The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology

The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology

The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology

The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology


The goal of cultural psychology is to explain the ways in which human cultural constructions - for example, rituals, stereotypes, and meanings - organize and direct human acting, feeling, and thinking in different social contexts. A rapidly growing, international field of scholarship, cultural psychology is ready for an interdisciplinary, primary resource. Linking psychology, anthropology, sociology, archaeology, and history, The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology is the quintessential volume that unites the variable perspectives from these disciplines. Comprised of over fifty contributed chapters, this book provides a necessary, comprehensive overview of contemporary cultural psychology. Bridging psychological, sociological, and anthropological perspectives, one will find in this handbook:- A concise history of psychology that includes valuable resources for innovation in psychology in general and cultural psychology in particular - Interdisciplinary chapters including insights into cultural anthropology, cross-cultural psychology, culture and conceptions of the self, and semiotics and cultural connections - Close, conceptual links with contemporary biological sciences, especially developmental biology, and with other social sciences- A section detailing potential methodological innovations for cultural psychology By comparing cultures and the (often differing) human psychological functions occuring within them, this handbook is the ideal resource for making sense of complex and varied human phenomena.


Jaan Valsiner


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 . . .

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