anthropology, sociology, and history, we have observed a renewed effort to build an
interdisciplinary synthesis of ideas. This takes place in the wider social context of the globalizing world.
Psychology needs culture to make sense of the human lives.
Keywords: cultural psychology, causality, quantity, quality, affect, globalization

This Handbook is a milestone in the effort to bring culture into psychology. Such enthusiasm is
re-unite two large domains of knowledge—one cov- needed—as revolutions, both in science and in soci-
ered by the generic term psychology, and the other by eties, need it. Innovation in any science is impos-
the equally general term culture. When two giants sible without the efforts of the scientists to explore
meet, one never knows what might happen—it can the not yet known lands of the ideas that may seem
become a battle or the two can amiably join their nonsensical from the point of view of accepted
forces and live happily ever after. The latter “happy knowledge yet tease the mind.
end” of a fairy tale is far from the realities of the his- The complexity of the task of bringing culture
tory of the social sciences. into psychology as a science has been considerable.
In the case of this Handbook, we have evidence It has been historically blocked by a number of social
of a multisided effort to develop the connections agents (representing rivaling ideologies) who saw in
between culture and psychology. The time may be this a damage to psychology as natural science (see
ripe—discourse about that unity has re-emerged Valsiner, 2012, Chapters 5–9). As a result, psychol-
since the 1980s, and cultural psychology has ogy has suffered from its self-generated image of
become consolidated since the mid-1990s around being an “objective science”—of deeply subjective
its core journal Culture & Psychology (published by and culturally organized phenomena. Such historical
Sage/London). The present Handbook reflects that myopia can be understood as a need for the discipline
tradition, while extending it toward new interdisci- to compete in the representational beauty contest
plinary horizons. The contributors— from all over of the sciences. Yet it cannot win that contest—
the World—enthusiastically take on the task to remaining such a frivolous competitor whose claims

3
to “objectivity” are easily falsified by yet another There can be very many different vantage points
innovation in the social or psychological domain. from where culture could enter into psychol-
ogy in the twenty-first century. First, of course,
Psychology’s “Blind Spot”: Personal Will there are the realistic connections with neighbor-
As a Cultural Phenomenon ing disciplines—cultural anthropology (Holland,
Historical myopia of a discipline has dire conse- 2010; Obeyesekere, 2005, 2010; Skinner, Pach, &
quences. Psychology of the last century turned out Holland, 1998; Rasmussen, 2011), and sociology
to be mute when basic human life phenomena— (Kharlamov, 2012)—from where such efforts could
famines, wars, epidemics, religious piety and preju- find their start. Yet in the last decade we also can
dice, political negotiations, and migration—have observe the move inside of the vast field of psychol-
been concerned. It has refrained from the study ogy. Psychology itself is a heterogeneous discipline—
of higher—volitional—psychological functions, within which we can observe a number of moves
while concentrating on the lower, simpler ones. toward embracing the notion of culture. Although
Thus, psychology of affect has many ways to deal it began from the educational and developmental
with basic emotion categories that are expressed concerns of the 1980s that mostly used the ideas
similarly all around the world—yet has not made of Vygotsky as the center of their new efforts, by
new breakthroughs in understanding the general- 2010s the effort also includes social psychology—
ized feelings that lead to desirous actions and gen- both in Europe and the United States—where the
eralized values. The intentional affective actions generic label “social” becomes frequently taken over
were actively investigated until the beginning of the by “cultural.”
twentieth century in psychology but rarely later. It Second, it is the rapid movement—of messages and
is the semiotic and narrative focus of our contem- people—that renders the former images of homoge-
porary cultural psychology that restores our focus neous classes that dominated cross-cultural psychology
onto these humanly important phenomena. The either moot or problematic. The tradition of compar-
most important cultural invention of the human ing societies (i.e., countries, re-labeled as “cultures”—
psyche is the simple claim, “I want <X>!”—and it e.g., of “the Mexicans” or “the Germans”)—which has
is precisely the least studied and understood theme been accepted practice in cross-cultural psychology—
in contemporary psychology. Although there is loses its epistemological value. Empirical comparisons
increasing interest, in cultural psychology, on the of the averages of samples “from different cultures”
“I” part (e.g., Dialogical Self Theories), the “want” (i.e., countries) can bring out interesting starting data
part of this simple meaning construction is rarely for further analysis by cultural psychology.
analyzed. The notable exception—Heider, (1958, All this is supported by real-life social changes.
1983)—is an example of a synthesis of different It is as if the globalizing movement of people
European philosophical and psychological tra- across country boundaries brings “cultural for-
ditions. Psychology has been fearful of the will- eigners” to be next-door neighbors. The issue of
ful human being and has instead presented the making sense of their ways of living becomes of
human psyche as an object influenced by a myriad interest for the already established colonists of the
of “factors” from all directions—biological, social, given place. It is hard to remain content with the
economic, even unconscious—rather than by the prototypical notions of “being American” when
volition that could break out from all these con- one sees a collective Islamic prayer unfolding in
fines and develop in new directions. the middle of a major U.S. airport. The world is
now different from the last century—we are in
Why Another Effort to Link Psychology close contact with “cultural others,” and all our
With Culture? social-psychological adaptations to this innovation
Given this complex history, bringing culture acquire a cultural accent. Contemporary social
back into psychology is also a very multifaceted psychology picks up the need to study such social
effort in today’s intellectual environment. Yet the events that carry complex cultural accents. It is
realities of social life guide us toward it—in a world supported by the demand of both the lay pub-
where people travel voraciously and their messages lics in different countries and their socio-political
travel instantly, the know-how of how “the others” organizations to understand and administer the
function is both necessary for life and profitable for “cultural others” yet retain their own dominant
businesses. centrality.

4 c ulture in psycholo g y
The Third Effort for Psychology in its Leipzig in 1879. It was followed in North America
History: How Can it Succeed? by the avalanche of the “behaviorist” ideology
This effort—uniting culture and psychology— (Watson, 1913), which has been slow to end. The
that has been taking place from the 1990s to the intermediate birth of “cognitive science” in the
present time is actually the third one1 in the history 1950s from the behaviorist roots was a half-resto-
of psychology. We can observe, in the recent two ration of the focus on higher psychological func-
decades, multiple efforts to bring culture into the tions. Hence, the cultural psychology movement
science in general. Likewise, psychology begins to that started in the 1980s constitutes another effort
enter into cultural arenas in many new ways that in that direction.
Little Albert,2 Ioni,3 or Sultan,4 or even the dogs of
Professor Pavlov could never have thought about. A The Obstacles to Innovation
number of our contributions to this Handbook— As psychology is non-neutral in its context of
those of Christophe Boesch (2012), Alfredo social existence, it is not surprising that its prog-
Gonzalez-Ruibal (2012) and Zachary Beckstead ress is constantly organized by different promoting
(2012)—give the readers a glimpse of new pathways fashions (e.g., the need to look “socially relevant”)
for future development of cultural psychology. in unison with a multitude of conceptual obstacles.
Of course, psychology’s historical inroads can The latter are often the targets of discourse in cul-
be seen to have delayed such return to culture. tural psychology that cannot avoid addressing them.
The issue has been ideological in the history of Their relevance, of course, transcends the work in
the science of psychology—how to treat complex, the realms of cultural psychology and would illumi-
meaningful, intentional, and dynamic psychologi- nate other fields of psychology.
cal phenomena? These phenomena were actively
addressed in the context of emerging psychology in Decision About Where Not to Look:
Germany by philosophers in the first seven decades Axiomatic Dismissal of Complexity
of the nineteenth century—yet all these contri- Many of the habits of psychology, in their
butions were lost as they were guided out of the insistence on the study of elementary phenomena
history of psychology as it was re-written after the (Toomela & Valsiner, 2010), have led to avoid-
1870s. According to most of the history textbook ing the complexities of the human psychological
views, psychology as science was born in 1879. functioning. This happens in a number of ways:
That origin myth dates back to Boring’s work on by imperative to quantify those phenomena
re-writing the history of psychology (Boring, 1929) that are of “scientific interest” and by develop-
that selected as science only some part of the wide ing theories inductively—moving toward gen-
intellectual enterprise of psychology of the nine- eralization from the thus selectively quantified
teenth century. evidence. This all happens with the belief in the
Psychology as a science was born in the work of elementaristic causality (factor X causes
German language environment—first in the 1730s Y; e.g., “intelligence” causes success in problem
(Christian Wolff’s Psicologia empirica in 1732 and solving; or “culture” causes “girls being shy”; see
Psicologia rationalis in 1734), followed by the Toomela, 2012, in this Handbook). In contrast,
anti-Wolff denial of psychology’s place among cultural psychology leaves such causal attributions
other sciences by Immanuel Kant. The birth of behind. Culture here emerges as a generic term
psychology as part of educational curriculae dates to capture the complexity of human lives—rather
to years 1806 and later—when Johann Friedrich than narrowly concentrating on their behavior.
Herbart started his first university course in psy- We are back to the study of psychological dynam-
chology (Jahoda, 2008; Teo, 2007). Yet in the early ics in all of its complexity (Valsiner, 2009a), yet
nineteenth-century psychology was the realm for we are still at a loss about how to do that. The
discourse by philosophers and theologians, with lead from the “second cybernetics” of the 1960s
natural scientists playing a secondary role. This (Maruyama, 1963) and the use of qualitative
power relation reversed in the 1860s in favor of mathematical models (Rudolph, 2006a, 2006b,
the natural sciences—particularly physiology. This 2006c, 2008a, 2008b, 2009; Rudolph & Valsiner,
led to the “elementaristic revolution” in psychol- 2008; Tsuda, 2001) instead of statistical inference
ogy that started from Wilhelm Wundt’s establish- can be a way to overcome the obstacles of unwar-
ing his laboratory of Experimental Psychology in ranted assumptions.

va lsin er 5
The Terminological Difficulty—Culture of imperatives rather than creating innovations.
Is Polysemic Psychology has suffered from too many consen-
Culture is in some sense a magic word—positive sual fixations of the “right” methods in the last
in connotations but hard to pinpoint in any science half-century (Toomela, 2007a), rendering its
that attempts to use it as its core term. Its impor- innovative potentials mute. Cultural psychology
tance is accentuated by our contemporary fashion- as a new direction entails an effort to un-mute
able common language terms (multiculturalism, the discipline. It is helped by the appeal—and
cultural roots, cultural practices, etc.)—hence the uncertainty—of the label culture.
perceived value of the term. Yet much of “nor-
mal science” of psychology continues to produce Culture As a “Container” as Opposed to a “Tool”
hyperempirical work using methods that do not The readers in this Handbook will encounter
consider substantive innovation, even after having two opposite directions in handling of the notion
learned to insert the word culture into politically of culture—that of a container of a homogeneous
correct locations in its various texts. In this sense, class (Fig. I.1A), and that of a unique organizer of
the fate of culture in contemporary psychology person–environment relations (Fig. I.1B). These
continues to be that of up-and-coming novice who two uses have little or nothing in common, once
tries to get its powerful parents to accommodate more indicating the vagueness of the use of culture
to its needs. in our present-day social sciences.
Cultural psychology is being sculpted in a vari- Of course the proliferation of the notion of
ety of versions—all unified by the use of the word culture in the social sciences is no issue of science
culture (Boesch, 1991; Cole, 1996, Shweder, 1990). only. Reasons for that increasing popularity of a
That may be where its unity ends, giving rise to a vague label are to be found beyond the boundar-
varied set of perspectives that only partially link ies of science—in the “culture stress” experienced
with one another. This may be confusing for those by local communities resulting from in-migration
who try to present cultural psychology as a mono- of “others” and temporary (or not so temporary)
lithic discipline—but it is certainly good for the outmigration of “our own” (Appadurai, 2006). Our
development of new perspectives. Heterogeneity globalizing world is also open to various projec-
of a discipline breeds innovation—whereas tions of oneself to the (far-away) others. Politicians
homogenization kills it. History of psychology start to pretend they can say something in a foreign
gives us many examples of originally innovative language in public, whereas production capacities
perspectives turning into established “theories or move from their “First World” locations to the so-
systems”—and becoming followed through sets called “developing countries.”

(A) (B)
C
P
P PERSONS
create
C SOCIETY in C
PERSONS are IN CULTURE
between
them
P P
C

BOUNDARY of “culture” IS ASSUMED BOUNDARY of “society” IS ASSUMED


TO BE RIGID AND DEFINED TO BE FLUID AND CHANGING

Figure I.1 Two meanings of culture in psychology. (A) Culture as a container (P = person). (B) Culture (C) as a tool within person.

6 c ulture in psycholo g y
The Hero Mythology—Replacing centuries (Jahoda, 1993, 2011). Such slow move-
Innovation by Finished Ideas ment results from projection of social values into the
Psychologists like to tell stories—beautiful sto- term—culture is not a neutral term. It is suspect—and
ries—about famous people of their kind who had appealing—at the same time. Its appealing label feeds
clever ideas that are still guiding our contemporary into the advancement of various streams of thought
thinking. Of course, it is in the communication in the social sciences (Rohner, 1984; Sinha, 1996),
process between a science and the society that the and the constructive openness in using it as an intel-
making of such “hero myths” operates in creat- lectual catalyst in psychology continues.
ing cultural connectors (Aubin, 1997, p. 300). The Although it is well-known (Valsiner, 2001,
popularity of “being X-ian” is a token in the pub- 2004a) that the term culture is vague, as it has been
lic legitimization of a particular perspective (e.g., proven indefinable, yet its functional role in public
“Vygotskian” is “promising,” “behavioral” is “past discourse has been growing steadily. Vagueness of a
its prime”)—independently of the particular ideas concept need not be an obstacle in scientific knowl-
used within these perspectives to make sense of some edge-building (many terms in many sciences are)
phenomenon. Freud, Skinner, Piaget, and Vygotsky and are kept vague, so as to enhance their generative
are often put on the pedestal for having revealed potential (Löwy, 1992). As Löwy has explained:
the great secrets of the psyche. Telling such stories
The long-term survival of imprecise terms points to
is dangerous for the ideas of precisely those persons
an important heuristic role. Adopting an over-precise
who are being honored. On the theoretical side,
definition may jeopardize a promising study, while
glory stories of various “giants” such as Vygotsky,
maintaining a poorly defined concept may propel
Bakhtin, Gadamer, Levinas, and others are likely
fruitful research. Imprecise terms may also facilitate
to promote the mentality of following previously
the study of phenomena that share some, yet poorly
expressed ideas, rather than developing new ones.
defined, characteristics, and that may help link
Rather than innovate historically solid intellectual
distinct disciplinary approaches. The fluidity of terms
perspectives—the makers of which tried, but still
at times of conceptual change makes retrospective
did not solve their problems—we seem to enjoy
discovery accounts especially problematic. Discoverers
turning these “classic thinkers” into some gurus and
tend to attribute a later, fixed meaning and imprecise,
follow them ardently. Taking a theoretical perspec-
fluid terms current at the time of the discovery.
tive becomes transformed into a membership of a
(Löwy, 1990, p. 89)
fan club of one or another of such guru figures—
leading to a variety of intra- and intergroup rela- The fate of culture in psychology and anthropol-
tionship issues of such groups of followers. The ogy fits Löwy’s point well. Since the 1990s, we have
main function of theories—being intellectual gen- seen the acceptance of the term by psychologists,
eral tools for understanding—easily gets lost. Social who pride themselves in its vagueness and make it
scientists seem to enjoy the game of social position- useful in various ways. In contrast, cultural anthro-
ing. We can still observe recurrent claims of “being pologists can be seen refusing to use it at all! Culture
X-ian” (“Vygotskian,” “Bakhtinian,” “Freudian,” as a term becomes useless in anthropology, whereas
“Habermasian,” “Levinasian,” etc.). I consider such it is becoming useful in psychology!
claims misleading, because the best way to follow
a thinker is to develop the ideas further—rather Psychology Is Becoming Global
than declare one’s membership in a virtual commu- Globalization in a science—like in economics
nity. But mere membership in a community is no and society—is an ambiguous process. It brings
solution to problems that the members of the com- with it emergence of new opportunities together
munity try to solve. The scientific community is a with the demise of old (and “safe”) practices. The
resource for providing new solutions—rather than immediate result of globalization is the increase of
a club, the membership of which is determined by “sudden contacts” between varied persons of dif-
loyalty to old ones. ferent backgrounds—with all that such contact
implies (Moghaddam, 2006). If “culture” is viewed
Vagueness in Science and its Functions in terms of a “container” (Fig. I.1A) that implies
We know that culture’s journey into psychology selective “border controls,” segregation of immi-
has already been in the making for more than two grants into “we <>they” categories, and emphasis

va lsin er 7
on acculturation (Rudmin, 2010). If, in contrast, hamburgers—in their places). In all of these adapta-
“culture” under globalization is seen as a tool (Fig. tions to such contacts, the diversity of both human
I.1B) it is the issue of relating to one’s next-door cultural and biological forms is being negotiated
neighbor—with both positive (mutual learning and (Kashima, 2007; Moghaddam, 2006).
support from one another) and negative (frictions
and open conflicts over trivial local issues) that The Gains—and Their Pains—in Cultural
come into our focus of observation. Psychology
Science also has to learn to tolerate its often less The last two decades of the twentieth century
affluent but better educated neighbor. Any casual were productive for cultural psychology. Following
reading of leading science journals, which may be the lead of the originators of the rebirth of the
published in North America or Europe, reveals cultural direction (Richard Shweder, Michael
the enormous mixture of the home countries of Cole, James Wertsch and Barbara Rogoff in North
the scientists. People from all continents collabo- America, and Ernest Boesch, Lutz Eckensberger,
rate in the solving of crucial scientific problems. Serge Moscovici, Ivana Markova and Ivan Ivic
Not surprisingly, together with the move toward in Europe), a number of younger-generation
international economic interdependence comes researchers started to look at human phenomena
internationalization of sciences. Like other sci- intertwined with their everyday contexts. By the
ences psychology is no longer dominated by few twenty-first century, many new research directions
(North American or European) models of “doing have become emphasized—ruptures as central for
science” in that area. Instead, creative solutions to new developments (Hale, 2008; Zittoun, 2004,
complex problems emerge from the “developing 2006, 2007, 2010), actuations as a new way to
world,” where the whole range of the variety of unite actions and meanings (Rosa, 2007), gener-
cultural phenomena guarantees the potential rich- alized significant symbols (Gillespie, 2006) as well
ness of psychology. as search for the self through looking at the other
(Bastos & Rabinovich, 2009; Simão & Valsiner,
Cultural Psychology: Its Indigenous Roots 2007) and finding that other in the contexts of
Of course different areas of psychology are dif- social interdependence (Chaudhary, 2004, 2007;
ferentially open to such internationalization— Menon, 2002; Tuli & Chaudhary, 2010). At the
cultural psychology in its recent new upsurge is same time, we see continuous interest in the cul-
thus a “developing science.” Looking back, much tural nature of subjectivity (Boesch, 2005, 2008;
has changed since mid-1990s (Valsiner, 1995, Cornejo, 2007; Sullivan, 2007) and the unpredict-
2001, 2004, 2009a, 2009b), mostly in the con- ability of environments (Abbey, 2007; Golden &
text within which the discourses of re-entering talk Mayseless, 2008). The topic of multivoicedness of
about culture into psychology have been framed. the self as it relates with the world has emerged as
Cultural psychology has been the witness—an a productive theme (Bertau, 2008; Joerchel, 2007;
active one—of the transformations that go on in all Salgado & Gonçalves, 2007; Sullivan, 2007),
of psychology as it is globalizing (Valsiner, 2009a, including the move to consider the opposites of
2009b). Nevertheless, within psychology, cultural polyphony (“intensified nothingness,” Mladenov,
psychology remains “indigenous”—emphasizing 1997). This is embedded in the multiplicity of dis-
the phenomena, rather than data, as these are cen- course strategies (Castro & Batel, 2008) in insti-
tral for science. tutional contexts (Phillips, 2007). Affective lives
Indigenous is not a pejorative word. We are all are situated in social contexts but by persons them-
indigenous as unique human beings, social units, selves as they relate to social institutions.
and societies—coming to sudden contact with oth-
ers of the same kind, and discovering that it is “the Old Disputes in New Form: Immediacy
other” who is indigenous, not ourselves. Different and Mediation
ways of actions follow: changing the other (by mis- It never ceases to amaze me how old disputes re-
sionary or military conquests) or using the other for emerge in terminologically new ways. When in the
production (by importing slaves, or allowing “guest 1950s psychologists were disputing the immediacy
workers” temporarily into “our country” to allevi- of perception (a la James Gibson) in contrast to the
ate labor shortages), or for consumption (creating constructive nature of the perceptual act (a la Jerome
consumer demands for our products—arms or Bruner and Leo Postman, 1950—not to forget

8 c ulture in psycholo g y
Ansbacher, 1937 for the origins), then 50 years it is the latter to which the enactivist viewpoint
later, we find a similar dispute in cultural psy- adheres.
chology around the issues of enactivism, focusing
on the immediate nature of cultural actions— Construction of Signs and Their Use—
and mediation—that centers on the distancing Alternative to Immediacy
from (yet with) the immediate action (Baerveldt In contrast to the enactivist orientation, the
& Verheggen, 1999, 2012; Kreppner, 1999; semiotic meditational direction (Boesch, 2005,
Christopher & Bickhard, 2007; Crisswell, 2009; 2008, 2012; Lonner & Hayes, 2007; Valsiner,
Verheggen & Baerveldt, 2007). Furthermore, 2007) accepts the notion of mediation as an axi-
the immediacy dispute is built around the John omatic given and concentrates on the construction
Dewey-inspired look at human development as of what kind of mediating systems can be discovered
seamless linking of person and context (Rogoff, in human everyday activities and in the domains
1982, 1993, 2003). The question of boundaries of feeling and thinking. The focus on cultural
between person and environment has been actively tools—or symbolic resources (Zittoun, 2006,
disputed in the last two decades. Of course, human 2007, 2012)—necessarily prioritizes the medita-
beings live within the boundary—circumscribed tional view in cultural psychology. This is further
by their skin. Futuristic film-makers, such as supported by the work to bring Charles S. Peirce’s
David Kroonenberg, have recently experimented semiotics to cultural psychology (Innis, 2005, 2012;
with images that make the skin transferrable and Rosa, 2007; Sonesson, 2010). Yet bringing in the
let objects enter and exit through the skin in sur- philosophy of Peirce is a kind of “Trojan horse” for
prising—and horrifying—ways. cultural psychology—if on the manifest level such
The roots of this new focus on immediacy are in importation allows for new look at the multitude
the resurgence of the centrality of the body in theo- of signs that organize human lives. Such appealing
rizing about human beings and its abstracted corol- closeness to reality is supported by Peirce’s abstrac-
lary in terms of the processes of embodiment of the tions as a mathematician.
mental processes (Varela, Thompson, & Ross, 1991).
Refocusing on the body—under the philosophy of The Unresolved Problem: Units of
fighting against “mind–body dualisms”—leads to Analysis
the elimination of the mind. And with the elimina- The difficulty of returning to the psychological
tion of the mind goes the focus on mediation. complexity in the context of cultural psychology is
in the rest of psychology accepting the notion of
Immediacy in Its Enactivist Form analysis units as the atomistic concept of divisibil-
The enactivist position has been put forth ity of the complexity to simplicity. Yet that tradi-
succinctly: tion cannot work if complexity as it exists—rather
than as it could be eliminated—is on the agenda for
Enactivism avoids the notion of “mediation” and
researchers (Matusov, 2007).
problematizes the representational or semiotic
The root metaphor of the question of units in
status of social and cultural objects in general.
psychology has been the contrast between water
Representation is a sophisticated social act and in
(H2O) and its components (oxygen and hydrogen),
that sense it is tautological to add the adjective
used in making the point of the primacy of the
“social.” Moreover, this specification becomes
Gestalt over its constituents widely in the late nine-
misleading when “social” is understood in terms of
teenth- through early twentieth-century thought.
sharedness, even when the notion of sharedness is
The properties of water are not reducible to those
systemic rather than aggregate one.
of either hydrogen or oxygen—water may put out a
(Verheggen and Baerveldt, 2007, p. 22)
fire, whereas the constituents of it burn or enhance
Of course, the enactivist move against ideas of burning. Hence the whole, a water molecule, is
mediation triggers a counteroffensive (Chryssides more than a mere “sum” of its parts. Furthermore,
et al., 2009) defending the role of social represen- it is universal—the chemical structure of water
tation processes precisely as acts of social construc- remains the same, independent of whatever biologi-
tion. The focus on social representation can be cal system (e.g., human body, cellular structure of a
dialectical (Marková, 2003, 2012), and the act of plant) or geological formation (e.g., an ocean, or in
representing can itself be embodied. It seems that a water bottle) in which it exists. Vygotsky expressed

va lsin er 9
the general idea of what a unit of analysis needs to of all social discourses about the phenomena, as
be like in psychology: well as about the social sciences that study these
phenomena. This challenge is most visible in the
Psychology, as it desires to study complex
field—in the deeply politically embedded activities
wholes . . . needs to change the methods of analysis
of NGOs in their relations with local government
into elements by the analytic method that reveals
agencies, community structures, and personal goals
the parts of the unit [literally: breaks the whole into
(Bourdier, 2008). Culture in the field is a politi-
linked units—metod . . . analiza, . . . razchleniayushego
cally contested, non-neutral complex used by all
na edinitsy]. It has to find the further undividable,
disputing sides for their objectives (Wikan, 2002).
surviving features that are characteristic of the given
Possibly precisely because of such multiplicity of
whole as a unity—units within which in mutually
vested interests, the process of “Westernization” can
opposing ways these features are represented [Russian:
be replaced by a notion of parallel development of
edinitsy, v kotorykh v protivopolozhnom
societies in contact. As Kagitçibasi (2005, p. 267)
vide predstavleny eti svoistva].5
has commented:
(Vygotsky, 1999, p. 13)

Vygotsky’s notion of units fits into the general . . . as societies modernize (with increased
structure, emphasizing the unity of parts and focus- urbanization, education, affluence etc.), they do
ing on their relationship. not necessarily demonstrate a shift toward western
However, it is easy to see how Vygotsky’s dialec- individualism. A more complex transformation is
tical units—into opposing parts of the whole—go seen in family patterns of modernizing societies with
beyond the water analogy. The whole (water)— cultures of relatedness. The emerging pattern shares
parts (oxygen, hydrogen) and relations—are fixed important characteristics with both individualism
as long as water remains water. In reality of human and collectivism while, as the synthesis of the two, it
development, the wholes are open to transforma- is significantly different from each.
tion. Together with charting out the pathways to Thus the crucial issue in cultural psychology is
synthesis, inherent in that unit is the constraining to handle phenomena of synthesis. So far the field
of options—the structure of the unit rules out some is as far from a productive solution for that prob-
possible courses for emergence. lem as Wundt, Krueger, and Vygotsky were about
Vygotsky found that holistic unit in word mean- a century ago. Psychology lacks the formal lan-
ing, as that meaning includes a variety of mutually guage that made chemistry back in the nineteenth
opposite and contradicting versions of “personal century capable of solving the synthesis problem
sense” (smysl). Through the dynamic oppositions theoretically.
(contradictions) between subunits (of “personal
sense”) of the meaning (znachenie), the latter devel- Varied Perspectives: Contested by
ops. Thus, we have a hierarchical unit where the “Indigenous” Psychologies
transformation of the znachenie at the higher level The meta-theoretical decision to build hierar-
of organization depends on the dialectical syntheses chical models of relationships means a new return
emerging in the contradictory relationships between to the question of parts–whole relationships. The
varied smysl’s at the lower level. And conversely, the parts belonging to a whole are necessarily operat-
emerged new form of znachenie establishes con- ing at a level subservient to that of a whole, and
straints on the interplay of smysl’s at the lower level. we have a minimal hierarchical system. That system
The loci of developmental transformations are in the is guaranteed by the central role of the agent—the
relations between different levels of the hierarchical acting, feeling, and thinking human being who is
order, not at any one level. always within a context while moving beyond the very
same context by one’s goal-oriented actions. As Tania
Tension Between Macro-Social and Zittoun has explained it:
Micro-Social Levels: Hierarchical
Relationships . . . there is no such thing as a context-free
Ratner’s (2008, 2012) call for a macrocultural competence or skill. However, the setting is not
psychology fills the void at the boundary of psy- everything; every activity is also undertaken by a
chology and sociology. Although doing that it person, actively making sense of the situation, of its
faces a new challenge—that of the political nature whereabouts, its goals and resemblances with other

10 culture in psycho log y


situations met by her—these processes are in large direct the knowledge construction along its political
part not conscious. orientations.
(Zittoun, 2008, p. 439)
Self-Reflexivity of Psychology: Advantages
Thus, by the very act of modifying the setting, of the “Cultural Look”
the person (actor) creates a hierarchical relationship Psychology’s theory construction site is itself
that sets oneself above the setting, yet in ways that culturally organized. It includes sensitizing con-
remain bounded with the setting (“bounded inde- cepts (social representations)—meanings that give
terminacy,” Valsiner, 1997). This hierarchy can be direction to empirical efforts of researchers (Joffe &
hidden from self-reflexivity and can occur at the Staerklé, 2007, p. 413). A sensitizing concept may
intuitive level of Umwelts. From a generic idea, block the advancement of a direction of research for
“either X or Y” (person OR context), we move to long time—as the history around developmental
“X into Y into X into Y . . .”—a mutually recursive logics (Valsiner, 2008b) shows. Although the core
feed-forward process. notion of “taking” may guide Western psychological
There is much to learn from the indigenous move- theories to accept the rationality of benefit maximi-
ment in contemporary psychology (Chakkarath, zation axiom that leads to the “independent self ”
2005, 2012; Choi, Han, & Kim, 2007; Li, 2007; notion as normative, the Indian focus on “giving”
Krishnan & Manoj, 2008). The productive use of the (Krishnan & Manoj, 2008) sets the stage for differ-
indigenous psychology movement for the concep- ent versions of “interdependent self ” theories. The
tual texture of cultural psychology becomes available generic social representation accepted in the occiden-
after the “colonizing” (treating “the other” society as tal worlds—such as Aristotelian two-valent logic—
a data source) and “independence” (the “other soci- makes the emergence of multitrajectory holistic
ety” claiming the value of their indigenous concepts) (yet structured) concepts much more complicated
is overcome. Instead of mere equality claims of the than in many cases of indigenous meaning systems.
“others’ ” concepts, the science of psychology can Existing meta-level social representations guide the
overcome its Euro-centric historical orientation by directions of theory construction in the sciences.
making some of these concepts the core terms (and For example, Western psychologies have had
treating their Euro-centric analogues as their deri- difficulty accepting the notion of development
vates). As Durghanand Sinha has noted: as it entails synthetic emergence of generalized,
Long before WHO defined health in positive abstracted phenomena. The focus has been on
terms as a state of complete physical, mental and “what was” (memory, history) or on “what we now
social well-being, the Indian conceptualization was think that was” (Galasinska, 2003; Goldberg, Borat
completely holistic as reflected in Susrut’s definition: and Schwartz, 2006; Mori, 2008; Wagoner, 2008,
prasannamendriyamanah swastha (or health is state of 2011) and rarely has considered “what is not yet—
delight or a feeling of spiritual, physical and mental but is about to become.” What is “being measured”
well-being). The aspect of sama or avoidance of is assumed to be “out there” in its essentialist form
extremes and having various bodily processes and (fixed quality) and in different amounts (quanti-
elements in the right quantity (neither too little nor ties). Once the quality is immutably fixed, it cannot
too much), that is, of maintaining proper balance, transform into new forms—hence, the difficulty of
has been constantly emphasized . . . well-being is nit developmental thinking in occidental psychologies.
equated with fulfillment of needs and production of It is only at present that questions of processes by
material wealth through the control and exploitation which the movement toward the future occurs begin
of nature. The capacity to develop and maintain to be analyzed (Järvinen, 2004; Sato et al., 2007).
harmonious relationship with the environment is Cultural psychology cannot deal with behavior as
considered vital. something “out there” that can be observed. Instead,
(Sinha, 1996, p. 95) we can observe meaningful conduct of goal-oriented
organisms (not only humans—Sokol-Chang, 2009)
Of course no governmental organization (WHO, who are in the process of creating one’s actual life
UN, or any other) has a privilege in defining scien- trajectories out of a diversity of possibilities (Sato
tific terms. A science cannot start from a local defi- et al., 2007, 2012). That process may be poorly
nition of a socio-political kind—it would reduce its captured by the use of real numbers (Valsiner &
generalizability and would let a social institution Rudolph, 2008), and hence careful qualitative

va lsin er 11
analyses of particular versions of human conduct are Gananath Obeyesekere’s Cultural World of
the empirical core of cultural psychologies. Person in Context
Culture for Obeyesekere consists of internal-
The Range of the Handbook—And ized ideas in the minds of persons, mediated by
Its “Missing Pages” consciousness. Because consciousness is primar-
Obviously a handbook of 51 chapters is a huge ily personally constructed, the “sharing” of culture
corpus of ideas and seems to be fully comprehen- between persons can only be episodic and partial
sive. Unfortunately we did not succeed in includ- (see Obeyesekere, 1977—demon possession is a per-
ing all the expected and desired relevant authors in sonal-psychological phenomenon that is not shared
the Handbook, for various reasons—mostly linked with others, yet can be exorcised by cultural rules).
with workloads and travel. Thus, the voices of tra- Furthermore, specific sophistic readings of cultural
ditional experimental social psychology (of Shinobu texts by constructive persons can bring into being
Kitayama and Hazel Markus), and its adamant forms of conduct that seemingly deviate from cul-
critiques (Richard Shweder), psychoanalytic cul- tural meanings yet are incorporated into those by
tural anthropology (Gananath Obeyesekere, Sudhir special conditions (e.g., the making of “Buddhist
Kakar), sociology of complex societies (Veena Das, eggs”; see Obeyesekere, 1968, p. 30). He has shown
Rama Chan Tripathi), socio-cultural semiotic per- how constructed discourses—such as the stories
spectives (Alberto Rosa), and the cultural psychol- of Maori cannibalism—proliferate (Obeyesekere,
ogy of work processes (Yrjö Engeström) did not 2005).
materialize by the time the Handbook project was
to be finished. The following entails a brief synopsis Culturally Reformed Psychoanalysis
of some of these. Obeyesekere has been working within a psycho-
analytic paradigm, enriching it with his hermeneutic
Social Psychology of Cultural Self—The stance, and diligently trying to reformulate its con-
Stanford Tradition ceptual structure on the basis of empirical evidence
The “Stanford tradition” emanating from the from the Sinhalese cultural contexts (Obeyesekere,
work of Hazel Markus since 1980s and prolif- 1963, 1968, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1984, 1990).
erating in North American social psychology is He has also taken a look at encounters between soci-
an outgrowth from the contextualist orientation eties (Obeyesekere, 1993) that reveal the “work of
in personality psychology of the 1970s. Markus’ culture,” as it
work starts from an empirical emphasis on the
. . . is the process whereby symbolic forms existing on
schematic self-descriptions. She gives new theoreti-
the cultural level get created and recreated through
cal life to William James’ notion of possible future
the minds of people. It deals with the formation
selves that is conceptualized in terms of subjective
and transformation of symbolic forms, but is not a
approach/withdrawal tendencies of a person who is
transformation without a subject as in conventional
facing possible futures (Markus & Nurius, 1986).
structural analysis . . .
Furthermore, the emphasis on “possible selves” con-
(Obeyesekere, 1990, p. xix)
stitutes a return to Gordon Allport’s idea of hier-
archical organization of personality and tentatively The work of culture is a developmentally pro-
explains the role of the personally constructed “pos- gressive process in its main scope (even if it may
sible selves” in the regulation of personality devel- include moments of temporary “regressions” in its
opment (e.g., Markus & Wurff, 1987). Although course—e.g., a person’s dissociation of the existing
proceeding from self-personological roots, Markus personality organization and being in turmoil for
creates a contrast between different collective cul- long periods of time (Obeyesekere, 1987, p. 104).
tures in terms of the opposition of independence The key idea is cultural constraints set up condi-
versus interdependence notions that organize the tions under which personal symbolic action takes
selves (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). In years since, place—be this the construction of women’s preg-
Kitayama has developed the notion of interdepen- nancy cravings in Sri Lanka (Obeyesekere, 1963,
dent self into a major research program in experi- 1985) or sorcery for retribution (Obeyesekere,
mental social psychology. The normal state of the 1975). On the other hand, each person acts in
self is interdependent—independence is merely a one’s unique ways, has unique personal history, and
special condition of interdependence. hence any “standard ritual” (e.g., that of exorcism

12 culture in psycho log y


of “demon dominance,” Obeyesekere, 1977, or in Obeyesekere adds this constructive-disjunctive
Christian traditions, Obeyesekere, 2010) needs to (of the symbol from the motive) dimension to the
accommodate a variety of specific conditions that culture-work idea, thus liberating the psychoanalytic
may be characteristic of a particular person. perspective from its expression-interpreting fate.

Overdetermination by Meaning Richard Shweder—The Voice of Culture


Perhaps the most central innovation of the psy- for Psychology
choanalytic thought that Obeyesekere introduces Starting from an anthropological background,
(and that moves him irreversibly away from psy- Richard Shweder’s voice in psychology over the
choanalytic explanations of the occidental ortho- recent two decades has undoubtedly pointed to
dox kind) is the move from overdetermination of the need to consider culture in psychology as a
motive (as emphasized by Freud and reflected in primary constituting factor of the self (Shweder,
dream analysis) to overdetermination of meaning 1984, 1991; Shweder & Much, 1987; Shweder
(Obeyesekere, 1990, p. 56). All events in human & Sullivan, 1990, 1993). The cultural richness of
life occur in polysemic contexts, being framed by India has certainly fascinated Europeans in very
a variety of cultural meanings, operating simulta- many ways, but it is rarely that occidental sci-
neously at different levels of symbolic remove from ence has attempted to provide in-depth analyses
deep motivations. Some of the cultural meanings of the cultural constructions in the Hindu world.
are closer to the motivations (events) that origi- Shweder’s approach recognizes the heterogeneity
nally triggered the personal symbolization process, and culture-inclusiveness of moral reasoning of
which utilized culturally available means. However, human beings (Shweder, 1995; Shweder & Much,
in human development, some levels of symboliza- 1987; Shweder, Mahapatra, & Miller, 1987).
tion may lose all of their connection with the ini- Shweder returns to the emphasis of culturally con-
tial “triggering event” and acquire symbolic life stituted person as an agent in both subjective and
of their own in the personality of an individual. collective domains:
Furthermore, Obeyesekere’s theoretical transposi-
tion of the notion of overdetermination to the sym- . . . to imaginatively conceive of subject-dependent
bolic level is an important idea: objects (intentional worlds) and object-dependent
subjects (intentional persons) interpenetrating each
. . . ”[S]ymbolic remove” is based on the other’s identities or setting the conditions for each
psychoanalytic idea that symbols in principle, if not other’s existence and development, while jointly
always in practice, show infinite substitutionability. undergoing change through social interaction . . .
Related to this idea is another principle of the work (Shweder, 1990, p. 25)
of culture that psychoanalysis has not, and could
not, consider seriously since it would threaten The personal minds (object-dependent persons)
the isomorphism between symbol and symptom. construct mental and affective order out of chaos of
And that is the principle of disconnection of the everyday events—hence, an illusory view of reality
symbol from the sources of motivation. Substitution is constructed by persons but on the basis of the
implies that symbiol X related to motive Y can be culture. Shweder has been a consistent critic of psy-
replaced by symbols A, B, or C . . . n. A, B, C are all chology’s “culture myopia” (taking the role of “the
“isomorphic replacements” of X, related to motive grand confusionist” by his own designation), point-
Y in identical or similar manner. “Disconnection” ing out that psychology—even its cross-cultural
questions the postulated isomorphism and version—has ignored culture as the central player in
suggests that A,B,C, . . . n might exhibit degrees the domain of human psyche.
of symbolic remove from Y and might eventually
lose its connection with Y . . . Admittedly, total A Single Example Matters: How Mr.
disconnection is rare, but one can make a reasonable Babaji is Important for Psychology
case that the more the symbol is removed from the Shweder’s specific work on the organization of
sources of motivation the more it gets the attribute the self in Hindu collective-cultural contexts takes
of arbitrariness, thus approximating the Saussurean the form of elaboration of specific personal-cul-
idea of the arbitrary relation between signifier and tural transformations of socially shared knowledge.
signified. Everyday conversations surrounding the developing
(Obeyesekere, 1990, p. 58) person are filled with cultural suggestions for how

va lsin er 13
to interpret the nature of experience in accordance the concerns by many scholars over the twentieth
with social representations (Markova, 2003, 2011). century (e.g., Baldwin, 1930; Michell, 1999, 2003,
Shweder encountered specific collective-cul- 2005; Rudolph, 2006a, 2006b), they point out:
tural organization of moral discourse in his efforts
Quantification is neither a necessary nor sufficient
to apply Kohlbergian moral dilemmas in Hindu
condition for science. No-one questions the scientific
contexts in Orissa. His elaborate dispute with
status of biology without quantification . . . . The
the informant Babaji (Shweder & Much, 1987,
price of quantification is a ‘loss’ of information, as
pp. 235–244) revealed how a Western collective-
when rich qualitative data are reduced to sets of
culturally shared “moral dilemma” (stealing/not
numbers, such as frequency counts, means, and
stealing a drug under life-threatening illness of
variances. Quantitative data have to be translated
one’s wife and drug-owner’s refusal to provide it
into qualitative statements if their meanings and
by special arrangements) can be translated into a
implications are to be spelled out, communicated to
completely different personal-cultural issue (i.e.,
and received by the researcher’s audience.
sinning vs. not sinning via stealing for one’s wife,
(Ho et al., 2007, p. 380)
even if the latter’s life is in jeopardy). By way of spe-
cific combination of collective-cultural meanings Qualitative perspectives are clearly on the ascent in
of “sin,” “wife” (as “belonging to” the husband), contemporary psychology at large (Diriwächter &
“multiple lives,” and “inevitability of death,” a set Valsiner, 2006, 2008; Gelo, Braakman, & Benetka,
of alternative personal-culturally allowable scenar- 2008; Mey & Mruck, 2005, 2007; Michell, 2004).
ios for the action of the person in a dilemma situa- This is more easily fitted to cultural psychology—
tion is being constructed (see also Menon, 2003, on where the molar level units of analysis resist quanti-
Hindu moral discourses). Cultural-psychological fication anyway (e.g., Toomela, 2008b, pp. 64–65,
investigations are necessarily of unique events—yet on psychology’s production of meaningless num-
of those that happen within a hierarchy of social bers). To ask the question “how much of [X= “love”,
contexts. Instead of situating cultural psychology “hatred”. . . .]?” presumes the unitary quality of that
on the socio-political landscape (Ratner, 2008, X and its nature together with homogeneity of the
2012), it is the macro-social organization of soci- presumed substance (X), which makes it possible to
ety that becomes analyzed in micro-social activity apply quantitative measurement units to it. Hence
contexts. Here the traditions of micro-sociology of the assumption of quantifiability rules out from the
culture give cultural psychology a lead—generaliza- outset the possibility of transformation of quality
tion from a carefully studied single specimen can by separating the latter from whatever numbers
be sufficient. are attached to the phenomena in the act of “being
measured.”
Qualitative Methodology As the Root for
All Methods in Psychology Unity of Quality and Quantity
A liberation movement is happening in psy- All quantitative approaches constitute a subclass
chology—an effort to topple the socially norma- of qualitative ones but not vice versa. Psychology
tive fixed role of the quantitative methods as having treats numbers as if they are objective in contrast
the monopoly of being “scientific.” Yet making to mathematics. For example, the difference of 0
the qualitative and quantitative methods look like (zero) and 1 (one) and 2 (two) in case of psychol-
they oppose each other as two rivals is an unpro- ogy’s assumption of interval or ratio scale treats each
ductive stance—which is even not overcome by the of these numbers as equally meaningful. Yet they are
“cocktail” metaphor of giving preference to “mixed not; the concept of 0 (zero) is in its quality different
methods.” from 1 or 2. Zero indicates a dialogue:
In reality, quantity is a derivate of quality. As
Zero means both all (excessive) or none (void). The
Ho et al. (2007) have demonstrated, contemporary
dialogical process includes the middle, which gets
social sciences that treat qualitative and quantitative
excluded in the dichotomies.
methods as if these were opposing methodologies
(Tripathi & Leviatan, 2003, p. 85)>
are introducing a false dichotomy. Research ques-
tions in psychology—as long as psychology is not Thus, psychology’s—not only cultural psycholo-
hyperformalized by mathematical ideas—are asked gies’—core conceptual problem is not merely “dual-
in philosophical terms, hence qualitatively. Echoing isms” of all kinds but of the understanding of the

14 culture in psycho log y


dualities (or multiplicities) inherent in what seems functioning—between the consensual reflection
to be a unitary point to which a number can be eas- about one’s group membership (e.g., “as an X [i.e.,
ily assigned (Wagoner & Valsiner, 2005). “an American”] I am Y [“individualistic”], not Z
The issue—treating science of psychology as an [“collectivistic”]) and the circumstances for action
act of assigning numbers to qualitative phenom- (“while an X in general—in situation S, I am Z”).
ena (to get data) has been discussed critically by Because each person is context-bound, no statement
Rudolph (2006a, 2006b, 2006c, 2009) as well as about one’s cultural label (“individualist” vs. “collec-
Toomela (2007b, 2008a). The social consensus of tivist”) can characterize the negotiation between the
number assignment guarantees no science—hence opposites and the situation demands. The tension
much of psychology’s data analytic practices are of is thus granted by the social community (see Mead,
the kind of cultural artifacts that may belong to a 2001/1931, on the role of community in U.S.
museum rather than contribute to advancement of society). By the regular cross-cultural psychology
knowledge. The cultural nature of the meaning of nomenclature, the United States is considered to be
“statistical significance” has been shown to be one “individualistic,” yet if one looks at the level of person–
of such widespread artifacts (Ziliak & McCloskey, community relations, it looks very “collectivistic.”
2008). That person is therefore necessarily analyzable as
More importantly, the crucial conceptual mis- a dynamic structure of multiple parts—such as
hap in psychology is the reduction of the notion of Autonomous-Related Self (Kagitçibasi, 1996, 2005;
abstract formal models of mathematics to the use of Tuli & Chaudhary, 2010) or in terms of dialogical
only one kind of numbers—real numbers. At the self (Hermans, 2001, 2002; Hermans & Dimaggio,
same time, many cultural-psychological phenom- 2007; Salgado & Gonçalves, 2007).
ena are better fitted with models using imaginary It is here—at the unity of various parts within
numbers (Valsiner & Rudolph, 2008) and topologi- the whole—that cultural-psychological processes
cal models (Rudolph, 2008a, 2008b, 2009). Such make stability out of instability; parents operate at
number systems may be better fitted for dealing the intersection of various cultural models (Keller,
with the phenomena of uncertainty of living (Abbey, Demuth, & Yovsi, 2008), and kindergarten teachers
2004, 2007, 2011; Golden & Mayseless, 2008) and evoke danger scenarios for children in the middle of
with dynamic boundaries-making (and unmaking) mundane everyday activities (Golden & Mayseless,
in human social lives (Madureira, 2007a, 2007b, 2008). The cultural-psychological worlds are relational
2011; Tsoulakas, 2007). Tsoukalas (2007) has worlds, yet that recognition leads us to inquire into
brought the issue of religiosities—differentiating what relational could mean.
doctrinal and imagistic types—back to our focus
of attention. Specific cultural practices of commu- Relationships As Boundaries
nication—turned into institutionalized framework Cultural tools both set up boundaries—by way
through activities like prayer (del Rio & Alvarez, of classification—and set the stage for transforming
29007), asking for forgiveness (Brinkmann, 2010; them (Boesch, 2008). As Boesch sets up these two
Phillips, 2007), apologizing, and many others may functions of culture—classification and transforma-
lead the way toward cultural psychology of religious tion—we can expand these from two different func-
sentiments. tions into one. Although classification (“this belongs
to A”) creates the distinction with the rest (non-A),
From Oppositional Terms to Unity of it also sets up the boundary {A || non-A}. The act of
Opposites classifying is simultaneously boundary-setting, and
Psychology has usually adhered to exclusive sepa- boundary is the trigger for its overcoming, by way of
ration of opposites along the lines of Aristotelian- transformation {A |is becoming| non-A}. As such,
Boolean two-valued logic. Consider the basic classification and transformation are two mutually
opposition of “individualist” versus “collectivist” linked processes. Boundaries of gender (Madureira,
cultures—a staple organizer of knowledge in cross- 2007a, 2007b, 2011) and body (Ingold, 2004) turn
cultural psychology. Societies on the Globe are out to be both solidly protected and quasi-perme-
divided into either “individualist” or “collectivist” able. Human social life entails constant boundary
and contrasted with each other. construction (Joffe & Staerklé, 2007) and trans-
Matsumoto (2003) has specified the location formation—social classes create their boundaries
where tension can be located in human cultural in urban globalizing worlds (Tevik, 2006) together

va lsin er 15
with opening up the possibility of transcending types become coordinated in the making of a holis-
these boundaries. By creating boundaries, we cre- tic cultural order (Diriwächter & Valsiner, 2008).
ate objects, which are simultaneously physical and Last—but not least—the increasing interest
cultural entities. in objects in cultural psychology leads to its new
relationship with another discipline—that of arche-
Cultural Objects ology. Empirical evidence from the structure of
Objects are not just material “things” that exist objects used by human beings in the past in various
in and of themselves but distinguished contrasts social contexts becomes functional for understand-
between a figure and the ground. Thus, a black ing the present and the future (González-Ruibal,
point on a white surface is an object, based on a 2005, 2006, 2011). It is in this historical focus—of
relationship of the figure and the ground. Human objects-in-their context (in case of archaeology)
cultural histories are filled with hyper-rich construc- and meanings-in-their context (in case of cultural
tion of such objects through abundant use of signs. psychology)—that a new interdisciplinary synthesis
We create our lives through ornaments, which seem of knowledge is likely to emerge in the future.
to us to carry decorative purposes, yet these decora-
tions abound and can be found in unexpected loca- Preview of the Handbook
tions (Valsiner, 2008). By our constructive actions The 12 sections of the Handbook are merely an
we turn things into objects. orientation device for the reader to orient oneself
We live among objects—and relate to them: in the large heterogeneous field of cultural psychol-
ogy. The chapters in the historical section (I) situate
The words “object,” objectus, objet, Gegenstand, ogetto,
both the previous efforts to unite culture and psy-
voorwerp all share the root meaning of a throwing
chology (Diriwächter, 2012; Jahoda, 2012) as well
before, a putting against or opposite, an opposing.
as provide an insight into the role of Vygotsky (van
In the English verb “to object” the oppositional,
der Veer, 2011). Different other chapters in other
even accusatory sense of the word is still vivid. In an
parts of the Handbook (Magnus & Kull, 2012 on
extended sense, objects throw themselves in front
the role of von Uexkyll; Tarasti, 2012, on various
of us, smite the senses, thrust themselves into our
philosophical tendencies that underlie the semiotic
consciousness. They are neither subtle nor evanescent
perspectives in cultural psychology) show how the
nor hidden. Neither effort nor ingenuity nor
scientific minds of various backgrounds have been
instruments are required to detect them. They do not
looking for solutions to similar problems. History
need to be discovered or investigated; they possess
of the social sciences is a rich ground for finding
self-evidence of a slap in the face.
out how different theoretical efforts emerged—yet
(Daston, 2000, p. 2)
failed to reach solutions to the problems.
It is not surprising that cultural psychology becomes The key message from our turn to history is the
increasingly interested in the study of meaningful need to rejuvenate the theoretical schemes of psy-
objects. Cultural objects are everywhere—in our pri- chology by touching on similar solutions attempted
vate domains of homes (including the homes them- in other sciences. Semiotics (Innis, 2010, 2012;
selves) and in public (in the streets, town squares, Magnus & Kull, 2012; Tarasti, 2012) stands out as
etc.). They are both stationary (temples, monu- a new and very promising peer for psychology. This
ments, etc.) and moving (buses, trains, airplanes, is complemented by bringing the science of archeol-
etc.). As Bastos (2008) pointed out, these objects ogy into contact with psychology (Gonzalez-Ruibal,
can be seen as “tattoos on the collective soul,” and 2012).
they bring into cultural psychology the method- Cultural psychology benefits from conceptual-
ological credo of visual anthropology. The kind of izing the notion of positioning—a geographic met-
meaning-making in the creation of such (moving aphor that allows for elaboration of the multiplicity
or stationary) wholes is of hybrid nature, includ- of psychological phenomena (Harré, 2012; Bento
ing indexical, iconic, and symbolic signs (to follow et al., 2012). When the notion of positioning is linked
C. S. Peirce’s basic typology). Cultural psychologists with that of social representations (Aveling et al.,
of the semiotic orientation have usually detected 2010) we gain a multifaceted dynamic view into the
varied versions of encoded versions in their descrip- human lives as these move through various social
tions of objects, whereas the jeepney example forces settings. Obviously such positions are themselves
us to look for principles by which different sign embedded in the macro-social settings, as Ratner

16 culture in psycho log y


(2008, 2012) reminds us. Through the synthesis using narratives (Brockmeier, 2011) or focusing on
of positioning theory, social representation theory the micro-level discourse phenomena (Murakami,
(Marková, 2003, 2012), and the macro-cultural 2011) is a notable direction for future development
look, cultural psychology can arrive at a hierarchy of of culture within psychological research. Into the
“niches” of socially embedded and personally con- human propensity of narrating—all over the life-
structed phenomena. All these are united through course—enter different semiotic resources (Eco,
the use of semiotic tools at all levels of that social 2009; Zittoun, 2007, 2012) and we consolidate our
hierarchy (Innis, 2012; Salvatore, 2012; Sonesson, selves around the images of fictional characters from
2010; Tarasti, 2012). novels, movies, or revered historical figures. The
Yet at the beginning of all efforts to unite culture connections of psychological data and different lit-
and psychology is the act—a purposeful, meaning- erary constructions are being explored in contempo-
ful, future-oriented movement by a willful person rary cultural psychology (Brinkmann, 2006, 2007,
(Boesch, 2011; Eckensberger, 2011). Action theory 2009; Johansen, 2010; Moghaddam, 2004). The
is unabashedly focused on the symbolic (see also creative writers may have had better insights into
Bruner, 1986; Salvatore, 2011). Although the semi- the complexities of the human psyche than North
otically organized ACTING PERSON–SOCIAL American college undergraduates diligently putting
POSITIONING–SOCIAL REPRESENTATION– pencil marks onto the myriads of Likert scales.
MACRO-CULTURAL ORDER hierarchy could be It is for the reason of providing resources that
considered the vertical axis of cultural psychology, it culture in psychology needs to consider the history
is important to pay attention to its horizontal coun- of human beings (Carretero & Bermudez, 2012;
terpart. The latter entails the transitions between Winston & Winston, 201=2). That history entails
different culturally structured contexts within which the construction of meaning about one’s social
human beings act, position themselves, and become and economic status as well as that of the others.
involved in macro-social activities. The home leads, “Being poor” may look different from various defi-
through an entrance, to the street, the city square, nitions of social positioning, as can objective state
to the road that leaves the city for the rural coun- of economic status (Bastos & Rabinovich, 2009,
tryside. Airplanes take us 10 kilometers above the 2012). So does the construction of the notion of
ground, where our positioning ourselves is sur- race (Winston & Winston, 2012). Behind all these
rounded by white clouds and thinking of the past socially constructed human phenomena are very
that we left behind while taking off and the future real biological bodies of Homo sapiens. Historically
that awaits us in the airport where we are about to oriented cultural psychology needs to look at the
land. Kharlamov (2012) brings to cultural psychol- phylogenesis of cultural means. The Handbook pro-
ogy the notion of moving between different spaces— vides a glimpse into our thinking about the new-
and the role of constant meaning construction “on est developments in the studies of primate cultures
line” as such movement takes place. This resonates (C. Boesch, 2012) and gives the readers a glimpse
well with the focus on migration as human main into the biosemiotic look at the animal world
modus operandi—from micro-migration (movement (Magnus & Kull, 2012). Theoretically, contempo-
between home and workplace, home and school), rary cultural psychology shares the ground with epi-
temporary work-related migration (sailors at sea, genetic thinking in biology (Tavory et al., 2012).
guest workers in foreign lands), immigration, and Human beings move around—as tourists, pil-
establishment of oneself in a far away place. By the grims, traders, warriors, or vagabonds. In such
twenty-first century, the latter includes extra-terres- movements, they enhance their horizons of “the
trial spaces—as long as the ideas of “colonizing the Other”—persons, customs, habits, and economic
Moon” (or Mars) are entertained as potential future opportunities. Understanding people-in-movement
projects. In all these migrations—real or imaginary, is a crucial task for cultural psychology (Gillespie
temporary or permanent—we can observe the unity et al., 2012; Kharlamov, 2012). The hybrid trajec-
of the self and the other (Bento et al., 2012; Simão, tory of self-willed movement—the pilgrimage—is
2012). The human being needs to relate to the other a cultural phenomenon that dynamically unites the
to be oneself and develop further while being one- otherwise static rural–urban, religious–secular, and
self. An important part in that is creating stories— nomadic–sedentary oppositions. The pilgrim’s path
both about oneself and about the other. In this is not geographic but psychological (Beckstead,
respect, the developing qualitative research practice 2012).

va lsin er 17
Complex psychological functions of social kind Encountering the rich material in this Handbook
are covered in Part X of the Handbook. Perhaps the is a multilinear experience for the reader—a worth-
most crucial issue is the way in which duties and while effort, so as to make sense of where psychol-
rights (Moghaddam et al., 2012) are linked with the ogy so far has failed and to get some ideas of better
construction of values (Branco, 2012). In a coun- future for the human sciences of the future. It is our
terweight to the Euro-American discourse on such hope that this Handbook becomes a rich resource
higher processes, Nsamenang (2012) has provided for future generations of thinkers who want to see
a contextualized perspective from the vantage point culture in the psyche and let psychology as a science
of African societies. enter the social realities of cultural organization.
The basic tenet of cultural psychology—in con-
trast to cross-cultural psychology—is the inclu- Notes
sion of the social institutions in which people 1. The first two having been the times of Völkerspsychologie,
1860–1920, and the efforts of the “culture and personality”
participate in the study of the cultural ways of
school in cultural anthropology in the 1950s.
living (see Valsiner, 2007, on two ways of knowl- 2. The boy who was trained by John B. Watson, one of the
edge creation). Our Handbook looks at a number originators of behaviorism
of social practices—those in the macro-structure 3. The infant chimpanzee who was raised by Ladygina-Kohts
of a school (Daniels, 2012; Marsico & Iannacone, (2002, original in 1935 ) in the classic study of chimpanzee
development in human environments
2012, Marsico, Komatsu & Iannaccone, 2012) The
4. Wolfgang Köhler’s best known research participant on the
educational contexts can—and do—change; our Tenerife.
Handbook covers the ways in which interventions 5. It is important to note that the intricate link with the
have been observed (Downing-Wilson et al., 2012; dialectical dynamicity of the units—which is present in the Rus-
Lopez et al., 2012). sian original-- is lost in English translation, which briefly stated
only the main point in a summarizing fashion: “Psychology, which
All human beings who participate in the activi-
aims at a study of complex holistic systems, must replace the method
ties of social institutions are acting on the basis of of analysis into elements with the method of analysis into units”
their affective relations with the immediate social (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 5). Yet it remains unclear in the English
worlds. Chaudhary (2012) demonstrates how the translation what kinds of units are to be constructed—those that
normative stance for such relations is the strategic entail oppositional relationships between parts—while in the
Russian original it is made evident.
coalition-making in family networks—filled with
affective construction of dramas. The centrality of
play (van Oers, 2012) in human lives guarantees References
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24 culture in psycho log y


CHAPTER

Culture and Psychology: Words and


1 Ideas in History

Gustav Jahoda

Abstract
This chapter provides an historical overview of the links of culture and psychology from antiquity to the
present time. The roots of interest in culture are traced to the social practices of travel—exploration,
trade, conquest, and administration—that lead to experiencing other human beings as living by very
different practices. Psychology emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth century European thought
that carried various cultural prejudices into its mainstream. This took place in the context of basic
philosophical tension between nature and nurture as causal streams resulting in cultural differences. Over
most of the period nurture predominated, with a sharp reversal during the nineteenth century when race
came to the fore.Yet it was after the middle of that century that the terminology began to change and
culture—the name, not the concept—entered the vocabulary. Cultural psychology of today is in a position
to see mind and culture as mutually constituted.
Keywords: history, culture, Völkerpsychologie, mind, exploration, customs

Like some Freudian terms, culture has now it meant producing or developing something, such
become part of our everyday vocabulary. As such, it as “the culture of barley” or “the culture of the arts,”
is usually coupled with a range of adjectives to indi- and it is still applied in this sense, as in the phrase
cate some undefined properties of a category, such “the culture of bacteria.” In English, the first use of
as “adolescent culture,” “consumer culture,” “liter- “Culture” in the figurative sense of improvement
ary culture,” “tabloid culture,” “visual culture,” and or refinement by education and training dates back
so on. Such ordinary usage is regarded as unprob- to the early sixteenth century. More than three fur-
lematic, whereas the social sciences have agonized ther centuries had to elapse before it was employed
over the meaning of culture for more than half a in more or less its current quasi-technical sense by
century and continue to do so. In 1952, Kroeber Tylor ([1871]1958), whose approach will be more
and Kluckhohn published their well-known mono- fully discussed later. Initially culture was mainly used
graph that listed some 160 proposed definitions. in the singular to denote a property of humankind
For reasons that will be explained later, no defini- in general, and it was not until the 1930s that a clear
tion will be offered here, but the history of the word distinction came to be drawn between “culture-in-
will be outlined. general” and “a culture” as one of many different
The original source of the term was cultivation1, cultures.
as in “agriculture,” although already in Roman So far this may seem rather straightforward, but in
times Cicero used the expressions cultura animi for fact matters are more complicated. Tylor’s definition
the training of the mind and cultura mentis in a figu- began with the phrase “Culture or Civilization . . . ,”
rative sense to refer to philosophy. But for centuries indicating his view, then widely held, that these

25
terms were synonyms2. There are further compli- apart from the cumbersomeness of a constantly
cations because, as shown by Elias (1982), there changing vocabulary, there is a case for using the
are national differences in the meanings of these term culture as a kind of rough-and-ready shorthand
terms. In France, civilisation was seen as a univer- for past ideas. The argument rests on the fact that
sal feature of the (superior) West, encompassing a the absence of a term does not preclude the presence
cluster of features including economic, political, of concepts, otherwise articulated, which at least
technological, social, and moral ones. In Germany, broadly correspond to, or overlap with, what we
for historical reasons, civilization that transcends understand today by culture. These include expres-
national boundaries was conceived as something sions like “customs” or “the genius of a people.”
external and even threatening to their Kultur, Such notions again go back to antiquity and gradu-
which embodied their particular national values. In ally came to be more clearly formulated, so that
more recent times, these distinctions have become by the eighteenth century prominent thinkers put
somewhat blurred without being altogether elimi- forward ideas dealing with the relationship between
nated.3 It will be clear, therefore, that the term cul- salient features of peoples or societies and their psy-
ture is of relatively recent origin and that there are chological characteristics.
variations over time and place in the manner it is An example of past usage will help to illustrate
understood. this, and I have chosen for this purpose Michel de
Montaigne’s famous essay “On cannibals” written
Psychology: Its Historical Roots in the sixteenth century:
Let me now turn briefly to psychology, a term that
. . . il n’y a rien de barbare et de sauvage en cette
goes back to the end of the seventeenth century.
nation . . . sinon que chacun appelle barbarie ce qui
There was and remains a general consensus that it
n’est pas de son usage; comme de vray il semble que
refers to the study of the (mainly human) mind. In
nous n’avoms autre mire de la verité et de la raison
the present—historical—context, it will be inter-
que l’exemple et idée des opinions et usances du pais
preted more broadly as psychological features attrib-
ou nous sommes.
uted to (usually other) peoples.
(Montaigne [1580] 1954, p. 33)
At this point the reader might well begin to
doubt whether the implicit promise of the title of In the above, reproduced in the original archaic
this chapter is really capable of being fulfilled, as French, Montaigne is saying that everyone calls
it entails a retrospective application of the concepts “barbarism” whatever does not correspond to their
of “psychology” and “culture.” There seems to be own customs; and he states that we have no other
no fundamental difficulty with regard to psychol- criterion of truth and reason than the example of the
ogy, as long as one thinks of it as concerned with opinions and customs of the country in which we
the mind, which in turn is a key aspect of human find ourselves. Now these “opinions and customs”
nature. Ideas about human nature not only go back are important aspects of what we mean by culture.
to the beginning of recorded history but exist in The view that Montaigne can be regarded as having
some form in all known human societies, and they been concerned with culture is widely shared, and
are being studied now under the heading of “indige- a number of commentators have described him as
nous psychologies.”4 For earlier periods, long before one of the first “cultural relativists”—that is, taking
the advent of specializations, one can draw freely on the view that each culture should be judged only in
the writings of a wide range of thinkers, including terms of its own standards. Corresponding notions,
philosophers, physicians, naturalists, travelers and, such as Voltaire’s “moeurs et esprit” or Hume’s “moral
later, anthropologists and sociologists. Such usage causes” of differences between peoples, were wide-
is sanctioned by the practice of most conventional spread in the eighteenth century. This, of course,
histories of psychology. For despite of the fact that should not occasion any surprise. A term like culture
the term psychology dates back only to the sixteenth is a kind of construct that groups together a set of
century, authors usually have no compunction in phenomena and what makes up the set will largely
tracing origins back to antiquity. be a function of implicit or explicit theoretical
By contrast, there appear at first sight to be assumptions. Past thinkers made different assump-
strong objections to the retrospective use of the tions and applied different labels, yet they were
elusive term culture, which has undergone radical concerned with similar phenomena. Even today the
changes over time. Let me try to show that, quite boundaries between what is and what is not to be

26 c ulture an d psycho log y


treated as culture remain fuzzy, with considerable prevalent in their time. On the other hand, Thucidides
divergences of views. Thus I would submit that it is (c. 460–c. 400 BC) and Herodotus (c. 485–c. 425
defensible to employ the term culture diachronically BC) were historians whose work was at least partly
to designate a certain commonality of—admittedly based on observations. The former’s History of the
somewhat vague—meanings. Peloponnesian war was a masterly account of Greek
history but not only that. Thucidides wanted to
Antiquity and Middle Ages5 explain that history in terms of what he regarded
The Greeks as fundamental human nature and sought to ana-
The origins of most aspects of western thought lyze the motivations of the actors and as such was
can be traced back to figures from ancient Greece, described by Collingwood ([1946] 1961, p. 142) as
and the present theme is no exception. Among the founder of psychohistory. In undertaking this
them, one of the most prominent was of course analysis, he did not ignore the effect of external cir-
Aristotle (384–322 BC), whose teachings retained cumstances as these interacted with the common
their authority for more than one-and-a-half millen- human nature. The same principle was applied by
nia. Mainly in de Anima (but also in other works), his contemporary Hippocrates (c. 460–c. 377 B.C.)
he laid the foundations of a theoretical psychology. the “father of medicine.” According to him, one has
Here only a few relevant comments can be singled to consider a series of factors to arrive at a correct
out. Aristotle often disagreed with his teacher Plato judgment about illnesses: general human nature,
(c.428–c.348), but when it came to the external fac- the particular constitution of the individual, the cli-
tors (chiefly climatic and geographical) influencing mate in general and its specific manifestation, and
peoples’ psychologies, they followed much the same regional influences.
lines: Although Thucidides was able to personally
observe aspects of the war, he did not have much
Some regions are unsuitable or unfavourable, to say about other peoples. Herodotus, on the other
probably owing to the prevailing winds and the heat hand, traveled widely and collected extensive ethno-
of the sun; others because of the water or even the graphic data in Egypt, Babylonia, India, Persia, and
food that comes from the soil and which not only Scythia (the region north of the Black Sea). The list
provides better or poorer nourishment, but also can of topics he covered is a long one, including: race,
have no lesser consequences on the souls. looks, intelligence, virtues and vices, language, occu-
(Plato, Politeia II) pations and skills, food, sexuality, various rites (e.g.,
This is not to say that Plato placed major emphasis naming and funerals), sciences, arts, religion, his-
on such influences, because he took the view that tory, notable personalities, geography, and climate.
willingness to learn, strength of memory, and a keen In addition to direct observation, he also questioned
mind can be produced by education and appropri- local people. Well aware of the dangers of what we
ate laws. now call “ethnocentrism,” he was rarely judgmental.
Aristotle went into rather more details: His view is epitomized in the following passage:
. . . if someone were to assign to every person in the
Namely the peoples of the cold regions and those
world the task of selecting the best of all customs,
in Europe have a courageous character, but are
each one, after thorough consideration, would
behind in intelligence and skill; they also prefer to
choose those of this own people, so strongly do
be free but lack an organized state and are incapable
humans believe that their own customs are the best
of dominating their neighbours. Asian peoples, by
ones. Therefore only a madman would treat such
contrast, are intelligent and artistically gifted but
things as a laughing matter. There are many weighty
inactive, and therefore they live in subjection and as
proofs which confirm that all people have these
servants. The Greek people lives so to speak in the
strong attachments to their own customs, but let me
middle between them and therefore partakes of both
describe this particularly interesting one: during his
these characters. For it is courageous and intelligent.
reign, Darius summoned the Hellenes at his court
Hence it is free, has the best state, and is able to
and ask them how much money they would accept
dominate everything . . . . .
for eating the bodies of their dead fathers. They
(Aristotle, Politeia VII)
answered that they would not do this for any amount
The views of these philosophers were entirely of money. Later, Darius summoned some Indians
speculative, no doubt drawing on ideas that were called Kallatiai, who do eat their dead parents. In the

ja h oda 27
presence of the Hellenes . . . he asked the Indians how 500 to 1500. It has rightly been called the “Age
much money they would accept to burn the bodies of Faith”—gone were the bold speculations of the
of their dead fathers. They responded with an outcry, Greeks, and horizons narrowed. A great deal was
ordering him to shut his mouth lest he offend the written on what might be called “Christian psy-
gods. Well then, that is how people think, and so it chology” by St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas, but
seems to me that Pindar was right when he said in his not without merit it was essentially the study of the
poetry that custom is king of all. soul.7 Contact with the world outside Europe was
(Herodotus [c. 440 BC], 2008, Book III, p. 38) limited, except for Muslim countries, which were
seen as the enemy. The world beyond was perceived
Herodotus also related the story of the Egyptian king
as being peopled by Pliny’s “monstrous races” (cf.
Psymmetichos (seventh century BC), who wanted
Friedman, J.B. (1981). The typical description cited
to find out experimentally who the first people were.
below is from the fabled Sir John Mandeville’s travel
For this purpose he obtained two newborn children
reports:
and handed them to shepherds, with strict instruc-
tions that not a single word must be spoken in their And in those isles there are many manner of folk
presence. One day, after 2 years, the children called of divers conditions. In one of them is a manner of
“bekos.” They repeated this when brought before folk of great stature, as they were giants, horrible
the king, who instituted enquiries from which he and foul to the sight; and they have but one eye,
learned that “bekos” was the Phrygian word for and that is in the midst of their forehead. They eat
“bread.” Hence, he concluded that they were the raw flesh and raw fish. In another isle are foul men
most ancient people.6 of figure without heads, and they have eyes in either
This brief sketch has concentrated on a just a few shoulder one, and their mouths are shaped round like
outstanding figures, and many more contributed. a horseshoe, y-midst their breasts. In another isle are
Even so, it will be clear that the outlook of some of men without heads; and their eyes and their mouths
the intellectual elite was wide-ranging and, in some are behind their shoulders.
respects, remarkably modern. (Letts ([1346?] 1953, Vol.1, pp. 141, 142)

The Romans The existence of the “monstrous races,” including


A great deal of their learning was transmitted creatures that were half-human and half-goat, was
to the Romans from the Greeks, and their brilliant believed by Albertus Magnus (1200–1280), one
innovations were mainly in technology. A huge of the great scholars of the Middle Ages. For him
compendium of all then existing knowledge, from a marginal case on the boundary between animal
Astronomy to Zoology, was assembled by Pliny the and human was the pygmy, of whom he probably
Elder (pp. 24–79). It includes sections on humans heard from Greek sources. His main criteria were
and quasi-humans, the latter becoming important psychological ones: pygmies have memory and are
later. In Julius Caesar’s account of the Gallic war, able to compare memory images, but they lack
he discussed not merely the characters of different abstract concepts. Albertus likened them to feeble-
tribes but described how cultural change can come minded humans possessing only the shadow of
about: reason. Hence, he concluded, they are incapable of
civitas—what we would call culture.
Among them the most courageous are the Belgers, An earlier saint and scholar, Isidore of Seville
because they live most remote from the civilization (c. 560–c. 636) had put forward a climatic theory of
(cultu atque humanitate) of the Roman province; and psychological characteristics:
also because traders bringing luxury goods, which
could weaken their character, seldom reach them. In accordance with diversity of climate, the
(De bello Gallico , I,I,3) appearance of men and their colour and bodily size
vary and diversities of mind appear. Thence we see
Other writers, like Tacitus, made similar comments. that the Romans are dignified, the Greeks unstable,
Generally, however, much of their thought on the the Africans crafty, the Gauls fierce by nature . . .
topic was derived from the Greeks. (cited in Slotkin, 1965, p. 5)

The Middle Ages Climatic theories of various kinds persisted until


These lasted from the fall of the Roman Empire the nineteenth century and were not confined
to the Renaissance, roughly the millennium from to Christian Europe. Regarding Europeans, the

28 c ulture an d psycho log y


Muslim writer Masudi (?1–956) noted, “The far- the way for a renewed interest in the cultures of
ther they are to the north the more stupid, gross, Greece and Rome, which in turn liberated minds.
and brutish they are” (cited in Lewis, 1994, p. 139). Renaissance travelers eagerly sought personal fame
In the year 1068, Said Ibn Ahmad, from Toledo in as well as proclaiming the goal of converting the
Spain, wrote a treatise on the types of cultures. He pagans. One can clearly discern the ethnocentric
divided them into two groups: those who contribute anchoring of the concern with exotic peoples. At
to science and learning, including Arabs, Egyptians, the same time there was a search for a perspective
Greeks, Romans and Jews and those he considered whereby one might locate “the Others” in time and
to be progressively more stupid and ignorant with space for the purpose of systematic comparison, and
increasing distance from the sun, including people with a view to gaining a better understanding of
living in the north; Chinese and Turks were treated one’s own individuality and society (Rowe, 1965).
as marginal. The period was also characterized by an
The most remarkable of the Muslim Arab schol- immense—albeit somewhat diffuse—curiosity,
ars was Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) who wrote a trea- manifesting itself in a passion for collecting a wide
tise on the history and theory of social and political range of natural objects and artifacts, as well as by
change, which he regarded as cyclical. Many of his receptivity to new ideas. The travel literature result-
ideas have an astonishingly modern ring, such as ing from these voyages therefore found an avid
his view that stability depends on “group feeling”; public. Although the first-hand accounts by travel-
again, here are his comments on culture: ers were often sober and factual, it did not follow
that belief in the fabulous had disappeared. Popular
Culture is not an independent substance, but a
travel books embroidered the tales—describing, for
property . . . of another substance which is man.
example, the inhabitants of the New World as “blue
Hence the natural character of culture must have
in colour and with square heads.” One of the most
reference to what is natural to man, i.e. to his nature
successful of these collections, the Cosmographia
and is what differentiates him from the rest of the
by Sebastian Muenster (1544), presented an indis-
animal world.
criminate mixture of the old “monstrous races” and
(Mahdi, 1971, p. 173)
the newly discovered “savages.” Yet despite the per-
Significantly, the subtitle of his opus is A Study in sistence of fables, the Renaissance saw an unprec-
the Philosophic Foundation of the Science of Culture. edented expansion of the European intellectual
Although it is not clear what Arabic word was horizon in terms of both the physical and human
glossed as culture, there can be little doubt that it worlds.
must be close to our concept, probably more so With a vast expansion of travel, exploration, and
than any of the notions discussed so far. colonization, the material available for comparative
studies grew proportionately. From the beginning
From the Renaissance to the of that period, advice to travelers came to be pub-
Enlightenment lished. The advice included general admonitions of
Renaissance a vague kind (e.g., to mark down things observed)
In Christian Europe the fantastic image of the and moral warnings about dallying with women.
outside word was slow to change even after the Other works listed various kinds of customs and
dawn of the voyages of exploration. These began institutions that should be recorded and also men-
with Marco Polo who visited India and the Far East tioned the need to note the psychological disposi-
at the end of the thirteenth century. During the fif- tions of the people as well as their moral character,
teenth century, the Portuguese explored the West qualities, and abilities. Varen’s (1650) Geographica
Coast of Africa, later getting to the Cape of Good generalis achieved a wide circulation among travel-
Hope shortly before Columbus reached America. ers. The topics it covered, reproduced below (from
The following century saw the conquest of Mexico Malefijt, 1974, p. 45), are by no means outdated:
and Peru by the Spaniards, who also found New
Guinea. 1. Stature, shape, skin color, food habits
It was a new breed of men, created by the 2. Occupations and arts
Renaissance cult of the individual, who embarked 3. Virtues, vices, learning, wit [in the sense of
on these hazardous voyages of exploration. The all- intelligence]
embracing theological shell had cracked, opening 4. Marriage, birth, burial, name giving

ja h oda 29
5. Speech and language Of Children and Their Manners
6. State and government With us, a child of 4 years does not yet know
7. Religion how to eat properly; those in Japan eat by them-
8. Cities and renowned places selves with chopsticks from the age of 3 years.
9. History With us it is customary to whip and chastise
10. Famous men, inventions, and innovations boys; in Japan it is very rare to act in this manner,
and this applies even to reprimands.
It would, of course, be anachronistic to suppose that
the authors of such guides were thinking in terms of
anything like culture and psychology, as these cat-
The Japanese Manner of Eating
egories were then nonexistent. All they show is an
and Drinking
We drink with only one hand; the Japanese
interest in a range of topics we include under these
always do with two.
rubrics.
We like dishes cooked with milk, cheese, butter,
Among the travel literature, one of the most
or bone marrow; the Japanese abominate all that,
remarkable works, dealing with Japan, will be
which smells very bad to their nose.
briefly outlined. The first substantive contact with
Altogether Frois listed more than 400 binary
Europe began with Portuguese missionary activity
oppositions, throughout his tone remains neutral
in the sixteenth century, and from this stemmed
and objective. Differences capture attention and
the first coherent account of Japanese culture. The
interest, as already shown by Herodotus when writ-
Jesuit Father Louis Frois (1532–1597) wrote a slen-
ing about the “peculiar customs” of the Egyptians.
der volume entitled Treatise on the Contradictions
For example, he noted that Egyptian priests have
and Differences in Customs (Frois, [1585] 1998).
shaven heads, whereas in other nations they have
In the preface, he wrote: “Many of their customs
long hair.
are so strange and distant from ours that seems
almost unbelievable that there could be so many
oppositions [between us and] people who are so
The Sixteenth and Seventeenth
civilized [une grande police], have such a lively spirit
Centuries
The existence of a wide diversity of peoples
and natural wisdom” (p. 13). Evidently the good
having been established, the general question
Father was favorably disposed toward the Japanese,
arose as to the nature of the differences. The most
although he could hardly have approved of some
commonly postulated cause remained the cli-
of the customs he described. A few examples of
mate, viewed in broad sense,8 although there were
oppositions from several of his categories are cited
some dissenters. Jean Bodin (1530–1596) tried
below.
to classify peoples in terms of north and south
but was troubled by the fact that people in the
Persons and Their Clothes
same latitudes can differ. Nevertheless, as already
With us, there are many men and women with
noted, such ideas persisted. About the same
brownish spots on the skin; this is very rare with
time, a social interpretation of differences gained
Japanese, even though they are White. (Author’s
ground—namely, in the variety of customs. It was
emphasis added)
Montaigne, already cited, who most eloquently
With us, wearing painted clothes would be
described the power of custom:
regarded as mad or ridiculous; the Japanese do it
customarily. . . . the principal effect of the force of custom is to
seize and grip us so firmly, that we are scarcely able
Of Women, Their Persons and to escape from its grasp, and to gain possession of
Their Manners ourselves sufficiently to discuss and reason out its
In Europe, the honor and the supreme good of commands. In truth, since we imbibe them with
young women are the modesty and the inviolate our mother’s milk, and the world shows the same
cloister of their purity; the women of Japan set little face to our infant eyes, we seem to be born to
store by virginal purity, and losing it neither dishon- follow the same path; and the common ideas that
ors them nor prevents them from marrying. we find around us, and infused into our souls with
With us it is rare that women know how to write; the seed of our fathers, appear to be general and
an honorable woman in Japan would be held in low natural.
esteem if she did not know how to do it. (Cited in Slotkin, 1965, pp. 56–57)9

30 c ulture an d psycho log y


In his famous essay “On Cannibals” and else- began to change. It was the age of the scientific revo-
where, Montaigne applied this to what we would lution and John Locke (1632–1704), friend of Isaac
call “cultural differences” Newton, was an empiricist who stressed the need
for observation. His views on the environmental
The different customs I find in one nation after
determination of people’s characteristics were much
another please me by their very diversity . . . I am
the same as those of Descartes. Other developments
ashamed when I see my countrymen steeped in that
at that time contributed to the formation of a fresh
silly prejudice which makes them fight shy of any
perspective. Ludwig Seckendorf (1626–1692) and
customs that differ from their own . . .
William Petty (1623–1687) elaborated a system of
(p. 55)
social statistics dealing with births and deaths, show-
This insight was repeatedly voiced throughout the ing that human life is subject to order and regularity
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Here are some and could be studied quantitatively.
examples:
The Enlightenment
It is good to know something of the customs of In the eighteenth century, the authority of the
different people in order to judge more sanely of our churches became undermined by Newton’s dem-
own. onstration that the physical universe is lawful.
(Descartes, p. 104) This prompted the question whether one might
But there is another force, that ravishes away the not envisage causal laws of mind and society.
minds of men, and makes them addicted to certain Montesquieu was one of the first to attempt the for-
affections. Namely, that spirit which being appropri- mulation of such laws that would account for differ-
ate to every region, infuseth into men, as soon as they ences between societies (1689–1755):
are borne, the habits and affections of their owne I have first of all considered mankind, and concluded
country. that its infinite variety of laws and customs did not
(Barclay, p. 106) uniquely arise from arbitrary fancy. I have postulated
the principles, and have seen how particular cases fit
Custom is our nature. . . . What are our natural
them neatly.
principles but principles of custom ? In children they
(Montesquieu, [1748] 1964, p. 529)
are those which they have received from the habits of
their fathers . . ,. A different custom will cause differ- In the same work (p. 641), he also proposed that
ent natural principles. This is seen in experience; and various influences, including “the examples of
if there are some natural principles ineradicable by things past,” create “a general spirit [esprit général]”
custom, there are also some customs opposed to na- that corresponds fairly closely to what we mean by
ture, ineradicable by nature, or by a second custom. culture. The underlying assumption, then widely
(Pascal, p. 120) shared, was that human nature remains constant
and that differences result from varying historical
It is interesting that Pascal struggled with the prob-
circumstances. It was an optimistic age, based on
lem of the relationship between, in our terms,
the belief in inevitable progress driven by reason. Its
“nature versus culture,” an issue that has not gone
effects were regarded as cumulative. A typical state-
away. This is because culture is now often seen as
ment is that by Adam Ferguson (1723–1816). He
an evolutionary product (e.g., Aunger, 2000). The
begins by listing the commonalties between animals
general tendency to refer to custom in the sense
and humans, and then goes on:
of our culture long continued. Even at the end of
the nineteenth century, Bagehot (1872) employed Yet one property by which man is distinguished has
the phrase “the cake of custom” to refer to cultural been sometimes overlooked . . . In other classes of
traditions. Apart from custom, there is one other animals, the individual advances from infancy to
kind of expression, rare at that time but becoming age or maturity; and he attains, in the compass of a
more frequent subsequently: Harrington explained single life, to all the perfection his nature can reach;
national differences in terms of “The Genius of the but in the human kind, the species has a progress
Nations” (Slotkin 1965, p. 130). as well as the individual; they build in every age on
So far nearly all the ideas that have been reviewed the foundations formerly laid; and, in a succession
have been impressionistic and speculative, but dur- of years , tend to perfection in the application of
ing the second half of the seventeenth century, that their faculties, to which the aid of long experience is

ja h oda 31
required, and to which many generations must have 3. What is the extent of development of each of
combined their endeavours. their senses compared with what one encounters
(Ferguson, [1767] 1966, pp. 4–5) normally among ourselves?
4. What is the type of sensation in which they
Apart from the vocabulary used, this seems a fair
find most pleasure?
description of what is now referred to as “cultural
transmission.” There follow some comments on ways to esti-
In France Louis-Francois Jauffret (1770–1850) mate the degree of development of a particular sense
founded the Société des Observateurs de l’Homme modality, including the threshold as well as speed
in 1799. Its object was to study human nature, and accuracy of sensory judgment responses. An
including ethnic differences and their causes, the example given is the skill in estimating distances.
history of various peoples, and their customs and Observers should seek to establish whether innate
migrations, as well as child development from factors as well as practice contribute to the fre-
infancy onward. The membership consisted of a quently noted perfection of savage senses.11 They
galaxy of illustrious names in France, and a num- will also find out if blindness and deafness are more
ber of empirical studies were performed. One or less common than among Europeans, the effects
of the most ambitious ones took advantage of of such handicaps, and the modes of adaptation.
an opportunity to study “savages” at first hand. Other topics include abstract concepts; associa-
Napoleon approved the project of an expedition to tion of ideas; opinions and judgments; attention;
Australasia, and the Société commissioned Joseph- memory; imbecility; education; and child develop-
Marie Degérando (1772–1842) to prepare a kind ment. It will be noted that nearly all these topics
of handbook of methods for this purpose,10 enti- have subsequently become topics of cross-cultural
tled “Considerations on the Methods to Follow in research.
the Observation of Savage Peoples” (Degerando,
[1800] 1969). This is one of the most remarkable Against Enlightenment Thought
documents in the history of social science, which The idea of a social science based on the model of
reflects and advances the knowledge then available. physics was strongly opposed by Giambattista Vico
After two centuries, many of its recommendations (1668–1744). In The New Science ([1725] 1948),
are still valid. They will be briefly summarized, he wrote:
employing modern terminology.
At the outset, Degerando warns against a number . . . the world of civil society has certainly been made
of possible pitfalls in research, such as inadequate by men, and its principles are therefore to be found
sampling and communication errors. One should within the modifications of our own human mind.
not judge people in other cultures by ethnocentric Whoever reflects on this cannot but marvel that the
standards. It is best to become a participant observer philosophers have bent all their energies to the study
and learn the indigenous language. One should con- of the world of nature, which, since God made it, he
sider the effects of the presence of an observer. alone knows; and that they should have neglected the
The psychological topics he suggests reflect the world of nations, or civil world, which, since men
then prevailing “sensationist” theory of Condillac. had made it, men could come to know . . .
The first illustrative category will be described in (p. 331)
some detail, whereas for the others, just headings
The philosophers of the Enlightenment saw
will be listed.
human history as progressive pan-human stages
based on modes of subsistence: from hunting to pas-
Sensations toral to agricultural and finally to commercial. Vico’s
The first thing to be observed is the sensations
stages were essentially psychological in character and
of savage people, examining in detail their varieties
referred to “a world of nations,” and his concept of a
and focusing on the following four questions:
nation appears to have been very much the same as
1. What are the senses among them that are what we mean by culture. For him the language, mor-
most exercised, active, and finely discriminating? als, customs, myths, and rituals of a “nation” consti-
2. What are the conditions that might have led tuted a complex unity of interdependent parts.
to the more marked development of a particular Unlike Vico, Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–
sense modality? 1803) was in his youth an ardent disciple of the

32 c ulture an d psycho log y


Enlightenment but later came to question most of The Nineteenth Century
its ideas and values and moved much closer to the The First Half of the Nineteenth
position of Vico (although without knowing Vico’s Century
work). In opposition to the then prevalent view of This was a period of transition. With the rise of
the immutability of human nature, Herder stressed biology, human differences came to be increasingly
its variability, conditioned by historical and envi- attributed to “race,” and environmental factors
ronmental factors. tended to recede into the background. Yet most of
In one of his main works on The Origin of the figures to be discussed here bucked this trend.
Language (1772), he discusses its broader functions. One was Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835),
Language, according to him, serves not merely as who was influenced by some of Herder’s ideas but
a means of communication but also as a mode of did not believe in cultural relativity, being convinced
transmitting the ideas and feelings of past genera- of “the governing principle of universal humanity.”
tions. Thus what Herder calls “tradition” is not just Humboldt’s dominant interest is epitomized in the
a static bundle of beliefs and customs but a process title of his most important work, On the Diversity
in which past and present are fused and that gives a of Human Language Construction and Its Influence
group of people their sense of identity. This clearly on the Mental Development of the Human Species
anticipates later ideas of the transmission of culture ([1836] 1999). He held that language is the main
through the generations. glue that holds human cultures together, and he
The key term Herder applies to such a group—or had a great deal to say on the relationship between
better, organic community—is Volk. A Volk is charac- language and thought.12 Moreover, he maintained
terized by a shared language and historical tradition that social processes are an essential prerequisite for
that shape the mentality [Volksgeist] of its members, adequate cognitive functioning.
not into any permanent mold but in constant move- The nature of mental processes was the main
ment of growth and development—or decay. A Volk focus of the work of Johann Friedrich Herbart
may or may not coincide with a nation-state—it (1776–1841), best known for his writings on edu-
certainly need not do so. This concept is in fact very cational and mathematical psychology. Of course,
close to what we mean nowadays by a culture, and it is not possible here to go into details of his com-
Herder’s somewhat flowery description of the way plex theories, but some basic features have to be
in which, from infancy onward, not merely collec- briefly indicated. He envisaged an intra-individual
tive ideas but also feelings and images are conveyed system whereby different Vorstellungen (ideas and/
is essentially an account of socialization into a par- or feelings, or presentations) interact, either com-
ticular culture. bining or opposing each other. They can rise above
The diversity of human languages and cultures and/or push each other below the threshold of con-
was, for Herder, a positive value, something “good” sciousness. Subsequently he put forward the pro-
and “natural.” In contrast to most philosophers posal that the forces in society analogously reflect
of the Enlightenment’ who established scales of the individual system, which is similar to Benedict’s
“ ‘progress” whereby to evaluate different societies as (1932) contention that culture is individual psy-
“high” or “low,” “barbaric,” or “polished,” Herder chology writ large.13 Herbart also recommended
was a relativist who considered that each culture that psychologists should study people from out-
must be approached, and valued, on its own terms: side Europe:
Thus nations change according to place, time and their . . . how many of us concerned with psychology
inner character; each carries within itself the measure have been to New Zealand? How many of us have
of its perfection, incommensurable with others. occasion to observe the savages in their home setting?
(Herder [1785] 1969, vol.4, p. 362) (1825/1890, vol.6, p. 16)

Herder was also unusual in that he did not share Herbart could therefore be regarded as one of the
the then quasi-universal assumption of a gen- ancestors of cross-cultural psychology, and he fur-
eral European superiority and disapproved of the nished the theoretical underpinning for Lazarus and
European practices to “subjugate, cheat, and plun- Steinthal’s Völkerpsychologie (Diriwächter, 2011).
der.” Thereby he went directly against the spirit of One of their main aims was to clarify the concept of
nationalism and colonization that was dawning the Volksgeist (spirit of the people), a concept whose
toward the end of his life. meaning is at least loosely related to that of culture.

ja h oda 33
Theodor Waitz (1821–1864), prominent follower (1826–1905). In his student days he attended lectures
of Herbart, devoted himself to the cause of “psychic by Lazarus, one of the founders of Völkerpsychologie,
unity” (a phrase he coined) as against the biological for whom he had a high regard. Among the afore-
race scientists. Like James Pritchard (1786–1848) mentioned eighteenth- and nineteenth-century
in Britain, he was faced with the problem that given writers, he was the first to have personally collected
the (then) stark contrasts between human groups, ethnographic material in various parts of the world,
the claim that they all had one common mind including Australia, New Zealand, North and South
appeared counterintuitive. Hence they accumulated America, China, and India. Unlike other travel-
a mass of ethnographic material in an effort to make ers who mainly reported about the geography of
their case, and Waitz wrote: the places they visited and the physical character-
istics of the peoples and their artifacts, Bastian was
However great the difference between their mental
mainly interested in their psychological features. He
culture and ours, we may, if time and opportunity
obtained information on religious beliefs and prac-
are favourable, learn to understand all their actions,
tices, myths, legal and political forms, customs, and
and we are thus justified in assuming in the human
so on.
species, only difference in culture.
In his travels, he found that peoples all over the
(Waitz ([1859] 1863, p. 274, emphases added)
world had a great deal in common as well as dif-
It might be tempting to conclude from the ending fering in many ways. He therefore postulated the
of this passage that Waitz used the term culture in existence of what he called “elementary ideas” that
its modern sense, but that would be a mistake, as are universally shared. He sometimes wrote in a
the earlier mention of “mental culture” indicates. manner suggesting that by “ideas” he also meant
The sense is that of “cultivation,” and some peoples “thought processes.” The differences between peo-
are said to be insufficiently “cultivated.” ples are said to result partly from the development
Yet around mid-century, a monumental work was of their particular languages which, according to
published by Gustav Klemm (1802–1867) under Bastian, afford valuable insights into national char-
the title “General Culture-History of Humanity” acters and partly from environmental and histori-
(Klemm 1843–1852),2 which at times does appear cal factors. The ultimate objective was to arrive at a
to employ the term Cultur in something like its comparative psychology:
modern sense.14 The work is historical and does
A comparative psychology can only be established
not deal with psychology, but it is mentioned here
on the basis of ethnology, which traces in the various
because it inspired what is widely regarded as the
ethnic groups [Volkskreisen] the genetic development
classical definition of culture by Tylor, usually cited
of mental products [Gedankenschöpfungen] and
as follows:
explains their local colouring in terms of geographical
Culture or Civilization, taken in its wide or historical contexts.
ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which (Bastian, 1868, p. XI)
includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom,
How far does Bastian’s notion of “elementary”
and any other capabilities acquired by man as a
or “folk ideas” correspond to a modern concept of
member of society.
culture? Here we have to remind ourselves that far
(Tylor [1871] 1958, p. 1)
from there being a generally agreed definition of cul-
From this, one might infer that his definition was ture, there are numerous varied ones. Among them
purely anthropological, but the next sentence shows is that of “a symbolic meaning system,” and this to
that he did not ignore psychological aspects: “The some extent resembled what Bastian had in mind.
condition of culture among the various societies of It should also be said that Bastian’s was essentially a
mankind . . . is a subject apt for the study of laws of collective psychology, located midway between psy-
human thought and action” (emphasis added). It will chology and anthropology and as such had a good
be noted that he treated culture and civilization as deal in common with Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie.
synonyms, an issue to be pursued below.
Culture and Psychology in the
Adolf Bastian Circle of Wundt
Another German figure of that period, very Völkerpsychologie was located outside the main-
much concerned with psychology, was Adolf Bastian stream of experimental psychology pioneered by

34 c ulture an d psycho log y


Fechner and Ebbinghaus. Not everybody was happy persons and their expressions of life comes
with experimental psychology, which to some about. . . . Before he learns to speak, the child is
seemed rather dry and mechanical, failing to do already completely immersed in the medium of
justice to the subtleties and complexities of human common contexts. . . . In this way, the individual
life. The most articulate critic was Wilhelm Dilthey becomes oriented in the world of objective spirit.
(1833–1911). Like Bastian, he had met Lazarus and (Dilthey, [1894] 1977, pp. 126–127)
had even worked with him for a time. But his initial
It may be noted that Dilthey’s ideas were one of
enthusiasm for Völkerpsychologie was later tempered
the sources from which almost a century later the
by reservations related to the speculative nature and
so-called “cultural studies” movement emerged.
diffuseness of the enterprise. He turned toward the
Karl Lamprecht (1856–1915) was an unorthodox
scientific side, became a pupil of Helmholtz, and
historian who thought that history was not bound
attended lectures on physiology.
to remain merely descriptive but could become sci-
After obtaining a chair in philosophy, he became
entific and thereby attain objective truth. Like many
increasingly preoccupied with problems of psychol-
of his contemporaries, he adopted an evolutionary
ogy, philosophy, and history, which he came to see as
framework, taking the view that humanity went
connected. Regarding psychology, he proposed that
through a set of distinct stages that were lawful. It
there are two distinct approaches to the subject: one
should therefore be possible to arrive at universal
is empiricist, concerned with hypothesis-testing and
historical laws. For Lamprecht, historical phases and
aiming at causal explanations, the other rests on lived
events are essentially of a psychic nature, so that any
experience and aims at understanding—a contrast
stage is characterized by a collective psychic state.
analogous to that drawn by Vico. While accepting
This he regarded as a kind of diapason, pervading
the legitimacy of the former, Dilthey described it as
all mental states, and thereby also all activities, in
formal and atomistic, ignoring the fact that the self
any given period.
has a functional unity that eludes any approach that
The auxiliary science that would enable historians
concentrates exclusively on its constituent parts.
to arrive at these sequences was the then emerging
Dilthey himself focused on Erlebnis or “lived expe-
social psychology. Furthermore, he devised and sought
rience,” and his two key concepts are Verstehen (a kind
to apply an empirical method for identifying the
of understanding15) and Bedeutung (or “meaning”).
sequence of distinct evolutionary stages.17 Lamprecht
Both of these operate within particular culture-
proposed a schema detailing the social-psychological
historical contexts. In this connection he took
factors operative in the course of history, which will
over from Hegel the notion of “objective spirit,”16
be summarized. He divided them first into natural
employing it in a manner that corresponds closely
and cultural ones. The natural comprised such influ-
to what we refer to as culture:
ences as climate, soil, flora, and fauna. The cultural
I understand objective spirit to be the various is further subdivided into material (e.g., economy,
forms in which the common ground that exists nutrition, population, and, oddly, custom) and ideal
is objectified in the world of the senses. In this (e.g., opinion, language, myth and religion, and art).
objective spirit, the past is a continuing presence for Altogether it is a rather strange mixture, yet nonethe-
us. Its domain extends from the style of life and the less somewhat distantly reminiscent of Berry’s (1976)
forms of economic interaction to the system of ends scheme. One could also mention the French Annales
which society has formed: to morality, law, the state, school of historians that began during the interwar
religion, art, science, and philosophy. period. At the outset, one of their principal tenets was
(Dilthey, [1894] 1977, p. 126) that each historical period features a particular kind
of mentality. So not only was Lamprecht directly
One could also gloss this as a reference to intersub-
focusing on culture but his ideas had certain reso-
jectively shared meaning systems. At any rate, the
nances in the twentieth century.
broad congruence between “objective spirit” and
what we know as culture is supported by the way in
Some Debates in Germany
which Dilthey characterizes what we would call the
To grasp the issues at stake, it is necessary to
acquisition of culture:
explain first that in German, a distinction had
From earliest childhood our self receives its long been drawn between scholarly or humane
nourishment from this world of objective spirit. It and scientific disciplines. The former were known
is also the medium in which the Verstehen of other as Geisteswissenschaften (literally “disciplines of

ja h oda 35
the spirit”) and the latter as Naturwissenschaften culture provides an approximate mirror image of all
(what we would call “natural sciences”).18 This the remaining parts.
dichotomy became the subject of a great debate. (Wundt, 1908, vol.3, p. 434)>
Its ostensible aim was the purely scholarly one
A more detailed treatment is to be found in
of conceptual clarification, but the fact that
Volume 7 of the Völkerpsychologie dealing with
it was conducted mainly by exponents of the
Society (Wundt, 1917).This contains a critical dis-
Geisteswissenschaften indicates that it was the sta-
cussion of the dichotomy of Natur- versus-Kultur-
tus of the Geisteswissenschaften that was chiefly at
völker (the term Naturvolk is roughly equivalent to
stake. Although the debate as such was not about
our “savages”). This distinction had usually been
psychology, psychology was nevertheless to be
drawn on the basis of the absence of history and
found at the heart of the controversy. The reason,
an organized state, but Wundt points out that these
no doubt, is the hybrid character of psychology
criteria are too vague for any clear division to be
that spans the divide separating the sciences from
possible. There is no Naturvolk without elements of
the humanities and social studies.
Kultur, consisting of the above-mentioned language,
In 1880, philologist Hermann Paul published
myth, and Sitte, and there are different levels of cul-
a book in which he argued that the opposite of
ture among these peoples. Hence the dichotomy is
Natur is not Geist (mind or spirit) but Kultur and
becoming redundant:
proposed the expression Kulturwissenschaften. The
characteristic mark of Kultur, he maintained, lies in [It is for this reason] that the concept of Kultur in
the involvement of psychic factors.19 The new label its actual extension to the peoples of the earth has
was adopted by the philosopher Heinrich Rickert become ever broader, while the concept of Naturvolk
(1848–1936), who defined Kultur as “the totality is gradually disappearing.
of objects to which generally recognized values are (Wundt, 1917, p. 121)
attached” (Rickert, 1910, p. 27). Thus the basic dif-
ference between Natur and Kultur is that the former, From this passage one might suppose that Wundt
unlike the latter, is value-free. This broad issue also had begun to think of culture in much the same
concerned Wundt, whose rather variable positions way as we do today. But one is rapidly disabused
will by outlined next. of this by an immediately subsequent—and
rather confused—discussion of the concept of
“culture-minimum.” In this he reverted to a
Wundt on Kultur
usage of Kultur as more or less synonymous with
It is difficult to examine Wundt’s ideas regarding
Zivilisation.
culture without the context of his Völkerpsychologie, to
The same theme is taken up in the tenth and
which they are closely related. Because Völkerpsychologie
final volume of his Völkerpsychologie, entitled
is dealt with in detail by Diriwächter (2011), all that
“Culture and History” (Wundt, 1920). There he
can be done here is to provide a sketch of his usages.
states that the absolute lower limit of Kultur is set
In his earliest relevant publication, Wundt
by the possession of language, which presupposes
(1863) employed the term in the then most prev-
at least a modicum of mental life. The question of
alent sense—namely, the higher forms of human
origins is a futile one, and it is more profitable to ask
intellect and creativity. In his later work, he gen-
what cultural products and events have been critical
erally takes it that the essence of Kultur consists of
for cultural development. Wundt reviews various
three elements—namely, language, myth, and Sitte,
turning points, like the invention of the plough or
a term denoting both “custom” and “morals.” In
the printing press, but raises various objections to
the Methodenlehre (1883), he refers to Kulturvölker
such simple schemes—particularly that they leave
as meaning “civilized peoples.” In a later edition of
out qualitative aspects of cultural values. These are
his Logik, Wundt (1908) makes a passing comment
implicit in the concept of Zivilisation, which is felt
anticipating the view that culture is not merely a
to be something that has been actively achieved,
random assembly of features but possesses some
whereas culture is merely the outcome of historical
unity and coherence:
processes—a rather curious distinction. This means
Cuvier20 maintained that one can reconstruct from a that civilization leads to a sense of superiority and of
single bone the typical form of the whole vertebrate a mission both to civilize and dominate more back-
to whom it belongs; similarly, each single part of a ward peoples.

36 c ulture an d psycho log y


Wundt regarded this as a valuable feature of civ- relate these, respectively, to general Völkerpsychologie
ilization, because it contained a purposive element and to what he regarded as its applied aspect, which
that is absent from culture. he called “ethnic characterology”—that is, dealing
Shortly afterward, there occurred a radical shift with the psychological characteristics of particular
in the meaning attributed to Kultur: peoples. There is no indication that any echoes of
the radical rethinking of the category culture by
Kultur is national. It is confined to a particular
Franz Boas (discussed below) ever reached Wundt.
national community [Volksgemeinschaft] which
Before going on to Boas, it is necessary to return
constitutes a coherent unity in terms of language,
briefly to Tylor, whose classical definition of cul-
custom, and intellectual cultivation [geistige Bildung];
ture was cited on p. 34. As already mentioned, in
but it lacks the tendency to go beyond these limits by
his time the favored explanation of human differ-
spreading the acquired cultural achievements more
ences was simply in terms of “race.” This opinion
widely . . .
was not shared by Tylor, who was an inheritor of
(Wundt, 1920, pp. 20–21)
the Enlightenment tradition of a basically unchang-
Here Wundt suddenly identifies culture with some- ing universal human nature.21 Under the influence
thing very much like Herder’s Volksgeist, seem- of environmental factors, its manifestations under-
ingly unaware of the change. He concludes that went progressive changes, occurring at varying rates
the notions of Kultur and Zivilisation are comple- among different peoples. Thus he was a social (rather
mentary: Kultur is bound to nationality, whereas than Darwinian) evolutionist, and the approach
Zivilisation embodies an ideal of humanity as a to the study of evolutionary stages was the “com-
unity under the leadership of the advanced nations parative method.” For example, ancient Swiss lake
(Kulturvölker). habitations were very similar to those of nineteenth-
The next section, entitled “Animal antecedents century Maoris, and this was taken to show that the
of cultural man,” reverts again to a wider concept of same evolutionary trajectory was being followed,
Kultur, applying to humans in general. However far although the Maoris were well behind.
one goes, he maintains, what one finds universally
among all those who have the physical characteris- Franz Boas
tics of humans are language, myth, and Sitte: Both racial and social-evolutionary theories
came to be rejected by Franz Boas (1858–1942).
As these three labels designate only the major
He was the main creator of a fresh concept of cul-
directions in which human life is distinguished
ture and came to dominate American anthropol-
from that of other organic beings, and although
ogy during the 1920s. He was born and educated
each of these directions comprises very different
in Germany, where he began by studying chemistry
forms, so all these factors and their influences on
and physics but later turned to biology and geog-
men may be subsumed under the collective name of
raphy. He also became interested in psychophysics
Kultur, so that in view of this Völkerpsychologie and
and attended lectures by Wundt. In 1882 he went
Kulturpsychologie are equivalent concepts.
to Berlin in preparation for a geographical expe-
(Wundt, 1920, p. 57)
dition to Baffin Island, and in Berlin he came to
In the end, therefore, Wundt overcame his misgiv- know Bastian. A year later he departed on the expe-
ings and accepted that what he had been doing dition, intending originally to compare the objec-
could be described as “cultural psychology,” because tively studied environment with the knowledge of
he seemed to have arrived at a conception of cul- it held by the Inuit inhabitants. As a result of his
ture-in-general that is close to our own. The path close acquaintance with the Inuit (e.g., he hunted
that led him to this position was not a straight one. with them) Boas came to understand that their
For a long time, Wundt swiveled between several knowledge was not just a reflection of the environ-
different and mutually exclusive notions of Kultur, ment but discovered that there was a tertium quid
varying according to context, as well as between an that intervened—namely, their culture. This was a
objective stance and one that uncritically accepted turning point in his career, and back in Germany he
the then prevailing ethos. applied for his Habilitation,22 and the members of
Wundt rarely drew a sufficiently explicit distinc- the commission included Dilthey and Helmholtz.
tion between “human-culture-in-general” and the Subsequently Boas emigrated to the United States,
varied cultures of different peoples; nor did he seek to where he embarked on fieldwork with the Indians

ja h oda 37
of the Northwest Pacific Coast and in 1899 became of relative emphasis. What is relevant here is the
the first professor of anthropology at Columbia fact that these anthropological discussions usu-
University in New York. ally involved psychological ideas and speculations.
In his theorizing about culture, Boas was greatly For example, Goldenweiser (1910) referred to “the
influenced by his German background, from Herder mechanism and psychology of borrowing behav-
onward. Although he initially shared Tylor’s social ior” (p. 285) and proposed that “the phenomena
evolutionism, he later abandoned it. He pointed out of diffusion [are] replete with psychological prob-
that similarity does not necessarily imply an identi- lems” (p. 287). In a similar manner, Boas (1910, pp.
cal cause, showing how the same outcome could 375–376) proclaimed, “the necessity of looking for
result from combinations of quite diverse historical, the common psychological features, not in outward
environmental, and psychological factors. He also similarities of ethnic phenomena, but in the sim-
objected to specific traits or complexes being torn ilarity of psychological processes in so far as these
out of their particular cultural context and lumped can be observed or inferred.” Although these were
together indiscriminately. He showed that biologi- American comments, in Britain, Rivers took part in
cal traits (i.e., “race”), language, and culture were the debate.
not intrinsically linked to each other and had to be William Halse Rivers (1864–1922) was an
studied using different methods. experimental psychologist at Cambridge when his
Generally, Boas was instrumental in changing anthropological colleague Alfred Haddon invited
the intellectual climate toward thinking about cul- him to take part in the Cambridge Anthropological
tures in the plural as entities that had a certain unity Expedition to Torres Strait in 1898. It was the first
based on history, environment, and psychology. His systematic cross-cultural research, although con-
enduring concern with psychology is clear from the fined to sensory processes;23 Rivers had little to say
title of one of his major works—namely, The Mind about culture at that time. He was then still a social
of Primitive Man (Boas, 1911); it is also implicit in evolutionist, but that changed when he became
an early definition of culture he proposed: actively involved in anthropological fieldwork. In
his very substantial book on Melanesia (Rivers,
Culture embraces all the manifestations of social 1914), he discussed at length the impact of culture
habits of a community, the reactions of the contact, especially through migrations, on cultural
individuals as affected by the habits of the groups in changes. In an essay on “The Contact of Peoples,”
which he lives, and the products of human activities Rivers wrote “. . . it becomes a matter of urgent
as determined by these habits. necessity to understand the process of blending [of
(Boas, 1930, p. 79) cultures]” (Rivers, [1913] 1926, p. 299). He always
Boas and his students, including Ruth Benedict stressed the importance of including a psychological
and Margaret Mead, shaped the character of approach, and in an address on “The Ethnological
American anthropology for many years and led to Analysis of Culture” ’ to the British Association for
its being called “Cultural anthropology” as distinct the Advancement of Science, he argued:
from British “Social anthropology,” but that came
Side by side with ethnological analysis, there must
later.
go the attempt to fathom the modes of thought
of different peoples, to understand their ways of
The Problem of “Convergence,” Rivers, regarding and classifying the facts of the universe.
and Bartlett It is only by the combination of ethnological and
The issue of how disparate cultures came to dis- psychological analysis that we shall make any real
play similarities, which were often striking, was advance.
extensively debated during the first two decades of (Rivers, [1911] 1926, p. 132)
the twentieth century. Tylor and other social evo-
lutionists had attributed them to universal human Rivers returned to Cambridge in 1908, and a year
nature; an alternative interpretation, putting the later Frederic Bartlett (1886–1969) became his
major emphasis on transmission through culture student, whom he inspired to pursue research con-
contact, was put forward in Germany. It is neither cerned with the effects of culture contact. In his
necessary nor possible to enter here into the details Fellowship Dissertation, Bartlett (1916) declared
of the debate, except to say that the sharp opposi- his intention of studying the process of convention-
tion between the two sides gave way to a question alization, whereby new elements are incorporated in

38 c ulture an d psycho log y


cultures as a consequence of contact; and he refers elimination of childhood mentality cannot appear.
in this connection to a passage by Rivers on “the There is no discussion, no exchange of points of
blending of cultures.” He stressed that the man- view. . . . There are thus only personalities who do not
ner in which he used the term conventionalization know themselves and a group which is everything.
implies the existence of social intercourse, the pass- In such a situation nothing is created by individuals,
ing of representations between individuals within a and nothing extends beyond the level of childhood
community. thought.
It is in this context that Bartlett carried out his (Piaget, [1928] 1995, p. 207)25
experiments on “repeated” and “serial” reproduc-
All such writings were about what we would
tions, also reported later in his classic volume on
now regard as culture, but in France this term was
Remembering (Bartlett, 1932). In 1923 he published
very seldom used until fairly recently. That was a
his Psychology and Primitive Culture in which he
matter of linguistic usage, but for quite different
sought to analyze the social-psychological processes
reasons some British anthropologists became some-
of culture change resulting from contact and bor-
what disparaging about the notion of culture dur-
rowing. When expounding the principles underly-
ing the interwar years. Radcliffe-Brown dismissed
ing cultural transmission, Bartlett made extensive
it as “a vague abstraction” (Radcliffe-Brown, [1940]
use of anthropological illustrations, largely drawn
1952, p. 190). Yet anthropologists could not really
from North America and Boas in particular. The
do without some kind of psychology, and so they
psychological theory underlying his analysis was
made up their own. Radcliffe-Brown used the con-
that of McDougall (1908). Although it is evident
cept of “sentiments,”, and Malinowski (who did
in hindsight that the work suffered from consider-
use the concept of culture) elaborated a “theory of
able flaws, it constituted the first systematic attempt
needs” whose aim was to provide a basis for analyz-
to interpret anthropological data in psychological
ing human behavior in any culture (cf. Piddington,
terms; he also recommended the method of serial
1957). Generally, they had scant use for the then
reproduction as a promising tool for the experi-
prevailing academic psychology.
mental study of cultural transmission.24 In his later
Matters were very different in America, where for
writings, the theme of culture recurs frequently,
Boas culture had been a key issue, and he had always
but he made little further empirical or theoretical
been keenly interested in psychology; and Boasians
contributions.
dominated the anthropological scene during that
period. Two of his most prominent students were
The Interwar Years: 1929s and 1930s Ruth Benedict (1887–1948) and Margaret Mead
During the 1920s and 1930s, British psycholo-
(1901–1978), both very much concerned with
gists generally displayed hardly any interest in cul-
the relationship between culture and psychology.
ture, and British social anthropologists turned
Benedict’s famous Patterns of Culture ([1934] 1946)
away from psychology. This was because their main
was partly inspired by Gestalt psychology, and the
inspiration had become Durkheim, who focused
emphasis she placed on psychological features is
on “collective representations” and did not believe
clearly seen in the following passage:
that what he understood by “psychology” was rel-
evant for the study of societies. Yet, in fact, he and Within each culture there come into being
his followers deduced a kind of social psychology characteristic purposes not necessarily shared by
from social (we would say cultural) facts. For exam- other types of societies . . . Taken up by a well-
ple, Marcel Mauss, in his classic essay on The Gift, integrated culture, the most ill-assorted acts become
used ethnographic material to deduce psychologi- characteristic of its peculiar goals, often by the most
cal principles involved in social exchanges that he unlikely metamorphoses. The form that these acts
regarded as universals. Similarly, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl take we can understand only by understanding first
(1857–1939) attributed a “pre-logic” to “primitive the emotional and intellectual mainsprings of that
peoples,” yet without describing them as childlike. society.
Following Lévy-Bruhl, the early Piaget went even ([1934] 1946, p. 42; emphasis added)
further when painting a picture of what he took
Mead took courses in psychology before becom-
“primitive society” to be:
ing a student of Boas at Columbia University. The
In a society where generations place all their task Boas set her was to research the way in which
influence on each other, conditions necessary for the the personality reacts to culture and she did that in

ja h oda 39
several cultures in the South Pacific. As the titles of The year of the outbreak of World War II saw
her famous trilogy (shown below) indicate, psycho- the beginning of what came to be known as the cul-
logical aspects of culture were salient for her: ture-and-personality school. Its main exponent was
Abram Kardiner (1939), an unorthodox psycho-
Mead, M (1928). Coming of Age in Samoa;
analyst, who collaborated with several anthropolo-
A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western
gists. This school sought to link subsistence type,
Civilization
child training mode, and belief systems. It was later
Mead, M (1930). Growing Up in New Guinea;
described by Bruner as “a magnificent failure.” Yet
A Comparative Study of Primitive Education
it generated during the post-war years the field of
Mead, M (1935). Sex and Temperament in Three
“psychological anthropology,” which continues to
Primitive Societies
flourish.
All three books were aimed to persuade western Later still, more than half a century after the pio-
readers that culture is more important than biology neering work of Rivers, “cross-cultural” psychology
in shaping personality and behavior. An admittedly emerged, to be followed by “cultural psychology.”
impressionistic scan indicates that Benedict and But that is another story.
Mead were almost the only anthropologists occa-
sionally mentioned in early post-war psychology Concluding Overview and Future
texts. Yet in two interwar handbooks of social psy- Directions
chology (Murchison, 1935; Murphy et al., 1937) The broad overview that has been presented
culture had figured prominently. Several noted here is unavoidably rather sketchy. Nonetheless,
anthropologists contributed to the former, and the it should be sufficient to support the claim made
latter included the following warning: in the introduction that despite varying terminol-
ogy, there shines through an ever-present inter-
. . . . the concept of culture . . . has awakened us to
est in other people’s “customs”—to use the most
an immensely important fact regarding the limits of
common term of the past. Differences held a fas-
social psychology. It must be recognized that nearly
cination, and there was a good deal of speculation
all the experimental work in social psychology . . . has
about their causes, climate being the prime can-
value and is definitely meaningful only in relation to
didate; it was not until the Enlightenment that
the particular culture in which the investigation was
such causes as ecology and modes of subsistence
carried on.
were proposed, in a manner not unlike that still
(Murphy et al., 1937, p. 7)
prevailing.
These wise words were later forgotten, or at least not A related issue sometimes raised was that of
acted upon, and that remains true even today for nature-versus-nurture as the cause of differences.
most of experimental social psychology.26 Yet there Over most of the period, nurture predominated,
was a period when culture was taken seriously,27 with a sharp reversal during the nineteenth century
and it is an intriguing question why that concept when “race” came to the fore. Yet it was after the
subsequently suffered an eclipse in psychology. middle of that century that the terminology began
Farr (1996) suggests that it resulted from the rise to change and culture—the name, not the con-
of behaviorism and that may well be part of the cept—entered the vocabulary. For quite some time
answer: both the handbooks mentioned above were confusion prevailed, even in so acute a mind as that
in varying degrees inspired by Darwinian evolution- of Wundt: no clear distinction was made between
ism rather than behaviorism. Yet that cannot be the culture as a universal and the multitude of cultures
whole answer since Floyd Allport ([1933] 1969), over the globe.
archpriest of behaviorist social psychology, did dis- From earliest times, the notion of custom was
cuss the notion of culture in several passages. He indissolubly linked with psychological aspects. For
argued against cultural determinism and regarded differences in customs entailed differences in beliefs
the culture-versus-nature dichotomy as mislead- and behaviors, and these features were often noted
ing.28 For Allport, culture consisted of habits that, and even emphasized as early as Herodotus more
although learned from the social environment, are than two millennia ago. As some writers on culture
“organically grounded” (p. 508). He did not specify such as Cole (1983) and Shweder (1990) have it,
against whom his arguments were directed, but it culture and mind are really different facets of the
was probably the Boasian anthropologists. same phenomenon.

40 c ulture an d psycho log y


Notes 24. This claim has more recently been renewed by Kashima
1. In modern French/English dictionaries, the first transla- (2000).
tion given for culture is generally still “cultivation.” 25. For a more detailed discussion, see cf. Jahoda (2000).
2. For example, the German title of Freud’s book first pub- 26. For a complaint about the neglect of culture, see cf.
lished in 1930 was Das Unbehagen der Kultur (The uneasiness Jahoda (1988).
of culture); the English translation was “Civilization and its dis- 27. It must be said, however, that during the 1930s the topic
contents.” of “culture” was greatly outweighed by that of “race differences.”
3. For a discussion of current usages in the context of cul- This literature has been surveyed by Richards (1997).
ture and psychology, see cf. Krewer & Jahoda (1993). 28. “It seems almost as though the individual becomes a
4. In anthropology, they are called “ethnopsychologiews.” product of the ‘group’ or of ‘society,’ rather than of his own
5. For some of the material in this section, I am indebted to biological ancestry. Viewing human development in this light,
Chakkarath (2003). certain social scientists have proposed that all this range of mod-
6. Much the same proposal, although more sophisticated, ifications of the original tendencies should be set apart from
was put forward by the Société des Observateurs de l’Homme in these tendencies themselves as a separate category, to which the
late eighteenth century. name ‘culture’ or ‘civilization’ should be applied. Thus arises
7. For a detailed account, see cf. Peters (1962). the notion of culture as something entirely distinct from, and
8. The north–south divide continued to be regarded as a even antithetical to, human nature.” ([Allport [1933] 1969,
key factor, but the values attributed to them varied according to pp. 507–508).
the writers own geographic position. For Europeans, north was
good, for Muslims, it was bad. References
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Kashima, Y. (2000). Maintaining Cultural Stereotypes in the Shweder,R.A. (1990). Cultural psychology – what is it ? In
Serial Reproduction of Narratives, Personality and Social J.W. Stigle, R.A. Shweder & G. Herdt (eds.). Cultural psy-
Psychology Bulletin, 26, 594–604. chology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Klemm, G. (1843–52). Allgmeine Cultur-Geschichte der Slotkin, J.S. (1965). Readings in early anthropology. Chicago:
Menschheit, 10 vols. Leipzig. Aldine.
Krewer, B. & Jahoda, G. (1993). Psychologie et culture: vers une Thurnwald, R. (1913). Ethno-psychologische Studien an
solution du ‘Babel’? International Journal of Psychology, 28, Südseevölkern. [Ethno-psychological studies of South Sea
367–375. peoples] Leipzig: Barth.
Kroeber, A. L. & Kluckhohn, C. (1952). Culture: A critical review of Tylor, E.B. ([1871]1958). Primitive culture. (Part I) New York:
concepts and definitions. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum. Harper.
Letts, M. ([1346 ?] 1953). Mandeville’s travels. 2 vols. London: Vico, G. ([1725] 1948).The New Science, tr. T.G. Bergin & M.H.
The Hakluyt Society. Fish. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Lewis, B. (1994). The Muslim discovery of Europe. London: Waitz, T. ([1859] 1863). Introduction to anthropology. London:
Phoenix. Anthropological Society.
Mahdi, M. (1971). Ibn Khaldun’s philosophy of history: A Study in Wheeler, J.T. (1890). An analysis and summary of Herodotus.
the Philosophic Foundation of the Science of Culture. Chicago: London: George Bell.
University of Chicago Press. Wundt, W. (1863). Vorlesungen über die Menschen- und Thierseele.
Malefijt, A. de Waal (1974). Images of man. New York: Knopf. [Lectures on the human and animal mind]. 2 vols. Leipzig:
McDougall, W. (1914). Social psychology. 8th ed. London: Voss.
Methuen. Wundt, W. (1883). Logik, 2 vols. Vol.2: Methodenlehre [Rules of
Mead, M. (1928). Coming of age in Samoa. New York: Morrow. method]. Stuttgart: Enke.
Mead, M. (1930). Growing up in New Guinea. New York: Wundt, W. (1908). Logik, (3rd. ed.) 3 vols; vol.3: Logik der
Morrow. Geisteswissenschaften [Logic of the human sciences], Stuttgart:
Mead, M. (1935). Sex and temperament in three primitive societies. Enke.
New York: Morrow. Wundt, W. (1917). Völkerpsychologie, vol.7: Die Gesellschaft
Montaigne, M. ([1580]1954). Montaigne: Selected essays. A. Tiller [Society]; Leipzig: Kröner.
& A.M. Boase (Eds.) Manchester: Manchester University Wundt, W. (1920). Völkerpsychologie, vol.10: Kultur und
Press. Geschichte [culture and history]; Leipzig: Kröner.

42 c ulture an d psycho log y


CHAPTER

Völkerpsychologie
2
Rainer Diriwächter

Abstract

Völkerpsychologie is, so to speak, the grandfather of cultural psychology who has been left sitting in the
corner, full of nostalgia, while yearning for and dreaming of the old days when ambitions and spirits
surrounding his existence ran high and dedicated disciples tried to use his knowledge to explain complex
mental phenomena. However, it is not the case, as many would like us to believe, that Völkerpsychologie
needs to remain an outdated model that has no connection with the present. Many of its problems stem
from language barriers, lack of cultural-historical understanding, and the absence of any considerable
synthesis that would present it as a unified theoretical model ready to be applied in today’s research.
Völkerpsychologie, like cultural psychology, is still a work in progress, albeit one that has been left to fend
for itself without anyone seriously considering its continuation or integration.
Keywords: Völkerpsychologie, culture, history of psychology, Wundt, folk psychology

“Die Personen vergehen, aber die Völker bestehen”


—Wilhelm Wundt, 1914, p. 4

It is almost hard to believe that less than 100 years focuses on the psychological aspects of ethnicity.
ago, the name Völkerpsychologie was once widely However, in the strictest sense, Völkerpsychologie
used, becoming a part of the vocabulary of the edu- is to be translated into “peoples’ psychology” or
cated German public, psychoanalysts, and ethnogra- folk psychology, and it was to present an alternative
phers alike (see Jahoda, 1993). But since then, much to “person psychology” or “individual psychol-
has changed. Nowadays, Völkerpsychologie has sunk ogy.” It is clear that readers who are familiar with
into the abyss of time, and through this chapter I Völkerpsychologie would be quick to raise objections
hope to spark some readers’ interest in the rich theo- with the aforementioned translation. For example,
retical literature, certainly beneficial to the study of Danziger (1980, p. 303) called folk psychology
culture and psychology, that is gathering dust in the an “absurd mistranslation” of the discipline. To
archives of libraries throughout the world. be sure, folk psychology is not ideal, as it brings
Giving an adequate translation of the term with it a lot of connotations. However, as Webster’s
Völkerpsychologie is virtually impossible. Its broad Dictionary (1987) defines folk as either “a group of
use and distinct “German-ness” makes it especially kindred tribes forming a nation” or “the great pro-
difficult for non-Germans to grasp. At its core, portion of the members of a people that determines
Völkerpsychologie relies heavily on ethnology and the group character and that tends to preserve its

43
characteristic form of civilization and its customs, language community. Through this language com-
arts and crafts, legends, traditions, and superstitions munity, a self-awareness begins to emerge, one in
from generation to generation,” it may well be the which we come to realize that we are not isolated
closest translation to the original word.1 Further, individuals, rather we are I’s who are located in a lan-
the term folk psychology was used as the transla- guage community relative to a YOU.
tion of Völkerpsychologie by E.L Schaub, who trans- Language is one of the primal strengths of
lated (with the cooperation of the author) Wundt’s humans. According to Humboldt, every language
Elemente der Völkerpsychologie. Thus, in an effort to contains its unique form, based on a particular
remain true to the original intentions, the German Weltanschauung. That is, our outlook on the world
term will be applied throughout this chapter. is built in language because those who share a lan-
guage develop a similar subjectivity. By being born
Language, Weltanschauung, and the into a language community, humans are immedi-
Origins of Völkerpsychologie ately exposed to a particular relationship with their
There may be little doubt that Völkerpsychologie world. Because of language, this relationship is to a
finds its roots in German idealism and can be espe- large extent mental (Volkelt, 1922). In other words,
cially said to have been influenced to some degree language can be seen as the creating force as well as
by the philosophies of Hegel,2 Herder, and, nota- the tools of higher mental processes.
bly, Herbart (Jahoda, 1993; see also Danziger, 1983; For Humboldt, language was a lively process,
Eckardt, 1997; Krueger, 1915; Schneider & Müller, one that never rests and thus cannot be truly cap-
1993; Volkelt, 1922; Wundt, 1877). Nonetheless, it is tured by any signs. Hence, for him the true defini-
Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835) who is gener- tion of language could only be a developmental
ally credited to have laid the immediate groundwork (genetische) one (Krueger, 1915, p. 7). Through
for Völkerpsychologie3 (Krueger, 1915; Volkelt, 1922). vocalisms, the internal language form could be
Humboldt, a philologist, philosopher, statesman, and discovered; it develops through the interaction of
one of the founding fathers of the University of Berlin objectivity and fantasy with momentary moods. It
(1810), has also been described as one of the founding is precisely the feeling-factor (Gefühlsfaktor) that
fathers of neo-humanism (Knoll & Siebert, 1967). enhances the subjective occurrences in the listener.
This is largely because of his idea that education Although language receives its final definitions
(Bildung) operates on two levels: first, that the goal within the individual, the continuity of language
of humans is education on the individual level and forms is only guaranteed through life within
second, that education serves the purpose of broader society, and thus the entire objectivity of human
humanity—namely, to reach an ideal. thought rests therein. This would be precisely the
It is important to recognize that Bildung does not point on which the pioneers of Völkerpsychologie
necessarily mean education in the scholarly sense but would touch base.
includes the education we gain from all aspects of life.
According to Humboldt, the education of the indi- The Zeitgeist: A New Psychology Discipline
vidual occurs through historical experience. Here the in the Making
need for synthesis occurs when the broader masses Somewhat comparable to the Greek city-states
pass down ideas to the individual. The connection of antiquity, Germany had developed a national
between individuals occurs through understand- culture in the late eighteenth century but was split
ing, which in turn occurs through language. Hence, into numerous independent states. Since the days
language assumes a central position when we try to of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) at the
understand and analyze humans. It may not be sur- latest, German philosophers had come into con-
prising, then, to learn that language was to become tact with the idea that social relations are not only
one of the main themes in Völkerpsychologie. grounded in power, but also involve cultural com-
However, language is not a complete product; munities (i.e., das Volk). The notion of national-
rather it is a process that contains a historical char- ism, albeit certainly a preoccupation of the upper
acter (Steinthal, 1860). This character is “shaped” classes, found increasing (although nowhere near
through the individual, the I, who speaks it. But the overwhelming) support. This was well-reflected in
individual is also limited to that understanding for the political arena prior to 1866, when there was a
which language allows. The geistige (spiritual/mental) general political struggle for and against national-
attachment to language occurs through the respective ism between liberals and conservatives (see Eckardt,

44 völker psyc ho log i e


1997). It is precisely through this political climate in what became known as the “Second Reich” of
that we see Völkerpsychologie emerge. Germany. Although the unification was marked by
In 1860, Moritz Lazarus (1824–1903), a profes- authoritarian aristocracy, the German identifica-
sor of psychology in Bern, and his brother-in-law, tion as separate peoples, das Deutsche Volk, caught
Hajim Steinthal (1823–1899), a philologist from on. German preoccupation was to lay with honor
the University of Berlin (for a biographical review, and dedication to their community4 or folk (Volk),
see Eckardt, 1997), began the task of developing and with that general notion of distinctness among
the new academic discipline of Völkerpsychologie. different “tribes,” the focus of psychology needed
As with any fresh start, getting an ambitious pro- to expand to include the study of that uniqueness
gram underway was no easy undertaking. The term of different Völker, social classes, or ethnic groups.
Völkerpsychologie was, of course, not chosen for the That is, the study of psychology was also to include
purposes of attracting fame or to announce that the products of collective mental processes of peo-
something new had been discovered; rather, it was ples identified as a unified body (e.g., the Germans),
to draw attention to an area that had only recently distinctly separate from others (e.g., the French).
been approached and still needed further develop- Individual psychology was limited to the focus of
ment (Steinthal, 1891, p. 11). the capabilities of one person. However, the person
The central aims of Völkerpsychologie were to was always part of relationships with the masses
investigate the psychological aspects of groups of (e.g., family, community, society, etc.). Hence, the
people living in communities bound by common need arose to expand the investigation to include
language, myths, and customs. In the midst of collective capabilities of peoples living together and
international unrests and conflicts between neigh- how a person “evolved” within that “togetherness.”
boring countries, it seemed that the time was right
for a psychological discipline that would account Völkerpsychologie: The Individual As
for the national character of people to better under- Part of the Volk
stand their ways of thinking. After all, the German- Much debate of early Völkerpsychologie surrounded
oriented states and the young republic of France had the notion of individual versus collective spirit (Geist)
not been the best of neighbors, and their frequent and soul (Seele). The underlying question was whether
disputes had led to much bloodshed. it was possible to study collective mental phenomena.
The trend for a nationalistic-oriented psychology Such a study was indeed seen as possible as society
is nicely captured in a letter that Lazarus wrote to dominates over its individual members. Lazarus and
his friend Paul Heyse on November 29, 1870 (dur- Steinthal (1860) defined the Volksgeist (or collective
ing the Franco-Prussian War): spirit) as “the inner activity, according to content
as well as form, which each individual has in com-
France is a beacon in the midst of chaos. I personally
mon with the Volk; or: that which each individual
do not yet have the courage to dissect this issue with my
has in common in terms of inner activity” (p. 29).
folk-psychological (völkerpsychologisches) scalpel . . . , but
The Volksgeist was to be governed by the same prin-
my thoughts of course are all around that topic, and I
ciples as the individual spirit; however, the collective
can already say today: the big, though futile, displays of
was much more complex and extended (see Jahoda,
strength of the French, which will cost us and them much
1993). In any case, the Volksgeist could be objectively
bloody work, will only serve to make us stronger, and
studied by examining intrapsychic events: thoughts,
them for the future more cautious, hopefully also better,
sentiments, and dispositions that were objectified
and will uphold, foremost, the dignity which seemed to
through books, art, and other products of cognitive
have come to an end with Sedan and the pitiful republic.
processes (Eckardt, 1997; Jahoda, 1993).
(as quoted in Schneider & Müller, 1993, p. 94)
For Lazarus and Steinthal (1860), psychology
It certainly seems that the national feeling was a driv- represented a third science, placed between natural
ing force in Lazarus’s approach to Völkerpsychologie. science and history (p. 16). Psychology differs from
After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, under natural science because it makes the human spirit
the leadership of Wilhelm I and Otto von Bismarck, the object of investigation, something materialists
the German people saw unification come true, as would undoubtedly see as a mere appendix to physi-
Germany was finally united and declared an Empire ology. However, psychology does look for underly-
in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles on January 18, ing laws that govern psychical processes. Because
1871 (see Noble et al., 1994), thereby reigning humans are ever-changing, their mental capacity

diriwäch ter 45
needs to be seen as being in a constant, never-ending, being parts of the whole, through being a partici-
dynamic state of “becoming.” With the experiences pant and representative of societal values. Only the
we gain, we grow, and as a result our Volk becomes collective idea or spirit of the Volk brings meaning
different over time. Therefore, psychology needs to to the individual. After all, ideas do not emerge
account for the dynamics of society, the historical from nowhere; rather, they transform from previous
forces, and the complex web of social structures in ideas that have been passed down through commu-
which individuals find themselves. nal efforts. Thus, our “individuality” is integrated in
Both Lazarus and Steinthal repeatedly warned our community.
their readers of the incomplete picture given when In fact, identification with the Gemeinschaft is
examining humans only from an individualistic what gives Volk its meaning. We, as a Volk, share
perspective, without regard to their place within similar dangers, faith, happiness, and identities.
human society (e.g., Lazarus, 1862, 1865; Lazarus According to Lazarus and Steinthal (1860, p. 35),
& Steinthal, 1860; Steinthal, 1887). They proposed membership in a race is based on objective crite-
that one should study the spirit of people as part of ria (e.g., skin color, but also bone structure, etc.);
a community or society. Similarly to Humboldt and however, membership in a Volk is based on inher-
Herbart, Lazarus and Steinthal reasoned that no man ently subjective standards. We identify and choose
has become what he is because of himself; rather, to be a member of a Volk, and the Volk recognizes
man has become what he is through being part of us as a part of them. This notion of belonging is a
a larger community. It was Lazarus and Steinthal’s bidirectional, dynamic process (Wechselseitigkeit). In
(1860) belief that humans cannot be raised in soli- this sense, Völkerpsychologie positioned itself along-
tude, and that those few who have been raised in the side individualistic psychology so that it became its
forest, absent from civilization and other compan- necessary extension. The myriad of questions posed
ions, resembled humans merely through their physi- by psychology can only be answered by the com-
cal similarities (p. 3). Humans are social beings, and bined efforts of both Völkerpsychologie and individ-
to understand them, we must examine them from a ual psychology.
Volk perspective; we must understand the influences
society has on them and how humans develop within Lazarus and Steinthal’s Program for
the social structures and through the social tools (e.g., Völkerpsychologie
language) that have been passed down from one gen- For Steinthal (1887, p. 248), the myriad of
eration to the next. Hence, of primary importance questions psychology poses could be addressed by
for Völkerpsychologie was determining the relationship a research program sorted into the following three
between the whole and the individual (p. 31). categories:
Moreover, Lazarus and Steinthal (1860, p. 5)
warned their readers not to separate society and the I. General Psychology: The study
individual so that one looks at the individual, then of mechanisms of thoughts/imagination
society, and then puts one into the context of the (Vorstellungen), feelings (Gefühle), and drives
other. Instead of retroactively attributing certain social (Triebe).
influences to the individual, the object of investigation II. Völkerpsychologie: The study of the
was to be the dynamic processes of the two that inter- collective “mental” (geistige) life. [This implies the
mingle in complex ways. Gesellschaft (society) cannot coexistence of members of society living together.
be broken down into smaller circles, such as families, Völkerpsychologie can be divided into] (a) synthetic
without realizing that they are constantly connected Völkerpsychologie [see Lazarus, 1865], which deals
to a Gemeinschaft (community). Psychology would with the general requirements of collective mental
always be one-sided if it were merely to examine the life, and (b) the use of these requirements within
person without context. Or as Lazarus (1862) put it: ethnology, pre-history, and history. It needs to be
added that whereas (a) results in a self-standing
We cannot emphasize the following enough, society
theoretical construct, (b) only exists implicitly.
does not consist of individuals as such, rather it is
III. Individual Psychology [the reader may
within and from society that individuals exist.
want to note that Steinthal lists this at the end):
(p. 419)
The study of the individual, which can only be
For Lazarus, the individual receives his/her prop- examined within the historical context of a given
erties through being linked within society, through culture. Individual psychology, in a synthetic form,

46 völker psyc ho log i e


is incorporated within the previous two categories, then and now, inherently controversial and difficult
but its application appears in biographies. to define.
The task for Völkerpsychologie was to objectify
collective mental life to be able to study it. That is, The Spirit of Early Völkerpsychologie
wherever people are living together, the result of and the Journals that Made it Famous
their “togetherness” is that subjective processes man- Lazarus and Steinthal’s central aim was to achieve
ifest in objective content, which in turn becomes a synthesis of the humanities and social sciences in
the norm and organ of the former. Lazarus (1865, regards to the study of the Volksgeist—to study the
p. 41) takes language to exemplify this idea. When collective mind through the combined forces and
several individuals operate under similar motives the strengths that each academic discipline could
and conditions, thereby sharing a common under- bring to the table. This spirit is nicely captured
standing, the subjective activity of talking results in through Lazarus and Steinthal’s (1860, p. 1) open-
an objective language. This language then represents ing statement in the first volume of Zeitschrift für
objective content for the subsequent speech acts of Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft (Journal of
the individuals. It provides laws for thoughts and Völkerpsychologie and Speech Science), where they
further represents the organ that is open for further invited all researchers to participate:
development through ensuing speech acts by all We are not only asking those men who are working in
members of society. What has been born through the field of psychology, rather we are asking anyone who
the actions of individuals in relation to others (or is investigating the historical appearances of language,
the self ) becomes a mental content that rises beyond religion, art, literature, science (Wissenschaft), customs,
the individual. It becomes generality vis-à-vis the law, the societal-, home-, and state- constitutions; in
actions of the individual. In short, we are molded short, we are asking everyone who is researching the
by the “organ,” which in turn is molded by us. historical life of ‘civilizations/cultures’ (Völker) in any
For Lazarus and Steinthal (1860), the objecti- of its manifold aspects, so that the discovered facts out
fication of collective mental life—that is, the core of the most inner workings of the ‘mind’ (Geist) can be
program of Völkerpsychologie—was broad and could explained, hence, revealing their psychological causes.
be found in language, myths, religion, customs, art,
science, law, culture, and, most notably, history. It What ensued over the next 30 years of the
was especially the historical aspect that was impor- journal’s existence was an accumulation of 200
tant for the emerging discipline of Völkerpsychologie original works that, perhaps not surprisingly, had
because it attempted to understand the history of little to do with its contemporary psychology that
humanity and its peoples (Völker) through which was building up along the lines of natural sci-
psychical laws were revealed (Lazarus, 1865, p. 2). ences. However, Eckardt’s (1997, p. 72) claim that
We needed to understand the historical forces that under the numerous reviews published in the first
underlie collective life; hence, analysis of history 20 volumes of Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und
combined with the synthesis of Völkerpsychologie Sprachwissenschaft, not a single one addressed the
would result in the discovery of the very nature pioneering breakthroughs of Fechner, Helmholtz,
of collective mental life (Volksgeist). Only through Wundt, Ebbinghaus, and other experimen-
such a program would we be able to understand tal psychologists may be somewhat misleading.5
such constructs as individual personality because Nonetheless, the great majority of the journal’s
only in and through the community does the per- articles (67 of 200) focused on issues surrounding
son become a “mental/spirited” being (geistiges linguistics (Sprachwissenschaft), followed by religion
Wesen). As Steinthal (1891) would later say, “The and mythology (26 articles).
spirit (Geist), before it becomes individual and per- Many of the controversies surrounding early
sonal, is in reality a collective spirit, a spirit of the Völkerpsychologie (see Eckardt, 1997; Jahoda, 1993)
entirety (Gesamtheit), an objective spirit, and it is are comparable to what Valsiner describes as “ideo-
that which forms the object of Völkerpsychologie” (p. logical taboos” (2001) or “theories as identity mark-
12). It should be made clear that none of the advo- ers” (2004). Indeed, the topic of culture has again
cates of Völkerpsychologie saw the spirit (Geist) as a become very fashionable, and today’s institutional
mystical substance; rather, it should be understood taboos may well be much more rigid in regard to
similarly to how we interpret the concept of mind. methodology than in the heydays of Völkerpsychologie
It goes without saying that such concepts remain, when the spirit of the great pioneers ran high while

diriwäch ter 47
they embarked on their quest to discover the col- of members of a Volk were to be made the object of
lective manifestations of the inner workings of investigation; in terms of how morals and customs
the human mind. This is not to say that German left their mark. In this regard, birth, the selection of
academia was not riddled by politics (which has names (baptism), childhood, education, love, mar-
been discussed in detail by Ash, 1995); rather, it riage, aging, and dying would all represent points of
is to point out that at the very least not much has interest. Weinhold believed that these morals and
changed in regard to trying to enforce proper eti- customs had developed over a long period of time
quette for psychology research methodology along and could be traceable through people’s folklore.
with the political maneuvers that would help estab- A related section would be the material that provides
lish ideological supremacy for one’s own approach the basis for physical life. To this area belong the
at the expense of others. different methods and conditions through which
Volume 206 of Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie we take our nutrition, including living conditions,
und Sprachwissenschaft brought the first epoch to clothing, and technical material (see also Weinhold,
a close. The grand synthesis had not yet occurred, 1891).
and Völkerpsychologie was far from being guided by a The second area of Volkskunde, the mental/spiri-
unified systemic approach, free of controversy (thus, tual one, would first need to address religious con-
no different than the general state of psychology ceptions and customs. To this area belonged all belief
today). The predominantly philological approach systems, and especially the beliefs in those Gestalts
of the journal had not helped much to shed light that are anchored in the fantasy and feelings of a
on the Volksgeist, and a fresh start was needed. This Volk, developed over time, that have been brought
new start was announced on the first five pages of forward to consciousness from the days when
Volume 20, when Weinhold (1890) announced a demonic forces ruled over man and earth. Certainly
new scientific (Wissenschaft) discipline—namely, fairy tales and sagas would prove to be a rich source
that of Volkskunde. The literal translation of of those “dark” ages but also poetry (especially those
Volkskunde is folklore; however, in his opening as poesies that could no longer be traced to a particular
well as closing statements, Weinhold was careful to person and that have not been taken over by other
distinguish between those folklorists who merely Völker), songs (especially children’s songs), melodies,
collected folk-traditions as if it were a fashionable dances, legends, riddles, and, from all this, most
sport7 and those who took the matter seriously— importantly language would provide an immense
that is, from a scientific (wissenschaftlichen) perspec- treasure chest for gaining access to the historical
tive. To the latter belonged those people who were mental roots of a Volk. In this respect it needs to be
familiar with “history and linguistics, with anthro- mentioned that language was important from the
pology and psychology, with the history of juris- psychical perspective—that is, not in terms of gram-
prudence, with history of national economics, of mar (which was to be left to linguists) but rather in
natural history, literature, and art” (pp. 1–2). When terms of how sentences, sounds, and words found
done correctly, Volkskunde was to become a national their origins (Weinhold, 1891, p. 7). Of particular
and historical science with the aim of examining a interest would be the study of words8 and how their
Volk in all its life expressions (Lebensäusserungen). meanings emerged over time—how certain semi-
First, the new discipline would have to research a otic mediations were conveyed through statues, and
particular Volk, and only then could one make com- later through live talk (i.e., speeches).
parisons and conclusions, which should eventually Similarly to Lazarus and Steinthal’s opening
merge with anthropology. After all, anthropology remarks in the Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und
and Volkskunde had the same scientific end-goals. Sprachwissenschaft back in 1860, we again find a
Weinhold (pp. 2–4) went on to say that body remarkable enthusiastic spirit in Weinhold’s (1891)
and mind, or material and spirit, would present call for participation in this transformed program
the two main halves of the new field. The first half when he writes, “[W]e wish that the cultural research-
would explore the physical appearances of a Volk. It ers in the Netherlands, in the Scandinavian lands,
would need to penetrate the historical conditions of in England and America will join us in our broth-
a Volk, the gradual development, its relationships, erly ranks” (p. 10). With the new aims in mind, the
and its geographical distributions. In short, the ter- Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft
rain upon which the Volk lived needed to be histori- got transformed into the Zeitschrift des Vereins für
cally explored. The next step required that the lives Volkskunde (Journal of the Volkskunde Association),

48 völker psyc ho log i e


with Weinhold replacing the aging Steinthal as edi- putting its elements and developmental stages in
tor in 1891. It is an often overlooked fact that the an explicatory relationship, so too is there a need
former journal did not end after 20 volumes per se; to make as the object of psychological investigation
rather, it merely took on a new title to capture its the analogous genetical and causal investigations of
new approach but retained the earlier title as a sub- those actualities which pertain to the products of
heading for several more years.9 higher developmental relationships of human society,
The 26 volumes of Zeitschrift des Vereins für namely the folk-communities (Völkergemeinschaft).
Volkskunde are filled with in-depth analysis of top- (Wundt, 1888, p. 2)
ics from around the world, such as fairy tales (e.g.,
by the Grimm brothers), Volk riddles (e.g., “The The simple, elementary mental processes
Riddle of the Fish in the Water” by Robert Petsch), could be studied via internal perception (innere
Volk customs (e.g., “The Use of the Death-Crown in Wahrnehmung). This should not be mistaken for
Germany” by Otto Lauffer), rhymes, songs, sagas, introspection, however. In fact, Wundt was opposed
poetry, mysticism, biographies, religious practices to the form of introspection (Selbstbeobachtung)
(e.g., “The Journey of the Soul into the Afterlife” that J.S. Mill or Edward Titchener would much
by Julius von Negelein), gender studies (e.g., “The later advocate (Danziger, 1980). For Wundt, as for
Woman in Islam” by Martin Hartmann) . . . in many other psychologists of those days, introspec-
short, the diversity in contents by far surpass those tion was closer to retrospection, or the observation
volumes edited by Lazarus and Steinthal from 1860 of an unreliable memory image. Instead, Wundt
to 1890. The choice to refocus the attention of the proposed that the processes we want to observe
discipline away from linguistics and instead toward can be produced via experimental presentation of
the study from the Volk about the Volk in a man- respective stimuli (Diriwächter, 2009). These exper-
ner that includes folklore, but is not itself folklore, imental situations, however, were limited in their
provided a means to broaden the perspective from scope and did not allow for the examination of the
which to investigate collective mental processes. higher processes of thought. Experimental internal
To alleviate the confusion about the differences perception was usually limited to examine simple
between Völkerpsychologie and scientific Volkskunde, relationships as they occurred but not higher mental
Steinthal (1891, p. 17) captured the fundamental processes.
difference by emphasizing that it is not that each To understand higher psychological processes,
of them takes a different slice from mental occur- only historical comparisons, the observation of our
rences; rather it’s in the way the two disciplines look mind’s creations (Beobachtung der Geisteserzeugnisse),
at them. If it is done in a more synthetic way, then could be looked at. It was these products that
it is called Völkerpsychologie; if it is done more ana- Wundt saw as central to Völkerpsychologie. The
lytically, then we count it as Volkskunde, or history. simple psychological experiences were to be studied
In any case, Volkskunde would always be a psycho- experimentally, whereas the products of the higher
logical discipline, as the spirit (Geist) of any person, processes (which could be seen as having properties
no matter how distinguished he/she is, always rests of “objects of nature”) preceded the folk-psycholog-
within the Volk. However, despite its ambitions, ical analysis. With Wundt, Völkerpsychologie was to
no systematic synthesis of materials can be found fill the voids of the limited applicable experimental
within the editions of Zeitschrift des Vereins für analyses by examining under a historical-genetic
Volkskunde. It seems that this was left to be done by approach complex mental functions, thereby deter-
a later generation of researchers. mining both the social dimensions of the mind and
the psychic processes.
Wilhelm Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie However, for Wundt (1888), the broad con-
Wilhelm Wundt10 (e.g., 1888, 1911, 1917) had ception of what academic fields should belong to
been an avid reader of Lazarus and Steinthal’s publi- Völkerpsychologie made it vulnerable to attacks.
cations on Völkerpsychologie, and he agreed that the Wundt was especially opposed to integrating his-
discipline was a necessary extension of the individu- tory per se (a core component of Völkerpsychologie for
alistic approach. Lazarus and Steinthal) on the grounds that (1) his-
tory is already integrated in the subdisciplines (e.g.,
Just like it’s the objective of psychology to describe language, myth, art, etc.) of Völkerpsychologie, and
the actuality of individual consciousness, thereby (2) there is a great risk of making causal inference

diriwäch ter 49
on historical grounds without accounting for natu- humanity. Examining the different levels of mental
ral and cultural factors (Wundt, 1888, pp. 3–7). In development in which humans continuously find
other words, there is the risk of psychologizing his- themselves is the way of true psychogenesis (Wundt,
tory, something that was certainly not the objective 1912, p. 4).
of Völkerpsychologie. Instead, Wundt proposed that In this sense, the continuous progression from
Völkerpsychologie should be divided into the fol- one level to the next, including the in-between
lowing main areas: language, myth, customs, and stages that connect the stages to more complex,
morals. higher cultures, makes Völkerpsychologie in its true
What these areas have in common is that they nature a developmental discipline. Each stage has its
originate in communal life. They are further related own unique characteristics that mark the achieve-
because they have an historical context. The roots ments of the group under examination. For exam-
of this assumption can be found already in the ple, whereas primitive man is said to be closest to
works of Johann Georg Hamann (1730–1788) and nature, comparable to wild animals, the man of the
Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803), who totemic era is already distinguished by a realization
tried to supplement Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of of the possession of a soul. In fact, the totem itself
pure reason with a philosophy of language, culture, is the manifestation of a soul, either the soul of an
and history (Nerlich & Clarke, 1998, p. 181). Aside ancestor or the soul of a protective being, often
from language, it was especially historical develop- in the shape of an animal. In this regard, Wundt
ment (not to be confused with history as a disci- (1912, pp. 114–115) carefully noted that the dif-
pline) that was central to Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie ference between primitive and totem is not neces-
in that it gave direct insight into the products of sarily indicative of a lesser and greater development,
creative synthesis of many individuals. as humans in both stages are best adapted for their
level of development.
Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie as a Each stage is marked by distinctive characteristics,
Social-Developmental Perspective directly relating to the products of higher level men-
For Wundt (1888, 1911, 1912, 1917), tal processing. More specifically, the products relate
Völkerpsychologie was, in essence, a social-develop- to the elements of our psyche, not in an atomistic
mental discipline: social because it predominantly sense, but rather in an elementaristic sense as per-
moves within societal dimensions; and develop- taining to the units of processes. These elementaristic
mental because it also needs to examine the differ- processes, however, make sense only when looked at
ent steps of mental development in humans (true in relation to the whole. Thus, taking context into
psychogenesis), from underdeveloped to higher account also becomes an absolute necessity.
cultures (it goes without saying that the suprem- Nonetheless, Wundt’s general claim that he
acy of one culture over another is in the eye of the was investigating the historicity of the psyche
beholder). was somewhat problematic. In his Elemente der
Examining the products of higher mental pro- Völkerpsychologie, it was not always clear whether
cesses brings with it a myriad of methodological he was indeed adhering to that claim. That is, what
problems, most notably that products of mental pro- is investigated is not the historicity of the psyche
cesses are subject to interpretations. It is important in and of itself but the development of the men-
to note that this applies not only to Völkerpsychologie tal objectifications of psychical activity during the
but also to any division of psychology. However, it is course of history. As Eckardt (1997) points out:
especially the broad perspective of Völkerpsychologie
Although the reconstruction of cultural development
that has raised the eyebrows of the critical inves-
implies an aspect of historicity in the psyche, it still
tigator. For example, unlike his predecessors (i.e.,
has to be distinguished if the historical changes of the
Lazarus and Steinthal), Wundt (1912) attempted a
psyche or the psychological parameters of historical
form of völkerpsychologische synthesis in his Elemente
development are the objects of investigation. In
der Völkerpsychologie, where he traced the roots of
other words, the historicity of the psyche is not to be
modern man by emphasizing a seemingly univer-
mistaken for psychologizing the historical.
sal primitive man (Urmensch). The connection can
(p. 104)
be traced through various developmental stages:
(1) primitive man, (2) the totemic era, (3) the ages The problem of psychologizing history may well
of heroes and gods, and (4) the development of be rooted in Wundt’s determination to separate

50 völker psyc ho log i e


psychology into a lower and higher discipline—an to show the complex state of affairs (Tatbestände)
obstacle that Wundt’s successors would later over- from these elements alone (Sander, 1922, p. 57).
come (see Diriwächter & Valsiner, 2008). To find It may be helpful to use one of Wundt’s (1894,
general laws about the fundamental psychical p. 113) own examples on how this worked. When
functions based on the objectification of complex looking at our sensations, every conscious percep-
psychic processes seemed to be a methodological tion (Wahrnehmung) can be divided (zerlegt) into
impossibility. The main problem was the jump from elementary sensations (the reader may want to note
one level to the other (i.e., from higher to lower). the deductive approach). However, our experience
That is, Wundt was forced to leap constantly from is never just the sum of these sensations (in the
the products of interaction to intra-individual pro- additive sense). Instead, through the connections
cesses, whereby the crucial mediating process never of these sensations something new is created, with
really went beyond general theoretical postulates unique characteristics that were not contained in
(Danziger, 1983). the sensations alone. Therefore, although we can
abstract elements from a phenomenon, attempting
Creative Synthesis: From Elementary to put these elements together again will not result
Processes to Wholeness in the original phenomenon. For example, through
Under the principle of creative synthesis I understand numerous light-shades/impressions (Lichteindrücke)
the fact that psychical elements, through their causally we create spatial forms (räumliche Gestalt). No mat-
related bi-directional processes (Wechselwirkungen) as ter how nativistic our philosophical orientation is,
well as the resulting consequences thereof, create connec- this conscious perception is something creative as
tions which may be psychologically explained through opposed to the sum of all the light-shades/impres-
their components, but at the same time those connections sions, which is the substratum (Substrat) of the per-
contain new characteristics which are not contained in ceptive act. Wundt saw this principle as valid for
the elements. all psychical relationships; it guides mental develop-
—Wundt, 1894, p. 112 ment from the first to the last step.

Wundt felt that creative synthesis was the nec- Transformation in Creative Synthesis:
essary link between the lower mental processes Elevation to the Cultural Level?
(i.e., sensory perceptions) and the higher processes Volkelt (1922, p. 88) points out that for Wundt,
that give our life meaning. The higher ones were synthesis had a double meaning. First, synthesis is
the foundation of Völkerpsychologie. However, it the inverse of psychological analysis—that is, it is
needed to be understood that Völkerpsychologie was a task in which psychologists take the abstracted
not really a self-standing discipline; rather, it was products of their analysis and place them together
intimately connected to the lower processes—that again. It must be noted that the object of synthesis
is, those connected to physiology (Wundt, 1917), (the totality) is the starting point of analysis, and
albeit this connection was never truly shown. abstracted components need to be reintegrated
Sensations, according to Wundt, are the prod- into the original totality. In other words, synthesis
uct of isolated abstractions. They become the end is the inversibility of psychological analysis, a task
result of psychological analysis when components of in which psychologists are capable of reproducing
a totality can no longer be reduced—that is, they the abstract elements in a synthesized whole. This is
are the elements that precede consciousness/aware- where Wundt’s primary concern about grasping the
ness. Nevertheless, although such elementary pro- person in his/her entirety becomes clear.
cesses can be temporarily examined in isolation, it The second meaning of synthesis, according to
needs to be reiterated that they too are constantly Wundt, is that it is a real genetic process of meld-
connected with other components that lead up to ing originally unrelated elements. As mentioned
the wholeness of experiences. Although it may well above, when we are looking at an object, we may
be possible to further abstractly differentiate aspects say that it consists of certain elements (i.e., the
of the elements (sensations), it comes at a cost: the light-shades/impressions reflected on our retina).
destruction of the experiential totality. A psychol- However, we do not perceive this object in terms
ogy that takes these elements as the starting point of its elements; rather, it is the object in its total-
of analysis, from which they build up to create the ity on which we reflect. The genetic process of
immediate experience, will always find it impossible melding unrelated elements goes unnoticed, and

diriwäch ter 51
our psychological processes thus begin at the level The Case of Synthesis Transformation,
of synthesis. Nevertheless, although unnoticed, Thoughts, and Language: An Example
the finalized synthesis has undergone a genetic That Wundt unknowingly anticipated and
process. stood at the threshold of Ganzheitspsychologie (see
The finalized synthesis is precisely the point that Diriwächter, 2009) becomes especially evident in
some of Wundt’s closest students (e.g., Krueger, his dealings with the higher totalities within a self-
1915, 1922; Sander, 1922; Volkelt, 1922) picked contained discipline: Völkerpsychologie. Of these
up on when they transformed the Leipzig School higher totalities, language was given particular
into one that took Ganzheitspsychologie (or holis- attention to be able to trace mental development (or
tic psychology) as its guiding principle (see synthesis transformation), and Wundt devoted two
Diriwächter, 2008 for a discussion on the doctrine volumes of his Völkerpsychologie (volumes I & II) for
and main tenets of Ganzheitspsychologie). For this task. For example, Wundt (1912, pp. 436–458)
them, Wundt’s notion of creative synthesis was not divided language into two domains:
a true synthesis but rather only another form of
1. Outer phenomena: this domain consisted of
aggregation based on the researcher’s manipulations
a person’s actual produced or perceived utterances.
of elements. Hence, it did not tell us much about
The outer phenomena can be described as the
the true experience of the psyche’s totality. Instead,
organized system of sounds of language. However,
there is a necessity to incorporate qualitative ele-
this aspect is just the expression of much deeper
ments that circumscribe the psyche in its entirety
cognitive processes:
by leaving the realm of the synthesized aggregates
2. Inner phenomena: this domain entailed
to the sphere of holistic measurement. Any attempt
the cognitive processes that underlie the outer
to incorporate the products of elementary processes
phenomena. These processes organize the
into a totality (Ganzheit) requires the person to
person’s thoughts. They allow for analysis of the
leave the method of summation of properties and
phenomena encountered and to put mental images
acquire the process of qualitative description of
into words that are then presented in the form of
the experienced phenomenon from the perspective
organized utterances. Or, in the case of a listener,
of the totality. When all is said and done, we are
to comprehend a speaker’s utterances by extracting
interested in explaining the entirety of experience
meaning from the perceived sound units (see
and not merely its isolated products. In that sense,
below). In short: The cognitive processes constitute
analysis of the psyche should be a top-down process
the inner mental domain of speech.
and not vice versa.
If we give up the genetic elemental synthesis Sentence production, according to Wundt (1912,
(the melding of unrelated elements) and replace pp. 436–458), begins with a Gesamtvorstellung (a
it with the genetic totality (Ganzheits) transfor- unified idea that entails the whole mental config-
mation, then the creative character of develop- uration) that one wishes to express. The analytic
ment is no longer hindered: each higher totality function of apperception prepares us to express our
is in relationship to the totalities out of which it Gesamtvorstellung by analyzing it into components
emerged—a creative novelty. The person’s devel- and structure that retains the relationship between
opment does not progress from scattered elements the components and the whole. Let’s say that I mar-
to a synthesized whole; rather, it progresses from vel at how green the grass is today and wish to share
one totality/whole to another (Volkelt, 1962, this perception. What I first need to do is to dis-
p. 27). For Wundt’s successors at Leipzig, creative sect this unified idea (the grass is green) into com-
synthesis did not mean that scattered elements ponent parts, which at the most basic level consist
connected to form a new whole but, rather, that of a subject (grass) and predicate (green). Thus, the
an old synthesis was restructured. Synthesis does basic structural division consists of two fundamen-
not replace the aggregate structure; rather, a dif- tal ideas that can be represented through a simple
ferent synthesis replaces previous ones. Elements tree diagram (see Figure 2.1 below).
were not of much use because in isolation they These basic ideas receive their corresponding
had no meaning, and thus for Wundt’s students symbols (i.e., words) with the addition of function
the notion of cumulating elementary processes words such as “the” and “is,” which are required
needed to be dropped and replaced with the prin- in a particular language for full sentence creation.
ciple of psychical totality. The result is that through an analytic process, I was

52 völker psyc ho log i e


able to describe the transformation of an inexpress- Wundt would not have phrased it so, one could say
ible, organized whole (the Gesamtvorstellung) into that these labels rest on the foundation of creative
an expressible sequential structure of symbols (the synthesis transformations.
words) that manifested themselves by means of a That such ideas are not far removed from a
sentence (the media of language), whereby in the discipline called cultural psychology should not
present case above I have shared verbally two fun- be surprising. In his tenth (and final) volume of
damental ideas (grass and green). Naturally, the Völkerpsychologie, titled Kultur und Geschichte (cul-
more complex our Gesamtvorstellung is, the more ture and history), Wundt (1920), to the best of my
expanded our analysis must become, which in turn knowledge, brings Völkerpsychologie for the first time
results in more complex tree diagrams. In each case, close to cultural psychology:
we are examining the results of a creative synthesis—
As these three labels [language, myth, customs] only
the meanings that have become united as a
describe three main directions, according to which
Gesamtvorstellung and are now deconstructed via
human “mental” life (Seelenleben) differs from all
the tools (e.g., words) that our system of language
organic beings, and while each of these directions
has provided.
encompasses various appearances, we can say that
In the case of comprehending a person’s
these factors and their development in relation
Gesamtvorstellung, the above process now needs
to humans are joined under the general term of
to be reversed. That is, a listener (the receiver of
culture, so that in this regard Völkerpsychologie and
a communicative event of meaning exchange) is
the psychology of culture (Psychologie der Kultur) are
confronted with a transmission of sequential com-
equivalent terms/concepts (Begriffe).
ponents (such as “green” or “grass”) that now need
(p. 57)
to be synthesized into a whole (a creative act). In
principle, this proceeds via a reversed tree diagram However, as Jahoda (1993) emphasizes, culture
(see Fig. 2.1 below) by which particular components (in the German sense of Kultur) did not always have
(e.g., words and grammar) are linked and melded the same meaning for Wundt. According to Jahoda,
(one after the other) as they arrive in the listener’s culture was sometimes “the expression of the higher
mind. The words and grammatical structure of the forms of human intellect and creativity; it meant art
transmitted sentence are merely the tools through science, knowledge and high-level skills, sophistica-
which the listener can try to reconstruct the speak- tion and savoir-faire” (p. 185). At other times, the
er’s Gesamtvorstellung. Beyond that, the words label culture was more or less used synonymously
(the parts) are of no particular relevance. Thus, as with the term civilization or nationality (the later
Wundt pointed out, we usually retain the meaning especially after World War I). Hence, a clear defini-
(inner phenomena) long after we have forgotten tion of culture was not always apparent in Wundt’s
the specific words (outer phenomena) that the per- writings (a problem that also occurs in present-day
son spoke to convey that meaning. studies on culture and psychology).
Nonetheless, what present-day readers of
Völkerpsychologie and Culture Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie can benefit from is the
The investigation of language (as well as myth and wide breath of scope with which he approached
customs) comprised the core of Völkerpsychologie, as the subject. Although many things he wrote are
these were seen as universal phenomena across all arguably outdated and in some cases flawed,11 he
human civilizations and thus made humans dis- nevertheless demonstrates a remarkable talent for
tinguishable from other organic beings. Although inquisition, curiosity, and, above all, skills with
which to relate and integrate information that was
Gesamtvorstellung previously left nearly exclusively to the domain of
anthropology or ethnology, thereby broadening
the scope of psychology beyond the laboratory
setting.
However, taking the notion of creative synthesis
Subject Predicate transformation as the basis to approach the disci-
[grass] [green]
pline of Völkerpsychologie, one could arguably make
Figure 2.1 Tree diagram depicting the dissection of a unified the discipline more focused and proceed to study
idea into its most basic components. culture as Wundt’s successor, Felix Krueger (1953,

diriwäch ter 53
pp. 321–323), suggested by applying the following times of stress—and rejects outsiders. Thus, despite
principles: the holistic emphasis on heterogeneity, it is best to
start such studies on the völkerpsychologische level in
1. The highest level of totality (e.g., culture)
peoples who exhibit a great degree of unique char-
weighs most on its sub-totalities (e.g., the
acteristics that are not found in other communities
individual).
(similarly to the aims of Volkskunde).
2. Just like life in general, communal
Through the fusion of Völkerpsychologie with new
(Gemeinschaft) and cultural life is hierarchically
ideas, the horizon may open to allow for investi-
organized.
gations that were previously not methodologically
3. The emphasis is on experience, most
possible on the level of Völkerpsychologie alone.
notably the centrality of feeling and the structural
The criticism of Eckardt (1997) that Wundt’s
orientation, as well as the complexity of whole,
proclaimed unified historical-genetic approach to
which is dynamic and all-encompassing.
investigating psychological phenomena was more
These principles have finally been addressed in a “psychologizing” of history than a historizing of
more recent cultural-psychological publications the psyche would have to be re-examined in light
(e.g., Valsiner, 2000; Valsiner & van der Veer, of the experiential factors that could be deduced
2000). Communal life has internal roots and bor- from a new Völkerpsychologie that is grounded not in
ders that embed it within its environment. In this the past but in the present. This would be possible
regard, the focus shifts from the products of peoples because we are now aware of other approaches that
(as in Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie) to their experiences are grounded in the feelings and structures that are
as a complex phenomenological whole. For Krueger experienced in the totality of a phenomenon as it
(1953), social life was grounded in tension among the occurs.
group, its environment, and the individual will. In John Greenwood (1999) once added to the criti-
fact, this tension (in the form of opposites) increases cism of Wundt by stating that although Wundt did
as a Volk progresses and develops. Reaching higher recognize the possibility and potential of forms of
levels of totality (e.g., from primitive to civilized social and/or cultural psychology (the investigation
cultures) is tied to pain and must be gained by some of psychological processes that are grounded in cul-
sort of force (e.g., hard labor or battle). And natu- tures or social groups) distinct from individual psy-
rally, true to the doctrine of any Völkerpsychologie, it chology (the investigation of psychological processes
is futile to study individuals independently from a that operate independently of cultures and social
group; rather, the group membership is the basis for groups), his own work lacked concrete details. That
the individual. Collective experiences are embedded is, although he felt that there was a need for bring-
not in the individual but in the totality of the group, ing individual psychology and Völkerpsychologie into
of which the individual is but a mere subtotality. organic relation theoretically as methodological
procedures, he did not recognize that a similar need
Future Directions: The Place for existed with regard to the concrete facts and pro-
Völkerpsychologie in Today’s Cultural cesses with which these psychologies were supposed
Psychology? to deal. This criticism, of course, would also need
Although rare, attempts have been made to con- to re-examine the new form of Völkerpsychologie
duct völkerpsychologische analysis from Krueger’s because newer approaches do not necessarily make
(1953) perspective. For example, Dürckheim- that dual distinction, as Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie
Montmartin (1934) examined the structural forces and physiological psychology did.
of community life with Krueger’s theory guid- Moreover, Greenwood (2003) even went so far
ing his analysis. Consistent with the notion of no as to make the controversial suggestion that perhaps
parts without the whole, Dürckheim-Montmartin there may be a space for experimental procedures in
reiterates that true membership of a group implies Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie, something that has not
spontaneous action in accordance with the collec- previously been deemed possible. However, in this
tive will, whereby the individual does not feel forced regard we should be very careful not to fall into the
but, rather, pledges himself/herself to act. The phe- linear causality model (as is so often applied in main-
nomena experienced by the collective people (Volk) stream social sciences today). I can only imagine that
are most clearly distinguishable when the Volk Wundt would be shaking his head in disbelief if
remains rather homogeneous—that is, united in social sciences came forth presenting research under

54 völker psyc ho log i e


the heading of Völkerpsychologie in which claims are than cultural psychology, as culture (in the German sense of
made that “A caused B.” Instead, alternative mod- Kultur) was merely incorporated into the approach (see also
Jahoda, 1993), although Wundt does compare Völkerpsycholo-
els of causality would need to be applied, such as gie and the “psychology of culture” at one point (see below).
catalyzed systemic causality models (Valsiner, 2000, Nevertheless, Völkerpsychologie was to focus on all aspects of peo-
pp. 74–76; see also 2004) that would not only be able ple living together, not just culture per se.
to capture the essence of Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie 2. Although not without criticism (see Schneider & Müller,
but would be closer to real-life events. It is clear that 1993).
3. However, according to Thurnwald (1924, p. 32), it
in such an approach, the catalyzed system necessarily was Wilhelm Humboldt’s 2-year-younger brother, Alexander
needs to include the historical nature of the Volksgeist, von Humboldt, who coined the term Volkerpsychologie. Thus,
something that completely removes the model from it remains unclear who was the first to have coined that term.
present-day mainstream linear approaches to ones Jahoda (1993, p. 145) followed up claims that Humboldt was
that turn the causality issue into one of emergent the first and found that these claims rest on mere assertions.
4. This idea was nicely captured by Wundt (1915) as
or synthesis causality. After all, we must remember Germany’s Second Reich was soon to near it’s end when, shortly
that theories are not supposed to take on the role after the outbreak of World War I, he advocated German ideal-
of a set mental (and socio-ideological) position; rather, ism and a social state in which the duty of citizens was to live for
they are the tools that help us look at phenomena the community and not for themselves.
(see Valsiner, 2004). 5. For example, Achelis (1889) published an article in honor
of Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801–1887) and in it addresses sev-
Holzner (1961) proposed several specialized eral of Fechner’s important points in his system of psychology.
subdivisions of Völkerpsychologie that are abstracted Thus, the scholars of Völkerpsychologie were aware of the theories
from a general Völkerpsychologie. In that regard, in experimental sciences but may have not necessarily been on
Völkerpsychologie would consist of a völkerpsycholo- the “cutting edge,” and certainly did little to incorporate it into
gische description of cultural content, a sociologi- Völkerpsychologie theory. The three articles that Eckardt (1997,
p. 71) highlights as specifically psychology-related are to be clas-
cal analysis of the totality of society, and disciplines sified as a form of philosophic-psychological essays. The authors
that specifically focused on studying social stratifi- were Lazarus (1868) and Meyer (1878, 1880). The reader may
cations, the totality of communal life, socialization, wish to note that the latter reference has been cited wrongly in
and personality. In the past, these studies would Eckardt’s text (he provides the same year and issue number for
predominantly require a comparative analysis, but both of Meyer’s publications) and is given in the corrected form
in the references below.
with the framework of modern cultural psychol- 6. This volume also contains a complete name and topic
ogy, they could become experiential to include index, stretching over all 20 volumes of Zeitschrift für Völkerpsy-
phenomenology of the higher levels of totality on chologie und Sprachwissenschaft.
topics like feelings and emotions, thereby utilizing 7. He made it a point to emphasize those people who
the rich methodological knowledge that has been belonged to the folklore guild, which held an international con-
gress from July 29 to August 3, 1891 in Paris, France.
introduced by various cultural psychology research- 8. Weinhold (1891) believed that the lower a person’s edu-
ers (for a general overview, see Valsiner, 2000). cation, the fewer words are needed for talk.
Finally, Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie has done little 9. The title Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwis-
to integrate the actual developmental processes, senschaft continued to be displayed under the title Zeitschrift des
and such an approach would be a desirable addi- Vereins für Volkskunde until the new editor, Karl Weinhold, passed
away in 1901. In 1902, when Johannes Bolte became Weinhold’s
tion to Völkerpsychologie as a part of today’s cul- successor, the old title of Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und
tural psychology. After all, development implies Sprachwissenschaft finally became history. The new journal would
processes that engulf the entire person or persons, continue until the midst of World War I, by then under a new
and this form of totality needs to be accounted for. editor, Fritz Boehm, when the lack of personnel in the printing
One can now only hope that the present-day gen- factory and money problems would force it out of existence.
10. A biographical account can be found in Rieber and Rob-
eration of cultural psychologists will dare to step inson (2001).
into the footsteps left behind by the early giants of 11. For example, in his approach, Wundt faced considerable
Völkerpsychologie and complete the ambitious proj- difficulties in explaining the intermediate steps of cultural devel-
ect that, until now, has been left dormant but ready opment. In his Elemente der Völkerpsychologie (1912), despite his
for a re-awakening. emphasis on context, Wundt is often accused of reconstruct-
ing the cultural development of humans (e.g., Eckardt, 1997;
Werner, 1953). First of all, the way Wundt breaks down the
Notes development of humans into elements leads to the assumption
1. Other translations of the term Völkerpsychologie, such as of an Urmensch, which by its nature is the same for all humans.
cultural psychology, could be equally misleading as none really The development is then similar for all of mankind, given the
grasps the spectrum of this discipline. Völkerpsychologie was more environmental conditions. Werner (1953), for example, opposes

diriwäch ter 55
this by noting that if two human cultures are superficially similar Krueger, F. (1915). Über Entwicklungs-Psychologie: Ihre
today, it does not guarantee that they are not of different origins Sachliche und Geschichtliche Notwendigkeit. Arbeiten zur
and of different functional relevance. Further, the interpretations Entwicklungspsychologie: 1. Band - Heft 1. Leipzig, Germany:
of the völkpersychologische elements are tainted by our own devel- Verlag von Wilhelm Engelmann.
opmental stage (which is arguably operating out of a different Krueger, F. (1922). Wilhelm Wundt als deutscher Denker.
world than the world it is analyzing). In A. Hoffmann (Ed.), Wilhelm Wundt -;Eine Würdigung
This has proven to be a fundamental problem for völkerpsy- (pp. 1–44). Erfurt, Germany: Verlag der Keyserschen
chologische analysis: capturing and determining cultural units or Buchhandlung.
cultural layers that are so formed that all the outer manifestations Krueger, F. (1953). Entwicklungspsychologie der Ganzheit. In
of these cultural layers are carried by the distinct mental unique- E. Heuss (Ed.), Zur Philosophie und Psychologie der Ganzheit:
ness of a higher unit. (Werner, 1953, p. 11) Schriften aus den Jahren 1918–1940 (pp. 268–325). Berlin,
This issue, however, will always remain a problem for psy- Germany: Springer Verlag.
chology. No matter how well we design an experiment, no matter Lazarus, M. (1862). Ueber das Verhältnis des Einzelnen
how objective we try to be, the results are always subject to the zur Gesammtheit. Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und
interpretations of those who are investigating the matter. Sprachwissenschaft, 2(4), 393–453.
*This chapter is a revised and expanded version of the fol- Lazarus, M. (1865). Einige Synthetische Gedanken zur
lowing publication: Völkerpsychologie Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und
Diriwächter, R. (2004). Völkerpsychologie: The Synthesis that Sprachwissenschaft, 3(1), 1–94.
never was. Culture & Psychology, 10(1), 85–109. Lazarus, M. (1868). Zur Lehre von den Sinnestäuschungen
Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft, 5(2),
113–152.
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Philosophische Studien, 4, 1–27.

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CHAPTER

Cultural-Historical Psychology:
3 Contributions of Lev Vygotsky

René van der Veer

Abstract
A brief outline of Vygotsky’s major ideas is presented with only cursory reference to their historical
background. Drawing on psychological and linguistic research, Vygotsky developed a theory of the
development of mind. Central is the idea that the child’s naturally given mental processes become
transformed by the acquisition of speech and meanings. Through speech the child acquires a worldview
that reflects reality in a more adequate way. The driving force in creating new meanings for the child
is education in school. Given that meanings and schools differ in different cultures, children and
adults living in different cultures will think along different lines. Attention is paid to the argument that
Vygotsky overemphasized the role of speech to the detriment of the child’s concrete operations
with reality.
Keywords: Cultural-historical psychology, history of psychology, speech, concept
formation, lower and higher mental functions, social interaction, cross-cultural research

Cultural-historical psychology is connected Social History


with the name of Lev Vygotsky and originated in Born in a Jewish family in Belarus in 1896, which
the 1920s in what was then the Soviet Union. The then formed part of the Russian empire, Vygotsky1
definitive account of Vygotsky’s conception cannot could not avoid participating in and witnessing
yet be provided—given the inaccessibility of a sub- the social turmoil his country went through in the
stantial part of his writings (Van der Veer, 1997)— early twentieth century (Van der Veer & Valsiner,
but enough is known to give a fairly accurate picture 1991). This included several pogroms against the
of what he was up to. However, the understanding Jews, the October Revolution in 1917, the Civil
of Vygotsky’s ideas is made more difficult by the fact War from 1917 to 1923 (with foreign interven-
that they originated a long time ago and in a differ- tion), the collectivizing of farming in the late 1920s
ent culture. Theories often reflect the social context and early 1930s with resulting famines and millions
and historical period in which they were written, of death, and widespread political terror during the
and Vygotsky’s theories formed no exception. No reign of both Lenin and Stalin (Conquest, 1986).
social scientist in his time and country could permit Practically from the beginning of the new state in
himself to ignore the socio-political events taking 1917, the authorities began curtailing the freedom
place, nor could he fully escape the pressure of social of speech and scientific research. Some unwelcome
demands. This makes it essential for an understand- investigators were exiled or arrested, and others
ing of Vygotsky’s theories and their social embed- were fired or criticized in public (Chamberlain,
dedness to provide a brief account of that rather 2006). Researchers reacted by complying or try-
remote period in a country that no longer exists. ing to avoid sensitive subjects; only a few openly

58
resisted the new official ideology to the extent that Functions
this remained possible (Van der Veer, 2000). As the One of Vygotsky’s principal claims is that human
new official doctrine was loosely based on Marx’s consciousness is a uniquephenomenon in the ani-
ideas about class struggle and Engels’ ideas about mal world and develops in ontogeny. It is unique in
the origin and nature of man, the social sciences that it is based on the use of cultural means, which
and humanities were most vulnerable for criticism become internalized by the individual (Vygotsky,
from above. As a result, the researchers within these 1997c; Vygotsky & Luria, 1994). Vygotsky was pri-
domains attempted to develop a Marxist psychol- marily thinking of the unusual power of words as
ogy, a Marxist sociology, a Marxist anthropology, cultural means to transform our mental activities.
and so on. Vygotsky was one of the younger genera- Drawing on the work of the linguists Jakubinsky
tion of psychologists who tried to develop this new (1923), Potebnya (1926), and, ultimately von
Marxist psychology and one who, in the process, Humboldt, he emphasized the capacity of words to
developed close ties with high officials, such as the influence both the other and the self (Bertau, 2009).
minister of education Lunacharsky and Lenin’s wife Words can be used to urge another person to do
Krupskaya. One might think, then, that his writings something, but they can also be used to steer one’s
would be full of obligatory terms and references as own behavior. Words can be used to make a plan
shibboleths of the right worldview and, more gener- for the day, to form an intention, and to memorize
ally, that he did not sincerely believe in the ideas he a list of objects. Because such use of words does not
advanced, like so many of his generation. This, how- develop overnight, children and adults may differ
ever, does not seem to have been the case. Vygotsky’s substantially in their way of mental functioning, in
work is relatively free of the standard criticism of their consciousness.
class enemies and bourgeois mentality, and one gets Take the phenomenon of memorization. It is
the impression, while reading his private notebooks obvious that animals have memory, just like it
and letters, that he truly believed in the possibil- is clear that preverbal infants learn to recognize
ity of a Marxist reform of psychology and society at their mother, but Vygotsky argued that this is a
large. Also, in his attempts to develop his own new type of memory that is qualitatively different from
version of a Marxist psychology, he steered his own typically human, verbal memory. Using words,
course—for example, relying heavily on contempo- we humans may make a list of errands, we can
rary linguistic studies—which in the end made him think of categories of objects to be bought (veg-
suspicious for ideological hardliners. In the final etables, meat, dairy, etc.), we can describe pictures
years of his brief life, Vygotsky suffered criticism or music in words (which may help to recognize
and harassment from the Soviet authorities, and no and remember pieces of music or art), and so on
one knows what would have been his fate had he and so forth. Vygotsky preferred to call the first
not died from tuberculosis at the age of 38 years type of memory—that of infants and animals—
(Van der Veer, 2000). “natural memory” and the second type “cultural
memory,” and, more in general, he distinguished
Basic Ideas natural from cultural mental functions. Cultural
Vygotsky developed his ideas over a period functions always involve the use of cultural means
of about 10 years, and given this relatively short such as words, and natural functions do not.
period, one would expect to find a reasonably con- Vygotsky posited that cultural functions are much
sistent oeuvre without major revisions. In Vygotsky’s more powerful than natural ones and, conse-
case, this expectation is not vindicated, however. quently, also spoke of higher and lower functions.
Characteristic of Vygotsky is that he was constantly In this conviction, he may have been strength-
lecturing and writing—he published several hun- ened by his own feats as a memory artist. Using
dreds of books and articles in one decade—and various classic tricks, he showed his own students
revising his ideas in the process. That implies that how one can memorize long lists of words or
while reading one of Vygotsky’s publications, one numbers and thus increase one’s memory capacity
always has to take into account when it was writ- immensely. Subsequent researchers (e.g., Cole &
ten or published. However, in what follows, I will Gajdamaschko, 2007) have tried to soften the
avoid that problem by presenting mostly concepts natural-cultural dichotomy on several grounds,
and ideas that Vygotsky still adhered to by the end but there is no doubt that the distinction itself is
of his life. a valid one.

va n der veer 59
Origins a combination of socially acquired features, ideas,
Inasmuch as words are first learned and used in skills, et cetera.
social interaction, we can conclude with Vygotsky Incidentally, Vygotsky’s emphasis on the social
that higher mental functions have a social origin. nature of mind may seem Marxist, and in Vygotsky’s
Vygotsky accepted Janet’s view that in human his- case, it was certainly also inspired by Marx’s writ-
tory, words were originally commands (i.e., ego ings, but it should be said that the social emphasis
instructs or urges alter to do something). However, was shared by several non-Marxist thinkers of the
it belongs to the peculiar nature of spoken words time as well. In 1939, for example, the sociologist
that we also hear them and that we may instruct Norbert Elias wrote in a remarkable essay on “the
ourselves. Speaking to ourselves, we wander through society of individuals”:
the day and, in a way, human “consciousness is,
[E]ven the nature and form of his solitude, even what
as it were, social contact with oneself ” (Vygotsky,
he feels to be his ‘inner life’, is stamped by the history
1925/1997, p. 78). Vygotsky argued:
of his relationships . . . one must start from the
We are conscious of ourselves because we are structure of relations between individuals in order to
conscious of others and by the same method as we understand the ‘psyche’ of the individual person.
are conscious of others, because we are the same (Elias, 1935, pp. 33, 37)
vis-à-vis ourselves as others vis-à-vis us. I am
Indeed, this is not far from a statement made by
conscious of myself only to the extent that
Vygotsky’s collaborator Luria (1979, p. 43), who
I am another to myself . . . the social moment in
wrote that “we needed, as it were, to step outside
consciousness is primary in time as well as in fact.
the organism to discover the sources of the specifi-
The individual aspect is constructed as a derived
cally human forms of psychological activity.” Our
and secondary aspect based on the social aspect and
most intimate core, our private ideas and feelings
exactly according to its model.
have their origin in human interaction and make
(1925/1997, p. 77)
use of (are molded by) the available cultural means
It is not difficult to see this statement as a further in a specific society.
elaboration of the dualis concept developed by von
Humboldt, who emphasized the social nature of Means
speech and its importance for the understanding of There are different usages of the word “social” in
the self: the above passages that should be distinguished. Of
course, one can say that human babies are social in
Language, however, develops only socially
the sense that they depend on others and seek the
[gesellschaftlich] and man only understands himself
presence of others. In this regard, human babies do
because he tentatively tested the intelligibility of his
not differ from the young of other primates. Or, one
words on others.
can say with Elias that to understand an individual
(quoted in Bertau, 2009, p. 61)
one needs to look at the history of his or her rela-
So, in this view we know ourselves only through tionships. But Vygotsky was aiming at something
the medium of social speech, via the shared mean- more specific. What Vygotsky had in mind was the
ings of existing language and becoming conscious slow change of learning, memory, vision, hearing,
of oneself is formulating one’s experiences in words and so forth into human learning, human memory,
acquired through others. That implies that our and so on. This takes place by the acquisition of cul-
most intimate, private, and personal feelings—to tural means transmitted and/or acquired in a social
the extent that they can be verbalized—are never- context. In this sense, the mental faculties of a child
theless very social and that becoming an individual of, say, 7 years may not have become fully socialized
or personality does not imply becoming less social. or culturalized.
As Vygotsky put it in his book on the psychology of According to Vygotsky, the understanding and
art, “We should not say that feeling becomes social acquisition of cultural means goes through several
but rather that it becomes personal . . . without ceas- stages in ontogeny, and the first cultural means
ing to be social” (Vygotsky, 1925/1986, p. 314). In often have a concrete, material nature. At first,
this way, Vygotsky also undermined facile individ- the young child will disregard cultural means even
ual–society dichotomies: society is within the indi- when they are made available; then the child will use
vidual and our uttermost individuality consists of the material means in a purely formal way, without

60 c ultural -h i sto r i ca l psycho log y


understanding them and without improvement of open, social variants under the influence of peers
the performance. Subsequently, the child will make and adults.
use of the material means and profit from them. Vygotsky (1932) criticized Piaget’s contention
And, finally, the child will internalize the cultural and performed several little experiments to refute his
means and no longer need material support. One views. Vygotsky noted, for example, that egocentric
of Vygotsky’s favorite examples was that of count- speech was absent or greatly reduced when the child
ing, which for children still depends on the con- was alone or surrounded by deaf children. This sug-
crete availability of body parts such as fingers and gests that egocentric speech is meant by the child as
toes but which most adults can do without this social communication. Vygotsky also observed that
dependence. Another of his examples was that of the incidence of egocentric speech rose when the
memorizing an intention such as the purchasing of child was confronted with unexpected problems.
some present. Children may need to rely on such This suggests, in his view, that egocentric speech has
material means as a knot tied in a handkerchief to some function in the solution of problems. Finally,
remind them of their intention. Adults, however, Vygotsky noticed that egocentric speech becomes
may tie a mental knot by vividly connecting the less intelligible as children grow older, which is not
image of some situation or person with the inten- consistent with Piaget’s idea that egocentrism grad-
tion to buy the present. This switch from external ually disappears. From these results, Vygotsky drew
to internal means is not always fully complete for the conclusion that so-called “egocentric speech”:
a specific function—adults may still use the strata- (1) originates in normal, communicative speech and
gem of tying knots in handkerchiefs—and neither branches off at a later stage; (2) has as its function to
can one say that it is always generally present in steer the child’s behavior when the need arises; and
adults, perhaps, but Vygotsky argued that it is char- (3) becomes less and less intelligible for the outsider
acteristic of human mental development. And one until it has become proper private or inner speech.
might add that the fact that we have gone through According to Vygotsky, then, egocentric speech is
this development is what makes it so difficult for an intermediary stage between normal, communi-
humans to fully grasp the bovine or porcine word- cative speech and inner speech. Like communica-
less worldview. In any case, the above examples tive speech, it is audible, and like inner speech, it
give an idea of Vygotsky’s concept of the gradual serves to guide the child’s thinking (Van der Veer,
acquisition of cultural means in social interaction 2007).
to steer one’s own behavior. Of course, it is very difficult to describe and ana-
lyze the nature and function of inner speech given
Words its intimate nature, and Vygotsky’s reasoning here
Speech itself was the subject matter of Vygotsky’s was necessarily largely hypothetical. He began (fol-
final chapter in his posthumous book Thinking and lowing Jakubinsky, 1923/1988, pp. 27–43) with
Speech (1934). His discussion of private or inner positing that inner speech must be shorter because
speech and its relation to social speech, on the one one need not spell out details that are known to
hand, and thinking, on the other, was partially the speaker but not to the listener. In inner speech,
inspired by the reading of his contemporary, Jean speaker and listener coincide, which means one
Piaget. Piaget (1923; 1924) first described the phe- can be much less explicit. With Paulhan (1928),
nomenon of children who, during play, speak for Vygotsky added that inner speech is dominated by
themselves in a way that is often not intelligible personal connotations—that is, in inner speech
to other children. Piaget hypothesized that such subjects may, on the basis of their private experi-
speech is unintelligible, because young children are ences, attach private meanings to words that do
unable to take the other’s point of view—that is, not coincide with their lexical meanings. The word
children up to age 7 or 8 years do not realize that “sun,” for example, may acquire strongly nega-
the other child does not have the same knowledge, tive connotations for a person with delicate skin,
tastes, or feelings as they themselves. In a word, they whereas for others it may be an entirely pleasant
are egocentric. Only gradually will children learn to word. In sum, the chances are that inner speech
replace their egocentric speech with social speech. made audible would not be entirely intelligible to
Piaget’s background philosophy was that children other people given its abbreviated nature and its
are originally autistic, and their autistic thought and personal connotations and jargon. In itself that is a
speech is gradually suppressed and replaced by more comforting thought, but more important is to see

va n der veer 61
how Vygotsky attempted to trace our inner voice supposedly precedes the verbal understanding and
from social dialogues. As stated above, in his view, designation of the experience). In other words, as
verbal thinking begins with social speech (i.e., ego adults we live in a conceptual world and it is very
utters things meant to be heard by alter) but after hard or impossible to regress to the preverbal world
a series of transformations becomes utterly private of the newborn and once again experience a mean-
and presumably unintelligible to the social other. ingless universe. With the acquisition of words, the
Again, then, thoroughly private mental processes child’s phenomenal world begins to change; the
originate in social interaction. In a recent investiga- child learns to classify things, animals, and persons
tion, Werani (2010) investigated whether Vygotsky in several more or less coherent groups. Vygotsky
was right in suggesting that inner speech may have a posited that the most fundamental changes in the
function in problem solving. Using thinking aloud child’s understanding of the world take place in
protocols, she was able to show that overt speech adolescence when children develop full-fledged sci-
was connected with the complexity of the task and entific concepts. Younger children do interpret the
the quality of the solution. It may be inferred that world in intelligent ways, but their conceptual grasp
this holds for inner speech as well (cf. Lloyd & is inadequate compared to that of trained adults. (It
Fernyhough, 1999; Zivin, 1979). is here that Vygotsky’s research into concept forma-
tion discussed below becomes relevant.) Conversely,
Systems in diseases such as schizophrenia, Vygotsky (1997b,
If Vygotsky was right in his claim that mental p. 103) claimed, the subject loses his ability to use
faculties such as memory and perception gradually adequate concepts.
become dominated or transformed by the acquisi- It is not just perception that becomes, so to
tion of verbal meanings and concepts, then it follows speak, intellectualized. The same holds true for
that mental processes are mutually connected in a memory and feelings. Vygotsky believed that our
system that in adults is dominated by verbal think- feelings become trained to gradually fit into a his-
ing. With several contemporaries (e.g., Charlotte torically determined cultural system. When and to
Bühler), Vygotsky believed that in children men- what extent we feel jealous is determined by our
tal functioning may be dominated temporarily by culture, Vygotsky argued. And the appreciation of
other functions such as perception or memory— music and wine is framed in elaborate systems of
that is, children behave led by what they perceive or technical terms that co-constitute the experience.
remember, without thinking too much—but that in Thus, what in children may be primary experi-
adults thinking has the dominating role. In one of ences become refined aesthetic feelings in the adult
his later writings, Vygotsky developed this notion of through the introduction of complex conceptual
the systemic structure of mind. His basic claim was, systems. In a sense, then, mental functions that
in his own words: originally operated in isolation become connected
through language.
It is not so much the functions that change . . . what
is changed and modified are rather the relationships,
Brains
the links between the functions. New constellations
It is, of course, tempting to speculate about the
emerge that were unknown in the preceding stage.
cerebral substrate of a system of mental functions.
That is why intra-functional change is often not
Vygotsky believed that brain systems are not pre-
essential in the transition from one stage to another.
given but that connections between different zones
It is inter-functional changes, the changes of inter-
of the brain develop in ontogeny. When the images
functional connections and the inter-functional
of two different objects are evoked in tandem and
structure that matter. The development of such new
become connected for the subject, then this pre-
flexible relationships between functions we will call a
sumably means that new connections are formed
psychological system.
between the loci where these images and their names
(Vygotsky, 1997b, p. 92)
are stored. In other words, the neural network of
One of Vygotsky’s examples was that of percep- meanings and images is constantly being revised as
tion. In adults, perception is dominated by knowl- the person grows older. Also, the social other may
edge. We see what we expect to see, and it is almost stimulate the connection between different cortical
impossible to find what Wundt called the “immedi- centers of the subject through instruction and so
ate experience” (i.e., the sensational experience that on. To Vygotsky this once more showed that social

62 c ultural -h i sto r i ca l psycho log y


interaction is crucial for cognitive development: cor- were told the name of an object and asked to find
tical centers that were originally unconnected now another object of the same name in a group of
form a cortical network thanks to outside interfer- objects differing on various dimensions (color, size,
ence. The functional plasticity of the brain permits etc.). They found that younger children’s approach
the dynamic systemic structure of mind. to that task was qualitatively different from that
The idea of a flexible systemic brain structure of adults. The attempts at classification by chil-
also allows us to understand cases of compensa- dren were inconsistent, based on concrete features,
tion in patients with brain lesions. Subjects may, and often unsuccessful. The last preconceptual
for example, lose the ability to name an object they stage is reached in pre-adolescence when children
perceive—that is, the visual image of the object no classify the objects on the basis of what Vygotsky
longer triggers its name. However, when allowed to called “pseudo-concepts.” Children might gather
touch the object, they may regain its name. That all objects of the same form but be unable to state
finding seems to imply that in a complex system their joint property in an adequate way. Thus, they
of cortical centers responsible for the storage of the might select all triangles because “they look the
sound, image, touch, and name of the object, some same” but be unable to state the abstract concept
connections may be lost but may be compensated “triangle” and its defining properties. Superficially,
for by others. A better understanding of the exact they seemed to experience the world as adults do,
nature of such interfunctional systems may allow us and nothing prevented successful communication
to devise means of compensation for brain patients. between children and adults, but deeper probing
It was Luria, Vygotsky’s former collaborator, who learned that children of that age conceptualize the
developed this approach into the new discipline of world differently from adults.
neuropsychology. A recent replication in South Africa, using
Ultimately, for Vygotsky the most important Vygotsky’s original material and experimental setup,
implication of the system notion was that of the has verified Vygotsky’s assertion that true concep-
possibility of deliberate control. The well-trained tual thinking only becomes possible in adolescence
adult is capable of using his thinking to improve (Towsey, 2009; Towsey & Macdonald, 2009). In
his memory feats, for example. As thinking is noth- their meaning-making efforts, children are guided
ing other than the use of cultural means such as by the culturally determined meanings available in
words to solve problems, this is equivalent to stat- the words around them, but they reach the (adult)
ing once more that we may use cultural means to stage of full-fledged scientific concepts only after a
enhance memory performance. That is to say, by lengthy process of development.
making deliberate use of cultural signs, we can
lift our perception, memory, and attention to new Teachers
levels. Ultimately, we may even be capable of fully It is education that plays a fundamental role in
dominating our passions by framing them in cul- children’s growing ability to make use of scientific
turally accepted meanings. As we reasoned before, concepts. Inspired by Piaget, Vygotsky made a dis-
the attention of children is dominated by factors tinction between everyday concepts and scientific
outside their control. Similarly, children are the concepts. Everyday concepts are based on concrete
slaves of their passions. Adults, however, are ideally and sometimes irrelevant features of phenomena
capable of steering their own behavior; they are less and do not form part of a coherent conceptual sys-
spontaneous, they can ignore external or internal tem. Scientific concepts reflect essential, abstract
stimuli, they can choose to conceal their feelings, properties of phenomena and are logically con-
and they can become capable of deception. Thus, nected to other, related concepts. Such scientific
with Spinoza, Vygotsky (1997b, p. 103) believed economic concepts as supply, demand, scarcity,
that man, through his intellect, has gained power turnover, and profit, for example, form part of the
over his affects and other mental processes. interconnected system of concepts called economic
theory. Characteristic of scientific concepts is that
Concepts they are explicitly and systematically introduced in
Vygotsky’s evidence for conceptual change in an educational setting and that students are trained
childhood and adolescence rested on several of his to define them, to state their interrelationships, and
own investigations, which he described in Thinking so on. In other words, students make conscious
and Speech (1934). Subjects of different age groups and deliberate use of these concepts, realizing their

va n der veer 63
interconnectedness. Vygotsky posited that the mas- for that suggestion. Also, he suggested that children
tering of such scientific concepts in school carries differ in their ability to profit from assistance and
over to everyday life and that children’s everyday that the difference between their independent and
concepts become transformed by them. Thus, the assisted performance has differential prognostic
child’s original concept of a worker as someone value. More than standard cognitive tests, assisted
who goes to work (with concrete images of cloth- performance would give us an indication of the
ing, factories, etc.) will become enriched by the children’s potential, their independent performance
idea that a worker is someone who sells his labor in the near future. This suggestion has long been
to an employer in accordance with the system of ignored, but the recent dynamic assessment move-
economic concepts mentioned above. Everyday ment—also inspired by Feuerstein, who indepen-
concepts, on the other hand, give bone and flesh dently reached similar conclusions—is exploring its
to scientific concepts. They provide the rich con- potential (cf. Van der Veer, 2007).
crete details that scientific concepts lack and are tied
to the child’s concrete reality. Vygotsky, thus, pos- Cultures
ited that everyday and scientific concepts mutually If higher cognitive processes are determined by
enrich each other but nevertheless emphasized the the acquisition of cultural means, if instruction
leading role of scientific concepts in creating new plays a fundamental role in creating new zones of
and deeper understanding of reality. As often, he cognitive development, then it follows that higher
discussed some empirical investigations that cor- thought differs between cultures. The lower, natural
roborated his view, but these left much to be desired mental functions will be shared because they belong
in terms of research methodology (Van der Veer & to the human make-up, but the higher, cultural
Valsiner, 1991). functions should differ because they depend on
different cultural means from sometimes radically
Zones different cultures. This was a conclusion that was
The leading role of school or, more generally, unusual for that time: contemporaries were inclined
instruction in stimulating children’s mental develop- to attribute the different mentality of ‘savages’ to
ment was emphasized by Vygotsky time and again. their different bodily constitution or animal-like
In the final years of his life, he lectured about edu- nature (Jahoda, 1999). Vygotsky followed another
cation as supposedly creating a new zone of mental line of reasoning:
development. His basic idea was very simple. Some
We have no reason to assume that the human brain
tasks children can solve themselves, independently.
underwent an essential biological evolution in the
Others are only within their reach when they receive
course of human history. We have no reason to
assistance or scaffolding from more capable peers or
assume that the brain of primitive man differed
adults. Using the hints and prompts of parents or
from our brain, was an inferior brain, or had a
teachers, they then reach above their present abili-
biological structure different from ours. All biological
ties. The interesting thing to note is that children
investigations lead us to assume that biologically
cannot utilize all the hints they receive; some assis-
speaking the most primitive man we know deserves
tance is so beyond their present abilities that they
the full title of man.
fail to profit from it. But there is a twilight zone
(Vygotsky, 1997b, p. 97)
between their present darkness of ignorance and
their future brightness of understanding, and just Thus, Vygotsky denied that there could be any rel-
as the daybreak announces a new day, that twilight evant biological differences between contemporary
zone announces the child’s understanding in the persons of different races or cultures. However, if
near future. What the child can do today with sup- we cannot attribute the existing differences in men-
port, she can do tomorrow independently. In other tality to nature, then they must be attributed to
words, we may use the children’s assisted perfor- nurture, to the way human children are raised in
mance to predict their future independent perfor- various societies, and to the cultural means these
mance. Vygotsky clearly suggested that parents and children master. But do we find any deep differ-
teachers, by giving hints and prompts, were of para- ences in cognitive functioning between cultures?
mount importance in calling into life (rather than This is largely an empirical matter, and Vygotsky
laying bare) new levels of the child’s understanding, and his associates were among the first investiga-
but in this context he provided no empirical backing tors who tried to answer this question through

64 c ultural -h i sto r i ca l psycho log y


scientific investigation. Alexander Luria, Vygotsky’s In Vygotsky and Luria’s view, it takes the Western
closest collaborator, found important cognitive dif- school instruction to develop truly scientific
ferences in the Islamic population of Kazakhstan in abstract reasoning in children, and Luria provided
the early 1930s. Previous investigators had found data to prove that the subjects’ capacity for abstract
various minorities in Central Asia to score low on thought was directly linked to the number of years
intelligence tests, and in an effort to explain the dif- of schooling received. Given the right education,
ferences medical anthropologists had measured the they might make “a leap of centuries” (Luria, 1976,
size of their skulls (cf. Van der Veer, 2007). Luria p. 164). Now, as then, these conclusions are viewed
took another approach: after due preparation and as debatable. It is contentious to compare cultures
with the help of interpreters, he offered Kazakh on a developmental scale. It is risky to draw general
subjects intellectual riddles and carefully discussed conclusions about subjects’ general ability to reason
the proposed solutions with the subjects—challeng- abstractly on the basis of their failure or refusal to
ing them for better arguments, expressing dissent, solve the presented tasks. It is doubtful whether
and so forth—in a manner not unlike that used by Western school is essential in creating abstract abili-
Piaget in his clinical interviews with children. He ties. Be that as it may, Vygotsky’s and Luria’s find-
found that his subjects failed to solve several cogni- ings have been verified time and again, and now,
tive tasks in the manner that he found to be superior as then, it is unlikely that the differences found are
and that was common in most adult Western sub- caused by genetic differences. The exact nature of
jects. Thus, asked to group together three of four the differences in higher reasoning is still subject of
objects, subjects failed to sort them according to considerable debate, whether it be cognitive differ-
their function or to abstract properties. For exam- ences or moral reasoning à la Kohlberg.
ple, when asked which object did not belong in the
series “glass, saucepan, spectacles, and bottle,” the Conclusions
subjects could not reach a solution. They did not say In the early 1930s, Vygotsky advanced a set of
that three of the objects were vessels (function) nor ideas that was quite unlike that of contemporaries
that three others were made of glass (abstract prop- such as Karl and Charlotte Bühler, Kurt Koffka,
erty). Instead, they imagined concrete situations in Kurt Lewin, Jean Piaget, Wilhelm Stern, and Heinz
which these objects would fit together despite Luria’s Werner. He posited a peculiar theory about the
suggestions that other solutions were possible. Luria merging of natural and cultural lines in child devel-
concluded that “different psychological processes opment. The cultural line was based on the acquisi-
determined their manner of grouping which hinged tion of cultural means that transformed the child’s
on concrete, situational thinking rather than on functioning. Applying the socially acquired cultural
abstract operations which entail the generalizing means to the self, the child becomes conscious of
function of language” (Luria, 1976, p. 77). Similar his or her mental functioning. The mastering of
results were reached with other cognitive tasks such cultural means takes years and is only finished in
as hypothetical reasoning: the subjects reacted to adolescence. At first, higher mental functioning
the tasks in ways that differed from those of Western needs the support of concrete material actions
subjects and relied on their concrete, everyday expe- and objects but gradually the child becomes able
rience. Thus, when subjects were told that all bears to operate on the purely mental level. The most
on Nova Zembla were white and that Jaan was a important cultural means is speech, with its variants
bear on Nova Zembla, they refused to draw any social, egocentric, and inner speech. The inclusion
conclusions about Jaan’s skin color because they had of speech into mental functioning implies that the
never been on Nova Zembla. inter-relationships between different mental func-
On the basis of such results, Luria and Vygotsky tions become changed and form a dynamic system.
were inclined to speak of different levels of cognitive On the level of the cortex, this probably means that
functioning—that is, they reasoned that the non- different cortical centers become connected and dis-
Western subjects had not yet reached the Western connected depending on life experiences. A primary
level of abstract reasoning. In their view, the Islamic role in intellectual development is played by educa-
culture to which the subjects belonged did not offer tion, which teaches children a logically connected
the necessary cultural means to solve the tasks pre- worldview. Children can profit from education
sented, and therefore, the subjects could not mani- when it falls in their zone of proximal development.
fest the required hypothetical scientific thinking. To the extent that cultures offer different cultural

va n der veer 65
means inside or outside education, subjects from Thus, Leontiev shifted the emphasis from speech
different cultures will display different modes of to concrete operations, with reality mediated by
thinking. Children from different cultures may have speech. Undoubtedly, this move was motivated
the same intellectual potential, but they do end up by his wish to stay closer to orthodox Marxist
thinking in fundamentally different ways. thought with its emphasis on the role of concrete
labor in the development of human consciousness.
Future Directions Whether Leontiev’s view substantially differed from
In the 1920s and 1930s, Vygotsky’s ideas were Vygotsky’s stance and, if so, whether it constituted
virtually unknown in the West and thus met with an improvement has since been the subject of con-
no criticism there. In fact, it is very difficult to siderable debate.
find any mention of his person or work (Van der
Veer, 2007). In the Soviet Union this was differ- The Dialogue that Could Not Be
ent: in the late 1920s and early 1930s, his work It is very interesting to note that what Leontiev
first met with criticism, which was continued and Gal’perin wished Vygotsky to do—to shift the
after his death in 1934. The first criticisms were emphasis from speech to concrete actions—was to
largely ideological and can be left aside in this some extent realized in practice by Vygotsky’s con-
context (Van der Veer, 2000). However, shortly temporary Jean Piaget, albeit in his own original
after his death several of his closest collaborators— way. Just like Vygotsky, the young Piaget attached
notably Aleksey Leontiev (1935, 1937) and Pyotr fundamental importance to language and social
Gal’perin (1935)—began to voice criticism that interaction, but gradually he began put more
needs to be taken seriously. Gal’perin, among emphasis on the importance of the child’s concrete
other things, argued that the distinction between operations. It would have been highly interesting
natural and cultural mental processes as made by to see what happened had these two great scientists
Vygotsky leads to the unfortunate consequence been able to communicate and criticize each other’s
that children age, say, 7 years may be said to func- ideas in this respect. What is more, I think it would
tion naturally, outside culture. He pleaded to trace still be beneficial to confront the two theories more
the origin of mediated actions to the “child’s first substantially than has been the case to date. I offer
cry”—that is, he believed that the role of cultural, just a few examples from an introductory book on
semiotic means should be studied already in the Piaget to show what kind of topics might be worth
child’s proto-language. Second, Gal’perin argued discussing.
that Vygotsky laid too much emphasis on verbal
consciousness and ignored the child’s concrete the child’s ability to profit from training depends on
operations in the real world. Vygotsky’s claim that his initial developmental level”. . . [only]
education is the driving force of development, those at a transitional level showed considerable
Gal’perin deemed “idealistic,” because it suggested progress . . . the child can profit from external
that the child’s ideas are changed by those of his information . . . only when his cognitive structure is
teacher (the social other) without intervention of sufficiently prepared . . . / . . . Interest and learning
the real world. Leontiev elaborated this criticism are best facilitated if the experience presented
and gradually developed it to create his so-called to the child bears some relevance to what he already
“activity theory.” In his view, the subject matter of knows, but is at the same time sufficiently novel to
psychology was “activity as a relationship to real- present incongruities and conflicts . . . the child’s
ity, to the objects of this reality” (Leontiev, 1935, interest is aroused when an experience is
p. 68). Acknowledging the central role of speech, moderately novel.
Leontiev nevertheless claimed that speaking with (Ginsburg & Opper, 1979, pp. 217–219, 226)
others, or social interaction in general, could not
This statement seems to deal exactly with the situ-
be the driving force behind changes in ego’s con-
ation that Vygotsky described in discussing his
sciousness. In his view:
concept of the zone of proximal development. The
The social nature of the child’s mind thus does not question to ask might be to what extent the “hints
reside in the fact that he interacts with others but in and prompts” discussed by Vygotsky differ from the
the fact that his activity (his relationship to nature) is Piagetian type of education that hoped to create
objectively and socially mediated. incongruities and conflicts in the child’s mind in a
(Leontiev, 1935, p. 74) transitional stage.

66 c ultural -h i sto r i ca l psycho log y


Ginsburg and Opper also offer the following Conquest, R. (1986). The harvest of sorrow: Soviet collectivization
observation: and the terror-famine. Alberta, Canada: University of Alberta
Press.
Adults often believe that once a child has learned Elias, N. (1939). The society of individuals. In N. Elias (Ed.).
The society of individuals (pp. 1–66). Oxford: Blackwell.
the linguistic label for an object, he has available the
Gal’perin, P. Y. (1935/2009). Sistema istoricheskoy psikhologii
underlying concept. But Piaget has shown that this is L.S. Vygotskogo i nekotorye polozheniya k ee analizu
often not the case . . . only after a period of cognitive (tezisy). Kul’turno-Istoricheskaya Psikhologiya, 1, 118–123.
development does the child use these words and Ginsburg, H. & Opper, S. (1979). Piaget’s theory of intellectual
understand them in the same way as the more mature development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Jahoda, G. (1999). Images of savages: Ancient roots of modern
person.
prejudice in western culture. London: Routledge.
(Ginsburg & Opper, 1979, pp. 223) Jakubinsky, L. P. (1923/1988). O dialogicheskoy rechi. In
L. P. Jakubinsky (Ed.), Izbrannye raboty. Moscow: Nauka.
Is this not the same conclusion that Vygotsky Leontiev, A. N. (1935/1983). Psikhologicheskoe issledovanie
reached in his own research on concept formation? rechi. In A. N. Leontiev, Izbrannye psikhologicheskie proizve-
If not, what are the differences? Finally, Ginsburg denija. Tom 1 (pp. 65–75). Moscow: Nauka.
and Opper formulated what can be called a law of Leontiev, A. N. (1937/1988). Uchenie o srede v pedologicheskikh
internalization: rabotakh L.S. Vygotskogo: Kriticheskoe issledovanie. Voprosy
Psikhlogii, 44, 108–124.
First the child physically sorts or otherwise Lloyd, P., & Fernyhough, Ch. (1999). Lev Vygotsky: Critical
manipulates objects . . . later, he can sort the objects assessments. London: Routledge. (4 volumes).
Luria, A. R. (1976). Cognitive development: Its cultural and social
solely on a mental level.
foundations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
(Ginsburg & Opper, 1979, p. 225) Luria, A. R. (1979). The making of mind. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Again, one might ask whether this is fundamen- Paulhan, F. (1928). Qu’est-ce que le sens des mots? Journal de
tally different from what Vygotsky discussed when Psychologie, 25, 289–329.
describing the internalization of cultural means. Piaget, J. (1923). Le langage et la pensée chez l’enfant. Neuchatel,
I offer these examples for contemplation, not to Switzerland: Delachaux et Niestlé/
argue that Vygotsky and Piaget basically thought Piaget, J. (1924). Le jugement et le raisonnement chez l’enfant.
Neuchatel, Switzerland: Delachaux et Niestlé.
along similar lines. But I do believe that many Potebnya, A. A. (1926/1989). Mysl i yazyk. In A. A. Potebnya
researchers who quote Vygotsky to make some (Ed.), Slovo i mif (pp. 17–200). Moscow: Pravda.
point might just as well have quoted Piaget, who Towsey, P. M. (2009). More than a footnote to history in cul-
now for them seems outdated, perhaps. A thorough tural-historical theory: The Zalkind summary, experimen-
confrontation of both theories by impassionate tal study of higher behavioural processes, and ‘Vygotsky’s
blocks’. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 16, 317–337.
researchers would be quite beneficial, I believe, for Towsey, P. M. & Macdonald, C. A. (2009). Wolves in sheep’s
the progress of psychological science. It is high time clothing and other Vygotskian constructs. Mind, Culture,
that we make some fundamental steps in our under- and Activity, 16, 234–262.
standing of the development of the human mind. Van der Veer, R. (1997). Major themes in Vygotsky’s theoretical
The replication and criticism of Vygotsky’s many work: An introduction. In R. W. Rieber & J. Wollock (Eds.),
The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky. Volume 3. Problems of the
research projects against the background of other theory and history of psychology (pp. 1–7). New York: Plenum
fundamental theories may contribute to this cause. Press.
Van der Veer, R. (2000). Vygotsky criticized. Journal of Russian
Notes and Eastern European Psychology, 6, 3–9.
1. He was born as Lev Simkhovich Vygodsky but changed Van der Veer, R. (2007a). Vygotsky in context: 1900–1935. In
his patronymic and surname for reasons that have not been fully H. Daniels, M. Cole, & J. V. Wertsch (Eds.), The Cambridge
clarified. companion to Vygotsky (pp. 21–49). Cambridge, NY:
Cambridge University Press.
Van der Veer, R. (2007b). Lev Vygotsky. London: Continuum.
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PA RT
2
Inter- and
Intradisciplinary
Perspectives
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CHAPTER

The Role of Indigenous Psychologies


4 in the Building of Basic Cultural
Psychology
Pradeep Chakkarath

Abstract
In this chapter, the author traces some of the common historical roots and features of indigenous
psychology and cultural psychology. He then considers the extent to which the mainstream
historiography of psychology’s encounter with culture conveys a misleading impression and why
correcting this impression is of general importance for a science that deals with human development
and functioning in varying socio-historical and cultural environments. Examples from Indian psychology
are used to illustrate the potential of indigenous psychology to add to our scientific knowledge. Finally,
conclusions are drawn about how and whether indigenous psychological knowledge and methodologies
can help the cause of cultural psychology, what can be learned about the research skills that different
research environments demand, and what kinds of inequalities hinder a more fruitful exchange of
knowledge within the psychological community.
Keywords: indigenous psychology, cultural psychology, historiography, ethnocentrism, Indian theories
about self-concepts, hybridity, third space

The current psychological literature on the rela- had an impact on psychology’s cultural turn in the
tionship between culture and the human psyche dif- twentieth century (Jahoda, 1982; 1992)
ferentiates between subdisciplines and/or approaches b. cross-cultural psychology, which emerged
on the basis of their historical lines of development, from psychological anthropology and has always
their basic theoretical assumptions, and the research been inclined toward mainstream psychology’s
methods they consider appropriate for the investiga- nomothetic/quantitative approach and an
tion of the psychological role of culture. Although experimental paradigm in which culture is treated
their historical lines of development can be traced like just another quasi-independent variable
back quite far into the history of thought, when it (Berry et al., 2011)
comes to the historical impact of the approaches c. Soviet Russian cultural historical
and their scientific merits and the number of schol- psychology, which helped uncover the role of the
ars representing these fields, the following subdisci- contextual dependence of human psychological
plines and/or approaches may be named the most development and the complex process of the
influential: cultural mediation of meaning through social
interaction (Vygotsky, 1930/1978; Wertsch, 1985)
a. psychological anthropology, a research d. cultural psychology, which (in its current
tradition that introduced psychological theories and form) owes much of its interdisciplinary character,
methods into cross-cultural scientific field work and its focus on the “meaning making process” in

71
human action and experience, to the Soviet school indigenous and cultural psychology bear a strong
and is also characterized by its corresponding family resemblance. In the next step, I will present
preference for qualitative and interpretative some of the main features and goals of indigenous
methods (e.g., Boesch, 1991, 1996; Bruner, 1987, psychology as they are portrayed by prominent rep-
1991; Chakkarath & Straub, in press; Cole, 1996; resentatives of the field. There, I will also take the
Lonner & Hayes, 2007; Ratner, 2002; Shweder, opportunity to critically comment on that portrayal
1990; Valsiner, 2009) and to add to it. Drawing on examples from Indian
e. indigenous psychology, which shares many psychology (and contrasting them with stereotypical
perspectives with cultural psychology, but (in its views that are deeply embedded in Western accounts
current form) resulted from the dissatisfaction with of the “Asian” and the “Indian psyche”), I will then
the historically and politically rooted dominance of try to illustrate the impact indigenous psychological
certain other psychological disciplines (including theories can have on various aspects of human devel-
cultural psychology) and the frequently insufficient opment and why this should have the attention of
expertise of their representatives when pursuing psychology in general. Finally, in the same line, I will
their goals in other cultural contexts than their summarize the potential of an indigenous approach
own (e.g., Chakkarath, in press; Ho, 1998; Kim & to improve and refine the foundations and state of
Berry, 1993; Kim, Yang, & Hwang, 2006). the art of cultural psychology.

Taken together, these fields are frequently and Cross-Cultural, Cultural, and Indigenous
collectively referred to as “culture-sensitive,” “cul- Psychology: A Historical Sketch
ture-inclusive,” or “culture-informed” psychology. A Critical View of the Mainstream
Although they consider themselves culture-sensi- Historiography of Psychology
tive, they nonetheless vary as regards the extent to The mainstream historiography of psychology,
which they agree or disagree that (1) psychology particularly as written by Western historiographers,
should follow the nomothetic paradigm of the nat- portrays psychology as a comparatively young sci-
ural sciences and (2) the established methodologi- entific discipline rooted in the scientific enthusiasm
cal standards and procedures of natural scientific of eighteenth century’s European Enlightenment
psychology will enable us to deal with the psycho- and institutionalized at Western universities in the
logical role of cultural phenomena. It is also the late nineteenth century. This narrow, Eurocentric,
extent of agreement or disagreement with these and misleading but dominant historical view stems
positions that determines whether the positions from a characterization of psychology not based
mentioned above consider themselves to be more a on its broad range of research topics and questions
subdiscipline or an alternative, new conception of but primarily on its quantitatively oriented research
mainstream psychology—that is, a new paradigm methods. These methods were devised by early
for doing psychological research and analysis. scholars of the field in accordance with Descartes’,
In the following, I will focus on the latest of the Newton’s, and Boyle’s models of rigorous science as
culture-inclusive approaches to psychology: indig- exemplified by then modern astronomy, physics,
enous psychology. I will try to characterize its self- and chemistry. Thus, observation, experiments, and
understanding and to evaluate its potential to refine the quantitative processing of data were regarded
the approach of cultural psychology, the discipline it as the via regia to discover the universal natu-
is most closely related to. In doing so, I will first sketch ral, rationally understandable laws governing the
the historical development of indigenous psychology human psyche. The year in which Wilhelm Wundt
and its historical relationship to cultural and cross- established the first “Institute for Experimental
cultural psychology. I am not beginning this chapter Psychology” at the University of Leipzig, 1879, is
with a historical sketch merely to follow academic commonly marked as the founding year of psy-
convention but, rather, to show that even the histo- chology as a science. However, Wundt himself had
riography of psychology, including culture-informed a far less reductionist idea of psychology in mind.
psychology, reveals shortcomings that are interesting Rather, he proposed a culture-inclusive and mul-
for our understanding of the importance of perspec- timethodological psychology that he called “dual
tives from indigenous psychology. That will also help psychology” and that was meant to do justice to
to show why the relationship between indigenous the investigation of man as a natural as well as a
and cross-cultural psychology is so distant while cultural being. Thus, his conception represents the

72 indigenous psycho log i e s i n bui ldi n g ba sic cu ltu ra l psych ology


variety of topics and approaches that were to be One of the leading proponents of that criticism
found even in the nineteenth-century beginnings was Giambattista Vico. At the beginning of the eigh-
of psychology far more appropriately than com- teenth century, Vico (1725/1968) laid the ground
mon historiography does (Wundt, 1900–1920). for a social scientific theory that did not conceive
For the history of the more recent culture-sensitive of human beings as simply mechanically function-
subdisciplines and approaches to psychology, it is ing entities, as proposed within the mathematical
particularly significant that nineteenth-century psy- framework of the natural sciences. Vico stressed
chology (along with philology, philosophy, anthro- that the human realm is not ruled exclusively by
pology, sociology, religious studies, and others) was foreseeable regularities but much more by circum-
among the very first institutionalized disciplines to stance, coincidence, opportunity, chance, and a
apply a culturalistic perspective to the social sci- wide range of complex psychological phenomena
ences (Jahoda, 2011). The same perspective showed like love, hatred, courage, fear, indecision, capri-
up in Wundt’s conception of a culture-integrative ciousness, heedlessness, and fantasy. This complex-
psychology to which he dedicated the 10 volumes of ity cannot be described and understood in terms of
his Folk Psychology (Völkerpsychologie). Within that modern physics or any other kind of methodologi-
framework, Wundt, one of the founders of physi- cal monism, especially if one considers that nature,
ological and experimental psychology, declared that society, individual, and psyche are interdependent
in addition to investigating the elementary mental and in constant flux. Because humans are capable of
processes using natural scientific methods, psychol- giving meaning to things, events, themselves, and
ogy also needed to investigate the higher or more the historical dimensions of the world and their
complex processes and products of the mind like existence, they need to be understood in their own
language, religion, myths, art, and social practices. terms and by using methods that allow us to analyze
Because these higher mental processes are histori- the processes and structures of the individual as well
cally shaped, creative, and dynamic phenomena that as the collective production of meaning.
cannot be brought under control in a laboratory, As this short recapitulation of an influential line
psychology, according to Wundt, needed to avail of thought in the history of social science and psy-
itself of knowledge and methods from the social chology shows, it is not as clear as many historiogra-
sciences and the humanities as well (Diriwächter, phers of psychology suggest why the natural science
2011). Terminologically and intellectually, Wundt’s paradigm became so powerful in twentieth-century
conception of folk psychology reflected an influen- psychology. They propose that culture as a psy-
tial tradition of social scientific thought that found chological topic was not taken seriously before the
its well-documented expression even earlier in the twentieth century, before psychological instruments
Journal of Folk Psychology and Linguistics (Zeitschrift were used in anthropology, before the Russian
für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft) founded school of Vygotsky investigated the influence of
by Moritz Lazarus and Heymann Steinthal in 1860. socio-cultural aspects on human development, and
The journal served as an interdisciplinary panel for before cross-cultural psychology—the nomothetic
psychologists, linguists, anthropologists, ethnolo- approach to culture-inclusive psychology—was for-
gists, and historians, all with a common interest mally acknowledged as a subdiscipline of psychol-
in the investigation of different languages, myths, ogy. However, highly sophisticated theorizing about
institutions, diffusion processes, thinking and the cultural nature of man has existed for centuries.
communication styles, differences in education If we only identified as beginnings those that fol-
and learning, personal and interpersonal percep- low natural science models, we would be ignor-
tion as well as in the dynamic and reciprocal effects ing previous theorizing and the quality thereof.
within all these domains. Thus, this early concep- This momentous decision, however, could remain
tion of a culture-inclusive psychology embraced incomprehensible if the factors leading to the self-
topics and perspectives that could be traced back understanding of our discipline and the cultural
to scholars as different as Johann Gottfried von narrations about its development are not investi-
Herder and Wilhelm von Humboldt. These schol- gated using a cultural and indigenous psychological
ars themselves can be seen in a line of thought that approach. To my knowledge, such an analysis of the
arose as a critical assessment of the adequacy of mainstream historiography of psychology has never
the Newtonian paradigm for the field of the social been conducted. However, it would help us under-
sciences. stand why important contributions to the changed

ch a kka rath 73
and much more diverse field that now makes up neighboring peoples and European foreigners), and
what we call “psychology” were overlooked and did information about the geophysical environment,
not find the recognition they deserve. In the follow- including flora and fauna. The product was his
ing, I will provide a short example of early contri- Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, later
butions to our field of research that foreshadowed known as Florentine Codex, a bilingual opus written
many of the topics, theories, and methodologies at in Nahuatl and Spanish, supplemented by hundreds
the core of approaches like cultural and indigenous of ethnographic illustrations and various comments
psychology. by Sahagún himself (Leon-Portilla, 2002).
Sahagún was not the only missionary who
Missionaries as Forerunners of Cultural refined social scientific fieldwork in the sixteenth
and Indigenous Psychology century. Many examples can also be taken from the
When the Age of Discovery began in the late Jesuits’ approach to intercultural perspective-taking.
fifteenth century and European overseas expansion In China, for example, they further developed their
led to the rise of colonial empires in remote parts accommodation method: They acquired profound
of the world, there was an increase in reports and general and intellectual knowledge of the host soci-
reflections on non-European cultures, expedited ety, dressed, behaved, and talked like the members
by the introduction of Gutenberg’s printing press. of the various Chinese societal groups— especially
Interestingly, at a time when Christian mission was the literate elite because they were the ones most
closely linked to European imperialism, the main interested in the Western scientific knowledge that
progress in the attempt to methodically investigate the Jesuits were able to offer and that served as a
foreign cultures and their members was achieved by common ground of understanding on which the
sixteenth-century missionaries. Perhaps the most missionary work could be built. The Jesuits applied
impressive account in this regard was given by the psychological assumptions in the field of intercul-
Franciscan Bernardino de Sahagún in Mexico. tural communication. Instead of simply trying to
Sahagún studied at the University of Salamanca, convey Christian concepts and beliefs to the Chinese,
the birthplace of modern Western linguistics and they tried to find out what field of knowledge their
philology. He was therefore very much aware of Chinese interaction partners were especially inter-
the complex problems involved in spreading the ested in, what they had already contributed to that
word of the Gospel among the natives who only field, and what kind of Western knowledge could
spoke Nahuatl and were unable to understand serve as a valuable contribution to the Chinese
Spanish, Latin, or any other European language. body of knowledge. Thus, they first tried to identify
So Sahagún, who was to stay two-thirds of his culture-specific intellectual interests that promised a
long life in Mexico, trained some of the natives in successful intercultural exchange and then took that
Spanish and field observation, had them interview exchange as a starting point for further exchange
indigenous experts, and took the data collected as on various levels and topics, including religion and
well as data from his own observations as a starting philosophy. One famous example of this method
point for the construction of questionnaires writ- was Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci’s “Treatise on
ten in Nahuatl. He selected three groups of Nahua Mnemonic Arts,” which he wrote to teach Western
experts from three different regions, who studied memorization techniques to the Chinese. Ricci,
the data collected and confirmed that the testimo- who had studied the Chinese and their languages for
nies Sahagún had gathered were authentic and not more than a decade before writing his book, chose
biased by Christian or Spanish attitudes or points of this topic cognizant of the importance of memoriz-
view. He sorted the information into three catego- ing vast amounts of text from the Chinese classics
ries or main themes: information related to gods, when preparing to apply for a position in Chinese
religious beliefs, and religious practice; informa- civil service administration. At least in Ricci’s case,
tion related to the “human sphere”; and informa- the Chinese nobility and literati welcomed his
tion related to “facts of nature.” It took Sahagún efforts and—as he had expected—became inter-
decades to complete his project of documenting ested in learning more about Western and Christian
the indigenous perspectives on religion, history, thinking in general.
aspects of social life (e.g., characterizations of good Like Sahagún, many of these missionaries
and bad qualities in parents as well as children, the developed outstanding approaches to methodi-
respondents’ perceptions of others—for example, cally investigating a foreign culture to understand

74 indigenous psycho log i e s i n bui ldi n g ba sic cu ltu ra l psych ology


how people from that culture view and understand • Compared to Western psychological thinking
the world. They learned the languages of the cul- and research, as it was laid down in the nineteenth
tures they were staying in fluently, became familiar century within the framework of the laboratory-
with the natives’ oral and written traditions, and based experimental and nomothetic paradigm, all
employed the method of long-term interactive previous thinking and research of a psychological
and non-interactive observation in manifold ways. nature is prescientific.
Although these missionaries’ main goal was always • The academic institutionalization of culture-
to promote their faith and to persuade the natives sensitive psychology became possible as soon
to convert to Christianity, the methods they used to as psychology conceived of culture as one more
achieve this goal were culture-sensitive and rooted independent variable within an experimental
in the methodological, hermeneutical, and psycho- or quasi-experimental research design. Because
logical question about how beliefs, worldviews, and that—at least as a broader movement—did not
concepts can be translated into the meaning sys- take place before the twentieth century, all earlier
tems of a foreign culture without naively tapping approaches to the psychological investigation of
into the pitfalls of ethnocentrism. Thus, these mis- the relationship between culture and humans were,
sionaries became forerunners of cultural anthro- scientifically speaking, inadequate and unsuitable.
pology, ethnolinguistics, and cultural psychology. • The history of psychology is a success
In so far as they were interested in the indigenous story of scientific progress. Within this linear
cultures and mindsets of their members, they were understanding of progress, it seems that culture-
also pursuing one of the main goals of indigenous sensitive psychology developed from prescientific
psychology: acknowledging that scientific theories speculation during the Early Modern Age, to naïve
have a certain cultural and historical range and that conceptions of “folk psychology” in the nineteenth
in many cases they may not provide the concepts, century, to the testing and measuring procedures
the methodological equipment, or the intercultural within psychological anthropology at the turn of
competence to adequately deal with the foreign the twentieth century, and finally to cross-cultural
and the others. psychology, the nomothetic approach of culture-
Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church crit- informed psychology.
icized many of the missionary field workers for • Against this background, cultural psychology
their attempts to combine Catholic tenets with ele- then appears to be a new and critical endeavor
ments of the indigenous (e.g., Nahua or Confucian) that, just a couple of decades ago, resulted from
belief systems. Sahagún’s work, for example, was dissatisfaction with cross-cultural psychology’s ways
not published until the early nineteenth century. of dealing with the topic of culture.
The Spanish inquisition prevented the publication, • Finally, indigenous psychology appears to
because—willingly or unwillingly—it attested to a be the latest of the branches of culture- sensitive
remarkably high level of civilization of the Nahua psychology and seems to have its beginnings within
people and their culture, even before their conver- the academic post-Colonial protest movement
sion to Christianity. Moreover, because Sahagún’s against imperialistically imposed (culture-
emic approach had allowed the indigenous peo- insensitive) guidelines and standards of the best
ple to convey their own views, the 12 volumes of way to do culture-informed psychology.
the Florentine Codex contained depictions of the
Spanish that were not altogether favorable. After As the few examples given above have shown, and as
publication, it contributed to that century’s cul- I tried to show in more detail elsewhere (Chakkarath,
turalist perspectives in the social sciences but was 2003), this historiographical account is unconvinc-
mainly ignored by the historiography of the social ing. Essential features of both cultural and indig-
sciences, including the historiography of psychol- enous psychology can be traced back at least to the
ogy, even of culture-inclusive psychology. culture-informed scientific fieldwork performed in
the sixteenth century, shortly after Europe’s discov-
Historiography and Scientific Importance ery of distant cultures in the West and the East. Thus,
of an Indigenous Psychological Perspective achievements by researchers like Sahagún and Ricci
Western historiographies convey a number of took place far before the scientific revolution and
assumptions about culture-sensitive psychology, far before the culturalization of the social sciences in
including the following: the nineteenth century. Scholars like Vico, Herder,

ch a kka rath 75
and Humboldt emphasized early that humans, historical contexts might foster different paths of
because they are social, cultural, and self-conscious individual and social development, including the
beings who give meaning to their lives, actions, and development of scientific thinking. These differ-
beliefs, cannot be scientifically investigated within ences could include the concept of development,
the experimental and mathematical-statistical para- which is not necessarily as tightly linked to the con-
digm of modern physics. Against this history of cept of science as it is in the dominating Western
ideas, nomothetic approaches to the investigation of traditions of thought. Concepts like these might
the cultural dimension of the human psyche do not function as thinking caps, which might be useful
appear to be a plausible consequence of consecu- in a certain regard but might also be a hindrance
tive linear steps toward cross-cultural psychology. to a sounder understanding of the psychological
Rather, nineteenth-century psychology can be seen meaning of culture in the world of meaning-making
as an interruption of a scientific tradition that fore- humans (Bruner, 1987; 1991). It might also prevent
shadowed core positions and methodological con- us from identifying and acknowledging valuable
victions held by cultural and indigenous psychology contributions to our discipline because having a cer-
until today. tain mindset prevents us, for example, from expect-
With regard to the psychological aspects of his- ing contributions to culture-sensitive science from
toriography and what is usually called “scientific missionaries and within the early times of Western
progress,” there are some interesting lessons to be colonialism. Moreover, the evaluation of the qual-
learned that can be related to important theories of ity of these contributions—especially within a
the philosophy of science and moreover to Wundt’s culture-specific understanding of development and
idea of a dual psychology. Like Herbert Butterfield progress—might be guided by presentist judgments
(1949), Michael Polanyi, and Stephen Toulmin (i.e., by measuring achievements of the past against
(1961) before him, it was especially Thomas Kuhn our current understanding of proper science). This
(1970) who tried to explain scientific progress— is not only true in diachronic perspective—that is,
that is, the success of certain paradigms over the genesis of science over time in its own culture
others—by drawing upon concepts taken from as well as in other cultures—but also in synchronic
cognitive and social psychology. His model of para- perspective (e.g., with regard to judgments about
digmatic change makes use of Butterfield’s theory different current approaches within a given cul-
about “mental transpositions” that take place when ture as well as across cultures). Here, we also have
scientists—primarily in times of considerable and to face one of the most problematic impediments
rapid social change—put on new “thinking-caps” when dealing with the psychological investigation
that help them to assess various phenomena in a of culture: culturally and historically embedded ste-
new way so that they can still be interpreted and reotypes about “us” and the “others,” and the dense
understood although the contextual conditions and bundle of stereotypes known as ethnocentrism
familiar frameworks of thinking might be chang- (Chakkarath, 2010c).
ing. Kuhn uses the term gestalt switch to describe It should be clear that the psychological inves-
the change within the cognitive process that sup- tigation of these aspects in a culture-sensitive way
ports the paradigmatic change. We could also call it can profit considerably from conceiving of certain
a change within the scientist’s mindset. traditions of doing psychology as indigenous tradi-
If we take this psychological view on the history tions. Of course, that includes Western psychology
and the historiography of psychology seriously, it and all its subdisciplines as well and is not chal-
becomes obvious that this perspective is an essential lenged by Western psychology’s claim that it is
aspect of what Wundt called the “higher” mental fac- oriented toward universalism because (1) the fre-
ulties and processes of our mind, which he—in line quent reiteration of its claim of universal validity
with Vico, Herder, Humboldt, Lazarus, Steinthal, might be one of its many indigenous features, and
and others—wanted to be investigated so that we (2) even most non-Western conceptions of psychol-
would understand the inter-relationship between ogy that we know of share the very same claim. A
onto- and phylogenesis and between the individual closer look at some of the key features of current
psyche and the social and cultural conditions of its indigenous psychology as well as some examples
functioning and development. Moreover, this per- from Indian psychology, which I will present in
spective demands a culture-sensitive approach to the next section of this chapter, will help illustrate
investigation because different socio-cultural and these points.

76 indigenous psycho log i e s i n bui ldi n g ba sic cu ltu ra l psych ology


As a first result, we should keep in mind that indigenous psychologists share many of critical psy-
only a proper historiography of psychology can chology’s point of views, the topic of power and how
help us understand the development of cultural and it has been exercised in spreading Western psychol-
indigenous psychology (Pickren, 2009), and that, ogy all over the world plays a much more important
at the same time, it is an indigenous psychological role in the indigenous psychology literature. Thus, it
perspective that can help us develop that kind of is not surprising that indigenous psychology, at least
historiography. It is also an indigenous psychologi- in this regard, echoes the main themes of postcolo-
cal perspective that helps to arrive at a sounder and nial studies, which frequently reflect on the lasting
culturally informed understanding of psychology as psychological effects of colonialism, including the
a cultural construction (Marsella, 2009) and its role role of science as one of colonialism’s most effective
in shaping the cultural and mental frameworks of instruments. Within the latest discussions of indige-
our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. nous psychology, the question of power with respect
to various levels of human relationships is a crucial
Indigenous Psychology one. Critical psychology and cultural psychology
The Recent Development of Indigenous have been focusing more closely on intracultural
Psychology aspects of unequal power distribution—for exam-
Indigenous psychology is a term that characterizes ple, debates about appropriate scientific approaches
the latest approach within culturally informed or (and the dominance of quantitative methods) or
culture-sensitive psychology that aims to deal more gender-related issues. Indigenous psychology adds a
appropriately with the relationship between culture focus to the intercultural, international, and global
and the human psyche. Although frequently the effects of power (e.g., the role and effects of colo-
beginning of indigenous psychology is associated nialism, Eurocentrism, and scientific hegemony).
with the books and articles that first started using the Apart from this specific point of view, indigenous
term in the 1970s, as we saw in the historical sketch psychologists and cultural psychologists often cite
given above, key elements of the approach can be the same intellectual sources. Thus, the contributions
traced back much further, at least to the theoretical of Jerome Bruner and Ernst Boesch, the founders
and methodological attempts of certain sixteenth- of twentieth-century cultural psychology, also play
century missionaries to make learning about the a prominent role in indigenous psychology. This is
perspectives of members of indigenous cultures an especially true for their criticism of mainstream psy-
essential part of empirical social scientific work by chology’s attempt to decontextualize human behav-
letting those members speak for themselves. Within ior, thought, and feelings, an effort that lost sight
the more recent discussions about the status quo of human beings as intentionally acting individuals
of psychology, however, one notices that, at least who are deeply embedded in a complex web of cul-
in Europe, many of the debates within so-called turally mediated meanings from birth on. According
“critical psychology”—especially as initiated by the to this picture, humans are bound to this web and
German psychologist Klaus Holzkamp in the mid- at the same time take part in weaving and modify-
1960s—concerned topics and questions broached ing the web. Although these webs are the scaffolds
by cultural but also by indigenous psychologists. A of what we call culture and are therefore universal,
strong critic of behaviorism, Holzkamp drew upon the structures themselves are different and even vary
the theoretical foundations of the Russian socio-his- within a given society and its subgroups. They also
torical school of psychology and analyzed phenom- vary between people from different regions and
ena like perception, cognition, and motivation as environments and between people with different
historically and culturally shaped concepts of mean- socio-cultural histories, worldviews, and value and
ing. Moreover, his critical psychology also focused belief systems. As we saw above, these contributions
on aspects of power and power differences in rela- to the European history of science were quite early
tionships and society as well as their effect not only and elaborate but were superseded by the paradigm
on the psycho-social well-being of individuals and of natural science as it was promoted by biological
groups but also on the success of certain psycho- and psychological behaviorism.
logical theories. As for the latter, critical psychology Along the lines drawn by critical psychologists
took up many elements of Thomas Kuhn’s analyses and cultural psychologists and dating back at least
of the mechanisms behind what is considered scien- to Vico, scholars from non-European and non-
tific progress. Although cultural psychologists and American countries, many of whom had become

ch a kka rath 77
acquainted with Western psychology during a emphasizing that the Western notion of autonomy,
period of colonialization, began evaluating the which is understood to contrast with dependence,
adequacy of Western psychological theories and is not applicable to the specific make-up of the
procedures for their indigenous populations. One Japanese psyche. Within the amae relationship, the
of the first attempts to contrast a specific national mother exercises a maximum of indulgence and care
psychology with mainstream (especially U.S. that, according to Doi, serves as the basis for the
American) psychology was Berry’s (1974) portrait child’s efforts to become an autonomous person in
of a “Canadian psychology.” A few years later, the Japanese sense. According to Western attach-
Rieber (1977) used the term indigenous psychology ment theory, an overprotective mother hinders
to describe early nineteenth-century attempts to her child’s autonomy development and is therefore
develop an American psychology that would fit the evaluated as problematic. However, the Japanese
genuine socio-historical and intellectual context mother experiences herself as warranting her child’s
of the United States. Interestingly, however, most positive development, which makes her feel fulfilled
assessments in this direction came from countries and happy. Doi thus questions Western attach-
that were not usually represented in the samples of ment theory’s characterizations and categorizations
mainstream psychology: the so-called “WEIRD” of secure as opposed to insecure types of children
samples of Western, Educated, Industrialized, and mother–child relationships. He then uses his
Rich, and Democratic societies (Henrich, Heine, analyses to develop a more general theory on the
& Norenzayan, 2010). Sinha (1969, 1984, 1986) indigenous specifics of the Japanese understanding
documented the necessity of indigenizing Western of individuality, autonomy, responsibility, freedom,
psychology to fit the people and their specific cul- and self, thereby showing the broader relevance of
tural environments in India; Doi (1973) and Azuma amae for a deeper psychological understanding of
(1986) followed suit in Japan, Diaz-Guerrero (1977) the Japanese culture and its members.
in Mexico, Enriquez (1977, 1978, 1990, 1993) in Some of the main aspects of Doi’s theory, espe-
the Philippines, Ho (1982, 1998) in China and cially his insistence on the strictly indigenous and
other East-Asian countries, Yang (1986, 2000) in unique nature of self-development in Japan, have
Taiwan, and Kim (Kim & Berry, 1993, Kim, 2001; been criticized (e.g., Yamaguchi & Ariizurni,
Kim, Yang, & Hwang, 2006) in the Republic of 2006). Nonetheless, his assessment that the range
Korea. Moreover, Indigenous Psychologies was also of Western attachment theory is culturally restricted
the title of a frequently cited collection of essays was also welcomed within Western psychology
documenting the early attention that the approach (Rothbaum & Morelli, 2005) and psycho-analysis
received at the interface of anthropology and psy- (e.g., Johnson, 1993) and thus serves as one of
chology (Heelas & Lock, 1981). only a few examples of the success of a non-West-
Of the earlier publications mentioned above, ern theory in Western psychology. Like Doi, other
some not only request modifications of Western researchers, including cross-cultural, cultural, and
approaches to make them fit non-Western contexts indigenous psychologists, identified concepts they
and subjects, but they also doubt the general scientific believed to be culture-specific—that is, indigenous
value of some core Western concepts when it comes (for a list of researchers, countries, and examples, see
to merely understanding psychological phenom- Kim, Yang, & Hwang, 2006). Similarly, the fields of
ena in certain cultures. The probably best-known cultural psychiatry and counseling have identified
example of this challenge to Western psychology indigenous features of mental illness and therapy as
is Takeo Doi’s (1973) criticism of Western attach- well as different attitudes toward the “abnormal” in
ment theory and his assumption that the Japanese different cultures (Gielen, Fish, & Draguns, 2004;
concept of amae represents a culture-specific form Pedersen, Draguns, Lonner, & Trimble, 2002)
of interpersonal behavior and related personal feel- that are of interest for indigenous psychological
ings that can only be understood within the seman- perspectives. Taken together, the sum of examples
tics of the Japanese language. He offered various and the perspectives taken by some authors might
approximate translations (e.g., “indulgent depen- create the impression that indigenous psychology
dency” or “craving for affection”) that are meant to advocates a strong cultural relativism that shows up
describe the unique relationship between Japanese when, for example, the term indigenous psychology
mothers and their children and that he sums up as is replaced by indigenous psychologies. However, as
“personal freedom within safety and dependence,” we will see, this may only be true for a minority

78 indigenous psycho log i e s i n bui ldi n g ba sic cu ltu ra l psych ology


of psychologists, even for a minority of those who Whereas that book focused on the “anthropology
would call themselves indigenous psychologists. All of the self,” a later book edited by Enriquez (1990)
in all, one can state that indigenous psychology is presented the first collection of international essays
currently undergoing a phase of self-discovery as addressing a larger number of more genuinely psy-
can be seen in the special issue of Applied Psychology: chological topics (with a clear emphasis, however,
An International Review (1999) as well as in the vari- on “Filipino psychology”), thus documenting the
ety of topics and methodological approaches docu- broad spectrum of a field that the title of the book
mented in the Asian Journal of Social Psychology, the identified as Indigenous Psychology. Three years
journal of the Asian Association of Social Psychology later, Kim and Berry (1993) published a volume
(AASP), which was founded in 1995. A special with a title focusing again on numerous Indigenous
issue published in 2000 documents the historical, Psychologies. Their book gained more recognition,
philosophical, and methodological debates that probably in part because the selection of topics as
have continued since then (e.g., see Greenfield, well as the higher number of authors from different
2000; Jing & Fu, 2001; Kim, 2001; Kim, Park, countries showed that the movement had already
& Park 2000; Moghaddam, 1987; Shams, 2002; gained momentum. In the introduction to that
Shweder, 2000; Sinha, 1998; Triandis, 2000; Yang, book, the editors suggested that we conceive of
2000; see also the additional special issues on indig- indigenous psychologies “as the scientific study of
enous psychologies of Australian Psychologist, 2000, human behavior (or the mind) that is native, that
Asian Journal of Psychology, 2005, The Psychologist, is not transported from other regions, and that is
2005, and the International Journal of Psychology, designed for its people” (Kim & Berry, 1993, p. 2).
2005 and 2006). The manifold spectrum of the Although this definition gives us a glimpse of the
field is also well-documented in two books edited direction of impact the investigation of indigenous
by Kim and Berry (1993) and Kim, Yang, and psychologies might have on mainstream psychol-
Hwang (2006). Although both publications show ogy’s claim of universal validity, it also raises ques-
that the movement is represented by psychologists tions about the character and aims of indigenous
from many corners of the world, they also show the psychologies. First, it is almost impossible to verify
striking number of Asian psychologists among its whether a tradition of psychological study was solely
prominent spokespeople. For example, the increas- developed within a given region and only for the
ing role of indigenous psychology in India is tell- people of that region. From what we know about
ingly documented in the so-called “Pondicherry the history of science, we may assume that scientific
Manifesto of Indian Psychology” (2002). Signed knowledge—as almost any cultural achievement—
by 160 Indian psychologists in 2002 (among them has been spread across regions and cultures since
some of the most prominent Indian researchers), the beginning of scientific thinking. We may also
the manifesto characterizes psychology in India as assume that one of the reasons why the diffusion of
a “western transplant, unable to connect with the psychological knowledge across cultural boundar-
Indian ethos and concurrent community condi- ies was frequently successful is that various cultures
tions (. . .) by and large imitative and replicative of found at least some of the foreign psychological
western studies, lacking in originality and unable to theories applicable to themselves. So it seems more
cover or break any new ground” (p. 168). Also, the plausible that in many cases we are dealing with
first International Conference of Indigenous and indigenous psychologies that resulted from import
Cultural Psychology was held in Asia (Indonesia) and indigenization. We need to remember that, for
in 2010. On that occasion, the Asian Association of most of history, human societies did not develop
Indigenous and Cultural Psychology was launched and psychologies solely for themselves and that many
the publication of the Asian Journal of Indigenous societies were willing and quite flexible in inte-
and Cultural Psychology announced. grating foreign knowledge into an already existing
indigenous body of knowledge. The readiness of
On the Current State of Indigenous European regions to import U.S. American psy-
Psychology chology since the early twentieth century is a very
As mentioned above, the first book entitled prominent example of the continuity of this devel-
Indigenous Psychologies (Heelas & Lock, 1981) was opment. However, a process in which indigenous
published in the early 1980s and combined perspec- psychologies were designed hermetically within a
tives from cultural anthropology and psychology. specific region and only for that region’s people,

ch a kka rath 79
and then exported into the regional and cultural of groups in developed Western societies nor the
contexts of other people, would have to be con- plethora of cultures and subcultures distributed
sidered an imposition. A prominent example of across the world.
this kind of process—at least if we take the criti- 3. Indigenous psychology advocates the use
cal assessment by many Asian, African, and Latin of multiple methods and various research designs
American psychologists seriously—is the export and does not consider an exclusively quantitative
of psychology during European imperialism and research design appropriate for dealing with a
colonization (Holdstock, 2000; Howitt & Owusu- variety of cultural environments and subjects.
Bempah, 1994; Moghaddam, 1987; Paranjpe, 4. Indigenous psychology considers a close
2002). Moreover, with regard to the validity and cooperation between “insiders” and “outsiders”—
reach of psychological theories, the definition of that is, the conflation of internal and external
indigenous psychologies as given above suggests a views, a sine qua non for the development of
certain relativist position that, according to some integrative theories about the relationship between
researchers in this field, actually became quite culture and individuals.
influential. 5. Psychologists within mainstream Western
A third collection of essays (Indigenous and psychology have been testing the hypotheses
Cultural Psychology) edited by Kim, Yang, and that are based on Western samples using new
Hwang (2006) documents the development of samples in foreign cultures. Thus, they have
indigenous psychology since then and its state of mainly been testing the ethnocentrically biased,
the art in the early twenty-first century. In part, the ready-made psychological theories formulated by
title signals how the issues mentioned above entered the specific sample of psychologists they belong
the discussion about the character and goals of the to. Indigenous psychology acknowledges that
discipline. Instead of highlighting several indig- individuals in all cultures have a complex and
enous psychologies, the title advocates one indig- developed, practical and episodic, understanding of
enous psychology—that is, it focuses more on one themselves. However, most of them are not trained
overarching conceptual and scientific approach than academically to identify and describe the structures
on multiple traditions of psychological thinking. In and processes that are the grounds for the
addition, the title (as does the whole book) empha- development of such understandings. It is therefore
sizes indigenous psychology’s familial relationship the task of indigenous psychology to translate and
to cultural psychology. arrange the indigenous subjects’ knowledge in a
In light of the debates mentioned above and by way that allows for accurate psychological testing.
extending and modifying Kim and Berry’s (1993, 6. Indigenous psychology pushes for the
pp. 3–4) list of six aspects of indigenous psychol- integration of various perspectives without
ogy, Kim, Yang, and Hwang (2006) provided a advocating various psychologies. In other words,
list of 10 aspects that, against the background of it is not to be equated with cultural relativism
discussions I have portrayed so far, reflect how the but rather with a culture-informed and genuinely
discipline is striving for a clearer scientific profile. integrative psychological approach. At the
I paraphrase: same time, facing the claim that there may be
many examples of indigenous concepts that
1. Indigenous psychology emphasizes the need do not have an equivalent translation in other
to investigate psychological phenomena in their languages, indigenous psychology aims to verify
specific ecological, historical, and socio-cultural the psychological relevance of these concepts.
contexts. In this regard, it has two complementary goals:
2. It does not, as the term might suggest and to identify truly indigenous psychological
as many of the leading cultural and psychological phenomena and, at the same time, to more
anthropologists of the twentieth century did, thoroughly test psychological theories that claim
concentrate on the investigation of so-called universal validity.
“exotic” people in distant regions of the world. 7. Although there are attempts to stress the
Rather, it aims to investigate all cultural and ethnic relevance of philosophies, religions, and other
groups. Of course, this includes the WEIRD worldviews within indigenous psychology,
samples, but it recognizes them as only one very indigenous psychology should not be equated with
specific sample that neither reflects the variety a thought tradition of a specific culture. To prove

80 indigenous psycho log i e s i n bui ldi n g ba sic cu ltu ra l psych ology


that any given thought tradition has psychological of cultural relativism has been held by or attrib-
relevance, its hypotheses need to be translated into uted to many different prominent social scientists
psychological concepts and empirically tested. (e.g., Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict,
8. Humans are culturally shaped agents of their Clifford Geertz, Kenneth Gergen, Richard Shweder)
culture who themselves stabilize as well as change and has played and still plays an important role as
it. They are the subjects as well as the objects of a heuristic and critical tool in cultural anthropology
psychological research who not only possess insight as well as other cultural sciences. It is not an unsci-
into their inner and outer worlds but also send and entific position, but one that characterizes specific
receive communications about their and others’ traditions and schools, cultures of scientific think-
insights. To deal with this complexity adequately, ing, so to speak. As such, from a scientific point of
researchers must integrate the perspectives taken view, it is nothing to worry about (contrary to the
by all individuals participating in the interactions reservations of prominent cross-cultural psycholo-
under investigation, including their own scientific gists like Poortinga, 1999, and Triandis, 2000) but,
perspective. rather, something we need to deal with scientifically
9. Indigenous psychology supports an (Geertz, 1984). Moreover, if we take the approach
interdisciplinary approach to the investigation called indigenous psychology seriously, we should
of culture. It should be clear that, by definition, be open to the possibility that we may find psycho-
any culture-informed psychology should take logical phenomena that can only be found in certain
advantage of knowledge provided by other cultures and contexts or that function differently
scientific disciplines (e.g., sociology, anthropology, across cultures—that is, play a different role for dif-
philosophy, philology, the science of religion, ferent people who are embedded in different webs
history). of meaning. We would then call these phenomena
10. Finally, according to indigenous psychology, indigenous. If, however, indigenous psychology is
indigenization from without can be as useful not open to that perspective and considers itself an
and necessary as indigenization from within. approach that is exclusively interested in universals,
“Indigenization from without” refers to the then it becomes a mere complimentary science to
importation of already existing psychological mainstream psychology and I am not sure if that
theories and methods into another culture and would fit its self-understanding.
the process of their adaptation to the cultural The list given above also shows an ambivalent
and environmental specificities of the other attitude toward the role of religions and other
culture. “Indigenization from within” refers to the worldviews. On the one hand, it emphasizes that
development of theories and methods within a we should not hasten to view historically developed
certain culture, based on indigenous knowledge; worldviews or any other traditions of thought that
of course, this “internal” knowledge can also somehow address psychological issues as relevant for
be exported to refine general psychological indigenous psychology. On the other hand, many
knowledge. examples of so-called “indigenous concepts” pre-
sented in various studies are embedded in the con-
This characterization of indigenous psychology con- text of religions or other worldviews, which are also
tains key features emphasized by most researchers frequently used to explain certain aspects of human
within the field. However, although certain features thought and behavior. Although it is certainly true
are highlighted, others are not mentioned at all or that we need to prove empirically the psychologi-
downplayed, thus reflecting a certain ambivalence cal relevance of these kinds of theories, it is also
toward particular issues that reflects the differing true that before doing so we need to render more
views held by different researchers. precisely the theories in question and also evaluate
For example, as I mentioned before, the list whether there are indigenous theories of psycho-
attempts to avoid the impression that indigenous psy- logical relevance. Therefore, indigenous psychology
chology advocates cultural relativism, which might should consider as one of its tasks and competen-
be the reason why the term indigenous psychology cies the identification and accurate presentation of
is favored over the term indigenous psychologies. indigenous theories that have hitherto been ignored
However, without going in depth into the fields of by mainstream psychology. In this regard, it is also
the philosophy of science and epistemology, let us important to note that the relevance of these kinds
simply note that in one way or another, the position of indigenous theories should not depend solely on

ch a kka rath 81
their successful translation into the nomenclature of 2002; Straub, 2006). Because the question of what
previously existing theories but on the evaluation of cultural psychology can learn from the indigenous
the role they play within the theory of origin. In approach is at the center of this chapter, it needs to
addition, if indigenous psychology shares the cul- be addressed. However, before I attempt to propose
tural psychologist’s conviction that we need to inves- an answer, I think it would be appropriate to at least
tigate psychological phenomena in their specific give an exemplary sketch of an indigenous psycho-
ecological, historical, and socio-cultural contexts, logical perspective on a key topic of psychology in
then it should acknowledge that these contexts are general, to show how it helps to decrease stereo-
often co-constructed, structured, and considerably typical and ethnocentric perceptions of the “other”
influenced by religions and other worldviews. that are deeply embedded in our cultures, including
Against the background of the socio-historical the sciences, and to show how it might help refine
aspects of psychology and their importance as out- our understanding of the inseparable relationship
lined in the first section of this chapter, let us add between culture and humans, an endeavor that cul-
a final comment: Indigenous psychology should tural and indigenous psychology share.
consider the analysis of psychology’s development
to be one of its main tasks, especially with regard Psychology of the Indian Self: Eurocentric
to indigenous and national but also global aspects. and Indigenous Views
Some researchers highlight the effects of colonialism Stereotypes in the Western View
and the colonialists’ psychology on the people liv- of Asia and India
ing in former colonies and also note that the recent There is a long and influential Western tradi-
emergence of indigenous psychology is related to tion of viewing the regions and peoples living to
post-Colonial reassessments of the socio-cultural the east of Europe, the formerly so-called “Orient”
impact of Western science in general (Bhatia, 2002; and the “Orientals” (Said, 1978/2003)—especially
Marsella, 2009; Moghaddam, 1987; Smith, 1999). “Asia” and the “Asians”—as distinctively different
Others tend to deal with these issues at the periphery from “Europe” and the “Europeans” (Chakkarath,
of their work or even largely ignore them. However, 2010a). The interest of culture-inclusive psychol-
ignorance toward these aspects will fail to do jus- ogy in the comparison of “East” and “West” is still
tice to the goal of properly understanding all aspects salient in many research designs and publications of
involved in human psychological development. cross-cultural and cultural psychology (Ward, 2007)
Therefore, these issues should not be left to histo- and was also the focus of earlier influential contri-
rians, sociologists, and politicians but should be of butions by Western sociology or cultural and psy-
utmost importance to psychologists, especially to chological anthropology. For example, Max Weber’s
psychologists interested in indigenous perspectives. seminal studies on world religions and their mean-
I will return to this characterization of indige- ing for cultural and economic development was to
nous psychology in the last part of the chapter, but a considerable extent a comparison of Western and
now, following this portrayal, I believe it is necessary Eastern rationality and had a profound influence
to raise the question concerning the extent to which on Western scientific assessments of Asian culture
the aims of indigenous psychology listed above differ and psyche. Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum
from those of cultural psychology. As we saw above and the Sword may have been criticized by many for
in the historical sketch of early culture-sensitive field its “national character” approach and overly simple
research, both the indigenous psychology approach (and somewhat demeaning) dichotomous compari-
and the cultural psychology approach can be traced son of the Japanese “shame culture” with the Western
back to the same historical beginnings. It would go “guilt culture,” but it nonetheless established pat-
beyond the scope of this chapter to list the main terns of comparison that still have a palpable impact
characteristics of cultural psychology, but I will say on cross-cultural comparisons of “Easterners” and
this: I cannot help getting the impression that most “Westerners” (cf. Chakkarath, 2010c).
of the foundational work outlining cultural psy- In culture-inclusive psychological research, the
chology’s program and self-understanding proposes focus of interest is frequently on “self ” and “cog-
a very similar view of humans as culturally shaped nition” (i.e., two central domains of psychological
shapers as well as very similar perspectives on how research in general). These topics, especially with
to proceed methodologically when investigating the regard to self-concepts, have been investigated for
human psyche in a culturally informed way (Ratner, several decades now, ever since Hofstede based his

82 indigenous psycho log i e s i n bui ldi n g ba sic cu ltu ra l psych ology


individualism–collectivism differentiation on an Herodotus’ Histories from the fifth century BC or
impressively large data pool from more than 40 Pliny’s Natural History from the first century AD).
countries (Hofstede, 1980). This differentiation According to most of these authors, India is a land
has also been discussed among European scholars of miracles and wonders, an image that has survived
since antiquity and regained prominence with the for millennia and that became the basis of India
individual-centered view of man propagated by portraits, especially in the age of Romanticism.
thinkers of the European Renaissance. It also shows Although this portrait is not necessarily pejorative,
up in Triandis’ (2001) differentiation between in many cases it was accompanied by assumptions
ideocentric and allocentric tendencies and Markus about the almost complete “otherness” of Indians
and Kitayama’s (1991) well-established distinction as compared to other peoples of the world. For
between the independent and interdependent self. example, until the Middle Ages, even “monsters”
These and similar theories frequently draw upon (i.e., creatures [like dog-headed men] that bridge
the broader differentiation between Westerners and the gap between animals and humans without
Easterners and also make use of additional dichoto- belonging to either of the two groups were said to
mous constructs like individual orientation versus abound in India, reiterating a topos deeply embed-
group orientation, autonomy versus relatedness, sep- ded in European views about the East; see Jahoda,
aration versus connectedness, high versus low self- 1999). Accordingly, many European travelers like
monitoring, high versus low context dependence, Ludovico di Varthema, who visited the country
stability versus instability, and so forth. Theories in the sixteenth century, interpreted sculptures of
about the underlying cognitive basis of intercul- Indian deities as images of monsters. Even in the
turally varying self-other perceptions and thinking Age of Enlightenment and under the perspectives of
styles also place their bipolar concepts in the frame- philosophical rationalism and empiricism, histori-
work of the geographical East–West dichotomy. cally developed stereotypical ideas about India were
Well-known examples are Nisbett’s The Geography not completely abandoned (Chakkarath, 2010c).
of Thought, in which Western and Chinese cognitive Hegel was only one of many leading European
styles are contrasted (2003) or Peng’s studies on dif- scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
ferences between U.S. Americans and East Asians who declared these alleged intellectual deficits to be
in perception, interpretation, and reasoning (Peng psychological deficits and related them to societal
& Nisbett, 1999). Against this background, I have deficits,− an enduring thinking pattern that Gergen
chosen the analysis of the self to illustrate how an (1994) identified as a “deficit discourse.” Although
indigenous perspective might increase our culture Hegel’s verdict on the intellectual achievements of
sensitivity in developing psychological theories and Asian cultures was broadly general, he found some
research. The example I am going to present as an gradual differences between different Asian civi-
indigenous psychological discourse is taken from lizations, especially between China and India. In
India and focuses on the academic debate between comparing the Chinese and the Indian cultures,
Hindu and Buddhist scholars about the nature of he claimed that the failure of Indian thinkers to
the self. I will start with a few remarks about some come up with the idea of a stable and autono-
influential stereotypes in the European tradition of mous self was to blame for their failure to build
portraying India and the Indian self before I con- modern, clearly defined, stable, autonomous,
trast these views with indigenous Indian accounts and reliable nation-states like those in Europe or
of the self. that in China. Instead, the almost complete lack
In many of the theories mentioned above, the of proper scientific thinking and the boundless
attributes of a stable, independent, autonomous, and erratic style of Indian self-theories resulted
rational, and responsible self are usually related to in declaring the subject–object difference an illu-
Westerners, whereas attributes deficient in these sion so that neither a concept of individuality or
qualities are usually related to Easterners. This line personality nor a historical consciousness or a con-
of thought can also be found with regard to many ceptualization of individuals as historical persons
European scholars’ view of India, which itself can could arise. Hegel’s account of the psychological
easily be traced back to European antiquity where nature of the Indian self is a diagnosis of deficits,
the earliest written accounts of India and its peo- and as for many scholars after him, including some
ple by “Westerners” can be found in the works of twentieth-century social scientists (e.g., Weber and
Greek and Roman authors (e.g., Ctesias’ Indica and Benedict), it is especially these deficits that allow

ch a kka rath 83
one to differentiate between Westerners and most and needs constitute the root of failure, disappoint-
Easterners, including Indians. ment, frustration, aggression, shame, and many
In the following, let us try to take an indig- other negative states, it follows that the psychologi-
enous psychological perspective on the Indian self cal processes that lead to this fateful condition of
and see the extent to which it confirms or disputes selfishness need to be analyzed, understood, and
core aspects of the Western assessments exemplified controlled. Otherwise—and this is another central
above. To also show the character and quality of aca- conviction in the Hindu belief system—the selfish
demic discourse within indigenous Indian analyses actions and behavior will result in a cycle of end-
of the self, I will first present some key features of less death and rebirth (samsara). The driving force
Hindu traditions of thought and then contrast them behind the process of samsara is believed to be the
with assessments by Buddhist psychology. accumulated sum total of the individual’s good and
bad deeds that Hindus relate to the universal law of
karma. The function of the karma concept can be
Indigenous Views of Self and Identity:
illustrated as follows:
Hindu and Buddhist Perspectives
Hindu beliefs play different roles in the every- Karma can be conceived of as similar to the law
day lives of different Indians—depending espe- of gravity that, metaphorically speaking, “weighs”
cially on the region they live in, their social class, and “judges” the qualities of matter and decides its
caste, gender, and education—but there are central velocity, direction, and place in the universe as well
tenets that most Hindus share (for a more detailed as its function within the larger cosmic order. A
description, see Chakkarath, 2005; in press). One fundamental assumption of this theory is that, like
is the belief in brahman (“eternal universal soul”), matter, psychological phenomena, too, are subject
the all-encompassing life force that embodies all to natural laws. The natural law of karma is believed
aspects of existence and that is reflected in atman to evaluate one’s moral behavior as “good” if one
(“individual self ”), the life force that makes any lives according to the cosmic law of being (dharma).
living being part of brahman. It is a core convic- Because dharma is understood as the representation
tion of Hindu believers that not understanding the of a just world that attributes a precisely defined
relationship between brahman and atman is deeply place and function to everyone and everything, each
problematic because ignorance of the true nature of Hindu must follow certain rules and fulfill specific
this relationship results in suffering. Suffering is the duties, recognizing that selfishness will only harm
underlying principle of all existence, and human that order. This code of conduct that constitutes the
beings are equipped with a cognitive system that is Hindu way of life involves doing what is right for
the main source of human suffering. However, they the individual, the family, the caste (jati), the society,
can be trained to cope with life’s miseries and even and the cosmic order. The rules of conduct were
to overcome them. laid down in various dharma shastras, compilations
The problem of suffering arises especially from of laws that help one to give practical meaning to
the nature of the individual self and the psychologi- the theoretical aspects mentioned above and thus
cal processes that cause its development. In other show that, from a Hindu point of view, there is no
words, it is mainly caused by processes within the real difference between the religious and the social
human psyche: The individual develops the con- spheres. This becomes even clearer in the conviction
viction that he is a unique and separate entity, in that not only one’s membership in a particular caste,
principle unrelated to the rest of the world, which but even the biological, physical, psychological, and
he sees as the “other” sphere of life. Thus, the indi- social conditions of one’s life (whether one ends
vidual constructs an opposition between himself up being a plant, an animal, a demon, or a human
and the world instead of recognizing that all beings being, a member of a higher or a lower caste, male
and things and phenomena of the world, including or female, attractive or unattractive, ambitious or
himself, are reflections of one and the same—that unambitious, more or less intelligent) are decisively
is, brahman. This ignorance is the source of ego- influenced by one’s conduct in one’s previous life.
ism (i.e., unawareness of the interrelatedness and Thus, the whole belief system is metaphysically
interdependence of all existing things) and results legitimized, which makes it possible for anyone to
in selfish behavior, driven by uninhibited emotions, perceive social reality as just and fair, an assessment
greed, the need for a diversified and adventurous that has helped stabilize the Hindu society and the
life, and so forth. Because these kinds of desires caste system for thousands of years.

84 indigenous psycho log i e s i n bui ldi n g ba sic cu ltu ra l psych ology


Here, we should note that contrary to many the senses and the emotions (e.g., absence of anger).
Western thinkers’ stereotypical assessments of the The model also helps one to train these capabilities:
Indian self, the metaphysically induced, psycho- According to the Yoga system, the best known sys-
logical pressure put on the Hindu to take care of tem of Indian-applied psychology, these capabilities
his psyche actually results in stability, not diffu- correspond to those that constitute the moral pre-
sion. One can easily recognize the importance of a requisite of moksha.
stable self within the Hindu self-theory in the idea Buddhist analyses of the self are partially based
of rebirth: According to the atman concept, there on the Hindu diagnosis that psychological prob-
are core aspects of the individual self that remain lems are caused by cognitive processes. However,
stable and unchanged through all rebirths. Thus, although the Buddhist scholars have maintained
a person’s (immortal) core identity is composed of various elements of the Hindu framework (e.g., the
a kind of matrix into which the sum total of his idea of suffering as the fundamental principle of
karma is entered from birth to birth. This core all being, the concept of karma as well as the belief
identity ensures that much of the responsibility for in samsara and karma-dependent rebirth), there
the current life as well as for the preceding exis- are crucial differences. From early on, Buddhism
tences can be attributed to the individual himself. argued against the idea of an immortal core self
In addition, we should note that following a rigid (atman) that provides personal identity through
normative system of rules and fulfilling one’s spiri- all transmigrations. Similarly to the Hindu self-
tual as well as social duties does not result in world theory, the Buddhist theory of the non-self (anat-
renunciation (as, for example, has been claimed by man) is closely related to psychological theories of
the classical Western sociology of religion, follow- cognition.
ing Max Weber and Louis Dumont) but in com- The Buddhist theory of cognition and self is
mitment to worldly things that need to be taken based on a detailed analysis of the psychophysi-
care of for the sake of societal and universal order cal condition of humans, which is believed to be
as well as for individual satisfaction. This aspect empirically examinable by anyone through system-
is also emphasized in the socially institutionalized atic and regularly executed meditation exercises,
Hindu model of ideal human development (ashra- which play an important role in the Buddhist way
madharma), a four-stage life-span model that aims of life. With respect to contents as well as abstrac-
to help (mainly male) members of society attain tion and systematization level, these analyses rank
the central material, psychological, and spiritual among the most important psychological contribu-
goals that not only reflect the Hindu value system tions of Asian science. Again, I can only describe
but also Hindu psychology’s assessment of human the analyses here very briefly, so what follows is
needs and desires (see Chakkarath, 2005; in press). merely a sketch (for a more detailed description, see
The consecutive goals encompass the acquirement Lamotte, 1988).
of knowledge (including knowledge about one’s rit- At the core of the analyses is the view that a per-
ual and social duties); the accumulation of material son or one’s “I consciousness” is collectively consti-
wealth; the satisfaction of genuine human desires, tuted by the five “aggregates” (skandha):
such as the desire for sexuality, conjugal love, art, fil-
ial affection, fine clothes, savory food and other lux- 1. physical form (rupa), which includes the four
uries; and finally spiritual development and release elements: earth (solidity), water (liquidity), fire
from samsara. The model also suggests at what stage (temperature), and wind (expansion)
in life one should pursue the different goals and 2. sensations and feelings (vedana): unpleasant,
makes clear that human development, including pleasant, or neutral sensations that stem from
cognitive development, does not end with old age contact between the six internal sensory organs
because spiritual goals can be achieved more easily (eyes, nose, ears, tongue, body, and mind) and the
when the need for material and sensual satisfaction corresponding external objects (appearance, smell,
have calmed. Moreover, the model makes clear that sound, taste, touch, and mental object)
possessing specific psychological capabilities are 3. perceptions (sanna): the perception of
especially necessary to pass through the life stages appearance, smell, sound, taste, physical form, and
successfully—namely, knowledge and the readiness spirit
to learn, concentration and truthfulness, honesty, 4. volitional formations (sankhara), from
reason, patience, forgiveness, self-control, control of which the six expressions of will emerge, which

ch a kka rath 85
can be directed toward all of the sensations and to defend the idea that both flames are identical.
perceptions specified above Buddhism declares the Hindu belief in a stable,
5. consciousness (vinnana), consisting of unchanging, and even immortal self an expression
consciousness of the six sensory organs and the of psychologically deeply rooted human selfishness:
external objects assigned to them. It is out of ignorance, fear, weakness, and desire that
man develops the idea of atman to find consolation.
Humans are thus described as an aggregate of dif- Considering itself partially a critical reform move-
ferent mutually causal factors that are in constant ment, from early on, Buddhism aimed to destroy
flux and temporary. The 6 internal sense bases the psychological roots of these kinds of metaphys-
(organs) and their 6 external sense bases (objects) ical beliefs and thus also developed a perspective on
are called the 12 sense bases and, combined with the psychology of psychology and psychologists.
the 6 forms of consciousness, they are called the Although the various schools of Hindu and
18 elements (dhatu). When the physical factors are Buddhist thinking forbid us to make overly gen-
taken into consideration, every mental procedure eral statements about the two traditions, nonethe-
can be described as an entirely specific combina- less, the basic differences in the conceptualizations
tion of these elements among themselves and with of the self may have some explanatory power with
the perception and will phenomena they cause. The regard to differences in certain attitudes favored
key result of this Buddhist analysis is that by means within Hindu and Buddhist conceptualizations of
of this thus restructured and constantly changing the relationship between the self and the “other”
causal structure, the illusion of a “self ” that wit- (Chakkarath, 2010). Although it is not my inten-
nesses all these events is created that does not cor- tion to say that in practice Hindus do not show
respond to anything in reality because this self is compassion for the misery of others, it is still inter-
also only the result of a process that is constantly esting to see that, at least on a theoretical level, the
beginning and ending. Thus, the notion of a per- development of compassion plays a conspicuously
sonal soul or a lasting identity, for example, of the more important role in Buddhism. As we have seen,
baby growing to become an adult or even the dead it is a Hindu conviction that each individual forges
person is refuted. On the one hand, reconstructing his own destiny and that it is the destiny of an igno-
(i.e., interpreting) such convictions as the result of rant and selfish individual to be punished with new
psycho-physical causal relationships provides a way suffering in another life. This view, together with
of explaining the development of an individualistic the Hindu understanding of unchanging personal
self-concept. In addition, we also see why a key fac- identity through all rebirths, is the basis for the
tor of human suffering is seen in this view of self. In idea that, on the whole, samsara provides cosmic
the causal nexus mentioned above, it causes selfish and societal justice. The orthodox Buddhist theory,
attitudes and resultant actions, which lead to nega- however, holds that there is no identity between the
tive karma, which results in rebirth yet again. producer of bad karma and the being that results
The question concerning what can be under- from it (for Vasubandhu’s classic arguments, see
stood by “rebirth” if there is no “soul” with lasting Duerlinger, 2006). This means that in the end,
identity is the most-discussed philosophical ques- the one who is accumulating bad karma is caus-
tion of Buddhist philosophy and metaphysics. The ing suffering for another being. In other words,
perhaps most descriptive and most concise answer, the producer of bad karma is responsible for the
which will have to suffice here, is a parable from creation and suffering of an existence that itself is
the non-canonical text Milindapanha, in which an innocent. Therefore, at least in theory, the karma-
Indian Buddhist monk explains the theory to one of related guilt that a Buddhist feels is different from
the Greek governors installed in Northern India by the guilt experienced by a Hindu. It follows that
Alexander the Great in fourth century BC: Rebirth a Buddhist believer should show compassion for
without a soul is like the flame of an oil wick, which everything that suffers because everything that suf-
was ignited with the flame of another oil wick; the fers is suffering innocently. Of course, the concept
second flame is not identical to the first but was cre- of the non-self (anatman) serves as an argument for
ated as a function of the first and continues on when Buddhism’s rejection of the Hindu caste system.
the first is extinguished. Although we can admit that Against the background of the Buddhist self-theory,
there is some causal nexus between the first and the membership to a certain caste cannot be justified
second flame, we do not have plausible arguments by personal guilt. On the contrary, according to the

86 indigenous psycho log i e s i n bui ldi n g ba sic cu ltu ra l psych ology


Buddhist point of view, the caste system does not introspective methods as a basic research procedure
reflect justice but adds to injustice and the miser- were short-lived in Western psychology. In fact,
able situation of the lowest castes and the outcasts. Watson, the father of behaviorism, even called them
For Hindus, however, their caste is an important an alien and “un-American” import from Germany,
aspect of their belief system and their socialization thus contributing a little anecdote to the question
context. It is the cornerstone of Hindu identity that concerning whether behaviorism would consider
is constituted within the manifold and intertwined itself an indigenous psychology (Costall, 2006).
aspects of the Hindu worldview, psychological anal- In contrast, in India and other Asian countries,
ysis of cognitions and the self, conceptualizations of more elaborate techniques of introspection and
the other, and a model of ideal development that training of respective skills have been employed and
along with the caste system provides the framework refined for more than 2,500 years and are commonly
to socially institutionalize this “identity web.” referred to as “meditation.” Especially Buddhist
Descriptions of Hindu and Buddhist analyses of scholars have provided extensive, highly detailed,
psychological phenomena can hardly be adequate and very precise theories and descriptions of medita-
when they are removed from the general philo- tion practices that not only serve the observation and
sophical and spiritual framework in which they analysis of psychological processes and mental states
were developed. For most of the time since psychol- but are also employed to achieve those changes in
ogy was established as a modern Western science behavioral and psychological traits said to decrease
at Western universities and then implanted in uni- suffering and increase well-being (Conze, 2002;
versities around the world, these philosophical and Lutz, Dunne, & Davidson, 2007). Of course, this
spiritual elements made it easy for modern psychol- twofold function of meditation practice can also be
ogists, including modern Indian psychologists, to found in non-Buddhist traditions of psychology—
disregard India’s and other cultures’ indigenous the- for example, in the Hindu systems of Patanjali’s
ories as mere pre-scientific speculation (Chakkarath, Yoga and Siddhi Yoga or in the Hindu medical sys-
2010b). Another indicator of the “unscientific” tem of Ayurveda. The systematic procedures that
character of these theories was the assumed lack of can be found in all these traditions have often been
an empirical method, which would assure that these compared to the systematic steps taken in medicine:
theories meet the standards of modern Western Identification of disease via detection of symptoms,
psychology. However, at least in the case of the diagnosis of causes, prognosis, treatment, and pre-
indigenous theories and debates presented above, scription. From a psychological point of view, we can
one should be aware that the analyses of the inter- hardly challenge the scientific nature of these highly
relationship between cognition and self as well as systematic procedures. On the contrary, we should
the development of coping and regulation strategies recognize that they aimed at a synthesis of careful
were carried out by employing the probably most observation, scholarly exchange about the adequacy
elaborate techniques of introspection known in the of the observation and the observation techniques
history of psychology. Interestingly, introspective (over the millennia), theory development based on
methods of a different kind were considered useful the analysis of the phenomena observed, and appli-
in the beginning of modern Western psychology. cation of the resulting knowledge—for example, in
Although Wundt did not consider them a reliable therapy (Rosch, 1997). Although there is little rea-
method, on certain occasions in his laboratory in son to doubt the scientific nature of many aspects of
Leipzig, subjects were asked to give verbal protocols Hindu and Buddhist psychology (Paranjpe, 1998),
of their inner experiences. More advanced intro- we have good reason to acknowledge that the indig-
spective methods were used regularly by research- enous psychological traditions, which could only be
ers from the Würzburg school (e.g., Bühler, Külpe, presented fragmentarily above, applied psychologi-
and Marbe), who trained their subjects’ introspec- cal knowledge within an integrative view of the psy-
tive skills before asking them to report about their chophysical and social aspects of life, an aim that is
inner experiences during certain problem-solving not unfamiliar to Western psychology.
tasks. Binet used similar methods in France, as did
Titchener in the United States. James M. Baldwin, What Can Cultural Psychology Learn
in his The Story of the Mind (1898), even called from Indigenous Psychology?
introspection the most important source of psy- We began this chapter with a critical look at
chological data. Nonetheless, attempts to advance the mainstream historiography of psychology and

ch a kka rath 87
its culture-sensitive branches. We saw that when a psychology’s self-understanding and goals that were
view of the genesis of so-called “Western” (especially described in the second section of this chapter.
European and U.S. American) culture-sensitive psy- First, indigenous psychology can be seen as an
chology tries to avoid stereotypical narrations about approach that adds to our psychological knowledge
linear development and steady scientific progress, a by investigating various indigenous psychologies—
very different picture of psychology’s history results that is, traditions of psychologically relevant thought
than that conveyed in mainstream Western histo- and research. Second, this investigation itself prof-
riography. For example, we saw that high-quality its from the expertise of the indigenous researchers
culture-sensitive field research, which foreshadowed involved. Third, the beginnings of recent indig-
central positions of cultural and indigenous psy- enous psychology are rooted in historical, political,
chology, was carried out long before the Newtonian and sociological discussions about Western psychol-
paradigm of laboratory- and experiment-based ogy’s international hegemony that was established
modern natural science was introduced. A certain in the era of Colonialism. Therefore, it is natural
group of psychologists adopted that monistic and for indigenous psychology to deal with questions
nomothetic paradigm, whereas others suggested about the indigenous character of Western psychol-
alternative approaches. Although these alternative ogy, the question of indigenization from within and
approaches were rooted in some of the best tradi- without, and the effects of an imposed psychology
tions of European intellectuality and scientific on people who experience it as unfamiliar to the
research and had considerable impact on other ecological, historical, and socio-cultural environ-
cultural sciences, in psychology, they were typically ments in which they and their ancestors have lived.
ignored for most of the twentieth century. In this Of course, this is felt especially strongly if essential
historiographic description, which does not show aspects of these environments still have the influ-
a continuous linear development but a variety of ence they have had for hundreds and thousands
paths and interruptions, things are much more dif- of years (e.g., the philosophical and psychological
ficult to explain, and questions arise that are more foundations of the Indian caste system). Such socio-
difficult to answer. Of course, the explanations and historical dimensions and the relationship between
answers cannot be given in a single chapter, but simultaneously existing (e.g., imported and indig-
hopefully it has become clear that the answers need enous) conceptions of psychology can both be
to include the psychological factors that Wundt investigated much more thoroughly if we apply an
and other forerunners of cultural and indigenous indigenous psychological perspective.
psychology identified as “higher” or more com- Apart from what can be learned about the higher
plex processes and products of the mind. When mental processes from investigating the manifold
these scholars propagated an interdisciplinary and paths that scientific thinking can take, a less eth-
multimethodical approach for the psychological nocentric account of psychological theories and
investigation of domains like history, religion, art, applications that can be found across cultures might
science, myths, social institutions, and interactions, provide even more accurate and fairer historiogra-
they held core positions of current cultural and phies. It might also provide psychological knowledge
indigenous psychology. The issue concerning how from which other indigenous traditions, including
certain psychological traits on the cultural and indi- Western traditions, can profit. For example, as the
vidual level are reflected, socio-culturally fostered, illustrations taken from Indian psychology have
and intergenerationally transmitted is crucial for shown, a life-span perspective on development, and
understanding the interplay of the various factors the insight that cognitive development does not
in various cultural domains that influences human end after schooling or with early adulthood, might
psychological development and socialization. Of appear to be a revolutionary perspective only within
course, in this context, from a traditional cultural the paths taken by the European psychology of cog-
psychological point of view, the history of psychol- nition and aging. In other traditions, this perspec-
ogy might appear as only one discipline among tive might have been there for millennia and might
innumerous scientific disciplines in which inves- have affected human psychological development in
tigators could be interested. From an indigenous ways all psychologists are interested in. The same
psychological perspective, however, the genesis of holds true for Buddhist scholars’ analysis of iden-
specific traditions of doing psychology comes into tity and their theory that self and personality are in
focus for several reasons that result from indigenous a constant flux that depends on changing contexts

88 indigenous psycho log i e s i n bui ldi n g ba sic cu ltu ra l psych ology


and interactions that simultaneously influence cog- the question concerning the scientific value of reli-
nitive, emotional, and volitional processes within gions and worldviews for indigenous psychology. As
the individual. In the elaborate analyses of Indian we have seen, people hesitate to acknowledge the
psychology, there are many findings and ideas that value of psychological theories that can be found in
foreshadowed modern Western perspectives on the religious, philosophical, or any kind of ideological
topic of self and identity. This includes more recent frameworks. This skepticism is typical within post-
theories in Western personality research—for exam- Enlightenment Western science, although there
ple, the concept of identity configurations (i.e., the were once intellectual Western traditions that aimed
modes in which individuals integrate the mani- at reconciling our interest in spiritual goals with our
fold [e.g., worldly and religious] aspects of their interest in scientific goals. This integrative concept
self–other perceptions into a meaningful whole) of knowledge can still be found in living intellec-
(Schachter, 2004, 2005). Because indigenous psy- tual traditions—for example, in Hindu, Buddhist,
chological perspectives can help detect these contri- and Confucian schools of thought. Lately, it has
butions and inform the scientific community about even been rediscovered in Western psychology,
the findings, there might be a lot to learn, not only where investigating the concept of “wisdom” has
from our own culture’s past but also from going gained some interest (e.g., Baltes & Staudinger,
beyond the ethnocentric boundaries of our own 1993; Richerson & Boyd, 2005). If indigenous
cultures. There we might find the roots of theories psychologists are hesitant to acknowledge the sci-
that we usually find exclusively in historiographies entific value of these thinking traditions for their
of Western psychology and other social sciences and own work, then they may of course have good rea-
celebrate as the milestones of these disciplines. sons for it. However, they might also be influenced
As the examples of psychological research on by ethnocentric conceptions of science that are
self-concepts have shown, socio-historically grown not necessarily part of the indigenous psychologies
stereotypes and the resulting ethnocentric per- that, according to a prominent definition discussed
spectives still have an impact on how we conceive in the second section, were once designed for the
of “the others” and is one of the main reasons we indigenous populations. In other words, indigenous
conceive of them as others at all. Interestingly, even psychologists should always ask themselves whether
cross-cultural psychology, which largely favors the their discipline and their own mindset really provide
nomothetic paradigm of the natural sciences and the openness for new perspectives that is required if
emphasizes the scientific need to identify psycholog- they want to take the investigation of any indigenous
ical universals, has come up with countless theories phenomena seriously and not simply stumble into
that focus on cross-cultural differences. Hofstede’s the pitfalls of stereotypes and ethnocentrism them-
culture dimensions, probably the most influen- selves. Parenthetically, labeling certain non-Western
tial theory in cross-cultural psychological research traditions as “Hindu,” “Buddhist,” or “Confucian”
and upon which a lot of cross-cultural research is also contributes to a stereotypical differentiation
based, is a prime example. The same holds true for between “real” science (e.g., “Western” psychol-
many theories developed by cultural psychologists. ogy) and “worldviews.” Moreover, it has successfully
Taken together, many aspects of the frequently cited distracted us from the question whether “Western”
theories in so-called “culture-sensitive psychology” science is also a worldview or at least unreflect-
remind one of stereotypical assessments that are edly transports stereotypes that, for example, can
deeply embedded in Western traditions of think- be traced back to Christian traditions of thinking
ing about the “others” and can be traced back to (Altman & Rogoff, 1991). It is interesting, anyway,
antiquity. From a psychological point of view, it is that one of the most influential concepts in culture-
not astonishing that these stereotypes also show up informed psychology, the concept of individualism,
in the theories proposed by some indigenous psy- is frequently traced back to Christian—especially
chologists. In the long run, stereotypes (especially Protestant—roots. Nonetheless, no one would seri-
when they successfully enter the frameworks of our ously propose renaming “Western psychology” as
scientific thinking or are already part of frameworks “Protestant psychology.” However, from an indig-
that are imported from other traditions) can make enous psychological perspective, it makes perfect
us believe in the accuracy and the heuristic value of sense to instead call any tradition of psychologi-
the stereotypes ourselves. One example illustrating cal theorizing and research indigenous. Although
the complex problems that need to be solved here is considerations like these are not completely new to

ch a kka rath 89
cultural psychologists, the indigenous psychologi- relevant theories that already exist in indigenous
cal approach and the methodological reflections it traditions of thought, it often has to deal with the
requires could help to improve cultural psychology’s religions and other worldviews in which these theo-
methodological awareness, too. This includes what ries are embedded. Although even some indigenous
can be learned about the very specific role of indig- psychologists are hesitant to occupy themselves with
enous psychologists studying natives in indigenous worldviews, we should be reminded that, for exam-
contexts outside the Western world, which is none- ple, religion was a central topic in the beginnings
theless, to a certain extent, represented in these con- of modern psychology, and many of the founders
texts—for example, by the indigenous psychologists of the discipline were also founders of the psychol-
themselves. By borrowing well-known concepts ogy of religion. Although the investigation of these
from post-Colonial studies (Bhabha, 1994), we may topics continued to play an important role in neigh-
say that the hybridity of these research contexts, as boring disciplines like anthropology and sociology,
well as the hybridity of the psychologists dealing they almost disappeared in mainstream psychol-
with it, puts them in a “third space” and shows that ogy. Interestingly, there is also little interest in the
for them there is much more involved than for most culture-inclusive branches of psychology, including
of their colleagues in Western parts of the world. cultural psychology (see, for example, Tarakeshwar,
In addition to the points already mentioned, I Stanton, & Pargament, 2003; for rare cultural psy-
want to emphasize that the psychological relevance chological approaches to the study of religion, see
of indigenous traditions of thought, including psy- Belzen, 2010; Chakkarath, 2007; Sen & Wagner,
chological theories, does not solely depend on the 2009; Straub & Arnold, 2008). Therefore, the
question whether they meet specific standards of indigenous perspective on what is relevant for doing
scientific truth. Many of the thoughts presented in proper culture-sensitive psychology might draw cul-
the examples from so-called “Hindu and Buddhist tural psychologists’ attention to its neglect of these
psychology” can be understood as answers to ques- (and other) topics. We will only be able to provide
tions that are very familiar to Western psychology, the kind of “thick” description (Geertz, 1973) nec-
too: What factors influence human development essary for attaining a sounder understanding of the
and to what extent are individuals and societies able relationship between culture and psychology if we
to influence them? What role do culture and world- succeed in understanding which topics, domains,
views play with regard to developmental paths, and phenomena are really relevant for achieving the
developmental tasks, educational goals, socializa- goals of culture-informed psychology.
tion and internalization processes, cognitive styles, Although the psychological relevance of indig-
attribution styles, evaluation of the “normal” and enous theories does not depend on the proof of
the “abnormal,” and intervention strategies? The their scientific validity, some theories might none-
answers usually have an impact on the social and the theless meet the standards of valid scientific prin-
individual level. On the social level, for example, ciples. As stated above, some indigenous theories
they find expression in social institutions and for- might even add to our scientific insight and help
malized social interactions; on the individual level, modify or increase our inventory of theories. As
they are reflected in many individuals’ subjective I have indicated in the context of indigenous Indian
theories about selfhood, the others, relationships, psychology, indigenous theories can even make us
proper attitudes, life goals, suitable coping strate- reconsider the adequacy of our inventory of meth-
gies, and so forth. Therefore, indigenous theories ods. The experience of doing research in contexts in
play a crucial role in culture-specific features of the which the subjects are less familiar with typical (and
socialization context and thus assist us in guiding frequently standardized) testing or interview proce-
our thorough investigation of the complex develop- dures has resulted in the indigenization of various
mental niche. In part, they can be compared to the methods commonly used in Western psychology.
impact that Freud’s seminal theories had on so many One example is the so-called “ladder rating” in
levels and so many domains in Western societies which the standard two-dimensional, multiple-point
and sciences, although the value of Freud’s work as rating scale is substituted by a tiny wooden ladder
a scientific theory has never been unchallenged. with multiple steps. Using this three-dimensional
Because indigenous psychology not only strives instrument, researchers ask illiterate Indian respon-
to develop theories and approaches through indi- dents to indicate the extent of their agreement with
genization but also aims to identify psychologically certain statements by placing their fingers on one

90 indigenous psycho log i e s i n bui ldi n g ba sic cu ltu ra l psych ology


of the lower or higher steps of the ladder (Sinha, that both culture-sensitive perspectives have a lot in
1969). Apart from making such a simple modifica- common and share some of their intellectual and
tion to meet at least some of the necessities of the historical roots. As we have seen, the main differ-
specific context, indigenous psychologists have also ences arise from the different socio-cultural and
come up with more complex adaptations of research socio-political circumstances of both perspectives’
procedures to the indigenous people. For example, more recent development and the related different
based on his experiences with qualitative field work problems most indigenous psychologists have to
in the regional and ethnic variety of the Philippines, deal with as compared to most cultural psycholo-
Enriquez (1993) proposed to relate duration, place, gists. Let me summarize these differences, this time
and frequency of investigations as well as the size of with an emphasis on the unequal distribution of
the investigated groups and the selection of research certain intercultural competencies.
staff to the habits of the investigated people. For The broader historical sketch given in the first
some cases, “Filipino psychology” even recommends section of this chapter and the description of indig-
having the subjects interview the researchers before enous psychology’s more recent development as
they are interviewed themselves because that would portrayed in the second section give the impression
familiarize them with the unfamiliar procedure and that the theoretical and methodological founda-
result in less of a feeling of hierarchical asymme- tions are to be found in German folk psychology
try between the investigators and the respondents (Völkerpsychologie), the Russian cultural historical
(Pe-Pua, 2006). Although these are examples of the school, critical psychology, and cultural psychol-
indigenization of methods used in Western psychol- ogy. Even if we think about earlier roots like the
ogy, meditation techniques as described earlier can field studies conducted by some missionaries in the
be considered indigenous methods. Usually, how- sixteenth century, the impression remains that even
ever, in Western psychological literature, meditation indigenous psychology owes its main assumptions
is emphasized as a coping strategy, a therapeutic pro- to discourses within Western psychology (or psy-
cedure to reduce suffering and to increase well-being chologies). It is thus not surprising that indigenous
(e.g., Lutz, Dunne, & Davidson, 2007). Western psychology seems so similar to cultural psychol-
psychologists largely ignore—and that is true for ogy. However, this impression may have resulted
cultural psychologists as well—the fact that medita- from a mainstream historiography dominated by
tion is also a highly advanced introspective method a Eurocentric assumption that outside of Europe,
that has always been the basic empirical procedure there were no important contributions to what we
by which many results of indigenous Asian psychol- call “psychology” (in a Western sense). Thus, it is
ogy were obtained. So, with regard to indigenous still a task for indigenous psychologists to come up
psychological methodology and methods, there are with alternative indigenous historiographies of non-
also things that can be learned or at least consid- Western contributions.
ered by cultural psychologists, too. Is it possible that The dominance of Western historiography as
Enriquez is right that outside the Philippines, we well as the need to relate indigenous psychological
should also adapt our procedures much more fre- work to Western conceptions of psychology to be
quently to the different groups that vary with regard taken seriously in the international scientific com-
to social origin, education, ethnicity, gender, and so munity are symptoms of an ongoing asymmetry
forth? And is it possible that even most cultural psy- of power distribution in international psychology
chologists do not really expect that there are non- (Moghaddam, 1987). It becomes especially evident
Western traditions of methodical empirical research in the fact that even indigenous psychologists most
that could be valuable for the whole discipline? In frequently link their work to psychological theories
other words, would it be useful to transplant non- of Western origin and research executed within the
Western indigenous concepts into Western psychol- standard framework of Western psychology. Western
ogy? It is worth mentioning that compared to their discourses are mainly about Western authors as are
treatment in psychology, these kinds of questions the so-called “international discourses.” The domi-
are dealt with much more visibly in anthropology nant language of psychology is English, and there-
(Denzin, Lincoln, & Smith, 2008; Smith, 1999). fore any findings from indigenous psychology, even
Finally, let me return to the question concerning potentially culture-specific concepts, need to be
the differences between indigenous and cultural psy- translated into English to be published in the lead-
chology if there are any. Actually, it seems obvious ing journals. This situation is quite comfortable

ch a kka rath 91
for most Western psychologists, who often live in cultural psychologists and indigenous psychologists
English-speaking countries, whereas indigenous share many scientific positions, all in all, they are
psychologists from non-English-speaking countries differently positioned. Because cultural psychol-
have to adapt to psychology’s dominating culture. ogy’s more recent development has been situated in
They have to learn its language, read its psycho- a predominantly Western setting and accompanied
logical literature, take part in its debates (which are by scientific debates that mainly reflect correspond-
mainly about its authors), and so forth. At the same ing intellectual traditions, most psychologists who
time, indigenous psychologists need to be equipped advocate the indigenous perspective work in non-
with the skills and knowledge required to con- Western environments with non-Western people
duct the kind of research that meets the standards who usually do not correspond to the WEIRD sam-
of their own scientific perspectives (as described ples that provide the largest proportion of data col-
above): language skills, sufficient knowledge about lected to test Western psychological theories. Many
the indigenous environments and the people, about of these indigenous psychologists are trained in
indigenous authors and their literature, method- Western psychology and equipped with the knowl-
ological versatility, and so forth. edge this training provides. Frequently, however,
The effects of this asymmetry of power and of they experience dissatisfaction with this Western
intercultural competence can be summarized as fol- knowledge in non-Western research contexts. The
lows: The intercultural competence and expertise criticism that has arisen from this situation is very
that an indigenous psychologist needs to meet the similar to the critical assessments of Western sci-
standards of his discipline and to be heard are rarely ence and its exercise of power that is brought for-
met by Western psychologists. Not even the Western ward within post-Colonial studies. The situation in
cultural psychologists read non-Western texts hav- which many indigenous psychologists are working
ing psychological relevance in the sense described can thus be described as a third space constituted by
above. Their discourses are mainly influenced by shared histories, overlapping contexts, and hybrid
Western—mainly Western European and U.S. actors. It is especially this difference from which
American—intellectual traditions. This situation the specific expertise and the specific competencies
not only underscores why indigenous psychology arise from which cultural psychology can profit in
is needed and could improve cultural psychology, many ways. This includes a greater knowledge of all
it also appeals to all branches of culture-informed topics and methods that might be relevant for psy-
psychological research to inform themselves much chological research (e.g., religions and other world-
more than they currently do. views, indigenous concepts pertaining to self and
other, indigenous methods like meditative intro-
Conclusion spection) and, in addition, a more thorough reflec-
Having developed from similar traditions within tion on the role of the psychologist as a culturalized
the history of psychology, cultural and indigenous figure within various and sometimes very different
psychology share many common features and contexts. For the future development of both, psy-
goals. Both favor the emic over the etic approach chologists from both fields should not just be satis-
and both suggest multimethod research designs for fied with peaceful co-existence but intensify their
the investigation of culture and the human mind. peaceful collaboration. Both fields would fulfill the
Moreover, both share the conviction that the higher main purpose of all branches of culture-informed
cognitive processes and their inter-relatedness with psychology: to collect as much psychologically
environmental aspects as well as with the elemen- relevant information as is needed to understand
tary cognitive processes need to be investigated in humans and culture.
an integrative and interdisciplinary manner that
reflects the human potential to give meaning to the Future Directions
world and ourselves in manifold ways and innumer- 1. How can indigenous psychologists find a
ous areas. Therefore, both disciplines investigate common definition of their discipline and their
history, mythologies and other cultural narrations, relationship to other culture-sensitive psychologies,
art, social institutions, religions, world views, sci- including cultural psychology?
ence, and so forth, to identify the psychological 2. How can psychological methodology profit
relevance of these topics for human development, from indigenous/indigenized methodologies and
thought, feeling, and behavior. However, although indigenous/indigenized methods?

92 indigenous psycho log i e s i n bui ldi n g ba sic cu ltu ra l psych ology


3. What cultural psychological insight can be Chakkarath, P. (2005). What can Western psychology learn from
gained by investigating the specific situation that indigenous psychologies? Lessons from Hindu psychology.
In W. Friedlmeier, P. Chakkarath, & B. Schwarz (Eds.),
many indigenous psychologists are in and that Culture and human development: The importance of cross-
we characterized as “third space,” in which hybrid cultural research to the social sciences (pp. 31–51). New York:
researchers study indigenous (and occasionally Psychology Press.
hybrid) subjects? Chakkarath, P. (2007). Zur kulturpsychologischen Relevanz
4. What can be done to minimize the negative von Religionen und Weltan schauungen [The cultural-
psychological relevance of religions and world-views]. In
effects of politics and unequal power distribution G. Trommsdorff & H.-J. Kornadt (Eds.), Kulturvergleichende
in the field of international psychology? Psychologie (Vol. 1, pp. 615–674). Göttingen, Germany:
5. To what extent can indigenous psychology Hogrefe.
refine our understanding of “psychological Chakkarath, P. (2010a). The Indian self and the others: Individual
relevance?” and collective identities in India. Taiwan Journal of East Asian
Studies, 7, 1–23.
6. Do we need a historiography of psychology Chakkarath, P. (2010b). Internationalizing education and
written from a cultural and indigenous the social sciences: Reflections on the Indian context. In
psychological perspective, and how would it differ M. Kuhn & D. Weidemann (Eds.), Internationalization of
from conventional historiographies? the social sciences: Asia – Latin America – Middle East – Africa
– Eurasia (pp. 87–114). Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript.
Chakkarath, P. (2010c). Stereotypes in social psychology: The
Acknowledgment “West-East” differentiation as a reflection of Western tradi-
This chapter was written during a fellowship at the Institute
tions of thought. Psychological Studies, 55, 18–25.
of Advanced Study at the University of Konstanz, part of the
Chakkarath, P. (in press). Indian thoughts on psychological
university’s “Cultural Foundations of Integration” Center of
human development. In G. Misra (Ed.), Psychology and psy-
Excellence, established in the framework of the German Federal
choanalysis in India. New Delhi, India: Sage.
and State Initiative for Excellence. The author would like to thank
Chakkarath, P., & Straub, J. (in press). Cultural psychology. In
Tamara Herz for proofreading the final draft of this paper.
N. Azari, P. Brugger, A. Runehov, P. Duran, R. Paloutzian,
R. J. Seitz, et al. (eds.), Encyclopedia of sciences and religions.
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ch a kka rath 95
CHAPTER

Cultural Anthropology
5
Susan J. Rasmussen

Abstract
This overview of cultural anthropology begins with a brief discussion of historical, recent, and current
trends in theory and method. Next, there is a critical analysis of two broad issues concerning the
anthropological subject: namely, tensions between approaches and perspectives emphasizing the
individual, practice, and agency, on the one hand, and those emphasizing collectivities, institutions, and
structure, on the other; and tensions between shared universal themes, on the one hand, and local
cultural variations, on the other. There follow illustrative examples from selected relevant topics,
including enculturation, altered states, healing, the body and senses, and personhood. The chapter
concludes with a brief sum-up and key questions for future directions in cultural anthropology.
Keywords: cultural anthropology, cultural theory, ethnography, psychological anthropology,
enculturation, altered states, personhood

Anthropology, the study of humankind at the issues concerning relationships between individu-
most comprehensive and holistic level, is a broad als, cultures, and collectivities as well as variations
discipline that straddles the social sciences and the on universal themes.
humanities and is comprised of several subfields or Although in some respects, cultural anthropol-
branches: social/cultural or simply, cultural anthro- ogy’s subject matter overlaps with its “sister” social
pology; linguistic anthropology; archaeology; and sciences, sociology and psychology, its distinctive-
physical or bio-anthropology. Some anthropologists ness consists in its tendency toward more qualita-
also recognize an additional branch called applied tive, micro-, small-scale, and intimate perspectives
anthropology, which involves the application of on cultural phenomena. Whereas most sociologists
anthropological concepts, theories, and methods tend toward the study of groups and institutions
to public policy recommendations; whereas oth- as their subject or unit of analysis, and most psy-
ers locate this latter specialty within each of the chologists focus on mental processes, most cultural
traditional four branches. Central to social/cul- anthropologists emphasize their holistic intercon-
tural anthropology are several key concepts: cul- nections and work within a theoretical framework
ture, cultural relativism, holism, field research or built on the culture concept.
fieldwork, ethnography, ethnology, comparison,
translation, and concern with both shared (uni- The Concept of Culture
versal) themes and local diversity or variations in Although the culture concept, in its classic and
the expression of culture and the organization of reformulated senses, constitutes the unifying para-
society. This chapter will examine cultural anthro- digm for all subfields or branches of anthropology,
pology; it will particularly focus on concepts and cultural anthropology is that branch that focuses

96
most intently on contemporary (living) human cul- the rise of science in western Europe between the
tural and social beliefs, knowledge, and practices sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, contributed to
through in-depth study of a single cultural set- increasing interest in a human- and nature-centered
ting, as well as comparative cross-cultural studies. universe. Discoveries by Charles Lyell, the geologist,
Cultural anthropologists conduct ethnographic field suggested that the age of the Earth was much older
research or “fieldwork,” which includes a method than that proposed by the Church, and the evolu-
called participant-observation, involving intensive tionary theory proposed by Charles Darwin, the
submersion in the everyday life of the community, naturalist, emphasized transformation, rather than
and depending on the topic and setting of research, immutability, of life forms and suggested long-term
also additional techniques, such as guided conversa- evolutionary interconnections. Much of this work
tions and more structured interviews, life histories, was stimulated by European exploration and colo-
case studies, genealogies, censuses, and (in more nial domination, which promoted a growing inter-
complex settings) network analysis and snowball est in human physical and cultural variation and
sampling. Ideally, anthropologists approach field change. Eighteenth century philologists studied the
research with an attitude called cultural relativism. history of languages, and, with the German Idealist
Cultural relativism does not imply justifying prac- philosophers, became interested in the connections
tices that the researcher finds morally or ethically between language, mind, and nation—for example,
repugnant but, rather, involves refraining, in so Kant’s distinction between noumena (things or
far as possible, from judging cross-cultural prac- objects directly perceived in the world) and phe-
tices solely from the standpoint of the researcher’s nomena (things or ideas indirectly experienced)
own cultural values and being aware of one’s own as well as Hegel’s concept of zeitgeist or “spirit of
biases and their sources and effects on construct- the times or nation,” which associated culture, in
ing ethnographic knowledge. In contemporary its early conceptualization, with learning, language,
cultural relativism, there is particular effort made individual psychological identity, and group affili-
to refrain from ranking beliefs and practices across ation. Naturalists pursued the connections among
different cultural settings and in historical eras: ide- plant, animal, and human life. Many traveled on
ally, the researcher analyzes social/cultural beliefs, scientific exploratory expeditions beyond Europe.
knowledge, practices, and behavior in a variety of
contexts: historical, political, social, psychological,
The Main Issues
and economic. On the other hand, some anthro-
The problem for many theorists, in these con-
pologists today advocate “activist anthropology,”
texts, was the following: how humans were similar,
an approach involving greater engagement with
how they were different, why, and what shared uni-
political issues—for example, advocacy for indig-
versal themes and local variations implied. These
enous peoples’ rights. There is much debate in the
conditions prompted the collection of data on this
discipline concerning these issues (Bodley, 1975;
diversity—for example, flora, fauna, and folklore
Tsing 2005).
from the “folk” at home and from so-called “primi-
tive” peoples abroad, for purposes of classification.
History of Cultural Anthropology and Carolus von Linnaeus formulated botanical and zoo-
the Culture Concept logical taxonomies, and the Romantic Nationalism
Until very recently, anthropology was primarily a movement encouraged the preservation of “quaint”
western European science. Many concepts central to customs from the rural peasants. Some early evolu-
the discipline originated in philosophical concepts tionary anthropologists, such as Edward Tylor and
and political policies extending from classical Greece James Frazer, interpreted exotic customs as “surviv-
through the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and als” or remnants of past practices; ethnographic
Scientific and Industrial Revolutions. Although there analogies were made between marginal practices
are increasing influences from scholars from post-co- assumed to derive from Europe’s past and the prac-
lonial backgrounds today, anthropology nonetheless tices of non-Western peoples, in grand schemes of
owes much in its origin and development to these the origins of culture. This early version of the com-
historical legacies in Europe: for example, tensions parative method, which featured ethnocentric and
between the “sacred” and “secular” worldviews of racist ranking of cultures and societies in an effort
the Medieval Catholic Church and the secular views to find the origins of civilization, differed from the
of the Renaissance and ensuing Age of Reason, with relativistic cross-cultural comparison as practiced

ra sm u ssen 97
by anthropologists today, whose purpose is not to latter concept now recognized as a political device
rank or find origins but rather to yield insights into and an oversimplification, despite human physical
the range of human cultural and social behavior in variation. Second, for some time culture remained
terms of similarities and differences. At that time, defined in the singular, in the Enlightenment sense
anthropology was only beginning to emerge as an of a civilization—that is, with implied greater or
academic discipline at universities in Europe and lesser degrees of cultivation—and having superior
the United States, and its branches or subfields of or inferior connotations, all based on very ethno-
study had not yet become distinct; for example, bio- centric value judgments, with Europe believed to
logical or physical anthropology was not yet sepa- stand at the pinnacle or apex of development.
rate from cultural anthropology, and there was a Beginning in the early twentieth century, anthro-
conflation of physical characteristics with sociocul- pologists such as Franz Boas in the United States and
tural phenomena—for example, a misguided equa- Bronislaw Malinowski and A.R. Radcliffe-Brown in
tion made between physical attributes of so-called Britain spearheaded the newly diverging branch of
“race” and culture. In the first theoretical school (socio)cultural anthropology; they began to ques-
called unilineal evolutionism in academic anthro- tion the assumptions, theories, concepts, and meth-
pology, which arose in the mid-to-late nineteenth ods of the nineteenth-century unilineal evolutionists
century, peoples outside of Europe and their beliefs and began to promote direct fieldwork and cultural
and practices, as representatives of earlier phases or relativism. Yet many, despite individual opposi-
stages of European institutions, beliefs, and prac- tion to colonialism, continued to work for colonial
tices, were thought to be capable of progress on the administrations—for example, Evans-Pritchard
ladder of civilization but moving at different rates. (1940) among the Nuer in the then-Anglo-Egyptian
Additional processes—wider, wider demographic Sudan. The concept of culture changed radically. The
and economic changes in Europe from industri- method of field research became mandatory for full
alization and bureaucratization in the nineteenth professional status in cultural anthropology. Modern
century—also encouraged the growth of the social anthropology today owes a debt to these theorists,
sciences—for example, the rise of penal reform, who reacted against previous Victorian anthropolog-
and the disciplines of demography, sociology, and ical paradigms of unilineal evolutionism—for exam-
psychiatry (Foucault, 1978). Emile Durkheim (an ple, “social Darwinism,” the distorted application
early founder of anthropology and sociology) and of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory to human
his student Marcel Mauss were concerned with the social practices. Franz Boas, a German-Jewish immi-
perceived breakdown of reciprocity in European grant who had suffered from anti-Semitism, became
society in the wake of these changes. August Comte interested in salvaging the cultures of the Native
promoted positivist objective data collection. Karl American Indians. Bronislaw Malinowski, a Polish
Marx formulated his theory of alienation from the aristocrat who became stranded in the Trobriand
products of one’s labor is his critique of capitalism. Islands off Australia upon the outbreak of World
All these questions were initially addressed in a War I, similarly experienced marginal status himself,
context of domination: increasing colonialism by began undertaking intensive fieldwork and local lan-
European state powers beyond Europe and national- guage study, and became interested in the function,
ist domination by these state governments over mar- rather than the origin, of practices such as ritual and
ginalized rural peoples, so-called “peasants” or “folk,” economics. Both these theorists rejected the hereto-
in Europe itself. There was the view that adminis- fore prevalent “armchair scholarship,” racism, and
trators and missionaries shared a civilizing mission, speculative grand generalizations on the origins and
popularly called the “White Man’s Burden.” Many sequences of human culture.
Victorian unilineal evolutionists at first worked at In the United States, Boas’s historical-particularism
a distance from these remote locations, conducting school of thought distinguished among culture, race,
armchair research; only a few of the early anthro- and language and advocated studying particular cul-
pologists conducted direct fieldwork. tures and their histories directly, without ranking or
proposing grand universal schemes of human origin
Impacts on Culture Theories or development. Boas and his colleagues and students
These conditions had several consequences for also founded the subfield of culture and personality
early theories of culture. First, in Darwinian circles, within cultural anthropology, which examined chil-
at least, culture tended to be equated with race—the drearing customs across diverse cultures, emphasizing

98 c ultural ant hro po log y


learned cultural—rather than universal biological— twins as anomalous, and thus analogous, to birds in
influences on personality. that both share qualities such as multiple births, and
both are believed to mediate, in the sky, between
Anthropologies Across the Atlantic humans and Kwoth, or Spirit. In France, Durkheim
Initially, ethnographies tended to describe and his students also emphasized the importance of
entire cultures or communities comprehensively “social facts,” from direct observation, and devel-
(Malinowski, 1926). Soon, however, cultural oped the concept of the collective unconscious as
anthropologists began to focus intently on a specific an overarching belief of a group, much more than
problem or issue in anthropological theory, either a sum total of individual viewpoints. Durkheimian
drawing on their primary data from a single cul- sociology also analyzed symbolic classifications as
tural/social setting in an ethnography or, in other reflecting society, not nature—for example, spirit
cases, drawing on secondary data collected by several pantheons often reflect human social divisions.
different researchers in several different cultural set-
tings, in a cross-cultural comparison or ethnology. Recent Trends in Modern Cultural
The ethnographies of Margaret Mead, a student of Anthropology
Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict and an early theorist From these insights, there emerged several
in the “culture and personality” school, examined important new understandings of culture. This con-
concepts of adolescence and gender in Polynesian cept became defined more in the plural than in the
societies (Mead, 1928, 1935), exploring how these singular and acquired more neutral connotations, as
differed from American psychologists’ concepts at denoting the sum total of a group’s belief system. In
that time. For example, Mead found that Samoan the formulation of Clifford Geertz, founder of inter-
adolescents were permitted much more freedom pretive anthropology, culture is transmitted through
and experienced less anxiety than their American learning and is widely shared (Geertz, 1973). In
counterparts, thereby suggesting, she argued, that this formulation, the anthropologist “reads” a cul-
the alleged stresses of adolescence were neither uni- ture like a text—that is, as one would interpret and
versal nor biologically based. Mead also studied translate a poem or novel. Thus, the cultural anthro-
gender constructs in three societies of New Guinea pologist first interprets the local culture in the field
and argued that male and female roles were a result in Geertz’s words, reads it “over the shoulders of the
of nurture, rather than nature. Although some of native,” and then “translates” this into terms under-
Mead’s findings were later disputed by other anthro- stood by his/her audience at home. Thus culture is
pologists (Freeman, 1983; Gewertz, 1983), her like a literary text. In Geertz’s textual approach, as in
work was nonetheless important in its early ques- the pioneering Boasian schools of historical-particu-
tioning of widely held assumptions of universals in larism and culture and personality, the anthropolo-
life course and gendered experiences. gist seeks cultural relativism, but nonetheless still
In Britain, the structural-functionalist school of retains much authority as translator, and the culture
thought similarly opposed unilineal evolutionism, concept, although more relativistic, tends to imply
eschewing history and origins and instead, some- a monolithic homogeneity.
what like Durkheim in France, advocated synchronic This more modern view of culture has been
analysis of the structure and function of institutions accompanied by important changes in anthropolo-
in terms of how they promote harmonious conti- gists’ methods; “ethnography” has come to refer
nuity of society. Later, students of Malinowski and to several practices: fieldwork with participant-
Radcliffe-Brown developed increasingly complex observation, the description of a cultural setting or
theories of the connections between social struc- community (usually focused on a specific issue or
ture and cultural knowledge or belief: E.E. Evans- problem in anthropological theory), and the writ-
Pritchard, in his works on the ecology, political ing practice itself. Ethnology, more comparative
system, and religion of the Nuer people of the then- work, draws more systematically on data from dif-
Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, described how local religion ferent settings to compare several distinct societies,
was refracted in social life and how local philoso- to pursue cross-cultural comparisons of specified
phy was not child-like but, rather, was metaphorical beliefs and practices. Notwithstanding their differ-
(Evans-Pritchard, 1940, 1956). For example, when ences, both ethnography and ethnology are analyti-
some Nuer say that “twins are birds,” they do not cal, in the sense that they both engage wider issues
view them as equivalent but, rather, view human and debates in anthropology. For example, the work

ra sm u ssen 99
of Mary Douglas (1966) examined the meanings communities, as well—for example, the Internet
of purity, pollution, and ritual restrictions called (Boellstorff, 2010).
“taboos” in both historical and cross-cultural terms. There have also been changes in the writing of
In her theory of anomaly, Douglas argued that ethnographies, a practice following data collection
food taboos’ meanings, for example, do not arise in the field, in which the cultural anthropologist
from strictly hygienic or ecological conditions in proceeds to analyze the data and write a descrip-
local consciousness (even if one of their functions tion of a single cultural or community setting. This
may be hygienic or ecological) but, rather, have to description, a literary genre using literary devices
do with symbolic classification of human cultural (Clifford & Marcus, 1986), has recently been the
systems; many forbidden foods, such as pork in topic of much critical reflection in cultural anthro-
Islam and Orthodox Judaism, are not easily classi- pology. Classical or “realist” ethnographies—for
fied and therefore are anomalous. Here, meaning example, those of Evans-Pritchard on the Nuer
rather than origin, cause, or function is important (1940, 1956) and of Malinowski on the Trobriand
in cultural classification, recalling in some respects Islanders (1926, 1927)—tended to use rhetorical
Durkheimian sociology and also Levi-Straussian techniques similar to those used in a novel, which
structuralism. were previously considered objective, with only a
Since approximately the mid-twentieth cen- single meaning determined by the author/researcher.
tury, in addition to Geertz’s comparative literature More subjective reflections by the author/researcher,
hermeneutic approach to culture as text, additional as well as his/her consultants and assistants in the
influences have derived from linguistics. French field, initially were either omitted or appended in
structuralism, brought by Claude Levi-Strauss separate prefaces and afterwords (Evans-Pritchard,
(1963) to cultural anthropology, draws on princi- 1940; Marcus & Fischer, 1986). Recently, there
ples and methods from linguistics: culture is seen as have been efforts at greater experimentation in eth-
a system of communication, and meaning derives nographic writing projects—for example, includ-
from contrast. In particular, Levi-Strauss analyzed ing references to the personal experiences of the
the structure of myths and symbols to elicit meaning researcher, accounts of the circumstances of data
from binary oppositions, which revealed mythemes, collection, and recognition of local collaborators
or the smallest units of meaning in myth, which (Rabinow, 1977; Stoller, 1987, 1989; Gottlieb &
were analogous to the phonemic principle in linguis- Graham, 1994; Marcus, 2005).
tics. According to Levi-Strauss, this construction of Most recently, the concept of culture has been
meaning is a universal characteristic of all human undergoing additional revisions, for several reasons.
mental logic, which finds expression in a variety of The mid-to-late twentieth century saw liberation
domains. Symbolic anthropologists and semioti- movements among colonized peoples, ethnic minor-
cians drew extensively on these ideas, applying them ities, and women, who have contributed much more
to ritual symbolism (V. Turner, 1967), kinship (D. to cultural anthropological theory. Anthropologists
Schneider, 1980), popular culture (Drummond, now come from diverse backgrounds. Postcolonial,
1996), and advertising (Barthes, 1982). post-structural, post-modern, and gender studies
Other trends have addressed ethnography. Until have conducted critiques of the old canons, in some
recently, much anthropological field research focused cases rejecting all the major schools of anthropo-
on small-scale and rural communities remote from logical thought. Feminist anthropologists (Rosaldo
the researcher’s own (home) community. In current & Lamphere, 1974; Butler, 1999) have critiqued
reformulations of culture, which have responded androcentric male bias in some earlier anthropo-
to new cultural formations such as globalization, logical works. Other scholars—for example, Byron
borderlands, and dynamic practices (such as sci- Good (1994) in medical anthropology—have pro-
ence and technology), the concept of culture has posed replacing cultural belief with cultural knowledge
expanded to include more complex settings, such as to render anthropological concepts of non-Western
urban milieu and even virtual, online communities; systems more commensurate with Western systems.
accordingly, fieldwork may now take place in any Talal Asad (in Clifford & Marcus, 1986) conducted
community—rural or urban, locally or abroad— a critique of the Geertzian interpretive anthropolog-
and sites of fieldwork for cultural anthropologists ical concept of cultural translation, arguing that the
today are expanding to include such places as sci- translation of culture is not the same as the transla-
entific laboratories (Rabinow, 2003) and virtual tion of language. Asad has also written a critique

100 c ultural ant hro po log y


of the old structuralist binary opposition between sensitivity to the need for specification in cultural
“sacred” and “secular” in anthropological studies analysis, and some anthropologists now tend to use
of religion and has questioned the assumption that “cultural” in the adjective form more often than as a
secularism always produces greater liberty, drawing noun to avoid the older totalizing, neatly bounded
on examples from history, and arguing that there sense of this concept (Faubion, 2001; Rasmussen,
can be oppression in both religious and secular set- 2008). However, locality remains important, albeit
tings (Asad, 2003). not as an isolated entity but more as a space of
encounter. In these newer formulations, moreover,
Interdisciplinary Links political-economy approaches emphasizing power
In tandem with these trends, there have also and semiotic-expressive approaches emphasizing
occurred much cross-fertilization and interdisci- symbolism, once seen as oppositional, are often
plinary dialogue between the social sciences and becoming intertwined (Rasmussen, 2001; Tsing,
humanities—particularly among anthropology, 2005). In these developments, a central concern has
literary criticism, semiotics, and comparative litera- been with the units of analysis—that is, the anthro-
ture. For example, the comparative literature scholar pological subject.
Edward Said (1978) in his work, Orientalism, cri-
tiqued some ethnographic portrayals of Middle The Anthropological Subject
Eastern peoples in an exaggerated exoticism (e.g., Recurrent and Emerging Issues in the Study
literary and historic portrayals of the Orient as of Culture, Society, and the Individual
sensual and the West as logical) and encouraged Cultural anthropology, from its inception and
anthropologists to reflect more carefully on the his- throughout its transformations, has been con-
tory of their relationships with peoples glossed as cerned with what constitutes the human sub-
“Other.” In his work “The Invention of Africa,” V.Y. ject. As a science of anthropos (Rabinow, 2003),
Mudimbe (1988) explored the historical and social anthropology’s most basic, pervasive concern has
construction of the “idea” of Africa. been with relationships among individuals, institu-
Additional influences have come from the Soviet tions, and belief/knowledge systems. In this focus
Semioticians Mikhael Bakhtin and V.N. Volosinov, on individual/culture/collectivity connections,
whose works written during Stalin’s reign and later two broad issues have reverberated throughout the
translated into English critiqued authoritarian discipline. First, there have been tensions between
forms of literary analysis: these scholars proposed theories and concepts emphasizing personal/
locating meaning not in the text but rather in the individual agency and practice on the one hand and
utterance, suggested that meanings are not mono- those emphasizing collective/institutional forces of
lithic but are multiple, and that meanings are dia- structure and the group on the other. Second, there
logically constructed by not solely the author but are debates over the extent of universals in human
also by the reader and other forces such as the his- belief and practice, on the one hand, and the extent
tories readers of a text bring to the interpretation to which, and what explains, specific cultural differ-
of a literary work. These critiques, as well as wider ences in human belief and practice on the other. In
political and economic processes of globalization, this latter concern, studies have tended to empha-
mass media and communications, and transcul- size either cultural universals (e.g., Levi-Strauss’s
tural or transnational processes, such as accelerat- analysis of myths as manifesting a universal human
ing labor migration and refugee flight of vulnerable mental logic) or cultural specifics (e.g., Mead’s eth-
peoples and human rights concerns, have encour- nographic critique of T. Stanley Hall’s theory of a
aged moving toward a concept of culture empha- universal, biologically based experience of adoles-
sizing more process and practice—of culture as an cence). The individual/collectivity issue, its roots
encounter, as negotiable, and as relational (Eriksen, pervasive in social theory, is addressed here first,
2003; Gupta & Ferguson, 1997) rather than tex- in terms of the tendency of the theoretical pen-
tual or structural in the older, static sense of this dulum to swing back and forth between these two
concept. Arjun Appadurai (1996), for example, has poles of emphasis. Addressed next is the problem
proposed new terms for culture such as ethnoscape of universals versus local cultural variations, with
and technoscape. These terms have not, however, a particular focus here on approaches in the sub-
replaced the term culture in the mainstream disci- field of psychological anthropology within cultural
plinary discourses. But they have brought greater anthropology.

ra sm u ssen 101
Following discussions of these two theoretical no more than an aggregation of individuals brought
issues pertaining to the individual in culture and together in realization of individual goals. The focus
society, there is a review of work relevant to these is not on wider power structures, whether cultural/
concerns: culture and personality and encultura- symbolic, social, or material.
tion; altered states, including trance possession/ The third major position on this issue includes
mediumship and dreams and healing and medico- doctrines that emphasize that these two processes
ritual specialists; and concepts of body, senses, and and forces are complementary—that is, both struc-
person/self. These topics, although not representa- tural influences on human action and individual
tive of all issues or topics in cultural anthropology, agency are capable of changing social structure.
have received much attention, have raised key ques- In this view, there are moves toward emphasizing
tions, and have suggested future directions in the practice, process, and relations (e.g., post-struc-
discipline. tural and post-modern theorists such as Anthony
Giddens and Pierre Bourdieu). In these works, a
Collectivities and Individuals; number of interesting formulations of alternatives
Structure and Agency to either extreme of emphasis have emerged; for
Structure and agency constitute two main shapers example, Peter Berger and Steven Luckman in The
of outcomes. Most theories tend to emphasize indi- Construction of Social Reality (1966) argued that
vidual practice or collective social action. In this trend, society forms individuals, who create society in a
there have been approximately three main positions continuous dialectic. Anthony Giddens (1984), in
taken. First is the position involving doctrines that his concept of structuration, opposed the dualism of
social/cultural life is largely determined by social structure and agency out of hand, favoring a duality
structure and that individual agency or practice can of structure in the sense that structure constitutes
be explained as mostly the outcome of structure or both the medium and the outcome of conduct it
institutions; examples include French Structuralism recursively organizes and structure constitutes rules
of Claude Levi-Strauss, with its emphasis on univer- and resources that do not exist outside actions but
sal mental logical structures; Durkheimian norma- continuously impact its production and reproduc-
tive sociology and its influence in anthropology; the tion of action. Giddens also opposed analogies
British social anthropological school of structural- between social and physical structures (e.g., the
functionalism (e.g., Radcliffe-Brown); and some British structural functional “machine” or “body”
Marxist theories. model of society). For Giddens, there is structure,
The second position includes doctrines that but this is more fluid and negotiable. Even in these
reverse the above emphasis, stressing instead the more nuanced approaches, the issue remains of not
capacity of individuals (individual agents) to con- solely who we are but who we are in relation to ideas
struct and reconstruct their worlds, and the neces- (cultural knowledge, or values), practice (agency),
sity of explanations in actors’ terms. Examples and structure (institutions).
include utilitarianism as formulated by John Locke, One prominent concern, shown in the pervasive
and the associated Economic Man liberal and neo- presence of the adjectives “structural” and “post-
liberal economic theories of cost–benefit analysis; structural” in anthropology, has been with struc-
ethnomethodology and related game theory studies ture: what is it and from where does it derive? Also,
of Frederik Barth (e.g., the individual flexibly wear- how does one conceptualize the changing relation-
ing different “hats” of identity); and the dramatur- ship between structure and agency? These concerns,
gical concept of social action analogous to theatrical still very much alive in cultural anthropology, can
performance of Erving Goffman, centering on the be traced back to the emergence of the social sci-
human actor’s presentation of self and impression- ences as academic disciplines in the late nineteenth
management on a kind of stage. These share an and early twentieth centuries. As founder of both
emphasis on the immediate situation and individual anthropology and sociology, Emile Durkheim (1895,
calculations during social interaction, a philosophi- 1912) addressed the problem of social cohesion in
cal school of thought holding that utility entails the so-called “poly-segmentary societies” that he consid-
greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons ered based on mechanical solidarity, in contrast to
and in which the assumption is that individuals the organic solidarity of modern societies with their
rationally pursue their own interests and this seeps division of labor (Parsons, 1965, p. 39). Parsons
down to benefit all in the long term. Here, society is traces Durkheim’s early opposition to utilitarian

102 c ultural ant hro po log y


and psychological explanations to other currents her statement that “there is no society, only individ-
in French intellectual history—namely, Descartes, uals and families.” For Durkheimians, by contrast,
Rousseau, Saint-Simon, August Comte, and Fustel society is a system formed by association and a dif-
de Coulanges (Parsons, 1965, pp. 39–65). His deep ferent reality with its own characteristics.
concern was to mediate between British empiricism Yet Durkheim does not dismiss psychology
and utilitarianism and German idealism. completely; he believes it plays an important role
in preparing for the study of social phenomena
The Issue of Structure (Parsons, 1965). Indeed, Durkheim thought that
In his Rules of the Explanation of Social Facts the essential elements of culture and social structure
(1895 [1958]), Durkheim critiques functional utili- are internalized as part of the individual personality.
tarianism (Parsons, 1965) and, in my view, implic- Nevertheless, an element of exteriority is involved in
itly, also British structural-functionalism, by arguing moral authority because, although internalized, the
there is more to interpreting social facts than social normative system must also objectively be part of a
morphology; the utility of a social fact may lead to system extending beyond the individual (Baerveldt &
social insight, but it does not explain its origins. Verheggen, 2011; Tavory, Jablonka, & Ginsburg,
Function does not create the social fact; facts come 2011, this volume). It is not subjective in the sense
from somewhere deeper. Prior forces must exist to of a purely private individual, for it is also a cultural
produce the fact. Also, facts can exist without serv- object in sense relevant to idealistic tradition. For
ing a purpose; they may have never been used or example, the meaning of success cannot be estab-
may have lost their utility—for example, because of lished without understanding the interplay between
this, causes of a social phenomenon and its function the motivation of the actor and the normative claims
must be studied separately, and cause must be stud- impinging on him from his social environment,
ied before its effects. Also confronted here is the issue expressed in the distinction made by a student of
of where social phenomena originate. Previously, Durkheim’s, Marcel Mauss, between two types of
Comte and Spencer asserted that society is a system personhood/self: le moi (me) and la conception de
derived from an individual psyche of humans set up la personne sociale (concept of social person). For, at
to achieve certain goals. In their view, social theory the same time, as Nsamenang (2011) points out in
is an extension of psychology. Durkheim disputes the present volume, the social environment of any
this argument: it is not individual wants and needs given actor of reference is composed of other actors
that dictate how humans act but social forces that whose action must be also analyzed as interactional.
transcend them; he asserted that it is not individual Anomie, or normlessness, thus makes achieving
wants and needs that dictate how a human acts but, goals meaningless from lack of clear criteria.
rather, social forces that transcend them. Only soci- Durkheim later theorized on religion, sym-
ety remains to explain social life, as this pressures bolic systems, and collective representations (1912
an individual to act and think in certain ways. This [1954]) and emphasized a theory of culture in
is accomplished through association. We are not relation to that of society. Here religion is the pri-
merely the sum of our parts; in association, we act mordial matrix, from which principal elements of
differently than we do as individuals. We become culture emerged by the process of differentiation—
a separate entity that transcends our individuality. specifically, in totemism, the origin of religion. The
For example, this view would explain some unex- classification in cultural belief/knowledge that dis-
pected election results as not resulting from the sum tinguishes between sacred and profane is similar
total of atomistic, individual opinions but instead to the distinction between moral obligations and
from the work of structural facts (e.g., economic expediency or utility. For Durkheim and those
forces) and collective representations (e.g., cultural influenced by this theorist, such as Marcel Mauss
values) that transcend individuals’ consciousness (1936) and later, Mary Douglas (1966), the quality
and actions—in other words, a collective conscious of sacredness does not reside in any intrinsic prop-
in a kind of crowd psychology a la Gustav Lamont. erties of the object treated as sacred but, rather, in
Society is a given reality, having exteriority from its properties as a symbol and its position to other
the point of view of its own members, but it also objects, seen by Durkheim as collective representa-
regulates or constrains their action. This view is very tions, which became defined in recent and contem-
opposed to a utilitarian view, as expressed by the porary cultural anthropology as symbolic systems
former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in (Turner, 1967). In this formulation, there is a close

ra sm u ssen 103
integration between the religious system of represen- Shared Universal Themes, Local Cultural,
tations and the structure of society itself, linked by and Personal Variations
the attitude of moral respect that Durkheim called Another stream of thought in cultural anthro-
“awe.” According to Durkheim, this integration is pology, psychological anthropology (which arose
particularly close in primitive religion but also exists from its ancestral school, culture, and personality)
in others. Any cultural system must have a collective approaches the problem of the anthropological
aspect, for symbolization that is wholly private is subject by focusing on individual mental aspects of
no longer cultural or even truly symbolic; this later humankind in learning the culture and weighs the
influenced Clifford Geertz’s (1973) concept of cul- relative power of shared universal common themes
ture as shared, public, and translatable. and local variations. The complex processes by
In the wake of this legacy, several more nuanced which an individual acquires traits his or her soci-
approaches to this issue have tended to retreat ety considers desirable—or undesirable—involve
somewhat from the normative traditions of the learning to experience the world in a particular way.
Durkheimians and the British structural-functional- Enculturation and socialization practices are one
ists and place greater emphasis on agency and prac- focus. These differ widely from culture to culture
tice, although differing nonetheless from the older and are processes by which the individual learns
ethnomethodological and utilitarian emphases, by knowledge, values, and skills required in a particular
giving some nods to the power of structure. society. Because of this great variation, anthropolo-
For example, in his work Outline of a Theory of gists have asked whether people who grow up in dif-
Practice (1977), Pierre Bourdieu addressed conti- ferent societies learn to see the world differently. So
nental philosophy as much as anthropology. But completely does socialization shape our experience
Bourdieu drew on the Marxist concept of habitus of the world that we come to see our own world-
and also emphasized practice to explore the question view as natural. Psychologically oriented cultural
of human agency. In Bourdieu’s formulation, habitus anthropologists have used cross-cultural studies as
consists of a system of durable, transposable dispo- a basis for considering whether people universally
sitions, structured structures predisposed to func- perceive the world in the same way in some con-
tion as principles of generation, and structuring of texts, whether they think about it in same way, and
practices and representations that can be objectively whether concepts of person/self are universal.
regulated and regular without in any way being the The history of psychological anthropology has
product of obedience to rules. The term disposition been marked by attempts to distinguish human
signifies the special place the body occupies in habi- universals from characteristics that are particular
tus; dispositions are cultivated through interaction to specific, local populations of different cultural
with a whole symbolically structural environment, and community settings. One major focus in this
and these cultivated dispositions become inscribed debate has been Sigmund Freud’s concept of the
in body schema and in schemes of thought. For Oedipal complex. Freud thought that all male
example, Bourdieu discusses the Kabyle sense of children are subject to the Oedipal complex, in
honor, emphasizing the dual location of honor in which they sexually desire the mother and resent
both the mind and the flesh. In Bourdieu’s con- the father. Bronislaw Malinowski (1927) suggested
ception of habitus, mastery of body is essentially that the Oedipal complex is associated with patri-
successful in corporation (literally, the taking into lineal inheritance, but some other anthropologists
the body) of particular social meanings, inculcated see what they consider to be Oedipal patterns cross-
through various bodily disciplines oriented to such culturally in myths and dreams.
mundane practices as standing, sitting, speaking, The Oedipal complex takes its name from the
walking, and organization in space. In mastering story of the Greek hero Oedipus, who unknowingly
the body, the child develops skills to act in and on killed his father and married his mother. Freud sug-
the world. This is a dialectical process Bourdieu gested that the Oedipal story expresses conflicts that
calls “the appropriating by the world of a body thus are universal in the developmental cycle of males
enabled to appropriate the world” (Bourdieu, 1977, throughout the world. According to Freud, boys
p. 89). Thus the ideology or culture is not only in become sexually aroused by their mothers during
our head but also in our bodies (e.g., is embodied), intimate contact occasioned by maternal nurtur-
and although there is some room for agency, struc- ing and, as a result, become envious of their fathers.
ture tends to reproduce itself. Melford Spiro described the resulting conflict in the

104 c ultural ant hro po log y


boy’s mind: “As result of his wish to possess exclu- their sisters, despite strong sexual taboos between
sive love of the mother, boy moreover develops wish siblings. Brother–sister incest is also a prominent
to kill father and to replace him in his relationship theme in Trobriand myths. Melford Spiro argues
with mother (in mind of little boy, to kill means to that the brother–sister incest theme in these dreams
eliminate, to banish, to get rid of )” (Spiro, 1982, p. and myths suggests that sexual attraction and hostil-
4). At the same time, the boy admires his father and ity are deflected from their true objects, mother and
seeks to emulate him. father, and displaced onto less threatening subjects,
Malinowski ([1927] 1955) rejected Freud’s sister and maternal uncle. Thus Oedipal complex is
contention that the Oedipal complex is universal. not absent among Trobrianders; rather, it emerges
Rather, he argued, the tension between father and in disguised form as love for one’s sister and hostility
son described by Freud results from European sys- toward one’s mother’s brother (Spiro, 1982).
tem of patrilineal inheritance, rather than from sex- Whether the Oedipal complex is universal con-
ual competition for the mother. Because, under the tinues to be debated in anthropology. Freud sug-
patrilineal system, a boy inherits property and social gested that unconscious conflicts are expressed in
status from his father, the boy feels resentment dreams of individuals and myths of societies. Allen
toward his potential benefactor, who has authority Johnson and Douglass Price-Williams (1996) con-
over him. At the same time, the father feels ambiva- ducted a cross-cultural survey of myths and tales
lence toward his son, who will eventually assume and concluded that the Oedipal complex is indeed
control of his status and property as the father grows universally represented in these societies, suggesting
older and dies. that mother–son attraction and father–son hostility
Among Trobriander Islanders, Malinowski noted, is a theme in all societies (Womack, 2001, p. 186).
descent is matrilineal, which means a boy inherits This debate is not settled, however.
status and property from his mother’s brother rather The foregoing debate raises wider issues, such
than from his father. In the Trobriands, boys have as the relative influence of socialization and pat-
warm, affectionate relationships with their fathers terns of social organization on individual practices
because they do not see them in authoritarian role (Nsamenang, 2011, this volume). Recall that Franz
(Malinowski, [1927] 1955, p. 31). By contrast, Boas, as founding father of American anthropol-
the relationship between the boy and his mother’s ogy, in the early twentieth century emphasized the
brother is one of tension and conflict, as the boy will importance of culture. This insight influenced a
inherit his status and property through his mother’s number of anthropologists who studied the rela-
line, from the senior male, his maternal uncle. The tionships among culture, childrearing practices, and
maternal uncle is also in charge of disciplining the adult personality. The works of those anthropolo-
boy and feels ambivalent toward his heir, who will gists became known as the culture-and-personality
eventually displace him and take property away school. Although contemporary anthropologists
from his own son. According to Malinowski, it is reject these researchers’ overemphasis on uniformity
competition over authority and status, rather than within cultures and oversimplification of complex
over sexual access to the mother, that is the source of variables, the culture-and-personality school pro-
anxiety between a boy and the man from whom will vided an important basis for development of psy-
inherit his social position. Thus the Oedipal com- chological anthropology.
plex does not exist among matrilineal Trobriand One topic within this school concerned defin-
Islanders. ing “normal” and “deviant” behavior as shaped
Other anthropologists have more recently by socialization or enculturation. Ruth Benedict
re-analyzed Malinowski’s data to challenge his (1934) discussed how societies tolerate a range of
view that the Oedipal complex does not occur in behaviors considered normal and have means for
matrilineal societies. For example, Annette Weiner dealing with behavior that violates the norm—
(1976) found that fathers in the Trobriand Islands sometimes providing a niche for those who do not
still maintain social, emotional, and economic ties conform to normative expectations; for example,
with sons, despite the matrilineal emphasis, in gift- some Native American Indians have very flexible
giving and other exchanges. Melford Spiro (1982) concepts of gender roles in which biological men
found that in their dreams, Trobriand subjects never may become cultural females, formerly called “ber-
dreamed of having sexual intercourse with their dache” and now called “two spirits” (Whitehead in
mothers but did have some sexual dreams about Ortner, 1981).

ra sm u ssen 105
In some non-Western medicine, shamans or Cross-cultural studies of medico-ritual healing
mediumistic healers treat a variety of disorders, through altered states of consciousness—namely,
both physical and psychological. Anthropologists trance—illustrate these dynamics vividly. According
(Harner, 1990; Kendall, 1989; Winkelman, 2000) to the established biomedical allopathic medical
have noted that shamanic healing can be effective, model, recall that illness tends to be classified as
in part because it treats underlying tensions in the either physical or mental (organic or non-organic).
group instead of isolating the individual. Shamans Deviance from the ideal is often regarded as an
also treat illnesses through medico-ritual therapies, individual problem rather than as an affliction of
such as spirit possession (Rasmussen, 1995, 2001), the group as a collectivity. Most societies do not,
that are similar to techniques used by Western however, distinguish so neatly between physical
psychotherapists. (organic) and mental (non-organic) illness, nor do
they always draw a rigid boundary between inten-
Altered States (Spirit Possession/ tional and unintentional deviance. Treatment is
Mediumship/Shamanism; Dreams) usually aimed at identifying problematic relation-
and Healing ships within the group. In these societies, the source
According to the widespread biomedical model, of the problem is often attributed to outside forces,
a human being is a physical entity, a thing existing either naturalistic, human/social (personalistic), or
apart from other such physical entities. These indi- spiritual—for example, malevolent ghosts or shades
vidualistic and Cartesian mind/body dualist views (Foster, 1977). Traditional mediumistic healers,
are reflected in the allopathic or biomedical model widely called shamans in anthropology, frame their
of healing, in which illness is treated as a failure of diagnoses and treatments in symbolic terms. The
one’s organs or of bodily mechanisms. For exam- use of symbols in medico-ritual treatments express
ple, an illness may be diagnosed as a renal failure, a complex ideas in dramatic forms and allow indirect
failure of kidneys to perform as they ordinarily do. expression of emotional and social issues, (Turner,
Following from that diagnosis, treatment may be 1967), such as the unequal treatment of co-wives
confined to repairing kidneys rather than treating (Rasmussen, 1995, 2001, 2006).
the system that gave rise to failure of kidney to per- By attributing illness or nonconforming behav-
form as expected. In fact, kidneys share a relation- ior to demons or spirits, the shaman can diffuse
ship with every other aspect of body, including the and defuse the powerful emotions generated by
circulatory system, which delivers oxygen and other competing interests and conduct psychotherapeutic
nutrients to kidneys, and lungs, which take in air healing. The shaman uses symbols to treat a disor-
and provide oxygen that every part of body requires der within the social context. For example, he/she
(Womack, 2001, p. 183). might diagnose an illness as the result of not pleas-
By contrast, shamans or mediumistic healers ing an ancestor. In so doing, the healer brings to
trace the origins of illness to disrupted social rela- the surface tensions underlying the illness or deviant
tionships. This is an alien concept in Western bio- action of patient undergoing the medico-ritual and
or allopathic medicine, which until recently has addresses wider social conflicts.
tended to emphasize isolated, biological causes of Anthropologists have noted that many indige-
disease. Recent research is suggesting that although nous healers use techniques similar to those used in
the biomedical tradition is necessary for healing Western psychotherapy. In the former, symbols are
some diseases, it is an oversimplification in some used to communicate, whereas in the latter, medical
contexts of healing. Medical conditions such as terminology is used. For example, a shaman may per-
cancer, hypertension, and asthma may be related form a ritual drama by symbolically journeying into
to the expression or repression of emotions, which the realm of spirits. This journey is usually accom-
is also related to socialization and cultural expecta- panied by percussion music, which encourages the
tions about the appropriate way to behave in social patient and/or the healer to enter an altered state of
groups. Underlying the biomedical model is the trance, and malevolent spirits are dramatized with
idea that individuals are discrete units that stand in gestures and/or obliquely referred to in song verses
opposition to a culturally coherent group. This view (Rasmussen, 1995). Levi-Strauss (1963) explained
is at variance with some other models, which view the effectiveness of a shamanic treatment of a dif-
humans as members of groups, fulfilling their desti- ficult labor among the Cuna Indians of Panama,
nies only through social interaction. who guided a woman through a potentially fatal

106 c ultural ant hro po log y


childbirth through ritual use of symbols. The sha- first-person spirit encounter narratives from Asabano
man made ritual figures, chanted invocations per- culture. Asabano understand dreams to allow travel
sonifying the birthing woman’s pains as important in a spiritual dimension, such that a personal soul
figures in local myth, and purified the birthing room can leave the body and contact other spirits. The
by burning herbs. He changed the story of his jour- Asabano spiritual world is rich in indigenous tradi-
ney to the realm of Muu, the female power respon- tion but also reflects rapid cultural change they have
sible for forming the fetus. The shaman diagnosed seen in recent decades. Dreamed spiritual encoun-
the problem as Muu having exceeded her role and ters predispose people to perceive spirit beings in
capturing the soul of the mother-to-be. Through the waking life and are a significant cause of religious
persuasiveness of these metaphoric chants, in which convictions.
Muu is persuaded to release the woman’s soul, and Despite the diverse ways cultures influence and
the shaman exhorted his spirit figures to help him extract meanings from dreams, everywhere at least
rescue her soul, a successful childbirth occurs. These some dreams are understood as a means of actu-
rituals, featuring spirit possession and mediumship, ally traveling across spatial, temporal, and spiritual
are often open to the public, and the audience may dimensions (Lohmann, 2003) Common dream
participate in the healing process through support experiences are of person/self in motion, being and
for their person undergoing the healing. Whereas doing what one cannot in alert consciousness. Thus
in Western psychotherapy the patient speaks, in this dreams are experiences of some kind of transporta-
case the healer speaks (chants). Levi-Strauss ana- tion and transformation of body and soul. There are
lyzes the shaman’s account of his journey into the many shamanic dream journeys reported in anthro-
abode of Muu as a description of the woman’s body, pology of religion and medical anthropology from
and the patient understands this subconsciously different parts of the world. Thus there are rich vari-
and then relaxes, understands pain as not arbitrary ations on common themes in cultural understand-
but rather meaningful, and allows the birth to take ings and practices surrounding transformations of
place. Thus, in his symbolization, the shaman pro- body, senses, and person or “self.”
vides the sick woman with a language by means
of which unexpressed, and otherwise inexplicable, Concepts of Body, Senses, and
psychic states can be immediately expressed (Levi- Personhood/Self
Strauss, 1963, p. 198). In anthropology, the body, senses, and person-
Another important altered state or out-of-body hood have been accorded central importance since
experience is dreams, but these are given diverse approximately the nineteenth century. This inter-
interpretations in different social and cultural set- est developed along several lines. First, historically,
tings. Thus, although dreams are individually expe- anthropology has been more inclined to pose ques-
rienced, they are culturally informed (Lohmann, tions about the universal “essence” of humanity, as
2003, p. ix). Dreams are expressed in accordance the context of European colonialism prompted early
with social values pertaining to communication, scholars to address problem of human universals of
concepts of person, spirituality, and notions of ontology (knowing; understanding) in relation to
public/private. Roles of dreams vary, from a casual variations of social relationships. As a consequence,
topic of conversation, a psycho-analysis topic, to the ontological centrality of human embodiment
divine revelations, shamanic mediumistic journeys became one focus in the quest of universals.
to heal, and political meetings. Dreams also allow One early question raised concerned the range
many people to experience continued participation of social and cultural arrangements necessary for
of ancestors in their daily lives, and this too may survival and reproduction of self and body. Several
influence decision-making. Stewart and Strathern streams of study were important here: in nineteenth
(in Lohmann, 2003, pp. 43–61) examine dreams century unilineal evolutionism, there was a conver-
phenomenologically in two Melanesian societies, gence of questions of universals in these theorists’
the Hagen and the Duna; here, the dead come to quest for universals in human origins. Central here
visit the living in dreams and may warn of future was the relationship between culture and nature.
problems or attacks. In this, the body played a part, as it offered one
The spiritual and emotional connection of solution to the problem of cultural relativism and
dreams is widespread. Roger Ivar Lohmann (in psychic unity of humankind. But opposed to this
Lohmann, 2003, pp. 189–211) presents a series of was another line of development that contributed

ra sm u ssen 107
to anthropological study of the human body in was symbolic classification through the medium of
nineteenth century social Darwinism during the the body itself; for example, the body becomes a
Victorian period. There were three key ideas here: central metaphor of political and social order (e.g.,
that human beings were essentially a part of nature, food taboos reflect the wider order).
rather than outside it; in a distortion of Charles The body has long been an important locus of
Darwin’s theory of natural selection, there arose discourse, not solely in biology and medicine but
the theory of universality of the fittest and unequal also in the human sciences, although in the latter it
ranking of cultures in terms of phases of progress to has often been denigrated. In the seventeenth cen-
explain social change; and more recently, there have tury, rationalists believed that the sensuous body
been studies in twentieth century physical anthro- was an object to be distrusted because it led to
pology of the expression of emotions in humans— subjective, rather than objective, perceptions. Also
for example, Konrad Lorenz on aggression. denigrated were the “lower senses”—that is, non-
Another question that directs anthropological visual sense modalities. But later there were trends
attention to person/self and body has been, “What is toward greater attention to the body and extra-
it to be human?” In more recent structural and sym- visual modalities, as well, as a vital subject of cul-
bolic studies of the late twentieth century, theories tural study. These trends arose from critiques of the
such as Claude Levi-Strauss’s proposed that humans rationalists—for example, Montaigne, Nietzsche,
are cultural because of meaning contrasts—specif- Husserl, and Heidegger.
ically certain prohibitions (e.g., the incest taboo Karl Marx suggested a dialectical relationship
and purity and danger categories) (Levi-Strauss, between the body and the social and natural worlds.
1963; Douglas, 1966). This focus on contradictions For example, Marx recognized that it was only by
between body and soul, and instinct versus social attending to human engagement in sensuous practi-
solidarity, opposed civilization to nature and argued cal (i.e., material) activity that he could understand
that categories of reality—for example, pure and “real, corporeal man.” In other words, Marx insisted
impure, sacred and profane—reflected categories of that the body is not just there but acts upon the
culture, not nature. world and is, in turn, acted upon by the world that
Also relevant to these ideas was German roman- they body has helped to create. Marx saw this dia-
ticism of the nineteenth century, whose tripartite lectic as mediated most fundamentally by human
division of body (Leib), spirit (Geist), and soul labor. However, subsequent writers have explored
(Seele) conveyed that idea that because humans are this dialectic in terms of a much broader compass;
unfinished as biological creatures, not at home in for example, Michel Foucault (1978) traced the
nature, they require the protective canopy of insti- historical development of scientific discourse (i.e.,
tutions and culture. The point here is that the body conversations that represent and study and form
is constructed by culture and society; the latter, policies) and institutions impinging on the body in
with language, filter and buffer nature (Baerveldt & practices seemingly as disparate as sexuality, psycho-
Verheggen, 2011, this volume). analysis, medicine, and the penal system, as well
Now, from these streams of thought, three fun- as physical spaces such as architecture. Scientific
damental propositions have remained influential in study involves surveillance and control, not merely
anthropology and sociology: human embodiment knowledge, of the body. This is Foucault’s concept
creates a set of constraints, but also the body has of the panoptic gaze, power at different levels in the
the potential to be elaborated on by socio-cultural system.
development—that is, in Western philosophi- In more recent social theory, most views of the
cal and social theory, the body generally appears body analyze this as not merely a natural object but
as a constraint and potential; there are contradic- as one socially, historically, and politically consti-
tions between human sexuality and socio-cultural tuted. This idea animates the most recent and cur-
requirements; and these natural facts are experi- rent (i.e., mid-to-late twentieth and twenty-first
enced differently according to the classification century) work on the body. Erving Goffman has
system (e.g., gender constructs). This insight lead described how the body forms the implicit foun-
to the issue of body as a classificatory system. dation for stigma. Feminist theorists such as Susan
Mary Douglas (1966), for example, theorized that Bordo (1993) examine more general representa-
humans respond to disorder, such as risk, uncer- tions of bodies—particularly of women’s bodies—
tainty, and contradictions; their principal response within myriad discourses and institutions, such as

108 c ultural ant hro po log y


art, advertising, and popular romances, and ask how body as a “prolegomenon,” suggesting that the lack
these shape both how women experience their bod- of more critical analysis of the body could lead to
ies and how others treat them as embodied beings. anthropology’s falling prey to biological fallacy and
Now, these writers insist that discourses and institu- related assumptions that are paradigmatic to bio-
tions impinge as powerfully as does (Marxian) labor medicine (Scheper-Hughes & Lock, 1988, p. 6).
process on how body is lived. This biological fallacy, the Cartesian mind–body
Also, another aspect of common ground shared split, has multiplied into a number of other binary
by Marx and many of these writings is a dual con- relationships in Western societies, such as culture/
cern with the ideological (symbolic and expressive) nature; society/individual, spirit/matter, and so
and material (political and economic) aspects, or, forth (Scheper-Hughes & Lock, 1988, p. 10). These
in Foucaultian terms, discourses and techniques of authors write this essay specifically because they see
the lived body. But Marx’s and Foucault’s and many body concepts as being quite significant to anthro-
feminists’ body studies almost always and often pologists for understanding culture and societies, on
implicitly concern the Western (Euro-American) the one hand, and for increasing knowledge of the
body. cultural sources and meanings o health and illness,
Finally, also relevant in developing a theory of on the other (ibid., p. 8), and because they want
body was the traditional emphasis in social/cul- to prescribe alternatives to accepted approaches and
tural anthropology on comparison and the study concepts.
of small-scale, non-industrial, and more recently, of These authors propose seeing the body as “physi-
more industrial large-scale societies. Scholars from cal and symbolic artifact, naturally and culturally
Marcel Mauss’s (1935) “Techniques of the Body” produced” (ibid., p. 7). They conceptualize three
have found that cross-culturally, the body is an distinct but related body perspectives anthropol-
important surface in which marks of social status, ogy should take in its study: the individual body;
family, position, ritual prohibitions, social affili- the social body; and the body politic. They assume
ation, and religious condition are displayed (e.g., that most humans have a concept of individual
tattoos in Polynesian societies). Mauss catalogued body—that is, they phenomenally lived experience
cross-cultural variations in bodily techniques for all of the body-self, separated into other body-selves.
manner of activities, from swimming to sex, empha- They highlight alternative ways of looking at the
sizing how powerfully each society inscribes itself on individual body-self and accounting for relations
the body of each of its members and how resistant between mind, body, culture, nature, and soci-
the body can be to altering techniques it “knows.” ety (ibid., p. 11). Recognizing different concepts
Although these processes are present everywhere, (monistic, holistic, multiplistic) of body-self is key
they are most obvious and directly expressed in to any anthropological understanding of way soci-
smaller-scale societies. Mauss’s point here was that eties diagnose and treat illness and the way they
these techniques are not consciously taught; rather, define health, the way they define selves as healthy
they are shaped by and express a habitus, a notion and treat perceived individual and societal illnesses.
Mauss invented, but one that the French ethnogra- These authors make a final suggestion that an explo-
pher and social theorist Pierre Bourdieu, as shown, ration of body-image (body boundaries, distortions
later developed further. in body perceptions) is essential to the concept of
The body has also become a popular focus in individual body—for example, point out that a
medical anthropology within both cultural and relationship between people’s choice of symptoms
bio-anthropology, over the past several decades and concepts of body image should be considered
in particular, from concerns over AIDS and other to come to a better understanding of social and cul-
pandemics. A seminal essay on the body in this tural meanings of humanity and perceived threats
area, “The Mindful Body” (1988), was authored by to human health, well-being, and social integration
Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Margaret Lock. This is (ibid., pp. 17–18).
an attempt to deconstruct, uncover, and problema- Turning to their concept of the social body,
tize and ultimately to encourage resistance to con- Lock and Scheper-Hughes discuss how the body is
ventional Cartesian concepts of the body heretofore culturally and socially representative, stating that
accepted by earlier anthropologists. Scheper-Hughes “Cultural constructions of and about the body are
and Lock label the failure of medical anthropology useful in sustaining particular views of society and
to critically examine accepted conceptions of the social relations” (ibid., p. 19). The body is used

ra sm u ssen 109
representationally to devise and justify social values or altered states experienced in illness and healing is,
(e.g., as in symbolic equations involving left and as shown, another way anthropologists attempt to
right handedness). Links have been made between move beyond a restrictive, Cartesian viewpoint and
health or sickness of individual bodies and social re-explore notions of human agency in society.
bodies for centuries. These authors suggest that most Another trend, since around the 1970s, has been
common symbolic use of body has been to classify to question the classical supposition that rigorous
and humanize living spaces (ibid., p. 21). Point to research methods always result in objectively “true”
differences between ethnomedical and biomedical observation. The concept of the sensuous body (i.e.,
concepts of social relations in the healthy or sick focus on the senses in studies) emerged as a new
body; for example, ethnomedical systems see social site of cultural and political analysis. Initially, many
relations as inevitably linked to individual health works considered the body as a text that could be
and illness. They suggest that ethnomedical concepts “read” hermeneutically and consequently tended to
seem to entail a unique kind of human autonomy ignore context and multisensorial modalities. There
(ibid., p. 21) that industrialized modern world has have been calls for greater attention to not solely cat-
lost. These societies do not appear to experience the aloguing local cultural concepts of body and senses
same sort of body alienations (anorexia, bulimia, into the ethnographic record but also incorporat-
etc.) experienced in Western societies, which seems ing them into anthropological theory. As Herzfeld
also to be linked to capitalism and its regimenta- (2001, Chapter 11) notes, sight and writing have
tion. They point very specifically also to the body been widely associated with power; anthropology is
as machine metaphor as one of the sources of body primarily verbal and textual, but much cultural and
alienation in industrialized societies. Their overall social life is more complex and involves additional,
sentiment is that in industrialized Western society, extravisual, and nontextual sense modalities.
“the human shape of things and even the human In response to these problems, there are
shape of humans is in retreat “(ibid., p. 23). attempts to consider how knowledge and percep-
Expanding on the concept of social body, tions of legitimacy and truth in many societies
Scheper-Hughes and Lock use the concept of body devolve from not simply vision and text, but also
politic to suggest that the relationship between social from modalities of smell, touch, taste, and hear-
and individual bodies is more than metaphors and ing. Classen (1997) describes how historically and
collective representations of natural and cultural culturally in Euro-American philosophies and cul-
(ibid., p. 23). This relationship is ultimately about tures, theories tend to be based in perceptions of
power, about social control of bodies. Societies do the body and senses that are inflected with gen-
not control bodies only in times of crisis but often dered values. For example, the sense modality of
aggressively reproduce and socialize kinds of bodies sight has in the west often been considered asso-
they need or require to sustain themselves (ibid., p. ciated with masculine values and the sense modal-
25). Ways in which societies reproduce and social- ity of touch with feminine values. In pre-modern
ize bodies are through body decoration and through Europe, women were seen as the imperfect result
constructing concepts of politically correct bodies. of an insufficient amount of heat during the pro-
Although the politically correct body is often sup- cess of conception and gestation. Sex differences
posed to be healthy, it can actually mean grotesque in temperature were drawn from Aristotle, Galen
distortions of human anatomy. The body politic and other ancient authorities and supported by
has brutal ways of conforming individual bodies contemporary scholarship and folklore. The innate
to requirement of socio-political establishment: coldness of women was considered by physicians
medicine, criminal justice, psychiatry and vari- and philosophers to be the cause of particular char-
ous social sciences, and even torture. They further acteristics of the female body: storing food as fat,
point out that, post-Malthus, the body-politic con- menstrual blood, milk, enabling them to carry and
cept involves finding ways to control populations, nourish children (Classen, 1997, p. 3). Because of
involving control of sexuality, gender, and repro- this lack of heat rising up into their heads, women’s
duction. These authors propose that an anthro- bodies were allegedly broad at the bottom and nar-
pology of the body involve a theory of emotions row at the top. By contrast, “hot” men had narrow
because emotions may provide a vital link, a bridge, hips and broad shoulders; baldness was a sign of
between mind and body, individual, society, and burning up of the hair on their heads. Heat also
body politic (ibid., p. 29). Tracking emotional states caused men’s sexual organs to be external, whereas

110 c ultural ant hro po log y


insufficient heat obliged women’s sexual organs to her anger at her husband. He also described vividly
remain within the body (Classen, 1997, p. 3). how Songhai cosmology/philosophy and medico-
Among some other peoples, the thermal attri- rituals later inspired him to cope with his cancer
butes of the body and the different senses are not treatments in the United States (Stoller, 2004).
conceived as hierarchically nor represented as Rasmussen (1999) analyzed the role of aroma as
rigidly in ranked or oppositional terms, as in the channeling communication in Tuareg society and
major European philosophical and scientific tradi- also analyzed its role in constructing ethnographic
tions, despite widespread cultural differentiation knowledge; among the Tuareg, for example, scents
according to gender constructs—for example, the are used to diagnose non-organic (mental) illnesses,
prevalent association in some cultures of written and many pleasant scents are associated with spir-
texts with scriptural scholarship. Rasmussen (2006) its. Perfume and incense are used as a medium to
describes how, in Tuareg culture, visual and writ- communicate among humans and between humans
ten texts are associated with Islamic scholarship and and spirits—for example, in medico-ritual healing.
Qur’anic healing, which tends to be dominated by Their use is taken seriously and are not merely aes-
men, and touch in healing is more associated with thetics, an alternative, or less credible, in contrast to
female herbalists and other non-Qur’anic healers. aromatherapy in the United States. Islamic schol-
All of these healers are respected and sought out by ars use scents to diagnose mental states. Diviners
both women and men at different times; thus, here place scented bark inside their mouth to aid their
the sense modalities, although having associations, memory in healing and place perfumes in cowrie
are not rigidly dichotomized by gender, nor are they shells to their tutelary spirits in a special pact that
hierarchically ranked. Although the Quranic heal- enables the diviner in a dream to foretell the future
ing by marabouts is often described as a science, and conduct psycho-social counseling. Certain
nonetheless, non-Qu’ranic healing is not denigrated scents, however, are also considered dangerous, and
or considered less reliable but as specialized in heal- aroma in general can also be used to express anti-
ing certain ailments—for example, stomachaches social feelings, conflicts, and struggles. For example,
and women’s reproductive and marital problems many Tuareg believe that a person can catch illness
(Rasmussen, 2006). Although Tuareg also differ- through the scent of someone who already has the
entiate according to gender and make gendered illness, somewhat like Victorian contagion theories.
thermal/humoral associations in their counteractive The aromas of certain medicinal trees are believed
medical system, there is marked absence of a defi- to cause infertility in young women; that is a reason
ciency model here. There is also flexibility according given by some Tuareg for the predominance of older
to context. In local counteractive theories of balance women in the herbal healing profession. The nose
and harmony, for example, hot and cold states of the and mouth are the principal orifices through which
body and diseases are caused for men and women disease and more general pollution (from both
alike by an imbalance of these forces (Rasmussen, physiological and social sources) enter the body; for
2006). Women should ideally be cool, and men ide- example, smith/artisans can convey anger at nobles’
ally warm, but even these ideals should not become not sharing food with them, even if food is out of
too pronounced or intensified; for example, a man sight, through smelling it. Thus one must hide food
can become too hot and fall ill. The goal is to find from smell and not solely from view. Also, local cul-
equilibrium between hot and cold; one should avoid tural values show great concern with protecting the
an excess of either thermal states. body from what enters through the nose, as well as
Recently, there have been analyses of how the mouth. In rural areas, most men wear a face-veil
anthropological and ethnographic knowledge sys- over the nose to protect from evil spirits and other
tems are constructed through extravisual sense malevolent powers, as well as to express respect and
modalities. Paul Stoller (1987, 1989) has described reserve, important values in the male gender role,
ethnographic insights from sound and taste. In particularly among nobles. Also, incense and per-
his apprenticeship with a Songhai sorcerer/healer fume are believed to not just mask unpleasant odors
in Niger, he learned about ritual healing powers but to actually dispel them, to repel evil spirits and
by tasting local herbs and listening to the heal- disease; they work like a religious amulet. For exam-
er’s incantations and learned about social conflicts ple, incense is burned during weddings and passed
through the gustatory medium of food, when a co- around a circle of guests, who saturate their clothing
wife of his field host prepared a bad sauce to express with it. New mothers and babies also are protected

ra sm u ssen 111
from jealousy by incense burning nearby along with who had been missing for a long time from his Nuer
a metal knife stuck in the sand of the tent floor and community, for whom mortuary rituals were held,
Islamic amulets placed around it. Thus in Tuareg thereby defining his status as deceased. Even upon
culture, society, ritual, and healing and sociability, his return many years later, he remained defined as
aroma is not solely a part of cosmetics and aesthetics deceased and thus was no longer a full social person
but also acts powerfully in medico-ritual and phar- in the community of the living. In many cultures,
maceutical contexts (Rasmussen, 1999, 2006). there is no concept of what the English expression
More broadly, the studies of these cultural uses “self-made man” (or person) implies; rather, one’s
of taste, the gustatory modality, and scent and the achievements cannot be isolated from the achieve-
olfactory modality reveal magic, religion, and sci- ments of one’s lineage or clan. Also, many cultural
ence as not so neatly opposed. Anthropologists knowledge systems conceptualize components of
should attempt to understand, represent, and take personhood in distinctive ways: for example, in
seriously other peoples’ ways of constructing experi- some communities in the Congo, a person’s shadow
ence and knowledge, and the study of sense modali- is key to identity and cannot be stepped on or
ties and body and person/self contribute profound photographed without threatening one’s identity
insights into these issues. (Jacobsen-Widding, in Jackson & Karp, 1990).
This demonstrates the need, recognized widely in Historically, there have been at least three basic
anthropology, to take analysis of the body to another attempts to define personal identity in Western (i.e.,
level. The focus here is on the cultural construction Euro-American) philosophy since the Enlightenment
of what it means to be a person, or human—that that have influenced, to varying degrees, anthropol-
is, identity and expectations concerning how the ogy: (1) mental/idealist based; (2) material based;
person or “self ” acts in cultural and social settings and (3) illusion, construct, or memory-based. First,
and how different cultures elaborate on this iden- those who define personal identity in mentalistic
tity. Despite their very different approaches to this terms view our identity through time as a func-
topic (philosophical approaches tend to be more tion of the continuity of our thoughts, beliefs, and
influenced by European Enlightenment concepts feelings—for example, medieval religious theory
and Anthropological approaches attempt to elicit of the soul as the seat of personal identity, where
more culturally relative concepts), there has been reason and will reside (e.g., St. Augustine) (later,
some influence of philosophy on anthropological Rene Descartes substituted mind for soul in this
theories, and both anthropology and philosophy scheme). Next, those who explain personal identity
share questions regarding how the concept of per- in terms of the continuity of our bodies; accord-
son is defined and used in social interaction. Both ing to this group, despite changes we undergo in
anthropology and philosophy, as heirs to Classical growth and development, there is a basic physi-
and Enlightenment theories predominantly from cal unity of our identity that is responsible for our
Western European historical and political and intel- remaining the same person (e.g., Gilbert Ryle); this
lectual milieu, are concerned with distinguishing position opposes Cartesian and other older forms
between continuity over time that enables social of dualism. Finally, some philosophers have argued
agents to characterize an individual as a person and that personal identity is just an illusion without
with an epistemological problem posed by differ- an independent existence or substance. For exam-
ences between social attributes and self-knowledge. ple, Thomas Hume believed that all existence was
For example, in an early study, Marcel Mauss distin- a matter of perception. For John Locke, personal
guished between le moi and la conception sociale de la identity was seen as based on self-consciousness,
personne; the former is the externally imposed cul- in particular on the memories of past experiences.
tural and social identity; the latter consists of one’s All these theories suggest a non-uniform (Western
self-definition or self-concept. and other view of ) notion of personal identity and
How is person/self relevant to the anthropologi- self; even in our own culture, we can hardly sum
cal subject? Anthropology’s primary concern is to up in one set of language terminology a unitary
examine comparatively and historically ideas about notion of self, because there has been historical
power, personhood, and agency, cultural ideas about change and internal cultural diversity even within
how humans interact with each other in terms of self that category commonly called “the West.” Thus
and social concepts of identity. For example, Evans- the problem is how we know this: Which data do
Pritchard (1940, 1956) described the case of a man we examine? Useful are data from psycho-analysis;

112 c ultural ant hro po log y


popular lay folk notions; childrearing advice; and as mentally ill and felt they were helping Alice by
healing systems. Thus one may tentatively general- preventing her from engaging in what they saw as
ize, with some caution, contemporary “Western” inappropriate social behavior.
(i.e., Euro-American) notions of personhood as
generally (albeit with exceptions) more individual- Future Directions in Cultural
istic (Battaglia, 1995, Introduction) relative to some Anthropology
other cultural concepts of personhood. Yet neither These highlights in cultural anthropological
Western nor non-Western concepts of personhood studies share a concern with representing culture
are unitary or static; everywhere, these concepts and society as more fluid, dynamic, and relational
may change in relation to economics, history, poli- and a vision of individuals and collectivities as
tics, and social processes. mutually influential. As noted, there have recently
Thus, most recent and current studies of con- been critiques of all the canons of anthropological
cepts of person/self attempt to elicit a fuller range thought (culture and personality, Durkheimian,
of expression of person/self beliefs in different structural-functionalism, interpretive, and French
contexts, regardless of where these prevail. For structuralism schools) for oversimplifying the vari-
example, according to Didier Kaphagawane (in ables involved in studying culture and society and
Karp & Masolo, 1990), the work of early scholar also for overestimating the degree of conformity and
Placide Tempels on Bantu philosophy tended to continuity in culture and society. In all societies,
reproduce Enlightenment philosophical bias view- values are often contradictory. Culture and society
ing a person as divided between mind or ideas and and the persons comprising them can no longer be
material body. Kaphagawane shows how, among reduced to clear-cut, essentialized entities, and their
the Bantu-speaking Chewa in Malawi, munthu localities are no longer always literal, geographical,
denotes humans in certain situations but not oth- or neatly bounded.
ers. Munthu refers to a person with social and mor- Thus many cultural anthropologists now recog-
ally valued qualities, not without them. Thus to nize the need to explore the following questions:
state that someone is not a munthu does not imply
1. What are some emerging new spaces or
he/she is not a human but, rather, that he/she lacks
localities of culture?
approved moral and social conduct. Thus person-
2. Why, alongside resistance, dissent, and
hood is not a stable category but is disputed and
personal practice and agency, does society
negotiated, and changes, even within a single com-
nonetheless tend to reproduce itself?
munity and during the same era.
3. What leads some persons to internalize the
In addition, most recent studies of personhood
rules or habitus of learned dispositions more fully
or concepts of person/self in anthropology have
and others less fully?
focused on factors that shape cross-cultural varia-
4. In globalization, what are some forces of
tions in definition of self/person. The question posed
relocalization, and how can scholars in their
is, “Where do these concepts come from?” Based on
analyses escape this binary opposition?
her study of French-Portuguese bilingual speakers,
5. How can scholars in their analyses, similarly,
Michele E.J. Koven (2000, p. 437) suggests that
escape circular arguments concerning individual/
bilingualism allows people to express different kinds
culture/collectivities and local/universal processes?
of selves in each language. Desjarlais (2000, p. 467)
6. How can the culture concept be reformulated
suggests that actions and diffuse understandings
to encompass virtual aspects of human life?
they effect are commonly rooted in relations of dif-
ferential powers and authorities. Alice, a resident of
a shelter, had represented herself as “happy on the REFERENCES
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workers) started to treat her badly by forcing her Asad, T. (1986). The Translation of Culture. In J. Clifford &
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CHAPTER

Cross-Cultural Psychology: Taking


6 People, Contexts, and Situations
Seriously
Heidi Keller

Abstract
This chapter explores the role of culture for human psychology. First, the history of this relationship
is briefly outlined. The early conceptualizations were characterized by a holistic understanding
and methodological plurality. This wisdom, however, was ignored for much of twentieth century
psychology, when different perspectives with different ideological underpinnings prevailed—notably,
cross-cultural approaches, cultural approaches, and indigenous approaches. Recently the field has
opened again, setting the stage for the development of integrative views. Different challenges for the
future are formulated. The careful conceptualization and definition of culture for empirical studies,
diverting from the practice of comparing the needs of citizens of different countries is a necessity.
An integrated conception of culture and biology is an inevitable next step. The contents of cultural
models need to be considered. Finally, a developmental perspective on psychological phenomena is
crucial. Methodological openness and plurality of approaches is needed for the empirical realization.
It is concluded that psychology in general needs to be culture-inclusive to overcome the sole
representation of a minority of the human population.
Keywords: Völkerpsychologie, cultural, indigenous, socio-demographic characteristics, autonomy,
relatedness, developmental tasks, evolutionary approaches, mixed methods

Cross-cultural psychology in its most gen- in the study of human behavior . . . . . encourage
eral sense deals with the study of the relationships the incorporation of the knowledge and expertise
among culture and human behavior, emotion, and gained by cross-cultural . . . . psychology into the
thought. The International Association for Cross- main body of psychology and develop and promote
Cultural Psychology (founded in 1972) defines its the application of psychological knowledge to social
scope in the constitution as follows: phenomena and problems in all countries. Last but
not least IACCP wants to facilitate communication
“. . . . further the advancement of knowledge about and cooperation among scholars who study the
psychological functioning of humans in all human relationships between culture and human behavior
societies; develop and test theories about the and serve as a fertile ground for communication,
relationships between culture and human behavior; discussion and social encounters in general.”
test the generalizability of theories from all branches (http://www.iaccp2010.com/)
of psychology and related disciplines in all human
societies . . . . . encourage the development of valid Cross-cultural psychology is understood here
measurement techniques and research methodology as one, nevertheless very important, branch of

116
psychology. The argument developed in this chap- founder of modern psychology with the establish-
ter, however, will be that psychology and culture ment of the first psychological experimental labo-
mutually constitute each other and that all branches ratory in Leipzig, Germany in 1879 (for a more
of psychology need to be culture-inclusive; Joan detailed discussion, see the Chapters 1 and 2).
Miller made this claim in 1999 when she stated Based on Lazarus’ and Steinthal’s ideas, Wundt
that psychology is and always has been cultural conceptualized Völkerpsychology as complemen-
(Miller, 1999). Most of the psychological science tary to the psychology of the individual with an
is developed by Western scholars and is based on emphasis on the historical and social dimensions
empirical findings from Western research par- of human behavior and experience. The target was
ticipants. It is even worse because it is not only the cultural-historical analysis of the Volksgeist,
Western, but Western, Educated, Industrialized, especially language, art, myth, and customs. He
Rich, (Democratic origin) (WEIRD), as Henrich, understood human psychology and psychological
Heine, and Norenzayan (2010) have argued in a development as not determined merely by sensa-
review paper. Thus, the majority population of this tion but also by the meaningful influences of the
planet is not represented in psychological science. individual’s spiritual and mental [geistig] environ-
Before we look into the future, first we shall look ment—his culture. Wundt thus clearly stressed
back briefly to track the origins of thinking about the cultural dimension of human psychological
the role of culture for psychology. functioning and the importance to understand
human behavior within the complexity of its his-
Culture in Psychology—Before torical and cultural embeddedness. He also made
Cross-Cultural Psychology clear that the prevailing research methods adopted
The concern about the influence of culture on from natural sciences are not sufficient to study
psychology goes back to Moritz (Moses) Lazarus human psychological functioning adequately. As
(1824–1903). He applied the laws of the psychol- Edwin Boring (1950) concluded: “Wundt never
ogy of the individual to the nation and to mankind held that the experimental method is adequate to
and established a new branch of research with his the whole of psychology: the higher processes, he
article, “Über den Begriff und die Möglichkeit thought, must be got at by the study of the history
einer Völkerpsychologie als Wissenschaft” (“About of human nature, his Völkerpsychologie” (Boring,
the term and possibility of folk psychology as a sci- 1950, p. 328).
ence”) (in Prutz’s “Deutsches Museum” [German This holistic understanding of psychology and
Museum], 1851) in which he coined the term the necessity of different methods for the study
Völkerpsychologie (folk psychology; for more exten- of human psychological functioning, however,
sive discussions of the historical origins, see the got lost afterward for most of the twentieth cen-
chapters of Diriwächter and Johoda in this vol- tury and has only recently come at the verge of
ume). Some years later, Lazarus, in collaboration rebirth. This temporary amnesia can be certainly
with Heymann Steinthal (1823–1899), his friend attributed to psychology’s struggle to belong to
and brother-in-law, established the Zeitschrift für the pantheon of science that was understood for
Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft (Journal a long time as natural science and experimental
of Folk Psychology and Language Science, vols. i–xx, methodology.
Berlin, 1860–90; continued as the Zeitschrift des
Vereins für Volkskunde [Journal of the Association for Different Perspectives on the Role of
Folk Science]). Culture for Psychology
Lazarus and Steinthal developed the conception The loss—or rather the ignorance—of a holistic
of Volksgeist (folk consciousness) as the structure approach to human psychology in North American
of congruent, historically emerged values. They and European mainstream psychology has been
considered every person to be unique, and such embodied in different perspectives that were dis-
uniqueness was expressed through its Volksgeist, the cussed in quite controversial terms in the follow-
unchanging spirit of a people refined through his- ing decades. These different views (characterized
tory. Völkerpsychologie as a science, however, only as cross-cultural, cultural, and indigenous) as well as
became popular in psychology much later and their methodological implications will be briefly
mainly with reference to the 10-volume edition of portrayed in the following as the prevalent perspec-
Wilhelm Wundt, (1832–1920), who was also the tives in the past. Such brief characterizations by

keller 117
necessity risk being stereotypical, and it should be 1992). The Five-Factor Model is conceptualized as
stressed that there is considerable variation in each a comprehensive taxonomy of personality traits,
of the conceptions, as well as overlap among them. which are thought to describe consistent pat-
Nevertheless, the stereotypical portrays capture some terns of thoughts, feelings, and actions. Originally
of the reality of the field—for example, that some identified in the United States, it is repeatedly
cross-cultural psychologists accuse cultural psychol- demonstrated that openness to experience, con-
ogists of being hermeneutically unscientific whereas scientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and
some cultural psychologists accuse cross-cultural neuroticism can be identified in a wide variety of
psychology of being positivistic and reductionistic. cultures, suggesting that the personality trait struc-
These debates somehow represent continuity of the ture is universal. Much effort is being awarded to
nineteenth-century ideological struggles. In fact the methodological issues and sophisticated statistical
stereotypical views are particularly pronounced in procedures to prove this aim. This conclusion, how-
this area because they tap into the basic understand- ever, remains nevertheless an illusion because the
ing of the model of man and personhood. statistical absence of differences does not confirm
that there are no differences. Evidence for other
Cross-Cultural Psychology factors and other structures of personality from
Most of cross-cultural psychology—especially in non-Western cultures, which have been presented
its early days—can be characterized as conceiving as well, are often criticized from methodological
of culture as outside of the individual, a bounded points of view.
entity that can be treated as an antecedent or inde- Another strand of research that follows this sec-
pendent variable. The comparison of different index ond approach is informed by biologically based
variables (cultures) should explain or predict dif- assumptions about the universality of human func-
ferences in psychological phenomena. Much of the tioning—for example, attachment research. It is
studies reporting differences on cognitive styles can argued that all infants are biologically predisposed
be subsumed here (e.g., Witkin & Berry, 1975), to develop attachments to caregivers to survive and
demonstrating, for example, differential suscepti- develop. This assumption is extended to the notion
bility to optical illusions depending on contextual/ that attachment is the same across cultures, emerges
cultural (socialization) experiences. There has also along the same developmental trajectories, and
been some recent research on information process- has the same developmental consequences across
ing labeled as cultural psychology that seems to be cultures (van IJzendoorn & Sagi, 1999). To prove
conceptually similar to the cross-cultural research these claims, evidence from diverse cultural con-
ideology. Comparing East Asians and Euro- texts is accumulated, yet very often on very shaky
Americans, Nisbett and colleagues (e.g., Masuda & conceptual grounds when, for example, the age of
Nisbett, 2001) have demonstrated that East Asians the mother is taken as a measure of her sensitiv-
perceive and reason more holistically, whereas Euro- ity toward her infant with the argument that older
Americans perceive and reason more analytically. mothers have more domestic helpers and therefore
However, proponents of this research tradition do more time for infant care.
not understand themselves as cross-cultural in the Although in general, biological approaches
aforementioned sense, but as using experimen- informed by ethology utilize a variability of assess-
tal methodology to prove the inter-relationship ment procedures (e.g., observations, contextual
between culture and social systems. analyses, interviews), the universalist cross-cultural
Another branch of cross-cultural psychology approach mainly draws on experimental method-
manipulates culture as an independent variable ology and self-report measures. Experiments by
to demonstrate its nonexistence. These studies are definition manipulate variables, so that particular
mainly aimed at confirming the universal nature of functions can be observed. However, the experi-
humans and psychological laws. This conception mental setting is always reducing the complexity
of absolutism (Berry, Poortinga, Segall, & Dasen, of psychological processes and moreover is context-
2002) is based on the assumption that all psycho- independent. Experimental paradigms as well as
logical processes and the way they are expressed self-report measures have mainly been developed
are universal. An example of this line of thinking in Western laboratories but are nevertheless applied
is research on the conceptions of personality, espe- in diverse environments. The epistemological chal-
cially the big Five-Factor Model (Costa & McCrae, lenges of equivalence of meaning, structure and

118 c ross-c ult ur al psycholo g y


function go well beyond the – nevertheless serious – personality/psychology make each other up (e.g.,
problems of translation. Shweder, 1990; Valsiner, 2007). In both cases, cul-
Although all of these so-called “cross-cultural ture, behavior, and mind are not regarded as sepa-
approaches” explicitly include culture to explain rate entities. Another distinction within the various
human psychological functioning, little emphasis is approaches, which can be subsumed under the
actually assigned to the definition of culture. Culture umbrella cultural psychology, is the focus on either
is basically set equivalent with country. According to symbolic meaning or shared practices. Because
this understanding, individual persons belong to there are vast differences among different strands
a culture assuming the relative similarity of all the of cultural psychology (for an overview, see Valsiner,
persons who belong to the given culture as well as 2007; Boesch & Straub, 2006), however, we use the
stability of culture over time (Valsiner, 2007). If cul- plural in the following.
ture is further specified, mainly overarching cultural Cultural psychologies aim at studying meanings
dimensions, especially individualism/collectivism and activities in context to assess how cultural beliefs
(Hofstede, 1980/2001; more sophisticated systems of and social practices regulate, express, and transform
value are also widely discussed, see Schwartz, 2006). the human psyche. There is a wide spectrum of
Individualism/collectivism had an overarching suc- vigor concerning this conception ranging from cul-
cess story in dominating cross-cultural research ture-specific expressions of universal predispositions
for several decades while being heavily criticized at to the rejection of the psychic unity of humankind
the same time from empirical as well as conceptual altogether. The focus is on everyday practices and
grounds (e.g., Poortinga, 2011; Sinha & Tripathi, routines that are considered to express as well as cre-
1994). We will come back to these dimensions later. ate culture. The prime subject of study is individuals’
Culture as a system of meanings that can be defined creation of meaning systems—particularly shared or
and described has been left to cultural anthropology normative systems of social groups. The conception
to a large extent. of a dialogical nature of person and culture requires
Because individuals belonging to one national a naturalistic approach and the study of everyday
group have been assumed to share culture, the selec- practices. The focus on meaning systems implies a
tion of participants for empirical studies was rather primacy role of language and its constitutive func-
convenience-guided. Therefore, the prioritized par- tion, as well as an interpretative methodology.
ticipants of cross-cultural studies have been college Moreover, individuals are not considered as pas-
students for a long period of time. College students sively “acquiring” culture; rather, culture is dynami-
are certainly not representative—if there is such a cally created and recreated in social interactions,
thing like representativeness—for their respective which in turn are embedded in broader cultural
countries. They are higher educated, coming mainly meaning systems and practices. Individuals can “dis-
from middle-class backgrounds, and often repre- tance” themselves from the concrete activity setting
sent outliers in a more global perspective (for more by reflecting on the context of which he or she is a
discussion on this, see Henrich et al., 2010). Given part. Thus cultural meaning is analyzed and reorga-
the socio-demographic similarity of college students nized in personally novel forms as it is being con-
across countries, it can be assumed that they form a structively internalized (Chaudhary, 2004; Valsiner,
special cultural group in itself, so that similarities in 2000, 2007).
psychological phenomena can be expected. We will In contrast to cross-cultural psychology, the con-
revisit these contextual considerations later. ception of culture and the contextual situatedness of
individual’s behavior are central to the research. The
Cultural Psychologies consequence is that studies are often non-comparative
Cultural psychology, in its most general sense, but concentrate on an in-depth understanding of
deals equally with the study of the relationships one culture and is changing dynamics over historical
between culture and human behavior. However, time.
the relationship between culture and person is dif- In her book, Weaving Generations Together (2004),
ferently conceived of as compared to traditional Patricia Greenfield documents 20 years of research
cross-cultural psychology: some approaches within with the Zinacantec Mexican Indians, where she
this field conceive of culture as inside the individual not only could document and analyze cultural prac-
(e.g., Boesch, 1980) and others as being in dialogi- tices and their socio-cultural change (e.g., changing
cal relationship to the person, so that culture and strategies of girls learning to weave) but also the

keller 119
implications of such changes on both the cultural systems, particularly shared or normative systems of
products (patterns and designs of fabrics) and cog- a cultural group. Besides the development of proce-
nitive processes within this group. However, cul- dures and assessment tools from a within-cultural
tural comparisons are not excluded but may serve perspective, indigenous psychologies also aim at
the purpose of elaborating meaning systems by the the development of psychological concepts and
method of contrast (e.g., see Demuth, 2008). theories. Thus, folk theories, for example, are not
As mentioned before, there is a relatively new an object of study as for cultural psychologies but
branch of cultural psychology that focuses on cul- are also the source for the development of formal
tural differences in attention, perception, cogni- psychological models and theories (Greenfield &
tion, and memory—especially between East Asian Keller, 2004). Indigenous conceptions are part of a
and Euro-American participants. This approach is scientific tradition advocating multiple perspectives
rather experimental or quasi-experimental in nature. but not multiple psychologies. Therefore, modern
Although participants in studies are selected accord- proponents of indigenous psychologies have aban-
ing to citizenship of countries, underlying cultural doned the plural form and instead talk about indig-
conceptions of the self are implied, especially the enous psychology.
conception of the independent (Euro-Americans) The preferred participants and contexts for cul-
and the interdependent (East Asian) selves (Markus & tural psychologies are relatively stable subsistence
Kitayama, 1991). These self-construals are based on village cultures, whereas indigenous psychologies
broader cultural meaning systems such as Western mainly address elite populations like university
individualism and East Asian Confucianism. students and deal with cultural change primarily.
Common to all branches of cultural psycholo- However, the founders of indigenous psychologies
gies is the understanding of culture as an inherent mentioned before did not primarily work empiri-
part of human psychological functioning. Some cally, with the exception of Diaz Guerrero, who
cultural psychologists share with cross-cultural developed the Mexican psychology also by con-
psychologists that cultural evidence is needed for trasting it to Euro-American views. In any case,
basic psychological theories to refine and/or expand the cultural inside view serves the goal to develop
these theories so that they become more relevant indigenous conceptions of psychological function-
to the predictions, descriptions, and explanations ing, which is also demanding the development of
of ALL human behaviors—not just Western ones indigenous methodologies.
(Markus & Kitayama, 2003). Indigenous psychology also has a political stance
in voicing non-Western perspectives as equally
Indigenous Psychologies/Psychology important as Western ones to develop a truly inter-
The emergence of indigenous psychologies is national psychology—a seemingly trivial notion
often characterized as motivated by the intention of that nevertheless is grossly under-represented in
decolonizing the mind. To achieve this mind decol- scientific discourse still today (see the weird psychol-
onization, research and theories should be devel- ogy, Henrich et al., 2010).
oped from a within-culture/indigenous perspective Also until today, there have been voices arguing
without participation from abroad. It is therefore a that these different approaches are incommensu-
vital characteristic that indigenous psychologies can rable, because they rest on different science theo-
only be formulated by indigenous people—that is, retical paradigms and models of the person that are
cultural insiders by socialization. Particularly prom- exclusive of each other. However, what is congru-
inent are the Indian perspective (as formulated by ent or contradictory, commensurable or incom-
Durghanand Sinha), the Philippino perspective mensurable, compatible or incompatible is itself a
(developed by Virgilio Enriquez), and the Mexican matter of the worldview one holds. A Confucian or
ethnopsychological perspective (as developed by Hinduistic worldview will have different concep-
Rolando Diaz Guerrero). This origin is differ- tions of compatibilities than a Western eclectic phi-
ent from cultural psychologies that mainly are the losophy or neo-Kantian analytical worldview. In the
field of alien researchers who nevertheless spend a remainder of this chapter, we pursue the argument
substantial amount of time in “their” culture and that these different perspectives are complementary
learn the local language. Indigenous psychologies in several respects. Basic to this point of view is the
share with cultural psychologies the prime subject definition of some core terms/conceptions that will
of study—that is, subject’s creation of meaning be presented in the following. The conception of

120 c ross-c ult ur al psycholo g y


culture with which we will begin is certainly the and to transmit culture. Therefore, development
most central one. can be understood as cultural learning. Culture has
evolved to facilitate individuals’ social encounters
Conceptions of Culture with each other as a faster track than genetic adap-
The three approaches differ in their conception tation. Therefore, culture is situated in social pro-
of culture. Whereas much of cross-cultural psychol- cesses. For too long, an unsubstantiated rejection of
ogy equates culture with country or concentrates on the role of biology for human psychology has domi-
the bipolar dimension of individualism/collectiv- nated all three perspectives represented earlier. It is
ism, cultural psychologies often focus on processes therefore necessary to develop a differentiated view
and neglect content and indigenous psychology on the interplay of culture and biology.
spans from a process orientation to a comparative
perspective (Mexican ethnopsychology) without The Role of Biology for Cross-Cultural
further specification. Psychology
In the following we would like to propose an A consideration of the impact of biology and the
approach that defines culture as a contextual- evolutionary history of humans beyond the physical
adaptive process through differential emphasis of body structure has been regarded as an attack against
particular content domains. In line with cultural the free will, self-determination, and reflexivity.
psychological conceptions, our starting point is cul- Although this debate can by and large be regarded
ture as a socially interactive process with two main as historical, there are occasionally voices coming up
components: the creation of shared activity (cul- that try to question the role of biology for human
tural practices) and the creation of shared mean- psychology. The sometimes hostile attitude toward
ing. Shared activities concern the material side of biology has been expressed from cross-cultural psy-
culture. They are adapted to survival, which brings chologists who, interestingly enough, share with
in the inseparable relationship between culture and ethologists the search for universals and by cul-
biology that will be dealt with later, and it involves tural psychologists who emphasize the uniqueness
goal-directed action. Shared meaning (cultural inter- of humans, however, without consideration of the
pretation) concerns values, beliefs, folk models, and content, hence also focusing on a universal nature.
ethnopsychologies. This conception situates culture It is amazing that the self-evident question, “How
in everyday contexts and behaviors (Greenfield & can the universal human nature appear irrespective
Keller, 2004; Keller, 2007). of extremely different environments?” has so far not
been raised. This question on these premises would
Adaptive Nature of Culture lead logically only to one answer: Culture does not
We consider cultural practices and meaning sys- matter—a truly biologistic attitude. On the other
tems to be adaptive. The aspect of adaptation defines hand, nobody questions that, for example, plants
culture as a functional system in an eco-social envi- develop very different phenotypes depending on the
ronment. Thus, cultural practices, routines, and ecology in which they grow.
artifacts help to master environmental challenges In fact, evolutionary theories assign culture a sys-
and define competence. Children co-construct cul- tematic place for understanding human psychology,
tural knowledge during ontogenetic development and there is a conceptual closeness between genuine
with their social partners. They profit from the cultural and evolutionary approaches. This closeness
accumulated cultural knowledge of the ancestral will be demonstrated with a comparison of one of
generations and the cultural niches that prior gener- the most important conceptions of psychocultural
ations have constructed (Tomasello, 1999; Laland, research, the Whiting model (1975), which has
Odling-Smee, & Feldman, 2000). During devel- set the stage for the famous six cultures study, the
opmental processes, knowledge is acquired that is first cultural comparative study of child-rearing and
helpful for current problems and at the same time a development with basic assumptions of evolution-
preparation for future challenges. However, knowl- ary theory (Keller, 2010).
edge that is functional at one ontogenetic level must Whiting summarized the philosophy of the psy-
not need to be helpful at later levels and vice versa chocultural model in the introduction of the six cul-
(Bjorklund & Pellegrini, 2002). tures book on child-rearing (Whiting, 1963, p. 4):
Culture, as such, is part of our biological nature.
Implicit in the research design is a general concept
Humans are equipped with the means to acquire
of the relation of personality to culture, which may

keller 121
be presented as follows: The ecology of the area socialization pressure by parents, other caregivers,
determines the maintenance systems, which include and teachers, we are analyzing these differences as a
basic economy and the most elementary variables cause in the process of socialization.
of social structure. In other words, the type of crops (Whiting & Pope Edwards, 1988, pp. 5–6)
grown, the presence or absence of herding, fishing,
Age, gender, and context are the major determi-
and so on, depend on the nature of the terrain,
nants of behavioral and psychological differentia-
the amount of rainfall, the location of the area
tions from evolutionary theories as well.
vis-à-vis centers of invention and diffusion. These
Moreover both approaches share the common
basic economic conditions determine in part the
interest in universal as well as differential patterns. “. . .
arrangement of people in space, the type of houses,
[I]n spite of individual differences, there are behavior
and household composition. These in turn set the
regularities for children of a given age and sex in each
parameters for child-rearing practices.
cultural community. That is, there are meaningful
(p. 4)
norms . . .” (Whiting & Pope Edwards, 1988, p. 10)
And continues: To test the universal patterns, a cross-cultural
It is assumed that different patterns of child rearing approach is crucial, because looking for universal
will lead to differences in the personality of children principles can best be achieved “. . . by replicating
and thus to differences in adult personality. studies in a variety of cultural contexts” (Whiting &
(p. 5) Pope Edwards, 1988, p. 10). This approach is clearly
different from cultural (as well as anthropological)
Child-rearing practices eventually lead to the
perspectives that assume that behavior is infinitely
shaping of the adult personality. Thus, the original
malleable and that cultures produce uniqueness.
model assumes a causal chain from ecological con-
The focus of the research following the Whiting
text to the adult psychology.
psychocultural model is on normative aspects, on
the “natural man” approach, indicating great psy-
The Input from Evolutionary
chobiological similarity among the peoples of the
Theorizing
world (Whiting, 1977).
Evolutionary theorizing also considers the envi-
ronment as the starting point of the causal chain We are impressed that there is a finite number of
leading to human psychology and behavior but general programs governing the lives of children
adds to the proximate level of functional relation- growing up throughout the world, as well as a finite
ships between context and psychology the ultimate and transculturally universal grammar of behaviour
goal of reproductive success, or optimal genetic fit- that children can use in interpersonal interactions.
ness. Thus, the core assumption is that humans, (Whiting & Pope Edwards, 1988, p. 17)
like any other species, strive for optimal represen-
This matches exactly the biological notion of an
tation of their genes in the next generation. This is,
inborn reaction norm. A reaction norm describes
of course, an assumption of unintentional, maybe
the pattern of phenotypic expressions of a single
unconscious, “as-if ” decisions. Environmental con-
genotype across a range of environments. The pat-
ditions comprise material and ecological resources
tern, however, does not contain numerous options
as well as social complexity including material and
but a limited number of possibilities (Keller &
social niches that prior generations have created.
Chasiotis, 2006).
The crucial components in the environment are the
Both approaches stress the contextual adapta-
resources that an individual is able to exploit and
tion, on the one hand, and consequent necessary
possibly to accumulate. Whereas the model for psy-
variability, on the other. This does not mean uni-
chocultural research deals with the environment on
versality with regard to human psychological func-
a descriptive basis, evolutionary theory differenti-
tioning but phrasing the assumption that universal
ates types of environments with respect to strategic
principles underlay the human nature that allows
reproductive decisions.
for diversity.
Both conceptions are turning the prevailing the-
As a species, humans are biologically primed
ories of socialization upside down:
to acquire, create, and transmit culture. Cultural
Rather than analyzing the age, sex, and cultural differences are variations on themes of universal
differences in children’s activities and companions importance and differential emphases put on par-
as simply the result of developmental changes of ticular practices (Rogoff, 2003). Culture represents

122 c ross-c ult ur al psycholo g y


the legacy of preceding generations as expressed in history (including migrations), maintenance sys-
the dispositions, the consciousness, and the psy- tems (including economic parameters), and settle-
chology of each living individual whose plasticity ment/family structure (like household composition
allows change to adapt to changing surroundings. and family type). This model, developed from a cul-
At the same time, humans inherit niches that are tural psychological and anthropological perspective,
composed of material and social resources. As such, has much in common with an evolutionary view
culture is the primary mode of human adaptation on the human psychology that also relates human
(Keller, 2007). behavior and psychology to contextual demands of
Culture and biology are not opposites, and they the environment. This closeness/coherence in per-
are not independent forces. They are both part of spective, however, is considered as incompatible by
the human nature and have to be conceived of as some cultural psychologists, because culture and
systematically inter-related. Culture selects, rein- biology are thought of contradictions—a view that
forces, and optimizes biological predispositions. rests on multiple theoretical and empirical miscon-
The challenge for cross-cultural psychology in the ceptions (see Boesch, this volume).
future will be to assign a systematic place to biol- Based on the literature and our own research
ogy, especially evolutionary theorizing for its fur- program, we propose to capture the environmental
ther development. Moreover, process and content parameters as socio-demographic characteristics, as
need to be addressed. The question that therefore they can be understood as contingent on the physi-
has to be addressed is: How can groups of people be cal characteristics of the environment as outlined in
defined who share culture? the Whiting model. We especially understand the
level of formal education, age at first birth, number
Who Shares Culture? of children, and household size as forming particu-
Because culture is the nature of humans, it is evi- lar cultural milieus. People sharing these character-
dent that humans generally share culture. However, istics are likely to share similar worldviews, norms,
this statement is not as trivial as it sounds at a first and values that are represented in particular cultural
glance. This statement has wider epistemological models. Cultural models are understood as overarch-
implications. Human culture is defined by some ing meaning systems that organize and coordinate
cultural psychologists as self-reflexive, intentional, different domains of life. We will discuss cultural
and self-conscious agency that is shared by all models in more detail later (Keller, 2003, 2007).
humans and that distinguishes humans from other From a traditional cross-cultural psychology
species, including their closest primate relatives. understanding of culture (as characterized earlier)
There is, however, more and more evidence that and from experimental thinking in general, this
chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and other pri- view is often criticized as confounding variables such
mates teach their offspring, have developed rituals as SES or education and culture. The argument,
and traditions, not only use tools but go with tools however, only holds true if we conceive of them
to particular places (e.g., for nut-cracking or fishing as independent variables that can and should be
and keep the tools afterward), cooperate, and mur- manipulated with the assumption that their expla-
der their own offspring as well as other conspecifics. nation of variance can be independently calculated.
Although quantitative and qualitative differences are We argue, however, that they cannot be conceived
substantial, culture in this sense cannot be claimed of independent, because they inter-relate structur-
as being uniquely human (for a detailed discussion ally and psychologically. The structural inter-rela-
of this field, see Boesch, this volume). tionship is expressed in statistics documenting that
Therefore, the question is: Is it possible to system- higher levels of formal education are correlated with
atically identify characteristics of groups that share later parenthood and less offspring, irrespective of
particular cultural practices and meaning systems the country or society. Psychologically, they together
that differ from other groups? Here, we have to come form a social milieu, a developmental niche, a par-
back to the role of adaptation. With the model of ticular learning environment. The conception is
psychocultural research, Beatrice and John Whiting presented in Figure 6.1.
(1975) proposed a conception linking human psy- Gender is certainly another candidate that
chology, human culture, symbols, and artifacts should be included in this conception. Gender
directly to the eco-social environment, composed of studies have recently employed a similar strategy
physical parameters (like climate and geography), with the intersection analysis. Intersection analysis

keller 123
behaviors and shared meanings that differentiate
Level of
cultural groups. Historically there have been two
formal education
extreme positions within cultural psychology: a
complete neglect of content, referred to in the last
paragraph, and the concentration on single case
studies with all individual idiosyncrasies that some
cultural psychologists share with cultural anthro-
Age at Cultural Household
first birth model size
pologists. However, cross-cultural psychologists are
interested in comparisons with regard to content of
shared meanings and practices. Yet, comparisons are
often made prematurely. As argued in the previous
section, samples are seldom theoretically selected,
Number of
but more or less a matter of convenience. Mainly
children social psychological studies have utilized question-
naires, assessed data sets from foreign locations
wherever possible (a practice that especially criticized
Figure 6.1 Cultural models as representation of socio-demo-
by indigenous approaches) without denying the role
graphic variables.
that local scholars have played. Many studies have
compared only two samples, so that the Journal of
is understood as the necessity to conjointly address Cross-Cultural Psychology has pursued for some time
gender, ethnicity, social class, health, age, language the policy—namely, that studies comparing two
with respect to worldviews, daily practices as well as samples from two different backgrounds/cultures
sexual orientations. It is considered as important to are not acceptable for publication, as the results
assess the simultaneity of effects and not separate or could just reflect sample differences/similarities that
statistically control them (Krüger-Potratz, 2005). do not pertain to cultural differences/similarities.
This definition of the cultural environment It is obvious that adequate translation and other
makes countries or societies obsolete as units of questions of equivalence were crucial to these strat-
analysis. Every country hosts multiple socio-de- egies. However, this resulted in a focus on cross-
mographic environments and, according to these cultural methodology at the expense of theoretical/
criteria, multiple cultures. The consequences for conceptual development. This may be one reason
research strategies in this understanding would why the dimensions specifying cultural contents
imply selective sampling of individuals who share (power distance, individualism/collectivism, mascu-
socio-demographic characteristics. linity vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance), when
A related question here is whether the same dif- first introduced by Geert Hofstede in his 1980 book
ferential variables have the same effect in different Culture’s Consequences—International Differences
countries. That is, are individuals with higher levels in Work Related Values (second, extended edition
of formal education more similar in psychological 2001), received such an extraordinary attention. The
variables across different countries than individuals dimension of individualism/collectivism especially
with higher and lower levels of formal education dominated cross-cultural research for some decades.
within the same country? These kinds of analyses This dimension measures how individuals define
would help to further specify the culture concept. themselves in relation to group memberships. In
The challenge for the future of cross-cultural individualist cultures, individuals develop and dis-
psychology is to adopt a differentiated view of cul- play their unique personalities and select their social
ture along these lines and to define cultural groups relationships and affiliations. In collectivist cultures,
more carefully—with the required conceptual individuals are primarily defined and act as group
background. The relationship between cultural and members, like the family, a religious group, a work-
individual levels in cross-cultural research should be place, and others. This dimension has been found to
addressed from this conceptual perspective. be related to countries’ economies.
A similar, equally named dimension was pro-
The Contents of Culture posed by Harry Triandis (e.g., Triandis, Leung,
Another aspect that we consider to be crucial is Villareal, & Clark, 1985) as one of several cultural
to look at what are the particular contents of shared syndromes. Cultural syndromes consist of attitudes,

124 c ross-c ult ur al psycholo g y


beliefs, norms, and values that are shared, for exam- social change in Turkey. Markus and Kitayama
ple, by people in a particular historical epoch or (1991, 1998), on the other hand, restrict their
geographical area. The shared ideas are organized model to the comparisons of U.S. Americans and
around themes—syndromes—and form subjective East Asians—mainly Japanese—which is one reason
culture as a society’s “characteristic way of perceiv- why this approach is qualified as cultural instead of
ing its social environment” (Triandis, 1972, p. viii). cross-cultural. Kağitcibaşi (2005) as well as Triandis
Individualism and collectivism form one such related their models to socio-cultural context (soci-
syndrome. Triandis (1994) has suggested that indi- etal and socio-demographic characteristics)—that
vidualism evolves in societies that are complex, like is, they differentiated between social milieus and
information societies and loose societies, (i.e., norm accordingly based their studies on participants
and values for correct behavior are not completely from different socio-cultural background (SES,
mandatory); collectivism accordingly emerges in level of formal education, urban-rural distinction,
societies that are both simple, like hunter and gath- etc.), whereas the individualism/collectivism and
erers, and tight (i.e., normatively regulated). Triandis the conceptions of Markus and Kitayama refer to
conception is psychologically much more complex nationalities. Moreover, they base their studies on a
than Hofstede’s concept; nevertheless it also repre- specific socio-demographic group (IBM employees
sents a one-dimensional bipolar dimension. in Hofstede’s case, mainly university students in the
Although individualism/collectivism has become case of Markus and Kitayama) and generalize these
an all-time citation star and has influenced decades findings on a national level. It is interesting that the
of research, methodological and conceptual criti- psychological core conception of individualism/
cism has been raised right from the beginning as collectivism and independence and interdepen-
well. One of the major points of criticism was and dence have been proposed from these very differing
still is the bipolar one-dimensional nature that is approaches, as well as from cultural anthropology
regarded as too simplistic, dividing the world into (Shweder & Bourne, 1984).
two cultural groups with nothing else (grand divide In this sense, it is commonly stated that indi-
theory). Of course, it is not implied in the concep- vidualism/independence is based on autonomous
tion that there is nothing else beyond individual- and separate agency that is self-contained, self-as-
ism/collectivism (not to forget that Hofstede had sured, and self-determined; others are perceived and
proposed 4 and later 5 [adding time perspective defined in terms of individual wishes, desires, and
later] dimensions, and Triandis named at least 10 intentions. Interdependence/collectivism is defined
cultural syndromes). as prioritizing the needs and intentions of the
Yet, the major assumption of one-dimensional (reference) group as prior to individual concerns.
bipolarity has been seriously challenged, because Relationships are modeled by roles and social expec-
autonomy and relatedness, as the core concepts of tations. Harmonious social relationships are defined
these dimensions, can in fact co-exist in individu- as a mature way of being. The theoretical and meth-
als as well as in cultures. Çiğdem Kağitcibaşi (1997, odological frameworks, in which these conceptions
2005) has made a strong case for this co-existence of are embedded, nevertheless are very different.
autonomy and relatedness that she applied to fami-
lies and selves. Also the conception of the indepen- Autonomy and Relatedness Reconsidered
dent and interdependent selves, which Markus and Based on the essence of these conceptions, we
Kitayama proposed in a very influential paper in have proposed concentrating on the dimensions of
1991, conceives of two constructs that are defined autonomy and relatedness as the basic and orga-
as independent from each other. One difference nizing principles of broader cultural worldviews.
that is notable among individualism/collectivism, Beyond stating that they are independent of each
Kağitcibaşi’s model, and the Markus and Kitayama’s other, we define the relationships between them and
approach is the scope of reach. The cross-cultural differentiate different modes of autonomy and relat-
conceptions of individualism/collectivism have edness that are qualitatively distinct from each other
been applied on a worldwide scale, where countries as adaptations to different environmental demands.
are ranked with respect to the distance to the indi- We differentiate the following two modes of
vidualism pole. Also, Kağitcibaşi’s four-field schema autonomy as universal capacities, albeit with dif-
is basically a general worldwide model, although ferent adaptational value in different environments.
it was mainly developed with studies concerning Psychological autonomy refers to mental processes,

keller 125
based on reflective and self-reflective ways of being. from the point of view of psychological autonomy
It centers on the realization of personal desires, but as the healthy way of development from a
wishes, and intentions. Individual psychological hierarchical relational perspective. This exclusivity,
autonomy can be defined as the self-centered feeling however, does not mean that the conceptions are
of having control and being in control of all avail- one-dimensional, bipolar, and monolithic. It also
able choices. This conception represents what is usu- does not imply, neither logically nor empirically,
ally defined as autonomy or agency in the literature. that autonomy and relatedness are the only relevant
It describes and is adapted to the Western middle- dimensions of human functioning.
class lifestyle with high levels of formal education. Cultural stereotyping can be avoided when
From the first day of life, children are mirrored their culture is defined in terms of socio-demographic
feelings, wishes, and intentions and are supported profiles as we suggested earlier. The milieu of
to realize them. We have suggested a complemen- socio-demographic characteristics has to be com-
tary facet of autonomy that focuses on actions and plemented with the nature of economic activities.
their responsible performance and control. Action There is psychological and anthropological evi-
autonomy represents the individual’s capacity to per- dence supporting different worldviews of farmers
form actions and comprises the intention, the plan, and herders, fishers, or nomads living in the same
and the performance of an action under the con- ecological environment. The history of settlement
trol of the acting individual. Action autonomy is a patterns also has been demonstrated as influenc-
universal human capacity. However, the nature and ing cultural conceptions of the self (Kitayama &
timing of actions that are individually controlled Imada, 2010). Differentiated conceptions of con-
varies across cultural contexts. Action autonomy is textual models will need to be defined. With Pervin
the preferred mode of autonomy for a cooperative and Cervone’s (2010) definition of personality, we
lifestyle as, for example, in subsistence-based farm- suggest that cross-cultural psychology deals with
ing economy with low levels of formal education. what all humans have in common, with what some
Children are trained from early on to take respon- humans have in common, and with what is particu-
sible actions to support the family. lar to the individual.
Relatedness can also have different faces. Another challenge for cross-cultural psychology
Psychological relatedness may mean self-selected rela- for the future will certainly be to deal with the con-
tions between separate, self-contained individuals tent of culture in terms of autonomy and related-
that can be defined and negotiated from the point ness and to identify possible other dimensions, from
of view of the individual agency. This conception a contextual perspective.
of relatedness can be understood as in the service
of psychological autonomy. Thus, psychological Plurality of Methods
autonomy would be the leading principle for the Cultural, cross-cultural, and indigenous psy-
lived conception of relatedness. Hierarchical related- chologies together host an armentarium of research
ness is defined as a network of relationships, based strategies and methodologies. Traditionally cross-
on hierarchically structured roles that are manda- cultural psychology has been associated with quan-
tory life long. There is no room and also no wish for titative methodology from experiment to survey,
individually negotiating expectations and obliga- whereas many cultural as well as indigenous psy-
tions related to (family) relationships (Keller, 2007; chologies employ more qualitative approaches.
Keller & Otto, 2011). Hierarchical relatedness can Recently there has been a trend advocating mixed-
be associated with action autonomy. In this case, methods approaches (e.g., special issue of the
hierarchical relatedness is the leading principle also Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 2009), thus
for (action) autonomy. linking back to the heritage of the psychocultural
These two models are conceived of as prototypes. approaches of the Whitings and others. Whiting
Prototypes imply that the patterns can be found and Child started with statistical analyses of rela-
empirically in relatively pure modes. This does not tionships in the dataset of the Human Research Area
exclude, however, variability across and between the Files (Whiting & Child, 1953). Whiting and Pope
prototypes. The prototypes as described here imply Edwards (1988) analyzed “the mundane or typical
partly mutually exclusive views on processes and patterns of interaction between frequent social part-
behavioral regulations. For example, mother–child ners “ (p. 10) from quantitative data recorded with
symbiosis is regarded as a pathological condition the use of systematic standardized observations, and

126 c ross-c ult ur al psycholo g y


“these quantitative data enable the researcher to val- contexts (e.g., co-sleeping), practices (e.g., training
idate subjective impressions” (p. 10). However, this motor development), and interactional exchanges
understanding of the relationship between quanti- (e.g., body contact and body carrying). Accordingly,
tative and qualitative methodology is not shared by children’s developmental achievements as well as
many cultural psychologists. developmental trajectories may differ in content,
The six-culture study itself represents a mixed- timing, and structure.
method research design (Whiting, 1963), where The particular solutions of earlier developmental
ethnographic information is compiled and portraits tasks prepare pathways for the solution of later ones.
of individual life stages are drawn based on behav- However, these pathways are not deterministic in
ioral observations and interviews with qualitative the sense that the early pattern allows only for one
data used to illustrate general patterns. As such, the particular set of later consequences. It is obvious
different approaches thus use an impressive array that along developmental pathways, a multiplicity
of methodologies and research strategies, although of influences shape developmental outcomes. And
individual scholars may have strong preferences as the human plasticity allows for modification, com-
well as strong dislikes for particular methods. pensation, and restructuring at any time of develop-
The future challenge for cross-cultural psychol- ment. Nevertheless the development of continuity is
ogy will be to develop more tolerance for diverse easier than that of discontinuity, and most individu-
methodologies as well as more sophisticated designs als experience coherence and consistency through-
and analysis methods from a mixed-methods out their biographies.
perspective. This conception of development combines a
causal sequence of influences with a co-constructive
Introducing Development in mode of development. Because experiences are indi-
Cross-Cultural Comparisons vidually constructed and appropriated, the active
We have argued that the human psyche can be role of the developing individual and the contex-
understood as result of adaptational processes to tual constraints and affordances form one system.
contextual demands. Therefore, cross-cultural dif- The emergence of cultural phenotypes is crucial for
ferences in psychological functioning cannot be understanding cultural/cross-cultural differences.
present from birth on—they need to develop in the Therefore, more emphasis on psychological devel-
particular context in which the baby is born. We opment is necessary for the future of cross-cultural
have proposed to define development along these psychology.
lines as the cultural solution of universal develop-
mental tasks (Keller, 2007). There is an extensive Conclusion: Taking Culture Seriously and
literature in psychology on how to define develop- What It Implies
mental tasks. We propose a broad understanding in Cross-cultural psychology, as any psychological
terms of topics or themes that have evolved during discipline, is inevitably a cultural science, because
the history of humankind to solve adaptive prob- any attempt to understand psychological phenom-
lems. Therefore, their solution must be contingent ena needs to take into account the social cultural
upon the particular environmental conditions. This environment, ontogenetic history, and ancestral
enables the development of contextual competence heritage. Cross-cultural psychology, on the other
(Weisner, 2002). Developmental pathways are orga- hand, is also inevitably a biological science, because
nized in coherent and meaningful sequences. The any attempt to understand psychological phenom-
conceptions of autonomy and relatedness, as dis- ena needs to take into account the evolved pre-
cussed earlier, provide such meaning structures in dispositions and the behavioral constraints and
terms of developmental organizers. The socialization affordances that evolved over the history of human-
goal of psychological autonomy supports the early kind. In the previous paragraphs, we have proposed
development of an independent self as expressed reconceptualizing cross-cultural psychology on the
in contexts (e.g., babies sleep in their own beds), basis of such a unified conception of culture and
practices (e.g., child-centered dyadic social encoun- biology with a focus on the emergence of cross-
ters), and interactional exchanges (e.g., contingent cultural differences during developmental pathways
mirroring of infant signals). The socialization goals with consideration of cultural content domains.
of hierarchical relatedness supports the early devel- Cross-cultural, cultural, and indigenous approaches
opment of an interdependent self as expressed in can and should be meaningfully combined. This

keller 127
will only be possible when scientists and researchers breastfeeding positions are all exclusive, face-to-
develop openness for other worldviews and particu- face situations. Cultural environments like the Nso
larly accept the equivalence of different worldviews farmers practice multiple caregiving systems with
for human functioning in different contexts. less emphasis on special bonds between mother
This paradigm shift has tremendous implications and child beyond the nurturing one. Therefore,
also for the applied fields and social policy. Two exam- programs often fail and do not succeed in raising
ples should demonstrate the implications. Example 1 breastfeeding rates, because they do not account
concerns policy programs that international organi- for the cultural realities of the people whom they
zations like the World Health Organization (WHO) address. The important message is that there is no
or the United National Children’s Fund (UNICEF) one best way to raise a child but contextually adap-
promote in poverty-stricken environments. The sup- tive pathways.
port of breastfeeding is a common focus of such Example 2 concerns the reality of migrants who
programs. Breastfeeding is generally considered as a shift from a rural farming background into the
very important way to improve infants’ health and Western urban metropolis. Many migrants have
development as the best source of nourishment for internalized the cultural model of relatedness with
infants and young children. Adequate breastfeeding its strong family connectedness based in hierarchy
support for mothers and families could save many and obligations. The public life and the educa-
young lives. tional system, however, is organized according to
The WHO, in line with other associations, the cultural model of autonomy, which is adaptive
recommends 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding. to Western middle-class families. Daycare and kin-
However, breastfeeding rates are not reaching the dergarten treat the small child as an autonomous
necessary timelines to be beneficial. Globally, less agent by providing multiple choices during the
than 40% of infants under age 6 months are exclu- day and encouraging active verbal participation
sively breastfed. Nevertheless women in very diverse of children in the daily activities. Migrant parents
environments (e.g., middle-class German mothers often experience the curricula as a massive threat
as well as Nso farmer mothers) agree that breast- against their family cohesion and the core values
feeding is the healthiest way of infant nutrition. and norms. Accordingly, they do not send their
However, the reasons that women from these two children to the educational institutions anymore,
contexts consider are very different. For the Western which otherwise would be very beneficial (e.g.,
middle-class mother who is on maternity leave, the in terms of second language acquisition as well as
breastfeeding situation is a time of exclusive mutual support of developmental domains that are con-
attention with abundant eye contact. For example, sidered as important in the host culture). Many
a mother from Los Angeles says in an interview that misunderstandings are also pre-programmed in
breastfeeding is “. . . a great time to do the bond- the Western middle-class expectation of active
ing thing with your child, cause they stare in your participation (educational partnership) of par-
eyes and you stare in their eyes.” For the Nso famer ents in the kindergarten, whereas many migrant
mother who has to continue the household chores parents expect a strict separation of responsibili-
and the farm work after delivery, it is important that ties between family and institution—educational
she can do breastfeeding as a co-occurring activity. efforts and attainments are clearly not seen as the
The following is an excerpt from an interview about family’s responsibility.
breastfeeding with a Nso farmer woman: “At times Daycare providers and other professionals profit
she wanted to prepare something and the child was enormously from learning to know other cultural
disturbing her, when she was already anxious to pre- models beyond their own. However, there is a step
pare something quickly, then she is selling potatoes further to go. The often heard message, “Now, they
and breastfeeding the child at the same time.” are here, they have to do it our way,” grasps it too
Programs to promote breastfeeding, however, short. Family values and norms are very deeply
do not account for these diverse contexts with the rooted in the personality and resistant to change,
different needs. Breastfeeding is promoted with because they coincide with what is considered a
the Western middle-class philosophy as creating a good person. The confrontational method there-
special bond between mother and baby and foster- fore is clearly prone to misachievement. Programs
ing the exclusive dyadic interaction between the need to be developed from cultural knowledge to
mother and child. UNICEF recommendations for acceptance.

128 c ross-c ult ur al psycholo g y


The wide-ranging implications also afford para- humans that need to be negotiated from any indi-
digm shifts of the culture free or better monocultural vidual in any culture. We have proposed to differ-
mainstream psychology. If culture is acknowledged entiate autonomy and relatedness along contextual
at all in textbooks and handbooks of psychology, it demands. Nevertheless, the search for other possible
is considered to provide variability. The argument panhuman themes should also be pursued.
that is put forward here is that the systematic influ- Finally, the study of the emergence of cultural
ence of culture for human psychology needs to be phenotypes is crucial for understanding cultural/
fully introduced with a necessary paradigm shift cross-cultural differences. Therefore, more emphasis
(for a discussion of the reception of culture in psy- on psychological development is necessary for the
chology, see a special issue of the Journal of Cross- future of cross-cultural psychology. All these con-
Cultural Psychology, Lonner, Smith, van de Vijver, & ceptual challenges afford a pluralism of method-
Murdock, 2010). Cross-cultural psychology, includ- ologies and methods that have been existing in the
ing cultural and indigenous approaches, therefore beginnings of cross-cultural psychology. Thus, the
has to become an essential ingredient of the psycho- future also has to be linked to the roots.
logical sciences. As we have said earlier, psychology These challenges, however, are not particular to
cannot be based on the investigation of WEIRD cross-cultural/cultural psychology only. They address
people (Henrich et al., 2010) only but also needs important dimensions that need to be addressed for
to include Non-Western, Indigenous, Colored, all of psychological science. Behavior and mental
Emic people (NICE). But NICE people are not one representations emerge during ontogeny within
homogenous category, a contextually based careful particular cultural contexts. As we have argued in
description of samples that deliver study results is an the introduction, we only have knowledge about
unquestioned necessity. the psychology of a very small part of the global
population that is even unique in different respects
Future Directions in affluence, level of formal education, and related
In the previous paragraphs, we have identified socio-demographic characteristics (Henrich et al.,
challenges for the future of cross-cultural psychol- 2010). Is has to be understood that this context is
ogy. First, we argue, that the careful conceptualiza- associated with one kind of psychology only. There
tion and definition of culture for empirical studies is a tremendous task to master in the future to con-
represents an area of neglect. We have proposed to struct psychological knowledge in diverse contexts.
abandon the strategy to define citizens of particular The cross-cultural perspective can take the lead in
countries as cultural groups and to adopt a contextu- establishing a psychological science that better rep-
ally based view of culture as representation of socio- resents humankind.
demographic variables. This conception should be
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CHAPTER

Archeology and the Study of Material


7 Culture: Synergies With Cultural
Psychology
Alfredo González-Ruibal

Abstract
Human cognition does not rest upon individual minds alone but is distributed across persons, things,
and time. Archeology, the discipline of things par excellence, has much to offer to researchers
interested in cognitive processes. The material world is crucial in processes of enculturation and
cultural transmission, in shaping daily experience and perceptions, and in orienting action. In this
chapter, the concept of material culture is examined as it is commonly understood today in archeology
and material culture studies. Furthermore, the diverse roles of material culture in relation to cognition
are explored through specific examples from prehistoric, historic, and contemporary societies.
Keywords: material culture, material agency, distributed cognition, built environment, enculturation,
archeological theory

Psychology and Archeology its greatest impact among those working in the earli-
Archeology’s links to psychology are stronger and est phases of the evolution of humankind (Renfrew
more diverse than usually acknowledged, although & Zubrow, 1994; Renfrew & Morley, 2009). In
the interest to establish such links has been mostly fact, the concerns of cognitive archeologists have
unidirectional so far: Since the mid-1980s, arche- been basically centered on evolutionary matters—
ologists have been exploring the complex issue of that is, the development of cognitive skills in human
mind and cognition from the material remains of beings: When did abstract thought, aesthetics, or
the past—a daunting but certainly not impossible the use of material culture as external symbolic stor-
task. On the contrary, psychologists have not been age appear for the first time? The field more akin to
interested in the lessons that might be obtained cognitive archeology is not cultural but evolution-
from archeology. They may think that because ary psychology and cognitive science and, therefore,
archeologists work with the material world, they this approach will not be discussed here. However,
are in a disadvantaged position to access the human also in this case, it has been archeologists who have
mind. Also, they may perceive archeology as a field approached cognitive and evolutionary psychology,
far removed from the theoretical debates that affect rather than the other way round.
other sciences, such as anthropology or sociology, Another meeting point between archeologists
which intersect with psychology in several ways. As and psychology (rather than psychologists) is learn-
we will see, neither idea is really true. ing and the configuration of motor skills: Which
The theoretical current known as cognitive or psychomotor changes have to occur so that an
cognitive-processual archeology is responsible for apprentice becomes proficient at making wheel-
the psychological turn in archeology, which has had turned pots or a certain kind of flaked stone tool

132
(e.g., Roux & Corbetta, 1989; Stout, 2002)? Again, Besides, the particular aim of cultural psychol-
this is not a matter that has to do specifically with ogy is closer in one sense, at least, to archeology
cultural psychology per se but with cognitive science than to anthropology. According to Shweder and
(but see Boesch, 1993). Sullivan (1993, p. 508) “Cultural psychology is
Beyond the evolution of cognitive skills, the truth the study of constituted or compiled experiences
is that at least since the early 1980s, archeologists (what Geertz has called ‘experience-near’ concepts)
and psychologists have been sharing more concerns in contrast to explicated experiences (‘experience
than they may think: identity, personhood, and self distant’ concepts).” Material culture is all about
(Hernando, 2002; Fowler, 2004), human and social constituted experiences: there is nothing closer to
agency (Robb & Dobres, 2000), emotion (Tarlow, experience than materiality. In recent years, interest
2000a), perception of the environment (Tilley, among cultural psychologists in material culture has
1994; Ingold, 2000), memory (Jones, 2007), dis- increased (Valsiner, 2009, pp. 22–24), a fact that
tributed cognition (Malafouris, 2004), and encul- has to be related with an awareness of the impor-
turation (Hodder & Cessford, 2004; Stark et al., tance of objects in culture. For Cole (1998, p. 144),
2008), to mention but a few. artifacts, because of their simultaneous material and
ideal nature, are the fundamental constituents of
Can Archeology Be Useful for Cultural culture, which in turn is fundamental in shaping
Psychologists? cognitive processes. It would be unfair to forget,
Perhaps surprisingly, there has been no attempt however, that one of the first psychologists to point
at dialogue between cultural psychology and arche- out the relevance of material culture—or tools—was
ology. This is despite the fact that archeology (the Vygotsky himself. “The most significant moment in
only science that has the methodological tools to the course of intellectual development which gives
study human beings from 2.5 million years ago birth to the purely human forms of practical and
to the present) can contribute to cultural psychol- abstract intelligence, occurs when speech and practi-
ogy by increasing the number of cultures and cul- cal activity, two previously completely independent
tural contexts at the disposal of the psychologist. lines of development, converge” (Vigotsky 1978,
Archeology’s potential contribution to cultural psy- p. 25). Practical activity, for Vygotsky, was charac-
chology does not end there—rather, it starts there. terized by the use of material tools. Furthermore, he
[The gist of archeology lies in its being the science considered practical intelligence in children as prior
of material culture par excellence; the discipline to independent speech, given the existence of this
of things (Olsen, 2003, p. 89), and material cul- practical intelligence in primates as well.
ture, as Latour (1991) said of technology, is society However, the difference between humans and
made durable. The main aim of cultural psychology apes is the capacity to make complex tools by the
is to understand how the mind is affected by cul- former, which implies a developed anticipatory cog-
ture. Traditionally, visions of culture as proposed by nition. I am not referring here to the use of non-
anthropologists have emphasized its immaterial side modified tools (such as twigs or stones) among
(ideology, institutions, myths, kinship) and, simi- primates or to the debate on primate cultures (for
larly, visions of psychological process as developing this, see C. Boesch, Chapter 31) but to the mak-
on a disembodied mind have predominated in psy- ing and use of secondary tools (such as retouched
chology (Cole, 1998, p. 118). This disembodied flakes). The first lithic industries of 2 to 2.5 million
image of culture and mind has come under attack years ago, although apparently rough, imply a com-
during the last decade, and today many research- plex and elaborate thinking that goes well beyond
ers agree in that human beings do not create and the abilities of chimpanzees (cf. de la Torre, 2004).
live culture in an ethereal, ideal void. Their lives Interestingly, however, as Vygotsky already noted,
and thoughts are inextricably entangled in a mate- this sophisticate practical intelligence exists before
rial world. As a matter of fact, almost everything in the appearance of speech. In this sense, it is worth
the cultural lives of human beings could be consid- noting that for archeologists, evolutionary biologists
ered material culture, because there are very few—if and philosophers alike, one of the defining charac-
any—activities that are not materially mediated in teristics of human beings is the capacity to make
one way or the other—even singing or storytelling and use composite tools. Other elements, such as a
implies materiality: at the minimum, a technique of developed speech and symbolic capacity, come later.
the body (Mauss, 1973). However, Vygotsky was right at pointing at the

g o n z á l e z - ru i b a l 133
relevance of studying practical intelligence and the mind or materiality as having the leading role. It
use of signs together, instead of as two separate phe- is more an issue of subtle and ongoing adaptations
nomena. He did not just encourage the study of both between the two (Boesch, 1993).
signs and things as intertwined but considered them Cognitive-processual archeologists, those who
equally important: “[S]peech and action are part of most explicitly draw on psychology and cognitive
one and the same complex psychological function, science in their work, have tended to view material
directed toward the solution of a problem at hand” culture as a form of “symbolic storage” (Renfrew &
(Vygotsky, 1978, p. 25). The elaborate operations Scarre, 1998), following Donald’s concept of “exo-
involved in the production of early stone tools are graphic storage” (see below, Memory and Material
not possible without some process of signification Culture). Written texts and signs are well-known
that is absent in apes. These operations comprise forms of exographic storage, but things can be used
two elements that according to Christopher Boesch for coding information as well. They help us remem-
(this volume) distinguish humans from primates: ber past events, historical episodes, or myths, some-
the persistence of cultural traits for extended peri- times in a very explicit way, such as the decorated
ods of time (e.g., bifaces, used for more than a mil- sticks of the Maori that allowed them to remember
lion years) and the presence of nonadaptive cultural long geneologies or the churingas used by Australian
traits: there is more than one way of making a lithic aborigines, wooden plaques encoding the history of
point—technical diversity here indicates a cultural a totem (Rodríguez Mayorgas, 2010, pp. 42–45). In
logic that goes beyond pure adaptation. other cases, the relation between artifacts and infor-
Archeologists, who work with the material results mation is less similar to textual transmission. Artifacts
of past human activity, are in a privileged position can store and convey nonverbal information about
to explore practical intelligence. This is by no means economic and political status, age, gender, ethnicity,
restricted to the period before the appearance of and personal identity (Wobst, 1977; Ames, 1984;
speech, inasmuch as in Homo sapiens nonverbal Schiffer & Miller, 1999). Cognitive-processual arche-
behavior continues to play a paramount role. A final ologists have not been the only ones in exploring the
quote from Vygotsky leaves clear the importance he capacity of things to transmit meaning. Actually, it
conceded to tools as an inextricable part of what is was post-processual or interpretive archeologists who
to be human: “The entire existence of an Australian first drew attention to the fact that material culture
aborigine depends on his boomerang, just as the is meaningfully constituted (Hodder, 1982, 1986)
entire existence of modern England depends on her and, as such, can be decoded. Although cognitive-
machines” (Vygotsky & Luria, 1993, p. 74). Things processual archeology relies on cognitive science, and
make people. interpretive archeology is based on hermeneutics and
In this line, my main concern in this chapter semiotics (Hodder, 1994; Preucel, 2006), the truth is
will be to show how materiality shapes the lives that differences are not as great as one might think. In
of human beings, mediates their relation with the both cases, material culture is perceived as something
world, directs their actions, triggers or inhibits feel- external that is loaded with meaning and manipulated
ings, educates them in the social environment, and by human actors (or minds).
participates in cognitive processes, such as memory
and learning. Toward a Symmetrical Approach to
Mind and Materiality
Material Culture, Materiality, Since the early 1980s, many archeologists and
Distributed Cognition anthropologists have called attention to the impor-
Psychologist and neuroscientist Merlin Donald tance of things in determining culture and have criti-
wrote: “[W]e cannot have a science of mind that dis- cized the oblivion to which the material has been
regards material culture as we cannot have an adequate subjected (see an overview in Olsen, 2006). In recent
science of material culture that leaves out cognition” years, some of them have insisted that objects are not
(Donald, 1998, p. 186). This is widely acknowledged just important—they have agency as well. They are
in archeology and material culture studies today. The not passive containers of culture. Thus, Gosden has
question at the moment is not as much whether mind noted that it is not necessarily the mind that imposes
and materiality are related but how to envisage that its form on material objects but very often just the
relationship. This relationship is better perceived as opposite: things shape thoughts (Gosden, 2005,
symmetrical: we should avoid understanding either p. 196). Anthropologist Alfred Gell (1998) also

134 arc heolog y and t he st udy o f mat e ria l cu ltu re


remarked that material objects—particularly art— in the neurons of the potter’s brain, the muscles of
have agency. Nevertheless, saying that artifacts have the potter’s body, the ‘affordances’ . . . of the pot-
the capacity to affect people does not really imply a ter’s wheel, the material properties of the clay, the
transformation of the ontological perspective on the morphological and typological prototypes of exist-
relationship between mind and matter. As Knappett ing vessels as well as the general social context in
has pointed out, “in acknowledging that objects which the activity occurs.”
can be agents and agents can be objects, a dualism The material turn of the last decade has made
between objects and agents remains” (2002, p. 98). us more aware of the inseparability of people and
A more radical stance, and a real break with previ- things and the relevance of the material world in
ous perspectives, came during the last decade with shaping our cultural and psychological experience.
the debates on the limitations of Cartesian or- If cultural psychology is the study of “the way cul-
more generally—modernist dualisms. Archeologists, ture and psyche make each other up” (Shweder &
like practitioners from other disciplines (e.g., Sullivan, 1993, p. 498), then taking the material
Butler, 1993; Latour, 1993; Descola, 2005), side of culture seriously should be a must for cul-
have critically examined the divides established tural psychologists. In the following section, we will
between present/past, individual/collective, subject/ see which are the main characteristics of material
object, culture/nature, material/immaterial, and culture as it is currently understood.
mind/body. Following the principle of ontological
symmetry defended by Latour (1993), Law (1991), Ten Points on Material Culture
and Callon (1991) as well as other proponents of Material culture is used to think in both an
Actor-Network Theory in science and technology explicit and in an implicit way (Henare et al., 2007;
studies, some archeologists argue for a “symmetri- Knappet, 2005). Cognitive processes are distributed
cal archeology” that considers things and people among people and things. As cultures vary, so do the
as fundamentally inseparable (Olsen, 2003, 2007; particular relations among individuals, groups, and
Shanks, 2007; Webmoor, 2007; Witmore, 2007). objects in any particular culture. Although cognitive
This is a radical change with regard to previous the- scientists often take into consideration technology
ories that espoused the primacy of human actors alone and more specifically explicit cognitive tech-
over things and the separation between humans nologies (such as computers or navigational devices;
and objects. e.g., Hutchins, 1995; Dror & Harnad, 2008), cog-
However, similar views have been defended by nitive processes are distributed also among other,
other scholars within cognitive science and cogni- less technically complex, things. If we bear in mind
tive archeology (Knappet, 2002, 2005; Knappet that for human beings, social orientation is as
& Malafouris, 2008). Clark (2008, p. 13), for important as spatial orientation, we can consider,
example, has insisted that we have to abandon for example, that mausolea—which simultaneously
the image of ourselves as disembodied, reasoning help us remember, mourn, and know about social
engines and goes as far as to suggest that “certain classes—are important navigational devices implied
aspects of the external world . . . maybe so inte- in social cognition. On the other hand, even from
gral to our cognitive routines as to count as part the point of view of spatial orientation, we do not
of the cognitive machinery itself ” (Clark, 2008, p. have to think of extremely sophisticate machines: a
15, author’s emphasis). In turn, Malafouris (2004, broken branch that allows a hunter to find his way
p. 57) has argued that human cognition is embod- in the tropical forest is also a cognitive device. In this
ied, situated, extended, enacted, distributed, and sense, Coman et al. (2009, p. 126) rightly consider
mediated, as opposed to the ethereal and indepen- that to understand the navigation of a blind person,
dent mind of earlier cognitive archeologists, which a researcher must account for the mechanisms of
projected itself onto the material world. Like sym- the brain and the nervous system on the fingertips,
metrical archeologists, he considers that the rela- but also “the nature of the cane—its length, rigid-
tionship between the world and human cognition ity, graspability, and so on.” Objects, then, are also
is one of “ontological inseparability.” To illustrate involved in our cognition in an unconscious way in
his point, Malafouris (2004, p. 59) resorts to the daily practice. We think through things even when
potter’s wheel: “the cognitive map of knowledge we do not think about them. In fact, as Heiddegger
and memory may well be extended and distributed (2002, pp. 13–14) noted, it is precisely when we

g o n z á l e z - ru i b a l 135
do not think about things that the thingness of the active materiality of the world is fundamental for
thing is working best: understanding the human being. As Ernst Boesch
(1991, p. 334) has eloquently remarked:
The equipmentality of equipment consists in
its utility. But what about this utility itself? In “it is the permanence of things that provide
understanding it do we already understand the individuals with a cadre permitting the building of
equipmentality of equipment? In order for this to over-situative action structures. Thereby, they provide
be so, must we not look out for the useful piece of the conditions for those constancies in I-world-
equipment in its use? The peasant woman wears her relationships without which the construction of
shoes in the field. Only then do they become what identity would be difficult to conceive.”
they are. They are all the more genuinely so the less
We cooperate actively in the making of the material
the peasant woman thinks of her shoes while she is
world that surrounds us, but making things makes
working, or even looks at them, or is aware of them
ourselves simultaneously. A potter is constituted
in any way at all. This is how the shoes actually
through her making pots, a basket-maker through
serve. It must be in this process of usage that the
his making baskets. Making things affects senso-
equipmentality of equipment actually confronts us.
rimotor skills (Boesch, 1993; Roux et al., 1995;
The cognitive role of common artifacts is even more Crown, 2001; Stout, 2002) and, more importantly,
important in those societies that have no other perceptions of oneself, society, and the world, as the
means of transmitting information and preserving teaching of technical processes incorporates social
memory apart from oral communication (Kus & information and attitudes that are not strictly ori-
Raharijaona, 1990, p. 23). ented to technical ends (Dobres, 2000; Wallaert-
As the example of the cane of a blind person Pêtre, 2001).
shows, things are not something that merely inter- Yet making artifacts is only part of the constitu-
act with our minds and bodies. Material culture is tion of the self in relation to materiality. Subjects
an inherent part of ourselves, of our own physi- are made through the use of things as well (Miller,
cal existence. Consider bodily ornaments, cloth- 1987), especially in those cultures where handi-
ing, body modifications, hairstyles, but also glasses, crafts have vanished and technological knowledge
microscopes, or audiphones, who have become part is socially very restricted—for example, in indus-
of ourselves as sensory prostheses (Witmore, 2006, trial and post-industrial societies. In the modern
p. 281). It is not only our mind that is extended world, we construct our subjectivities through the
through things (Clark & Chalmers, 1998) but our consumption of fashion (Boesch, 1991, pp. 321–
entire body. We are material culture (Webmoor & 324; Roche, 1996), homes (Miller, 2001a), vehicles
Witmore, 2008) or, as Haraway (1991, pp. 149– (Miller, 2001b), food, art, and many other things.
181) has argued, cyborgs, “hybrids of machine and Furthermore, the way we abandon and destroy
organism,” a mixture of technology and biology that material culture is also part-and-parcel of our iden-
blurs the distinction between nature and culture. tity (e.g., Marcoux 2001). Although destruction
This is not just the case of postmodern humans but might be particularly characteristic of the modern
of every hominid since at least 2.5 million years ago, world, it has always played a role in culture. The first
when the first stone tools were made (Knappett, agricultural communities of the Balkans destroyed
2002, p. 98). their houses purposefully after a certain period, in
We are material beings immersed in a mate- what was in all probability a ritual cycle (Stevanovic,
rial world. We may say that we are in a “state of 1997, see below). The Malanggan of New Ireland
thrownness” (Heidegger’s Geworfenheit) in the (Küchler, 2002, see below) leave their elaborate
material world, or even better, as Tim Ingold (2009, funerary carvings to be slowly destroyed by the ele-
p. 5) eloquently puts it, we live “in the throwing,” as ments (as opposed to our emphasis on monumen-
this is better described as a fluid process. The world, tal preservation). This is related to conceptions of
then, is not just a blank, neutral scenario for human death, for sure, but also to a peculiar experience of
dramas to unfold, a source of problem-specifying what to be human is. It has recently been argued that
inputs (Clark, 2008, p. 16), or something to be different types of structural forgetting are specific
fashioned by thoughts that emerge in a separate to different social formations and that late moder-
sphere of mental activity (Thomas, 1998, p. 155). nity is characterized by massive oblivion based on
It is something deeply enmeshed in our lives. The superhuman speed, megacities, consumerism, and

136 arc heolog y and t he st udy o f mat e ria l cu ltu re


perishable urban architecture (Connerton, 2009). to close a door in a way that no human actor ever
In the same vein, it can be said that late modern could (Latour, 2000). A pot with a handle forces us
subjects cannot be understood without their inti- to hold it in a particular way, and throwing a spear
mate relationship with the continual and mas- involves a different bodily gesture than using a bow
sive destruction of things and the environment and arrow. A mosque imposes a bodily behavior and
(González-Ruibal, 2008). One the defining char- a mental attitude. Wearing a toga and wearing trou-
acteristics of the twentieth century has been the sers preclude and allow different sets of actions and
proliferation of artifacts purposefully designed to prescribe a different bodily hexis. In sum, objects
bring destruction on a large scale and aimed at civil- impose on us the necessity that is inscribed in them
ians. The concept of the mass destruction of cities (Boltanski, 1990, p. 141). They order and orches-
shaped a peculiar psychology in the industrialized trate our behavior and, in doing so, they play the
world even before cities were actually destroyed by role that Durkheim recognized to supra-individual
bombers. The abolition of time and space brought social norms inscribed in collective consciousness
about by modernity created at the same time a hith- (ibid.).
erto unheard-of sensation of extreme vulnerability Cognitive processes are not just distributed
(everybody, everywhere can be annihilated), which through people and things; they are also distributed
was further spread by the nuclear menace of the through time (Cole & Engeström, 1997, p. 19). Past
Cold War (Escalona, 1982). actions and events can condition the future actions
In sum, it is the whole life cycle of things and and events. Yet time is embedded in things and
people (from birth to death) that is ineluctably things have their own temporality, which does not
intertwined, and this implies looking simultane- have to coincide with human time (Olivier, 2008).
ously at how people use (and discard) things, and Actually, the temporality of things is entangled with
how things use (and destroy) people. However, the human temporalities in manifold and complex ways.
relationship between consumption and destruction Things are made in the past and conceived for the
is more ambivalent than one may think. We have to future: in this way, they abolish the radical divide
bear in mind that the destruction of objects may turn between past, present, and future (Witmore, 2006;
out to be liberating: iconoclasm has often played a González-Ruibal, 2006a). Therefore, the material
revolutionary role in the history of humankind. We environment has an outstanding capacity to exert
only have to remember episodes such as Luddism an influence in people, long time after their creators
(the destruction of machines by enraged workers in have passed away (Cole & Engeström, 1997, p. 9).
the early days of the Industrial Revolution) or the They continue to guide our actions and participate
destruction of the Berlin Wall. Similarly, consump- in our cognitive processes even when the original
tion can become alienating and create dependencies meanings of those artifacts have been deeply trans-
where there was none, a fact well known in situa- formed—for example, the plan of a Roman city
tions of culture contact. (Olivier, 2008). Something of the deep and more
Material culture has agency. This is perhaps abstract meaning of things, however, may still work
one of the most widely agreed tenets in current in the present in an unconscious manner. The com-
archeology and material culture studies (Gell, plex ways in which temporality is weaved into the
1998; Olsen, 2003; Gosden, 2005; Knappet & fabric of past objects has attracted the attention of
Malafouris, 2008) but also among psychologists: scholars outside the discipline. The case of Sigmund
This is what “active externalism” is all about—the Freud is well-known in the realm of psychology,
capacity of the environment to act upon us (Clark but many others have found inspiration in ruins:
& Chalmers, 1998, pp. 8–12). We could even argue Walter Benjamin, Alois Riegl, and Georg Simmel
that culture at large has agency thanks to material are three of the best-known examples of thinkers
culture. “Culture, reminds Valsiner (2007, p. 255), of ruination. It is the combination of a particular
regulates action . . . It opens some possibilities for temporality with the blurring of nature and cul-
acting, thinking and feeling, while simultaneously ture that has elicited more investigation (Simmel,
closing others.” For its very physical nature, materi- 1959, p. 260; see also Hetzler, 1988). This simul-
ality is in a privileged position to regulate social and taneous collapsing of nature and culture, present
individual action. It promotes, inhibits, or sets the and past bewilders modernity but not necessarily
pace of certain actions and operational sequences. other rationalities and time perspectives, where
A particular kind of key, for example, can force us Cartesian boundaries are less clear or simply absent

g o n z á l e z - ru i b a l 137
(cf. Descola, 2005). Meaningfully, the perception of
ruins is tightly linked to notions of landscape that
developed in northern Europe after the sixteenth
century (cf. Simmel, 2007). Our fascination with
ruins speaks volumes, then, about the peculiarities of
the Western mind in more than one respect. The “fas-
cination of patina” (Simmel, 1959, p. 262), on the
contrary, does not seem to be a Western prerogative,
as Alain Schnapp (1996) has proved: The ancient
Chinese, for example, already showed a keen inter-
est in the ruins of their ancestors and valued ancient
artifacts for their historical and aesthetic qualities.
Ancient bronze vessels from the Shang Dynasty
(mid-2nd millennium BC) achieved extraordinary
prizes among collectors and antiquarians, centuries
before Western-style archaeology arrived to China.
Sometimes material culture carries codified
symbolic information (Wobst, 1977; Schiffer,
1999), and it is often designed to be communica-
tive and representational (Hodder, 1994, p. 395):
for example, the choice of clothes, transmits infor-
mation on ethnic (Wobst, 1977) or social status
(Hodder, 1994, p. 395). Thus, we not only live Fig. 7.1 Trajan’s column in Rome. It depicts the conquest of
immersed in a material world but also in a material Dacia (modern Romania) by Emperor Trajan between 101 and
world that is full of, even saturated with, meaning. 106. Material culture here works like a text that can be read.
The advantage of material meanings is that they
are always at work. They do not normally need to However, most objects are not symbolic in
be activated to transmit information (like a myth the same way as a text: The relationship between
that has to be told or a story that has to be read material culture and meaning is seldom completely
from a book). Following the Peirceian terminology conventional and arbitrary. Unlike verbal sym-
(see Preucel, 2006, for an archaeological take on bols, material ones bear a direct material relation
the subject), we can say that material culture can to their referents (Beach, 1993). This is because
be iconic, indexical, or symbolic. A wedding ring is most artifacts are actually better understood as
an example of a material symbol (Knappet, 2002, indexes than as symbols (Knappet, 2002, p. 104;
pp. 103–104), whose explicit meaning is conven- Jones, 2007, p. 19). An example of an index is the
tional. Icons are another category of material signs young breasts modeled in mud that the Gumuz
that are clearly conceived to transmit coded infor- women of Ethiopia use to decorate their granaries
mation. Trajan’s column in the Roman Forum (Fig. 7.2). There is a relation of contiguity, typi-
(Fig. 7.1.), for example, is to be read as a commem- cal of indexes, between the breasts (representing
oration of a specific military victory (the conquest of human fertility) and the granary (representing the
Dacia, modern Romania, by the Roman army) and fertility of the fields). Furthermore, this indexical-
therefore has a well-structured and accessible icono- ity brings the whole body into play, blurring the
graphic program that combines images with written distinction between human and non-human mate-
text. Very often, artifacts carry at the same time iconic riality: By modeling breasts on mud, Gumuz girls
and symbolic information: Trajan’s column does not are extending the surface of their bodies beyond
just transmit an iconic message of military victory, it their anatomic limits. The meaning of material
is also a metaphor (a symbol) of imperial power. And culture is not just produced by social convention
in some cases the indexical, symbolic, and iconic are but also through pragmatic understandings of
combined. Consider World War I memorials that the material world—the relationship between the
incorporate actual elements from the war (such as breasts and the fertility of the fields is based on a
a rusty bomb shell), symbolic representations of the real, indexical connection between two reproduc-
nation, and iconic representations of soldiers. tive processes.

138 arc heolog y and t he st udy o f mat e ria l cu ltu re


Figure 7.2 Decoration of a Gumuz granary
in western Ethiopia. An indexical sign that
works in practice.

This is related to another point: the relationship prehistoric and historic times. For a long time, the
between material culture and practice (Hodder, issue of how persons are constituted as such was
1994, p. 396). Most of the time, material culture undertheorized in the discipline, as opposed to his-
works through the evocation of sets of practices tory and anthropology. The panorama started to
that are not discursively perceived and that, some- change in the 1980s, with the import of postmod-
times, cannot be put into words. A roof tile is not ern interests in individual agency and identity, and
meant to consciously represent anything, to convey by the 1990s many archeologists were looking for
any explicit meaning (as Trajan’s column or even the individuals in the past (e.g., Meskell, 1999). The
Gumuz granary). But this does not mean that they post-processual take on personhood came under
are not meaningful. They are enmeshed in cultural severe criticism in the early 2000s because of their
practices and systems of meanings that involve other anachronistic nature. Critics point out that by try-
artifacts, ideas, memories, bodily gestures, speech ing to find individual agents in other cultures, the
acts and built spaces: a kitchen knife may not have highly individualized late capitalist person is being
any powerful symbolic meaning attached, yet the projected onto past societies, which are thus per-
(culturally mediated) associations it can bring to ceived as amalgamations of self-conscious individu-
mind are many and varied. They are certainly not als endowed with fluid and changeable identities
the same if the knife is in a kitchen, at an airport in constant negotiation (Casella & Fowler, 2005).
control, or flashing in a dark alley. As archaeologists The interest in particular individual lives came
insist, context is vital to understand things. Context along with the introduction of the post-modern
and things together allow us to behave in prac- politics of identity (age, class, race, gender, sex,
tice. Material culture is therefore tightly related to nationality, ethnicity) in the discipline, which fur-
practical knowledge that allows us to act in specific ther fragmented prehistoric and historic identities
domains of action (Hodder, 1994, p. 398). along post-modern lines (Díaz-Andreu et al., 2005).
Starting from the concept of material culture out- Although post-processual archeology has been rele-
lined above, I will address now four main concerns vant in expanding the research agenda and in point-
of archeology and psychology where it is possible ing out the relevance of identity and personhood,
to see how the discipline of things can contribute the approach has resulted in a transformation of all
to the project of cultural psychology: personhood, past societies into a sort of distorted mirror image of
emotion, space, and memory. our own late modern existences.
Archeologists like Felipe Criado (2001) and
Self and Personhood Almudena Hernando (2002) were among the first
The last decade has witnessed an important debate to call for a more critical exploration of selfhood
in archeology concerning the idea of personhood in in the past, drawing upon anthropological and

g o n z á l e z - ru i b a l 139
historical theory. They emphasized the collective societies normally produce a proliferation of dis-
and relational nature of prehistoric concepts of tinct artifacts and categories of artifacts to satisfy a
personhood, an idea that was later independently myriad of tastes that are enmeshed in complex social
developed in the Anglo-Saxon archeological tradi- strategies (Bourdieu, 1984). Nevertheless, even in
tion (Fowler, 2004). British archeologists relied on collective cultures, there are people that tend to
Melanesist anthropology—particularly in the work develop more individuality than others. Ritual spe-
of Marilyn Strathern (1988)—to support their per- cialists in segmentary societies, for example, tend to
spectives on prehistoric personhood. Strathern con- use a very peculiar material culture and wear extrav-
tends that the Melanesian person is not individual, agant clothes and adornments (Devlet, 2001). We
but “dividual,” multiply constituted through rela- have to understand this not just as a mere symbol of
tions with other persons. Besides being dividual, status or a materialization of mythologies but also
members of Melanesian societies are also partible. as an index of the more individualized self of the
They are composed of different substances inherited ritual specialists, which leads them to channel their
from the parents or acquired through kinship and need for differentiation through the use of artifacts.
affinal relations. In certain contexts, such as mar- Actually, following a symmetrical approach, we
riage, ceremonial exchanges, and death, persons can could say that extraordinary objects and apparel are
be decomposed—they give away parts of their selves indistinguishable from the ritual specialist’s self: the
in the guise of pigs and other valuables. But the bod- shaman or diviner is a very particular cyborg within
ies themselves are conceived as decomposable, too: a society of more homogenous cyborgs. Similarly,
people can detach from parts of their own bodies as even in highly individualized societies, there are
well as attach to themselves parts (or substances) of material elements that reinforce the ties between
other peoples’ bodies. Relational identities have also different members of the community and therefore
been described as fractal and permeable (Fowler, have a very important psychological role. In the case
2004), as opposed to the bounded and indivisible of late modern Western society, we can see this in
self of modernity. Currently, there is a widespread the urban tribes that resort to the same clothing and
belief in archeology that self-identity is either rela- items to create a sense of belonging among their
tional (most prehistoric societies), and suspiciously members.
similar to the Melanesian self depicted by Strathern,
or individual and well-bound (historical and, espe- Relational Identities
cially, modern Western societies). This dual schema Relational identities were prevalent in the world
reminds the independent/interdependent distinc- at least until the sixteenth century AD. It was prob-
tion proposed by Markus and Kitayama (1991) and ably not before the twentieth century that the indi-
is sometimes perceived in too radical terms. LiPuma vidual self came to dominate globally. Relational
(1998) considers that we have to take into account identities are characterized by a series of material
elements of individuality in the construction of the markers, some of which explicitly encode informa-
self among non-modern societies and, similarly, ele- tion about the identity of a particular community,
ments of relationality (or dividuality) in societies whereas others are of a rather unconscious nature.
with highly individualized persons. For Hernando Among those objects that explicitly encode social
(2008, p. 68), both relational and individual iden- information, we may consider bows and arrows
tities have at least one thing in common: they are (Wiessner, 1982; Pétrequin & Pétrequin, 1990). In
both fantasies, creations of the human mind whose many cultures, arrows have an assertive character—
aim is to neutralize the anxiety that would cause the that is, they express personal identity, craftsman-
true understanding of the powerlessness that defines ship, and taste. However, they also convey, in a very
our relation to the world. And what could be better explicit way, information about the identity of the
to give an appearance of solidity to a fantasy than group to which the person who made the arrows
material culture? belongs. Thus, the Ye-Ineri, an ethnic group from
Materiality is deeply involved in the construction Irian Jaya (New Guinea), make different arrows
of both relational and individual selves. Societies depending on age, function of the arrow (war or
where relational forms of identity prevail tend to hunting), and personal ability. However, it is still
produce homogeneous objects and styles that under- possible to distinguish easily a bundle of arrows
score the shared identity and relations between from the Ye-Ineri group and a bundle of arrows
members of the society, whereas individualistic from the Tangma community. Whereas in a society

140 arc heolog y and t he st udy o f mat e ria l cu ltu re


where independent selves prevail there are scarce during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
limits to personal innovation, among the Ye-Ineri and the evolution of independent selves from col-
and Tangma, despite an apparent liberty, the lim- lective ones—a phenomenon that has its correlates
its are very well-demarcated. The boundaries for in the organization of domestic space and refuse
personal creativity are enforced in daily practice disposal. The relevance of the technologies of food
through moral sanctions and social disapproval consumption for shaping a collective self is clearly
that do not necessarily imply explicit verbal con- visible among many Sub-Saharan communities.
demnation. A way of curtailing personal creativity The case of the Komo is telling. They are a highly
in a society of interdependent self is not buying, egalitarian small-scale society of slash-and-burn
exchanging, or accepting in ritualized occasions (or agriculturalists, who live in villages of less than
accepting grudgingly) those artifacts that clearly 200 inhabitants in the Sudanese-Ethiopian border-
deviate from the norm. land (Theis, 1995). As in other neighboring groups
Some artifacts and technical knowledge in (James, 1988), community values are continuously
societies of interdependent self are so crucial in enforced in daily life. One of the mechanisms for
promoting identity that they can be considered buttressing a communal identity is the working
technologies of the self, following Foucault (1988), party: a family calls relatives and neighbors to lend
but rather than an individual self, they help create a a hand with the harvest or the building of a hut
collective self. Unlike items that bear explicit ethnic and, in compensation, provide food and beer. The
information (such as bows and arrows), technolo- artifacts and the body gestures employed in these
gies of the collective self are often unconscious or, rituals are essential for the perpetuation of rela-
at least, beyond verbal discourse. A good example is tional selves (Fig. 7.3): Everybody forms a circle
the technology of food consumption. This technol- and drinks from the same big pot using straws, giv-
ogy includes artifacts, body techniques, and oper- ing their backs to the outer world and their faces
ational sequences. Changes to the technology of to neighbors and relatives (González-Ruibal et al.,
food consumption often imply dramatic transfor- 2009, p. 60). A sense of solidarity is extraordinarily
mations in society and identity: Deetz (1996, pp. reinforced in this way.
86–87) has equated the evolution from commu- Relational identities are also expressed in the way
nal vessels to individual dishes in North America the dead are treated. It seems logical that if persons

Figure 7.3 A group of Opuuo (a people closely related to the Komo), drink beer from a common pot in a working party
(western Ethiopia).

g o n z á l e z - ru i b a l 141
are considered partible and decomposable, their Individual Identities
bodies are too (Jones, 2005). Burials from Europe The strong development of individuality in the
and the Near East during the Mesolithic (i.e., the West since the fifteenth century comes hand-in-
period of the last hunter-gatherers before the emer- hand with an extraordinary increase in the number
gence of agriculture in the Old World) often kept and variety of artifacts through which new, diverse,
only disarticulated bones (Verjux, 2007), because and often conflictual selves were channeled and
the human remains were buried after a period of constituted: gardens (Leone, 1984), houses and
exposure to the elements or because the bones were headstones (Deetz, 1996), portraits (Burke, 1995),
dug up and reburied. These practices continued and even toothpicks (MacLean, 2009). Some of
with the first agrarian communities in the period these items are used in a communicative manner to
known as Neolithic (Thomas, 2000). Some egalitar- consciously display personal and social taste and sta-
ian societies still practice, or practiced until recently, tus—that is, as symbols: clothes, silver, or chinaware
secondary burials. That is the case of the Uduk of (Goodwin, 1999; Schneider, 2006, pp. 206–207).
Sudan (James, 1988), who used to dig out one or In other cases, things become intrinsically related
more of the bones of a recent tomb, anoint them with the self in an unconscious manner—this is
with red ochre, and return them to the grave, a the case of toothbrushes and other items of per-
ceremony that was meaningfully called “Settling sonal hygiene and bodily care (Gaitán, 2005), as
the Grave” (James, 1988, p. 131). The idea was to well as writing and reading materials (Hall, 2000,
ensure that the spirit could make a complete and pp. 80–83). Both categories of artifacts are related
clean break from the body (ibid., p. 127). The skull, in that they have to do with ideas of care (physi-
in particular, tends to receive a differential treat- cal or psychical), and they are therefore crucial in
ment in many cultures. Modified and decorated fostering and cultivating the individual self. In this
skulls abounded during the late Mesolithic period sense, they are technologies of the self (Foucault,
in the Levant (Kuijt, 1996), and this practice is 1988; Fowler, 2004, p. 13) but also “core objects,”
well-known from ethnographic contexts in areas as Boesch (1991, p. 333) has called them: “one
like Melanesia (Zegwaard, 1959). Kuijt (1996) which, by its usages and ritual connectedness,
interprets skull removal and other mortuary prac- appears to be vital for the definition of a culture.”
tices (such as lack of grave goods) in the Near East as A particular technology of the self that has devel-
part of the strategies developed by complex hunter- oped since the mid-sixteenth century in the context
gatherers and incipient agriculturalists to limit the of the Counter-Reformation has been the material
accumulation of power and authority. culture of bodily discipline. Whips, sticks, cingula,
As people are perceived as inseparable from and cilices (Brandão & Nassaney, 2008) were aimed
the collective in relational cultures, tombs are at purifying the self by mortifying the sinful body.
often collective. The skeletons of different people Although cilices have been used since Antiquity,
appear mingled together and sometimes it is dif- their success in early modernity has to be related
ficult to refit individual bodies (Fowler, 2001). to the progressive imposition of dualistic ideas that
Sometimes, even animal bones appear mixed with created a divide between mind and body—the first
human remains: this probably means the relational being equated with the self (and soul)—and the
self included relations with non-humans as well increasing importance of the individual person and
(Descola, 2005). The treatment of the deceased was individual salvation.
a very straightforward way of transmitting ideas of It would be wrong, however, to think that tech-
the self and community in the broad sense. There nologies of the individual self exist only in moder-
seems to have been a tendency among those societ- nity or in evolved state societies, such as the Greek
ies where corpses and bones were manipulated not and Roman world examined by Foucault (1988).
to hide away the event of death, as opposed to soci- Technologies of bodily care that evince a strong
eties with only one death ritual. In fact, many of awareness of the individual self have developed since
the rituals of excarnation, dismemberment, burial, the mid-2nd millennium BC in Bronze Age Europe,
and reburial of bones were attended by the entire when razors and mirrors, dress pins, and individu-
group, and sometimes parts of the dead were ritu- alized weaponry became widespread among elites
ally consumed (Conklin, 1995; Boulestin, 2009), (Treherne, 1995). Those items were indispensable
which is the most powerful way of showing a sense to constitute individual selves in the midst of rather
of community. homogeneous communities.

142 arc heolog y and t he st udy o f mat e ria l cu ltu re


The difference with modernity is that technolo- group differences through artifacts, but she will also
gies of the self and individualized material culture become aware of her own uniqueness as an individ-
become extremely generalized, eventually cutting ual through the use of particular objects and through
across social classes, race, and gender. In our global- the consumption choices that she will be compelled
ized, late capitalist world, almost everybody wants to make (Baudrillard, 1968, pp. 196–197): toys,
to be unique. In fact, artifacts in modernity can be a clothes, books, cars, DVDs, web-blogs. From her
powerful way of holding the self together in disrup- earliest childhood, she will recognize herself in pho-
tive scenarios, such as civil conflicts, wars, and dic- tographs. She will learn that her self is modifiable
tatorships. Artifacts may help to link one with his or but not decomposable, both in its physicality, in its
her self prior to the traumatic experience (e.g., the social attachments, and in its psychic qualities. She
handicrafts made by prisoners) (López Mazz, 2009, will read self-help books or philosophy, sculpt her
pp. 39–41) or to create a new self, which incorpo- body in the gym, or operate her breasts. Yet there
rates (and domesticates) the traumatic experience. is a limit to what an individual can become even in
This is the case of trench art, the artifacts produced modern societies: prisons, reform schools, and asy-
by soldiers in World War I (Saunders, 2009). lums are institutions that model the deviated self
To summarize, material culture is fundamental in through all kinds of material and immaterial tools
constituting the self as relational or independent and (Foucault, 1975; Casella, 2007), which, again, are
the whole spectrum between one possibility and the aimed at the individual person—individual cells,
other. A child belonging to a small-scale, egalitarian solitary confinement cells, psychological assistance.
community will arrive to a homogenous world in
which all artifacts look the same and private posses- Emotion and Material Culture
sions are minimal—he will associate himself with Emotional experience is universal, but emotions
sameness rather than difference. Through those arti- are culturally variable, as anthropologists have abun-
facts (houses, pots, or cultivated fields), the child dantly demonstrated (Lutz & White, 1986; Tarlow,
will learn to live in a society where relations among 2000a): cultural meanings, experiences, and values
humans and non-humans are more important than attached to emotions vary from society to society.
individual persons. Furthermore, as the child grows, According to Shweder:
he will progressively use technologies of the collec-
To understand the emotional life of a person is to
tive self—that is, techniques, technical knowledge,
understand the types of feelings (anger, envy, fear,
and artifacts that make him relate to others and that
depersonalization, shame, joy, love, homesickness,
will constitute his psychical existence as part of a
and so on) felt by that person, the distribution and
communal body—for example, weapons and strat-
frequency of those feelings across time and context,
egies used in communal hunting or spindles and
the kind of situations that elicit them, the wishes
songs in communal weaving ceremonies. In some
and fantasies that occur with them and the action
cases, such as in many societies of hunter-gather-
tendencies set off by them.
ers, private possessions are reduced to almost nil.
(1991, p. 242)
Everything has to be given away if someone asks for
it (and vice versa: one is allowed to use almost every- What can be the contribution of archeology to
thing from everybody). The boy who is born in a explain the emotional life of individuals and societ-
community of relational self will never see or make ies? We have to take into account that emotions are
an iconic representation of himself, only idealized not always easily verbalized, especially overwhelm-
representations of Men, Women, Ancestors, Gods, ing emotions—what Valsiner (2007, p. 312) calls
and everything in between. By attending funerals “hyper-abstracted and over-generalized higher level
where bodies are manipulated, carved up, buried, total feelings.” Actually, feelings themselves cannot
dug up, and reburied, he will learn to perceive his be observed, only indexes of them (gestures, facial
body as plastic and decomposable, a continuum in movements, heartbeats) (Shweder, 1991, p. 242),
the mass of human and animal bodies that populate and indexes are the raw material with which arche-
the world. ologists work. Besides, emotions are often triggered,
If we consider now a girl born in a late modern, oriented, or conditioned by the material world
highly individualistic society, we will see her exposed (Valsiner, 2008).
from her birth to a highly differentiated mate- Emotion has figured prominently in recent
rial world. She will learn to understand social and archeological debates (Tarlow, 2000a). The basic

g o n z á l e z - ru i b a l 143
problem is how can we actually know what other with the material world is central to experience, and
peoples experienced in the past? Unlike ethnogra- the materiality of the body offers some possibilities
phers, archeologists rarely have the opportunity of experience and precludes others (Tilley, 1994).
of an intersubjective experience—or “subjective Thus, cold, heat, hunger, or pain—although con-
pilgrimage,” as Valsiner (2007, p. 311) aptly puts ceived in different ways and endured to different
it—with living people. In the case of historical arche- degrees by different cultures—affect all human bod-
ology, this can be somehow mitigated through the ies, and these have limits as to what they can see and
use of texts (including personal diaries and letters). interact with from a certain topographical position.
For illiterate societies, the problem we face might Also, the materiality of the landscape itself has not
be deemed insurmountable. We are forced to make changed much in many cases: the physical environ-
inferences based on analogies with similar societies ment interacts with physical human bodies in spe-
documented ethnographically as well as on our own cific ways, irrespective of culture (Tilley, 2004).
subjective experience. The latter has been the object The important point to bear in mind is that the
of much discussion. Since Christopher Tilley’s semi- emotions archeologists are better able to retrieve are
nal book, A Phenomenology of Landscape (1994), the those related to hyper-abstracted and overgeneral-
philosophical insights of phenomenology have been ized feelings—the kind of feelings one has when
widely applied to prehistoric archeology, especially entering a gothic cathedral, a megalithic tomb, or
in the British Isles (Brück, 2005). Interest in past a prison cell. Instead of trying to discern in detail
feelings has led, in some cases, to subjective excesses particular emotions, archeologists are at their best
and to a trivialization of phenomenological theory when they explore the material mechanisms that
(cf. critique in Olsen, 2006). However, most arche- trigger those emotions in different cultural con-
ologists have avoided both the most objectivist and texts. In which places was the greater investment
the most subjectivist positions, adopting nuanced made in material devices oriented toward affection?
perspectives. Therefore, there are those who, from a Which spaces were more emotionally charged?
relativistic and constructivist stance, stress the enor- Those related to collective identity, political power,
mous difficulty of approaching subjective experi- religion, punishment, individual achievement, life,
ences of people belonging to other cultures (Tarlow, death, liminal states? Which spaces displayed more
2000a; Brück, 2005), even if basic human similari- varied devices for triggering sentiment?
ties across cultures are acknowledged. On the other If a place is emotionally invested to a high
hand, there are those who emphasize our ability degree, it can help us know the importance of such
to connect with past senses of place through our place in society, as well as the activities related to
own bodily experience (Tilley, 1994), although they that place—for example, tombs of children in the
accept that specific meanings and precise feelings West are often overcharged with indexes of affec-
mostly escape the archeologist. tion. It is difficult not to feel moved by some of
Admittedly, access to particular emotions of other these tombs displaying a variety of toys, teddy
cultures from material remains alone is extremely bears, letters, photographs and flowers. This is
difficult and always requires some sort of cultural because children are not supposed to die in an
translation. There is no true immediate experience industrialized society but also because childhood
of the past: in the case of prehistoric societies, we has been marked as a well-defined and valuable
are dealing with people who had a wholly differ- period of human life mostly in modernity (Ariès,
ent cosmology and rationality, which deeply shaped 1987). On the contrary, in many pre-industrial
their perceptions of the world (Thomas, 2004, societies, child tombs are very inconspicuous, and
pp. 216–217; Brück, 2005, pp. 54–55). Nevertheless, in some prehistoric cultures they were not even
we can still have some access to past emotions with- buried at all (Scott, 1999). However, prehistoric or
out resorting to texts. On the one hand, the work ancient societies should not all necessarily show the
of cultural psychologists has proved that most basic same kind of emotional behavior, although some
emotions (such as anger, disgust, fear, happiness, tendencies applied. In her study of the Egyptian
sadness, and surprise) appear in most cultures, village of Deir el-Medina (late 2nd millennium BC),
although they are expressed in very different ways Meskell (1999) proposed that the death of children
(Heine, 2010). After all, there is a shared biological was experienced as a painful event, based on the
basis that explains human emotion. On the other elaborated burials of non-aristocratic children and
hand, the physical engagement of the human body on contemporary texts.

144 arc heolog y and t he st udy o f mat e ria l cu ltu re


Emotional Framing of Political Lives Neolithic Europe
Another case has to do with elements of affection Megalithic tombs were built all over Western
in political life. Political celebrations tend to mobi- Europe by early farmers during the period known as
lize different kinds of emotions: power is sensuous Neolithic (i.e., between the early fifth and early third
and corporeal, and not just in premodern societ- millennia BC). They were the first monumental, col-
ies (Kus, 1989; Mbembe, 2000; Linke, 2006). As lective tombs—the first monuments at all—in most
Tarlow (2000a, p. 719) reminds: places where they were built (Fig. 7.4). During the
second millennium BC, monumental burials still
“Hegemony and authority in social contexts are
existed in different places of Europe, such as south-
constituted through such emotional experiences
ern Britain and southern Portugal, but they were
as awe, respect, fear, shame, and guilt, as well as
erected for individual persons or particular power-
familiarity and security.”
ful families. Megalithic tombs soon developed into
These emotional experiences are framed by material a very complex architecture with immense possibili-
apparatuses. However, emotion in political contexts ties to shape and direct emotion. Subtle changes in
varies wildly from culture to culture. To use two temperature, texture, darkness and light, sound,
opposite examples: Versailles was devised so as to and visibility configured very particular experiences
arouse overwhelming feelings of superhuman gran- of community, death, afterlife, and the sacred. Also,
deur, a fact that fits well with a divine conception the tomb itself was not the only important element
of power. A place that is known by its address (10 for framing social experiences. Tombs were inserted
Downing Street) on the contrary, is completely bereft in meaningful landscapes in which other monu-
of material devices to trigger emotion, although ments and natural features interacted to create a
these may arise for different motivations. This sense of place (Tilley, 1994). During the last decade,
speaks eloquently about the conception of power in there have been many attempts to avoid intuitive
contemporary liberal democratic societies. approaches to Neolithic emotions. Archeologists
try to provide contrasted accounts of the ways in
Death and Emotion: Neolithic Europe which “hyper-abstracted and over-generalized feel-
and the Modern West ings” were fostered and enhanced inside tombs
Understanding emotion in context, then, helps us and in megalithic landscapes. Regarding landscape,
understand culture. In what follows, we will look at Geographical Information Systems (GIS) have been
a place loaded with emotion—cemeteries—in two used to recover the way it was experienced in the
different cultural environments: Neolithic Western past in a more objective manner (e.g., Criado &
Europe and Euro-American modernity. Villoch, 2000; Llobera, 2003; Wallace, 2007). GIS

Figure 7.4 A megalithic tomb from Galicia


(Spain) after excavation. Ritual activities
took place around the mound, in front of the
entrance and inside between 3800 BC and
2700 BC.

g o n z á l e z - ru i b a l 145
analyses allow making visible connections, which speech, and movement could have been used to pro-
are unknown or known intuitively, between differ- voke an altered state of mind. The issue of sound has
ent monuments and natural features. received significant attention. Watson and Keating
Megalithic tombs were open monuments in (1999), for example, analyzed the particular sounds
which rituals took place and where corpses were of a stone circle (a sort of sanctuary or shrine) and
being buried, exhumed, and reburied in a regu- a passageway-type megalithic tomb. The authors
lar basis. They are excellent examples of “scripted of the research discovered that a single drum was
dramatic everyday life situations” (Valsiner, 2007, capable of generating approximately 4 Hz to 5 Hz
p. 250) that are crucial in the psychological devel- at between 120 decibels and 130 decibels inside
opment of human beings. Overwhelming feelings a megalithic tomb, a level of exposure that could
were achieved through different means: one is the result in balance disturbance, pressure on the ears,
art that covers part of the huge stones (Fig. 7.5). speaking difficulties, vibration, drowsiness, and
Unlike in the modern world, art was not a normal headaches. Also involved in enhancing experience
occurrence in the Neolithic. People did not live in and creating meaning was texture, which involved
an “ornamented world” (Valsiner, 2008) as we do. touching and therefore a bodily experience of the
Thus, entering a profusely engraved tomb must monument (Cummings, 2002). In this context, it
have certainly been regarded as a liminal event, an is worth remembering, with Warnier the basic role
entrance into another world—and it is precisely of the skin in the ontogenesis of the human subject:
entrances and passages that are most often deco- “The psyche is constructed as an envelope by ‘anacli-
rated (Bradley, 1989). Sensations were probably sis’ on the anatomical-physiological functions of the
enhanced, at least in some cases, with the use of skin” (2006, p. 187). Here, anaclisis is understood
consciousness-altering substances, which interacted as related to a process by which psychic experiences
with the images to foster hallucinations and visions build on—or are propped against—bodily motions
(Dronfield, 1995a, 1995b). The images—spirals, and emotions. Differences between smooth and
lozenges, arcs, meanders, and curves—are thought rough surfaces in megaliths could have triggered dif-
to be inspired in the visions themselves. Dronfield ferent emotional responses and be imbued with dif-
(1995b, p. 547) proved that Irish passage-tomb art ferent meanings. Finally, the textures of light must
is fundamentally “similar to (as opposed to merely have been very important in the megalithic expe-
resembling) arts derived from endogenous subjec- rience. Light is manipulated in many architectural
tive vision.” traditions to orient emotional responses (Bille &
However, it is not strictly necessary to consider Sorensen, 2007). Although similar effects to those
the use of drugs to explain the way the mind was of megaliths could have been previously achieved
altered inside the tomb. Songs, sounds, dancing, in natural spaces, such as caves, by hunter-gatherers

Figure 7.5 A decorated slab from the megalithic tomb of Knowth in Ireland.

146 arc heolog y and t he st udy o f mat e ria l cu ltu re


(Reznikoff & Dauvois, 1988; Waller, 1993), the emotion. And with good reason—as we saw in the
difference is that megaliths were the first explicit case of megaliths, a redundant, saturated material
attempt at creating and manipulating sensory con- environment was fundamental in triggering and
ditions to affect the subject in an artificial way. amplifying emotions.
The relevance of megalithic tombs in the social One of the main differences between modern
lives of early agriculturalists should not be underes- and pre-modern cemeteries is the prevalence of
timated. As I have pointed out, these were regular visual experience and visual codes in the former,
arenas for social interaction (much more than mod- in line with the enormous importance conferred
ern cemeteries). The term tomb is misleading for us, to the sense of vision in modernity (Levin, 1993).
as we divide the world of the dead and that of the Although hearing still plays a role (choirs, ser-
living in a very clear-cut way and try to avoid any mons, reading of religious texts), bodily senses are
contact with the former. In addition, the megaliths less prominent than in non-modern communities.
were probably used if not by the whole community, Tombs (much less corpses) are not designed to be
at least by a large part of it, including children and touched or to have a particular sound—and human
adolescents. Although the most secluded parts of remains do not smell. The experience of death is
the tomb could have been accessed only by a few, sober, clean, individual, and introspective. The
the ceremonies in the necropolises were attended suburban cemeteries that spread through northern
in all likelihood by the entire group. Watson and Europe from the late eighteenth century onward—
Keating (1999) proved that sounds made inside a particularly the Anglo-American garden cemetery
megalithic tomb could be heard outside, emerging (Tarlow, 2000b)—played a prominent role in shap-
from the passage entrance. Megaliths, then, were ing the emotions of death as individually experi-
an essential element in the emotional economy enced. Garden cemeteries were located in pastoral
of the early European farmers. The rituals carried locations. This was justified on hygienic grounds,
out inside and around the tombs were emotionally but in fact, it was not only physical dirt and pollu-
intense and involved the whole community: actually, tion that preoccupied urban reformers but also the
they helped reinforce the sense of community—and moral and emotional cleanliness that the new cem-
communitas (Turner, 2002). The sensorial quali- eteries brought with them (Tarlow, 2000b, p. 227).
ties of the megaliths enhanced the experience and The isolated tombs and the manicured landscape
channeled and amplified the emotions. The relation had a double effect (Fig. 7.6): On the one hand,
with the deceased and with the ancestors was very they calmed down and sifted emotions, fostered
close: One literally entered the house of the dead introspection, and enabled self-reflective attitudes
and manipulated the bones of one’s relatives. (just the opposite of emotionally loaded, collective
megaliths). On the other hand, they permitted the
The Modern Western World experience of emotions (even the more violent ones
Quite the opposite is the case of modern cem- that one could not restrain) without being seen by
eteries. Despite cycles of ostentation and restrain in many people, a situation of relative intimacy that
funerary ceremonies, the general trend in European could hardly be achieved in overcrowded city
and North American funerals during the nine- churchyards.
teenth and twentieth centuries has been toward Although similar trends toward suburban,
the restriction of emotions. For the last hundred hygienic cemeteries have existed in southern Europe
years, ostentation in tombs and funerals has been from the mid-eighteenth century (Calatrava, 1991),
regarded in most Western societies as a sign of bad there are important national differences. Anglo-
taste and low or marginal status (Cannon, 1994, Saxon cemeteries are much more individual-oriented
p. 440; Parker-Pearson, 1982, pp. 104–107). This than Mediterranean ones. In the United Kingdom,
process has been explained on economic and social the United States, and other places with a strong
grounds—investments in status markers changing Protestant tradition, tombs are individual and sit-
from funerary display to other realms to main- uated wide apart in vast cemeteries. On the con-
tain class distinctions. However, there seems to trary, in Spain and other Mediterranean countries,
be deeper reasons for this general trend toward tombs are often cramped together around churches,
more sober cemeteries and rituals: It seems that an often in multi-niche structures (Tarlow, 2000b,
excess of materiality in funerary ceremonies and p. 222)—a translation to the material world of
tombs was unconsciously equated with an excess of a more relational identity within a culture of the