Cultural Psychology and Its Significance to Consumer Research

EXTENDED ABSTRACT - Cultural psychology is a relatively new discipline in the social sciences that incorporates elements of anthropology, sociology and social psychology and does not construe culture as an independent variable but rather views culture and psychology as mutually constitutive phenomena. Fundamentally, cultural psychology seeks to understand people in an Aexperience-near@ fashion, and advocates relativistic views with reference to psychological diversity. It is argued that by taking a cultural psychological approach to studying consumer behavior in varying cultural contexts, more meaningful results (compared to a cross-cultural approach) ensue. Representative methodologies and suggestions on how to apply this framework in consumer behavior are offered.



Citation:

Giana M. Eckhardt and Michael J. Houston (2002) ,"Cultural Psychology and Its Significance to Consumer Research", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 291-292.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Pages 291-292

CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE TO CONSUMER RESEARCH

Giana M. Eckhardt, Australian Graduate School of Management, Australia

Michael J. Houston, University of Minnesota, U.S.A.

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

Cultural psychology is a relatively new discipline in the social sciences that incorporates elements of anthropology, sociology and social psychology and does not construe culture as an independent variable but rather views culture and psychology as mutually constitutive phenomena. Fundamentally, cultural psychology seeks to understand people in an "experience-near" fashion, and advocates relativistic views with reference to psychological diversity. It is argued that by taking a cultural psychological approach to studying consumer behavior in varying cultural contexts, more meaningful results (compared to a cross-cultural approach) ensue. Representative methodologies and suggestions on how to apply this framework in consumer behavior are offered.

When consumer behavior researchers investigate psychological constructs in varying cultural contexts, a cross-cultural approach is typically taken. There is another approach that is gaining currency in many of the social sciences such as sociology, anthropology, and especially cognitive and social psychology called cultural psychology that provides an alternative perspective from which to investigate consumer psychology. In cultural psychology, culture and psychological processes are seen as phenomena that cannot be understood in isolation from one another. This view does not advocate the use of culture as an independent variable that could impact the dependent variable of individual behavior (Eckensberger 190), but rather argues that one must have an informed understanding of a person’s culture to begin to understand the nuances of human action (Geertz 1973), and that human behavior and its causes might be inherently incomparable across cultures. Cultural psychology rejects the notion common in social psychology that the processes and cultural content of the mind can be separated, and rather posits that psychological processes are the result of engagement in a given cultural context and hence inseparable from that context.

Cultural psychology can be said to have grown out of, yet be very theoretically distinct from, cross-cultural psychology. While cross-cultural psychology conceptualizes culture and psychological phenomena as discrete phenomena, and seeks to contrast varied cultures against one another on similar dimensions, cultural psychology views culture and psychology as mutually constitutive phenomenon, and assumes that culture and individual behavior cannot be understood in isolation and yet are also not reducible to one another (Miller 1997). At its essence, cultural psychology seeks to understand people from their own lived experience, or in an "experience-near" fashion (Shweder and Sullivan 1993). This typically leads to a rejection of the notion that the psychological processes chronicled in decades of studies conducted in the West are universal, and instead advocates relativistic views with reference to psychological diversity. That is not to say that cultural psychology rejects all forms of universality; rather, the degree of universality is usually more abstract. For instance, the idea that everyone has some sort of notion of themselves as a "self" is probably universal (Geertz 1984), but not necessarily the notion of self as a bounded, unique center of awareness that is widely reported in the West. Shweder and Sullivan (1993) call this "universalism without the uniformity."

Cultural psychology advocates using methods that relate to understanding the meaning of various psychological phenomena in a culture on its own terms rather than methods that compare Western phenomena across cultures. Miller (1994) cites characteristic methods of cultural psychology as depth interviewing, traditional experimental methodologies in conjunction with ethnographic techniques, and cross-cultural comparative methodologies. There are no bounded sets of methodologies or one type of strategy (i.e., interpretive v. quantitative; naturalistic v. experimental) associated exclusively with cultural psychology. Taking a cultural psychological approach does not mean that a researcher cannot compare constructs across cultures. It does mean however that researchers must first ascertain whether the nature of the construct in which they are interested has equivalent importance, usage and meaning in all the cultures under study. Note that quantitative methods are not excluded by taking a cultural approach, but they are typically used in conjunction with qualitative methods.

Benefits of taking a cultural as opposed to a cross-cultural approach in consumer research are plentiful and vitally important to the advancement of the field. It helps the researcher to avoid the ecological fallacy (Singelis 2000), which is when a researcher assumes an individual will behave in a certain manner based on theories developed at the societal level. A typical manifestation of this within the consumer behavior literature has been predicting individual behavior based on Hofstede’s categorization of societies on five dimensions. Decades of research in consumer behavior on various psychological and social psychological variables (e.g., attitudes, social influence, etc.) cannot necessarily serve as foundation for consumer research in non-Western cultures.

While cultural and cross-cultural perspectives adopt distinct views about culture and psychological processes, we prefer to view them as complementary rather than incompatible. The results of research adopting one perspective may suggest research using the other. It is also important to realize that a cultural perspective does not eschew comparative research. There are many cross-cultural issues that should be studied in traditional fashion with an emphasis on equivalence in methods and variables. For example, dependent variables dealing with observable behavior (e.g., brand choice, loyalty, etc.) are entirely appropriate for cross-cultural comparisons using equivalent methods. Such measures are descriptive accounts of phenomena that reveal themselves in a similar manner across cultures. Back-to-back purchases of the same brand of a product at the same store as a measure of repeat behavior, for instance, can and should be represented in the same way across cultures if comparative research on purchasing patterns is being done. It is when we observe differences in such measures across cultures and try to determine the underlying psychological reasons for the differences that the tenets of cultural psychology need to be invoked.

REFERENCES

Eckensberger, Lutz H. (1990), "From cross-cultural to cultural psychology," Quarterly Newsletter of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, 1, 37-52.

Geertz, Clifford (1973), The interpretation of cultures, New York: Basic Books.

Geertz, Clifford (1984), "From the native’s point of view," in Culture Theories: Essays on mind, self and emotion, eds. Richard A. Shweder and Robert A. LeVine, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 123-136.

Miller, Joan G. (1997), "Theoretical issues in cultural psychology," in Handbook of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 2nd Edition: Vol. 1 - Theory and Method, eds. John W. Berry, Ype H. Poortinga and Janak Pandey, Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 85-128.

Miller, Joan G. (1994), "Cultural psychology: Bridging disciplinary boundaries in understanding the cultural grounding of self," in Handbook of psychological anthropology, ed. Philip K. Bock, Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 139-170.

Shweder, Richard A. and Maria A. Sullivan (1993), "Cultural psychology: Who needs it?," Annual Review of Psychology, 44, 497-527.

Singelis, Theodore M. (2000), "Some thoughts on the future of cross-cultural social psychology," Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology, 31(1), 76-91.

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Authors

Giana M. Eckhardt, Australian Graduate School of Management, Australia
Michael J. Houston, University of Minnesota, U.S.A.



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002



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