CONTEXTUALISM VERSUS POSITIVISM IN
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
conceptualizing what culture is and the relation between culture and psychology than
researching cultural psychology than positivistic methodology is. Contextualism is thus
more valuable for understanding “indigenous psychology” than positivism is.
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
insightful presentation of contextualism is Asch’s book Social Psychology (1952; cf.
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
Elements may be depicted as interlocking circles as in Figure 1.