Monday, February 21, 2011

The Cultural Self - Different Cultures, Different Selves

I've been making this point on and off now for a couple of years - and have long felt that there is no "me" without a "you" (or as Buber put it, no "I" without a 'Thou").

When I discovered Jerome Bruner, Kenneth Gergen, Rom Harre, and Lev Vygotsky (among many others), it all finally came together as cultural psychology. It seems more and more people are beginning to understand that the "self" is not simply pre-programmed to emerge in a series of innate structures. There are definitely some elements of this - you are not likely to find a three-year-old exhibiting post-formal cognition.

On the other hand, we're not likely to see too many people reaching post-formal cognition and ego development unless we do something to make this possible - higher development requires appropriate life conditions, i.e., culture.

I found this old episode of Philosophy Talk at Church of the Churchless - it's a great discussion featuring Hazel Markus: Different Cultures, Different Selves. Unfortunately, we have to buy the episode (on sale right now for $1.29). We can get new episodes for free each week as downloads.
Different Cultures, Different Selves

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Hazel Markus

Guest: Hazel Markus; Professor of Psychology; Director of the Research Institute of Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity; and Director

Why do we do what we do? To please others? To live up to what culture expects? Or for our own reasons as "autonomous agents"? Americans tend to admire (at least in theory) the autonomous individual, the person who knows what he wants, and sets out to get it, no matter what the world might think. Is this true of all cultures? John and Ken are joined by Stanford Psychologist Hazel Markus to explore differences in motivation and action across cultures.

Original Airdate 02/22/2009
This is from Dr. Markus' web page - in presenting a culture-based version of psyche, she approaches an integral model - or at least provides a piece sort of missing from Wilber's model.
Mutual Constitution of Culture and Psyche
Related Publications

Hazel works in the area of cultural psychology, which explores the interdependence between psychological structures and processes and sociocultural environments. Hazel and her colleagues investigate how people are shaped by culture as they engage with its patterns of meaning and practices; how people require and are shaped by engagement with the culture-specific meanings, practices, artifacts, and institutions of particular contexts; and how psychological tendencies serve to perpetuate these particular cultural contexts. This dynamic relationship between culture and the psyche or self is called the framework of mutual constitution.

Hazel and her colleagues have conducted extensive research comparing the psychological processes of Westerners and East Asians, demonstrating that European American models of independence and East Asian models of interdependence emphasize very different conceptions of the self and social relations. Hazel evaluates strategies for understanding the links between culture and psyche, and how the human brain has evolved to use cultural models that enable people to coordinate and cooperate in diverse culture-specific adaptations. She has studied cultural models of self, competence, motivation, conflict, and well-being as significant features of cultural contexts that fashion individual experience. As a cultural psychologist, Hazel asks questions such as: What is a person? What is the source of individual variation in behavior? And what meaning is attached to this variation in behavior? Depending on the cultural context (e.g., national origin, ethnic background, or social class) these questions are answered differently for different people.

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