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Culture and Psychology: Conceptual, Investigative and Methodological Strategies

Culture and Psychology: Conceptual, Investigative and Methodological Strategies

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Culture and Psychology: Conceptual, Investigative and Methodological Strategies

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  1. Culture and Psychology:Conceptual, Investigative and Methodological Strategies James M. Nelson Department of Psychology Valparaiso University

  2. Presentation Overview • Conceptual issues: the nature of culture • Definitions • History and current role of culture studies in psychology • Traditional approaches and critique • Investigative issues: • the scientific epistemological cycle • cross-cultural vs. cultural psychology paradigms • emic vs. etic strategies

  3. Overview (cont.) • Methodological issues: • quantitative approaches and limitations • qualitative approaches • Quantitative example • Qualitative example • Conclusions and further directions • Appendix: Specific qualitative approaches • Bibliography • Notes at:

  4. Conceptual Issues:The Nature of Culture

  5. Definitions • Widely varying uses of the term culture in Western scholarship (see e.g. Tanner, 1997) • Originally related to aesthetics • Changed and broadened with birth of Anthropology in 19th century • E.B. Tylor (1871): “Culture or Civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”

  6. Definitions (cont.) • Change to meaning-construction and symbolic action with Clifford Geertz • “Believing with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.” (Geertz, 1973, p. 5). • Possibly more popular outside of Anthropology than within; attacked by both traditional and postmodern anthropologists.

  7. Definitions (cont.) • Overall we can say that culture is a matrix of things that • is helpful in understanding the behavior of groups and individuals within the group • includes internal characteristics like beliefs and values • includes external things like behavior, practices, rituals and physical artifacts • emphasizes social/interpersonal relationality and meaning-making as human characteristics • has a profound interrelationship with language

  8. Definitions (cont.) • Study of culture has used different metaphors; examples include: • Early American historical particularists (e.g. Franz Boas) and British functionalists (e.g. Bronislaw Malinowski) and Salvage Ethnography • British social anthropology (e.g. E.E. Evans-Pritchard) and Cultural Translation • Later American anthropology (e.g. Margaret Mead, George Marcus & Michael Fischer) and Cultural Critique • Postmodern anthropology (e.g. Stephen Tyler) and Interreferential Dialogue

  9. History of the Culture Conceptin Psychology • Prior to 1960’s, mostly only a little work by social psychologists • In 1960’s development of two movements • Cross-cultural psychology, with focus on culture in international context, fueled by • proliferation of work outside of US • expansion of interest outside social psychology to clinical/psychiatric, educational and I/O areas • Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology (1970) • Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry (1977) • Ethnic psychology, with focus on culture and race in US, fueled by domestic concerns (civil rights, etc.)

  10. History (cont.) • Work in psychology begun at a time when old paradigms in anthropology were being reworked but modernist/objectivist assumptions were largely intact • some new writers like Geertz (Interpretation of Cultures, 1973) or Levi-Strauss (Structural Anthropology, 1963), or the cognitive anthropologists (e.g. Ward Goodenough) espoused views of culture that were in part compatible with psychological approaches

  11. History (cont.) • cultural ecology (e.g. Marvin Harris) was a prominent theory in American anthropology, which was oriented toward the etic approach and influenced some psychologists (e.g. John Ogbu in early 1980s) • postmodern questioning of reflexivity/subjectivity in anthropology didn’t really begin until the writings of James Clifford and George Marcus (e.g. Clifford & Marcus (1986), Writing Culture; Marcus & Fisher, (1986) Anthropology as Cultural Critique); this now dominates mainstream anthropology and has had some more recent influence in psychology (e.g. Shweder, 1991 or Ratner, 1997: cultural psychology)

  12. Current Role of Culture in Psychology: Why Study It? • Changes in makeup of the American population and corresponding mental health needs have increased need for study and clinical training in culture-related issues • Integration in clinical training programs • Large recent immigration has opened dialogue between cross-cultural and ethnic studies psychologists

  13. Current Role (cont.) • Globalization has vastly increased the number and visibility of psychologists outside of North America • Numerous international associations and journals • Largely based on Western methods and issues (e.g. organizational psychology, but some indigenous approaches

  14. Traditional Views of Culture in Psychology • Culture as national group: studying culture = studying Chinese, Native Americans etc. • Culture as monolithic entity: a cultural description involves fundamental beliefs and practices held by all members of the group • Culture as crisp set (Valsiner, 2000): cultures are clearly defined and not intermixed • Culture as static entity: cultural features are relatively unchanging

  15. Critique of Traditional View • Culture as group • This view promote simple group comparisons, which easily find differences but provide no helpful explanation or understanding of the differences • Alternative: culture is a system or cluster of systems related to meaning, thought and behavior; the systems should be the variables, not the group; thus simple descriptive group comparisons are not as useful as complex inferential or rich “thick” descriptive models

  16. Critique (cont.) • Culture as monolithic entity: within group variance is greater than between group variance in many cases • Culture as crisp set: cultures have complex intermixing due to globalization; they are “fuzzy sets” (Valsiner) • Culture as static entity: situation undergoing constant change--culture can be seen as adaptation of a group to a set of social and environmental circumstances

  17. Investigative Issues

  18. Investigative Issues:Section Overview • The scientific epistemological cycle • Investigative approaches in culture research: • Cross-cultural psychology • Cultural psychology • Types of Studies • Emic and etic • The Cultural Quadrilateral

  19. Scientific epistemological cycle • Data • -->induction to • Theory and Model • -->specification to • Hypotheses • -->deductive testing with • Data

  20. Scientific Cycle (cont.) • Important issue: empiricism • Science is empirical so we ultimately base our conclusions about the world on data • All parts of the cycle are important but not always used • the process of an inductive openness to the data in the creation of our theories is weak in psychology • can produce misleading or trivial results • the deductive process of specification and hypothesis testing is weak in anthropology • Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) vs. • Derek Freeman, Margaret Mead and Samoa (1983)

  21. Scientific Cycle (cont.) • Important issues: quantification • Since Galileo, science has sought mathematical models to help understand the world, in part because these models best facilitate the goals of prediction and control • A mathematically based process of inquiry is naturally more open to quantitative methods of research • However, some parts of the research process (e.g. induction from data) may require non-mathematical approaches for their full treatment • Mathematical models have other limitations, e.g. don’t address issues of meaning, context

  22. Investigative Approachesin Culture Research • Cross-Cultural Psychology • concerns the explanation of differences--and sometimes similarities--in the behavior of people belonging to different cultures using the scientific method as practiced in psychology • focus on the individual in group context • different methodology (deductive, quantitative) from sociology (theory focused), anthropology (description focused)

  23. Investigative Approaches (cont.) • Cultural psychology • “…the study of the way cultural traditions and social practices regulate, express, and transform the human psyche, resulting less in psychic unity for humankind than in ethnic divergences in mind, self, and emotion.” (Shweder, 1991, p. 73) • Impossible to separate sociocultural environment and the individual’s process of deriving meaning, so the independent, objective investigator cannot exist

  24. Types of Studies • Emic vs. etic (Ken Pike, anthropological linguistics): ontology of culture • Emic models view behavior as culture-specific; behavior must be understood in the context of a particular culture • Etic models view behavior as universal; behavior must be understood in comparison to other cultures • Objective vs. subjective: epistemology of culture studies • Objective models assume an independent observer • Subjective models assume the observer is embedded in culture

  25. Types of Studies (cont.) • Thus, four approaches (or combinations thereof) are possible, all of which can be productive, especially at certain points in the scientific knowledge cycle • Objective cross-cultural (cross-cultural psychology model): traditional positivist, scientific testing of group differences • Example: Costa & McCrae’s 5-factor personality theory • Objective single-culture (cross-cultural psychology model): traditional positivist, systemic modeling • Examples: Cheung’s theory of Chinese personality structure; quite a bit of indigenous psychological theory

  26. Types of Studies (cont) • Subjective single-culture (cultural psychology model): cultural understanding, appreciation of diversity • Example: Shweder et al.’s study on the cultural relativity of middle age as a developmental phase (Shweder, 1998); in some ways, McAdams work on narrative and personality (e.g. McAdams, 1993). • Subjective cross-cultural (postmodern anthropology): dialogue, increased understanding of other and self • Example: Hard to find in psychology; in psychological anthropology, Lutz (1988) on Ifaluk emotions in Micronesia and Western societies

  27. Methodological Issues

  28. Methodological Issues: Section Overview • Quantitative methods: Practical issues • Objects of study • Methodological problems and bias • Interpretive problems • Quantitative methods: Theoretical critique • Qualitative methods

  29. Quantitative Methods:Objects of Study • Construct (hypothetical): a phenomenon that is important for the understanding of human behavior which cannot be directly observed. • Universe--set of conditions for observation or items of measurement, usually indicated by the hypothetical construct • Populations--larger groups of people that are the ultimate object of interest

  30. Quantitative Methods:Methodological Problems • See van de Vijver & Leung (1997) • Many methodological problems in quantitative culture research revolve around the problem of Bias--when a study because of design, measurement or sampling problems, is destined to find differences when none occur (or to find no differences when differences actually exist). • Leads to incorrect interpretation of results • Can lead to adverse affects on individuals

  31. Methodological Problems (cont.) • Types of bias: • Stimulus--study does not collect a representative sample of behaviors from the universe, e.g. using a measure of intelligence that only uses timed tasks • Methodological--the process of study and measurement has a differential effect between groups, e.g. interviewer-subject interaction • Universe--different groups have different behavioral universe, e.g. what may be adaptive life skills in two different cultures

  32. Methodological Problems (cont.) • Universe bias can be caused if the universe(s) in the study are improperly or incompletely defined • Appropriate behaviors that are related to the construct of interest must be selected • Three types of universe problems: • Group Equivalence: Are they the same (identical vs. nonidentical universes)? • Sampling: How are they sampled (representative vs. selected)? • Variables selection and measurement: What will be measured: attributes (internal, hypothetical constructs) vs repertoire (external) • Most common and difficult situation: nonidentical universes sampled with selective measures of attributes

  33. Methodological Problems (cont.) • Design (experiment conceptualization/layout) and control (excluding external variable) problems • Subject: Exchangeability--equivalent subject groups? • Confounds: changing one independent variable actually changes more than one independent variable, either of which can have an effect on the dependent variable, e.g. culture and SES • Measurement equivalence: do similar behaviors or values have the same meaning in each group?

  34. Quantitative Approaches:Interpretive Problems • Because of methodological problems, there are interpretive problems with most quantitative cross-cultural data • Classical model: same instrument in each culture • assumes no bias, differences between groups mean differences in the level of the construct in each culture; this unlikely • Contemporary model: pilot-tested instrument • more defensible than traditional model, but still does not verify that constructs are equivalent • Emic model: different instruments in each culture • less bias, but can’t compare groups • Adjusted model: instrument includes both cultures • limits bias to some items, allows group comparison

  35. Quantitative Approaches:Theoretical Critique • Carl Ratner (1997). Cultural psychology and cultural methodology gives critique of quantitative methods in culture studies and psychology • General concerns • In studying psychological phenomenon, need to find a balance between objectivism and subjectivism • Can’t just combine, need to objectively analyze subjective phenomena; this best done with qualitative methods • Psychological methods dependent on positivism (Feigel, Boring, Skinner and Stevens meeting in 1930) which has been largely discredited outside of psychology

  36. Theoretical Critique (cont.) • Bases of Methodological positivism • 1. Atomism: “psychological phenomena exist as independent variables consisting of discrete elements.” • Critique: Psychological and cultural phenomena are complex configurations; must understand personal and cultural context • 2. Quantification: “psychological phenomena can be expressed as numbers that represent their strength or degree” and that “mathematical operations on these data reveal some psychological significance” • quantification ignores the psychological significance, e.g. do equal frequency counts represents the same quality/intensity? • implies statistical significance = psychological importance • Critique: Psychological and cultural phenomena are best expressed through extended responses

  37. Theoretical Critique (cont.) • 3. Operationalism: psychological phenomena can be defined as simple, overt behaviors • “Operational definitions overlook the fact that the relationship between psychological activity and behavior is variable. Hitting does not always express aggression and aggression is not always expressed by hitting.” • questionnaires suffer from same problem as behavioral measures • Critique: Psychological and cultural phenomena are primarily mental and have no fixed behavioral expression; best studied through qualitative methods because these are sensitive to meaning within a specific event and context

  38. Theoretical Critique (cont.) • Cultural character of psychology • “Psychological phenomena are the subjective processes of practical cultural activity, and cultural activity is the practical, objectified side of psychology phenomena” • Concepts are the link between culture and psychology • Concepts are constructed collectively; these concepts are cultural and organize psychological phenomena • Concepts objectify understanding and enable communication; organize thinking, perception, memory • Behavior as a link between culture and psychology • Culture involves activities; psychological phenomena dependent on these practical social activities • There is a dialectical, reciprocal relationship between activity and psychological functioning, e.g. strategies

  39. Qualitative Methods • Definition (Mason, 2002) • Grounded in an ‘interpretive’ philosophical position that sees elements of study existing in a complex social world • Uses data generation methods that are sensitive to the social context and flexible, “rather than rigidly standardized or structures, or entirely abstracted from ‘real life’ contexts.” • Uses analytic methods which are holistic, sensitive to context and detail; quantification may be used but statistical analysis is “not central.”

  40. Qualitative Methods (cont.) • Primary principles • Humility: there is an assumption the people you talk to know more about the topic than you do or have a unique knowledge set as valuable as your own • Flexibility • Standardization is suspect, and can’t really be achieved anyway • people interpret the same question in different ways • need to ask different people different questions to access their knowledge of a topic

  41. Qualitative Methods (cont.) • Triangulation: Combining methods • Reflexivity: The person doing the interpreting (researcher or participant!) affects the interpretation • Listening and voice • Understanding is more important than prediction and control • Validity is more important that reliability • Sampling is selective rather than random: use of expert informants

  42. Qualitative Methods (cont.) • Purposes: This method especially useful where: • You don’t know much about an area and need to do inductive work and theory/model building • Context is important • Understanding is more important that prediction and control • Quantifiability is difficult • Data can’t be obtained by other methods (e.g. in participant observation)

  43. Qualitative Methods (cont.) • Specific approaches • Grounded theory: development of knowledge that is “grounded” in data • Ethnography: cultural description; interviewing and participant observation • Analysis of visual and material culture • Phenomenological analysis: description and analysis of individual experience • Hermeneutic analysis: interpretation of discourse, textual materials and narrative with the goal of increased understanding, e.g. of life history

  44. Qualitative Methods (cont.) • Characteristics of specific approaches • Often more a philosophy or attitude rather than a specific technical methodology • While specific approaches have developed separately in terms of theory and application, in practice there is considerable overlap between the methods • Often have more problematic ethical issues in terms of the collection and use of data; usefulness of the results to the people participating in the study is key

  45. Qualitative Methods (cont.) • Since knowledge is contextual, a primary goal is to provide relevant information about the context of the phenomenon being studied • Most methods make use of individual or group interviews of various levels of structure and pre-planning; skills are often similar to those required in psychotherapy • Data recording and organization is a major task; software is available to assist • relational databases • qualitative/anthropological software with multimedia capabilities (see

  46. Qualitative Methods (cont.) • The process of writeup and making arguments from your data and analysis are more open, and thus involve greater choices • Since procedures and choices are more open, you must keep methodological records and be prepared to defend your choices • As in quantitative research, your questions should be clearly formulated, although clarification is a normal outcome of the research process

  47. Quantitative Example:Etic Study of Depression

  48. Background • Cultural differences in depression between Americans and Chinese have been debated • Kleinman: Chinese depression is expressed through “somatization” • Cheung: No difference in depression between groups, but people tend to selectively report certain aspects of their experience