The Rutherford Atom of Culture

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture

Abstract

Increasingly, psychologists have shown a healthy interest in cultural variation and a skepticism about assuming that research with North American and Northern European undergraduates provides reliable insight into universal psychological processes. Unfortunately, this reappraisal has not been extended to questioning the notion of culture central to this project. Rather, there is wide acceptance that culture refers to a kind of social form that is entity-like, territorialized, marked by a high degree of shared beliefs and coalescing into patterns of key values that animate a broad range of cultural performances and representations. Ironically, anthropologists and other scholars in cultural studies have overwhelmingly come to reject this view of culture. Arguably, then, the move in psychology to attend to cultural environments has paradoxically further distanced it from the fields most concerned with cultural forms. This essay reviews this state of affairs and offers a proposal how a more nuanced appreciation of cultural life can be articulated with theories and methods familiar and available to psychologists.

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