Dr. Hazel Markus explains how the inextricable factor of one's own cultural perspective led to the development of the subfield of cultural psychology.
Cultures are not new, but cultural psychology is a relatively new force in the field of psychology -- for a variety of reasons. Even though there were a number of important thinkers in social psychology, much of [psychological] research started as an empirical science in laboratory studies or in controlled settings.
In these settings, I suspect cultural factors were not as obvious to people and therefore hard to work with. In addition, there was a certain uniformity to social psychologists. For a long time, the field was dominated by white middle-class men with similar training and similar perspectives. They brought their own cultural assumptions to the table, making cultural particulars harder to see.
It was only when psychology students entered the field from other contexts and countries, with different ideas and practices, that the American cultural foundation started to be highlighted. Diversity in the field is critical as we continue to think about human nature and examine different ways of living and interacting.
Cultural psychology builds on one of the most fundamental ideas in psychology: The products of the mind are a function of the social communities that people are part of. Cultural psychology is an effort to recognize human nature and the different ways of being human.
It integrates what we know about human nature with the patterning of the social worlds we live in. Our departure point is the discovery of humans as a social process or a social product, and that makes cultural psychology a very exciting field to be in right now.
More information about Dr. Markus and her work may be found at the Stanford University Web site. http://www.stanford.edu/group/adolescent.ctr/Research/markus.html.