Beyond the Ponzo

Culture and Psychology
October 18, 1996

If a new academic journal is to make an intellectual mark, it helps to be associated with a recent movement in ideas. Culture and Psychology is well placed in this respect. It has emerged from the trend towards "social constructionism", which arguably is producing some of the most challenging recent work in social and developmental psychology.

In the past 15 years, a growing number of psychologists, especially in Britain and Europe, have been reacting against the emphasis which psychologists have traditionally given to biological factors. The social constructionists argue that the human mind is a social and historical creation. That being so, psychologists need to take the ideas and methods of the social sciences much more seriously than they have done. By the same token, social scientists should recognise the psychological aspects of culture.

To date, social constructionism has made little impact on mainstream psychological journals. This is not for want of trying. Most social constructionists have horror stories, recounting how orthodox journals have summarily rejected contributions which do not fit the prevailing experimental paradigms. Inevitably, it has become necessary to establish journals such as Culture and Psychology.

Editor Jaan Valsiner writes in the opening issue that Culture and Psychology will be an interdisciplinary journal exploring how psychological phenomena are culturally constructed. However, the journal will not welcome the sort of crosscultural empiricism which merely describes that Samoan farmers are more (or less) prone to the Ponzo illusion than are school-teachers in Dayton, Ohio. Instead, Culture and Psychology will be "primarily a theoretical journal". It has made a lively start. Predictably, the first issues rounded up some of the usual prominenti to outline their own approaches. Debate has been encouraged, as full-length articles have been followed by critical notes. Already, some old arguments have been given new form.

Valsiner's editorial discourse has shifted subtly during the first year. He has toned down his comment about the journal being "primarily" theoretical, to say that the journal seeks to publish "theory relevant contributions to psychology". Already, ethnographic studies which challenge traditional psychological concepts are being included.

The emphasis on empirical investigation is to be applauded as a sign of the growing maturity of social constructionism, for theoretical analyses on their own are ultimately unsatisfying. Culture and Psychology promises to establish a unique place for itself as a much-needed intellectual home for those psychologists engaged in the detailed and difficult study of how psychological phenomena are socially constructed. The journal should also demonstrate to anthropologists and sociologists that not all psychology wilfully disdains the social sciences.

Michael Billig is professor of social sciences, Loughborough University.

Culture and Psychology

Editor - Jaan Valsiner
ISBN - ISSN 1354 067X
Publisher - Sage
Price - £110.00 individuals £10.00 an issue
Pages - -

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