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Abstract Culture & Psychology has developed from a small

start-up journal in 1995 into the key trend-setter in the field. This
editorial analysis continues the tradition of inquiry started in
previous efforts (Valsiner, 2001, 2004a) and extends it to the needs
of psychology as a whole for the study of dynamic,
meaning-making human beings. Cultural psychologyusing the
term culture as a generic term in various versionscontinues to be
an arena where innovations can occur. Separate research fields
such as the dialogical self, social representation processes,
semiotic mediation, symbolic action, and actuation theorieshave
all been co-participants in this new advancement of ideas. Yet the
central probleman innovation of empirical research
methodology which would appropriately capture human active
meaning-makinghas not been solved. Likewise, cultural
psychology has only marginally touched upon the lessons from
indigenous psychologiesthe richness of folk psychological
terms, and the cultural over-determination of objects used in
human everyday living. Contemporary cultural psychology turns
increasingly towards the study of objects as cultural constructs.
Editing a journal is itself an act of construction of a cultural object,
and the current state of contemporary scientific journals indicates
a re-construction of the social nature of knowledge. Moving
beyond its postmodernist and empiricist confines, psychology is
set to return to the level of an abstracted generalization of its
culture-inclusive theories. Culturein terms of semiotic
mediators and meaningful action patternsis the inherent core of
human psychological functions, rather than an external causal
entity that has effects on human emotion, cognition, and

Key Words cultural objects, culture, globalization, methodology,

scientific publishing

Jaan Valsiner
Clark University, USA

Cultural Psychology Today:

Innovations and Oversights
Culture is a traveler, still negotiating its entrance into the walled city of
psychology. Its arrival at the central marketplace of the core of psycho-
logical science is inevitable, yet is it not certain where that market is

Culture & Psychology Copyright 2009 SAGE Publications

(Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore)
Vol. 15(1): 539 [DOI: 10.1177/1354067X08101427]

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Culture & Psychology 15(1)

located in our rapidly globalizing world. In some sensescontinuing

the themes from the past (Valsiner, 2001, 2004a)the epistemic market
of cultural psychology is ephemeral. The value of any of the stock on
that marketspecific theories, methods, and various kinds of
findingsis created by consensual interest in one or another local
fashion, rather than by the solid and verified productivity of those in
practice. And there is the question of the beginnings: before a market can
create (and lose) value, that something that is supposed to gain (and
lose) that value has to be crafted. The epistemic market of cultural
psychology can still be considered an emerging one, which makes it all
the more important to be wary of its overheating or even bursting.
Cultural psychology is being sculpted in a variety of versionsall
unified by the use of the word culture. That may be where its unity
ends, giving rise to a varied set of perspectives that only partially link
with one another. This may be confusing for those who try to present
cultural psychology as a monolithic discipline, but it is certainly good
for the development of new perspectives. Heterogeneity of a discipline
breeds innovation, whereas homogenization kills it. The history of
psychology gives us many examples of originally innovative perspec-
tives turning into established theories or systemsand becoming
followed through sets of imperatives rather than creating innovations.
Psychology has suffered from too many consensual fixations of the
right methods in the last half-century (Toomela, 2007a), rendering its
innovative potentials mute. Cultural psychology as a new direction
entails an effort to un-mute the discipline. It is helped by the appeal
and uncertaintyof the label culture.
Culture is in some sense a magic wordpositive in connotations but
hard to pinpoint in any science that attempts to use it as its core term.
Its importance is accentuated by our contemporary fashionable
common language termsmulticulturalism, cultural roots, cultural
practices, etc.hence the perceived value of the term. Yet much of the
normal science of psychology continues to produce hyper-empirical
work using methods that do not consider substantive innovationeven
after having learned to insert the word culture into politically correct
locations in its various texts. In this sense, the fate of culture in contem-
porary psychology continues to be that of up-and-coming novice who
tries to get its powerful parents to accommodate to its needs.

Culture & Psychology Comes of Age

Our journal reaches its 15th year, and looking back on these years
shows a slow but consistent movement towards integrating aspects

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of whatever the given author considers culture to be into the psycho-

logical investigations. Yet clarity is still not easily seen: empirical
examples continue to be rather eclectically mixed with the literature
the usual terminology of the inductively based ideal of scientific
participation (e.g., statements like we contribute X to the literature).
The literature has no agency, so it is in no position to receive any
contributions. It is merely a loose conglomerate of multitude of
studies that can be grossly classified under a barely fitting general
A similar situation is there on the theoretical side: glory stories still
abound of various giantsVygotsky, Bakhtin, Gadamer, Levinas, and
othersand claims about how proudly we ordinary intellectual mortals
stand on their shoulders. Rather than innovate historically solid intel-
lectual perspectivesthe makers of which tried but failed to solve their
problemswe seem to enjoy turning these classic thinkers into gurus
and following them ardently. Taking a theoretical perspective becomes
transformed into membership of a fan club of one or another of such
guru figures, leading to a variety of intra- and inter-group relationship
issues of such groups of followers. The main function of theories
being intellectual general tools for understandingeasily gets lost.
Social scientists seem to enjoy the game of social positioning. We
can still observe recurrent claims of being X-ian (Vygotskian,
Bakhtinian, Freudian, Habermasian, Levinasian, etc.). I consider
such claims misleading, since the best way to follow a thinker is to
develop the ideas further, rather than declare ones membership in a
virtual community. Yet in the communication process between a science
and society, the making of such hero myths operates to create cultural
connectors (Aubin, 1997, p. 300). The popularity of being X-ian is a
token in the public legitimization of a particular perspective (e.g.,
Vygotskian is promising; behavioral is past its prime), indepen-
dently of the particular ideas used within these perspectives to make
sense of some phenomenon.

The Bearable Vagueness of Culture

We know that cultures journey into psychology has already been in
the making for over a century (Jahoda, 1993). Such slow movement is
due to the projection of social values into the termculture is not a
neutral term. It is suspect and appealing at the same time. Its appealing
label feeds into the advancement of various streams of thought in the
social sciences (Rohner, 1984; Sinha, 1996), and the constructive
openness in using it as an intellectual catalyst in psychology continues.
Culture & Psychology has been from its beginning an experiment within

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contemporary social sciencesan attractor that keeps a particular

theme (culturehowever widely conceived) in focus while guiding the
work of researchers in psychology. Admittedly (Valsiner, 2001, 2004a),
the term culture is vague and has been proven undefinable (even before
the differentiation of cultural psychology occurred in psychology in the
1980s), yet its functional role in public discourse has been growing
Reasons for that increasing popularity of a vague label are to be
found beyond the boundaries of sciencein the culture stress experi-
enced by local communities due to in-migration of others and
temporary (or not so temporary) out-migration of our own (on the
impact of temporary guest work predicaments on families in Kerala,
see Kurien, 2002). Our globalizing world is also open to various projec-
tions of oneself onto (far-away) others. Politicians start to pretend they
can say something in a foreign language in public, while production
capacities move from their First World locations to the so-called
developing countries. Of course, movement betweenand within
countries has always happened in history (Gardner & Osella, 2003).
What happens is the overcoming of the illusions embedded in the term:
if the notion of developing country used to be a politically correct
label for an economically backward country, then by now the same
term begins to mean a country that develops rapidly and is likely to
overtake you. What that means is that developing becomes equal to
competingwith all the implications of the change of that reality. The
immediate result of globalization is the increase of sudden contacts
between varied persons of different backgroundswith all that such
contact implies (Moghaddam, 2006b).

Psychology as Science Is No Longer a Privilege of the Few

Together with this move towards international economic interdepen-
dence comes the internationalization of sciences. Like other sciences,
psychology is no longer dominated by fewNorth American or
Europeanmodels of doing science. Instead, creative solutions to
complex problems emerge from the developing world, where the
whole range of the variety of cultural phenomena guarantees the
potential richness of psychology. Of course different areas of psy-
chology are differentially open to such internationalizationcultural
psychology in its recent new upsurge is thus a developing science.
Looking back, much has changed since the mid-1990s, when the
journal was launched (Valsiner, 1995, 2001, 2004a)mostly in the
context within which the discourses of re-entering talk about culture
into psychology have been framed. Cultural psychology has been the

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witnessan active oneof the transformations that go on in all of

psychology as it is globalizing (Valsiner, 2009). Cultural psychology is
borrowing its own limitations from its root disciplines: anthropology
(as a discipline of colonial originGreichen and Grnder, 2005; and
with a non-developmental credoZimmerman, 2001) and social
and developmental psychology. Globalization in a sciencelike in
economics and societyis an ambiguous process. It brings with it the
emergence of new opportunities together with the demise of old (and
safe) practices.

A Brief Look Back

Reading Culture & Psychology over recent years leaves one with an
impression of active scholarly searches for new perspectives from
which to see already familiar issues in a new wayand to approach so
far unfamiliar issues. Yet there have been no clear theoretical break-
throughs; rather, what we see are social positioning efforts to be ready
to construct innovative solutions. I notice how the themes I emphasize
here are continuous with the ones after the first six (Valsiner, 2001) and
nine years (Valsiner, 2004a). New authors have entered the field, and
new topics have become emphasizedruptures as central for new
developments (Hale, 2008; Zittoun, 2004, 2006, 2007), actuations as a
new way to unite actions and meanings (Rosa, 2007), generalized
significant symbols (Gillespie, 2006) as well as a search for the self
through looking at the other (Rabinovich, 2008; Simo & Valsiner, 2007)
and finding that other in the contexts of social interdependence
(Chaudhary, 2004, 2007). At the same time we see continuous interest
in the cultural nature of subjectivity (Boesch, 2005, 2008; Cornejo, 2007;
Sullivan, 2007) and the unpredictability of environments (Abbey, 2007;
Golden & Mayseless, 2008). The topic of multi-voicedness of the self as
it relates with the world has emerged as a productive theme (Bertau,
2008; Joerchel, 2007; Salgado & Gonalves, 2007; Sullivan, 2007),
including the move to consider the opposites of polyphony (intensi-
fied nothingnessMladenov, 1997). This is embedded in the multi-
plicity of discourse strategies (Castro & Batel, 2008) in instititutional
contexts (Phillips, 2007). Affective lives are situated by persons them-
selves as they relate to social institutions. The latter may expect various
symbolic actsin public or privatefrom persons. They are expected
to elect politicians, reconcile with the killers of their family members,
be worried about health, weather, and the economy, be loyal to the
current ruler or the system of governance, and so on. Persons may be
seen as participating in a society, or as striving towards the personal

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goal of nothingnessyet within a society. All of these socially scripted

acts are dramatic everyday examples of the centrality of culture.
Despite remarkable gains in their language-learning capacities, no
contemporary non-human primate has been shown to invent a flag and
pledge allegiance to it.

Old Disputes in a New Form: Immediacy and Mediation

It never ceases to amaze me how old disputes re-emerge in termino-
logically new ways. In the 1950s psychologists were disputing the
immediacy of perception ( la Gibson) in contrast to the constructive
nature of the perceptual act ( la Bruner & Postman, 1950; cf.
Ansbacher, 1937 for the origins); then 50 years later we find a similar
dispute in cultural psychology around the issues of enactivism
focusing on the immediate nature of cultural actionsand mediation
which centers on the distancing from (yet with) the immediate action
(Christopher & Bickhard, 2007; Verheggen & Baerveldt, 2007). This
dispute is a continuation of another upsurge nine years ago (Baerveldt
& Verheggen, 1999; Kreppner, 1999). The enactivist position has been
put forth succinctly:
Enactivism avoids the notion of mediation and problematizes the represen-
tational or semiotic status of social and cultural objects in general. Rep-
resentation is a sophisticated social act and in that sense it is tautological to
add the adjective social. Moreover, this specification becomes misleading
when social is understood in terms of sharedness, even when the notion
of sharedness is systemic rather than an aggregate one. (Verheggen &
Baerveldt, 2007, p. 22)
Of course the enactivist move against ideas of mediation triggers a
counter-offensive (Chryssides et al., 2009) defending the role of social
representation processes precisely as acts of social construction. The
critique of the lack of philosophical depth of this dispute (Kreppner,
1999) remains largely unanswered.
In contrast to the enactivist orientation, the semiotic meditational
direction (Boesch, 2005, 2008; Lonner & Hayes, 2007; Valsiner, 2007)
accepts the notion of mediation as an axiomatic given, and concen-
trates on the construction of what kind of mediating systems can be
discovered in human everyday activities and in the domains of feeling
and thinking. Support for the latter comes from sociology:
In examining performance, the process of negotiation becomes centrally
relevant. It is not only that interaction happens as if on a stage, but also
that interaction is ritualized in such a way that it becomes predictable,
replicable, and part of cultural DNA of society. . . . As actors negotiate,
context both liberates and constrains their performances. This happens


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through the cultural logics their communities permit, but also in how actors
use the cultural tools available to them to act in (and on) the world. (Fine &
Fields, 2008, p. 141)

The focus on cultural toolsor symbolic resources (Zittoun, 2006,

2007)necessarily prioritizes the meditational view in cultural
psychology. This is further supported by the work to bring Charles S.
Peirces semiotics to cultural psychology (Innis, 2005; Rosa, 2007). Yet
bringing in the philosophy of Peirce is a kind of Trojan horse for
cultural psychology: if on the manifest level such importation allows
for a new look at the multitude of signs that organize human lives, then
in the background of such appealing closeness to reality lingers Peirce
as a mathematician. The general conceptual need to accept an open-
endedness of cultural construction (or infinity, in abstract terms) within
a concrete (finite) model of explaining that open-endedness gives
cultural psychologists a major headache. The remedy for it would
come from abstract models of the kind that Peirce and James Mark
Baldwin tried to create (Valsiner, 2008b). Yet such models need to relate
to the phenomenaprovide generalized knowledge about these
rather than become substitutes of the phenomena for the sake of
abstractions themselves.

Continuing Discussion About Units of Analysis

The art of the first cut into reality is always ambivalent. As was
outlined before (Valsiner, 2004a, pp. 1516), the question of units of
analysis has been crucial for cultural psychology. In an effort to solve
that problem, Matusov (2007, pp. 326329) suggested the notion of the
open and unfinalized unit of analysis (let us label it OUUA). OUUAs
based on Barbara Rogoffs (2003, pp. 4962 ) planes of analysis
. . . are defined in part by the studied object, in part by the researchers focus,
in part by the audience of research and in part by the research participants
(as distinct from the research object). Thus, there can be many (unlimited)
units of analysis and all of them appropriate. A particular unit of analysis can
be appropriate or inappropriate within a particular study but it does not need
to be the unit of analysis for any sociocultural research. (Matusov, 2007, p. 326)

In other terms, Matusov restores the primacy of the research topic to

set up the locally fitting unit of analysisgiven the systemic nature of
knowledge to be createdrather than normatively construct a social
norm. As he points out, it is not data analysis (i.e., the usual focus of
psychologists) but data synthesis that is crucial for knowledge
(Matusov, 2007, p. 328). On the one hand, of course, that synthesis can
be achieved by the inductive road. This can be done through grounded


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theorywhich itself is still an open-ended, even if heavily internally

contested, system of inductive thought (see Mey & Mruck, 2007). On
the other hand, it can happen abductivelyand Matusovs OUUA
leads to that route as a major breaking-out point from psychologys
desperate empiricism.

The Internal Structure of Units: Outer Relativity and Inner Dialectic

Matusovs OUUA does not solve the problem of the inherent nature of
the units. Rather, it pluralizes the issuethe analytic effort of
researchers can lead to the construction of very many different units,
which are prioritized according to the goals of the researchers. But
what is the internal nature of a unit?
The root metaphor of the question of units in psychology has been
the contrast between water (H2O) and its components (oxygen and
hydrogen), which in late 19th- and early 20th-century thought was
used widely to make the point of the primacy of the Gestalt over its
constituents. The properties of water are not reducible to those of either
hydrogen or oxygen: water may put out a fire, whereas its constituents
burn or enhance burning. Hence the wholea water moleculeis
more than a mere sum of its parts. Furthermore, it is universal: the
chemical structure of water remains the same independent of in
whatever biological system (e.g., the human body, the cellular structure
of a plant) or geological formation (e.g., an ocean, a water bottle) it
exists. Lev Vygotsky expressed the general idea of what a unit of
analysis needs to be like in psychology:
Psychology, as it desires to study complex wholes . . . needs to change the
methods of analysis into elements by the analytic method that reveals the
parts of the unit [literally: breaks the whole into linked unitsmetod . . .
analiza, . . . razchleniayushego na edinitsy]. It has to find the further undivid-
able, surviving features that are characteristic of the given whole as a unity
units within which in mutually opposing ways these features are represented
[Russian: edinitsy, v kotorykh v protivopolozhnom vide predstavleny eti svoistva].1
(Vygotsky, 1999, p. 13)
Vygotskys notion of units fits into the general structureemphasizing
the unity of parts and focusing on their relationship (Valsiner, 2004a,
p. 16). Yet it is easy to see how Vygotskys dialectical unitsinto
opposing parts of the wholego beyond the water analogy. Together
with charting out the pathways to synthesis, inherent in that unit is the
constraining of optionsthe structure of the unit rules out some
possible courses for emergence. Vygotsky found that holistic unit in
word meaningas that meaning includes a variety of mutually
opposite and contradicting versions of personal sense (smysl).


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Through the dynamic oppositionscontradictionsbetween sub-

units (of personal sense) of the meaning (znachenie), the latter
develops. Thus we have a hierarchical unit, where the transformation
of the znachenie at the higher level of organization depends on the
dialectical syntheses emerging in the contradictory relationships
between varied smysls at the lower level. And conversely, the emerged
new form of znachenie establishes constraints upon the interplay of
smysls at the lower level. The loci of developmental transformations
are in the relations between different levels of the hierarchical order,
not at any one level.
It is only within units of such a dialectical kind that developmental
transformations can take place, based on tensions that emerge within
the whole. As Abbey and Falmagne (2008) have demonstrated, tensions
that emerge can lead to three trajectories of further development
destabilizing, self-moderating, and dominance-fixing. Tensions can lead
both to destruction and to construction of a new solutionwithin a
dialogical unity of the mind (Markov, 2003; Valsiner, 2007; Zittoun,
2008). Increasingly, new dialogical perspectives gain ground in cultural
psychology often borrowing from the work of Mikhail Bakhtin (Gieser,
2006; Sullivan, 2007).

Between Person and Society: Hierarchical Relationships

Ratners (2008) call for a macro-cultural psychology fills the void at the
boundary of psychology and sociology. While doing that, it faces a new
challenge: that of the political nature of all social discourses about the
phenomena, as well as about the social sciences that study these
phenomena. This challenge is most visible in the field: in the deeply
politically embedded activities of NGOs in their relations with local
government agencies, community structures, and personal goals
(Bourdier, 2008). Culture in the field is a politically contested, non-
neutral complex used by all disputing sides for their objectives (Wikan,
2002). Possible precisely because of such a multiplicity of vested
interests, the process of Westernization can be replaced by a notion of
parallel development of societies in contact. As Kagitibasi (2005) has
. . . as societies modernize (with increased urbanization, education, affluence
etc.), they do not necessarily demonstrate a shift toward western individual-
ism. A more complex transformation is seen in family patterns of modern-
izing societies with cultures of relatedness. The emerging pattern shares
important characteristics with both individualism and collectivism while, as
the synthesis of the two, it is significantly different from each. (p. 267)


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Thus the crucial issue in cultural psychology is to handle phenomena

of synthesis. So far the field is as far from a productive solution for that
problem as Wilhelm Wundt, Felix Krueger, and Lev Vygotsky were
about a century ago. Psychology lacks the formal language that made
chemistry back in the 19th century capable of solving the synthesis
problem theoretically.

Local Community Organization of Social Scientists:

Viewing One Another
Cultural psychology over the past two decades has lived up to the
postmodernists verdict: knowledge is local, context-dependent, and,
therefore, fragmented. Fragmentation in the field of empirical
researchdividing the domains of control over phenomenamay be
a peace-sustaining mechanism within a discipline. Yet at the theoreti-
cal level we may encounter discourses about distinguishing different
perspectives and counter-positioning thoseleading to potential
perspective clashes within the discipline. Such clashes cannot be
productive for scienceeven as they occupy the minds of the
scientists, and thus abound in human terms.
The effort to organize cultural psychologists into two camps
cultural-historical and socio-cultural (Matusov, 2008a, 2008b)may
stand out from the multitude of wasteful debates by including a
kernel of basic assumptions. It turns out that the major distinguishing
characteristic between these twootherwise rather overlapping
perspectives is the relationship to the notion of hierarchy in the implicit or
explicit theoretical models. The cultural-historical perspective is
supposed to accept it, while the socio-cultural one is claimed to deny
it. Instead, the latter focuses on the close embeddeness of persons in
socio-cultural contexts.
The theme of hierarchical versus non-hierarchical models is not new
in the pages of Culture & Psychology. It is more than interesting how
that theme seems recurrent. It seems to me a curious puzzle; for all
intents and purposes the hierarchical nature of systemic organization
in nature and society is a necessary given, rather than an option.
Talking about structured organisms means some version of hierarchical
organizationwhich can be of a dynamic rather than static kind. One
can avoid accepting the notion of hierarchical order only if the struc-
ture of the phenomena is deniedand that means reducing all
phenomena to the analogues of fluid fields with no outer bounds.


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Substance beyond the Disputes: Context-Bound Guidance for

Personal Actions
The meta-theoretical decision to build hierarchical models of relation-
ships means a new return to the question of parts<>whole relation-
ships. The parts belonging to a whole are necessarily operating at a
level subservient to that of a whole; and as the whole is not reducible
to its parts, we have a minimal hierarchical system. That system is
guaranteed by the central role of the agent: the acting, feeling, and
thinking human being who is always within a context while moving
beyond the very same context by ones goals-oriented actions. As Tania
Zittoun (2008) has explained it,
. . . there is no such thing as a context-free competence or skill. However, the
setting is not everything; every activity is also undertaken by a person,
actively making sense of the situation, of its whereabouts, its goals and its
resemblances with other situations met by herthese processes being in
large part not conscious. (p. 439)
Thus, by the very act of modifying the setting, the person (actor)
creates a hierarchical relationship which sets oneself above the
settingyet in ways that remain bounded with the setting (bounded
indeterminacy). This hierarchy can be hidden from self-reflexivity and
take place at the intuitive level of Umwelts. From a generic idea either
X or Y (person or context) we move to X into Y into X into Y . . .
mutually recursive feed-forward process.

The Heuristic Value of Indigenous Psychologies

There is much to learn from the indigenous movement in contempor-
ary psychology (Chakkarath, 2005; Choi, Han, & Kim, 2007; Krishnan
& Manoj, 2008; Li, 2007). The productive use of the indigenous psy-
chology movement for the conceptual texture of cultural psychology
becomes available after colonizing (treating the other society as a
data source) and independence (the other society claiming the value
of their indigenous concepts) are overcome. Instead of mere equality
claims of the others concepts, the science of psychology can
overcome its Euro-centric historical orientation by making some of
these concepts core terms (and treating their Euro-centric analogues as
their derivates). As Durghanand Sinha (1996) has pointed out,
Long before WHO defined health in positive terms as a state of complete
physical, mental and social well-being, the Indian conceptualization was
completely holistic as reflected in Susruts definition: prasannamendriyamanah
swastha (or health is state of delight or a feeling of spiritual, physical and
mental well-being). The aspect of sama or avoidance of extremes and having
various bodily processes and elements in the right quantity (neither too little


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nor too much), that is, of maintaining proper balance, has been constantly
emphasized . . . well-being is not equated with fulfillment of needs and
production of material wealth through the control and exploitation of nature.
The capacity to develop and maintain harmonious relationship with the
environment is considered vital. (p. 95)

Of course no governmental organizationWHO or any otherhas a

privilege in defining scientific terms. Borrowing from history-proven
philosophies is reasonablemaking this Sankhya philosophical notion
the center of a general theory of well-being would widen psychologys
coverage, treating the occidental focus on material abundance as a
particular phenomenon. The roots of Sankhya philosophy can be seen in
some classics of Western psychology (e.g., William JamesTaylor, 2008).
Chakkarath (2005) has pointed out a second benefit from building a
general psychology on a culturally indigenous knowledge base. The
latter can be richer than Euro-centric models imply. For instance, it has
been the tradition in occidental developmental psychology to presume
one singlesocially institutionalizedmodel of human development.
This follows the set-up of Western formal schooling, culminating in
adolescence, and presumes a unidirectional transfer of knowledge
from teachers to learners. Once the teachers role endsin formal
education that happens once schooling endsso does the focus on
cognitive development. In contrast, building on the Sankhya perspec-
tive, constructing a psychology of development entails the unity of
two mutually in-feeding processes: establishing the internal cognitive
mechanisms in ontogeny (similarly to the Western schooling-based
notion) while moving towards liberating the self from precisely those
mechanisms that are mastered by the first process. The mastery of the
first leads to the un-doing (at an abstract, higher level) of that mastery
itself. It is hereconsidering the need to see opposites united within
the same whole, and the whole capable of new forms of synthesis
that the Hindu indigenous psychological heritage can in principle
innovate psychological science. While science as a knowledge
construction process is universal for all societies, the images, social
representations, and forms of logics used in knowledge creation come
from the cultural heritages of the scientists.
Is the adoption of the Hindu indigenous stance obligatory to arrive
at such a systemic solution? Obviously not (see Paranjpe, 2002), as the
general equifinality principle applies to the development of ideas. The
same outcome idea may be reached by thinkers via very different
courses of thought. For instance, an alternative route within the occi-
dental psychologies would be to build a psychology on the grounds of
dialectical thought (e.g., Riegel, 1973; also see Abbey & Falmagne, 2008;


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Markov, 2003). Yet the acceptance of the premises of dialectical

thought has been complicated as such modes of thinking are not
prioritized in Anglo-Saxon cultural history.
Psychologys theory construction site is itself culturally organized. It
includes sensitizing conceptssocial representationsmeanings that
give direction to the empirical efforts of researchers (Joffe & Staerkl,
2007, p. 413). A sensitizing concept may block the advancement of a
direction of research for a long timeas the history around develop-
mental logics (Valsiner, 2008b) shows. While the core notion of taking
may guide Western psychological theories to accept the rationality of
the benefit maximization axiom that leads to the independent self
notion as normative, the Indian focus on giving (Krishnan & Manoj,
2008) sets the stage for different versions of interdependent self
theories. The generic social representation accepted in the occidental
worldssuch as Aristotelian bi-valent logicmakes the emergence of
multi-trajectory holistic (yet structured) concepts much more compli-
cated than in many cases of indigenous meaning systems. Existing
meta-level social representations guide the directions of theory
construction in the sciences. For example, Western psychologies have
had difficulty accepting the notion of development as it entails the
synthetic emergence of generalized, abstracted phenomena.

Who Is Indigenous? & They? . . . or Maybe We Too?

It may be the case that turning to different indigenous psychologies
so as to find appropriate general concepts simply by-passes the
cultural blinders of one societys heritage (Slunecko & Hengl, 2006).
After all, the birth-land of psychology, Germany, could be viewed as
an indigenous society, and the kind of psychology that emerged there
in the 19th century was a form of indigenous psychology. Why deny
the pleasures of finding the indigenous other diachronically if we are
eager to discover them synchronically? Looking into our intellectual
mirror to discover the mark of wisdom of old ideas may be a benefit
at times.
We are all indigenous as unique human beings, social units, and
societiescoming to sudden contact with others of the same kind, and
discovering that it is the other who is indigenous, not ourselves.
Different ways of actions follow: changing the other (by missionary or
military conquests) or using the other for production (by importing
slaves, or allowing guest workers temporarily into our country to
alleviate labor shortages) or for consumption (creating consumer
demands for our productsarms or hamburgersin their places). In
all of these adaptations to such contacts the diversity of both human


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cultural and biological forms is being negotiated (Kashima, 2007;

Moghaddam, 2006b).
A good example of how a particular indigenous credo in psychology
has captivated psychology so much that in some sense it has lost a
whole century is the emergence and proliferation of behaviorism in
psychology. Being born in North America on the grounds of social
representations of objectivity and changeability of the underdog (rat,
or, by extension, human), it was an ideological credo of misplaced
objectivity. Yet the result has been of dramatic consequences for
psychology as science all over the world. The nave realism that what
is is what matters has led psychology to overlook both history and
future potentialsreplacing those with the definition of psychology as
a science of prediction and control of behavior. The epistemology of
accountingin the name of taking stock of what ishas been
preferred for psychological study (i.e., measurementMichell, 1999,
2005). This is a kind of nave realismexemplified best in the credo to
study behavior (= what is and what can be observed) and doubting the
unobservable phenomena (introspection, unconscious, etc.). One of the
first casualties of the avalanche of the behaviorist ideology was Franz
Brentanos focus on inherent intentionality, which was pushed out of
legitimate psychology into the domain of philosophy.
Obviously, cultural psychology faces the task of restoration of the
pre-behaviorist focusin what is there are connections with what
was (memory, history), what we now think that was (Galasinska,
2003; Goldberg, Porat, & Schwartz, 2006; Mori, 2008; Wagoner, 2008),
and what is not yet, but is about to become (Vygotskys zone of
proximal developmentValsiner & van der Veer, 1993). What is
being measured is assumed to be out there in its essentialist form
(fixed quality) and in different amounts (quantities). Once the quality
is immutably fixed it cannot transform into new formshence the
difficulty of developmental thinking in occidental psychologies. It is
only now that questions of the processes by which the movement
towards the future takes place have begun to be analyzed (Jrvinen,
2004; Sato et al., 2007). Cultural psychology cannot deal with behavior
as something out there that can be observed. Instead, we can observe
meaningful conduct of goal-oriented organisms (not only humans
Sokol-Chang, 2009) who are in the process of creating their actual
life trajectories out of a diversity of possibilities (Sato et al., 2007).
That process may be poorly captured by the use of real numbers
(Valsiner & Rudolph, 2008), and hence careful qualitative analyses of
particular versions of human conduct are the empirical core of cultural


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Unity in Diversity: How a Single Case Matters

Cultural-psychological investigations are necessarily of unique
eventsyet of those that happen within a hierarchy of social contexts.
Instead of situating cultural psychology on the socio-political landscape
(Ratner, 2008), it is the macro-social organization of society that becomes
analyzed in micro-social activity contexts. Here the traditions of micro-
sociology of culture give cultural psychology a leadgeneralization
from a carefully studied single specimen can be sufficient:
An account of the actions of a Little League baseball team on one warm June
afternoon stands for many gatherings in many communities on many days.
(Fine & Fields, 2008, p. 132)
It is the abstracting generalization that is the key herehow a single
systemic case leads to generalized knowledge. This is the basic axiom
of the systemic look in sciencethe analysis of one single water
molecule explains what water is in its various quantities and configur-
ations; a comparison of a single genomic picture of a long-deceased
human specimen can now allow us to reconstruct population move-
ments in ancient times. Cultural psychologyin contrast to cross-
cultural psychologyarrives at generalizations based on single-case
systemic analyses (Freeman, 2004; Raval & Kral, 2004). The basic nature
of shared worldsinterobjectivity (Moghaddam, 2003)makes it
possible to find universal principles in amidst the diversity of cultural
constructions in the symbolic world (Boesch, 2005).

Qualitative Methodology
As Ho, Ho, and Ng (2007) have demonstrated, contemporary social
sciences that treat qualitative and quantitative methods as if these were
opposing methodologies are introducing a false dichotomy. Research
questions in psychologyas long as psychology is not hyper-
formalized by mathematical ideasare asked in philosophical terms,
hence qualitatively. Echoing the concerns by many scholars over the 20th
century (e.g., Baldwin, 1930; Michell, 1999, 2003, 2005), they point out:
Quantification is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for science.
No one questions the scientific status of biology without quantification. . . .
the price of quantification is a loss of information, as when rich qualitative
data are reduced to sets of numbers, such as frequency counts, means and
variances. Quantitative data have to be translated into qualitative statements
if their meanings and implications are to be spelled out, communicated to
and received by the researchers audience. (Ho et al., 2007, p. 380)
Qualitative perspectives are clearly on the ascent in contemporary
psychology at large (Diriwchter & Valsiner, 2006, 2008; Gelo,


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Braakmann & Benetka, 2008; Mey & Mruck, 2005; Michell, 2004). This
is more easily fitted to cultural psychology, where the molar level units
of analysis resist quantification anyway (e.g., Toomela, 2008b,
pp.6465, on psychologys production of meaningless numbers). To
ask the question how much of [X = love, hatred . . .]? presumes the
unitary quality of that X and its nature together with the homogeneity of
the presumed substance (X)which makes it possible to apply
quantitative measurement units to it. Hence the assumption of quan-
tifiability rules out from the outset the possibility of transformation of
qualityby separating the latter from whatever numbers are attached
to the phenomena in the act of being measured.

Unity of Quality and QuantityYet No Equality of the Two

All quantitative approaches constitute a sub-class of qualitative
onesbut not vice versa. Tripathi and Leviatan (2003) nicely illustrated
this using the concept of 0 (zero) as a crucial cultural tool that orig-
inated in ancient Indian mathematics (Sankhya): Zero means both all
(excessive) or none (void). The dialogical process includes the middle,
which gets excluded in the dichotomies (Tripathi & Leviatan, 2003,
p. 85). Thus, psychologysnot only cultural psychologyscore
conceptual problem is not merely dualisms of all kinds, but under-
standing of the dualities (or multiplicities) inherent in what seems to
be a unitary pointto which a number can be easily assigned
(Wagoner & Valsiner, 2005; see also Valsiner, 2004a, p. 11). The issue
of treating the science of psychology as an act of assigning numbers to
qualitative phenomena (to get data) has been discussed critically by
Rudolph (2006a, 2006b, 2006c) as well as Toomela (2007b, 2008a). The
social consensus of number assignment guarantees no sciencehence
many of psychologys data-analytic practices are the kind of cultural
artifacts that may belong to a museum, rather than contribute to
advancement of knowledge. The cultural nature of the meaning of
statistical significance has been shown to be one such widespread
artifact (Ziliak & McCloskey, 2008).
More importantly, the crucial conceptual mishap in psychology is
the reduction of the notion of abstract formal models of mathematics
to the use of only one kind of numbersreal numbers. At the same
time, many cultural-psychological phenomena are better fitted with
models using imaginary numbers (Valsiner & Rudolph, 2008) and
topological models (Rudolph, 2008a, 2008b, 2009). Such number
systems may be better fitted for dealing with the phenomena of the
uncertainty of living (Abbey, 2004, 2007; Golden & Mayseless, 2008),
and with dynamic boundary-making (and unmaking) in human social


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lives (Madureira, 2007a, 2007b; Tsoulakas, 2007). Tsoukalas (2007) has

brought the issue of religiositiesdifferentiating doctrinal and
imagistic typesback to our focus of attention. Specific cultural
practices of communication turned into institutionalized frameworks
through activities like prayer (del Rio & Alvarez, 2007), asking for
forgiveness (Phillips, 2007), apologizing, and many others, may lead
the way towards a cultural psychology of religious sentiments.

From Oppositional Terms to Unity of Opposites

In Culture & Psychology we seem to be haunted by the basic opposition
of individualist versus collectivist cultures (Valsiner, 2004a,
pp. 1011). Matsumoto (2003) specified the location where tension can
be located in human cultural functioningbetween the consensual
reflection about ones group membership (e.g., as an X [i.e. an
American] I am Y [individualistic], not Z [collectivistic]) and the
circumstances for action (as an X in situation S, I am Z). As
the circumstances for action necessarily fluctuate in their demand for
opposites, the:
discrepancy between consensual- and individual-level culture, and the
attitudes, values, beliefs and opinions about that discrepancy . . . is itself an
important part of culture that deserves conceptual and empirical consider-
ation. (Matsumoto, 2003, p. 91)

By locating the arena for tensions between the levels of the acting here-
and-now and the stereotype of acting in ones role as being Y since I
am X, Matsumoto gives a structural basis for the processes of tension
outlined by Abbey and Falmagne (2008). The tension is thus granted
by the social community (see Mead, 1931/2001, on the role of
community in US society), but created and managed by the individual
person. That person is therefore necessarily analyzable as a dynamic
structure of multiple partssuch as the autonomous-relational self
(Kagitibasi, 1996, 2005), or in terms of the dialogical self (Hermans,
2001, 2002; Hermans & Dimaggio, 2007; Salgado & Gonalves, 2007).
The narrative direction in cultural psychology works at the intersection
of small and big stories (Bamberg, 2006), where a similar tension
can be observed. The hierarchy of levels of organization is an inevitable
given for all cultural psychology. If the systemic perspective is taken
seriously, it necessarily entails at least two hierarchical and unilaterally
nested levels: the whole and its parts. The latter are by definition at a
level lower than the whole to which they belong.
It is hereat the unity of various parts within the wholethat
cultural-psychological processes make stability out of instability:


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parents operate at the intersection of various cultural models (Keller,

Demuth, & Yovsi, 2008); kindergarten teachers evoke danger scenarios
for children in the middle of mundane everyday activities (Golden &
Mayseless, 2008). The cultural-psychological worlds are relational worlds,
yet that recognition leads us to inquire into what relational could mean.

Relationships as Boundaries
Cultural tools both set up boundariesby way of classificationand
set the stage for transforming them (Boesch, 2008). As Ernest Boesch
suggests these two functions of cultureclassification and trans-
formationwe can expand these from two different functions into one.
While classificationthis belongs to Acreates the distinction with the
rest (non-A), it also sets up the boundary {Anon-A}. The act of classi-
fying is simultaneously boundary-setting, and boundary is the trigger
for its overcomingby way of transformation {Ais becomingnon-A}.
As such, classification and transformation are two mutually linked
Eight years ago the focus on boundaries was thinin a literal sense
(Valsiner, 2001a, pp. 2829). Since then the notion of boundary has liter-
ally become thickened: the boundary is no longer a dividing line of
opposing categories, but is now a more or less extensive membrane
a boundary zonethat can be crossed under some conditions (but
blocked under others). Boundaries of gender (Madureira, 2007a, 2007b)
and body (Ingold, 2004) turn out to be both solidly protected and
quasi-permeable. Human social life entails constant boundary
construction (Joffe & Staerkl, 2007) and transformationsocial classes
create their boundaries in urban globalizing worlds (Tevik, 2006)
together with an opening up of the possibility of transcending these
boundaries. By creating boundaries we create objects, which are
simultaneously physical and cultural entities.

Cultural Objects
Objects are not just material things that exist in and of themselves, but
distinguished contrasts between a figure and the ground. Thus, a black
point on a white surface is an objectbased on a relationship of the
figure and the ground. In classic social psychology, Muzafer Sherifs
autokinetic effect of seeing stationary points as if moving indicates
that simple perceptual distinctions already entail meaningful construc-
tion of the properties attributed to the objects by the perceiver. Human
cultural histories are filled with a hyper-rich construction of such
objects through abundant use of signs. We create our lives through


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ornamentswhich seem to us to carry decorative purposes, yet these

decorations abound and can be found in unexpected locations
(Valsiner, 2008a). By our constructive actions we turn things into
We live among objectsand relate to them:
The words object, objectus, objet, Gegenstand, ogetto, voorwerp all share the
root meaning of a throwing before, a putting against or opposite, an
opposing. In the English verb to object the oppositional, even accusatory
sense of the word is still vivid. In an extended sense, objects throw them-
selves in front of us, smite the senses, thrust themselves into our conscious-
ness. They are neither subtle nor evanescent nor hidden. Neither effort nor
ingenuity nor instruments are required to detect them. They do not need to
be discovered or investigated; they possess self-evidence of a slap in the face.
(Daston, 2000, p. 2)

It is not surprising that cultural psychology has become increasingly

interested in the study of meaningful objects. In Culture & Psychology
over recent years we see a number of presentations that analyze the
psychology of human beings through the description of objects. Thus,
the emergence of decorated transportation vehiclesjeepneysin the
Phillippines since the Second World War exemplifies the making of a
functional place (a transport tool) as a cultural object (Gss & Tuason,
2008). Cultural objects are thus everywherein our private domains of
homes (including the homes themselves), and in public: in the streets,
town squares, and so on. They are both stationary (temples, monu-
ments, etc.) and moving (buses, trains, airplanes, etc.). As Bastos (2008)
pointed out, these objects can be seen as tattoos on the collective soul,
and they bring into cultural psychology the methodological credo of
visual anthropology. The kind of meaning-making in the creation of
suchmoving or stationarywholes is of a hybrid natureincluding
indexical, iconic, and symbolic signs (to follow C.S. Peirces basic
typology). Cultural psychologists of the semiotic orientation have
usually detected varied versions of encoded versions in their descrip-
tions of objects, while the jeepney example forces us to look for
principles by which different sign types become coordinated in the
making of a holistic cultural order (Diriwchter & Valsiner, 2008).
Last but not least, the increasing interest in objects in cultural psy-
chology leads to its new relationship with another disciplinethat of
archaeology. Empirical evidence from the structure of objects used by
human beings in the past in various social contexts becomes functional
for understanding the presentand the future (Gonzlez-Ruibal, 2005,
2006). It is in this historical focusof objects-in-their context (in the case
of archaeology) and meanings-in-their context (in the case of cultural


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psychology)that a new interdisciplinary synthesis of knowledge is

likely to emerge in the future.

A Scientific Journal as a Cultural Object

Similarly to the jeepneys, scientific journals are objects the biographies
of which are of interest to self-reflexive social science. I think it is
appropriate to attempt a cultural-psychological analysis of the act of
publishingincluding that of publishing this journal. We create a
cultural artefact, which arrives on the subscribers desks in some
holistic quality every three months. As such a tangibletouchable,
smellable, holdable, and readablereal object, it carries to readers
embodied and embodying knowledge. Yet that embodied existence is
on its way to declineas journals move from the immediate action
space of the reader to the virtual universe, becoming clickable, down-
loadable, andas a corollary to thatforgettable. With the change to
first publication on-linebefore the paper version arriveswe
experiment with a change in the intellectual horizon of the reader.
That experiment creates a quicker speed of delivery, but will it also
guarantee the linkages between ideasof target articles and com-
mentaries, and of all articles within an issue?
Our social sciences at the beginning of the 21st century are under-
going a change that I have called Hollywoodization (Valsiner, 2004b):
the focus in scholarly publications on aspects of the message that
capture the publics minds, yet only for a brief time (Couzin, 2008;
Evans, 2008), so as to create dramatic feelings about important break-
throughs in contemporary science. The speed of fame construction is
paralleledat least in the biological sciencesby ever-increasing
retraction of published papers after they have appeared. This phenom-
enon has yet to appear in psychology, but provides food for re-thinking
the communicative functions of that curious unit of scientific pro-
ductivity, a publication. The special value added to that cultural artifact
through the peer-reviewed status of a journal, and looking at its
impact in terms of its citations, gives us a full picture of collective-
cultural meaning construction around the pages inserted into a re-
appearing bounded volumethat is, a journal. From the historically
informed viewpoint in any science that social construction of
ephemeral fame is a kind of social maska ritualized display behind
which the actual progression of innovation is as unpredictable as ever.

Having an Impact versus Making of the Impact Factor

In the beginning we had no concept of the magic term impact factor,
which presently canalizes the thinking of scientists in administratively


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pre-set ways. The social-institutional appropriation of the manner in

which generated scientific knowledge is distributed sets limits upon
how scientists may start to thinka success in the social control over
the kinds of knowledge likely to emerge (Toomela, 2007a, 2008a;
Valsiner, 2009). Reliance on the impact factor in evaluation of the work
of scientistsan administrative practice increasingly in vogue all over
the worldis a travesty of the ways in which knowledge emerges in
human history (Simons, 2008). It illustrates the act of social control
by administrative powers of what kinds of knowledge are to be selected
in to be maintainedbased on group conformity or the scandal focus
of the particular social scientists. Both of these social mechanisms
aside from actual impactgenerate the measurable quality of an
impact factor. The best any present-day journal can accomplish is to
neutralize the social pressures of the impact factor on the knowledge
that is generated and shared on its pages. If that means combining a
substantive overview of ideas with the build-up of the impact factor,
the journal can be free in its content from this administrative control
system of science, while formally using its nominal benefits.

National Inbreeding and International Participation

Furthermore, in this rapidly globalizing world we see resistance to
openness to other societies in how social science journals as cultural
objects are set up. Consider the contrast between the high impact
factor of first-rate psychology journals and yet their low impact on
issues that face psychology all over the world. As Arnett (2008, p. 607)
has demonstrated, in six major North American psychology journals
(owned by the American Psychological Association) the editorial
boards consisted of 82 percent of scholars located in the United States
(range of variability 75 percent . . . 100 percent). This is in complete
reverse contrast with us in Culture & Psychology, where we are repre-
sented worldwide (only 21.5 percent NorthAmerican11 out of 51
members of the editorial system), or in IPBS: Integrative Psychological &
Behavioral Science (14 percent9 out of 65).
Culture & Psychology is truly a journal ofand forthe world. This
is precisely what it was planned to be from the beginning: an inter-
national and interdisciplinary center for diverse discourses about how
various renderings of culture can be useful for psychological basic
research (Valsiner, 1995). Decidedly, Culture & Psychology is not
designed to be a first-rate journal in the evaluative prism of any
particular group of indigenous psychologistsbe they of American,
Russian, or Paraguayan kind, or belonging to any local social or
professional organization. What this contrast indicates is that any


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evaluative label first-rate in general may be an illusion of in-breeding

of a temporarily politically powerful in-group (e.g., the APA, or any of
its national equivalents around the world), which nevertheless rep-
resents the range of ideas of locally circumscribed issues of psy-
chology. The differentiation of streams of intellectual creativity
nowadays takes place by way of relevant topics of different journals,
in which scholars from all over the world participate, and not in the
play of politics of national boards of psychologists or locally interested
granting agencies. This is a result of globalizationit both creates
diversity and limits it at the same time. Where old boundaries vanish,
new ones are created.

Globalizing Postmodernity and Its Paradoxes

Together with the proliferation of postmodernist ideology (Guseltseva,
2005) in the social sciences in the second half of the 20th century, the
notion of scientific information has changed. No longer is empirical
work critical for testing specific aspects of a general theory, but it is
merely a contribution to the literature on a narrowly defined (and
consensually labeled) topical area within which locally applicable
explanatory systems (labeled theories) are expected to account for the
empirical findings. The postmodernist axiomatic notion of the local and
context-bound nature of all knowledge provides a fitting cover for such
fragmentation of knowledge. The casualty is general knowledgefrom
the ever-increasing flow of empirical research articles in the social
sciences generality does not emerge. Even the belief in its eventual
comingthrough grounded theory (Mey & Mruck, 2007)is
ephemeral. This impact of the postmodernist ideology keeps journals
like Culture & Psychology in its indiscriminate gripkeeping our rejec-
tion rates high (mostly because of the manuscripts lack in generalizing
theory) and the field fragmented (into different sub-versions of cultural
psychologies). If that modus operandi is proliferated worldwideas a
part of general globalizationthe homogenized picture of highly
heterogeneous social science may result. By making a published article
on ritual X in society Y in time Z relevant for cultural psychology
because knowledge is context-specific and we need to know the local
knowledge about Ywithout it having an impact on ourselves (since
we are different)has the potential for further exponential growth of
standard accounts of similar phenomena in very different contexts.
Postmodernity and globalization together thus generate further
mindless empiricism in the social sciencesunder the appealing
disguise of exploring previously unknown territories. Science is dead
long live the (accumulating) research literature(s)!


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However, globalization has its benefits for proliferation of knowl-

edge. It creates arenas for potential innovationusually far away from
the consensually recognized centers of the currently fashionable
research trends. At the same time, as major American journals
continue their intellectual inbreeding, looking around the world we see
the establishment of many new small journals with wide international
representation and topical foci. The world of academic publishing
overcomes the hegemony of any one indigenous psychological system
(Miner, 1956), and thus arrives at a pluralistic network of publications
where boundaries of countries and languages vanish. Yet that does not
mean that boundaries within the discipline disappear as wellhuman
beings are adamant boundary-builders. In addition to more publi-
cations, there is an increasing pressure for what of the ever-increasing
published materials is worth reading.
New meta-cognitive strategies are in the making for researchers
under these circumstances. Instead of the goal of knowing all (or as
much as is possible), under the current conditions the question
becomes: what to select out to ignore purposefully, so that within the
drastically reduced field of knowledge it is still possible to become
competent. The ever-increasing flow of publications leads to the need
for development of information dismissal strategiesthe first task for a
scientist is to keep oneself ignorant in some area of the literature in
order to develop high competency in another.

Semiotic Marking of Authorship

Science is a collective enterprisebased on interaction of many
scientistsyet the display of such collective endeavour is embedded
in individualism-promoting social systems. For a journal, that entails
receiving submissions of manuscripts with multiple authorsand
consequently the diffusion of authorship. This is a sensitive indicator
of our contemporary cultures of various sciences. In Culture & Psy-
chology we do not see too many multi-authored papers (the maximum
number of co-authors in the years 20018 was six, in a study of
ethnotheoriesKeller et al., 2004)in contrast to Journal of Cross-
Cultural Psychology, where the collective nature of empirical studies
done in many countries leads to high number of authors at times
(the record for the period 20018 is 132, for a 62-societies study of
romantic attachmentSchmitt et al., 2004; followed by 67 in the case
of Bond et al., 2004, and Liu et al., 2005, with only 15 authors). Of
course psychology journals remain very different from contemporary
physical and biological sciencesin 2006 there were more than 100
papers with over 500 co-authors (Sekercioglou, 2008, p. 371). What


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that indicates is that knowledge creation in these technologically

complex research fields moves increasingly towards administratively
managed anonymity, rather than promoting individual creativity. The
dominance of empirical research over theoretical synthesis leads to
hyper-authorships of articlesde facto collective creations, yet listed
by the usual individualized way of listing authors. The record-
holding paper in Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology had to use
three pages (Schmitt et al., 2004, pp. 367369) to list all the authors
Such hyper-authorship examplesincreasingly visible in our time
create a paradox: even if each and every author of a mega-authored
paper is listed, the actual contribution of each of them is no longer
visible. In some sense that should be the ideal for science as a collec-
tive enterprise. Yet, as is clear from social psychology of groups, teams
of increasingly large membership begin to function as super-personal
systems where the role of any individual member depends on the
position in the hierarchical social structure of the team. The examples
of 15132 authors speak of unknown internal distribution of roles in
the study. At the same time, all authors gain public prominence by
being listed.
In contrast, the historically well-known group of mathematicians
who published under the short collective name Nicolas Bourbaki
solved the listing problem by way of listing none of the participants
individually (Aubin, 1997). In their timeand contextthey did not
have the pressing need to demonstrate to promotion or tenure
committees that they were scientifically productive as individuals. In
the early days of re-emerging cultural psychologythanks to Michael
Colewe have another example of collective authorship (Laboratory
of Comparative Human Cognition, 1983), but that is largely where full
collectivity ends (yet see Boston Change Process Study Group, 2008
collectively authored yet mentioning the participantsof whom there
were only eight, noted as listed alphabetically, in a footnote). Instead,
we can observe researchers becoming involved in parallel research
teams, carrying out a limited fragment of a study, and being recognized
as authors of the whole study.
The contrast of hyper-displayor hyper-hidingof the authors in a
jointly authored paper is interesting in terms of the rhetoric of the
relationship between the always secluded groups of researchers (as
their research practices are obscurefrom anybodys everyday
perspectives) and their communication with the lay public and not-
so-lay social institutions who hold the power of funding, licensing, and
propagate the socio-moral status of who can be a scientist. The


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cultural psychology of science in society is yet to be added to our range

of topics covered in Culture & Psychology. It will be.

New Field for Inquiry: Cultural Psychology of the Social Sciences

The academic world has changed in the direction of increased depen-
dency of science upon administratorsor large research teams. The
move of knowledge construction from individuals to research teams
thus distributes the areas of acquired competence between researchers.
Yet the ideas are created by a human mindwho certainly is
embedded in a social relationship networkwhich may provide the
root for the idea. Thus, paradoxically, in our era where patenting of
inventions becomes extended to intellectual properties, the very
ownership of these seems to vanish into the intra-group relationships
within increasingly large research teams.
Under such conditions of institutionalized collaboration, it is the
cultural and social psychology of research teams that emerges as a
critically relevant topic for investigation in itself. First efforts in that
direction are notable (Markov & Plichtova, 2007; Pontecorvo, 2007;
Toomela, 2007b). International collaboration brings about a new form
of sudden contact (Moghaddam, 2006b) between psychologists. That
contact brings issues of teamwork into focus. It also leads to radical re-
thinking of the nature of the otherones research collaborator from
a far-away country and very different local context where realities of
what I consider to be research may have very different meanings. In
that context, the ways in which the persons who are studied by
psychologistsat times called observers, then subjects, and now
research participants (Bibace, Clegg, & Valsiner, 2009)become
relevant far beyond the question of politically correct language use in
a scholarly publication.

Conclusion: Constructive Trajectories for the Future

Cultural psychology is growing. It is by now a truly international field
of scholarship, and its interdisciplinary exploration is on the rise as
well. However, there are continuing concerns about the future well-
being of this developing scholarly enterprise.
First, it has taken long time for the field to overcome the lures of
deconstructionism and move into a constructionist mode. Most of the
heated discussions in psychology are about positioning: who is right,
who is wrong, and where am I in relation with them? Surely little new
can emerge from such re-alignment within the social field. Hence there
are many oversights: for example, the question of fitting the procedures


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of empirical research methodsinterviews, focus groups, experiments,

questionnaires, etcwith the open-systemic and meanings-focused
axioms of cultural psychology has largely remained unsolved.
I have mentioned that need before (Valsiner, 2001, 2004a), and
much to my displeasureneed to repeat it: cultural psychology needs to
work out and formalize the ways in which its methods can be adequately
generated. Without such a connecting link between cultural meta-level
perspectives and theories, on the one hand, and phenomenologically
sensitive empirical research tactics, on the other, all the creative efforts
to study cultures role in the psychological functions is likely to fail.
The recurrent focus on units of analysis, and efforts to bring qualitative
methods (Mey & Mruck, 2005) and qualitative mathematics (Rudolph
& Valsiner, 2009) to cultural psychology, fit this goal.
Secondly, cultural psychologydespite emphasizing the context-
dependency of its phenomenahas failed to contextualize its object of
investigation. This is all the more surprising since the focus on context
is at the core of cultural psychologies, yet it is a narrow version of
context (here-and-now context) rather than the context of the
contextthe before-and-after (of the duration of the study) context.
Borrowing from the traditional view of looking at how the object is
specifiedas a person, or a group, or a classroom, or a community
it has spectacularly overlooked the open-systemic realities of these
phenomena that depend both on material (economic) exchanges and
the influx of socially mediated cultural materials (Slunecko &
Hengl, 2006) as the background within which we observe cultural-
psychological processes. One can observe the scenes of some villagers
in a remote part of the world watching the latest soccer game or soap
opera from a far-away country, yet researchers tend to look at the true
cultural background of myths, practices, and the like.
Thirdly, cultural psychology has only marginally touched upon
the lessons from indigenous psychologiesthe richness of folk-
psychological terms, and the cultural over-determination of objects
used in human everyday living. Furthermore, psychology may benefit
from recognizing itself in the mirror of indigeneous perspectivesa
science partly built on one myth (i.e., that of Oedipus) may fail when
confronted with another (e.g., Durga). However, exclusive building of
a psychology on another local myth is no solution. What is happening
in cultural psychology is a slow move towards a newcultural
version of depth psychology. Here depth is an extension of the
analysis not into the sub-conscious, but towards the layers of com-
plexity that may surround some rather mundane everyday acta
transition of some kind. The subjectivity of the person is crucial for


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Valsiner Editorial

cultural psychology (Li, 2007, p. 357), and postmodernist (or post-

postmodernistAllakhverdov & Ivanov, 2008, p. 72; Ho et al., 2007,
p. 378) talk may slowly become a phenomenon of the past. A return to
a universal sciencein this case a culture-centered oneis in the
making in psychology. We are looking into the dialectical relationship
of the universal and the particular (Bang, 2008, p. 54).
Finally, psychology at large needs to return to the task of construct-
ing general theoretical frameworks of sufficient abstractness to fit any
socio-cultural context. Psychology has been close to the common-
language depictions of its phenomenawhich gives us some con-
solation of being in touch with these phenomena, but makes
generalizations difficult. New new terminology is probably needed.
Chemistry went through such a move from common-language ter-
minology to abstract formalization from the 1830s to the end of the 19th
century (Klein, 2004). Psychology started off in a similar direction at
the beginning of the 20th century (e.g., James Mark Baldwins effort to
create a developmental logicValsiner, 2008b). Yet as history
proceeded over the following decades, the discipline became side-
tracked by the move of its center from Europe to North America, and
the avalanche of local applied needs. Sciencelike all developing
phenomenamoves ahead through cycles of improvement and re-
gressions. The contemporary return to culture in psychology may be
the beginning of a new movement ahead.

Thanks to Nandita Chaudary of University of Delhi, India, and Jytte Bang,
University of Copenhagen, Denmark, for their critical reading of the previous
versions of this article.
1. It is important to note that the intricate link with the dialectical dynamicity
of the unitswhich is present in the Russian originalis lost in English
translation, which briefly stated only the main point in a summarizing
fashion: Psychology, which aims at a study of complex holistic systems, must
replace the method of analysis into elements with the method of analysis into units
(Vygotsky, 1986, p. 5). Yet it remains unclear in the English translation what
kinds of units are to be constructedthose that entail oppositional
relationships between partswhile in the Russian original it is made

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