Cross-Cultural Neuropsychological Assessment: Theory and Practice

By Victor Nell | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Radical Environmentalism: Vygotsky, Luria, and the Historical Determination of Consciousness

The most attractive response -- politically and intellectually -- to the problems raised by test score variations across countries and cultures is radical environmentalism, which holds that culture makes mind. Proponents of this view, which evolutionary psychologists now deride as the "standard social sciences model" ( Cosmides, Tooby, ∧ Barkow, 1992), hold that culture is a semiotic system, that is a system of meanings extracted from signs:

Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of a law but an interpretative one in search of meaning. ( Geertz, 1971, p. 5)

It is impossible to grasp the problems of cross-cultural psychological assessment, or to make sense of the furious debate about the meaning of IQ score differences between groups, without first considering whether culture makes mind, and, if it does, how this prodigious feat is achieved. It is appropriate (and also neuropsychologically informative) to explore these difficult issues of mind, culture, and the ways in which they reproduce one another through the life work of the great Russian neuropsychologist, Alexander Romanovich Luria ( 1902-1977), and a replication of his crosscultural work in rural South Africa in the 1980s. Luria's prodigious output of books, monographs, and papers laid the foundations for modern clinical neuropsychology ( 1963, 1970, 1973, 1975a, 1975b, 1976a, 1976b, 1976c; see also Scheerer ∧ Elliger, 1980, for a bibliography of Luria's foreign language papers).

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