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date: 21 November 2019

Culture in Psychology: A Renewed Encounter of Inquisitive Minds

Abstract and Keywords

This introductory chapter outlines the historical picture of the recent interest in the linking of culture and psychology, as well as the conceptual obstacles that have stood on the way of re-introducing complexity of human psychological functions—higher cultural forms—to psychological research practices. The avoidance of complex and dynamic phenomena (affective processes in feeling, religious sentiments that take the form of values, and of the high varieties of cultural forms displayed all over the World) has limited psychology's knowledge creation. In the past two decades, with the emergence of cultural psychology at the intersection of developmental, educational, and social psychologies and their linking with cultural anthropology, sociology, and history, we have observed a renewed effort to build an interdisciplinary synthesis of ideas. This takes place in the wider social context of the globalizing world. Psychology needs culture to make sense of the human lives.

Keywords: cultural psychology, causality, quantity, quality, affect, globalization

This Handbook is a milestone in the effort to re-unite two large domains of knowledge—one covered by the generic term psychology, and the other by the equally general term culture. When two giants meet, one never knows what might happen—it can become a battle or the two can amiably join their forces and live happily ever after. The latter “happy end” of a fairy tale is far from the realities of the history of the social sciences.

In the case of this Handbook, we have evidence of a multisided effort to develop the connections between culture and psychology. The time may be ripe—discourse about that unity has re-emerged since the 1980s, and cultural psychology has become consolidated since the mid-1990s around its core journal Culture & Psychology (published by Sage/London). The present Handbook reflects that tradition, while extending it toward new interdisciplinary horizons. The contributors— from all over the World—enthusiastically take on the task to bring culture into psychology. Such enthusiasm is needed—as revolutions, both in science and in societies, need it. Innovation in any science is impossible without the efforts of the scientists to explore the not yet known lands of the ideas that may seem nonsensical from the point of view of accepted knowledge yet tease the mind.

The complexity of the task of bringing culture into psychology as a science has been considerable. It has been historically blocked by a number of social agents (representing rivaling ideologies) who saw in this a damage to psychology as natural science (see Valsiner, 2012, Chapters 5–9). As a result, psychology has suffered from its self-generated image of being an “objective science”—of deeply subjective and culturally organized phenomena. Such historical myopia can be understood as a need for the discipline to compete in the representational beauty contest of the sciences. Yet it cannot win that contest— remaining such a frivolous competitor whose claims (p. 4) to “objectivity” are easily falsified by yet another innovation in the social or psychological domain.

Psychology's “Blind Spot”: Personal Will As a Cultural Phenomenon

Historical myopia of a discipline has dire consequences. Psychology of the last century turned out to be mute when basic human life phenomena—famines, wars, epidemics, religious piety and prejudice, political negotiations, and migration—have been concerned. It has refrained from the study of higher—volitional—psychological functions, while concentrating on the lower, simpler ones. Thus, psychology of affect has many ways to deal with basic emotion categories that are expressed similarly all around the world—yet has not made new breakthroughs in understanding the generalized feelings that lead to desirous actions and generalized values. The intentional affective actions were actively investigated until the beginning of the twentieth century in psychology but rarely later. It is the semiotic and narrative focus of our contemporary cultural psychology that restores our focus onto these humanly important phenomena. The most important cultural invention of the human psyche is the simple claim, “I want 〈X〉!”—and it is precisely the least studied and understood theme in contemporary psychology. Although there is increasing interest, in cultural psychology, on the “I” part (e.g., Dialogical Self Theories), the “want” part of this simple meaning construction is rarely analyzed. The notable exception—Heider, (1958, 1983)—is an example of a synthesis of different European philosophical and psychological traditions. Psychology has been fearful of the willful human being and has instead presented the human psyche as an object influenced by a myriad of “factors” from all directions—biological, social, economic, even unconscious—rather than by the volition that could break out from all these confines and develop in new directions.

Why Another Effort to Link Psychology With Culture?

Given this complex history, bringing culture back into psychology is also a very multifaceted effort in today's intellectual environment. Yet the realities of social life guide us toward it—in a world where people travel voraciously and their messages travel instantly, the know-how of how “the others” function is both necessary for life and profitable for businesses.

There can be very many different vantage points from where culture could enter into psychology in the twenty-first century. First, of course, there are the realistic connections with neighboring disciplines—cultural anthropology (Holland, 2010; Obeyesekere, 2005, 2010; Skinner, Pach, & Holland, 1998; Rasmussen, 2011), and sociology (Kharlamov, 2012)—from where such efforts could find their start. Yet in the last decade we also can observe the move inside of the vast field of psychology. Psychology itself is a heterogeneous discipline—within which we can observe a number of moves toward embracing the notion of culture. Although it began from the educational and developmental concerns of the 1980s that mostly used the ideas of Vygotsky as the center of their new efforts, by 2010s the effort also includes social psychology—both in Europe and the United States—where the generic label “social” becomes frequently taken over by “cultural.”

Second, it is the rapid movement—of messages and people—that renders the former images of homogeneous classes that dominated cross-cultural psychology either moot or problematic. The tradition of comparing societies (i.e., countries, re-labeled as “cultures”—e.g., of “the Mexicans” or “the Germans”)—which has been accepted practice in cross-cultural psychology—loses its epistemological value. Empirical comparisons of the averages of samples “from different cultures” (i.e., countries) can bring out interesting starting data for further analysis by cultural psychology.

All this is supported by real-life social changes. It is as if the globalizing movement of people across country boundaries brings “cultural foreigners” to be next-door neighbors. The issue of making sense of their ways of living becomes of interest for the already established colonists of the given place. It is hard to remain content with the prototypical notions of “being American” when one sees a collective Islamic prayer unfolding in the middle of a major U.S. airport. The world is now different from the last century—we are in close contact with “cultural others,” and all our social-psychological adaptations to this innovation acquire a cultural accent. Contemporary social psychology picks up the need to study such social events that carry complex cultural accents. It is supported by the demand of both the lay publics in different countries and their socio-political organizations to understand and administer the “cultural others” yet retain their own dominant centrality.

(p. 5) The Third Effort for Psychology in its History: How Can it Succeed?

This effort—uniting culture and psychology—that has been taking place from the 1990s to the present time is actually the third one1 in the history of psychology. We can observe, in the recent two decades, multiple efforts to bring culture into the science in general. Likewise, psychology begins to enter into cultural arenas in many new ways that Little Albert,2 Ioni,3 or Sultan,4 or even the dogs of Professor Pavlov could never have thought about. A number of our contributions to this Handbook—those of Christophe Boesch (2012), Alfredo Gonzalez-Ruibal (2012) and Zachary Beckstead (2012)—give the readers a glimpse of new pathways for future development of cultural psychology.

Of course, psychology's historical inroads can be seen to have delayed such return to culture. The issue has been ideological in the history of the science of psychology—how to treat complex, meaningful, intentional, and dynamic psychological phenomena? These phenomena were actively addressed in the context of emerging psychology in Germany by philosophers in the first seven decades of the nineteenth century—yet all these contributions were lost as they were guided out of the history of psychology as it was re-written after the 1870s. According to most of the history textbook views, psychology as science was born in 1879. That origin myth dates back to Boring's work on re-writing the history of psychology (Boring, 1929) that selected as science only some part of the wide intellectual enterprise of psychology of the nineteenth century.

Psychology as a science was born in the German language environment—first in the 1730s (Christian Wolff's Psicologia empirica in 1732 and Psicologia rationalis in 1734), followed by the anti-Wolff denial of psychology's place among other sciences by Immanuel Kant. The birth of psychology as part of educational curriculae dates to years 1806 and later—when Johann Friedrich Herbart started his first university course in psychology (Jahoda, 2008; Teo, 2007). Yet in the early nineteenth-century psychology was the realm for discourse by philosophers and theologians, with natural scientists playing a secondary role. This power relation reversed in the 1860s in favor of the natural sciences—particularly physiology. This led to the “elementaristic revolution” in psychology that started from Wilhelm Wundt's establishing his laboratory of Experimental Psychology in Leipzig in 1879. It was followed in North America by the avalanche of the “behaviorist” ideology (Watson, 1913), which has been slow to end. The intermediate birth of “cognitive science” in the 1950s from the behaviorist roots was a half-restoration of the focus on higher psychological functions. Hence, the cultural psychology movement that started in the 1980s constitutes another effort in that direction.

The Obstacles to Innovation

As psychology is non-neutral in its context of social existence, it is not surprising that its progress is constantly organized by different promoting fashions (e.g., the need to look “socially relevant”) in unison with a multitude of conceptual obstacles. The latter are often the targets of discourse in cultural psychology that cannot avoid addressing them. Their relevance, of course, transcends the work in the realms of cultural psychology and would illuminate other fields of psychology.

Decision About Where Not to Look: Axiomatic Dismissal of Complexity

Many of the habits of psychology, in their insistence on the study of elementary phenomena (Toomela & Valsiner, 2010), have led to avoiding the complexities of the human psychological functioning. This happens in a number of ways: by imperative to quantify those phenomena that are of “scientific interest” and by developing theories inductively—moving toward generalization from the thus selectively quantified evidence. This all happens with the belief in the work of elementaristic causality (factor X causes Y; e.g., “intelligence” causes success in problem solving; or “culture” causes “girls being shy”; see Toomela, 2012, in this Handbook). In contrast, cultural psychology leaves such causal attributions behind. Culture here emerges as a generic term to capture the complexity of human lives—rather than narrowly concentrating on their behavior. We are back to the study of psychological dynamics in all of its complexity (Valsiner, 2009a), yet we are still at a loss about how to do that. The lead from the “second cybernetics” of the 1960s (Maruyama, 1963) and the use of qualitative mathematical models (Rudolph, 2006a, 2006b, 2006c, 2008a, 2008b, 2009; Rudolph & Valsiner, 2008; Tsuda, 2001) instead of statistical inference can be a way to overcome the obstacles of unwarranted assumptions.

(p. 6) The Terminological Difficulty—Culture Is Polysemic

Culture is in some sense a magic word—positive in connotations but hard to pinpoint in any science that attempts to use it as its core term. Its importance is accentuated by our contemporary fashionable common language terms (multiculturalism, cultural roots, cultural practices, etc.)—hence the perceived value of the term. Yet much of “normal science” of psychology continues to produce hyperempirical work using methods that do not consider substantive innovation, even after having learned to insert the word culture into politically correct locations in its various texts. In this sense, the fate of culture in contemporary psychology continues to be that of up-and-coming novice who tries to get its powerful parents to accommodate to its needs.

Cultural psychology is being sculpted in a variety of versions—all unified by the use of the word culture (Boesch, 1991; Cole, 1996, Shweder, 1990). That may be where its unity ends, giving rise to a varied set of perspectives that only partially link with one another. This may be confusing for those who try to present cultural psychology as a monolithic discipline—but it is certainly good for the development of new perspectives. Heterogeneity of a discipline breeds innovation—whereas homogenization kills it. History of psychology gives us many examples of originally innovative perspectives turning into established “theories or systems”—and becoming followed through sets of imperatives rather than creating innovations. Psychology has suffered from too many consensual fixations of the “right” methods in the last half-century (Toomela, 2007a), rendering its innovative potentials mute. Cultural psychology as a new direction entails an effort to un-mute the discipline. It is helped by the appeal—and uncertainty—of the label culture.

Culture As a “Container” as Opposed to a “Tool”

The readers in this Handbook will encounter two opposite directions in handling of the notion of culture—that of a container of a homogeneous class (Fig. I.1A), and that of a unique organizer of person–environment relations (Fig. I.1B). These two uses have little or nothing in common, once more indicating the vagueness of the use of culture in our present-day social sciences.

Culture in Psychology: A Renewed Encounter of Inquisitive Minds

Figure I.1 Two meanings of culture in psychology. (A) Culture as a container (P = person). (B) Culture (C) as a tool within person.

Of course the proliferation of the notion of culture in the social sciences is no issue of science only. Reasons for that increasing popularity of a vague label are to be found beyond the boundaries of science—in the “culture stress” experienced by local communities resulting from in-migration of “others” and temporary (or not so temporary) outmigration of “our own” (Appadurai, 2006). Our globalizing world is also open to various projections of oneself to the (far-away) others. Politicians start to pretend they can say something in a foreign language in public, whereas production capacities move from their “First World” locations to the so-called “developing countries.”

(p. 7) The Hero Mythology—Replacing Innovation by Finished Ideas

Psychologists like to tell stories—beautiful stories—about famous people of their kind who had clever ideas that are still guiding our contemporary thinking. Of course, it is in the communication process between a science and the society that the making of such “hero myths” operates in creating cultural connectors (Aubin, 1997, p. 300). The popularity of “being X-ian” is a token in the public legitimization of a particular perspective (e.g., “Vygotskian” is “promising,” “behavioral” is “past its prime”)—independently of the particular ideas used within these perspectives to make sense of some phenomenon. Freud, Skinner, Piaget, and Vygotsky are often put on the pedestal for having revealed the great secrets of the psyche. Telling such stories is dangerous for the ideas of precisely those persons who are being honored. On the theoretical side, glory stories of various “giants” such as Vygotsky, Bakhtin, Gadamer, Levinas, and others are likely to promote the mentality of following previously expressed ideas, rather than developing new ones. Rather than innovate historically solid intellectual perspectives—the makers of which tried, but still did not solve their problems—we seem to enjoy turning these “classic thinkers” into some gurus and follow them ardently. Taking a theoretical perspective becomes transformed into a membership of a fan club of one or another of such guru figures—leading to a variety of intra- and intergroup relationship issues of such groups of followers. The main function of theories—being intellectual general tools for understanding—easily gets lost. Social scientists seem to enjoy the game of social positioning. We can still observe recurrent claims of “being X-ian” (“Vygotskian,” “Bakhtinian,” “Freudian,” “Habermasian,” “Levinasian,” etc.). I consider such claims misleading, because the best way to follow a thinker is to develop the ideas further—rather than declare one's membership in a virtual community. But mere membership in a community is no solution to problems that the members of the community try to solve. The scientific community is a resource for providing new solutions—rather than a club, the membership of which is determined by loyalty to old ones.

Vagueness in Science and its Functions

We know that culture's journey into psychology has already been in the making for more than two centuries (Jahoda, 1993, 2011). Such slow movement results from projection of social values into the term—culture is not a neutral term. It is suspect—and appealing—at the same time. Its appealing label feeds into the advancement of various streams of thought in the social sciences (Rohner, 1984; Sinha, 1996), and the constructive openness in using it as an intellectual catalyst in psychology continues.

Although it is well-known (Valsiner, 2001, 2004a) that the term culture is vague, as it has been proven indefinable, yet its functional role in public discourse has been growing steadily. Vagueness of a concept need not be an obstacle in scientific knowledge-building (many terms in many sciences are) and are kept vague, so as to enhance their generative potential (Löwy, 1992). As Löwy has explained:

The long-term survival of imprecise terms points to an important heuristic role. Adopting an over-precise definition may jeopardize a promising study, while maintaining a poorly defined concept may propel fruitful research. Imprecise terms may also facilitate the study of phenomena that share some, yet poorly defined, characteristics, and that may help link distinct disciplinary approaches. The fluidity of terms at times of conceptual change makes retrospective discovery accounts especially problematic. Discoverers tend to attribute a later, fixed meaning and imprecise, fluid terms current at the time of the discovery. (Löwy, 1990, p. 89)

The fate of culture in psychology and anthropology fits Löwy's point well. Since the 1990s, we have seen the acceptance of the term by psychologists, who pride themselves in its vagueness and make it useful in various ways. In contrast, cultural anthropologists can be seen refusing to use it at all! Culture as a term becomes useless in anthropology, whereas it is becoming useful in psychology!

Psychology Is Becoming Global

Globalization in a science—like in economics and society—is an ambiguous process. It brings with it emergence of new opportunities together with the demise of old (and “safe”) practices. The immediate result of globalization is the increase of “sudden contacts” between varied persons of different backgrounds—with all that such contact implies (Moghaddam, 2006). If “culture” is viewed in terms of a “container” (Fig. I.1A) that implies selective “border controls,” segregation of immigrants into “we 〈〉they” categories, and emphasis (p. 8) on acculturation (Rudmin, 2010). If, in contrast, “culture” under globalization is seen as a tool (Fig. I.1B) it is the issue of relating to one's next-door neighbor—with both positive (mutual learning and support from one another) and negative (frictions and open conflicts over trivial local issues) that come into our focus of observation.

Science also has to learn to tolerate its often less affluent but better educated neighbor. Any casual reading of leading science journals, which may be published in North America or Europe, reveals the enormous mixture of the home countries of the scientists. People from all continents collaborate in the solving of crucial scientific problems. Not surprisingly, together with the move toward international economic interdependence comes internationalization of sciences. Like other sciences psychology is no longer dominated by few (North American or European) models of “doing science” in that area. Instead, creative solutions to complex problems emerge from the “developing world,” where the whole range of the variety of cultural phenomena guarantees the potential richness of psychology.

Cultural Psychology: Its Indigenous Roots

Of course different areas of psychology are differentially open to such internationalization—cultural psychology in its recent new upsurge is thus a “developing science.” Looking back, much has changed since mid-1990s (Valsiner, 1995, 2001, 2004, 2009a, 2009b), mostly in the context within which the discourses of re-entering talk about culture into psychology have been framed. Cultural psychology has been the witness—an active one—of the transformations that go on in all of psychology as it is globalizing (Valsiner, 2009a, 2009b). Nevertheless, within psychology, cultural psychology remains “indigenous”—emphasizing the phenomena, rather than data, as these are central for science.

Indigenous is not a pejorative word. We are all indigenous as unique human beings, social units, and societies—coming to sudden contact with others of the same kind, and discovering that it is “the other” who is indigenous, not ourselves. Different ways of actions follow: changing the other (by missionary or military conquests) or using the other for production (by importing slaves, or allowing “guest workers” temporarily into “our country” to alleviate labor shortages), or for consumption (creating consumer demands for our products—arms or hamburgers—in their places). In all of these adaptations to such contacts, the diversity of both human cultural and biological forms is being negotiated (Kashima, 2007; Moghaddam, 2006).

The Gains—and Their Pains—in Cultural Psychology

The last two decades of the twentieth century were productive for cultural psychology. Following the lead of the originators of the rebirth of the cultural direction (Richard Shweder, Michael Cole, James Wertsch and Barbara Rogoff in North America, and Ernest Boesch, Lutz Eckensberger, Serge Moscovici, Ivana Markova and Ivan Ivic in Europe), a number of younger-generation researchers started to look at human phenomena intertwined with their everyday contexts. By the twenty-first century, many new research directions have become emphasized—ruptures as central for new developments (Hale, 2008; Zittoun, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010), actuations as a new way to unite actions and meanings (Rosa, 2007), generalized significant symbols (Gillespie, 2006) as well as search for the self through looking at the other (Bastos & Rabinovich, 2009; Simão & Valsiner, 2007) and finding that other in the contexts of social interdependence (Chaudhary, 2004, 2007; Menon, 2002; Tuli & Chaudhary, 2010). At the same time, we see continuous interest in the cultural nature of subjectivity (Boesch, 2005, 2008; Cornejo, 2007; Sullivan, 2007) and the unpredictability of environments (Abbey, 2007; Golden & Mayseless, 2008). The topic of multivoicedness of the self as it relates with the world has emerged as a productive theme (Bertau, 2008; Joerchel, 2007; Salgado & Gonçalves, 2007; Sullivan, 2007), including the move to consider the opposites of polyphony (“intensified nothingness,” Mladenov, 1997). This is embedded in the multiplicity of discourse strategies (Castro & Batel, 2008) in institutional contexts (Phillips, 2007). Affective lives are situated in social contexts but by persons themselves as they relate to social institutions.

Old Disputes in New Form: Immediacy and Mediation

It never ceases to amaze me how old disputes re-emerge in terminologically new ways. When in the 1950s psychologists were disputing the immediacy of perception (a la James Gibson) in contrast to the constructive nature of the perceptual act (a la Jerome Bruner and Leo Postman, 1950—not to forget (p. 9) Ansbacher, 1937 for the origins), then 50 years later, we find a similar dispute in cultural psychology around the issues of enactivism, focusing on the immediate nature of cultural actions—and mediation—that centers on the distancing from (yet with) the immediate action (Baerveldt & Verheggen, 1999, 2012; Kreppner, 1999; Christopher & Bickhard, 2007; Crisswell, 2009; Verheggen & Baerveldt, 2007). Furthermore, the immediacy dispute is built around the John Dewey-inspired look at human development as seamless linking of person and context (Rogoff, 1982, 1993, 2003). The question of boundaries between person and environment has been actively disputed in the last two decades. Of course, human beings live within the boundary—circumscribed by their skin. Futuristic film-makers, such as David Kroonenberg, have recently experimented with images that make the skin transferrable and let objects enter and exit through the skin in surprising—and horrifying—ways.

The roots of this new focus on immediacy are in the resurgence of the centrality of the body in theorizing about human beings and its abstracted corollary in terms of the processes of embodiment of the mental processes (Varela, Thompson, & Ross, 1991). Refocusing on the body—under the philosophy of fighting against “mind–body dualisms”—leads to the elimination of the mind. And with the elimination of the mind goes the focus on mediation.

Immediacy in Its Enactivist Form

The enactivist position has been put forth succinctly:

Enactivism avoids the notion of “mediation” and problematizes the representational or semiotic status of social and cultural objects in general. Representation is a sophisticated social act and in that sense it is tautological to add the adjective “social.” Moreover, this specification becomes misleading when “social” is understood in terms of sharedness, even when the notion of sharedness is systemic rather than aggregate one.

(Verheggen and Baerveldt, 2007, p. 22)

Of course, the enactivist move against ideas of mediation triggers a counteroffensive (Chryssides et al., 2009) defending the role of social representation processes precisely as acts of social construction. The focus on social representation can be dialectical (Marková, 2003, 2012), and the act of representing can itself be embodied. It seems that it is the latter to which the enactivist viewpoint adheres.

Construction of Signs and Their Use—Alternative to Immediacy

In contrast to the enactivist orientation, the semiotic meditational direction (Boesch, 2005, 2008, 2012; Lonner & Hayes, 2007; Valsiner, 2007) accepts the notion of mediation as an axiomatic given and concentrates on the construction of what kind of mediating systems can be discovered in human everyday activities and in the domains of feeling and thinking. The focus on cultural tools—or symbolic resources (Zittoun, 2006, 2007, 2012)—necessarily prioritizes the meditational view in cultural psychology. This is further supported by the work to bring Charles S. Peirce's semiotics to cultural psychology (Innis, 2005, 2012; Rosa, 2007; Sonesson, 2010). Yet bringing in the philosophy of Peirce is a kind of “Trojan horse” for cultural psychology—if on the manifest level such importation allows for new look at the multitude of signs that organize human lives. Such appealing closeness to reality is supported by Peirce's abstractions as a mathematician.

The Unresolved Problem: Units of Analysis

The difficulty of returning to the psychological complexity in the context of cultural psychology is in the rest of psychology accepting the notion of analysis units as the atomistic concept of divisibility of the complexity to simplicity. Yet that tradition cannot work if complexity as it exists—rather than as it could be eliminated—is on the agenda for researchers (Matusov, 2007).

The root metaphor of the question of units in psychology has been the contrast between water (H2O) and its components (oxygen and hydrogen), used in making the point of the primacy of the Gestalt over its constituents widely in the late nineteenth- through early twentieth-century thought. The properties of water are not reducible to those of either hydrogen or oxygen—water may put out a fire, whereas the constituents of it burn or enhance burning. Hence the whole, a water molecule, is more than a mere “sum” of its parts. Furthermore, it is universal—the chemical structure of water remains the same, independent of whatever biological system (e.g., human body, cellular structure of a plant) or geological formation (e.g., an ocean, or in a water bottle) in which it exists. Vygotsky expressed (p. 10) the general idea of what a unit of analysis needs to be like in psychology:

Psychology, as it desires to study complex wholes … needs to change the methods of analysis into elements by the analytic method that reveals the parts of the unit [literally: breaks the whole into linked units—metod … analiza, … razchleniayushego na edinitsy]. It has to find the further undividable, surviving features that are characteristic of the given whole as a unity—units within which in mutually opposing ways these features are represented [Russian: edinitsy, v kotorykh v protivopolozhnom vide predstavleny eti svoistva].5

(Vygotsky, 1999, p. 13)

Vygotsky's notion of units fits into the general structure, emphasizing the unity of parts and focusing on their relationship.

However, it is easy to see how Vygotsky's dialectical units—into opposing parts of the whole—go beyond the water analogy. The whole (water)—parts (oxygen, hydrogen) and relations—are fixed as long as water remains water. In reality of human development, the wholes are open to transformation. Together with charting out the pathways to synthesis, inherent in that unit is the constraining of options—the structure of the unit rules out some possible courses for emergence.

Vygotsky found that holistic unit in word meaning, as that meaning includes a variety of mutually opposite and contradicting versions of “personal sense” (smysl). Through the dynamic oppositions (contradictions) between subunits (of “personal sense”) of the meaning (znachenie), the latter develops. Thus, we have a hierarchical unit where the transformation of the znachenie at the higher level of organization depends on the dialectical syntheses emerging in the contradictory relationships between varied smysl's at the lower level. And conversely, the emerged new form of znachenie establishes constraints on the interplay of smysl's at the lower level. The loci of developmental transformations are in the relations between different levels of the hierarchical order, not at any one level.

Tension Between Macro-Social and Micro-Social Levels: Hierarchical Relationships

Ratner's (2008, 2012) call for a macrocultural psychology fills the void at the boundary of psychology and sociology. Although doing that it faces a new challenge—that of the political nature of all social discourses about the phenomena, as well as about the social sciences that study these phenomena. This challenge is most visible in the field—in the deeply politically embedded activities of NGOs in their relations with local government agencies, community structures, and personal goals (Bourdier, 2008). Culture in the field is a politically contested, non-neutral complex used by all disputing sides for their objectives (Wikan, 2002). Possibly precisely because of such multiplicity of vested interests, the process of “Westernization” can be replaced by a notion of parallel development of societies in contact. As Kagitçibasi (2005, p. 267) has commented:

… as societies modernize (with increased urbanization, education, affluence etc.), they do not necessarily demonstrate a shift toward western individualism. A more complex transformation is seen in family patterns of modernizing societies with cultures of relatedness. The emerging pattern shares important characteristics with both individualism and collectivism while, as the synthesis of the two, it is significantly different from each.

Thus the crucial issue in cultural psychology is to handle phenomena of synthesis. So far the field is as far from a productive solution for that problem as Wundt, Krueger, and Vygotsky were about a century ago. Psychology lacks the formal language that made chemistry back in the nineteenth century capable of solving the synthesis problem theoretically.

Varied Perspectives: Contested by “Indigenous” Psychologies

The meta-theoretical decision to build hierarchical models of relationships means a new return to the question of parts–whole relationships. The parts belonging to a whole are necessarily operating at a level subservient to that of a whole, and we have a minimal hierarchical system. That system is guaranteed by the central role of the agent—the acting, feeling, and thinking human being who is always within a context while moving beyond the very same context by one's goal-oriented actions. As Tania Zittoun has explained it:

… there is no such thing as a context-free competence or skill. However, the setting is not everything; every activity is also undertaken by a person, actively making sense of the situation, of its whereabouts, its goals and resemblances with other (p. 11) situations met by her—these processes are in large part not conscious.

(Zittoun, 2008, p. 439)

Thus, by the very act of modifying the setting, the person (actor) creates a hierarchical relationship that sets oneself above the setting, yet in ways that remain bounded with the setting (“bounded indeterminacy,” Valsiner, 1997). This hierarchy can be hidden from self-reflexivity and can occur at the intuitive level of Umwelts. From a generic idea, “either X or Y” (person OR context), we move to “X into Y into X into Y …”—a mutually recursive feed-forward process.

There is much to learn from the indigenous movement in contemporary psychology (Chakkarath, 2005, 2012; Choi, Han, & Kim, 2007; Li, 2007; Krishnan & Manoj, 2008). The productive use of the indigenous psychology movement for the conceptual texture of cultural psychology becomes available after the “colonizing” (treating “the other” society as a data source) and “independence” (the “other society” claiming the value of their indigenous concepts) is overcome. Instead of mere equality claims of the “others’” concepts, the science of psychology can overcome its Euro-centric historical orientation by making some of these concepts the core terms (and treating their Euro-centric analogues as their derivates). As Durghanand Sinha has noted:

Long before WHO defined health in positive terms as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, the Indian conceptualization was completely holistic as reflected in Susrut's definition: prasannamendriyamanah swastha (or health is state of delight or a feeling of spiritual, physical and mental well-being). The aspect of sama or avoidance of extremes and having various bodily processes and elements in the right quantity (neither too little nor too much), that is, of maintaining proper balance, has been constantly emphasized … well-being is nit equated with fulfillment of needs and production of material wealth through the control and exploitation of nature. The capacity to develop and maintain harmonious relationship with the environment is considered vital.

(Sinha, 1996, p. 95)

Of course no governmental organization (WHO, UN, or any other) has a privilege in defining scientific terms. A science cannot start from a local definition of a socio-political kind—it would reduce its generalizability and would let a social institution direct the knowledge construction along its political orientations.

Self-Reflexivity of Psychology: Advantages of the “Cultural Look”

Psychology's theory construction site is itself culturally organized. It includes sensitizing concepts (social representations)—meanings that give direction to empirical efforts of researchers (Joffe & Staerklé, 2007, p. 413). A sensitizing concept may block the advancement of a direction of research for long time—as the history around developmental logics (Valsiner, 2008b) shows. Although the core notion of “taking” may guide Western psychological theories to accept the rationality of benefit maximization axiom that leads to the “independent self” notion as normative, the Indian focus on “giving” (Krishnan & Manoj, 2008) sets the stage for different versions of “interdependent self” theories. The generic social representation accepted in the occidental worlds—such as Aristotelian two-valent logic— makes the emergence of multitrajectory holistic (yet structured) concepts much more complicated than in many cases of indigenous meaning systems. Existing meta-level social representations guide the directions of theory construction in the sciences.

For example, Western psychologies have had difficulty accepting the notion of development as it entails synthetic emergence of generalized, abstracted phenomena. The focus has been on “what was” (memory, history) or on “what we now think that was” (Galasinska, 2003; Goldberg, Borat and Schwartz, 2006; Mori, 2008; Wagoner, 2008, 2011) and rarely has considered “what is not yet—but is about to become.” What is “being measured” is assumed to be “out there” in its essentialist form (fixed quality) and in different amounts (quantities). Once the quality is immutably fixed, it cannot transform into new forms—hence, the difficulty of developmental thinking in occidental psychologies. It is only at present that questions of processes by which the movement toward the future occurs begin to be analyzed (Järvinen, 2004; Sato et al., 2007). Cultural psychology cannot deal with behavior as something “out there” that can be observed. Instead, we can observe meaningful conduct of goal-oriented organisms (not only humans—Sokol-Chang, 2009) who are in the process of creating one's actual life trajectories out of a diversity of possibilities (Sato et al., 2007, 2012). That process may be poorly captured by the use of real numbers (Valsiner & Rudolph, 2008), and hence careful qualitative (p. 12) analyses of particular versions of human conduct are the empirical core of cultural psychologies.

The Range of the Handbook—And Its “Missing Pages”

Obviously a handbook of 51 chapters is a huge corpus of ideas and seems to be fully comprehensive. Unfortunately we did not succeed in including all the expected and desired relevant authors in the Handbook, for various reasons—mostly linked with workloads and travel. Thus, the voices of traditional experimental social psychology (of Shinobu Kitayama and Hazel Markus), and its adamant critiques (Richard Shweder), psychoanalytic cultural anthropology (Gananath Obeyesekere, Sudhir Kakar), sociology of complex societies (Veena Das, Rama Chan Tripathi), socio-cultural semiotic perspectives (Alberto Rosa), and the cultural psychology of work processes (Yrjö Engeström) did not materialize by the time the Handbook project was to be finished. The following entails a brief synopsis of some of these.

Social Psychology of Cultural Self—The Stanford Tradition

The “Stanford tradition” emanating from the work of Hazel Markus since 1980s and proliferating in North American social psychology is an outgrowth from the contextualist orientation in personality psychology of the 1970s. Markus’ work starts from an empirical emphasis on the schematic self-descriptions. She gives new theoretical life to William James’ notion of possible future selves that is conceptualized in terms of subjective approach/withdrawal tendencies of a person who is facing possible futures (Markus & Nurius, 1986). Furthermore, the emphasis on “possible selves” constitutes a return to Gordon Allport's idea of hierarchical organization of personality and tentatively explains the role of the personally constructed “possible selves” in the regulation of personality development (e.g., Markus & Wurff, 1987). Although proceeding from self-personological roots, Markus creates a contrast between different collective cultures in terms of the opposition of independence versus interdependence notions that organize the selves (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). In years since, Kitayama has developed the notion of interdependent self into a major research program in experimental social psychology. The normal state of the self is interdependent—independence is merely a special condition of interdependence.

Gananath Obeyesekere's Cultural World of Person in Context

Culture for Obeyesekere consists of internalized ideas in the minds of persons, mediated by consciousness. Because consciousness is primarily personally constructed, the “sharing” of culture between persons can only be episodic and partial (see Obeyesekere, 1977—demon possession is a personal-psychological phenomenon that is not shared with others, yet can be exorcised by cultural rules). Furthermore, specific sophistic readings of cultural texts by constructive persons can bring into being forms of conduct that seemingly deviate from cultural meanings yet are incorporated into those by special conditions (e.g., the making of “Buddhist eggs”; see Obeyesekere, 1968, p. 30). He has shown how constructed discourses—such as the stories of Maori cannibalism—proliferate (Obeyesekere, 2005).

Culturally Reformed Psychoanalysis

Obeyesekere has been working within a psychoanalytic paradigm, enriching it with his hermeneutic stance, and diligently trying to reformulate its conceptual structure on the basis of empirical evidence from the Sinhalese cultural contexts (Obeyesekere, 1963, 1968, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1984, 1990). He has also taken a look at encounters between societies (Obeyesekere, 1993) that reveal the “work of culture,” as it

… is the process whereby symbolic forms existing on the cultural level get created and recreated through the minds of people. It deals with the formation and transformation of symbolic forms, but is not a transformation without a subject as in conventional structural analysis …

(Obeyesekere, 1990, p. xix)

The work of culture is a developmentally progressive process in its main scope (even if it may include moments of temporary “regressions” in its course—e.g., a person's dissociation of the existing personality organization and being in turmoil for long periods of time (Obeyesekere, 1987, p. 104). The key idea is cultural constraints set up conditions under which personal symbolic action takes place—be this the construction of women's pregnancy cravings in Sri Lanka (Obeyesekere, 1963, 1985) or sorcery for retribution (Obeyesekere, 1975). On the other hand, each person acts in one's unique ways, has unique personal history, and hence any “standard ritual” (e.g., that of exorcism (p. 13) of “demon dominance,” Obeyesekere, 1977, or in Christian traditions, Obeyesekere, 2010) needs to accommodate a variety of specific conditions that may be characteristic of a particular person.

Overdetermination by Meaning

Perhaps the most central innovation of the psychoanalytic thought that Obeyesekere introduces (and that moves him irreversibly away from psychoanalytic explanations of the occidental orthodox kind) is the move from overdetermination of motive (as emphasized by Freud and reflected in dream analysis) to overdetermination of meaning (Obeyesekere, 1990, p. 56). All events in human life occur in polysemic contexts, being framed by a variety of cultural meanings, operating simultaneously at different levels of symbolic remove from deep motivations. Some of the cultural meanings are closer to the motivations (events) that originally triggered the personal symbolization process, which utilized culturally available means. However, in human development, some levels of symbolization may lose all of their connection with the initial “triggering event” and acquire symbolic life of their own in the personality of an individual. Furthermore, Obeyesekere's theoretical transposition of the notion of overdetermination to the symbolic level is an important idea:

… “[S]ymbolic remove” is based on the psychoanalytic idea that symbols in principle, if not always in practice, show infinite substitutionability. Related to this idea is another principle of the work of culture that psychoanalysis has not, and could not, consider seriously since it would threaten the isomorphism between symbol and symptom. And that is the principle of disconnection of the symbol from the sources of motivation. Substitution implies that symbiol X related to motive Y can be replaced by symbols A, B, or C … n. A, B, C are all “isomorphic replacements” of X, related to motive Y in identical or similar manner. “Disconnection” questions the postulated isomorphism and suggests that A,B,C, … n might exhibit degrees of symbolic remove from Y and might eventually lose its connection with Y … Admittedly, total disconnection is rare, but one can make a reasonable case that the more the symbol is removed from the sources of motivation the more it gets the attribute of arbitrariness, thus approximating the Saussurean idea of the arbitrary relation between signifier and signified.

(Obeyesekere, 1990, p. 58)

Obeyesekere adds this constructive-disjunctive (of the symbol from the motive) dimension to the culture-work idea, thus liberating the psychoanalytic perspective from its expression-interpreting fate.

Richard Shweder—The Voice of Culture for Psychology

Starting from an anthropological background, Richard Shweder's voice in psychology over the recent two decades has undoubtedly pointed to the need to consider culture in psychology as a primary constituting factor of the self (Shweder, 1984, 1991; Shweder & Much, 1987; Shweder & Sullivan, 1990, 1993). The cultural richness of India has certainly fascinated Europeans in very many ways, but it is rarely that occidental science has attempted to provide in-depth analyses of the cultural constructions in the Hindu world. Shweder's approach recognizes the heterogeneity and culture-inclusiveness of moral reasoning of human beings (Shweder, 1995; Shweder & Much, 1987; Shweder, Mahapatra, & Miller, 1987). Shweder returns to the emphasis of culturally constituted person as an agent in both subjective and collective domains:

… to imaginatively conceive of subject-dependent objects (intentional worlds) and object-dependent subjects (intentional persons) interpenetrating each other's identities or setting the conditions for each other's existence and development, while jointly undergoing change through social interaction …

(Shweder, 1990, p. 25)

The personal minds (object-dependent persons) construct mental and affective order out of chaos of everyday events—hence, an illusory view of reality is constructed by persons but on the basis of the culture. Shweder has been a consistent critic of psychology's “culture myopia” (taking the role of “the grand confusionist” by his own designation), pointing out that psychology—even its cross-cultural version—has ignored culture as the central player in the domain of human psyche.

A Single Example Matters: How Mr. Babaji is Important for Psychology

Shweder's specific work on the organization of the self in Hindu collective-cultural contexts takes the form of elaboration of specific personal-cultural transformations of socially shared knowledge. Everyday conversations surrounding the developing person are filled with cultural suggestions for how (p. 14) to interpret the nature of experience in accordance with social representations (Markova, 2003, 2011).

Shweder encountered specific collective-cultural organization of moral discourse in his efforts to apply Kohlbergian moral dilemmas in Hindu contexts in Orissa. His elaborate dispute with the informant Babaji (Shweder & Much, 1987, pp. 235–244) revealed how a Western collective-culturally shared “moral dilemma” (stealing/not stealing a drug under life-threatening illness of one's wife and drug-owner's refusal to provide it by special arrangements) can be translated into a completely different personal-cultural issue (i.e., sinning vs. not sinning via stealing for one's wife, even if the latter's life is in jeopardy). By way of specific combination of collective-cultural meanings of “sin,” “wife” (as “belonging to” the husband), “multiple lives,” and “inevitability of death,” a set of alternative personal-culturally allowable scenarios for the action of the person in a dilemma situation is being constructed (see also Menon, 2003, on Hindu moral discourses). Cultural-psychological investigations are necessarily of unique events—yet of those that happen within a hierarchy of social contexts. Instead of situating cultural psychology on the socio-political landscape (Ratner, 2008, 2012), it is the macro-social organization of society that becomes analyzed in micro-social activity contexts. Here the traditions of micro-sociology of culture give cultural psychology a lead—generalization from a carefully studied single specimen can be sufficient.

Qualitative Methodology As the Root for All Methods in Psychology

A liberation movement is happening in psychology—an effort to topple the socially normative fixed role of the quantitative methods as having the monopoly of being “scientific.” Yet making the qualitative and quantitative methods look like they oppose each other as two rivals is an unproductive stance—which is even not overcome by the “cocktail” metaphor of giving preference to “mixed methods.”

In reality, quantity is a derivate of quality. As Ho et al. (2007) have demonstrated, contemporary social sciences that treat qualitative and quantitative methods as if these were opposing methodologies are introducing a false dichotomy. Research questions in psychology—as long as psychology is not hyperformalized by mathematical ideas—are asked in philosophical terms, hence qualitatively. Echoing the concerns by many scholars over the twentieth century (e.g., Baldwin, 1930; Michell, 1999, 2003, 2005; Rudolph, 2006a, 2006b), they point out:

Quantification is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for science. No-one questions the scientific status of biology without quantification … . The price of quantification is a ‘loss’ of information, as when rich qualitative data are reduced to sets of numbers, such as frequency counts, means, and variances. Quantitative data have to be translated into qualitative statements if their meanings and implications are to be spelled out, communicated to and received by the researcher's audience.

(Ho et al., 2007, p. 380)

Qualitative perspectives are clearly on the ascent in contemporary psychology at large (Diriwächter & Valsiner, 2006, 2008; Gelo, Braakman, & Benetka, 2008; Mey & Mruck, 2005, 2007; Michell, 2004). This is more easily fitted to cultural psychology—where the molar level units of analysis resist quantification anyway (e.g., Toomela, 2008b, pp. 64–65, on psychology's production of meaningless numbers). To ask the question “how much of [X= “love”, “hatred”… .]?” presumes the unitary quality of that X and its nature together with homogeneity of the presumed substance (X), which makes it possible to apply quantitative measurement units to it. Hence the assumption of quantifiability rules out from the outset the possibility of transformation of quality by separating the latter from whatever numbers are attached to the phenomena in the act of “being measured.”

Unity of Quality and Quantity

All quantitative approaches constitute a subclass of qualitative ones but not vice versa. Psychology treats numbers as if they are objective in contrast to mathematics. For example, the difference of 0 (zero) and 1 (one) and 2 (two) in case of psychology's assumption of interval or ratio scale treats each of these numbers as equally meaningful. Yet they are not; the concept of 0 (zero) is in its quality different from 1 or 2. Zero indicates a dialogue:

Zero means both all (excessive) or none (void). The dialogical process includes the middle, which gets excluded in the dichotomies.

(Tripathi & Leviatan, 2003, p. 85)〉

Thus, psychology's—not only cultural psychologies’—core conceptual problem is not merely “dualisms” of all kinds but of the understanding of the (p. 15) dualities (or multiplicities) inherent in what seems to be a unitary point to which a number can be easily assigned (Wagoner & Valsiner, 2005).

The issue—treating science of psychology as an act of assigning numbers to qualitative phenomena (to get data) has been discussed critically by Rudolph (2006a, 2006b, 2006c, 2009) as well as Toomela (2007b, 2008a). The social consensus of number assignment guarantees no science—hence much of psychology's data analytic practices are of the kind of cultural artifacts that may belong to a museum rather than contribute to advancement of knowledge. The cultural nature of the meaning of “statistical significance” has been shown to be one of such widespread artifacts (Ziliak & McCloskey, 2008).

More importantly, the crucial conceptual mishap in psychology is the reduction of the notion of abstract formal models of mathematics to the use of only one kind of numbers—real numbers. At the same time, many cultural-psychological phenomena are better fitted with models using imaginary numbers (Valsiner & Rudolph, 2008) and topological models (Rudolph, 2008a, 2008b, 2009). Such number systems may be better fitted for dealing with the phenomena of uncertainty of living (Abbey, 2004, 2007, 2011; Golden & Mayseless, 2008) and with dynamic boundaries-making (and unmaking) in human social lives (Madureira, 2007a, 2007b, 2011; Tsoulakas, 2007). Tsoukalas (2007) has brought the issue of religiosities—differentiating doctrinal and imagistic types—back to our focus of attention. Specific cultural practices of communication—turned into institutionalized framework through activities like prayer (del Rio & Alvarez, 2007), asking for forgiveness (Brinkmann, 2010; Phillips, 2007), apologizing, and many others may lead the way toward cultural psychology of religious sentiments.

From Oppositional Terms to Unity of Opposites

Psychology has usually adhered to exclusive separation of opposites along the lines of Aristotelian-Boolean two-valued logic. Consider the basic opposition of “individualist” versus “collectivist” cultures—a staple organizer of knowledge in cross-cultural psychology. Societies on the Globe are divided into either “individualist” or “collectivist” and contrasted with each other.

Matsumoto (2003) has specified the location where tension can be located in human cultural functioning—between the consensual reflection about one's group membership (e.g., “as an X [i.e., “an American”] I am Y [“individualistic”], not Z [“collectivistic”]) and the circumstances for action (“while an X in general—in situation S, I am Z”). Because each person is context-bound, no statement about one's cultural label (“individualist” vs. “collectivist”) can characterize the negotiation between the opposites and the situation demands. The tension is thus granted by the social community (see Mead, 2001/1931, on the role of community in U.S. society). By the regular cross-cultural psychology nomenclature, the United States is considered to be “individualistic,” yet if one looks at the level of person– community relations, it looks very “collectivistic.” That person is therefore necessarily analyzable as a dynamic structure of multiple parts—such as Autonomous-Related Self (Kagitçibasi, 1996, 2005; Tuli & Chaudhary, 2010) or in terms of dialogical self (Hermans, 2001, 2002; Hermans & Dimaggio, 2007; Salgado & Gonçalves, 2007).

It is here—at the unity of various parts within the whole—that cultural-psychological processes make stability out of instability; parents operate at the intersection of various cultural models (Keller, Demuth, & Yovsi, 2008), and kindergarten teachers evoke danger scenarios for children in the middle of mundane everyday activities (Golden & Mayseless, 2008). The cultural-psychological worlds are relational worlds, yet that recognition leads us to inquire into what relational could mean.

Relationships As Boundaries

Cultural tools both set up boundaries—by way of classification—and set the stage for transforming them (Boesch, 2008). As Boesch sets up these two functions of culture—classification and transformation—we can expand these from two different functions into one. Although classification (“this belongs to A”) creates the distinction with the rest (non-A), it also sets up the boundary {A || non-A}. The act of classifying is simultaneously boundary-setting, and boundary is the trigger for its overcoming, by way of transformation {A |is becoming| non-A}. As such, classification and transformation are two mutually linked processes. Boundaries of gender (Madureira, 2007a, 2007b, 2011) and body (Ingold, 2004) turn out to be both solidly protected and quasi-permeable. Human social life entails constant boundary construction (Joffe & Staerklé, 2007) and transformation—social classes create their boundaries in urban globalizing worlds (Tevik, 2006) together (p. 16) with opening up the possibility of transcending these boundaries. By creating boundaries, we create objects, which are simultaneously physical and cultural entities.

Cultural Objects

Objects are not just material “things” that exist in and of themselves but distinguished contrasts between a figure and the ground. Thus, a black point on a white surface is an object, based on a relationship of the figure and the ground. Human cultural histories are filled with hyper-rich construction of such objects through abundant use of signs. We create our lives through ornaments, which seem to us to carry decorative purposes, yet these decorations abound and can be found in unexpected locations (Valsiner, 2008). By our constructive actions we turn things into objects.

We live among objects—and relate to them:

The words “object,” objectus, objet, Gegenstand, ogetto, voorwerp all share the root meaning of a throwing before, a putting against or opposite, an opposing. In the English verb “to object” the oppositional, even accusatory sense of the word is still vivid. In an extended sense, objects throw themselves in front of us, smite the senses, thrust themselves into our consciousness. They are neither subtle nor evanescent nor hidden. Neither effort nor ingenuity nor instruments are required to detect them. They do not need to be discovered or investigated; they possess self-evidence of a slap in the face.

(Daston, 2000, p. 2)

It is not surprising that cultural psychology becomes increasingly interested in the study of meaningful objects. Cultural objects are everywhere—in our private domains of homes (including the homes themselves) and in public (in the streets, town squares, etc.). They are both stationary (temples, monuments, etc.) and moving (buses, trains, airplanes, etc.). As Bastos (2008) pointed out, these objects can be seen as “tattoos on the collective soul,” and they bring into cultural psychology the methodological credo of visual anthropology. The kind of meaning-making in the creation of such (moving or stationary) wholes is of hybrid nature, including indexical, iconic, and symbolic signs (to follow C. S. Peirce's basic typology). Cultural psychologists of the semiotic orientation have usually detected varied versions of encoded versions in their descriptions of objects, whereas the jeepney example forces us to look for principles by which different sign types become coordinated in the making of a holistic cultural order (Diriwächter & Valsiner, 2008).

Last—but not least—the increasing interest in objects in cultural psychology leads to its new relationship with another discipline—that of archeology. Empirical evidence from the structure of objects used by human beings in the past in various social contexts becomes functional for understanding the present and the future (González-Ruibal, 2005, 2006, 2011). It is in this historical focus—of objects-in-their context (in case of archaeology) and meanings-in-their context (in case of cultural psychology)—that a new interdisciplinary synthesis of knowledge is likely to emerge in the future.

Preview of the Handbook

The 12 sections of the Handbook are merely an orientation device for the reader to orient oneself in the large heterogeneous field of cultural psychology. The chapters in the historical section (I) situate both the previous efforts to unite culture and psychology (Diriwächter, 2012; Jahoda, 2012) as well as provide an insight into the role of Vygotsky (van der Veer, 2011). Different other chapters in other parts of the Handbook (Magnus & Kull, 2012 on the role of von Uexkyll; Tarasti, 2012, on various philosophical tendencies that underlie the semiotic perspectives in cultural psychology) show how the scientific minds of various backgrounds have been looking for solutions to similar problems. History of the social sciences is a rich ground for finding out how different theoretical efforts emerged—yet failed to reach solutions to the problems.

The key message from our turn to history is the need to rejuvenate the theoretical schemes of psychology by touching on similar solutions attempted in other sciences. Semiotics (Innis, 2010, 2012; Magnus & Kull, 2012; Tarasti, 2012) stands out as a new and very promising peer for psychology. This is complemented by bringing the science of archeology into contact with psychology (Gonzalez-Ruibal, 2012).

Cultural psychology benefits from conceptualizing the notion of positioning—a geographic metaphor that allows for elaboration of the multiplicity of psychological phenomena (Harré, 2012; Bento et al., 2012). When the notion of positioning is linked with that of social representations (Aveling et al., 2010) we gain a multifaceted dynamic view into the human lives as these move through various social settings. Obviously such positions are themselves embedded in the macro-social settings, as Ratner (2008, 2012) reminds us. Through the synthesis of positioning theory, social representation theory (Marková, 2003, 2012), and the macro-cultural look, cultural psychology can arrive at a hierarchy of “niches” of socially embedded and personally constructed phenomena. All these are united through the use of semiotic tools at all levels of that social hierarchy (Innis, 2012; Salvatore, 2012; Sonesson, 2010; Tarasti, 2012).

Yet at the beginning of all efforts to unite culture and psychology is the act—a purposeful, meaningful, future-oriented movement by a willful person (Boesch, 2011; Eckensberger, 2011). Action theory is unabashedly focused on the symbolic (see also Bruner, 1986; Salvatore, 2011). Although the semiotically organized ACTING PERSON–SOCIAL POSITIONING–SOCIAL REPRESENTATION–MACRO-CULTURAL ORDER hierarchy could be considered the vertical axis of cultural psychology, it is important to pay attention to its horizontal counterpart. The latter entails the transitions between different culturally structured contexts within which human beings act, position themselves, and become involved in macro-social activities. The home leads, through an entrance, to the street, the city square, to the road that leaves the city for the rural countryside. Airplanes take us 10 kilometers above the ground, where our positioning ourselves is surrounded by white clouds and thinking of the past that we left behind while taking off and the future that awaits us in the airport where we are about to land. Kharlamov (2012) brings to cultural psychology the notion of moving between different spaces—and the role of constant meaning construction “on line” as such movement takes place. This resonates well with the focus on migration as human main modus operandi—from micro-migration (movement between home and workplace, home and school), temporary work-related migration (sailors at sea, guest workers in foreign lands), immigration, and establishment of oneself in a far away place. By the twenty-first century, the latter includes extra-terrestrial spaces—as long as the ideas of “colonizing the Moon” (or Mars) are entertained as potential future projects. In all these migrations—real or imaginary, temporary or permanent—we can observe the unity of the self and the other (Bento et al., 2012; Simão, 2012). The human being needs to relate to the other to be oneself and develop further while being oneself. An important part in that is creating stories—both about oneself and about the other. In this respect, the developing qualitative research practice using narratives (Brockmeier, 2011) or focusing on the micro-level discourse phenomena (Murakami, 2011) is a notable direction for future development of culture within psychological research. Into the human propensity of narrating—all over the life-course—enter different semiotic resources (Eco, 2009; Zittoun, 2007, 2012) and we consolidate our selves around the images of fictional characters from novels, movies, or revered historical figures. The connections of psychological data and different literary constructions are being explored in contemporary cultural psychology (Brinkmann, 2006, 2007, 2009; Johansen, 2010; Moghaddam, 2004). The creative writers may have had better insights into the complexities of the human psyche than North American college undergraduates diligently putting pencil marks onto the myriads of Likert scales.

It is for the reason of providing resources that culture in psychology needs to consider the history of human beings (Carretero & Bermudez, 2012; Winston & Winston, 201=2). That history entails the construction of meaning about one's social and economic status as well as that of the others. “Being poor” may look different from various definitions of social positioning, as can objective state of economic status (Bastos & Rabinovich, 2009, 2012). So does the construction of the notion of race (Winston & Winston, 2012). Behind all these socially constructed human phenomena are very real biological bodies of Homo sapiens. Historically oriented cultural psychology needs to look at the phylogenesis of cultural means. The Handbook provides a glimpse into our thinking about the newest developments in the studies of primate cultures (C. Boesch, 2012) and gives the readers a glimpse into the biosemiotic look at the animal world (Magnus & Kull, 2012). Theoretically, contemporary cultural psychology shares the ground with epigenetic thinking in biology (Tavory et al., 2012).

Human beings move around—as tourists, pilgrims, traders, warriors, or vagabonds. In such movements, they enhance their horizons of “the Other”—persons, customs, habits, and economic opportunities. Understanding people-in-movement is a crucial task for cultural psychology (Gillespie et al., 2012; Kharlamov, 2012). The hybrid trajectory of self-willed movement—the pilgrimage—is a cultural phenomenon that dynamically unites the otherwise static rural–urban, religious–secular, and nomadic–sedentary oppositions. The pilgrim's path is not geographic but psychological (Beckstead, 2012).

(p. 18) Complex psychological functions of social kind are covered in Part X of the Handbook. Perhaps the most crucial issue is the way in which duties and rights (Moghaddam et al., 2012) are linked with the construction of values (Branco, 2012). In a counterweight to the Euro-American discourse on such higher processes, Nsamenang (2012) has provided a contextualized perspective from the vantage point of African societies.

The basic tenet of cultural psychology—in contrast to cross-cultural psychology—is the inclusion of the social institutions in which people participate in the study of the cultural ways of living (see Valsiner, 2007, on two ways of knowledge creation). Our Handbook looks at a number of social practices—those in the macro-structure of a school (Daniels, 2012; Marsico & Iannacone, 2012, Marsico, Komatsu & Iannaccone, 2012) The educational contexts can—and do—change; our Handbook covers the ways in which interventions have been observed (Downing-Wilson et al., 2012; Lopez et al., 2012).

All human beings who participate in the activities of social institutions are acting on the basis of their affective relations with the immediate social worlds. Chaudhary (2012) demonstrates how the normative stance for such relations is the strategic coalition-making in family networks—filled with affective construction of dramas. The centrality of play (van Oers, 2012) in human lives guarantees that within any social group there is constant differentiation of forms of new action. The peer group sets the range of social constraints that enable further innovative collective action (Li, 2012).

The crucial area for re-integration of culture and psychology is the creation of new methodology (Part XII). It needs to transcend the elementaristic logic of the General Linear Model by allowing for recognition of cyclical nature of causal processes, focus on constant construction of variability (which leads to idiographic science; Molenaar, 2004), and accepting the multilinearity and multifinality of the psychological processes (Sato et al., 2012). Ambivalence—rather than its absence—is the normal state of affairs in psychological phenomena (Abbey, 2012). That ambivalence is being temporarily overcome through the use of cultural tools by persons (Boesch, 2011\2; Eckensberger, 2011; Innis, 2011). New methods are emerging from this general line of thinking—collective techniques of looking at reconstructive memory (Wagoner, 2012) and the look at life trajectories in-the-making (Sato et al., 2012).

Encountering the rich material in this Handbook is a multilinear experience for the reader—a worthwhile effort, so as to make sense of where psychology so far has failed and to get some ideas of better future for the human sciences of the future. It is our hope that this Handbook becomes a rich resource for future generations of thinkers who want to see culture in the psyche and let psychology as a science enter the social realities of cultural organization.


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(1.) The first two having been the times of Völkerspsychologie, 1860–1920, and the efforts of the “culture and personality” school in cultural anthropology in the 1950s.

(2.) The boy who was trained by John B. Watson, one of the originators of behaviorism

(3.) The infant chimpanzee who was raised by Ladygina-Kohts (2002, original in 1935 ) in the classic study of chimpanzee development in human environments

(4.) Wolfgang Köhler's best known research participant on the Tenerife.

(5.) It is important to note that the intricate link with the dialectical dynamicity of the units—which is present in the Russian original-- is lost in English translation, which briefly stated only the main point in a summarizing fashion: “Psychology, which aims at a study of complex holistic systems, must replace the method of analysis into elements with the method of analysis into units” (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 5). Yet it remains unclear in the English translation what kinds of units are to be constructed—those that entail oppositional relationships between parts—while in the Russian original it is made evident.