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2_3Ratner -culture psychology

2_3Ratner -culture psychology - Contextualism Versus...

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CONTEXTUALISM VERSUS POSITIVISM IN CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY Carl Ratner Theories have the power to shape our conceptualization of psychological issues. Very general, abstract theories of ontology and epistemology have very specific and practical effects on cross-cultural psychological research. They shape our general understanding of culture, the interrelation between culture and psychology, and methodological principles of empirical research. Because theories are so powerful, it is vital that we examine them. Limitations in theory will lead to limited conclusions. I will contrast two theories: contextualism and positivism. I argue that the ontological principles of contextualism are more helpful than positivism for conceptualizing what culture is and the relation between culture and psychology than positivism is. Moreover, the ontological principles of contextualism lead to epistemological principles and research methodology that are more suitable for researching cultural psychology than positivistic methodology is. Contextualism is thus more valuable for understanding “indigenous psychology” than positivism is. ONTOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES Contextualism There are many variants of contextualism. They include gestalt psychology, field theory, structuralism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, dialectics, genetic psychology, organicism, Marxism, cybernetics, systems theory, functionalism, ecological psychology, constructionism, postmodernism, ancient Greek philosophy, dialectical psychology (K. Riegel). Pepper (1942) included contextualism in his list of root metaphors, or Weltanschauungen. In the field of psychology, an exceptionally systematic and insightful presentation of contextualism is Asch’s book Social Psychology (1952; cf. Asch 1946). I will concentrate on dialectics. I believe it is the most systematic and sophisticated variety of contextualism. The central idea of dialectical contextualism is that elements are interdependent, interpenetrating, and internally related. As such, a particular element takes on the characteristics, or qualities, of other elements. Qualities vary with the context of interrelated elements. Elements may be depicted as interlocking circles as in Figure 1. 2.3
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Carl Ratner 36 Figure 1 Dialectical Relation of Elements The figure illustrates how an element is intertwined with and overlaps into another. This is how elements impart qualities to each other. Each element is thus a function of other elements. Its character is a complex blend of its own properties and those of its context. An element is not an autonomous thing with fixed, absolute properties. Figure 1 shows a unity of differences. This is a central principle of dialectics as coined by Hegel. There is a contradiction of elements within a unity. This leads to reciprocal influence and change.
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2_3Ratner -culture psychology - Contextualism Versus...

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