Regulation and Pressure: issues in the study of indigenous psychologies
Shams, University of Luton
The social context and processes that accumulate psychological knowledge,
provide evidence to formulate universal theories and concepts, and accrue
culturally specific and sensitive research tools for studying behaviour
are still beneath the surface of the discourse that utilises culture
as a central tool to the understanding of human behaviour in a global
context. The notion of culture as a knowledge provider delimits
the powerful influence of contextualized knowledge on our understanding
and interpretations of globalised human behaviour. The question
of a tangible culture is aired through the working definitions of some
affiliated concepts that encompass culture, such as modern information
technologies and revolutionary agricultural advancement, however its impact
on formalising knowledge still remains within the cultural paradigm.
The shifting of the cultural paradigm depends on the regulatory agencies
that translate indigenous cultures to conform to existing concerns regarding
indigenous psychologies and make them compatible with the western paradigm
of (non-western) indigenous psychologies. Due to the interdependency of
various cultures (Bandura, 1999), the concept indigenous is
becoming more flexible and its fluidity allows little room for an autonomous,
internal coherent and a self-contained cultural whole, particularly in
the present post-colonial world. (Eldridge, 1999)
The aim of this paper is to provide a critical analysis of the study of
indigenous psychologies that is subjected to external control in terms
of the delivery and production of materials and in relation to position
and justificatory functions within the mainstream discipline. The
paper also endeavours to draw a link between historical perspectives and
post-historical prejudgemental views in order to explicate the contentious
issues of power, regulations and pressures to the study of
The paper addresses the following questions:
| 1. How do prejudgemental
views of social groups and knowledge-text about a culture perpetuate
tensions among indigenous psychologists within a western context?
2. To what extent do historical perspectives regulate psychological
knowledge and how is that reinforced by society.
3. What are the mechanisms that deconstruct indigenous psychological
knowledge and how can they be used to promote cross-fertilization
of ideas within the boundary of indigenous psychologies?
of these questions will be discussed separately, followed by a general
discussion on power, regulation and pressure that are embedded in the
study of indigenous psychologies.
and indigenous psychologies
The constraints of psychological knowledge
The subject-areas of mainstream psychology are firmly rooted in a western
context due to societys privileging of psychology as a discipline
(in high demand) that can promote humanity, integrity and knowledge about
human beings. In contrast, psychology in a less privileged society (the
developing world) is treated as a discipline of second choice because
priority is given to the resolution of social and economic problems. (Smith
and Bond, 1998) Attempts to import westernised knowledge about human behaviour
in this context has been undertaken by some researchers. (Carr, and MacLachlan,
1993) The task of constructing a knowledge base of indigenous psychologies
is complex and involves issues such as position, power,
regulation and pressure. For example, academic
psychologists who are engaged in critically synthesizing the roots of
psychological knowledge have been profoundly influenced by certain historical
perspectives: concepts such as the colonised mind, intellectual
domination, etc that (Ho, 1993; Enriquez, 1990) are engendered by
historical oppression and domination. Even a specialised knowledge about
certain aspects of behaviour among a distinctive cultural group is not
free from the influence of dominant views that are coloured by prejudiced
beliefs. (Shams, 1994)
This positioning of psychological knowledge can reproduce a notion of
cultural imperialism, and it is likely to develop and nurture a colonised
state of psychological knowledge. However, in a recent keynote speech,
the former President of the British Psychological Society identifies diversity
and pluralism as an intrinsic feature of the discipline, psychology
providing an opportunity for multi-faceted exploration of human functioning.
(Lunt, 1999) The application of this principle in real-life situations
and in various cultural contexts remains to be established.
A socio-historical perspective can unify cultures into a transgressed
whole. However, certain projections of history continue to systematically
exploit particular members of a society or groups who are labelled by
their ethnic origin rather than their culture. Prejudgemental views and
preconceived notions of these groups are concentric and their historical
perspective is characterised by domination rather than emancipation.
The study of indigenous psychologies draws attention to the concept of
indigenous per se, in its literature. Indigenisation
is a method and a process that can be employed to gather psychological
knowledge. It can also be a source of psychological knowledge and an embodiment
of that psychological knowledge. The concept of indigenisation, therefore,
is not specific to a cultural context. A leading Philipino psychologist
(Enriquez, 1993) defines indigenous psychology as a system of psychological
thought and practice that is rooted in a particular cultural tradition.
From this perspective, psychological thoughts common to a western context
are also indigenous psychologies. However, this paper aims to examine
the way western psychological knowledge is influencing indigenous psychologies,
which are subjected to domination, oppression and influence. Those cultures
which were not directly colonized, were still continuously influenced
by a western intellectual domination (for example, psychology taught in
African countries (Carr and MacLachlan, 1993)). A recent review of theoretical
contentions and empirical research on psychology and race (Bempah and
Howitt, 1999) reaffirms the practice of Eurocentric psychology in Africa,
and suggests that the continuation of such a practice will propagate notions
of black inferiority.
It is possible to blame this type of influence on literature and media,
but the socio-political consequences of such arguments and their open
dialogue extend beyond the exchange of words. For example, the consequence
of acknowledging this domination is socio-political. The socio-political
implication of indigenous knowledge that informs the discipline of psychology
raises several crucial issues that are deeply rooted in the historical
context of an indigenous culture. The next section endeavours to provide
a brief exposition of a historical perspective on the construction of
psychological knowledge and to show that power, regulation and pressure
on the production of knowledge are situated within this historical perspective.
Regulatory powers of historical perspectives and the construction of psychological
approach to scientific knowledge should be able to locate differences
in perspectives from which knowledge is constructed and originated. There
are fundamental differences in such perspectives, which have their roots
in ontological and epistemological issues. The eastern approach or more
specifically, the roots of psychology in an Asian context, go back two
millennia to religio-philosophical treaties.(Ho, 1993) A historical analysis
has indicated indirectly the way a western invasion has challenged indigenous
notions of ideas, beliefs and practices. The pervasive influence of, and
consequences for, such an invasion are embedded within the structural
construction of knowledge. In fact, innovation and advances in scientific
technology are reinforcing such a regime of influence. Pragmatically,
this influence is actually internalised within an indigenous cultural
context, and leaves the option for further analysis in order to accommodate
such influence into the power structures of society. This
type of deconstruction is termed content indigenisation. (Sinha,
1997) Although the power to translate knowledge may be shifted towards
an indigenous culture, the issue of the validity of the outcome remains
within a western paradigm. For example we can challenge the view that
issues relating to psychological work can perpetuate racialised views
about human behaviour in a western context despite the historical connotations
attached to a black-white binary structure. (Phoenix,1999) The reproduction
of psychological knowledge reinforces the issue of power regulation
which exposes human nature to the scientific world (Reicher,1999) and
can reaffirm that psychologys contribution must acknowledge the
major shift in post-war analyses that elide prejudice and privilege difference.
A historical perspective thus converges with contemporary psychological
issues. The theoretical underpinning of social and cultural trajectories
is construed as historically contingent and context-specific. (Brah, 1996)
Psychological knowledge is structured and positioned within a socio-historical
context. The delivery and production of knowledge and information are
always reflecting dominant cultural concerns and conceptions and the reflexive
nature of the discipline emerges in a critical discourse on race,
racism and psychology. (Richards, 1997)
Twentieth century intellectual domination has, however, taken a different
form. For example, literature, media and information technology promote
the co-existence of two cultures, but they are presented within the boundaries
of the modernisation of knowledge, and thus the influence of the dominant
culture remains and reproduces subsequent influences in order to rebuild
a cultural monopoly engendered by a so-called intellectual supremacy.
Jahoda argues that images of savages (the roots of modern
prejudice in western culture) construct deeply rooted western preconceptions
that go back a thousand year and are still feeding racial prejudice today.
(Jahoda, 1999) It is not, therefore, surprising that concepts of cultural
colonialism and cultural dominance are prevalent in
the discourse of indigenous psychology. The problem persists and raises
an important question regarding the cross-fertilisation of ideas based
on the segments of indigenous psychological knowledge.
Towards a unified indigenous psychology
It is difficult to formulate mechanisms to deploy indigenous psychologies
which disregard a historical penetration of the process of knowledge construction.
In this section, power, regulation and pressure are analysed to show the
beneficial effects that they may bring to such a construction.
Discussing the psychology of minority ethnic cultural and social groups
is difficult for indigenous psychologies as the groundwork for interrogating
the powerful influence of indigenous culture (ie, western culture) on
the micro-indigenous culture (non-western culture) has not been completed.
It is also likely to develop counter-arguments for indigenous psychologies.
The issue then becomes a conflicting interplay between western indigenous
culture and migrating indigenous culture. The transformation
of the latter has been critically discussed in the social psychology of
minority group influence and within research into immigrant groups and
the interactive cultural influence of indigenous cultures. This type of
interactive influence contests the power-holder
position and may provide a useful source for the globalisation of knowledge
about human-behaviour, and the necessary respect of the diversity of epistemologies,
methodologies, cultures and modes of application. (Lunt, 1999) However,
such a position questions the remit of indigenous psychologies. The socio-political
concerns implicated in the discussion of indigenous psychology are a determining
force which regulates both the openness and the transparency
of indigenous knowledge. It is, therefore, to some extent important to
know how and why indigenous psychologies are deployed and to what extent
they complement and contradict the parent discipline.
Regulatory practice and indigenous psychologies
Despite an emerging call for a non-Eurocentric psychology
(Bempah and Howett, 1999), critiques of Eurocentric psychology
(Featherman, 1993) reconfirm growing concerns about various social and
cultural mechanisms that perpetuate racialised knowledge to inform the
discipline of psychology. Some of these mechanisms are discussed in the
previous section. This section aims to highlight the practice
of institutions to delegate and categorise psychological knowledge and
to show how that practice can be richly informed and textualised by the
help of indigenous psychologies. The question of how subject-positions
are mediated by institutional webs of discourse, and the way psychological
discourses are deployed in a variety of locations in contemporary western
cultures has been raised in the context of a changing perspective of non-powerful
and non-totalising institutional effect. (Burnam et al., 1996)
If such a non-effectof an institution cannot be enforced into
the delivery and production of materials relating to indigenous psychologies,
then that in itself might endanger the existence of indigenous psychologies.
Notwithstanding western psychologys central position, contextualised
knowledge paves the way for a unifying indigenous psychology. Regulatory
practices, therefore, produce tensions between various perspectives of
indigenous psychologies that might justify in turn the proliferation of
indigenous psychologies. The following section offers a critical and reflective
practice in an attempt to understand pressure and tensions
within indigenous psychologies.
Pressures and tensions
Frictions between different paradigms and perspectives are beneficial
to the development of a cogent argument that cut across indigenous psychologies.
The pressure to accommodate indigenous psychologies into the main stream
of psychology will only be materialised if appropriate and adequate attention
is given to the development and dissemination of diverse indigenous psychologies
worldwide. The task may not be that simple because indigenous psychologies
are not yet fully documented and endorsed within the parent discipline
and require an authoritative voice to assume their legitimate status in
In addition, the question of transforming textual materials in which such
are reproduced and formulated has to be taken on board when the process
of documentation begins. It is necessary to generate tensions which create
pressures on indigenous psychologies so that generic concepts can be developed,
and principles for the universality of psychological knowledge can be
formulated that are dictated by epistemological, ontological and methodological
Indigenous psychologies are continuously influenced by western intellectual
domination through media, literature, training and other electronic media.
It is therefore, essential to identify indigenous psychologies in order
to justify their existence within the advance of knowledge in psychology.
A collective effort is required to nourish and maintain the original forms
of knowledge that are rooted in such a historical and cultural context.
Due to the position of various cultures in global society, some cultures
are inevitably located at the bottom of a social hierarchy. The consequence
of such cultural trajectories produces a cultural monopoly
that overrides any rules regarding the flat rate for knowledge-base and
contextualised information. Nevertheless, the task remains in the hands
of academics and practitioners to highlight the importance of the cross-fertilization
of indigenous psychologies across the academy. It is through this recognition
and acceptance of cross-cultural views, ideas, thoughts and values that
psychological input to the understanding of human-behaviour can be maximised.
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