2009 Conferences > Implications for Psychology


Sunil Bhatia

Associate Professor of Human Development, Director of the Holleran Center
Postcolonial Diasporas and Globalization: Reconstructing Culture, Identity, and the Practice of Psychology

We live in an age where transnational immigration, border crossings, and global media are proliferating at an increasing rate. Discussions about the self—which are further intensified by issues of gender, class, race, and nationality—challenge the grand narratives of the bounded Cartesian self. Acquiring knowledge about issues of self and identity becomes all the more critical in the face of sweeping demographic changes in the United States and Europe where encounters with diverse histories, languages, religions, and ethnicities have emerged as central to the daily lives in many urban, metropolitan cultural spaces (Bhatia, 2007, 2009). There are two central objectives of the paper. First, I analyze the transformations of identity that have emerged in the transnational diaspora communities. The second objective of the paper is to show how studying the practices of global cultural flows and transnational diasporas has important implications for reconstructing knowledge about: 1) the concept of culture, 2) identity and self; and 3) the larger discipline of psychology (Hall, 1991, Gilroy, 1993, Bhatia, 2009). In particular, I analyze two examples of how racial identity and concepts associated with modes of belonging are strategically reconstructed in the diasporic practices of Indian immigrants and some African-American communities in the U.S. I explain how these postcolonial practices involve appeals to constellation of transnational spaces, colonial histories, racial formation and ancestral geographies, and how these global cultural flows compel us to reconfigure the practice and knowledge of psychology.

Robert T. Craig

Professor of Communication, University of Colorado at Boulder
Practical Disciplines: Praxis, Inquiry, Metadiscourse

This paper advances a concept of practical discipline to serve as a normative model for intellectual disciplines that are centrally engaged in the cultivation of particular fields of social practice. The idea of practical discipline was originally proposed as a methodological rationale for a certain kind of disciplinary coherence in my own field of communication studies, but my purpose here is to introduce the idea in more general terms and with an eye to its potentially broader relevance. The paper develops three main points. The first point is that Aristotle's division of human knowledge and activity into theoretical, practical, and productive spheres, while outdated in key respects, still has heuristic value for distinguishing the practical disciplines from other forms of knowledge and knowledge-generating enterprises. Practical knowledge involves irreducible aspects of embodied experience, critical reflection, deliberation, and judgment that must be understood and cultivated in their own terms. Although practical knowledge cannot be reduced to theory, there is a limited role in a practical discipline for theory that clarifies, with as much precision as the subject allows, goals that we should strive for in practice. A methodology for the practical disciplines requires more than categorical distinctions among forms of knowledge, however; it also must situate forms of knowledge within a process-logic of inquiry. My second point, which addresses the problem of theory and practice in a methodology for the practical disciplines informed by Dewey, is that theory in a practical discipline is best understood as a (provisional) rational reconstruction of practices within an ongoing process of action and reflective inquiry; and my third point is that this reflective process of theorizing social practices is mediated by metadiscourse. Within any significant social practice there naturally develops a metadiscourse, a practice of reflexive talking about the practice in which practical norms are continually negotiated. A practical discipline cultivates a field of social practice by cultivating theoretically reconstructed forms of metadiscourse in the field. The paper concludes by considering the potential relevance of practical discipline as a methodological model for psychology and other professions and human sciences.

Daniel Hutto

Professor of Philosophy, University of Hertfordshire, U.K.
Rethinking the Cognitive Revolution

The cognitive revolution deposed behaviourist thinking (in both philosophy and psychology) and licensed a return to active theorizing about mental states and their place in nature. Promoting representational theories of mind, many researchers in diverse fields have assumed that the contentful properties of such mental states play critical causal roles in enabling intelligent activity. Initially, it was thought that this proposal did not conflict with a mechanical-computational understanding of the mind. But serious problems have been identified with the very idea that contentful mental representations (of the kind that might do such work) exist. Moreover, new, non-representationalist approaches in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science – enactive, embodied approaches – have emerged and are growing in popularity. These developments suggest that the time is ripe for a complete re-think of the cognitive revolution. Against this backdrop, and taking a cue from Bruner, I will describe why and how giving attention to narrative practices is required if we are to make sense of certain centrally important human activities, such as our everyday capacity to make sense of reasons for action and self-development.

Na'ilah Suad Nasir

Associate Professor, African American Studies, University of California, Berkeley
Social Opportunity and Learning Trajectories: Experience, Identity, and Knowledge in Socio-political Context

Many scholars interested in learning, especially those grounded in sociocultural theory, have moved from thinking about knowledge as existing purely “in the head” to considering how one's experiences in the world and one's identity are part and parcel of knowledge construction and learning. These new ways of understanding learning consider the ways that the cultural and social context, and cultural practices, norms, and artifacts shape both who one is and what one learns. However, such frameworks for understanding learning do not yet offer explanatory power for understanding systemic, societal level differences in learning and educational trajectories by virtue of class and race. It may that what we need is a hybrid theory, one that offers accounts from multiple levels—a theory of learning married to a social theory—that will help us elucidate the ways in which learning pathways are cultural/social pathways, deeply influenced by one's experience and access to the ‘culture of power' and it's knowledge base. In other words, we need a theory that allows us to keep in view both the local learning context and the broader socio-political context simultaneously. In this paper, I explore the possibilities for such a theory and compare its usefulness with the alternative of keeping our analyses of learning separate from our analyses of social stratification and educational trajectories.

Kevin O'Connor

Assistant Professor, University of Rochester
Index Formation: Assembling Knowledge and Identity, on and off the Rails

Psychological approaches have traditionally taken knowledge and identity to be located in individuals as part of a mental core that underlies and even causes action in the world. In contrast, social practice theories as developed in sociology, anthropology, and psychology take action, or practice, to be primary, with individual or social structuring understood as a contingent outcome of embodied engagement. However, much of this latter work, by relying on images of social worlds as relatively bounded and stable, reintroduces some limitations of individualist psychological approaches. This paper attempts to move beyond such accounts by drawing on work that considers knowledge and identity as contingent outcomes of the assembly of networks that extend broadly across space and time. It first develops an account of knowledge production as involving simultaneous work both to make ‘facts' fit with phenomena and to assemble sociotechnical infrastructures to receive these facts. Second, it draws on data from a longitudinal ethnographic study of engineers-in-the-making to show that while there are multiple knowledge and identity practices that might potentially be relevant to the discipline, only some of these have the infrastructure in place to make them recognizably valued forms. The paper argues that by recognizing knowledge and interests as formed and framed within extensive networks, questions about access to powerful social practices can be shifted from individual capacities to the work of building networks, thus redirecting discussions of values in educational practices.

Bill Penuel and Philip Bell

Penuel: SRI International
Bell: Associate Professor, University of Washington
Bringing Selves to the Science Curriculum: Transforming Identity Trajectories as a Goal for Educational Design and Evaluation

Educational researchers typically evaluate curriculum in schools by measuring how much knowledge students learn from engaging with materials. This paper explores the idea that a goal of educational evaluation should be to assess how well programs help to transform the identity trajectories of students who participate in educational experiences. By identity, we refer to the work young people and others in their networks do across a range of contexts to develop and pursue interests that allow them to project themselves into the future. Identity formation is fundamentally a social activity: identity trajectories depend on the development of relationships with others who can recognize emerging interests and broker access to opportunities to develop those interests and have them rewarded and sustained. In this context, two central questions for evaluation of curriculum are: How well can curricular experiences support young people in becoming who they imagine they could be? How well do curricular experiences help others in schools and other contexts support the development of those interests and connect them to the people that can advocate for them in the next stage of the young people's participation in particular practices and learning? In this paper, we explore how these questions could organize an evaluation of an elementary science curriculum unit, Micros and Me, which has as an aim bringing students' home and community experiences into the classroom so that they become central to the experience of teaching and learning science.

Henderikus Stam

Professor of Psychology, University of Calgary
Where Knowledge is Incomplete, Practice Imperfect and Experience only Dimly Known: The Self and its Narration

After more than a century of institutionalized psychology, psychoanalysis, and social science more generally, the self has remained a resilient and popular topic. While eluding objectifications, it has nonetheless been continuously reformulated throughout psychology's history as a necessary standpoint that connects the psychological subject to the popular and commonplace discourses of everyday life. Like the return of the repressed, it continues to move through the concerns of contemporary cognitivism and neuroscience just as it is an implied topos in the social, developmental and applied subdisciplines of psychology. Contemporary movements that re-articulate a dialogical, social self, narrative traditions of the self or a situated, embodied form of the self, have in their recollection and revision of older intellectual traditions implicitly put the lie to contemporary functional accounts of self-like structures in psychology. Here I take up several strands of this discussion, particularly the issue of the “knowability,” subjectivation and ethics of the self.

Cynthia E. Winston

Associate Professor of Psychology, Howard University
The Cultural Motion of the Meaning of Race within Lives: Guided Autobiography as a Tool for Building Knowledge and Practice Bridges in Psychology

The field of psychology, like the United States of America, has a self-contradictory record in its theory and praxis of race. In light of dramatic demographic shifts on a global scale, this is an important historical moment to develop tools for a cultural understanding of race as a psychological and social phenomenon. Although “racial studies” have been a notable element of the research literature of the social and psychological disciplines since their origin, there has been surprisingly little attention given to the meaning of race as a cultural object of experience. Similarly, the narrative processing of the meaning of race has also been ignored in psychological theory and research. Yet, the storied aspect of human thought is fundamental for personality development. On the one hand, narrative theories of personality explain the storied nature of human thought in terms of autobiographical memories and narrative identity (see McAdams, 2001; Singer, 1995). On the other hand, theories of the psychological significance of race typically focus on racial identity, racism and differential experience (see Boykin, 1986; Cross, 1991; Lewis, 2004; Jones, 2003; Harrell, 1997; Sellers et al., 1998). However, theory and research in these two areas are, for the most part, isolated and do not inform one another. The theory of race self complexity is a new narrative theory of personality that describes and explains the nature, form, and psychological function of race narratives within lives and society (Winston et. al., 2004; Winston, 2008). Building on Wortham's (2009) idea of cultural motion, this paper focuses on the circulation of the meaning of race across time and space. It also advances the idea that guided autobiography can be used as a tool to bridge knowledge and practice relevant to the multiple meanings of race within lives and society. This is a new and authentic center of inquiry. The pragmatic applications of cultural theories of race, with guided autobiography strategies of inquiry, offer the promise of capturing the density of the meaning of race in human science and society. The occasion for which this paper is written is also significant in the development of the field of psychology. In 1917, with the help of G. Stanley Hall, Francis C. Sumner came to Clark University and in 1920 became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in Psychology. He later went to Howard University where he established the institution's independent Department of Psychology and was responsible for the training of the field's most influential African American scholars and teachers of psychology including Kenneth B. Clark, James A. Bayton and Leslie H. Hicks. It is in this tradition of intellectual synergy between Clark University and Howard University that this paper is written for discussion at Clark University, interrogating the field of psychology's treatment of the meaning of race.

Stanton Wortham

Judy and Howard Berkowitz Professor, University of Pennsylvania
Traversing the Gap between Knowledge and Practice

Many contemporary accounts of knowledge have become sociocentric, arguing that human cognitive accomplishments involve people participating together with others, objects and tools in larger systems that make successful action possible. Two aspects of this view are crucial: knowledge extends beyond the individual and it is embedded in practice. More familiar accounts of knowledge which construe it as representations located within an individual have generated puzzles or gaps, like the gap between theory and practice. This paper asks: if we adopt a more sociocentric account of knowledge, what happens to the theory/practice gap? The gap does not disappear, but it must be reformulated as a matter of moving representations and habitual actions across types of activities, often from academic or bureaucratized activities to more action-oriented ones.