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  • Cited by 75
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
June 2012
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Book description

This book, first published in 2007, is an international overview of the state of our knowledge in sociocultural psychology - as a discipline located at the crossroads between the natural and social sciences and the humanities. Since the 1980s, the field of psychology has encountered the growth of a new discipline - cultural psychology - that has built new connections between psychology, sociology, anthropology, history and semiotics. The handbook integrates contributions of sociocultural specialists from fifteen countries, all tied together by the unifying focus on the role of sign systems in human relations with the environment. It emphasizes theoretical and methodological discussions on the cultural nature of human psychological phenomena, moving on to show how meaning is a natural feature of action and how it eventually produces conventional symbols for communication. Such symbols shape individual experiences and create the conditions for consciousness and the self to emerge; turn social norms into ethics; and set history into motion.

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Page 1 of 2

  • Chapter 8 - The Material Practices of Ape Language Research
    pp 164-186
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    Wilhelm Wundt, the founder of experimental psychology, took into account both profiles of Psyche: the biological and individual, and the collective and social-cultural historical. It is easy to see how easily the primary focus of a science may shift from phenomena-centered activities to social group organizational activities. History of psychology gives us ample evidence of how originally intellectually productive theories became fixated upon their own role, entered into various social disputes with others, and became fossilized. There are two implicit functions of theories in psychology: (a) theories are tools for taking a new look at the phenomena; and (b) theories set mental (and socio-ideological) positions. Obviously it is only the first of these two functions that has relevance for Wissenschaft. The latter is the function of theories that has undoubtedly central relevance for a science's relations with the socioideological texture of the given society at the time.
  • Chapter 9 - The End of Myths and Legends About the Biological and Cultural Evolution
    pp 187-202
  • A New View in the Knowledge on Hominid Paleo-Ethoecology
  • View abstract


    This chapter addresses how do language, cognition, and subjectivity relate each other. Language is constitutive of the speaking animal's being-in-the world, or in less philosophical terms, language is constitutive of humans' position or situation in the world. Since the early 20th century, cultural differences between languages have been a major topic of scientific debate in linguistics, anthropology, and psychology. The chapter explains some of the theoretical and methodical domains, which currently set much of social and cultural psychology's agenda. It focuses on the relation between language and culture with respect to discourse analysis, theory of social representations, and metaphor analysis. The chapter provides suggestions for cultural psychology's core research aims and research practice. It argues that cultural psychology, needs to clearly dissociate from an objectivistic-naturalistic, a historical understanding of its objects and of itself in order to value the originality of human creations.
  • Chapter 10 - Acts of Psyche
    pp 205-237
  • Actuations as Synthesis of Semiosis and Action
  • View abstract


    This chapter focuses on the historical socio-cultural processes of producing psychological theories, and most specifically theories of a socio-cultural kind. Psychology is a consequence of situated activities and thus the knowledge it offers is subordinated to a process of continuous cultural and historical transformation. The chapter describes how human rationality gets shaped in a socio-historical spiral, focusing on how culture establishes and distributes levels of self-reflection about human action. An analysis of the emergence of psychological theories about the socio-cultural phenomenon follows. The chapter then explains how multidisciplinary heritage produced current psychological approaches to socio-cultural phenomena. The sociocultural network of contents, reasons, and meanings, which shape subjectivity and permit to make sense of human activity is examined. Finally, the chapter argues that human behavior involves an activity oriented towards establishing the meaning of experiencing.
  • Chapter 11 - Time and Movement in Symbol Formation
    pp 238-256
  • View abstract


    Cultural psychology requires a theoretical perspective and a rigorous methodology. Focusing on the sampling method, sampling the specimens together with their contextual and historical surroundings is needed. Socio-cultural-historical phenomena in cultural psychology are studied with a different type of universality in focus that is available to researchers through analytic generalization. The basic notion of psychological science needs to be built upon idiographic assumptions. The chapter introduces three studies using the trajectory equifinality model (TEM) model that is the basis for the historically structured sampling (HSS) method of sampling. In the case of each of the three: on adolescents' abortion experience, girls' decisions to start making cosmetics, and infertile wives to abandon to continue receiving reproductive treatments. The chapter outlines the structures of personal life decision histories through an analysis of various bifurcation points.
  • Chapter 13 - Network of Meanings
    pp 277-290
  • A Theoretical-Methodological Perspective for the Investigation of Human Developmental Processes
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    Mediationism extends across two contrasting approaches to theory in psychology, namely, the dominant tradition of individualistic, cognitive theory, and the too loyal "opposition" consisting of various alternative approaches. Within cognitive psychology, mediationism has primarily taken the form of representationalism: the appeal to internal rules and representations as a necessary and sufficient basis for explanation within human psychology. The dualisms of matter and mind and of biology and culture are institutionalized in the very structure of modern academic disciplines. Some of the most influential current approaches within social psychology are frank extensions of individualistic cognitive theory to the interpersonal realm, and so it is hardly surprising that representationalism figures centrally in both. The curious thing about the windowless room of mediationism is that there are so many ways of getting into it. Taking note of those different ways is an important first step towards getting over mediationism.
  • Chapter 14 - Dramaturgical Actuations and Symbolic Communication
    pp 293-317
  • Or How Beliefs Make Up Reality
  • View abstract


    Socio-cultural psychology is widely known as a theory and research field that stresses the determinant role of social interaction and culture in the development of the higher psychological functions. This chapter presents a view of the human subject that avoided dualism (mind-body, individual-social, physical-symbolic) and was capable of bridging the gap between the basic psychological processes and the higher processes involving consciousness and meaning. It describes the reorganization of dynamic systems as a key concept for the description and explanation of perception and movement. The main claim is that the kind of explanation including self-organization and temporal dynamics applied to the development of perception and action may be useful for the explanation of how socialization and enculturation processes develop. The chapter explores the concept of re-mediation, and the practices from it derived, which are one of the privileged arenas where basic psychological processes and socio-cultural phenomena have historically intersected.
  • Chapter 15 - Analysis of Cultural Emotion
    pp 318-342
  • Understanding of Indigenous Psychology for Universal Implications1
  • View abstract


    This chapter examines the concept of communication traditionally and currently used in the field of ethology. It describes a few landmarks in the evolution of communication in the different species, paying particular on the mechanisms that regulate these features since this is where the levels of progressive complexity of processing are found. The different modalities of communication have evolved to serve the general function of regulating the (social) behavior of each species within its own ecological niche. The emergence of birds and mammals was accompanied by a reorganization of perceptive systems, which were for the first-time centralized in the brain. The chapter focuses on communication in primates, and in particular the anthropoids, since these animals make use of forms of communication very close to those of humans. Finally, the chapter focuses on describes the sign created by the hominid mind in order to facilitate communication between minds.
  • Chapter 16 - The Role of Symbolic Resources in Human Lives
    pp 343-361
  • View abstract


    This chapter talks about a special population of non-human primates whose abilities and social competencies deserve the attention of cultural studies. It explains a long-term investigation of language, culture, and tools in a society of bonobos (Pan paniscus) having lived in Decatur, Georgia for the last 25 years. The chapter discusses the culture theory based upon the empirical and ethnographic facts of ape language research (ALR). The idea of ethnographic accounts with nonhuman primates is new, and perhaps startleling to ethological and cartesianist perspectives. One must consider that Vygotsky's idea of zone of proximal development (ZPD) is an effect with continuity within, at least, Pan and Homo. The ZPD is the critical radius upon which enculturation occurs. The effects are total and permanent and preempt biology. This idea is part of the explanation of why researchers observe so many different outcomes with culturally different groups of chimpanzees or bonobos.
  • Chapter 17 - Perpetual Uncertainty of Cultural Life
    pp 362-372
  • Becoming Reality
  • View abstract


    The best method to fight myths and legends about biological and cultural evolution of primate species is through interdisciplinary studies and discussions. One of the myths the author can find in archaeology and paleoanthropology manuals is the one related to the Homo faber concept. It would be strange that, facing similar ecological conditions, forest hominids had renounced the advantages of the instrumental behavior only because of being pre-humans. This instrumental behavior could have been even more frequent than in the case of chimpanzees, given the advantages of bipedalism (in the forest as in savannah) for manipulating and transporting tools. He thinks that the generalization about the first lithic industries as being a consequence of a higher intelligence in the human genus should be qualified and contrasted with the paleoecological conditions of East Africa during the Plio-Pleistocene. This chapter talks about when hominids started making camps at ground level.

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