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Critical, community and indigenous psychologies

To complement cross-cultural and cultural psychology (see Chapters 3 and 4), another identifiable strand in research into cultural issues in the study of human behaviour and experience comes from critical, community and indigenous psychologies (Kagan et al., 2011; Burton & Kagan, 2015; Jahoda, 2016; Shwarz, 2018). If cultural psychology is distinct because of its ideas about the culture-mind relationship, critical, community and indigenous psychologies is distinguished by what might be termed an activist stance regarding the aims and nature of psychological enquiry. Critical, community-oriented researchers practice goal-directed research with the aim of transforming situations of inequality and oppression. Their outlook is at once theoretical and action-oriented, with the accent on both the practical (orientated to principled social change and liberation from oppression and disadvantage) and critical - questioning assumptions in dominant ideology and policy, in communities and their practice, and in psychology.

(Burton & Kagan, 2015, p. 184)

Meanwhile, indigenous psychology is a critical approach that is constructed from culturally diverse traditions in psychology. The indigenous psychology movement is a response to the historic hegemony of North American and European traditions, thus seeking to adapt the needs of psychology to diverse cultures (Jahoda, 2016). We will explore the indigenous psychology movement during the course of this chapter. First though, a review of critical and community approaches.

Critical community psychology

For critical and community psychology, research is a political act. It is a stepping stone towards the transformation of oppressive situations. Critical psychology is applied before it is theoretical. It aspires to develop evidence-based strategies for addressing inequality and liberating marginalised groups (Lincoln & Guba, 2000). Critical psychology originated in Latin America, following the work of pioneers such as Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1921-1997), Colombian sociologist Orlando Fals Borda (1925-2008) and Spanish social psychologist Ignacio Martin- Baro (1942-1989) (see Figure 5.1). These radical thinkers developed their ideas and writings amid military conflicts and economic crises that

Ignacio Martin-Baro, pioneer of Liberation Psychology affected their countries during the 1970s and 1980s

Figure 5.1 Ignacio Martin-Baro, pioneer of Liberation Psychology affected their countries during the 1970s and 1980s (Sanchez, 1996). Indeed, Ignacio Martin-Baro was assassinated for his beliefs, along with many others, in El Salvador in 1989. Whilst rooted in Latin America during its nascent period, across several of the world’s less affluent regions critical psychology has contributed to programmes for addressing inequality, developing building projects for low-income groups, resettling victims of urban renewal and tackling violent crime (Sanchez, 1996). Its action-oriented approach displays a commitment amongst critical community psychologists to produce work that is oriented towards ‘amelioration of social ills and transformative action in relation to their causes’ (Burton & Kagan, 2015, p. 183).

Conceptual cornerstones of critical psychology

Psychologists who adhere to a critical approach do so in relation to four conceptual cornerstones; power, collective wellbeing, oppression and liberation (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2002).

  • Power is inextricably linked to doing psychological research critically. Relationships between researchers and participants are power-laden. Far from being disinterested observers of behaviour, researchers interpret events around them and have views and opinions about socio-political realities in the world.
  • Collective wellbeing relates to a desire to improve the quality of peoples’ lives at a community level, not just an individual one. The struggle for wellbeing is undertaken not just by individuals, alone in the world, but in the nested context of family, community and society. It is an ecological struggle, located in the external world, not just in the mind. From a critical perspective psychology can promote wellbeing by studying individuals ecologically (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Ungar, 2011) in their economic and socio-political contexts.
  • Oppression, arises when individuals or groups dominate other individuals or groups socio-politically or psychologically. States, religions, multinational companies and individuals can all be agents of oppression. Oppression prevails when power is unequally distributed between individuals or groups. The effects of oppression can be felt individually as internal psychological problems, or externally in the form of economic or political powerlessness.
  • Liberation occurs when some of these aforementioned power asymmetries are eradicated. Alleviating oppression, wholly or in part, involves confronting both individual and institutional discontent. Critical psychologists regard socio-political liberation as a precondition for psychological wellbeing. In other words, the personal and the political are complementary and interconnected.

Viewed in the context of power, collective wellbeing, oppression and liberation, we can see that for critical psychologists, all research has a political dimension. It is not a value-free enterprise. Like cultural psychology, the critical approach rejects the portrayal of researchers as objective observers (Nsamenang, 2000). Instead they are seen as active participants in (and interpreters of) their subject matter. Research is carried out by people with values and ideological standpoints (Lincoln & Guba, 2000). All humans are regarded as agents who have intentions and capacities to change the circumstances in which they live (Eckensberger, 1996; Burton & Kagan, 2015). This human agency casts us all in the role of goal-directed beings, not mere products of our circumstances and surroundings.

Critical psychology in the community

Building on the contributions of pioneers referred to in the previous section, recent researchers have sought to embed critical psychology in a more explicitly community-oriented context. This has yielded an approach that has become known as critical community psychology (Kagan et al., 2011; Burton & Kagan, 2015). Whilst adhering to the conceptual cornerstones of critical psychology, critical community psychology seeks to refine this position in relation to five principles; prefigurative action, diverse communities, exclusion, ecology, interdisciplinary methods (Burton & Kagan, 2015). These principles guide the practice of critical community psychology, illustrating how the conceptual cornerstones of critical psychology extend into communities.

  • Prefigurative action refers to the realisation that much of the work of community psychologists is small-scale, locally oriented and limited in time and resources. Hence, this work is likely to experimental, tentative or exploratory. As Gramsci (1971) points out, there is value in prefigurative struggle which may not bring about social change, but may pave the way for later, transformational work, for example by producing ideas, outputs and setting in motion novel channels of communication. Essentially, prefigurative action is part of a preparatory learning process for psychologists and the agencies as they work with in the community. We can see an example of prefigurative research in a recent study from Guatemala. A research project about the experience of child labour sought first to gather first-hand accounts from street-connected young people and to share them with local agencies, with a view to contributing to structural change at a later date (Stevenson et al., 2019b).
  • Diverse communities. We can understand community as a fluid phenomenon that is not simply merely defined in relation to geographical location. Rather, community relates to common interests that groups of people share. For example, we can think here of a vegetarian community, or an online community who share a particular interest, as well more geographically based local or village communities. Similarly, fluid communities eschew fixed chronologies. A person may be a member of a community at some times, yet not at others. In relation to the fluid nature of communities, another of their features is a lack of homogeneity. Communities may be inclusive of people who have differing characteristics and demographic profiles. Thus, according to critical community psychology, communities are diverse, unbounded, fluid and heterogenous.
  • Exclusion. This reflects an adherence to an ethic of social justice. This approach acknowledges the prevalence of inequality and exclusion, especially in the Global South. Arguably, since psychological knowledge and expertise are relatively unavailable in some regions, the practice of community psychology can make a small contribution to countering this dominant imbalance. Thus, unlike in the dominant paradigms of cross-cultural or mainstream psychology, we can see that there is a greater representation of research data collection and reporting from areas of greater poverty and inequality (Fernando & Moodley, 2018).
  • Ecology. Ecology refers to interconnected elements of our surroundings and social contexts, with which we have a reciprocal relationship. We influence our surroundings, and its elements influence us. Ecology serves as a resource for understanding people in context, and as a source of ideas for the design of interventions (Kagan et al., 2011). Hence, critical community psychology acknowledges its subject matter as being individuals and groups who exist in reciprocal relationships with other individuals and groups, coexisting in communities that have soft, dynamic and porous boundaries. The actions of all elements in this scenario consequently have reciprocal influence, and individuals should be studies with these elements in mind.
  • Interdisciplinary methods. This highlights the need for diverse research methods for collecting and analysing data in diverse community settings. This principle recognises the limitations of a reliance on standard methods such as questionnaires and text-based interviewing, and an understanding that these can be complemented with the development of creative and innovative methods that integrate the skills and preferences of participants from different communities. For example, a recent sea change towards the use of visual methods (including participatory photography and ethnographic film) in psychology, has yielded rich data that can be disseminated effectively beyond academic circles (Reavey, 2012).

Transformative research: psychology for social change

Critical community psychology is founded on the principle that research can be positively transformative. The transformative potential of psychological knowledge is a sleeping giant that motivates critical research. Advocates of this paradigm want to awaken the rest of the discipline to the possibilities of research as an instrument of social change (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2002). Transformative research is built on the conceptual cornerstones and guiding principles or the critical paradigm, outlined above. Instead of dwelling on people’s reactions to inequality and oppression,


Transformative research. Research that investigates how disadvantaged individuals or groups can achieve social justice by bringing about change in their material and political circumstances.

transformative research investigates how disadvantaged individuals or groups can achieve social justice by bringing about change in their material and political circumstances, either in the present or by paving the way for change prefiguratively (Burton & Kagan, 2015). Examples of transformative research questions include:

  • • How can underlying prejudice and discrimination in relations between white Western Australians and indigenous groups be reduced? (Contos, cited in Pederson et al., 2011).
  • • What is the role of community, relational and personal factors in the wellbeing of new settler populations of North Africans now living in Spain? (Perkins et al., 2011).
  • • How can a deeper understanding of the lived experiences of disabled people in Burkina Faso lead to long-lasting, beneficial development for those who are excluded? (Bezzina, 2018).
  • • How can humanitarian and community psychology interventions contribute to ameliorating psychosocial problems associated with conflict and war? (Kagee, 2018).

Critical psychology from the community: participatory action research (PAR)

Critical psychology urges a shift in the research methods of global psychology. The proposed and, in many regions, already developing critical method acknowledges that wellbeing can only be understood by researchers who are prepared to look beyond the responses of individual participants, towards action in wider community and socio-political contexts (Sloan, 1996). A key strand of critical transformative research is represented by the emergence of participatory action research (PAR), which has been referred to as:

A dynamic process of knowledge generation and sharing paired

with action that happens within the frame of consciousness raising.

(Kidd et al., 2018, p. 77)

In adherence to the aforementioned guiding principles of critical psychology, PAR acknowledges inequalities in access to knowledge and power that exist in many societies. It also acknowledges the increasingly proactive nature of many participant groups who are keen to set their own research agendas and work with researchers on a consultative basis. As a strategy for promoting participant-researcher equality in the practice of carrying out research, PAR advocates a move towards the collective empowerment of those with whom research is carried out. Thus, PAR is carried out by researchers who position themselves on an equal power footing to participants who become partners in research. As part of this process, PAR is likely to be instigated by partner-participants with the aim of addressing a specific challenge in their community. The role of the researcher in this scenario is therefore to engage and work

A cycle of PAR

Figure 5.2 A cycle of PAR

with community members to devise valuable means of collecting data and alleviating a challenge that has been identified by the community. Approaching the research scenario with humility, openness and flexibility, a reflexive cycle of PAR (see Figure 5.2) may be set in motion. This casts the researcher as an involved participant, whilst at the same time working with the community to generate data using a range of methods that have been selected for their appropriateness.

PAR in practice in Nunavut, Arctic Canada

An example of a PAR project comes from Krai (2012), who used this reflexive cycle to investigate suicide prevention with Inuit communities in Nunavut, Arctic Canada. Initially, at a suicide prevention event in Nunavut, indigenous community members suggested that an appropriate starting point of addressing high levels of suicide would be to ask local people what made them happy and what made them sad, why they thought suicide was so common and how it could be prevented. At the conference the indigenous community negotiated, in the presence of the researcher, the sole non-community member, a series of collaborative and culturally appropriate methods for gathering answers to the above questions. An Inuit steering group, consisting of elders, community workers and young people, was set up and charged with collecting data. The steering group, along with the researcher, designed interview questions and surveys, which were administered through local schools and com?munity groups, to participants aged between 14 and 94. The researcher participated as an interviewer, asking questions arising from steering groups suggestions. The outcome of the study saw the emergence of several themes relating to the importance of family, interpersonal communication and cultural values as factors that might alleviate suicide. These findings were disseminated to the community by the indigenous steering group, which led to the development of a local youth centre, counselling group and recreational facilities. Krai reports a decrease in suicide of 68% in the community, following the opening and reopening (after a brief period of closure) of the youth centre.

Critical community psychology remains outside the global mainstream and, as the comments below show, does have its critics. Yet its orientation towards finding solutions in areas characterised by poverty, inequality and discrimination may mean that from its regional base in the developing world it will someday export its ideas and methods elsewhere (Moghaddam, 1990). After all, oppression, inequality and discrimination are not exclusive to nations in the Global South.

Limitations of critical psychology

  • 1 The cross-cultural critique. Being essentially an applied approach, the critical paradigm is open to criticism from cross-cultural psychologists who like their psychology to be more theoretical. Indeed, a ‘theorytesting’ approach, wherein established theories are tested in different cultural settings under equivalent circumstances, is arguably not commensurable with the critical paradigm (Lincoln & Guba, 2000). Critical psychology, being primarily transformative, has indeed been criticised for being too practically based, too lacking in supporting theory (Dobles Oropeza, 2000). Projects are set up very much from the bottom up, as reactions to social injustice or oppression. Cross-cultural psychologists may criticise this on the grounds that established theory ought to set the agenda for research. In other words, studies should be devised at least in part in order to test theories, rather than deal with existing social problems.
  • 2 The global applicability problem. Critical research gains its impetus from regions where poverty, inequality and discrimination are endemic. It specialises in researching into power asymmetries in sites of oppression, predominantly in developing regions. This leaves it open to the accusation that it produces findings which are primarily gathered from - and applicable only to - the developing world. It is, in other words, in danger of limiting its wider applicability. Arguably then, it needs to broaden its appeal. Unless critical psychology can export its values and methods to areas such as North America (where, after all, poverty and inequality are also common) it may remain on psychology’s periphery.
  • 3 A lack of objectivity. Critical research is value-laden. Action researchers are unashamedly engaged with their subject matter, both politically and collaboratively. Findings cannot therefore be read as the neutral observations of researchers who try to remain objective. Rather, they are ideologically charged interpretations of events. Any degree of political engagement obliges the researcher to relinquish all claims to objectivity in their work. Furthermore, collaborative engagement with community representatives obliges the critical researcher to relinquish ultimate control over the research project. For those who do not empathise with the social constructivist viewpoint, this subjectivity arguably produces contaminated research data.

Indigenous psychologies: where is psychology?

Psychology students traditionally begin their studies by asking - what is psychology? It may take the entire course to find a satisfactory answer, but as a rite of passage for students of human behaviour, tackling this question is more or less mandatory. But what about a second question, concerning psychology’s whereabouts? Where is psychology? This question is less common on mainstream psychology courses, yet we are duty-bound to ask it. After all, if psychology professes to be the study of all human behaviour and experience - wherever it may occur - its students really ought to be curious about where in the world most of its research actually takes place.

The whereabouts of the written word in psychology

Take a look at your psychology core textbook or the online resources for your course. Is most of the research featured there published in the US, with perhaps a smaller proportion from Europe? Is there much from Cameroon, India or Finland? Are your answers to these questions yes and no by any chance? It is likely that most of the books and articles featured in your textbook derive from research carried out by North American (and a smaller proportion of European) researchers, using North American (and a smaller proportion of European) participants.

Psychology publishing reflects the accumulated knowledge and efforts of writers, researchers and participants who are unevenly distributed around the world. Moghaddam (1987b) once provocatively suggested that this unevenness reflects psychology’s own stratification into separate geographical regions, each with varying levels of influence over the discipline. He identified a tendency for mainstream psychology to gather and publish a disproportionate segment of data from selected geographical and cultural locations, mostly concentrated in North America (known as psychology’s ‘first world’) and to generalise these data worldwide. You could call this a sampling error (an error involving taking results from a restricted sample of participants and mistakenly applying them to the population as a whole) which jeopardises psychology’s claim to be the study of all human behaviour and experience, wherever it may occur. Moghaddam points out that traditionally psychology’s first world has claimed the greatest concentration of material resources for producing research data, leaving the discipline vulnerable to accusations of ethnocentric ‘western’ bias. So, is the production of psychology’s printed word (books and journal articles) overconcentrated in ‘the west’? Figure 5.3 does suggest so.

The whereabouts of psychology's practitioners

Your place of residence may influence your chances of becoming a professional psychologist. As far back as 1985 the US had 23 times as many academic psychologists working in universities as Britain had, and 234 times as many as Nigeria (Moghaddam, 1987b). But the global distribution of psychologists is in flux and not entirely predictable. In 2016 it was reported by the World Health Organization that Monaco (41), Norway (30) and Belgium (20) headed a league table showing the preponderance of psychiatrists per 100,000 of the population. At the other end of the scale India (0.3), Turkey (1.5) and Brazil (4.5) showed far fewer psychiatrists per 100,000 (World Health Organization, 2015). This predominance of psychology in the west is also reflected in psychological research publications (Bornmann et al., 2012). Surveying the incidence of publication and citation of academic articles internationally, their results

Is there culture bias in psychology books and articles? indicate that the most-cited psychological research articles come from USA

Figure 5.3 Is there culture bias in psychology books and articles? indicate that the most-cited psychological research articles come from USA, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Australia, Taiwan, and from English-language speaking countries elsewhere (Bornmann et al., 2012). Similarly, based on indicators such as average production of articles and citations, the US was shown to be the leading producer of psychological knowledge worldwide, followed by the UK and Canada, with these three hogging more than 60% of the total production (Garcia-Martinez et al., 2012).

Yet the extent of the US hegemony may be in decline in relation to psychological personnel. It is likely that this US dominance will recede in coming decades (Stevens & Gielen, 2007). The early twenty-first century saw an upsurge in the number of psychologists across Spain, Israel, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina (Stevens & Wedding, 2004). In terms of the number of licensed psychologists, Buenos Aires is a world capital (Klappenbach, 2004). Clearly the US remains the world leader in terms of publishing, resources and personnel, but our discipline is now a global phenomenon. True, you are still more likely to learn about psychology from textbooks, online resources and journals that draw heavily on US research. But in terms of where in the world you are likely to practise psychology, opportunity appears to be knocking across five continents for both researchers and applied work. Indeed, as we will learn in the next section of this chapter, research interests of psychologists are becoming increasingly international and sensitive to indigenous questions about behaviour and experience.

The indigenous psychology movement

The indigenous psychology movement dates back to over half a century ago, where it began in the Philippines (Paredes-Canilao & Babaran- Diaz, 2013) and Taiwan (Hwang, 2005). Thereafter it expanded globally, reaching its peak of influence around the turn of the century (Jahoda, 2016).

The very existence of the indigenous psychology movement reflects the critical idea that the dominance of western knowledge bases over psychological practises around the world represents a form of cultural imperialism (Jahoda, 2016). In response to this hegemony, the movement reflects a burgeoning global network of researchers and practitioners representing diverse regional traditions in psychological research. This illustrates the idea that psychology should reflect the realities and preoccupations of diverse cultures. Indeed, it has been argued that indigenous psychologies in India, Japan, Latin America and other regions represent an explicit revolt against North American dominance of the field (Pawlik & Rosenzweig, 2000; Allwood, 2005). Indigenous psychologies are a reminder that western psychology is neither sufficient nor appropriate for addressing psychological realities that are rooted in diverse cultures (Jahoda, 2016). Practitioners in the Global South lament mainstream psychology’s apparent indifference to psychological phenomena (poverty, illiteracy, civil war) that are especially pertinent to less affluent countries (Kwang-Kuo Hwang, 2017). Psychology’s ignorance of nonwestern philosophical traditions (Confucianism, Buddhism) is illustrated in this critique:

Psychology as we knew it ... appeared to be the indigenous psychology of America or perhaps, more specifically, the psychology of middle-class Anglo-America.

(Markus & Kitayama, 2003, p. 280)

According to this view US research reflects US concerns, just as Ugandan research reflects Ugandan concerns, Australian Australian concerns and so on. The problem with this scenario is that while each of these indigenous psychologies represent distinct traditions, they have unequal influence worldwide. We have already seen that a disproportionate amount of resources and research emanates from the US, whose citizens’ behaviour and experiences are therefore more widely documented than are those of others. This imbalance exacerbates the need for us to explore a wider range of indigenous traditions in psychology, and to explore the idea of producing culture-inclusive psychological theories (Kwang-Kuo Hwang, 2017). One manifestation of this approach would be the rise of an indigenous psychology from Asia that stems from culturally relevant belief systems such as Buddhist, Confucian and Hindu religions and philosophies (Jahoda, 2016).

Whatever the precise manifestation, we can assert here that the indigenous psychology movement is a response to an historical dominance of western cultural concerns in our discipline. This response reflects a psychology that has adapted to the needs of a particular cultures and countries with regionally diverse traditions of its own, which will now be illustrated with some examples.

Indigenous psychology traditions from around world

Indigenous researchers provide pictures from around the globe, painted by practitioners who have variously chosen to study, for example, human development in Cameroon (Nsamenang, 1992), psychopathology in New Guinea (Schieffelin, 1985), self-esteem in Brazil (Lane & Sawaia, 1991), African indigenous healing (Bojuwoye & Moletsane- Kekae, 2018), Islamic psychology (Haque, 2018). Indigenous psychology is more established and autonomous in some nations than it is in others. India is acknowledged to have the longest established research tradition among all nations in the Global South. India’s first psychology laboratory opened at the University of Calcutta in 1915. Sub-Saharan Africa was a later starter. The University of Nigeria opened the doors of the region’s first psychology department in 1963. In many countries, psychology was initially introduced by outsiders, though indigenous interests and specialisations later emerged. Pakistan and Bangladesh are examples of this. In East Asia too, psychology and psychiatry were introduced during the era of western colonisation from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Lee, 2018).

Though psychology arrived in many regions with colonialists, ‘homegrown’ research interests have since followed distinctive paths. For example, Islamic scholars have written extensively on social and developmental psychology using ideas that integrate Islamic culture and belief systems (Haque, 2018). Bangladeshi researchers have investigated motivational issues surrounding agricultural development. Psychology in Pakistan has developed an interest in gender studies (Shouksmith, 1996). In East Asia, moves towards the indigenisation of psychology reflects a response to the dominance of western medicine in the treatment of maladies such as distress, weakness, fatigue and depression. Here, practitioners increasingly seek to incorporate Confucianism into their practice (Lee, 2018). India’s indigenous traditions in psychology is reflected in a growth in applied clinical psychology in its urban centres, as a corollary of increasing numbers of professional psychologists across the country (Shouksmith, 1996). Additionally, Hindu philosophies are now making their way into western healing contexts with increasing regularity (Rodrigues, 2018). Similarly, indigenous models of healing are increasingly being developed across Australasia (Waitoki et al., 2018). Within the indigenous psychology movement, research questions have tended to relate closely to cultural circumstances and political realities. Thus, in Bangladesh in the 1960s, since rural development was a pressing concern, psychologists were involved in studying motivational aspects of agricultural practice. In Thailand in the 1950s, where the development of educational programmes was especially high on the agenda, psychologists ploughed their energies into the applied researching of child development (Shouksmith, 1996). In Costa Rica in the 1980s, where neighbouring El Salvador and Nicaragua were living through revolutionary upheavals, war and its psychological effects were a high priority (Dobles Oropeza, 2000).

It is worth remembering psychology is a relatively young phenomenon in many countries, yet we can see a growth in indigenous research interests and an increasing diversity of global healing traditions (Fernando & Moodley, 2018). Such indigenisation in response to local circumstances is a recurring theme (Sinha, 1997; Jahoda, 2016). Enriquez (1993) has argued that the indigenisation process can be instigated from either ‘without’ or ‘within’. In the former, research questions and methods are imported into a region by outsider researchers before being modified in response to local concerns. Conversely, indigenisation from within involves the formulation of unique research questions in response to a cultural group’s norms, priorities and everyday realities. Chinese research into behavioural aspects of Confucianism’s teachings (perseverance, thrift) is an example of this (Chinese Culture Connection, 1987; Lee, 2018). By extension, these indigenous psychological concepts can, in an era of increased globalisation, then be exported to the west, as in the case of many indigenous healing traditions (Rodrigues, 2018). Table 5.1 outlines in more details some of the key ideas to have emerged from indigenous psychologies from India, New Zealand and El Salvador, and from an Islamic perspective.


Indigenous psychologies from around the world

Psychology in India (Jain, 2005)

Calcutta University established India’s first psychology department in 1915. Before India’s Independence in 1947 research interests mirrored those of British universities, as indigenous concepts (ayurvedic medicine, yoga) were subsumed under western scientific paradigms. Post-1947 this situation was tempered, though psychology continued as a largely ‘Anglo- American’ enterprise (Sinha, 1997). More recently, though the scientific paradigm continues to thrive, variables selected for research are increasingly selected indigenously and reflect burning Indian issues, such as:

  • • Inter-group tensions.
  • • Caste.
  • • Prejudice.
  • • Stereotyping.

There has been a growth of research into a range of internationally recognised and indigenous fields, from social and forensic psychology to traditional Indian and cross-cultural issues. Courtesy of indigenisation, western scientific techniques rub shoulders with yogic and Hindu systems of thought. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy and meditation are combined in the treatment of depression.

Psychology in New Zealand (Shouksmith, 2005)

The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi confirmed New Zealand as a British colony and the western scientific tradition held sway over indigenous (predominantly oral) Maori thought for many decades thereafter Colonial administrations successively suppressed Maori culture until indigenous activism heralded increased recognition of the rights of their communities in the late twentieth century. In psychology these social changes now manifest themselves in an increasingly indigenised outlook. The community psychology movement encapsulates this. Its advocates reject the idea that a western paradigm can uncover objective truths with rigorous scientific research. Instead, community psychology promotes a socially constructed and locally instigated research agenda that is shaped by unique histories and culturally endorsed beliefs. Special research interests for community psychology include:

  • • Self-determination among minority groups.
  • • Minority influence.
  • • Multicultural integration.
  • • Ethnocentrism in non-Maori psychometric tests.

Community psychology is practised in numerous universities (beginning with the University of Waikato) alongside more globally mainstream, western approaches.

Psychology in El Salvador (Martin-Baro, 1994)

Throughout the twentieth century El Salvador was racked by revolt, authoritarianism and inequality. Continual mismanagement of elections prompted violent demonstrations from opposition groups, and the 1970s saw a descent into civil war. Prominent thinkers of the time eked out an indigenous tradition in psychology whose goal was consciousness- raising among the poor and oppressed, and their ultimate liberation (Freire, 1971). The so-called Liberation Psychology movement in El Salvador, pioneered by Ignacio Martin-Baro (1996), was a broadside against western-dominated experimental psychology. It was a movement that aimed to tie the study of behaviour to the relief of oppression. Martin- Baro argued that laboratory-based objectivity denied local practitioners the chance to take a partial stand against oppression and inequality - the pressing concerns of Latin Americans. Liberation psychologists were, he urged, duty- bound to alter and improve human experience, not just study it. Furthermore, psychology should strive to take the viewpoint of the oppressed. The research agenda for a Liberation Psychology therefore eschewed the 'inner workings of the mind’ in favour of:

  • • Urban overcrowding.
  • • Domestic violence.
  • • Social deprivation.

Though outside the mainstream of Latin American psychology, Liberation Psychology has had a key influence on the continued indigenisation of the subject.

Psychology and Islam (Haque, 2018)

The Arabic equivalent of the term psychology is llm-an nafs, meaning ‘knowledge of the soul or self’. Whereas western psychology concerns itself with both somatic and inner psychological phenomena, Islamic psychology considers spirit to be worthy of greater attention than physical matter. So body is less important than soul. More worthy of study are the four metaphysical elements of al-nafs, al-qalb, al-ruh, al-aql, respectively soul, heart, spirit and intellect. Yet the most essential aspect of human behaviour is al-fitrah, meaning inherent knowledge combined with the human soul. Central to this concept are the positive interpretation of al-fitrah. which states that humans are inherently good, and the dualistic interpretation, that we have both good and evil capacities. Whichever of these interpretations we accept, Islamic psychology asserts that our al-fitrah is inherent and cannot be erased by the vicissitudes of earthly life or bodily existence. A dualistic understanding of al-fitrah shows us that key elements of Islamic psychology involve the relationship between evil impulses and the worldly concepts of social influence and negative thinking. Consequently, key topics of interest for Islamic psychology, within the aforementioned framework, are:

  • • Intellect.
  • • Free will.
  • • Morality.
  • • The self.
  • Jinn (evil) and mental health.
  • • Self-improvement.

In terms of epistemology, Islamic psychology values scientific empirical methods combined with Divine words from and Quranic wisdom. The latter are regarded as final, the former ever developing.


Indigenous psychologies. Diverse regional traditions in psychological research, reflecting differing cultural concerns.

Indigenous methods

The distinctiveness of indigenous psychology goes beyond simply devising questions that have particular relevance. It extends to finding regionally relevant methods for investigating these questions. For example, a characteristically European methodological preference for naturalistic, qualitative data collection emerged out of the social representation approach to psychology (Moscovici, 1976). Though not used by all European psychologists, such methods are more common there than, say, in the US. The approach stresses the importance of communally shared aspects of identity, and often translates into research that asks how we define ourselves as members of some groups and not others (Catholics or Protestants, male or female). European traditions show less interest here in studying human beings as individual units. Instead, the relationships between people are high on the research agenda. This difference in emphasis has spawned a European indigenous methodological preference for contextualised (naturalistic), interview-based research, rather than quasi-experimental methods using artificial scenarios and high levels of control (Smith et al„ 2006a).

Indigenous psychology can complement the mainstream

While indigenous psychologies are often seen as a challenge to mainstream cross-cultural psychology, the two approaches may be more compatible than they appear at a glance. Diverse traditions from across the globe can complement the work of mainstream psychologists who try to uncover culturally universal phenomena (Allwood, 2005). It has been suggested that global traditions in psychology will ultimately combine towards a culturally universal discipline, although this may seem a utopian idea (Jahoda, 2016). More realistically, we can expect cross-cultural research to adapt its methods from indigenous traditions and to gain expertise from working in different settings. Very often this kind of knowledge is provided by so-called bicul- tural researchers: practitioners who are indigenous to the region, but who trained elsewhere before returning home to practise (Stevens & Gielen, 2007; Jahoda, 2016).

Indigenous and cross-cultural research can form mutually beneficial partnerships that draw on the unique contributions of researchers from different regions. Cross-cultural research may offer a degree of objectivity that is encapsulated in third-person accounts as they test their theories in ‘other cultures’. Indigenous research provides local knowledge and diverse accounts that afford populations meaningful involvement and human agency. This combination of third-person objectivity and first- person insight arguably adds scientific rigour to the enterprise of global psychology (Stevens & Gielen, 2007): rigour that would probably elude cross-cultural psychologists and indigenous psychologists who work exclusively of one another.

Limitations of the indigenous psychology movement

  • 1 Global inequality. Visions of a level global playing field on which psychological researchers in the developing world challenge the power imbalance between them and the west are destined to be clouded by wider issues of economic inequality. Funding for worldwide research facilities and peer-reviewed journals is sparse in regions with weak economies (Adair, 1995). Consequently, researchers from these regions can find themselves working in unequal collaborations with western researchers who command greater influence over the project’s direction (Allwood, 2005).
  • 2 Reverse ethnocentrism. Sometimes what may appear to be an indigenous psychological concept (meaningful only in the value system of a particular cultural group) turns out to be universal after all. For example, Cheung et al.’s (2003) interpersonal relatedness personality dimension, originally posited as being indigenous to China, later showed a degree of validity with US participants (Smith et al., 2006a). Similarly, the characteristically Japanese concept of amae (Doi, 1973), which relates to social situations where someone agrees to perform a rather demanding favour for a close friend, has also been observed in US and Taiwanese samples (Yamaguchi, 2004). Arguably, ‘pigeonholing’ (seemingly) indigenous concepts in global psychology may lead to a kind of reverse ethnocentrism (Stevens & Gielen, 2007), where such concepts are wrongly seen as being exclusive to particular regions.
  • 3 The danger of fragmentation. While indigenous psychologies are invaluable in the struggle against a one-dimensional, western-dominated psychology, a proliferation of uniquely formulated psychologies with separate, local concerns is also undesirable (Poortinga, 1989). A fragmented universe of indigenous traditions would transform global psychology into a multiplicity of incoherent searches for diversity and difference. Arguably then, the contributions of indigenous traditions should be used to complement the work of those who concentrate on a more objective search for cultural universals.
  • 4 Muddled science. One difficulty that the indigenous psychology movement has encountered is that so many of its advocates in diverse cultures were trained in western universities. Thus, they have been schooled in a tradition they are keen to challenge. A consequence of this, Jahoda (2016) has argued, is something of a lack of consistency and clarity in relation to the attitude of indigenous psychologists towards their treatment of ‘science’.

The dilemma was that of wanting IPs to share the prestige of science, while at the same time displaying a reluctance to be shackled by the demands of rigour; it tended to result in more flexible re-definitions of ‘science’.

(Jahoda, 2016, p. 177)


This chapter tackles claims that the science of human behaviour has long been restricted by a bias towards theories, research methods and publishing interests that are centred in Europe and North America. The proliferation of psychology publishing in selected global locations is examined. Global distribution of psychological practitioners is also examined. Degrees of hegemony in psychological research traditions also come in for scrutiny. We have presented a detailed introduction to critical strands in global research that seek to challenge this hegemony. Critical, community psychology, participatory action research and the indigenous psychology movement are all evidence that psychology is a truly global discipline that can be conducted across, and according to the principles of, diverse life-worlds. The relationship between these critical strands and the mainstream approaches of cross-culturalism remain in transition and disputed.


Paradigms of global psychology at a glance







To empirically test established theories about human behaviour and experience in different cultural settings

Objective knowledge is sought and approximately obtained by controlling extraneous variables and standardising research procedures across cultures

Replication research using data collection methods established according to universally applicable empirical principles

Cultural psychology

To study the human ‘mind’ as it manifests itself in everyday life. Since the ‘mind’ is a property of lived experiences, it emerges in diverse forms in diverse settings

Value-laden knowledge is sought according to locally constructed meaning systems of individual cultures

Situated experiments or ethnographies. Modelling data collection on existing practice

Critical Community psychology

To develop goal- oriented, locally initiated projects in different cultural settings in order to transform situations of inequality and discrimination

Knowledge is valueladen because interpretations of reality are subject to perceived inequalities and agendas of diverse interest groups

Community-instigated, goal-oriented action research







To reflect regionally diverse traditions in psychological research, based on culturally distinct concerns

Knowledge reflects phenomena that highlight regional philosophical traditions, such as individualism, Confucianism or Buddhism

Regionally relevant methods, based on locally derived research questions



Match up the definitions on the right with the terms on the left (see p. 207 for answers)

Culture, cognition 6 and intellect

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