In 1990 the Committee on Human Development marks its 50th anniversary as a graduate training program and research undertaking at the University of Chicago, which makes it, perhaps, the oldest genuinely interdisciplinary social science program in the United States. The faculty of the committee decided to warm up for the occasion, and to start celebrating early, by having a series of symposia on topics central to its intellectual mission. This volume on “cultural psychology” is a product of two of those symposia, held at the University of Chicago on October 23–25, 1986, and November 5–7, 1987, under the respective titles “Culture and Human Development” and “Children's Lives in Cultural Context.”
The symposia were designed with two intellectual aims in mind. The first aim was to provoke debate about conceptions of human nature and development, in the light of our increased sophistication in cultural analysis, in the interpretive study of meaning, and in the symbolic representation of symbolic representations; and to let the voices of context, content, and surface structure vie with the voices of the universal processor, abstract mathematical form, and deep structure. A second (and closely related) aim was to promote the idea of a cultural psychology.
Cultural psychology seems to be very much in the air these days. The basic idea is that our representations of reality (including social and psychological reality) become part of the realities they represent; and many causal processes are constraining precisely because of our representations of them and involvement with them.