From local insights to global impact: The role of indigenous psychologies in developing global psychology

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In her latest article in Psychological Studies, Parul Bansal writes about the promises and challenges of developing a Global Psychology (GP) and the central role of Indigenous Psychologies (IP) in that. Factors like culture, language, cross-indigenization, and Neoliberalism are discussed in detail.

Indigenous Psychology is a branch of Psychology that studies people while keeping in mind their cultural, ecological, historical, and religious/spiritual backgrounds. It aims to develop an understanding of how individuals from specific cultures think, feel, and behave. Neoliberalism is an economic policy promoting free markets and reduced government interference. It also influences individuals to only rely on themselves and to be disconnected from social and cultural surroundings.

The article is built upon suggestions forwarded by Prof. Sinha. He suggested including ancient Indian Philosophical insights into Psychology and bringing together Western and Indian Psychology to benefit people and put Psychology on the global map. Bansal reflects on this idea, digging deep into its progress and current standing.

For long enough, Psychology has made the error of applying research from West to the rest of the world. Thus, behaviour is studied purely from a Western lens. This approach presents human behaviour as the same across the world, which loses its uniqueness and relevance in local contexts. This results in psychological theories that fail to apply to culturally different societies. Researchers have repeatedly warned us about this inadequate understanding of human behaviour.

To fix this, psychologists worldwide, especially from non-western nations, have asked for a ‘Global Psychology’ (GP). Its goal is to develop a way to study and understand human behaviour that respects social, cultural, and historical contexts, using a culturally relevant framework. This invites Indigenous Psychologies (IPs) to help develop culturally sensitive and globally relevant understandings of human behaviour.

Bansal discusses factors such as going beyond a simplistic understanding of culture, crossing the language barrier in indigenous research, starting dialogue among different indigenous psychologies, and looking at the impact of neoliberalism on Psychology in India.

The first problem is that researchers often see ‘culture’ as something static, homogenous, and in an isolated way. Bansal writes:

“The usual practice in IPs is of seeing culture as mapped to specific society or group of people defined by national boundaries such as Indian culture, Filipino culture, and Japanese culture.”

This has taken away its most important feature of diversity. Every culture is unique in its formation and development of values. Indigenous Psychologies have an important role to show culture as “shared, unified set of patterns and symbols” to add to broadening the vision of Psychology.

“IPs, therefore, need to creatively dialogue with critical notions of culture to move away from the homogenous, static, and essentialized assumptions attached to the concept of culture.”

Another problem is that the sole use of English language has silenced alternative meanings, stories and, therefore, lives. When Indigenous Psychologies use native languages to do justice to unique cultural narratives and behaviour, they fail to reach the global masses. Translation is a solution but not problem-free. Local social issues like poverty, class, and gender discrimination often get lost in translation. This problem is made worse when native researchers resist reading research in English.

“The language of science is English; the language of culture may be Hindi, Mandarin, Spanish, or German.”

Problems like misinterpretation and anglicizing people’s behaviour stop us from developing a culturally suitable, globally applicable Psychology.

Another problem is for psychological concepts to be relevant across cultures. Cross-indigenization might work if there is dialogue among indigenous psychologies, like India with other parts of Asia, more than dialoguing with the Western nations. Here indigenous concepts are developed in various cultures, and then compared to find similarities and differences with the help of existing (Western) theories. This is a way to develop theories carefully which are then tested cross-culturally.

The final step is to give them a place in Psychology.

“For cross indigenization process to be effective in building of GP, it is important that IPs dialogue with each other. It is important to constantly ask and test out these questions: Will my IP extend to other contexts? Do others’ IP apply to my context? Can I relate with others’ IP?”

Multiple findings have worked using this method and contributed to ‘Global Psychology’. The number of studies using this technique needs to multiply in large numbers to increase the development of ‘Global Psychology’.

In the past few decades, Neoliberalism has become important in describing events affecting the society. It changes people’s ideas of who they are, and what is important to them, and pushes for an increase in materialism and consumerism. Bansal writes:

“Neoliberal subjects use their agency to pursue the benefits promised by the global capitalist political economy and in the process shed their traditional forms of life. The question that emerges then is: what is the place for native, indigenous sensibilities in the increasingly neoliberal world?

The veiled and pervasive nature of neoliberalism subtly undermines the indigenous sensibilities of the non-western world and tempts them with material gain through increasing participation in the global, consumerist world.”

Neoliberalism used to be an economic principle that supported free markets and competition, but now is something that reshapes all human activity into market logic. Neoliberalism is redefining selfhood and identity. People think of themselves as self-contained, independent, and atomic beings, functioning in isolation. Psychology, as a discipline, is actively encouraging these neoliberal tendencies through its methods and theories.

The rapid emergence of ideas around the self, such as self-concept and self-esteem, are how Psychology supports and reflects the neoliberal worldview. This type of selfhood promotes the idea that man is largely independent, which automatically disconnects us from our social, historical, and political surroundings.

Psychology for the most part uses college students as samples for research, artificial methods, and theories that are not related to the important social issues that people face daily. Studying Neoliberalism using Western psychological theories stops us from seeing its culture-specific manifestations. Indigenous Psychologies can actually explore this diversity, contributing to better psychological understanding.

Bansal hints at some areas for Indigenous Psychologies to unite in the battle against the neoliberal agenda. When Indigenous Psychologies go beyond isolated, culture-specific problems to global concerns like social injustice, poverty, and climate change impacting human beings worldwide, they can fight better against Psychology’s Neoliberal bent.

“To build GP, IPs are required to go beyond patriotism and engage in humanitarian agenda of global relevance.”

To conclude, the development of Global Psychology demands persistent effort. In these challenging times, Indigenous Psychologies are essential in shaping the course of Global Psychology. Their importance lies in preserving diverse cultural perspectives and their ability to resist the neo-liberalization of Psychology.

Together Indigenous Psychologies can help with global concerns. Bansal prompts Psychologists in India to reassess their understanding of psychological theories to revitalize the discipline.

Dr. Parul Bansal is faculty at the Department of Psychology, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi, Delhi, India

Article Link: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12646-023-00754-2

 

Editor’s Note: this article was originally published by our colleagues at Mad in South Asia, and is reposted with permission here. 

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Ayushi Jolly is a PhD Candidate in Social Psychology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. Her doctoral research focuses on exploring the neoliberal subjectivities of student migrants. Her research aims to foster a more holistic understanding of the human psyche that acknowledges the intricate interconnections between individual lives and the broader societal tapestry. She is dedicated to restoring the 'social' in social psychology. Outside the academic sphere, she relishes the joy of travel and trekking and findsAyushi Jolly is a PhD Candidate in Social Psychology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. Her doctoral research focuses on exploring the neoliberal subjectivities of student migrants. Her research aims to foster a more holistic understanding of the human psyche that acknowledges the intricate interconnections between individual lives and the broader societal tapestry. She is dedicated to restoring the 'social' in social psychology. Outside the academic sphere, she relishes the joy of travel and trekking and finds