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Cultural Psychology | curated by Kevin Goodman

Contemplating Social Science Facts: Part 1

I’m beginning an Independent study of qualitative methods under Carl Ratner, who is author of the book Cultural Psychology and Qualitative Methodology. Before advancing my understanding of methodology and underlying theory, I wanted to benchmark a few thoughts.

My attraction towards qualitative methods stems from the fact that behavior is observable and observable phenomena invites inference. Despite the solid empiricism of observational and interactionists approaches, qualitative methodology is a minority approach in the cognitive sciences. There exists among mainstream quantitative and experimental approaches an insistence in the supremacy of their methods. I am not against those approaches but I am against their monopoly of what constitutes scientific fact. I believe those approaches suffer a number of problems (e.g. artificial conditions, broad generalizations from experimental inference, an inability to determine causal variables with absolute certainty, inaccurate reductionism, etc). Surely, there is a place for naturalistic inquiry. It also seems to me that many of the problems of qualitative inference are also general to statistics and scientific-inquiry in-whole (e.g. inductive reasoning). It appears that the advantage of positivistic approaches (in the eyes of positivists) is their underlying logic of absolute determination. Can qualitative researchers certify fact? Absolutely. Nevertheless, positivists have standardized fact deduction and this standardization serves as a potent persuasion. All said; the beauty of science is that facts are changeable as evidence merits–qualitative approaches can add to and correct experimental/quantitative shortcomings as well as stand on their own.

Social Psychologies: Encouraging Plurality

I once defended interdisciplinarianism from the perspective that the intradisciplinarian pursuit of knowledge was biased along disciplinarian paradigms in areas that are of interests to multiple disciplines. There is a vast area where economics, management science, social psychology, sociology, anthropology, and other disciplines overlap. I still believe in the virtues of interdisciplinarian holism in the pursuit of knowledge but I’ve also come to appreciate paradigmatic diversity.

Of particular interest to me are the different social psychologies. People familiar with the topic will think that I’m talking about psychological social psychology versus sociological social psychology. However, there are further divisions than this. European social psychology is distinct from American social psychology and integrates theory and approaches that are commonly distinct between American sociological and psychological social psychology. Observational approaches are more widely used in European social psychology. Even the sociological traditions are divided by paradigms that advocates claim as distinct: symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology are examples. There are scholars who identify with these paradigms in culture studies, political science, anthropology, and communication studies. Organizational behavior is a specific species of applied social psychology, which has acquired its own tradition, corpus, and findings. Cultural psychology and cross-cultural psychology are often regarded as subsets of social psychology but have also developed their own handbooks, journals, and methodological particulars. Psychological anthropology is yet another distinction with further subdistinctions. There is some cooperation and confusion between what is cultural psychology and psychological anthropology—with perhaps no clear distinction other than linguistic preference and academic background.

The benefit of different approaches is that no paradigmatic philosophy monopolizes the pursuit and interpretation of knowledge. A single paradigm is more dangerous because it dogmatizes the underlying epistemology. With our symbolic and pragmatic perceptions of the world, there must be no perception that is without fault or bias—and though truth may be certain there is surely an indefinite multitude of ways to perceive it.

And, after all, if there is anything normative about scientific discovery and creative innovation it is an openness to consider difference.

An Emerging Theory? Material Culture

At a recent seminar I took on group and intergroup processes, I argued that material objects have a significant impact on social and psychological processes. The subject has been neglected by social psychology, which generally regards material objects as heuristic cues or the signification of identity. Even in those cases, the role of objects is usually implied rather than investigated.

In earlier, independent, reflections I considered social identity as an aesthetic that derives from shared material preferences. I am now contemplating a theory of culture that ties into social identity theory and self-categorization theory. My hypothesis is that identity is dependent on material culture. I would even go further and suggest that material culture structures our social and cognitive processes. The next step is determining how and where to look for evidence. It almost seems evident, and yet, theory is lacking.