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Interdisciplinary Journal on Human Development, Culture and Education
Revista Interdisciplinar de Desenvolvimento Humano, Cultura e Educação

ISSN: 1533-6476

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number / numero 4, Vol I, May / Maio 2003

A Macroscopic Cultural Psychology

Carl Ratner
Institute for Cultural Research & Education
 

My work seeks to deepen our understanding of the cultural aspects of human psychology. These are aspects of psychology which originate in, are formed by, reflect, perpetuate, and modify social processes and factors outside the individual mind. My motivation in  pursuing cultural psychology is both scientific and political.
I believe that construing psychology as a cultural phenomenon is the scientifically correct way to understand psychology; a cultural analysis of psychology can also provide crucial insights for political action to improve human life.

The cultural factors that are most important for organizing psychology are macro-level
factors. These are enduring, objectified, regularized social forms which unify
multitudes of people in coordinated physical, social, and mental acts. Macro factors 
provide organization, coordination, and continuity to social life. Examples are
governments, economic systems, religious doctrines, school buildings, highways,
traffic lights, advertisements, and textbooks.

Macro factors comprise the essential factors of society. Since individual psychology and behavior must be congruent with macro social forms in order for society to persist, macro cultural factors are crucial organizers of human psychology. Macro cultural factors are therefore key to scientifically understanding important facets of human psychology. They are also key to reforming society – reforming society requires transforming its essential components and these are macro factors.

The scientific and political aspects of cultural psychology are interdependent and
mutually reinforcing. The scientific identification and explanation of macro
cultural aspects of psychology can identify societal changes that will enhance human psychology – to help people become more intelligent, far-sighted, logical, harmonious, helpful, moral, and secure, and less stressful, disturbed, prejudiced,
competitive, aggressive, lonely, insecure, depressed, mystified, and irrational.
Conversely, the political orientation of cultural psychology to enhance psychological
functioning through comprehending and improving the social fabric advances the
scientific understanding of psychology as a cultural phenomena. Social goals direct
cultural psychology to devise special theories and methods which investigate
cultural origins, formation, characteristics, and functions of psychology. Traditional 
theories and methods are not necessarily applicable because they are informed by a vision of psychology as individual, biological, or universal.

The scientific study of cultural psychology is a check on political analyses. Without
independent scientific information about the effects of culture on people, political
analyses are subject to self-confirming, erroneous thinking. History is replete with
fervent ideas for improvement which wind up debilitating people. A scientific cultural
psychology can help to overcome such errors. My work develops a scientific, politically useful theory and methodology that can investigate the cultural origins, formation, characteristics, and functions of psychological phenomena.

My theory rests upon a conceptual approach called activity theory. Activity theory is
the most coherent and profound articulation of the cultural nature of human psychology that I know of. It was introduced by Vygotsky and his Russian colleagues, Luria and Leontiev in the decades following the Russian revolution. I seek to advance their approach by adding points that will make activity theory a more complete and useful theory for cultural psychology.Linking psychological phenomena to macro factors requires unusual methods. Methods employed in comparative sociology and history are extremely useful. Anthropological methods that illuminate
cultural origins and features of people’s psychology are also useful to cultural
psychology. Much of my work has been to apply qualitative methods (such as interview techniques and content analysis) to elucidate macro cultural factors which
organize and are embedded within psychological phenomena.

My work in theory and methodology can be found on my web page:
http://www.humboldt1.com/~cr2

Carl Ratner is director of the Institute for Cultural Reserch and Education.
He is the author of Vygotsky's Sociohistorical Psychology & Its Contemporary Applications (Plenum, 1991) and Cultural Psychology: Theory and Method (Plenum, 2002 ), among other books and papers on Cultural Psychology, Activity Theory, Psychological Anthropology, Education and related subjects.
 
 



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