Macro Cultural Psychology: A Political Philosophy of Mind, by Carl Ratner. Oxford University Press, 2012, 519 pages (ISBN 978-0-19-537354-7, US $75.00, Hardcover)
Reviewed by MOISÉS ESTEBAN-GUITART
Ratner' s goal in this book is to articulate a whole new understanding of how the mind works in relation to macrocultural forces, which are the social institutions, cultural artifacts, and cultural concepts that constitute the world in which we live. Carl Ratner sets his sights on correcting what he perceives to be a problematic and false divide between culture, psychology, and policy. He claims that the three are intrinsically related, but were kept separate during the early growth of these fields due to the desire to preserve the abstract and disembodied view of psychological phenomena. To help unite the three fields, he proposes the theory of macrocultural psychology, rooted in the theories of Vygotsky and Bronfenbrenner.
Cultural psychology is increasingly important in world psychology but most of it does not consider macrocultural factors, and certainly not in a systematic way. This book develops a cultural theory or a theory of culture that explains the importance of macrocultural factors. It also discusses the relation of biology to culture and psychology in a novel perspective that draws on Vygotsky's work. Ratner presents numerous examples to illustrate each of his points. This makes the book very readable and understandable, despite its emphasis on theory. Ratner also freely criticizes other approaches to cultural psychology that, according to him, fail to comprehend concrete macrocultural factors in relation to psychology. He recognizes valuable aspects of other approaches, but he also highlights what he believes to be their incompleteness.
Macrocultural psychology emphasizes the macro aspects of culture in relation to psychological functioning. Macro factors include social institutions (e.g., family, schools, government, economic enterprises, spiritual organisations, health care institutions), cultural artifacts (e.g., art, tools, clothing, eating and cooking utensils, housing), and cultural concepts (e.g., about time, wealth, gender, morality, nature, sex) dialectically related to form a social system. They form the origins and characteristics of psychological phenomena such as emotions, self, intelligence, sexuality, memory, reasoning, perception, developmental processes, and mental illness. In other words, psychological phenomena have cultural origins, characteristics, mechanisms (or "operating systems"), and functions. Macrocultural factors are the basis of behaviour, organise the form and content of psychological phenomena, and are the function, or 'lelos," of psychological functioning.
Ratner' s book provides a wide range of evidence that substantiates these propositions. For example, the educational psychology of students (concentration, motivation, memory, intelligence) includes family; consumerism and capitalism; gender, ethnicity, and class; government educational policy and budget; media; value of education; school buildings; books; transportation; supplies; work rules; and work opportunities. The students' success is not only a personal matter or idiosyncratic in substance, it is, in essence, structured by different pressures. In other words, students' psychology in school is organized by a web of interrelated cultural factors. Each macrocultural factor has a political character that represents the culmination of a struggle among competing interest groups. The dominant group imparts its interest to the cultural factor that it controls: textbooks, media context, government policies and budgets, access to education by ethnic groups and lower class populations, and so on. These concrete macro factors organise attention, memory, and reasoning in certain directions and away from others; they require certain kinds of reasoning rather than others. …