Moving Cultures - Hubert Hermans
The Perilous Problems of Cultural
Dichotomies in a Globalizing Society
Hubert J. M. Hermans and Harry J. G. Kempen
University of Nijmegen
The accelerating process of globalization and the increasing interconnections between cultures involve an
unprecedented challenge to contemporary psychology. In
apparent contrast to these trends, academic mainstream
conceptions continue to work in a tradition of cultural
dichotomies (e.g., individualistic vs. collectivistic, independent vs. interdependent), reflecting a classificatory
approach to culture and self Three developments are
presented that challenge this approach: (a) cultural connections leading to hybridization, (b) the emergence of
a heterogeneous global system, and (c) the increasing
cultural complexity. By elaborating on these challenges,
a basic assumption of cross-cultural psychology is questioned: culture as geographically localized. Finally, 3
themes are described as examples of an alternative approach: a focus on the contact zones of cultures rather
than on their center, the complexities of self and identity,
and the experience of uncertainty.
Difference is encountered in the adjoining neighborhood, the
familiar turns up at the ends of the earth. (James Clifford, 1988,
In an increasingly interconnected world society, the
conception of independent, coherent, and stable cultures
becomes increasingly irrelevant. Processes of globalization are drawing people from different cultural origins
into close relationships, as can be seen, for example, in
the unprecedented expansion of tourism, the flourishing
of multinational corporations, the emergence of new geographical unities (e.g., the European Community, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the new unification of South American countries: Mercosur), the dissemination of pop culture, the increasing flow of
migrations, the growth of diasporas, the emergence of
Internet communities, and the establishment of global
institutions (e.g., the International Monetary Fund and
the United Nations). One might reason that there is nothing new about the process of globalization. Indeed, the
formation of colonial systems some centuries ago, the
metamorphosis of tribal communities as a result of expanding trade, and the emergence and transformation of
great empires throughout history can easily be perceived
as the precursors of contemporary global changes. This
Copyright 1998 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0003-066X/98/$2.00
Vol, 53. No. 10, 1111-1120
consideration, however, does not refute the unprecedented character of worldwide interconnectedness that is
realized by the increasing impact of new technologies,
which result in the decrease or even removal of spatial
distances as a result of accelerated transportation, increased travel facilities, and the dramatic expansion of
The Tradition of Cultural Dichotomies:
The West Versus the Rest
In apparent contradiction to the global scale of social
transformation and its corresponding complexities and
dynamics in societal structures, mainstream academic
psychologists have worked and continue to work on the
premise that cultural differences can be conceptualized
in terms of cultural dichotomies. Typically, these dichotomies have been formulated as contrasts between Western
and non-Western cultures or selves. For Dumont (1985),
the Western conception of self is characterized by individualism (i.e., the individual is of paramount value), and
the non-Western conception by wholism (i.e., society as
a whole is a paramount value). Shweder and Bourne
(1984) described the Western self as egocentric and the
self of other cultures (e.g., people from India) as sociocentric. Marsella (1985) distinguished a Western self that
is characterized by "independence, autonomy, and differentiation" (p. 290) and a non-Western self that is "extended to include a wide variety of significant others" (p.
290). Weisz, Rothbaum, and Blackburn (1984) described
American culture in terms of primary control, that is,
individuals enhance their rewards by influencing existing
Editor's note. KennethGergen served as action editor for this article.
Author's note. Hubert J. M. Hermans and Harry J. G. Kempen, Department of Psychology, University of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, the
This article is part of a broaderresearch programon the Dialogical
Self. The First International Conferenceon the Dialogical Self is scheduled for June 24-26, 2000, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
We thank Michael Katzko for his commentson an earlier version
of this article and Sue Houstonfor her editorial remarks.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Hubert J. M. Hermans, Department of Psychology,University of Nijmegen, EO. Box 9104, 6500 HE Nijmegen,The Netherlands. Electronic
mail may be sent to [email protected]
realities, and Japanese culture in terms of secondary control that is, individuals enhance their rewards by adapting
to existing realities. Kirkpatrick and White (1985) contrasted Western culture, in which the single person is
the basic unit, to non-Western cultures, in which some
collectivity (e.g., the family, the community, or even the
land) is the main cultural unit. Sampson (1988) opposed
self-contained individualism (with a firm self-other
boundary) as characteristic of the Western self to ensembled individualism (with a fluid self-other boundary)
featuring a non-Western self (see also Spiro, 1993, for a
review of cultural categorizations).
Two classifications, one proposed by Triandis (1989)
and the other by Markus and Kitayama (1991), have been
particularly influential in our discipline. Triandis proposed a distinction between individualism and collectivism: Whereas individualists give priority to personal
goals over the goals of collectives, collectivists either
make no distinctions between personal and collective
aims or, if they do make such distinctions, they subordinate their personal aims to those of the collectivity to
which they belong. Markus and Kitayama assumed that
in people from the European-American culture, the emphasis is on independence and in many Asian cultures
on interdependence. Whereas Americans seek to maintain
their independence from others by attending to their individual selves and by expressing their unique inner attributes, Asian people accentuate attention to others, fitting
in, and maintaining harmonious relationships.
The concepts of collectivism-individualism and related distinctions have received an overwhelming attention in recent years. Hofstede's (1980) research on crosscultural differences in work values has provided a very
influential stimulus in this area of research. So much
discussion and research have been done in this area that
Kagitqibasi (1994) identified the 1980s as the decade
of individualism-collectivism, and this trend continues,
according to Lonner and Adamopoulos (1997), with no
signs of abating (for review, see Kagitqibasi, 1997).
Despite their popularity in discussions and debates
in the social sciences and despite the widespread interest
that the individualism-collectivism distinction has received in psychological research, it is our thesis that cultural dichotomies do not and cannot meet the challenges
raised by the process of globalization. As we argue, globalization involves social processes that are complex and
laden with tension. These processes fall squarely outside
the scope of cultural dichotomies, which by their nature
are oversimplifying and insensitive to the apparent tensions that are so typical of the relationships between
The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that
cultural differences in the form of dichotomous distinctions do not meet the challenge of globalization and its
implications for a psychology of culture and self. It is
our belief that we need an alternative approach that is
sensitive to the process of cultural interchange, the complexities of social positions, and the dynamics of global
To demonstrate the limitations of cultural dichotomies as a significant development in cross-cultural psychology, we present three challenges to this approach:
(a) the increasing cultural connections with the phenomenon of hybridization as a consequence, (b) the emergence
of a world system that implies an interpenetration of
the global and the local, and (c) the enlarged cultural
complexity as a result of large-scale distribution of cultural meanings and practices.
First Challenge: The Pervasive Influence
of Cultural Connections
A comprehensive criticism of cultural dichotomies comes
from the anthropologist Wolf (1982, 1994), who questioned them on historical grounds. His central assertion
was that the human world comprises a manifold totality
of interconnected processes. It looks commonplace, but it
has to be repeated: We live increasingly in "one world."
Within this world, there are many connections that have
international consequences: ecological connections (e.g.,
Hong Kong flu in New York or, more recently, the nuclear
disaster in Chernobyl threatening Europe), demographic
connections (e.g., Chinese migrating to Singapore or
Mexicans migrating to the United States), economical
connections (e.g., a shutdown of oil wells on the Persian
Gulf having a worldwide impact or Japan building automobile factories in America and Europe), and political
connections (e.g., the United States intervening in former
Yugoslavia or wars begun in Asia reverberating around
Turning Names Into Things
If there are connections everywhere, Wolf (1982) wondered, why do people persist in turning dynamic, interOctober 1998 • American Psychologist
(Wolf, 1982, pp. 6 - 7 ; see also Spiro, 1993, for a similar
Hybridization: The Emergence of Cultural
connected phenomena into static, disconnected things?
His answer is that some of this is owed to the way in
which people have learned history--that there exists an
entity called the West and that one can think of this West
as a society independent of and in opposition to other
societies. People grew up in the belief that the West has
its own genealogy: Ancient Greece begat Rome, Rome
gave birth to Christian Europe, Europe produced the Renaissance, the Renaissance yielded the Enlightenment,
and the Enlightenment evolved into political democracy
and the industrial revolution. Finally, industry, crossed
with democracy, yielded the United States, embodying
the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
(pp. 4 - 5 ) . Wolf's criticism is similar to that of Bergesen
(1995), who objected to the myth that the West rose on
its own and went out to conquer, by idea, weapon, and
innovation, the rest of the world.
It was Wolf's (1982) conviction that such a developmental scheme is misleading. First, it turns history into
a moral success story, " a race in time in which each
runner of the race passes on the torch of liberty to the
next relay" (p. 5). History is thus converted to a tale
about the promotion of virtue, and this turns into a story
of how the winners prove that they are virtuous and good
by winning. Second, the developmental idea is misleading
in that it suggests that each runner in the race is only a
precursor of the final apotheosis and not a manifold of
social and cultural processes and interconnections. The
erroneous implication of this genealogical view is that
people turn names into things and endow nations, societies, and cultures with the qualities of internally homogeneous and externally distinctive objects. As part of this
false model, social scientists construct a quintessential
West counterpoised against an equally quintessential East
October 1998 • American Psychologist
The phenomenon of hybridization can be seen as a major
result of cultural connection, and it further undermines
the idea of cultures as internally homogeneous and externally distinctive. The focus here is on intercultural processes that lead to the recombination of existing forms
and practices into new forms and practices (Pieterse,
1995; Rowe & Schelling, 1991). Hybrid phenomena result from the transformation of existing cultural practices
into new ones. The process of hybridization may create
such multiple identities as Mexican schoolgirls dressed
in Greek togas dancing in the style of Isadora Duncan,
a London boy of Asian origin playing for a local Bengali
cricket team and at the same time supporting the Arsenal
football club, Thai boxing by Moroccan girls in Amsterdam, and Native Americans celebrating Mardi Gras in
the United States. Pieterse discussed such examples in
order to object to the idea that cultural experiences, past
or present, are moving toward cultural uniformity or standardization, as, for example, is expressed in views that
emphasize the unidirectional cultural influences of the
West on the rest of the world. This idea of uniformity
overlooks, in his view, the pervasive influence of countercurrents that derives from the local reception of Western
culture, as one can see, for example, in the process of
indigenization (see also Sinha, 1997). Uniformity also
fails to see the influence that non-Western cultures have
been exercising on the West and on one another. Any
idea of global standardization or uniformity, moreover,
fails to take into account that many of the cultural industries exported by the West turn out to be of culturally
mixed origin if one examines their cultural lineages. To
lend support to his thesis of hybridization, Pieterse
pointed to the fact that centuries of south-north cultural
osmosis have resulted in an intercontinental "crossover
culture" and that European and North American cultures
are part of this m61ange. Likewise, until the 14th century,
Europe was invariably the recipient of cultural influences
from "the Orient." In other words, cultural m61ange typically precedes the present era in which many social scientists often discuss Western and other cultures as if these
were pure in their origin and development.
The processes of interconnection and hybridization
offer new ways for cultural practices to become fused
and new forms for the development of cultural identities
(see also Canclini, 1995). The greater the connection is
across cultures, the more these cultures begin to interweave so that complex mixtures and new genres are created. Despite the increasing salience of such phenomena
on a world scale, psychologists continue to approach cultures in terms of cultural dichotomies, which by their
nature are separating rather than fusing and static rather
Second Challenge: World System
Globalization is a central theme to a group of researchers,
mainly historians, sociologists, and political scientists
brought together under the term global system theorists
(e.g., Robertson, 1995; Sanderson, 1995; Wallerstein,
1974; Wilkinson, 1995). Such theorists are not only interested in cultures and cultural evolution but also in economical, political, demographic, and military changes,
so that cultures and civilizations can be studied in the
broadest possible terms.
Opposing Cultures as Part of One Civilization
Wilkinson (1995) has developed the thesis that today,
on earth, only one civilization exists: a single, global
civilization. This global civilization is the direct descendant, or the current manifestation of a civilization that
emerged about 1500 B.c. in the Near East when Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations collided and fused.
Since then, this fusional entity has expanded over the
entire planet and absorbed all other previously independent civilizations (e.g., Japanese, Chinese, and Western).
For our purposes, Wilkinson's (1995) criterion for
defining a civilization is relevant. He proposes a transactional definition with a criterion of connectedness rather
than uniformity for locating the spatiotemporal boundaries of society. People who interact intensely, significantly, and continuously, thereby belong to the same civilization, "even if their cultures are very dissimilar and
their interactions mostly hostile" (p. 47). Why did Wilkinson make that choice? Because conflict, hostility, and
even warfare, when durable (i.e., habitual, protracted, or
inescapable), are forms of association that create a social
system comprising the contestants and antagonists who
do not or cannot live as isolated groups.
A great variety of antagonistic bonding can be observed in religious and social life as well as in language
itself. Words such as dissonance, contradiction, argument, disagreement, drama, collision, and war make people recognize that there are entities that consist of, or
are even created by, oppositions between ideas, sounds,
persons, characters, bodies, and groups: "Israel and Judah, the Homeric pantheon, Congress, counterraiding
tribes, the two-party system, the Seven Against Thebes,
a Punch and Judy show, and the Hitler-Stalin pact are all
antagonistic couples and collections of separate entities
commonly recognized as internally antagonistic unities"
(Wilkinson, 1995, pp. 48-49). When an interconnectedness criterion is used for the definition of social or societal units, what are the implications of this view for
researchers' criticism of cultural dichotomies as internally homogeneous and externally distinctive?
"GIocalization": Interpenetration of the Global
and the Local
In a recent discussion of the first generation of globalization theorists, Featherstone and Lash (1995) noted that
there were two main contestants: homogenizers (e.g.,
Giddens, 1990), for whom globalization is to be seen as
a consequence of modernity, and heterogenizers (e.g.,
Said, 1978), who consider globalization as characterizing
postmodernity. Homogenizers tend to think in terms of a
world system that leads them to look primarily at the
presence of universals. Heterogenizers, on the other hand,
tend to dispute that a world system exists and disclaim
the validity of universals. Rather, heterogenizers see the
dominance of the West over "the Rest" as simply one
particular system over another system. As modernists,
most homogenizers adhere to a scientific and realist epistemology, which enables them to study the world as an
object that has an existence separate from the social analyst. Heterogenizers, in contrast, are typically not realists
but hermeneuticians who see social analysts as inseparable from their world and involved in a dialogical relationship with their subjects (Featherstone & Lash, 1995; for
the importance of cultural heterogeneity in psychology,
see Gergen, Gulerce, Lock, & Misra, 1996).
In an attempt to articulate the relationship between
the global and the local, Robertson (1995) objected to
the widespread tendency to regard the global-local issue
as a polarity consisting of mutually excluding components. This polarity is expressed in the claim that people
live in a world of local assertions against globalizing
trends. As a consequence, the idea of locality is cast as
a form of opposition or resistance to the global, which
is seen as hegemonic. An example of such opposition
can be found in the idea that people retreat into their
smaller communities as a defense against the overruling
process of globalization. Rather than considering globalization as a process that overrides locality, Robertson
dealt with the global in its local manifestations, which
he described using the composite term glocalization.
In economic terms, glocalization can take the form
of what is usually called micromarketing: the tailoring
and advertizing of goods and services on a global basis
to increasingly local markets. In a more comprehensive
sense, glocalization involves the construction of increasingly differentiated consumers and the invention of consumer traditions of which tourism, as the biggest industry
in the world today, is a clear-cut example.
Globalization in its broadest sense has involved and
increasingly involves the creation and incorporation of
locality. These processes largely shape, in turn, the compression of the world as a whole, as, for example, is
reflected in the emergence of television enterprises such
as MTV and CNN seeking global markets and focusing
on a great diversity of local developments. Therefore, it
makes sense to conjure up a process of glocalization
because, in Robertson's (1995) view, it has been directed
at making sense of two seemingly opposing trends: homogenization and heterogenization. These trends can be
depicted as not only simultaneous but also complementary and interpenetrative. The present century, in particular, has seen a remarkable proliferation with respect to
the international organization and promotion of locality.
One can refer to the current attempts to organize globally
the promotion of the rights and identities of native, or
October 1998 ° American Psychologist
indigenous, peoples (e.g., the Global Forum in Brazil in
1992). This trend is also reflected in the attempt by the
World Health Organization to promote world health by
the reactivation or even the invention of indigenous local
medicine (Robertson, 1995; for similar conclusions on
the interpenetration of the global and the local, see Featherstone, 1993; Kahn, 1995).
The existence of a world system and the phenomenon of glocalization present a particular problem for the
notion of cultural dichotomies. As traitlike distinctions,
cultural dichotomies are insensitive to any interconnectedness and interaction, and as a consequence, global processes fall squarely outside their view. As classifications,
cultural dichotomies are dividing people instead of relating them. Moreover, when cultural dichotomies distinguish individuals or groups of individuals as collectivists
or as individualists, or as predominantly collective or
predominantly individualist in their orientation, these
qualifications are insensitive to the interpenetration of the
global and the local. As long as cultures (e.g., Japanese,
Balinese, and those of indigenous people) are conceived
as localized, cultures are described and investigated without any recognition of the influences that the global has
on the local and vice versa. As externally distinctive categories, cultural dichotomies erase the pervasive influence
of global and intercultural processes on cultures and individuals. If one takes the process of glocalization seriously, there is an impact of the global on the local cultural
level that is not recognized by cultural dichotomies and
thereby neglected in mainstream academic, cultural research. This is highly problematic because, in an era of
increasing globalization in which the global and the local
continuously interpenetrate, cultures increasingly develop
as interconnected parts of a world system. As a consequence, both the presumed internal homogeneity of cultures and their conception as externally distinctive are
called into question.
Third Challenge: Cultural Complexity
Recent trends in social anthropology provide a third challenge to cultural dichotomies: the increasing cultural
complexity. In a comprehensive treatment of this development, Hannerz (1992) proposed the concept of cultural
flow in opposition to the view of culture as having a
single essence. In elaborating on this idea, he distinguished, not unlike Berger and Luckmann (1966), between three dimensions of culture, which in their combination help to understand culture as susceptible to global
dynamics: (a) ideas and modes of thought: the entire
array of concepts, propositions, values, and mental operations that people within some social unit carry together;
(b) forms of externalization: the different ways in which
ideas and modes of thought are made public and accessible to the senses (e.g., forms of art, interstate highways,
particular kinds of food or computers); and (c) social
distribution: the ways in which the ideas and modes of
thought and external forms, that is (a) and (b) together,
are spread over a population and its social relationships.
A guiding assumption is that the three dimensions are
October 1998 • American Psychologist
interrelated, so that complexity on one dimension is influenced by the complexity on the others. It follows from
this that complexity along the first dimension, in contemporary culture, is to a large extent (although not entirely)
a consequence of complexity along the latter two.
For our purposes, it is relevant to point to Hannerz's
(1992) observation that traditional anthropology has been
especially concerned with the first of the three dimensions. That is, understanding structures of (shared)
knowledge, beliefs, experience, and meaning, in all their
subtlety and range of variation, has been the core of
cultural analysis. Moreover, anthropologists have occupied themselves, to some extent, with the relationship
between the first and the second dimensions: the ways in
which ideas and modes of thought find expression in a
somewhat limited range of manifest forms (e.g., speech,
music, graphic arts, or other communicative forms). On
the whole, the least attention has been devoted to the
third dimension, that of distribution.
Technology plays a major part in the second and
third dimension, Hannerz (1992) continued. Media, in
particular, are "machineries of meaning": they enable
communication without being in one another' s immediate
presence. In the small-scale societies of the world, there
is little of such technology: drum languages or smoke
signals, for example. In these societies, people typically
have face-to-face contact through oral communication.
The cultures of complex societies, however, make use of
writing, print, radio, telephones, telegraph, photography,
film, disk and tape recording, television, video, and computers. This range of different modes of externalization
simultaneously constrains and makes possible not only
the construction of new meaning systems (impact of the
second dimension on the first) but also the distribution
of such systems globally (impact of the third dimension
on the first and second). Given the interrelatedness of the
three dimensions, there is an increase in complexity in
each of them. (For the emergence of networks of information and their impact on meaning systems, see Castells,
1989; Luke, 1995; for the problem of uneven distribution
of knowledge, see Hannerz, 1992, pp. 32-33.)
The authors of the cultural dichotomies, summarized
in the beginning of this article (Dumont, 1985; Kirkpatrick & White, 1985; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Marsella, 1985; Sampson, 1988; Shweder & Bourne, 1984;
Triandis, 1989; Weisz, Rothbaum, & Blackburn, 1984),
have typically proposed a definition of culture as a package of ideas, values, and practices; as a repertoire of
schemas; as a system of meanings, symbols, and actions;
as a syndrome of beliefs, norms, attitudes, and roles; and
as a pattern of self-definitions centered around a theme.
In other words, these authors have mainly focused on
definitions of culture along the first dimension (and sometimes the second dimension) as described above. Such a
depiction of culture corresponds with the metaphor of
the internally homogeneous localized society but neglects
the problem of complexity so typical of contemporary
societies. It is our view that this complexity can only be
properly understood if the dimensions of externalization
and global distribution are more explicitly taken into
We have presented three challenges to the tradition
of cultural dichotomies: the increasing cultural connections, the impact of the global system, and the accelerating cultural complexity. It is our view that these challenges have implications not only for conceptions of cultural dichotomies but even for one of the core
assumptions on which the field of cross-cultural psychology is based: culture as geographically located.
Toward a Deterritorializotion of Culture
Cross-cultural psychologists are certainly aware that the
metaphor of culture as an internally homogeneous society
is becoming increasingly problematic. In a theoretical
contribution to the recently published Handbook of
Cross-Cultural Psychology, Miller (1997) admitted that
attention should be paid to the heterogeneity of cultural
meanings and practices at the level of subgroups within
populations. Cultural knowledge is to some extent
shared, but the degree of sharedness varies. Some subgroups have more access to specific cultural messages
than others, partly as a result of differential influence on
their formation. For example, families or workgroups
maintain systems of meaning and practices that may not
be maintained within larger population groupings, such
as cities, geographical locations, or the nation. However,
Miller continued, the existence of heterogeneity should
not lead to the conclusion that cultural meanings and
practices are so diverse that it is impossible to characterize them in terms of meaningful thematic tendencies.
Miller then quoted Geertz (1973):
It's possible to overthematize, and it's possible to und e r t h e m a t i z e . . , the elements of culture are not like
a pile of sand and not like a spider's web. It's more
like an octopus, a rather badly integrated c r e a t u r e - what passes for a brain keeps it together, more or less,
in one ungainly whole. (Miller, 1997, p. 105)
Although Miller (1997), in the tradition of Geertz
(1973), acknowledged the relevance of cultural heterogeneity, the question of whether an organic metaphor (e.g.,
a brain) is adequate enough for the characterization of
cultural processes can be raised. A contrasting view was
presented by the anthropologist Clifford (1988), who
questioned whether organic metaphors are applicable to
the social dimension of cultural phenomena:
Groups negotiating their identity in contexts of domination and exchange persist, patch themselves together
in ways different from a living organism. A community, unlike a body, can lose a central "organ" and
not die. All the critical elements of identity are in
specific conditions replaceable: language, land, blood,
leadership, religion. Recognized viable tribes exist in
which any one or even most of these elements are
missing, replaced, or largely transformed. (Clifford,
1988, p. 338; italics added)
With Clifford (1988), we take the view that a centralized conception of culture, as represented by an organic metaphor, does not fully acknowledge the growing
heterogeneity and diversification of cultures. Although a
cross-cultural psychologist such as Miller (1997) gave
some room for heterogeneity, she did so within the constraints of an organic metaphor. Such a metaphor presupposes by its nature a centralized conception of culture.
To more fully acknowledge the impact of increasing interconnectedness, accelerated globalization, and increased
complexity, other metaphors are needed that give more
room for decentralization.
Centralization and geographical localization are
closely related issues. One can only think of organisms
as occupying a particular place on earth. In accordance
with this idea, research on cultural dichotomies takes
geographically localized cultures as its basic units. One
of the most comprehensive studies in cross-cultural psychology by Hofstede (1980, 1983) consisted of a comparison of 50 national cultures and three regions. Such an
approach is in accord with Triandis's (1980) conception
of culture as defined by three criteria: place (a local
community), time (a particular historical period), and language (intelligibility). Research on cultural dichotomies,
leading to comparisons among the West and the rest, also
takes geographical units as its starting point.
Travel and Translocality
Cross-cultural psychology' s conception of culture as geographically located and centralized is increasingly challenged by recent developments in social anthropology.
In an attempt to account for the dynamics of cultural
interconnectedness, Clifford (1997) expanded on his earlier ideas by taking "travel" as a metaphor for capturing
the relationship between cultures. Since the generations
of Malinowski and Margaret Mead, professional ethnography has been based on intensive dwelling, although
temporary, in delimited fields. Such a field was a centered
and circumscribed place like a garden, from which the
word culture derives its original meaning. In later generations, ethnographic work became less a matter of localized dwelling and more a series of travel encounters.
Travel represents an increasingly complex range of experiences that troubles the localism implicit in many conceptions of culture. Travel decentralizes the notion of
culture, in that cultural action and the making and remaking of identifies take place not in the middle of the dwelling but in the contact zones along the intercultural frontiers of nations, peoples, and locales. The metaphor of
travel leads to an increased interest in diasporas, borderland, immigration, migration, tourism, museums, exhibitions, pilgrimage, and exile (Clifford, 1997).
The Emergence of Global Landscapes
From the metaphor of travel, a familiar term like acculturation becomes complicated because it assumes an
October 1998 • American Psychologist
overly linear trajectory from Culture A to Culture B.
Contact zones, instead, permit a two-way intensification
of contact and are, moreover, open to forms of communication that run across the boundaries of many groups and
cultures simultaneously. Cultural flows fragment existing
homogeneities of localized groups. A frequently cited
example in the literature of global system theory is Appadurai's (1990) distinction between five categories of
global landscapes: ethnoscapes (e.g., immigrants, tourists, refugees, guest workers, exiles, and other moving
groups), technoscapes (i.e., global configuration of technology, both mechanical and informational), mediascapes
(e.g., newspapers, television stations, film production studios), finanscapes (e.g., currency markets, stock exchanges, commodity speculations), and ideoscapes (e.g.,
ideology of states and counterideologies of movements,
ideas about freedom, rights, welfare). Whereas in traditional homogeneous societies, ideology, media communication, and technology are to some degree integrated,
they are widely separated and disjunctive in contemporary societies. For example, a disjuncture between ideoscapes and mediascapes can be seen in many countries
in the Middle East and Asia, where the lifestyles presented on national and international television and cinema
completely overwhelm and undermine the rhetoric of national politics (Appadurai, 1990).
In Appadurai's (1990) analyses, the scapes create
new contact zones across national groups and cultures,
leading to their deterritorialization, which he considered
one of the central forces of the modern world. In principle, the notion of deterritorialization applies to each of
the scapes. For example, deterritorialization brings laboring populations from abroad into the lower class sectors of relatively wealthy societies. At the same time,
many of these groups have intensive media contact with
their homelands, which often leads to deep-felt criticisms
or attachments to the politics of their country of origin.
Money managers are also in search of the best markets
for their investments, independent of national boundaries.
Such boundary crossing may be the basis of conflict, as
Los Angelinos may worry about the Japanese buying up
their city, and, similarly, inhabitants of Bombay object
to rich Arabs from the Gulf States who, in the eyes of
the population, have profoundly altered the profile of
hotels, restaurants, and other services.
Intersystems and scapes create transnational contact
zones of a global kind, running across a great diversity
of cultures and not only reducing their homogeneity but
also transforming their locality into translocality. In fact,
this translocality leads, together with the increasing globalization and complexity, to a far-reaching deterritorialization of culture.
In summary, research on cultural dichotomies, a
centerpiece of cross-cultural psychology, is based on the
implicit assumption of cultures as internally homogeneous and externally distinctive. Three challenges are discussed that increasingly put this assumption under pressure: cultural connection, the impact of global systems,
and the notion of cultural complexity. Against the backOctober 1998 • American Psychologist
ground of these challenges, another assumption of crosscultural psychology is called into question: culture as
geographically located. Instead of conceiving of cultures
as being restricted to locations, we emphasize the relevance of intersystems, mixture, travel, contact zones, and
multiple identities. What then is the implication of our
view? What are the consequences for future research?
Culture as Moving and Mixing
Without the pretension of having an overview of the implications of the presented view, we briefly sketch three
themes as suggestive research examples. They are derived
from one of the developments described in this article or
combinations of them. Without doubt, more topics could
be given, and different researchers may see different implications. The presented topics are intended as first
From Core to Contact Zones
More attention should be given to the contact zones between cultures. Cross-cultural research is typically oriented to the core aspect of culture rather than to its periphery. From the present point of view, the periphery
becomes salient as the meeting point between different
cultures. This does not mean that the boundaries between
cultures are erased but, rather, that they become increasingly permeable. For research, this means that the attention should shift from a comparison between countries
or regions to the study of cultural processes on the contact
zones as exemplified by the growing amount of international contacts, networks, organizations, and institutions,
which are populated by people from different cultural
origin. Research could focus on the different global landscapes (Appadurai, 1990) as transnational contact zones.
For example, in the ethnoscape, research may deal with
cultural changes in the meanings and practices of people
who-meet other cultural groups through tourism or by
their contacts with colleagues or friends from international organizations, institutions, and networks. How do
the meanings and practices of the contacting partners
change as a result of their communication, understandings, and misunderstandings and conflict and power differences in these contact zones? Does tourism and other
forms of intemational contact lead to an increased or
decreased valuation of other cultures and their traditions,
and how does it affect the people who are visited? Do
they feel that their cultures are undermined or enriched?
In the mediascape, research may focus, for example, on
emerging Internet communities and networks. What happens in the minds of people, and in their practices, when
they entertain intensive contact with representatives of
other cultures without any bodily, localized contact?
What is the role of imagination and how do people respond to discrepancies between realities defined as imag• inal and realities defined as actual? What is the impact
of quickly shifting and transient imaginal or actual contacts with people from other cultures, and how do people
process information from a great diversity or even an
overload of cultural contacts? In this manner, more re1117
search questions could be raised along different global
landscapes or combinations of them.
Cultural Complexity of Self and IdenKly
As we have argued, cultural complexity follows not only
from the multiplicity of meanings and practices shared
by a community (Dimension 1) but also from the external
forms (Dimension 2) and the ways in which such meanings, practices, and forms are distributed across a population (Dimension 3; see Hannerz, 1992). This has serious
implications for a psychology of self and identity. One
of them is that these concepts are studied not so much
as a learning, developmental, or social process within a
culture but as an interactional meeting place of positions
from diverse cultural origin. This interactional meeting
place can be structured along the three dimensions described above. For example, in a recent Dutch television
program, a group of Turkish artists living in the Netherlands played the roles of several migrant and Dutch identities in their mutual interactions, playfully, humoristically, and ironically demonstrating the stereotypes
attached to these communities. The Dutch audience could
hear the stereotypes they themselves use regarding these
migrant groups from the mouth of migrant artists speaking perfectly some of the Dutch dialects. In this example,
we find not only an explicitation of cultural meanings
(i.e., stereotypes) but also externalization (i.e., television
medium) and distribution (i.e., broadcasting and video
storage that permits repetitive viewing and further distribution). The psychological relevance of such an event is
in the following questions: How does the audience, being
confronted with their own stereotypes, change or confirm
these stereotypes? How is the xenophobia of the audience
affected? To what extent and in what way do the selves
of the players change? What is the influence of role playing and shifting between cultural positions on the complexity of selves and identities of players and the
More generally, multivoicedness and dialogue (Bakhtin, 1929/1973; Billig, 1998; Fogel, 1993; Gergen, 1991;
Gregg, 1991; Hermans, Kempen, & Van Loon, 1992;
Sampson,. 1993; Shotter, 1992; Taylor, 1991; Valsiner,
1997; Wertsch, 1991) are closely related to cultural complexity. On the basis of these notions self or identity can
be conceived of as a dynamic multiplicity of different
and even contrasting positions or voices that allow mutual
dialogical relationships (Hermans, 1996a, 1996b; Herm a n s & Kempen, 1993). Different and contrasting cultures can be part of a repertoire of collective voices playing their part in a multivoiced self: I can speak differentially as a psychologist, a man, a Catholic, a member of
a conservative Dutch family, but I can also speak as an
American insofar as I am familiar with North American
culture. I know this culture from movies, songs, pop art,
congresses, and professional contacts. Different research
questions can be posed: Which voices are part of the
self, how broad is the repertory of voices, which situations require or invite me to shift between the voices?
Under what circumstances are new voices introduced,
and what are the consequences to other voices and their
dialogical potentials? Which voices are introduced as the
result of distributive processes across a population? To
what extent are cultural voices heterogeneous, and what
is the cultural unit or contact zone where they are shared
with other individuals or groups? Ideas and research on
multiculturalism (Fowers & Richardson, 1996) could be
expanded and developed along these lines.
Particular attention is required for the mixing of
cultural positions or voices. For example, when an artist
of Arabic origin works in Germany, can this be conceptualized in terms of two separate cultural positions (Arabic
and German) that are available and between which the
person shifts from time to time? Or is a third position
emerging that can be seen as a mixture of the two original
ones? If so, do the original positions retreat or vanish,
or are they accessible in their original forms dependent
on change of situation? To what extent is the art produced
by this person a mixture of two cultures, and is this art
perceived as innovative or traditional in the cultures of
origin? More generally, what is the innovative and creative power of hybridity?
The Experience of Uncertainly
Without doubt, the process of globalization arouses a
great deal of uncertainty. Globalization is easily understood as contrary to living one's "authentic life" in
peace, partly because authenticity and pureness, however
conceptualized, is better suited to a homogeneous, stable,
localized, and predictable society than an increasingly
heterogeneous, changing, translocal, and unpredictable
global world. From a research perspective, uncertainty is
a highly significant point in case, because it provides
an interface between the present view and cross-cultural
psychology. The concept of uncertainty is represented in
one of Hofstede's (1980) cultural dimensions (uncertainty avoidance) and is at the same time a significant
experience in the process of globalization and hybridization (Canclini, 1995). The following questions can be
posed: Under what circumstances do people experience
uncertainty, and how do they respond to it? Do they
respond with forms of certainty reduction or uncertainty
avoidance? What strategies are available to people dealing with an increase of uncertainty? Do they prefer relativizing strategies or absolutizing ones? Or, do they simply avoid uncertainty as part of a zapping lifestyle and
prefer to travel through an endless series of fragmented
In our view, uncertainty reduction or avoidance is
not conceived as a value that people carry with them or
a stabilized trait that they simply "have," individually
or collectively, but as a dynamic and contextualized way
of interpreting one's place in the world. Uncertainty can
be studied, for example, by comparing the positions people have in different global landscapes. When a person
participates simultaneously in different networks (e.g.,
financial, ideological, or technological) and these worlds
are to a large extent disjunctive, that person may be confronted with uncertainties, contradictions, ambiguities,
October 1998 • American Psychologist
and c o n t r a s t i n g interests. H o w do t h e y find their w a y
w h e n they m o v e across such c o n t a c t z o n e s w i t h o u t any
o v e r a l l i n t e g r a t i v e k n o w l e d g e s y s t e m that m i g h t b e helpful in o r g a n i z i n g their lives i n t e l l i g i b l y ? H o w do t h e y
r e s p o n d ? D o they c o n s t r u c t an i n d i v i d u a l i z e d c o m b i n a tion o f s o m e o f the l a n d s c a p e s , do they s u p e r s p e c i a l i z e
in o n e o f them, o r are do t h e y r e c o m b i n e e l e m e n t s to
f o r m d i f f e r e n t l a n d s c a p e s into n e w m i x t u r e s ? R e g a r d l e s s ,
u n c e r t a i n t y is not p r i m a r i l y in a c u l t u r e ' s c o r e but in its
c o n t a c t zones.
I n this a r t i c l e , w e h a v e c r i t i c i z e d the p s y c h o l o g i c a l
t r a d i t i o n o f c u l t u r a l d i c h o t o m i e s as r e p r e s e n t i n g c u l tures as i n t e r n a l l y h o m o g e n e o u s a n d e x t e r n a l l y d i s t i n c tive. W e h a v e e l a b o r a t e d o u r c r i t i c i s m b y q u e s t i o n i n g
a core assumption of cross-cultural psychology: culture
as g e o g r a p h i c a l l y l o c a t e d . C r o s s - c u l t u r a l p s y c h o l o g i s t s
c o n t i n u e to t h i n k and d o r e s e a r c h o n the b a s i s o f t h e s e
p r e m i s e s , c r e a t i n g an i n c r e a s i n g t e n s i o n w i t h the o t h e r wise continuing process of globalization. This tension
c a n o n l y b e r e s o l v e d w h e n the s o c i a l r e a l m r e c e i v e s
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