Cultural Context of Child Development Research Paper

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In the field of developmental psychology the stage is set for a gradual yet profound change in the conceptualization of children’s development. Culture and context are becoming increasingly significant constructs in the study of child development for several reasons. Forces from outside the field, such as trends toward globalization (economic, political, and social) with concomitant increase in the interface between the diverse communities of the world, bring to the fore the multiple realities of humanity. The Western world can no longer ignore the multiple realities of the human condition within its own countries and those countries that Kagitcibasi (1996b) claimed constitute the “majority world” (p. 3). In addition, change in the conceptualization of development is being wrought also from within the field. Be it “rumble or revolution” (Kessen, 1993, p. 272), calls for putting culture at the core of developmental psychology (Cole, 1996; Hatano, 1999) and for paradigm shifts abound in the recent literature (Garcia-Coll & Magnuson, 1999; Saraswathi & Dasen, 1997).

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The changes in conceptualization that are being demanded are not minor. They may well require a shaking of the foundations and a need to look outside the field for theoretical insights. Emphasizing the need for a global-community psychology, Marsella (1998) suggested that emerging social, cultural, political, and environmental problems around the world are placing increasing demands on the field. “Psychology can assist in addressing and resolving these problems, especially if it is willing to reconsider some of its fundamental premises, methods, and practices that are rooted within Western cultural traditions and to expand its appreciation and use of other psychologies” (Marsella, 1998, p. 1282). In a similar vein, Kessen (1993) claimed that “it is imperative that developmental psychology loosen its tie to the dream of the one best system, be it theoretical or methodological” (p. 272). Toward these ends of broadening the vision and charge of developmental psychology, we undertake the task of integrating perspectives from within and without the field.

Our primary goal in this research paper is to represent current understanding of the interface between culture and child development by drawing on three subfields of psychology: cultural psychology, cross-cultural psychology, and developmental psychology. In the first half of the paper we provide a brief overview of these three subfields of psychology, highlighting how the interface between culture and development is explained in each. We end this part of the paper emphasizing the increasing convergence and parallels between the three subfields while delineating the differences and debates that persist.

In the second half of the paper we present an integrative framework that synthesizes the complementary foci of the various approaches to the study of culture and child development and then use this framework to organize an integrative overview of three selected topics in child development. Our exemplars include development of self, development of children’s narratives, and the development of remembering. Because a comprehensive review of all potential domains of development is beyond the scope of this research paper, we have selected only three exemplars to illustrate the possibility of integrating literature from cultural, cross-cultural, and developmental psychology. We have selected these three exemplars from domains of development within which we believe sufficient inroads have been made to develop theories that are culturally based and broad enough to encompass the database of mainstream developmental patterns and cultural variations in a coherent manner.

Major Approaches to the Study of Culture and Child Development

In the discipline of psychology three subfields have made significant contributions to our current knowledge about the cultural context of child development. We highlight major approaches to the study of culture and development from each subfield, focusing on the core assumptions or defining elements of each stream of knowledge. We do not provide an overview of each subfield, as there are handbooks or fulllength books devoted to that task in each field (Berry et al., 1997; Damon, 1998; J. G. Miller, 1997; Shweder et al., 1998; Triandis, 1980).

Cross-Cultural Psychology

Although culture has been the focus of study in anthropology since E. B. Tylor wrote Primitive Culture in 1871 (Tylor, 1871/1958), the interest in culture is much more recent in the discipline of psychology. Tracing the origins of culturerelated psychology, several historical overviews of the field of cross-cultural psychology emphasize its relatively recent institutionalization as a subdiscipline of psychology during the 1960s (Jahoda, 1990; Segall, Dasen, Berry, & Poortinga, 1999; Jahoda & Krewer, 1997). As these reviews highlight, several publication outlets and organizations devoted to cross-cultural and cross-national research were established at this time.

Understanding the origins of this field is important because the essential defining characteristics of cross-cultural psychology as a field are rooted in the reasons for its emergence. It is critical to remember that cross-cultural psychology emerged as a subdiscipline of psychology in reaction to the tendency in psychology to ignore cultural variations and to consider them nuisance variables or error (Kagitçibasi & Poortinga, 2000). Thus, cross-cultural psychology is often defined primarily by its method of comparative cross-cultural research aimed at exploring similarities and differences of human psychological functioning (Berry, 1980; Berry, Poortinga, Segall, & Dasen, 1992; Brislin, 1983; Jahoda, 1992; Jahoda & Krewer, 1997). It has functioned as a particular methodological strategy of mainstream psychology rather than as a subfield with a specific epistemological, theoretical, or content-related emphasis (Brislin, 1983).

The centrality of the culture-comparative approach is clearly reflected in statements of the overall goals of the field from early deliberations of the emerging area of research (Berry & Dasen, 1974) to more recent discussions of cross-cultural psychology as a scholarly discipline (Segall, Lonner, & Berry, 1998; Segall et al., 1999). The three primary goals of cross-cultural psychology have remained the following: (a) to test or extend the generalizability of existing theories and findings in psychology; (b) to use naturalistic variations provided by various cultures to test or discover range of variation in behaviors; and (c) to integrate findings to generate a more universal psychology applicable to a wider range of cultural settings.

In addition to its characteristic methodological approach, the culture-comparative approach of cross-cultural psychology is rooted also in assumptions about the universality of psychic functioning (J. G. Miller, 1997; Poortinga, 1997). As suggested by the goals just delineated, cross-cultural research is designed to test emerging theories in a broader range of cultural contexts and lead to the identification of psychological universals. Whereas the first goal specifically focuses on the search for psychological universals, the second emphasizes the documentation of diversity. However, both goals are always complementary and ultimately aimed at generating a more universal psychology (Segall, Dasen, Berry, & Poortinga, 1999). The centrality of assumptions of universality of psychic functioning in culture-comparative approaches is particularly well highlighted by Kagitçibasi and Poortinga (2000). They argued that assumptions of cultural relativism or universalism have important implications for methodology: “In so far as there is non-identity of psychological processes cross-culturally, there is non-comparability of data. Insistence on the uniqueness of phenomena defies comparison and makes the use of common methods and instruments inappropriate. Thus, the entire enterprise of culture comparative research collapses if the assumption of psychic unity of human kind is rejected” (p. 131).

Much of the cross-cultural research undertaken during the first half of the twentieth century reflected the goals of establishing universal laws of human behavior and examining how psychological processes are affected by different aspects of cultural context. For example, more than half of the studies carried out in the African continent during the early 1900s were concerned with IQ testing—reflecting the primary goal of testing existing theories and constructs in psychology (Jahoda & Krewer, 1997). This focus on testing existing theories (essentially those developed in the West) led to a large body of cross-cultural research that was primarily replicative in nature. Much of this work was fraught with indiscriminate use of tests and procedures developed in Western settings and used without concern for their ecological validity in very different settings.

Fortunately, the rapid growth of comparative cross-national research following the institutionalization of cross-cultural psychology in the 1960s generated far more promising trends. Concerns about the validity of constructs, instruments, and procedures developed by mainstream psychology became highlighted by significant lines of cross-cultural research in the two decades following the 1960s (Cole, Gay, Glick, & Sharp, 1971; Dasen, 1974; Dasen & Heron, 1984; Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition [LCHC], 1983; Lancy, 1978; Serpell, 1977). These researchers went beyond documenting differences between Western and non-Western groups. Their research reflected deep insights about the particular nonWestern groups and communities being studied, primarily gained through extended periods of residence and work within the communities and culturally sensitive and systematic attempts to revise procedures, instruments, and even constructs to understand better the phenomenon being studied from an insider’s perspective.

During this period of rapid growth in cross-cultural research, there was also a shift toward a more substantive and theory-building approach. This was a particularly significant trend for a field primarily characterized by its methodological approach. For example, Segall, Campbell, and Herskovits’s (1966) study of cross-cultural differences in illusion susceptibility Berry’s (1966) study of cross-cultural differences in psychological differentiation, and Whiting and Whiting’s (1975) study of child-rearing in six cultures not only stimulated significant bodies of research but also generated substantive theorizing about the links between ecological contexts, modes of subsistence, socialization processes, and individual psychological functioning.

Another promising trend resulted from the efforts of psychologists working in developing countries who began to question the validity of theories developed in the Western world. Rather than accepting existing psychological theories as objective, value-free, and universal, indigenous psychologists claimed that these were deeply enmeshed with EuroAmerican values that champion liberal, individualistic ideals (Kim & Berry, 1993; Kim, Park, & Park, 2000). Psychologists in East and Southeast Asia have been particularly vocal since the late 1970s in advocating the need to develop psychological constructs and frameworks rooted in local cultural and philosophical traditions, rather than relying on imported ones (Enriques, 1977; Ho, 1988, 1993; D. Sinha, 1986, 1997). For example, in Confucian heritage cultures, constructs that depict the fundamental relatedness between individuals played a particularly important role in promoting the role of indigenous psychological frameworks (Ho, 1976, 1988; Kim & Choi, 1994; Lebra, 1976). In modern Indian psychology, context-sensitivity, multidimensionality, and adult-child continuity (Kakar, 1978; Kumar, 1993; Marriott, 1989; A. K. Ramanujam, 1989) are examples of indigenously derived psychological concepts that are rooted in assumptions and orientations that are fundamentally different from Western approaches to knowledge about psychological functioning (Kao & Sinha, 1997; Mishra, 1997; D. Sinha, 1997).

Thus, whereas the subfield of cross-cultural psychology may initially have been defined primarily in terms of its comparative approach, the past 30 years of cross-cultural research in psychology have led to a critical discussion of the initial approach and a rediscovery of a more socioculturally oriented tradition in psychology (Jahoda & Krewer, 1997; Poortinga, 1997; Segall et al., 1999). Although the comparative approach and the search for a culturally inclusive yet universal psychology remain hallmarks of cross-cultural psychology, recent trends indicate promising areas of convergence with other subfields of psychology that also examine the interface of culture with human development.

Cultural Psychology

Although cross-cultural psychology as just presented proceeds from the perspective of the search for universals in psychological functioning, cultural psychology has often been viewed as representing the perspective of cultural relativism.

However, we suggest that to portray cultural psychology as primarily representing a cultural-relativist stance is inaccurate and glosses over more significant defining features of this approach to the study of culture and human development. We highlight three core features of cultural psychology in this section.

In recent discussions of the cultural psychology approach to the study of human development (Harwood, Miller, & Irizarry, 1995; J. G. Miller, 1997; Shweder et al., 1998), numerous approaches have been categorized under this overarching label. The most common examples include extensions of Vygotsky’s (1978) sociohistorical theory, which emphasizes the study of human development as it is constituted in sociocultural context (Cole, 1990, 1996; Rogoff, 1990; Wertsch, 1985, 1991), and theories that emphasize culture as the meaning systems, symbols, and practices through which people interpret experience (Bruner, 1990; Goodnow, Miller, & Kessel, 1995; Greenfield & Cocking, 1994; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Shweder, 1990). Models that incorporate ecological constructs with those from the culture and personality school of thought (D’Andrade, 1984; LeVine, 1973; LeVine et al., 1994; Super & Harkness, 1986; Whiting & Whiting, 1975) and models based on activity theory (Eckensberger, 1996) are also included under the umbrella of cultural psychology.

Although cultural psychology does not have a unifying definition or theoretical perspective, all these approaches share a common focus on understanding culturally constituted meaning systems. Thus, the first core feature of all these approaches is the common assumption that human beings construct meaning through the cultural symbol systems available to them in the context of social interactions. Thus, cultural psychologists view human psychological functioning as an emergent property that results from symbolically mediated experiences with the behavioral practices and historically accumulated ideas and understandings (meanings) of particular cultural communities (Shweder et al., 1998).

Along with the emphasis on the cultural meanings, a second unifying theme across various cultural psychology approaches is the assumption that culture and individual psychological functioning are mutually constitutive. It is assumed that culture and individual behavior cannot be understood in isolation, yet they are also not reducible to each other (Cole, 1996; J. G. Miller, 1997; Rogoff, 1990). In such a view, culture and individual development are not separated into independent and dependent variables. In addition, the assumption that culture and individual functioning are mutually constitutive goes beyond an emphasis on the bidirectionality of influence. Cultural psychologists argue that to define the relation between culture and individual development as mutually constitutive requires a fundamental reconceptualization of the nature of the relationship between culture and individual development (Cole, 1996; J. G. Miller, 1997; Shweder et al., 1998). Sociocultural perspectives offer such a reconceptualization of the relation between mind and culture in the central assumption that human development—conceptualized as particular modes of thinking, speaking, behaving—is assumed to arise from and remain integrally tied to concrete forms of social practice (Cole, 1990; Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1985): “Mind, cognition, memory, and so forth are understood not as attributes or properties of the individual, but as functions that may be carried out intermentally or intramentally” (Wertsch & Tulviste, 1992, p. 549). Thus, instead of conceptualizing individuals as “having abilities and skills,” the focus is on the “person-acting-with-mediation-means” as the appropriate unit of analysis (Wertsch, 1991, p. 119). In other words, individual “ability” or “tendency” is not separated from the contexts in which they are used. The argument is that when the focus is on human actions, we are immediately forced to account for the context of the actions and therefore cannot separate context from human functioning.

A third unifying theme in approaches to cultural psychology lies in the interpretive methodology preferred by these various approaches. Because the basic assumption is that culture and behavior are essentially inseparable, psychological functioning tends to be described in terms of the understanding of behavior and experience by the members of a cultural group themselves. Hence, the focus is on representing the meaning that behavior has for the behaving person. The roots of this preferred methodology have been traced to hermeneutics, or the theory of interpretation derived from the Greeks. W. Dilthey is credited with translating hermeneutic tradition to a historic methodology in which general validity is established through seeking objectified meanings within a coherence of contexts (Harwood et al., 1995; Jahoda, 1992; Jahoda & Krewer, 1997; Shweder et al., 1998).

Although cultural psychology is not a dominant perspective in mainstream psychology, it has stimulated attempts to develop more culturally inclusive theories of human development in the field of cross-cultural psychology (Dasen, 1993; Jahoda & Krewer, 1997) and in the field of developmental psychology (Cole, 1995, 1996; LCHC, 1983; Rogoff, 1990; Rogoff & Chavajay, 1995; Valsiner, 1989). Such crossdisciplinary contributions are the focus of a later section, so we now turn our attention to major approaches to the study of culture and human development within the field of developmental psychology.

Developmental Psychology

The primary focus in the field of developmental psychology has been to describe and explain development and developmental processes in all domains of human physical and psychological functioning. In the study of human development, defined as “changes in physical, psychological, and social behavior as experienced by individuals across the lifespan from conception to death” (Gardiner et al., 1998, p. 3), developmental change necessarily becomes the focus of inquiry. During the twentieth century much of the theoretical and empirical focus on the bases of developmental change centered on establishing the significance of nature versus nurture. However, contemporary developmental psychologists, going beyond prior debates between the proponents of nature versus nurture, stress that the dynamic relations between individual and context represent the basic processes of human development (Lerner, 1991, 1998, 2002; Sameroff, 1983; Thelen & Smith, 1998).

Historically, concerns about following the traditions of established science and assumptions about universality as a defining characteristic of human development have discouraged attention to the diversity and influence of varied developmental contexts. Recently, however, there has been increasing focus on the contexts of psychological functioning. This attention to the contexts of development has been prompted by several intersecting trends in the past couple decades. Theoretical models and perspectives that have been developed from within the field, particularly the ecological model (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1986), developmental contextualism (Lerner, 1991, 1996), and the life-span approaches (Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, 1998; Baltes, Reese, & Lipsitt, 1980), have been particularly influential in focusing attention on the contexts of individual development. In most of the ecologically based theories (with origins in the ecological sciences that examine the interrelationships between organisms and their environments), context is viewed as one of the major environmental variables that facilitate or constrain individual development. Similarly, life-span psychologists also emphasize social context, based on the central assumption that changes in the individual’s social context across the life span interact with the individual’s unique history of experiences, roles, and biology to produce an individualized developmental pathway. More recently, theorizing on the dynamic relation between individual and context has been brought to a more abstract and complex level through the concepts associated with developmental-systems models of human development (Dixon & Lerner, 1999; Lerner, 2002). In such models, integrative, reciprocal, and dynamic relations and interactions among variables from multiple levels of organization constitute the core processes of developmental change (Ford & Lerner, 1992; Gottlieb, 1997; Lerner, 1998; Thelen & Smith, 1998).

It is not surprising that the models and perspectives just listed have been credited for the increasing amounts of research on the diversity of social contexts and life experiences. In summarizing state-of-the-art reviews of conceptual and empirical work on social, emotional, and personality development, Eisenberg (1998) identified increasing focus on contextual and environmental inputs to development as a key theme: “Burgeoning interest in context in developmental psychology is reflected in the study of many levels of influence, including diversity in culture and subculture, race and ethnicity, sex and gender, and types of families and groups” (p. 20). Similarly, Eisenberg noted that conceptual frameworks are becoming more conditional, multifaceted, and complex and that there is an increasing tendency to view development as a consequence of “social interactions that are shaped by contextual factors and characteristics of all participants in the interaction” (p. 20). Thus, investigation of the diversity of contexts of individual development has become a major research agenda in most domains of psychological functioning (Damon, 1998; Eisenberg, 1998; Maasten, 1999; Wozniak & Fischer, 1993).

Applied and problem-oriented research has also contributed to the increasing relevance of context in human development. Context has been the specific focus of research aimed at understanding the particular circumstances of children growing up in poverty or adverse socioeconomic conditions (McLloyd, 1990, 1998). Similarly, research that examines children’s environments to enable the design of intervention programs to improve their welfare have focused specifically on context variables (Kagitçibasi, 1996b) because it is assumed that these mediating contextual factors can be addressed by programs.

Despite the increasingly more sophisticated conceptualizations of developmental processes and contexts of children’s development just noted, there appears to be a common underlying tendency to treat culture and context as synonymous in developmental psychology. Culture is operationalized as context variables and treated as an independent variable. Even when investigated as a transactional or interactional relationship, it is treated as separate from the individual developmental outcomes with which it interacts. This focus on culture as context may reflect the field’s continued reliance on the methods of experimental psychology and the concern with establishing universal relationships between context and behavior. Having highlighted essential dimensions of each field’s approach to the study of culture, we now turn our attention to the convergence between major approaches followed by an emphasis on the continuing differences and debates.

Emerging Convergence Between the Major Approaches

Recent calls for paradigm shifts to enable the integrated study of culture and human development are emerging from within all three fields—cross-cultural psychology, cultural psychology, and developmental psychology. Within cross-cultural psychology there is a current shift toward more socioculturally oriented theorizing and empirical work, representing the inroads made by cultural psychology approaches. Further, there are increasing attempts to integrate knowledge generated by indigenous psychologies (Kim et al., 2000). Taking a stance similar to that of cultural psychology, indigenous psychologists advocate a paradigm shift in which constructs and theories are developed inductively from within the culture and culture is not treated as an independent variable. Although theory development within indigenous psychology is not far advanced, it appears to hold promise for integrating the concerns of cultural psychology and cross-cultural psychology (Saraswathi & Dasen, 1997).

Cultural psychology approaches also have had significant influence within developmental psychology, more so in some areas than in others, for example, in infancy research, adolescence, and cognitive development (Kagitçibasi & Poortinga, 2000). For example, Rogoff and Chavajay (1995) described the transformation of research on culture and cognitive development. They described the shift from the cross-cultural comparisons approach of the 1960s and 1970s to the more substantive, socioculturally based theorizing and research that became a significant tradition of research in cognitive development within mainstream developmental psychology by the beginning of the 1990s. Interestingly, Rogoff and Chavajay documented this transformation by following the trajectories of a number of researchers and scholars whose initial research began within the traditions of cross-cultural psychology, became increasingly sociocultural in orientation, and eventually became an integral part of developmental psychology (e.g., Cole, 1996; Miller, 1997; Rogoff, 1998).

Convergence between cross-cultural psychology and developmental psychology has been evident primarily in the use of culture-comparative approaches to test developmental theories and constructs. Examples of such research include studies that tested the universality of Piagetian stages (Dasen, 1972; Dasen & Heron, 1981) and the cross-cultural applicability of developmental differences in cognitive competencies (Cole et al., 1971; LCHC, 1983) and that examined the universality of secure patterns of attachment (Sagi, 1990; Thompson, 1998; Van Ijzendoorn & Kroonenberg, 1988).

However, developmental psychology has had much less influence on the field of cross-cultural psychology. The volume of culture-comparative research on developmental issues published in cross-cultural publications is small (Keller & Greenfield, 2000). One reason for this within the domain of cross-cultural psychology is intellectual: Developmentalists are interested in documenting the developmental trajectory in different domains of development, and in the socialization and enculturation processes, that is, the processes by which children are taught and acquire competencies as they grow up (Kagitiçibasi & Poortinga, 2000). Cross-cultural psychologists, however, are interested primarily in examining cultural variability and establishing universally applicable lawful relations between cultural and ecological contexts and individual behavior. Much of cross-cultural psychology focuses on cultural variability of adult behavior, and therefore intersects more with social psychology than developmental psychology. Although this has been useful for developmental psychologists because the culturally constructed behavior of adults can be viewed as an endpoint along a developmental pathway, lack of comparative research on ontogenetic development suggests that questions of central importance to developmental psychologists have not influenced the agenda of crosscultural psychologists. However, recent shifts indicating more convergence between the aims of cross-cultural, cultural, and developmental psychology suggest a promising future for integrative approaches. Increasing culture-comparative research in international journals of behavioral development reflect such convergence. Keller and Greenfield (2000) outlined their vision for the future of cross-cultural psychology, in which “developmental issues and methods will be theoretically, methodologically, and empirically integrated into cross-cultural psychology, thus enabling our field to make significant advance in research and theory” (p. 60).

Continuing Issues and Debates

Despite the cross-disciplinary convergences and contributions just highlighted, critical differences and debates between the major approaches persist. Although there has been increasing agreement in the field of developmental psychology on the need to situate psychological phenomena in cultural context, answering the question of how to integrate culture into developmental or psychological analysis has been difficult (Kagitçibasi, 1996b). Issues in addressing this question are both conceptual and methodological. These are perhaps best exemplified in the debates that have been ongoing between cultural and cross-cultural psychologists and are now also being debated within the field of developmental psychology—between those influenced by ecological and contextualist approaches to development and those influenced by cultural and sociohistorical perspectives. Often, the difference is oversimplified by assuming that cross-cultural psychology proceeds from the perspective of the search for universals, while cultural psychology proceeds from the perspective of cultural relativism. Arguing that this distinction is misleading, we summarize recent discussions of the differences between cultural and cross-cultural psychology that delve into the issues in more depth (Harwood et al., 1995; Kagitçibasi, 1996; Poortinga, 1997; Saraswathi & Dasen, 1997; Shweder et al., 1998). We highlight some of the more important issues because these continue to be debated in the field of developmental psychology and need to be resolved if we are serious in our goal to generate more culturally inclusive theories of human development.

Debates on conceptual issues often focus on the question of how culture or cultural context should be conceptualized and operationalized in psychological research. Most of the research examining cross-cultural differences can be criticized for not clarifying the conceptual frameworks or the explicit theoretical models of culture within which crosscultural findings are examined and understood (Harwood et al., 1995). In recent debates between cross-cultural psychologists and cultural psychologists on this issue of how to conceptualize culture, some cross-cultural psychologists suggested that culture can be operationalized as a set of conditions (Poortinga, 1992, 1997; Segall, 1984). In such a view, cultural variables are conceptualized as independent and antecedent variables influencing human behavior. In this endeavor “there is a tendency to take cultural context, including ecological as well as sociocultural variables, as a set of antecedent conditions, while behavior phenomena, including attitudes and meanings as well as observed behaviors, are seen as the outcomes or consequents of these antecedent influences” (Poortinga, 1997, p. 350).

Similarly, in the ecological model (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1986) or the developmental contextualist (Lerner, 1991, 1996) approaches that have been particularly influential in development psychology research, cultural context is operationalized in terms of various levels of children’s ecological context, and research in this area attempts to document the interplay between historical, cultural, biological, and psychological influences on behavior in a systems approach to understanding influences on development.

In contrast, cultural psychologists maintain that in studying culture, the focus should be on understanding culturally constituted meaning systems. Thus, the study of the individual behavior must involve an examination of culturally constituted psychological processes, including culturally shared cognitive models and meaning systems (Harwood et al., 1995). Contrary to the ecological or contextualist perspectives, in cultural psychological approaches cultural context is not conceptualized as an independent variable or influence on behavior (LCHC, 1983; Rogoff, 1990; Rogoff & Mistry, 1985). As Shweder et al. (1998) claimed, “This insistence in cultural psychology that contexts and meanings are to be theoretically represented as part and parcel of the psychological system and not simply as influences, factors, or conditions external to the psychological system distinguishes cultural psychology from other forms of psychology which also think of themselves as contextual (or situated)” (p. 871).

Arelated conceptual issue that distinguishes cross-cultural and cultural psychology relates to the primary goals of each approach. A primary goal of cross-cultural psychology is to test the generalizability of psychological theories and establish universalities and differences in human functioning. In cultural psychology the attention shifts from finding lawful relationships between environmental variables (as culture and context are often operationalized) and behavioral outcomes to understanding the directive force of shared meaning systems in the lives of individuals and how these meanings are constructed in given contexts (D’Andrade & Strauss, 1992; Harkness & Super, 1992). Whereas cultural psychologists recognize that children grow up within the multiple contexts represented in ecological models, they also argue that contexts cannot be merely conceptualized as environmental influences. Understanding context must include understanding the tacit social and interactional norms of the individuals who exist within those settings, and whose behaviors and expectations both shape and are shaped by the institutional structures of which they are a part (Harwood et al., 1995). This focus on understanding the rule-governed understandings, interpretations, and behaviors in particular contexts, and the processes whereby individuals coconstruct and appropriate these understandings and interpretations through participation in various contexts, is the primary goal of cultural psychologists (Harwood et al., 1995).

The methodological debate between cross-cultural psychology centers on how to study culture. Cross-cultural psychologists emphasize a comparative approach with a focus on using common constructs and common measures across cultural communities, whereas cultural psychologists prefer an emphasis on the uniqueness of constructs in each cultural context because they derive their meanings from these contexts (Kagitçibasi, 1996b). Thus, the debates about the preferred research orientation have been cast in terms of the emic-etic distinction (Berry, 1969; Poortinga, 1997), or the indigenous versus universalist orientation to study phenomenon (D. Sinha, 1997). Behavior is emic—or culture specific—to the extent that it can only be understood within the cultural context in which it occurs; it is etic or universal in as much as it is common to human beings independent of their culture (Kagitçibasi, 1996b; Poortinga, 1997). Thus, the debate centers on the issue of whether a comparative or decontextualizing methodology is preferred or a holistic, contextualized methodology is to be used. Proponents of each view criticize the methodology preferred by the other. The interpretive methodologies that are particularly appropriate to study culturally unique phenomena from an emic perspective are often not acceptable to psychologists using conventional empirical standards of methodological rigor. Similarly, culture-comparative methodologies that utilize etic constructs to establish lawful relationships between cultural variables and psychological phenomenon have been criticized (Greenfield, 1997) as insensitive to cultural context.

Although some discussions of these contrasts between cultural psychology and cross-cultural psychology have taken oppositional stances, more recent discussions have attempted to find areas of convergence in the search for more culturally inclusive theories that can encompass cultural universals as well as differences and uniqueness. Convincing arguments made by cross-cultural psychologists (Poortinga, 1997) and by ecological and developmental contextual models in developmental psychology (Bronfenbrenner, 1986; Lerner, 1991, 1996) emphasize the need to establish lawful relations obtained between cultural, environmental, and behavioral variables. In general agreement with the need to establish lawful relations, cultural psychologists however emphasize that psychological structures and processes can vary fundamentally in different cultural contexts (Miller, 1997) and that there may be multiple, diverse psychologies rather than a single psychology (Shweder et al., 1998).

Arguing that the search for a science of human nature must be concerned with meanings as well as lawful behavior and that no approach can fully explain or account for all behavior (Poortinga, 1997), we suggest that each approach has something unique and complementary to contribute to a comprehensive understanding of human development. Similarly, the contrasting methodological approaches to the study of culture should also be seen as complementary—“a comparative approach does not preclude a contextualist orientation” (Kagitiçibasi, 1996b, p. 12). For example, Rogoff, Mistry, Göncü, and Mosier (1993) specifically use a derived-etic approach in which contextualized constructs are used for comparative analyses. In fact, conceptualizing the context-dependency of psychological phenomena can focus investigations to uncover causal relations in different contexts that could actually lead to better generalizability. Our next section, and the rest of the paper, is directed toward this goal of drawing on complementary approaches to build a more comprehensive understanding of human development.

Interface Between the Study of Culture and the Study of Child Development

In this section we focus on the issue of integrating knowledge gained from the literature in cultural psychology and crosscultural psychology with the rest of developmental psychology. Toward this end we delineate a broad integrative framework that draws on the lessons learned from each of the three subfields and integrates the complementary foci and constructs of various approaches to create culturally based conceptual frameworks that can encompass cultural variations in a coherent manner. Then we utilize this integrative framework to present a selective review of specific topics in child development as exemplars to document how it is possible to integrate the cultural, cross-cultural, and developmental literature. Three topical areas of child development— development of self, children’s narrative development, and development of remembering—serve as exemplars for the construction of a culture-sensitive and culture-inclusive developmental psychology.

As discussed earlier, a central conceptual debate (between cultural and cross-cultural psychologists, and between contextualist approaches and sociocultural approaches) focuses on the question of how culture or cultural context should be conceptualized and operationalized in psychological research. Should culture be conceptualized as context and as an independent influence (e.g., set of antecedent conditions) on behavior or development, or should it be conceptualized as culturally constituted meaning systems? Should the focus be on finding lawful relationships between environmental variables (as cultural context is often operationalized) and behavioral outcomes, or should our focus be on understanding how culturally constituted meaning systems are constructed in given contexts?

Perhaps the more important question is this: Should not our focus be on understanding both contexts and the culturally constituted meaning systems embedded in various contexts? When the focus is solely on culturally constituted meaning systems, there is the danger of relying on cultural explanations for variations that often tend to preclude more substantial analyses (Kagitçibasi & Poortinga, 2000). Understanding important social-structural factors such as social-class standing, poverty, and low educational levels is then easily overlooked. On the other hand, focusing on context as social address variables (Bronfenbrenner, 1986) can reinforce past assumptions that causes of development are similar across groups but that variations between groups are caused by differential exposure to causal agents or conditions and biological predispositions. In the following discussion we suggest how each perspective can be viewed as complementary and can be integrated.

Integrative Conceptual Framework

Here we develop a broad integrative framework that we use to synthesize the cultural, cross-cultural, and developmental literature on each of our selected topics. This framework integrates constructs from contextualist approaches (Bronfenbrenner, 1986; Lerner, 1991, 1996), sociocultural theory, and cross-cultural psychology’s contribution of promising substantive constructs that are pan-cultural as well as those that are more unique within a culture (Segall et al., 1999; Triandis, 1994).

Ecological context theories (e.g., Bronfenbrenner, 1986; Lerner, 1991, 1996) provide the labels and operationalization for layers of context—for example, macro system as cultural level shared ideology; exo system as the societal level institutions; meso and micro system settings as the closest layer of context for children’s development. Sociocultural perspectives (Cole, 1996; Rogoff, 1990; Wertsch, 1991; Vygotsky, 1978) and Super and Harkness’s (1986) construct of developmental niche provide the mediating constructs through which broad cultural (macro) level contexts and ideology get instantiated or reflected in the contexts of daily life (e.g., micro and meso systems). Thus, each setting of a child’s micro or meso system (e.g., home, school, peer group, neighborhood, religious setting) can be conceptualized as consisting of physical and social activities, practices, and psychology of caregivers (i.e., the constructs that constitute the developmental niche). These then are the more proximal level influences within which individual development is embedded and constituted, and through which broad cultural level contexts and ideology get instantiated in the day-to-day life of individuals in their micro and meso system settings.

Similarly, constructs from sociocultural theory can also complement those from ecological context models, particularly to operationalize context and understand the mechanisms or processes of developmental change. Concepts such as context, activity (Leont’ev, 1981; Wertsch, 1985), cultural practices (P. J. Miller & Goodnow, 1995), and situated practice (Lave, 1990) have been discussed as various means of operationalizing cultural context. Cole (1996) offered a particularly comprehensive discussion of these concepts as attempts to define a supraindividual sociocultural entity that is the cultural medium within which individual growth and development take place. Cole drew on both the sociohistorical school of thought (represented in the writings ofVygotsky, Lucia, and Leont’ev) and on anthropological theory to offer a conceptualization of such an entity, defining “culture as a medium constituted of artifacts” (p. 31).

Artifacts refer to the tools and objects used in a cultural community that are developed by prior generations and that get institutionalized and privileged in the institutions, practices, and valued activities of that cultural community. Books, calculators, and computers are common examples of physical artifacts or tools of our present-day literate and technological society that mediate how we interact with our social and physical world (and thus are examples of mediation means). Written language, the alphabet, numeral systems, the decimal system (as a way of organizing numbers), and the calendar (organizing time into years, months, days) are examples of conceptual artifacts (or mediation tools) that also regulate human functioning and behavior.

This notion of culture as a medium constituted of historically developed artifacts that are organized to accomplish human growth highlights the study of culture as central to understanding the processes or mechanisms of human development (Cole, 1995). But this begs the next question: What is the appropriate unit of analysis that will enable us to focus on both individual functioning and the supraindividual context within which it is situated? From a sociocultural perspective the appropriate mode of research is to analyze the way in which human thinking occurs within culturally organized forms of activity. Based on the assumption that human functioning cannot be separated from the context of activities through which development takes place, it follows that rather than focusing on individuals as entities, the aim should be to examine individuals as participants in culturally valued activities.

In fact, sociocultural theory posits that the integration of individual, social, and cultural-sociohistorical levels takes place within the analytic unit of activity (Cole, 1985, 1995; Leont’ev, 1981; Tharp & Gallimore, 1988; Wertsch, 1985, 1991). Thus, the assumption is that activities mediate the impact of the broader sociocultural system on the lives of individuals and groups (Gallimore & Goldenburg, 1993). Using activity as the unit of analysis contrasts with the independentdependent variable approach that separates individual responses from environmental stimuli as the units of analysis. Rather, activity as the unit of analysis consists of individuals (as active agents) engaged in goal-directed behavior, carrying out actions and using culturally valued tools and mediation means within a framework of shared cultural assumptions and expectations (Cole, 1985; Leont’ev, 1981; Tharp & Gallimore, 1988; Wertsch, 1985).

In the rest of the paper we use this integrative framework to organize a selective review of three topics in child development, including key publications from cultural and crosscultural psychology and developmental psychology. We hope to document the inroads that have been made in unraveling the culture-individual interface, ranging from delineating the larger context, institutional mechanisms, and specific situation contexts and their embedded meaning that result in the individual’s construction and acquisition of culture, as well as a precipitation of social-cultural change. We emphasize how the complementary contributions from three subfields of psychology enable a rich understanding of the interface between culture and individual development.

Within each topic area we begin with contributions from developmental psychology that often focus on descriptions of “normative” development as well as cultural variations on the “normal”outcomesofdevelopment.Thenwehighlightcontributions from cross-cultural psychology that identify cultural or societal variations that have emerged from the culturecomparative approach. Finally, we utilize the integrative approach just delineated to integrate or link together societallevel cultural variations and individual development. We highlight the possibility of multiple normal developmental pathways that exist in varying cultural contexts.

Development of Self

We include the development of self as an exemplar to document the interface between culture and development because there has been much research generated on this topic within all three subfields (developmental, cross-cultural, and cultural psychology). Studies on the development of self (Greenfield, 1994; Kagitçibasi, 1996a; Markus & Kitayama, 1991, 1994; Shweder, 1991) provide a rich source of information regarding the significance of culture as a context for development. From the moment of birth, or even before, every individual is immersed in a complex cultural context that provides the settings, meanings, and expectations that enable the growing child to become an acceptable member of a given culture. Whether viewed from the perspective of social construction (J. G. Miller, 1997; Shweder & Bourne, 1991), which implies that both culture and individuals constitute each other, or from the perspective of culture as an independent variable (Triandis, 1989; Kagitçibasi, 1996b), the total immersion of the individual child in culture is clearly recognized: “Theorists, psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists alike generally acknowledge that the self is a social phenomenon” (Markus, Mullally & Kitayama, 1997, p. 14).

Developmental Trends: Contributions From Developmental Psychology

In the developmental psychology literature, theories and empirical work on the development of self have concentrated on documenting developmental differences and the chronology of the development of self-representations from infancy through adolescence, as well as on determining the factors that influence individual differences in self-evaluations (Harter, 1998). Harter noted that the integration of research in cognitive, affective, and social domains in the past 15 years has contributed to amore comprehensive understanding of the basis and development of self-awareness, self-representation, and self-evaluations through normative developmental shifts and transitions. Although the developmental progression is primarily descriptive at this point, Harter underscores increasing theoretical emphasis on the role of interactions with caregivers and socialization agents in influencing normative progression, not just in creating individual differences. Developmental researchers also have focused on numerous issues—such as discrepancies between real and ideal selfconcepts, multidimensional selves versus the unified self, the relation to self-esteem, stability of self-representations— leading to better understanding of the complexities of developmental processes and how individual differences emerge.

Most of the theorizing and research in developmental psychology has been based on a Western view of the self that emphasizes separateness, autonomy, individualism, and distinctness. In contrast, the cross-cultural literature provides a much richer and in-depth analysis of alternate constructions of the self that exist among different cultural communities and are considered appropriate and mature within these communities. Our discussion now turns to this literature.

Alternate Definitions of Self: Contributions from Cross-Cultural and Cultural Psychology

Review of the rich culture-comparative literature indicates a general consensus regarding predominance of two major alternate views of the self. These two alternate frameworks have been variously referred to as independence versus interdependence (Greenfield, 1994; Markus & Kitayama, 1994), individualist versus collectivist orientations (Kim & Choi, 1994; Triandis, 1989), autonomous versus relational self (Kagitçibasi, 1996a), and cultural themes promoting the referential versus indexical selves (Landrine, 1992).

Based on the ideology of individualism, the Western definitions of the self emphasize it as an independent, selfcontained entity. The self is viewed as comprising of a unique configuration of internal attributes (including traits, emotions, motives, values, and rights) and behaving primarily to meet the demands of these attributes (Markus & Kitayama, 1994). The self in this perspective is seen as “bounded, unique, singular, encapsulated, noncorporeal” (Landrine, 1992, p. 747). The autonomous self is seen as an active agent that promotes selective abstraction of information from the environment (Triandis, 1989), as stable over time and across contexts, and as using environmental resources and all relationships instrumentally in the service of the self. The normal, healthy, independent self is expected to be assertive, confident, and goal oriented toward self-fulfillment, enhancement, and actualization (Landrine, 1992).

In contrast to the autonomous self, the interdependent or indexical self is not discrete, bounded, separate, or unique and is constituted (created and recreated) through social interactions, contexts, and relationships (Landrine, 1992). The self is viewed as embedded in relationships and the social context and has no existence independent of the same (Markus & Kitayama, 1994). In fact, “experiencing interdependence entails seeing oneself as part of an encompassing social relationship and recognizing that one’s behavior is determined by, contingent on, and to a large extent, organized by what the actor perceives to be the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others in the relationships” (Markus et al., 1997, p. 26). Further, the boundaries of the individual self are permeable with fusion between self and others, self and social roles, and in some cultures such as the NSO of Cameroon in Africa (Nsamenang & Lamb, 1994) and Hindu India (Marriott, 1989; Shweder & Bourne, 1991) include the supernatural and ancestral spirits.

Cross-cultural literature has also emphasized the culturebounded nature of what is considered the appropriate goal or endpoint of development. Contrasting the Western worldview of the place of the individual self in society with the socially and contextually embedded Indian self, Marriott (1989) commented that in the former worldview, “individuals are seen as indivisible, integrated, self-developing units, not normally subject to disjunction or reconstitution” (p. 17). These same characteristics that denote positive features when viewed from the independence-autonomy dimension may be perceived as immodest, arrogant, and aggressive when viewed from the perspective of the interdependent or indexical self: “To members of socio-centric organic cultures the concept of the autonomous individual, free to choose and mind his or her own business, must feel alien, a bizarre idea cutting the self off from the interdependent whole, dooming it to a life of isolation and loneliness” (Kakar, 1978, p. 86). Parallel to the constrasting perceptions of desirable self-ways (discussed later) of the referential self, the indexical or interdependent self is viewed as passive, weak, and unstable from the cultural framework that fosters autonomy, even while it is viewed as socially sensitive, harmonious, and unselfish from the sociocentric perspective (Landrine, 1992; B. K. Ramanujam, 1979).

Integrated Perspectives: Multiple Developmental Models and Pathways

Several researchers have emphasized the coexistence of alternative definitions of self within a culture, as well as within individuals across developmental stages and across contexts. Markus, Mullally, and Kitayama (1997), in introducing their comprehensive review of literature from contrasting cultural contexts, suggested that “taken together, this work reveals that there are multiple ways to construct interdependence and independence and that constructions of both can be found in all cultural contexts” (p. 13). The coexistence of the private and public self (Triandis, 1989), the integration of autonomy and relational orientations (Kagitçibasi, 1996b), and the variations in expressions of independence and interdependence (Kim & Choi, 1994) have received focused attention in the cross-cultural literature. Similarly, developmental psychologists criticize the sharp dichotomy between autonomy and connectedness. Harter (1998) argued that the recent trend toward incorporating both concepts of autonomy and connectedness in theories of self, rather than treating them as competing orientations, is leading to promising lines of research within developmental psychology.

Although cross-cultural research that documents the existence of alternate conceptualizations of self has been a significant contribution, it is not enough for a comprehensive theory of self. Such a theory must be able to explain the process of social construction whereby these alternate conceptualizations of self are appropriated by individuals, describe the multiple developmental pathways for the appropriation of these different concepts of self, document the source of individual variations in developmental pathways, and explain how individuals collectively bring about macro- or societal-level changes.The conceptual framework we delineated earlier that integrates cultural psychology perspectives and ecologicalcontextual models of development is utilized here to synthesize the contributions of cross-cultural and developmental research in such an endeavor.

Role of Social and Cultural Institutions

We suggest that sociocultural perspectives enable us to understand the role of cultural and social institutions of the macro system and exo system in institutionalizing culturally idealized notions of self and society, as well as the processes whereby individuals collectively bring about change in institutions and in cultural values or macro-level ideology. Societal institutions and macro-level ideology may create the conditions and contexts for the social construction of self at the individual level, but they themselves are constructed and institutionalized by collective individual actions. Individuals confronted by conflicting demands arising from changes within a society or brought about by interacting societal contexts can also become the impetus for creating and institutionalizing new cultural patterns of behavior. For example, Kumar (1993) drew attention to the contradictory forces that impinge on the urban middle-class child in India today. On the one hand, the competitive settings of institutions such as the school and the aggressive commercial media call for individuation, but the continued emotional hold of the family on the child’s decision making necessitates developing sociocentricism. The resulting tendency on the part of individuals to respond to both needs and appropriate a model of self that integrates individuation and sociocentricism eventually becomes the culturally valued norm.

Similarly, Kagitçibasi (1996b) suggested that increasing urbanization and nucleation of families in traditional societies, along with the introduction of the institutions of information technology and the market economy, have created a context in which individuals have constructed valued notions of self in which both independence and dependence are integrated. Families have responded to the shift from agrarian economies to market economies by weakening intergenerational material interdependencies while maintaining the emotional interdependency, thus creating new cultural patterns and norms.

Individual Social Construction and Development of Self in Context

When the focus of attention shifts to the individual level as we address questions of developmental pathways and processes, it is essential to reiterate a basic assumption about the social construction of the self. Although cultural psychologists have always viewed the self as a social construction and its development as a social coconstructive process, there appears to be increasing agreement among developmental psychologists about the critical role of social interactive processes. However, this is often conceptualized as the variable of caregiver’s role or style (Harter, 1998; Neisser & Jopling, 1997). In highlighting notable advances in research on the development of self-representation, Harter (1998) commented that while in earlier research “care giving styles were related to individual differences in child self-related behaviors, recent conceptualizations and supporting evidence point to the major role that caregiver-infant interactions play in influencing the normative progression of self-development” (p. 566).

While there remains much to be done, recent attempts in the literature to describe different developmental pathways for the appropriation of alternate conceptualizations of self and for accounting for individual differences are also emerging (Neisser & Jopling, 1997). Markus, Mullally, and Kitayama (1997) used the term self-ways to include broader cultural connotations than that of the individual self. They define self-ways as including “key cultural ideas and values, including understandings of what a person is, as well as senses of how to be a ‘good,’ ‘appropriate,’ or ‘moral’ person” (p. 16). This connotation assumes special significance because it provides for distinction between the modal cultural pattern and individual differences within a culture that may be shaped by a complex set of cultural dimensions including social class, gender, and age.

Recent theorizing to consider the developmental implications of alternate conceptualizations of the self has led to the generation of hypotheses and some empirical support about alternate developmental pathways related to distinctions between individualistic and sociocentric concepts of self. Development of self-consistency and stability of self-concepts and emphasis on uniqueness are important developmental milestones representing increasing maturity when the individualistic self is the culturally valued goal of development (Harter, 1998; Neisser & Jopling, 1997).

However, contrasting the Western worldview of individualism and autonomy with the Hindu world view of sociocentricism, Marriott (1989) commented that in Hindu postulations “persons are in various degrees nonreflexive (not necessarily consistent) in their relations” (p.16). Interpersonal relations are viewed as irregular and fluid. It follows that such a self would exhibit little stability across contexts and time, and the individual self’s attributes, values, and needs emerge from or reflect the needs of the relationships and contexts (Greenfield, 1994; Kim & Choi, 1994; Shweder & Bourne, 1991). Thus, in cultures like India, context sensitivity is the preferred formulation (J. G. Shweder & Miller, 1991; A. K. Ramanujam, 1990; Shweder & Bourne, 1991) and, one might extrapolate, the preferred indicator of increasing maturity.

There is some evidence to support the notion of different developmental pathways. When asked to describe themselves in 20 statements, Japanese youths’responses indicated a predominance of contextualized responses, in contrast to American youths’ responses emphasizing personal attributes. In a similar vein, Shweder and Miller (1991) presented developmental data documenting increasing context sensitivity with age among Indian children and adolescents, compared to the increasing proportion with age of statements about general dispositions of the agent among American children. Similarly, Hart and Fegley (1995) documented African American children’s relatively more sophisticated selfdescriptions compared to children tested in Iceland and explained the difference in terms of the cultural heterogeneity of life experiences, suggesting that children who encounter a variety of perspectives are better able to articulate their varying self-concepts.

We conclude this section with a specific example of the social construction of self in Hindu India, a culture in which one of us (Saraswathi) is deeply embedded. We use this specific example to highlight the different developmental outcomes and trajectories that are possible for the development of self. The development of self in the Indian context can make a case study by itself for several reasons. First, India has a sociohistorical context with a philosophical tradition that is thousands of years old and rooted in the belief of harmony, multiplicity (e.g., many deities, one God), and context sensitivity. Second, India has a prescriptive religious philosophy deeply embedded in the psyche of the average Hindu (see Kakar, 1978; Marriott, 1989; D. Sinha & Tripathi, 1994) that details the acceptable code of conduct for each stage of life and includes the engagement and disengagement of the self in relationships and social bonds. Third, India has a fastpaced rate of social change due to urbanization, industrialization, and a market economy that coexists with a rural India still deeply rooted in tradition.

  1. K. Ramanujam (1989) illustrated this coexistence of contradictions in Indians who learn, quite expertly, modern science, business, or technology. However, this “scientific temper” and the new ways of thought and behavior do not replace older religious ways but live among them. Ramanujam’s own father, who was a well-known mathematician and astronomer, also specialized in astrology and hosted with ease both astronomers and astrologers, never finding it paradoxical. In a similar vein J. B. P. Sinha (1980) presented the idea of the nurturant task leader, who is authoritarian but effective as a benevolent patriarch in an Indian organizational setting that competes in modern global trade.

The Hindu ashramadharma theory describes the code of conduct for each life stage (Kakar, 1978). In the context of the development of self, what is noteworthy is that whereas marriage and procreation and the fulfillment of the duties of the householder are considered imperative for personhood from emerging adulthood to late adulthood, the process of disengagement from social bonds is expected to be initiated from early old age (vanavas), leading to complete renunciation (sanyas) in late old age. In fact the ritualistic ceremonies of the completion of the 60th and 80th birthdays provide formal recognition to the expected (idealized) shift. This shift is from the sociocentric self embedded in worldly relationships and duties to a individualized self leading to the path of inward search and self actualization to ultimate salvation or Nirvana. Thus, both the sociocentric and individualistic self are valued, but at different stages of life. Here lies the challenge for developmental theory “to devise organizing frameworks that can account for developmental change, cultural diversity, and contextual variation in a model that presents development as multi-determined” (Cocking, 1994, p. 394) and, we would add, multidimensional.

Development of Children’s Narratives

We select a topic in language and communication as our second exemplar because this is another domain of development in which the integration between developmental and crosscultural research has been promising, if not achieved. When language is viewed primarily as code acquisition, the tendency is to focus on the underlying universal processes and theories of language acquisition. However, in cross-cultural psychology there has been a shift away from attempts to validate linguistic models and toward the notion of language and communication as socially embedded cultural phenomenon (Mohanty & Perregaux, 1997; Schieffelin & Ochs, 1986). The bulk of cross-cultural research on language development consists of cross-linguistic studies that focus on the formal structure and rules of different languages and document that different grammatical structures create different types of problems for a child’s acquisition of language (Slobin, 1992). However, there is also increasing interest in language socialization and the various socially embedded cultural devices used to socialize children in the pragmatics of language use (Mohanty & Perregaux, 1997).

The interface between individual development and culture becomes particularly critical when language is viewed as involving social action and the creation of meaning, rather than as merely code acquisition. In light of this, we select the topic of narratives from the broad domain of language development because development of narrative skills involves meaning making and communication that are culturally embedded and not merely the acquisition of linguistic codes. In addition, significant inroads have been made in unraveling the interface between individual development and culture in this body of literature.

Developmental Trends: Contributions From Developmental Psychology

Research from a developmental psychology perspective has focused on documenting developmental trends in the nature of children’s narratives and the acquisition of narrative skills, including the social-interactive processes whereby children learn to produce narratives. Much of the research examining the development of children’s narratives has used definitions of narratives based on the types of narratives valued in formal school settings. Skills and knowledge that allow for the understanding and production of narratives have been delineated based on definitions and characterizations of what constitutes such school-based narrative styles (Feagans, 1982). These include knowledge of such information as introductions, setting, character descriptions, themes, event sequences, reactive events, and conclusions (Rumelhart, 1975; Stein, 1988), as well as knowledge of how to sequence information to form a coherent and cohesive narrative.

Age-related progression in the production of narratives has also been documented, beginning with the rudimentary narratives produced between the ages of 2 to 3 years of age (Sachs, 1983; Snow & Goldfield, 1982), to the personal narratives produced by 6- to 9-year-olds that include most of the basic elements that are typical in the narratives told by adults in the community, such as orienting information and evaluations and resolutions of climactic events (Peterson & McCabe, 1983). The social-interactive processes through which children learn to tell the type of narratives valued by adults have also been the focus of research on children’s narratives. Some examples of the social-interactive activities that were common in early research on the development of narratives are joint book reading activities (Snow & Goldfield, 1982), dialogues with adults around storybooks (Cazden, 1988), talking about personal experiences and stories (Heath, 1982), school tasks and activities related to comprehension, and processing of information from written narratives and texts (Stein, 1988).

Cultural Variations in Narratives: Contributions From Cross-Cultural and Cultural Psychology

The main contribution of culture comparative research has been to emphasize that conceptions of normative narratives are themselves culturally constructed and culture bound. The models of story structure, such as the story grammar models derived from research in the United States (Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Stein, 1988), cannot always be applied to narratives from other cultures. Based on an analysis of 150 Japanese folktales, Matsuyama (1983) concluded that story grammar models were difficult to apply to the folktales because these often did not have the goal structure (a goal for the main character to achieve) that is common inWestern folktales.

Similarly, Heath’s (1983) landmark research on different cultural communities in the United States described how three communities differed in their definition of stories— even though telling stories was a valued activity in all the communities. In one community (a White mill community of Appalachian origin), culturally valued stories were factual and chronological, included a lesson to be learned, and were used to reinforce behavioral norms. In contrast, in another community (an African American mill community of rural origin), stories were highly creative and fictionalized and were used to entertain and assert individual strengths.

Distinctive structural patterns also have been delineated for narratives generated by Hispanic American and Japanese children (Minami & McCabe, 1991; Rodino, Gimbert, Perez, & McCabe, 1991), in African-American children’s narratives (Gee, 1989; Michaels, 1991; Nichols, 1989), and in Hawaiian children’s narratives (Watson, 1975). In fact, the difficulty in applying story grammar structures to narratives from various cultures led to the development of other types of structural analysis, such as verse analysis and stanza analysis (Gee, 1986; Hymes, 1974).

Integrative Perspectives: Toward Multiple Models of Narrative Development

Whereas developmental research attempts to delineate normative trends in the development of children’s narratives, cross-cultural research emphasizes variations in the structure and form of culturally valued narratives. However, merely documenting variations is not enough to explain the process whereby these differences in what is culturally valued are generated and maintained by becoming institutionalized in cultural institutions and ideology. Similarly, delineating developmental differences, or the factors that lead to individual differences, is not enough to understand how individuals appropriate the narrative forms and styles valued in their cultural communities and in turn collectively create, institutionalize, and privilege particular forms of narratives in their communities.

We argue that it is essential to integrate research from all three subfields (cross-cultural, developmental, and cultural psychology) to benefit from their complementary foci and develop a more comprehensive understanding of the interface between culture and narrative development. An example of such integration of various bodies of literature is offered by Mistry (1993) and is briefly summarized here.

Using the sociocultural perspective to facilitate the integration of empirical work on the development of children’s narratives, Mistry (1993) organized her literature review to document how sociocultural context is an integral part of children’s narrative development at both an institutional and an interpersonal level. At the institutional level, cultural history creates and establishes institutions (e.g., schools, literary organizations) that value, foster, and reward (through tools such as grades, awards, and other means of formal or informal recognition) particular types of narratives and narrative practices. At the interpersonal level, the cultural basis of narrative practices is manifested in the nature of the task that the narrator and listener seek to accomplish, the values involved in determining the appropriate goals and means, the intellectual tools available (e.g., language system and conventions), and the institutional structures within which interactions take place (e.g., schools, social organizations, economic systems).

Role of Social and Cultural Institutions

To understand development in any domain, it is first essential to identify goals of development or culturally accepted endpoints of development within that domain. At the broadest level, cultural institutions serve to establish these norms and goals of development. In a literate and technologically oriented society, social and cultural institutions privilege particular forms of narratives and narrative practices, which then become the desired norms that determine what is considered normal progression toward mature and developmentally sophisticated forms. Sociolinguists have pointed to the existence of a literate bias in contemporary approaches to narratives (Gee, 1991; Michaels, 1991). Similarly, cross-cultural literature has emphasized that the unidirectional focus and value placed on academic and literate contexts of development must be questioned, as the goals of literacy and academic discourse are not universal.To understand the development of children in the context of their own communities requires study of the local goals and means of approaching life (Rogoff, Mistry, Göncü, & Mosier, 1993). Each community’s valued skills, institutionalized in cultural ideology and institutions (the macro and exo systems), constitute the local goals of development.

In addition to privileging particular forms of narratives and narrative practices, cultural institutions also provide the context and structure the situations and activities of the micro and meso systems within which children hear narratives and gain practice in producing them. For example, in European American middle-class communities, the dominant interactional contexts within which narrative activities take place are related to the institutions of formal schooling and the socioeconomic systems that call for literate means of communication (Mistry, 1993). Hence, young children’s narrative skills develop within the interactional contexts of school-like learning activities. The occurrence of school-like narrative activities, such as story reading and recounting of events during parent-child conversations (Feitelson & Goldstein, 1986; Fivush, 1991; Haight, 1991; Heath, 1989; Snow, 1989) have been well documented in the developmental psychology literature on European American middle-class children. Parallels and continuity in the patterns of narrative discourse between home and school in middle-class, schooloriented communities occur because the cultural and social institutions that serve as a dominant context for development are similar in each case.

The consistency between children’s narrative patterns and those apparent in the discourse patterns of adults participating in several institutional contexts of community life, such as the church, has been documented by Heath (1983) for an African American mill town community: “Thoughout the sermons, prayers, and raised hymns of the church, there appears a familiar pattern which marks many other features of Trackton life: the learning of language, telling of stories, and composing of hand-clap and jump-rope songs” (p. 211). Patterns of language use that were apparent in children’s and adult’s storytelling were also evident in other institutional contexts in the community, such as in parts of the church service (sermons, hymns, personal testimonials), in the music, in community events, and in children’s games and play.

Links between children’s narrative patterns and culturally institutionalized discourse patterns are also evident in Minami and McCabe’s (1991) research on Japanese children’s narratives. They link the short length of Japanese children’s conversational narratives to culturally valued literary forms in which the emphasis is on brevity, such as haiku (a literary form that combines narrative and poetry and has strict length limitations) and karuta (a game that displays three lines of written discourse). Thus, within any cultural community there is continuity in the patterns of narrative discourse used at home and the discourse patterns utilized and privileged by the cultural institutions controlled by people in the communities (Mistry, 1993). However, the fact that the narrative patterns and the cultural institutions that support them can be very different across cultural communities underscores the importance of recognizing multiple goals and pathways of development. Having emphasized the role of cultural institutions in privileging particular forms of narratives and structuring the settings and activities in which children appropriate these forms, we now turn our attention to the role of individual social construction.

Individual Social Construction and Development of Narratives

As we pointed out earlier, much of the research examining children’s development of narrative skills delineates the mature skills of storytelling based on definitions of narratives valued in schools and other institutions in a literate society. Developmental trends in how children acquire and appropriate school-based narrative styles and conventions through their dialogues and joint activity with adults in school-like learning activities and conversations have been well documented in the developmental psychology literature (Cochran-Smith, 1983; Snow, 1989). However, less is known about the social-interactional contexts and processes through which narrative practices valued in other cultural communities are acquired and appropriated.

Some cultural differences in aspects of joint conversational or narrative activity have been documented through culture-comparative approaches. Blum-Kulka and Snow (1992) found variation in the amount of assistance and the degree of independence given children during dinner-time conversations in working-class, middle-class American and middle-class Israeli homes. Similarly, Minami and McCabe (1991) reported differences in the length of time children are given the floor during mother-child conversations in Canadian and Japanese homes. Canadian mothers encouraged lengthy turns by asking many extending questions, whereas Japanese mothers regularly capped the length of their children’s turns at three utterances.

To summarize our integration of the literature on the development of children’s narrative from developmental, crosscultural, and cultural psychology perspectives, we emphasize the contributions from each subfield of psychology in building a more comprehensive and culturally inclusive theoretical and empirical knowledge base. Research within developmental psychology has delineated normative trends in the development of children’s narratives in communities in which the institutions of schooling and literacy are dominant contexts for this development. By documenting variations in the structure and form of culturally valued narratives, crosscultural research has enabled us to recognize the culturebounded nature of what might be construed as normative developmental trends and acknowledge these as situated in particular communities, specifically those dominated by the institutions of schooling and literacy. Finally, sociocultural perspectives have elucidated the processes whereby differences in what is culturally valued are generated and maintained by becoming institutionalized in cultural institutions and ideology. Such perspectives also offer theoretical conceptualizations of how individuals appropriate the narrative forms and styles valued in their cultural communities, and in turn collectively create, institutionalize, and privilege particular forms of narratives in their communities.

Development of Remembering

In the cross-cultural psychology literature, cognitive development has been identified as by far the most frequently studied topic of cultural-comparative research.Whereas cross-cultural researchers in the first half of the twentieth century focused on testing the applicability of the IQ construct (Jahoda & Krewer, 1997), after the 1960s researchers concentrated on studying cognitive processes such as memory, mathematical thinking, and categorization (Cole et al., 1971; Dasen, 1972; Dasen & Heron, 1981; Wagner, 1981). Since the 1970s several scholars have provided detailed accounts of cross-cultural research on cognition (Altaribba, 1993; Berry & Dasen, 1974; Mishra, 1997; Rogoff, 1981; Segall, Dasen, Berry, & Poortinga, 1999; Wagner, 1981). Research carried out during the last half of the twentieth century has also led to significant shifts in understanding the interface between culture and human development. Therefore, we considered it important to include a topic in cognitive development as an exemplar of the integration of research from various subfields of psychology. However, to delimit our task, we have chosen to focus on the topic of remembering.

Developmental Trends: Contributions From Developmental Psychology

Although research on the development of memory has a long history, there has been a shift in emphasis from describing developmental differences in memory performance to identifying the underlying mechanisms of developmental change. This shift may have been a result of the increasing prominence of information processing and neuroscience approaches in the 1960s (Schneider & Bjorklund, 1998). Although developmental differences on working memory capacity was a significant line of research, developmental differences in the use of mnemonic strategies became a particularly important area of research in this attempt to explain developmental differences.

Several reviews of research (Paris, Newman, & Jacobs, 1985; Perlmutter, 1988; Schneider & Pressley, 1989; Weinert & Perlmutter, 1988) documented early attempts to explain memory development as the development of increasingly flexible and more general memory strategies between 5 and 11 years of age. Age-related changes in operative knowledge (knowing how to use mnemonic strategies), epistemic (content) knowledge, and metacognitive knowledge were assumed to contribute to age-related improvements in memory performance (Perlmutter, 1988). However, research within developmental psychology itself, such as evidence of strategic remembering among young children in familiar contexts (Wellman, 1988) and the role of prior knowledge in facilitating better recall (Chi, 1978), highlighted the problems with decontextualized generalizations about memory development.

In a recent review Schneider and Bjorklund (1998) underscored the heterogeneity and variability in different aspects of memory and the expectation that different types of memory abilities will have different developmental functions and trajectories. Some dimensions of memory are assumed to develop slowly over childhood and to be influenced by environmental context, whereas others are viewed as developmentally invariant and relatively impervious to environmental factors (Schneider & Bjorklund, 1998). Noting the shift away from research on conscious and strategic remembering to a focus on basic-level unconscious and nondeliberate micro processes, Schneider and Bjorklund placed particular emphasis on the need to study memory at multiple levels and from multiple perspectives, including perspectives that focus on the social construction of remembering.

Variability in Remembering: Lessons From  Cross-Cultural Research

Reviews of cross-cultural research on remembering (Mistry, 1997; Rogoff & Mistry, 1985) characterize much of this research as based on a model in which culture and memory were conceived of as separate variables. The influence of culture on individual performance or development was typically studied by comparing the memory performance of individuals from two or more cultures. Evidence from such research in the 1960s and 1970s indicated that individuals from non-Western cultures did not use the type of mnemonic strategies that were assumed to facilitate better recall among individuals from Western cultures and to be responsible for developmental differences (Cole & Scribner, 1977; Rogoff, 1981; Rogoff & Mistry, 1985; Wagner, 1981).

Despite the predominance of research focused on testing psychological theories using constructs and procedures developed in the West, important lessons were learned from such culture-comparative research (Mistry, 1997). Crosscultural studies conducted by Cole and his colleagues in the 1970s (Cole et al., 1971; Cole & Scribner, 1977; Sharp, Cole, & Lave, 1979) were particularly notable for their insightful use of ethnographic methods. These researchers combined ethnographic methods to gain a deep understanding of cultural context with experimental procedures to elaborate features of the memory tasks and materials that mediated cultural differences in performance on remembering tasks. Along with evidence from descriptions of nonWestern people’s memory in their everyday life (Bartlett, 1932; Lord, 1965), such research emphasized the variability of remembering as a function of familiarity and practice with specific materials, tasks, mediational means, and the modality of remembering (Mistry, 1997).

Cross-cultural research also highlighted another important lesson for research on memory in general. It enabled researchers to separate variables that vary simultaneously in the United States but are separable in other cultures. For example, in many nontechnological societies, formal schooling is not yet universal, so the relative independence of age and amount of schooling provides investigators with a natural laboratory for investigating effects of age and schooling separately. Cross-cultural comparisons of memory performance by individuals varying in schooling experience allowed consideration of whether developmental changes in remembering were due to experience with school rather than maturation (Rogoff, 1981, 1990; Sharp, Cole, & Lave, 1979). Western children enter school at about age 5, and there is high correlation between age and grade in school thereafter. Thus, cross-cultural research facilitated awareness of the fact that “cognitive-developmental research has been measuring years of schooling, using age as its proxy variable” (LCHC, 1979, p. 830). This evidence from cross-cultural studies, along with recent research on the impact of training on use of mnemonic strategies, has led developmental psychologists to recognize the social construction of memory (Schneider & Bjorklund, 1998).

Integrated Perspectives: Multiple Dimensions of Remembering

Although the variability of memory has been well documented in cross-cultural research, it is essential to go beyond merely documenting differences to developing a theory or conceptual framework that describes and explains the multidimensional complexity of the development of remembering in diverse contexts. If the notion of culture is to be integral to a theory of memory development, it must take into account contemporary ideas and findings in the field (Wertsch & Tulviste, 1992). Therefore, we emphasize the need for an integrative perspective that will enable us to interpret research at many levels, examining the larger social context to institutional mechanisms and the specific situation contexts and the embedded meaning that results in the individual’s construction and acquisition of remembering.

Role of Social and Cultural Institutions

Although much of the cross-cultural research in the study of memory has not been conducted from a sociocultural or cultural-psychology perspective, this body of research is reviewed to examine how it elucidates a theory of memory development in which the interface between culture and individual development is integral.

Early cross-cultural research focused on testing constructs and procedures for assessing memory performance among people from different cultural communities. On classic memory tasks developed by developmental psychologists (e.g., free or serial recall of lists of words or series of pictures), people in non-Western communities were widely observed to perform poorly (see reviews by Cole & Scribner, 1977; Rogoff, 1981; Rogoff & Mistry, 1985; Wagner, 1981). Furthermore, following the prevalent approach in cross-cultural psychology, researchers typically examined characteristics that commonly varied between cultures (e.g., the amount of formal schooling, degree of modernity, urban vs. rural residence) as an explanation for these differences in remembering. However, the research that documented differences in remembering as a function of these variables did not elaborate the cultural context of remembering because it did not unpackage (Whiting, 1976) specific aspects of the environmental or experiential context that differentiated the groups.

Toward the goal of elaborating the cultural context of remembering, we draw on sociocultural perspectives to facilitate the development of a conceptual framework of remembering in which culture is integral. In such a conceptual framework, it is essential to consider how remembering is coconstructed in the context of specific institutions that privilege particular goals for remembering, particular forms of remembering, and particular modalities and particular mnemonic strategies (or mediational tools) for remembering. From this perspective, differences in recall performance between schooled and nonschooled people can be interpreted as reflecting the significant role of schools as a social institution in privileging particular goals and mediational means for remembering.

Research has documented that people with schooling tend to use organizational strategies (e.g., mediational means) that enhance their recall, whereas people not exposed to Western schooling tend not to use such mnemonic strategies. Discussing these findings from a cultural perspective, Rogoff and Mistry (1985; Mistry, 1997) pointed out that school is one of the few places in which a person has to remember information deliberately, as a goal in itself, and make initially meaningless, unrelated pieces of information fit together sensibly. Many of the organizational strategies that facilitate recall of classic laboratory memory tasks (which impose some organization on meaningless material) are valued and therefore learned in school because they serve a valued purpose in school learning.

Similarly, research documenting different outcomes for learning and memory for varied forms of schooling or other institutions for literacy (Mishra, 1997; Serpell & Hatano, 1997) emphasize the significance of the institution of schooling, albeit different forms of schooling. The rote memory–based learning valued in Koranic schools, which is well suited to remembering long Koranic verses, has been linked to the superior performance of Muslim children in Morocco schooled in these schools compared to nonschooled children (Wagner, 1993). In their classic work to examine how institutions of literacy structure and organize the way individuals remember, Scribner and Cole (1981) compared the performance of Vai people who varied in the use of several types of literacy: Arabic literacy gained through the study of religious script in traditional Koranic schools, literacy in the indigenous Vai script learned through informal means for practical correspondence in trade, and literacy in English learned in Western-style schools. The Arabic literates had a great advantage over the other groups on recall of words when the preservation of word order was required, consistent with the incremental method of learning the Koran (adding a new word to a series at each attempt). Thus, each form of literacy training, each embedded in different institutions of learning, privileged and facilitated particular ways of remembering.

Cross-cultural findings of outstanding memory performance by non-Western people can also be interpreted and understood as instances of how cultural, social, and economic institutions and their valued goals facilitate particular ways of remembering. The extraordinary skills in memory, inference, and calculation for navigation among Micronesian sailors (Gladwin, 1970) and the exceptional ability to recall genealogy and family history among oral historians of clans in Africa who serve a critical function in resolving disputes (D’Azevedo, 1982) are just a few examples among many that have been discussed elsewhere (Mistry, 1997; Mistry & Rogoff, 1994; Rogoff & Mistry, 1985).

Individual Social Construction of Remembering

As evident from the discussion thus far, once research on remembering is contextualized by situating it in particular institutional and sociocultural contexts, cross-cultural differences are better understood and can be integrated into a more comprehensive theoretical perspective that provides a coherent explanation for such differences. For example, much of the research on remembering represented in the field of developmental psychology occurs in situations in schools, homes, and laboratories that are structured and influenced by institutions such as schooling and literacy, which are dominant in Western society. Remembering in these contexts will naturally be different from remembering in cultural contexts in which institutions other than schooling are dominant. Although explanations of such differences at the cultural level are now better understood, an integrated perspective on remembering must also be able to interpret individual differences and the social-interactional and individual processes whereby remembering is socially constructed in culturally specific situation contexts with their embedded meaning.

At the level of individual processes, cross-disciplinary contributions can also be particularly valuable. Crosscultural research that situates variability in remembering as a function of different aspects of the activity in which remembering takes place, such as differential familiarity with materials, mediational means, modalities, and motivations for remembering, can be useful to developmental psychologists in their attempt to understand individual differences in remembering. On the other hand, research from developmental psychology that delineates how children learn to use mnemonic tools or approach memory problems more skillfully through supportive interaction with more skilled partners can serve as models for culture comparative research.

Several studies of remembering in U.S. contexts have specifically focused on the question of whether and how social interaction supports memory development. Building on Vygotsky’s (1978) emphasis on the role of joint interaction, some have suggested that adults may serve as children’s auxiliary metamemory (Wertsch, 1978). Studies have documented such parental roles and the consequences for remembering. For example, McNamee (1987) suggested that memory for connected text develops between adults and children as they converse; DeLoache (1984) noted the supportive role of mothers’ memory questions in picture book reading; and Fivush (1991) documented the social construction of narratives by young children. Similarly, guided participation in remembering with adults has been documented to facilitate children’s performance on categorization and remembering tasks (Ellis & Rogoff, 1982; Rogoff & Gardner, 1984; Rogoff & Mistry, 1990).

However, culture-comparative studies of the individual construction and appropriation of culturally valued means for remembering are lacking in the cross-cultural literature. This gap in the cross-cultural literature must be addressed if we are to build a theoretically and empirically integrated knowledge base on the development of remembering. For the development of such a knowledge base, we reiterate the need for an integrative perspective that will enable us to interpret research at many levels, examining the larger social context to institutional mechanisms and the specific situation contexts and their embedded meaning that results in the individual’s construction and acquisition of remembering.

Concluding Comments

As a final thought, we underscore the importance of drawing on multiple streams of knowledge to build more comprehensive and culturally inclusive theories and empirical databases on children’s development. Despite the fact that crosscultural, cultural, and developmental psychology approach the study of culture and human development from different perspectives, we document how it is possible to integrate literature from all three subfields to build more culturally inclusive understandings of any domain of development. Building on Kessen’s (1993) commentary that the elevation of context in developmental psychology represents a shaking of its foundations, we reiterate that in the reconstruction of the field, we must be willing to incorporate perspectives from cultural and cross-cultural psychology as well.

In focusing on the interface between culture and human development, developmental psychology has not been at the forefront in looking outside its discipline for theoretical insights or research. As Kessen (1993) suggested, this may be due to the tensions between the emerging intentions of developmental psychologists and the traditions of experimental science. However, there are promising signs of changes being wrought from within the field. The work of developmental psychologists who are able to blend the methodologies valued in developmental psychology with the concerns voiced by cultural psychologists on the need to incorporate a focus on cultural meaning systems represent the most promising approaches to bringing about the reconstruction that Kessen suggests is now underway.

Studies of children’s cognition and learning as situated in the contexts of activities and interactional processes (Wozniak & Fischer, 1993) are examples of changes in conceptualization being wrought from within the field. Attempts to unpackage culture in ways that go beyond treating it as a social address variable, and instead to operationalize it in concrete variables constructed from emic perspectives, are all examples of promising research that bridges the concerns of both developmental and cultural psychology (GarciaColl & Magnuson, 1999; Rogoff et al., 1993; Harwood et al., 1995). To continue the process of bringing about change from within and meeting the challenge of developing theories and empirical databases that can account for developmental change and cultural and contextual variation, it is essential for developmental psychology to push the boundaries of the field.


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