Cultural Psychology Final Paper

Final Paper

In this course, we have studied how culture can be meaningfully integrated into , with an emphasis on the process of meaning construction. Instead of simply existing outside of individual minds or defining groups of people, culture works within individual minds – and between them – as an integral part of psychological and social processes. We have discussed the distinction between collective and personal culture and thought about how the individual and collective (social, societal) levels of analysis are connected. Concepts like internalization/externalization and cultural transmission help us understand how the histories and institutions that define our social worlds become part of our individual minds as collective cultural forms become part of the psychological systems of individual people (in terms of meanings and the development of mechanisms of semiotic regulation). We’ve looked at examples of how culture is dynamically created and re-created within psychological processes and externalized back into collective culture. That “big cycle” connects the individual to the collective and connects generations of humans to each other through history. Culture is a living, breathing human creation that is the medium within which individual minds develop. At the same time, we all play our role in creating, maintaining, transforming culture, just by living our lives. As Richard Shweder is famous for saying, cultural psychology is the study of how mind and culture “mutually constitute” each other.

In this course, we have seen examples of how some of the things that people take to be most personal (e.g., one’s identity as a parent), some of the things that people take to be most natural (e.g., your reaction to the lollipop protocol or the idea of eating grilled tarantulas), and some of the things that people take to be most mundane (e.g., you fighting your alarm clock in the morning) all involve psychological processes that are, at their core, cultural. For your final paper, you will create your own cultural psychological analysis on an object or target of your choice. Each of you has been writing about a specific target all semester. Now is the time to look at the target you’ve been writing about and make sure that it works as a target for your final paper. The next section contains some ideas about how you’ll know if you have a suitable target for your final paper.

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On choosing an object of target for your cultural psychological analysis

I’d like to try to be very clear about why I said that you can write about “ an object or target ” of your choice instead of just saying that you can choose any topic. When people choose topics for papers, they sometimes tend to choose more abstract things, like “Concepts of femininity across cultures”. For this course, you should not write about a topic like that. You could write about (and analyze) a specific example of the construction of femininity (maybe from your own life, maybe from a movie or book, maybe from the life of a famous woman who rose to fame in a typically male-dominated field, etc.). That would be a specific target that you could analyze.

Here’s another example: Instead of writing a paper about how tattoos are usually seen and how people should change their minds about them, write a paper about your own process of transforming your body (including the move from not wanting a tattoo or not being sure about it to absolutely wanting this particular image on your body forever). Instead of writing about how eating meat is bad and how people should be educated, write a paper that traces the development of your own vegetarianism/veganism, using concepts from the course. So, to summarize:

· Tattoos, gender, and vegetarianism are very general, abstract topics that aren’t suitable.

· Your tattoos, your vegetarianism, and your experience of gender are specific targets that can be analyzed.

You might have noticed that many of the more interesting readings from this semester have analyzed very specific targets (e.g., gravestones, corsets, washing machines, fishy smells, etc.). This is how things often go in cultural psychology. We start with specific targets, try to understand them in their full complexity, and then connect that understanding with what we’ve learned from analyzing other specific targets in order to build a more general understanding of how culture works in the human mind. In other words, cultural psychology generalizes from series or sets of individual cases, not from samples . This is one of the major methodological differences between cultural psychology and cross-cultural psychology (and most other kinds of psychology). Now it’s your turn to contribute!

Getting started

The first step in preparing for your final paper is to prepare a plan, starting from the material we’ve covered in this course.

1) Make a list of concepts from the course that you plan on applying in your analysis of your target.

2) Link the concepts you’ve chosen to relevant course readings that you will use as sources.

· You should plan on incorporating at least 3 readings from the syllabus (more is ok, less is not).

The next step is to expand your knowledge base by finding at least 3 additional relevant journal articles.

· When you’re searching for journal articles, remember that most of what you will see advertised as “cultural psychology” will actually be “cross-cultural psychology”. Feel free to get in touch if you feel like you’re having a hard time finding relevant sources.

· Some relevant journals (and this is really just the beginning):

· Culture & Psychology

· Theory & Psychology

· Mind, Culture, & Activity

· Journal of Material Culture

· Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science

· Feminism & Psychology

· Signs

· Space & Culture

· Men and Masculinities

· Semiotica

· Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology

· Journal of American History

· Journal of Social History

· Ethos

· American Ethnologist

· Theory, Culture, & Society

· Journal of Visual Culture

· International Journal of Cultural Studies

· Body & Society

· Journal for Cultural Research

I know that this will be your first time trying something like this, so I’m sure that you’re curious about exactly how I’ll grade these papers. Here’s what I can tell you about that:


You will be graded on the following (in order of importance):

1) Ability to apply the concepts that we have discussed in class to the topic

· I’ll need to see you using concepts appropriately and connecting them thoughtfully.

2) Ability to connect the personal and collective levels of analysis

· Your paper shouldn’t read like a journal or a diary just describing what you think/feel. We’ve spent a lot of time in this course covering the connections and relationship between personal and collective culture. That linkage should be clear in your paper.

· Do not simply describe the object or activity that your paper is focusing on. Your job is to analyze the target of your paper using course concepts.

3) Quality of your written work

· Your paper should be well researched and your analysis should be unique.

· Your writing should be clear and concise.

4) Thoroughness of your research

· In addition to the 3 papers you choose from the syllabus, I’d like you to find at least 3 ADDITIONAL relevant journal articles

· You should be able to access most (if not all) of these electronically through the WSU library. Please submit a PDF of each of your articles along with your final paper.

· If you find a paper that you’re interested in but can’t get your hands on it, please let me know and send the DOI number of the paper. I’ll do what I can to help you find it.


Your analysis should be written up as a paper. Please feel free to include figures, diagrams, images, etc. in your paper. 10 pages is a good guideline but I’m not really a stickler for page totals. Don’t feel the need to fluff your paper up to 10 pages if you’ve said what you need to say in 7. Writing clearly and concisely is a skill – and it’s a skill that often produces shorter papers.

Your paper should be in full APA format, including cover page, appropriate headers, and references. Since this is an upper-level course, I will have to take points off for violations of APA format. I will post a guide to the aspects of APA format that I’d like you to use for this paper.


Your final paper should include the following sections ( each with its own heading, in APA format ):

1) General introduction to the topic

2) Specific description of the object/action/event that you will be discussing

3) Analysis of the topic

4) Discussion of your analysis/General reflections

5) A list of references (minimum of 6, 3 of which are not course readings) Please hand in or post a copy of your sources.

Final papers are due on Fri. May 7, by 11:59 pm.

Please submit your papers through Blackboard.

Late papers will NOT be accepted (but you can hand them in early if you’d like).

A few final points…

1) Keep in mind the sense in which cultural psychology uses the idea of ‘culture’. This semester, we focused on the idea of culture as semiotic mediation (and regulation) of psychological processes. We looked at how people built meaning and used meaning to guide their actions. That is, we focused on the role of culture in mind. We did not use ‘culture’ as a synonym for a group of people, a geographical location, or anything like that. Your paper shouldn’t be about how X is done/thought about/whatever in different “cultures”. That is a topic for a course in cross-cultural psychology. For this class, you can certainly establish the importance of your topic by demonstrating its prevalence in different societies around the world (e.g., people decorate their bodies or eat certain foods – and not others – all over the world). That is part of what makes your topic important/interesting. But, from there, you need to get down to the level of culture in mind. For example, you might demonstrate and analyze how people build meaning and use that meaning to direct themselves toward decorating their bodies in certain ways, eating/not eating certain foods, living in certain ways, or whatever your topic might be. This is why it’s so important to have a very specific target for your analysis. Cultural psychology does not study broad, general topics. It studies very specific ones – and generalizes based on those specific encounters with reality. Remember that cultural psychologists study people (and how they create, destroy, transform, and use culture) in the process of living their lives . Cultural psychologists do not “cultures”.

2) Don’t be afraid to write about yourself. Cultural psychology (as it has been presented in this class) is all about how people regulate themselves and each other through meaning. We can see that in action when we catch people in difficult situations (e.g., looking at their newborn baby through the side of an incubator, a loved one at the grave)…but, if what we’ve been talking about in class is true, the same kind of meaning-making and meaning-using processes are happening with everyone all the time, including you, right now. The advantage of writing about yourself is that you have direct access to your own life and your own thinking. This may not be the idea source of data for a science but I’m willing to bet that you’ll learn more by reflecting carefully (and critically) on your own lives than you will be timing how long it takes a rat to run through a maze. No elaborate procedure or data collection is required. If you would like to use this paper as a chance to reflect upon your own personal culture and analyze it in action, you should feel free to do exactly that.

For example, if you are freaking out and want to change your topic at the last minute , remember that I asked you guys to complete the lollipop protocol at the start of the course. You can always write your final paper about your reaction to the lollipop protocol, in light of the concepts you’ve picked up in this course. Maybe that looks different to you now then it did a couple of months ago. If you’d like to do your own cultural psychological research project, you could give the lollipop protocol to your friends and write about what you see in your data. But please remember that you don’t need to create, collect, or analyze data for your final paper if you don’t want to. You can take something from your personal life, your family, or something you see happening in the outside world (e.g., recent events), as long as you focus on a very specific target where you can see collective culture and personal culture co-creating each other in very specific ways.

3) Don’t be afraid to not write about yourself. If there’s a topic you’re interested in and you’d like to collect data from other people to discuss, you should feel free. In this course, we’ve had several examples of how qualitative research can help us uncover the cultural dynamics of everyday life. You’ve read about how Muslim parents in Denmark build identities for themselves, how South African women negotiate femininity, how American women perform motherhood when separated from their newborn children by the realities of an incubator, and so on. In all of those papers, you heard the voices of individual people living their actual lives (not stopping by a lab room to spend 3 minutes circling 3s and 5s on a survey!) and saw, in a variety of ways, how those lives were 1) configured by collective culture, but also 2) lived through the process of transforming collective cultural resources into personal cultural tools for living, which 3) contribute to the collective cultural worlds of other people. These things are happening all around us all the time, every day. Even though “cultural psychology” sounds exotic (and some cultural psychologists do choose to analyze exotic things), cultural psychology is really a psychology of everyday life. As Valsiner mentioned in the video I posted for you at the beginning of the course, there are cultural processes happening “all around us and in us” all the time. If you’d like to interview someone (or a small set of people) about something, feel free. If you want to have them talk into a voice recorder as they shop for food (or clothing, or whatever), feel free. It’s great data, as long as you can listen to them through the lens of what you’ve learned in this course.

The point is that I’d like you guys to enjoy writing this paper – as much as it’s possible to enjoy writing a final paper for a course. Analyze a target that really interests you. If you’re really just not that into the target you’ve been thinking about all semester, then let’s talk about your other ideas. Approach your target in a way that’s interesting to you. Write a paper (using the concepts from this course) that you feel sheds some light on your topic. Just remember to do it in format!

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