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In the literature a large variety of conceptualizations can be found on the how and why of differences in behaviour across cultural populations. In the first part this chapter, we briefly review various theoretical positions, distinguishing two major dimensions. The first dimension ranges from universalism to relativism and is associated with the contrast between culture-comparative and culturalist research methods, reflected in various chapters of this book. Universalists argue predominantly from the perspective that human behaviour and understanding should be interpreted in terms of shared species-wide psychological processes. Relativists maintain that human psychological functioning, based on constructions of meaning, differs essentially across cultures. The second dimension has to do with the generality of cross-cultural differences. This dimension varies from positions in which such differences are believed to be organized in a systemlike fashion to positions in which such differences are seen as an array loose and sporadically interconnected, historically developed cultural rules and practices.
Despite the variety of conceptualizations most authors appear to agree that psychological functioning and culture are closely and systematically linked each other. However, valid interpretations about behaviour–culture relationships are difficult to distinguish from stereotypical convictions that reside mainly the observer. In this chapter we argue that the field as a whole attributes larger and more systematic effects to cultural context than is merited by the available data.
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