Cultural Model Theory and Consensus Analysis: An Evolving Relationship


Cultural Model Theory and Consensus Analysis: An Evolving Relationship

Giovanni Bennardo, Victor C. De Munck
Qualitative Psychology, 10(2), 277–280.
Année de publication

In this Special Section, we examine the inroads cognitive anthropologists have made in exploring the connection between cognition and culture. The articles are written having in mind an audience of psychologists with similar interests.

Psychologists and anthropologists study many of the same phenomena. Researchers in both disciplines investigate linguistic, developmental, and cognitive issues, either knowledge representations and/or mental processes. Psychologists will find the use of the systematic emic methods used in these articles useful for studying how and what is culturally shared among members of a social group. As one reviewer noted, these methods, largely because they focus on people in a multitude of social contexts and on how cognition is both shaped and shapes people’s motivations, can provide insightful understanding of behaviors in those contexts. To ignore cognition and rely on behavior for explanation, leads to what Porpora (2015, pp. 113, 129) has referred to as “zombie analysis,” with human beings reduced to automata programmed by norms.

Developmental and cognitive psychologists and anthropologists are interested in humans both as agents and as sociocultural beings. There is no “self,” “mind,” and no “social group” without there also being society and culture. Thus, works in these fields often requires poaching on the domains of the other. Such rover strategies, despite the voiced importance of interdisciplinarity, come at a cost. For example, it is rare that anthropologists publish in psychology journals and vice versa (Sheikh & Hirschfeld, 2019). Bridges are required to amend this predicament. We anticipate that this special section will intrigue and motivate (some) psychologists to adopt aspects of the methods and theory of cultural models posed in this Special Section.

Greenfield (19972000), a cultural and developmental psychologist, views social change as an outcome of a variety of social and material vectors of ongoing change occurring at the local, regional, and global scales. These technological, social, and environmental changes intertwine and also bounce off each other in ways that can be studied through theoretical lenses such as those recommended by Greenfield. She has successfully combined extensive ethnographic fieldwork with systematic methods for collecting and analyzing data in order to understand the underlying processes that shape changes in normative beliefs, behaviors, and values. Such empirically based studies necessarily reject current postmodern movements in anthropology that dispense with causal relations.

Postmodern theory has been useful in recognizing the role the researcher’s own academic and cultural lenses may play in misconceptualizing how and why indigenous people do what they do. However, the blithe dismissal of science and empiricism as means to study humans as “plural persons” (Gilbert, 2001), “agents” (Archer, 2004) or as evolutionary and cultural constructs leads to the paradoxical outcome that the researcher’s subjective dispositions are given full reign to “writing culture.”

The rejection of causal theories and empirical, systematic methods for investigating change within and between cultures, is a main reason why there has been a lack of interdisciplinary curiosity and engagement between those psychologists who study culture and those anthropologists who study the self and cognition. We note that much of the work conducted by cultural psychologists and that of cognitive anthropologists (as well as cross-cultural anthropologists) could be given a theoretical and methodological boost by Greenfield’s suggestion for a “rapprochement” between the two disciplines studying culture and cognition.

Cognitive anthropology is thriving and with a foot in cognitive psychology, it represents a place wherein that “rapprochement” can be achieved. In this Special Section, cognitive anthropologists demonstrate the progress they have made toward that goal. In fact, cognitive anthropologists have developed a methodological toolbox for the systematic collection of emic (not etic) data. One expects that these methods would be eagerly accepted and used by culturally minded psychologists. This Special Section provides research conducted by experts in these methods.

Cognitive anthropology has traditionally emphasized the use of complex methodologies in investigating culture (D’Andrade, 1995). Qualitative, for example, ethnographic, linguistic, and quantitative, for example, consensus analysis, methods have characterized its practices. However, instead of capitalizing on the positive results of the two types of methodologies, a divide emerged between practitioners using either qualitative or quantitative methodologies.

In this Special Section, we introduce an approach to studying culture called cultural model theory and the ensuing multidimensional methodology (Bennardo, 2018Bennardo & De Munck, 2014). Cultural model theory, while rooted in the pioneering work of D’Andrade (1995)Strauss and Quinn (1997), and others, expands and qualifies the theoretical assumptions of research aimed at discovering cultural models. At the same time, it suggests the employment of a methodology that blends qualitative and quantitative strategies. In particular, we focus on the various roles that consensus analysis plays within this blended methodology.

Bennardo and De Munck (2014)de Munck and Bennardo (2019), and Shimizu (2011), noted that cultural models exist as individual psychological units of collective representations. That is, our cultural models are our own, but for members of a culture they resonate with the multiplicity and iteration of the same basic experiences. Thus, a unity can be found between Schaller and Crandall (2004) argument about the psychological foundation of culture and the argument that anthropologists make about “the cultural foundation of psychology.”

This Special Section does “not introduce” cultural model theory to psychologists. Many already are familiar with it and use the theory and its methods to study universals and differences across and within cultures (see Atran & Medin, 2008Bender, 2019). We bring together scholars who are experts on cultural model theory and methods. Their insights are of interest to a variety of psychologists.

The overall intention is to inform the readers of the Journal about where cognitive anthropology stands in its effort to define and investigate culture. In so doing, we weave a methodological discourse, wherein qualitative practices need to be augmented by quantitative procedures so that their contributions can potentially find their full value.

We expect psychologists to find these articles beneficial regarding theory, content, and methods. We are convinced that the reading of these article will inspire further cross-fertilization of ideas, methods, and research questions. Finally, we intend to continue a conversation across disciplines, that is, anthropology, psychology, and cognitive science, that may better serve the needs, desires, and goals of their practitioners.

In the opening article, Bennardo proposes that consensus analysis can play two roles within research conducted by adopting cultural model theory. First, he briefly introduces the major tenets of the theory and illustrates the mixed methodology (both qualitative and quantitative) it entails. Then, he follows with a short introduction about consensus analysis and suggests how it can play both a discovery and a verification role within the methodological path introduced. Finally, he presents an illustrative example of a research project about the cultural model of nature in Tonga, Polynesia, which used consensus analysis in both roles suggested.

In the article that follows, Chrisomalis argues that quantitative consensus analysis alone is insufficient to understand cognitive models underlying motivation, attention, and decision making. He outlines a complementary approach that draws on natural language data to investigate how linguistic structures and metaphorical associations shape cognition. He uses two extended analyses drawn from an ethnographic study of the Math Corps, a mathematical community of practice in Detroit, Michigan, and demonstrates how patterned linguistic structures help elucidate the cultural model for achievement and intelligence widely shared in this community.

In the third article, de Munck points out that the sequence of events that constitute a courtship process from the view of the couple themselves is lacking in the literature on courtship. In his study, he views the courtship process in terms of grammatically understood and acceptable event sequences. The prototypical sequence refers to the event sequence most interlocutors recognize as a “typical” sequence by their peers. Through a series of cognitive, mixed methodological tasks with different samples three studies were conducted. The results of the research show how different cultural beliefs and values influence the placement of events along the sequence. They also support the importance of the prototype as a source for comparing different courtship styles reflecting different cultural norms.

In the next article, Lowe notices that the recent moral and ethical turn in anthropology and psychology has generated renewed interest in whether normative models of morality and ethics are primarily found in forms of social discourse or in cultural models (or both) and whether these models are structured in culturally specific ways or by universal conceptual structures. His study uses cultural consensus theory to provide useful insights into both questions. He uses freelist and pile sort data collected in the islands of Chuuk Lagoon located in the western Pacific islands of Micronesia. He finds a shared cultural model for the domain of moral behavior in Chuuk. Based on both a cluster analysis and Multidimensional Scaling of the estimated shared model, aspects of the model do reflect conceptual universals, specifically the five moral foundations identified in Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations theory and Tomasello’s theory of the human ontogeny of morality.

In the fifth article, Shimizu presents his study of cultural models of nature in primary food producers in Japan. The first phase of the study took place in two urban communities in Gunma Prefecture in central Japan. Ethnographic survey of the work and lives of the food producers was followed by semistructured interviews on food production processes and how they succeed in business. The second phase of the study took place in four regions of Japan—including the original site—where he administered a consensus analysis questionnaire to test the generalizability of emerging themes, that is, cultural models, from the previous phase. The main finding is that food producers consider nature that is left alone as not “natural.” Rather, they grow and transform “nature” in a “humanizing” (ningen rashii) way to elevate the creative potentials of both nature and humans.

In the closing article, Weller, Dressler, and Johnson, link the discovery process of generating a descriptive model with a verification process. Descriptive “models” distilled from qualitative interviews and narratives describe explanations, processes, expectations, possible beliefs, and appropriate responses. These models are mental models for thinking about objects and relations between objects. When shared across people, they are cultural models. An issue of validity arises when we try to generalize to larger groups. Their articles describe three approaches for confirming descriptive models using cultural consensus theory combined with a mixed-methods approach.