Personality and culture : are they relevant for the enhancement of quality of mental life ? by Juris G. DRAGUNS (notice bibliogrpahique)

The relationship of culture to personality is an old, yet controversial subject. The remarks by Bruner (1974) in his presidential address at the First Congress of Cross-Cultural Psychology in Hong Kong in 1972 are well rernembered and often cited. In paraphrase, he dismissed the field of culture and personality as a failure that had yielded no incremental and established findings.

More recent writers in the same field (e.g., LeVine, 1983) would bc inclined to disagree with, if not altogether dismîss, this sweeping indictment. It is a matter of widely shared consensus, however, that the original promise of the culture-and-personality movement has not been fulfilled. This movement, it may bc recalled, originated in the collaborative effort by psychoanalytically inspired field workers and theore ticians. These anthropologists and psychoanalysts looked upon the various cultures as so many différent laboratories of nature in which both the cross-culturally variable and the intraculturally uniform effects of socialization could bc observed (Dufrenne, 1953 ; Kardiner, 1945 ; Kluckhohn, 1954 ; Linton, 1945 ; Lobb, 1982 ; Thomae, 1972). The dependent variable in these studies was personality, which, in these classical formulations, was assumed to be uniform within the culture. It was assumed to constitute in the traditional cultures studied by anthropologists the « modal personality structure » and, in the modern national states, « national character » (Favazza, 1974 ; Inkeles & Levin- son, 1968 ; Vexliard, 1970). As is well known, the above scheme turned out to be an oversimplification (see Wallace, 1970) even in the least complex and most homogeneous cultural groupings, In societies characterized by greater complexity and dynamism, the application of this model resulted in gross distortions. These distortions, moreover, served the additional harmful function of preserving and providing a new lease on life for stereotypes, mostly negative in nature. The original culture and personality model then floundered on several bedrocks. The principal among them were complexity of relationships within cultures, ambiguity of relationships between antecedent socialization variables and personality characteristics, and the indeterminacy of detecting personality characteristics.

But does this mean that personality and culture arc unrelated ? Modern reviewers of the field (Draguns, 1979a, 1979b, 1979c ; LeVine, 1983 ; Tapp, 1980) are generally in disagreement with Bruner and are not prepared to dismiss all of the empirical evidence accumulated and to close the books on the topic. They remain skeptical, however, concerning the usefulness of the traditional concepts that animated the culture-and- personality movement. Along these lines, 1 concluded elsewhere (Dra- guns, 1979a, 1979b, 1979c) that culture and personality as a research area is by no means moribund, although it has changed in method and focus. No longer concerned with the packaged variables of « culture and personality » in the global sense of the term, research in this area has broken down into a multiplicity of subareas linking specific personality characteristics with their culturally mediated experiential antecedents. Instead of studying one culture at a time, contemporary investigators compare two, three, or many cultures. The yield of this work, although complex and ambiguous in many respects, is not typically or predomi- nantly barren. Rather, it provides a great many suggestive and sometimes contradictory leads that remain to bc pursued befère definitive findings are accepted…


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