The Forgotten Field: Contexts for Cross-Cultural Psychology

Cross-cultural psychology has employed the concept of the “field” in two ways. First, as articulated by Lewin, it is the larger context in which all individuals develop their behaviors and now express them; it is a conceptual space within which to situate human behavior. Second, it refers to the cultures and communities in which anthropologists have usually worked, making observations of daily life, and then describing the cultures of the people; it is a physical and symbolic space in which human activity takes place. These two meanings share common features: they both consider that all human behavior develops and is exhibited in contexts; and that these contexts need to be studied and described before human activity can be understood and interpreted. I argue that it is essential for cross-cultural psychology to use and study both meanings of the field concept if we are to make valid interpretations of the origins (roots) and the influences (routes) on behaviors that we observe and assess in our research and practice. Starting over 100 years ago, collaboration between anthropologists and psychologists established the field of cross-cultural psychology. This collaboration continued for many years, but has diminished in recent times. I argue for the necessity to return to the field in both senses in order for our field to advance. This paper examines these two meanings in the disciplines of anthropology and psychology, and presents some elaborations of them, using the ecocultural framework as a general guide, and an arc framework as a specific exposition of it. Examples of fieldwork in psychology and anthropology are presented to provide substance to these frameworks. The claim is made that our discipline has largely abandoned the concept of the field, and proposes a way to correct this error.

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