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Notes CHAPTER 1 1. For discussions about why studies of so-called basic psychological processes might better be labeled as “European American ethnographies” or as “Anglo-American cultural studies” (research is typically conducted with middleclass North Americans), see Shweder (1997:155) and also Markus, Kitayama, and Heiman (1996:861). 2. Let me provide some background on why I am using the term basic in this statement. In an essay on culture and so-called basic psychological principles, Markus, Kitayama, and Heiman suggest that psychologists may be prematurely settling on one psychology, that is, on one set of assumptions about what are the relevant or most important psychological states and processes, and on one set of generalizations about their nature and function. It may be that the psychology which European and American investigators, and those trained in these contexts, have jointly elaborated in the past 50 years, is a psychology rooted in one set of largely unexamined ontological assumptions about what it means to be a person, to be a self, to be a group member and an associated set of culture-specific assumptions about the natural, the good, the worthy , the moral, the healthy, and so on. American and European researchers, guided by an epistemology tied to a particular set of philosophical orientations, have sought and found the wellsprings of behavior in systems of internal structures and tendencies, in predispositions, biases, susceptibilities, or vulnerabilities that are “inside” people. We can now ask, whether, in the course of this theoretical development , psychologists have been developing a set of universal principles about human social behavior, or whether the current view of human social behavior is at this point primarily a partial view, limited to the behavior of people within particular sociocultural and historical contexts. (1996:858) They continue by explaining that “with the accumulation of evidence that there may be varieties of subjectivities, and that the psychological experiences of 251 various cultural groups cannot easily be mapped onto one another, and with the realization that many of the basic processes as currently formulated do not seem to be equally significant across cultural contexts, we have the opportunity to rethink some of the field’s ‘basic’ categories and their origins” (Markus, Kitayama, and Heiman 1996:860, emphasis added). I would suggest that one of the field’s basic categories is the notion that sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell represent a coherent and universally equivalent domain of experience. But when it comes to sensing and perception, do psychological experiences of various cultural groups easily map onto one another? More fundamentally, is this domain (hearing, touch, taste, smell, and sight) even a salient category of subjectivity and experience, of perception and knowing, for various cultural groups? 3. Within the discipline of anthropology, an exception to this is Howes’s dissertation (1992) comparing sensory orders in the West to those in Melanesia, as well as my own dissertation (Geurts 1998) describing an Anlo-Ewe sensorium in West Africa. There is a growing literature on the anthropology of the senses (described later), but few scholars have actually excavated the indigenous sensorium of other cultural groups (linguistically, historically, ethnographically). This means that systematic ethnographic accounts of alternate epistemologies of sensory experience are difficult to find in the literature, despite the fact that descriptions of subjective and sensory experiences of and with the Other have increased in ethnographic accounts over the past twenty-five years. Within psychology , Wober developed what he referred to as a “sensotype” hypothesis (1966) proposing that cultural groups would vary in terms of the typical sensory orientation most individuals would hold, but little research was subsequently carried out to test this hypothesis. 4. While my usage of the terms sense and sensorium will receive a more extended treatment in subsequent chapters, let me state up front what I do and do not mean when I use these words. In general, the definition of the senses that was prevalent in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (among Enlightenment philosophers) confined the boundaries of this term to perceptual organs for obtaining knowledge about the external world or the bodily functions that provide information about the external world. For the past one hundred and fifty years, however, with the advent of psychophysics, experimental psychology, experimental physiology, and so on, the senses have come to be understood in terms of bodily ways of gathering information. A contemporary text entitled The Senses provides a definition that appears to represent somewhat of a consensus among...


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