A History of Culture in Psychology

Authored by: Yoshihisa Kashima , Michele J. Gelfand

Handbook of the History of Social Psychology

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  October  2012

Print ISBN: 9781848728684
eBook ISBN: 9780203808498
Adobe ISBN: 9781136668999


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Culture is one of the most used and perhaps abused concepts in contemporary academic and popular discourse. Despite its current popularity, it has seen its vicissitudes in the history of psychology. Culture was an integral part of the nascent academic discipline of psychology over a century ago, but was lost once and found again, and has been reclaimed with enthusiasm. It is this checkered history that we attempt to describe and to explain. What historical circumstances—both indigenous to the intellectual discourse (e.g., scholarly traditions generally and psychology in particular) and exogenous to it (e.g., political economy of the time)—raised or lowered the profile of culture in psychology? Are there potentially general causal processes involved, or are they primarily happenstances of history? Our overall assessment is that both indigenous and exogenous causal processes are at work; however, there seems to be a large number of happenstances. In what follows, we trace the evolution of research on culture in psychology. We begin with some examples of early historical interest in culture and psychology in Greece and China, and thereafter examine culture as it was viewed in the 18th century in the Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment or Romanticism. We highlight important cultural works in anthropology in the 19th century, and then discuss the vicissitudes of culture in psychology in the 20th century, ending with current debates and trends in culture and social psychology in particular. Towards the end of the chapter, we also engage in some crystal ball gazing—always a hazardous endeavor when it comes to complex human affairs—about the future of the culture concept in psychology.

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