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Mattingly, C., Lutkehaus, N.C., & Throop, C.J. (2008). Bruner's search for meaning: A conversation between psychology and anthropology. Ethos, 36, 1-28.

  author =	{Mattingly, Cheryl and Lutkehaus, Nancy C. and Throop, C. Jason},
  title =	{Bruner's Search for Meaning: A Conversation between Psychology and Anthropology},
  journal =	{Ethos},
  year = 	{2008},
  volume =	{36},
  number =	{1},
  pages = 	{1--28},
  month =	{March}

Author of the summary: Dejan Milacic, 2012, dejan.milacic@gmail.com

Cite this paper for:

The actual paper can be found at http://www.jasonthroop.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Bruner.pdf

Jerome Bruner

Jerome Bruner's work as a psychologist has had much success in bringing together the disciplines of anthropology and psychology. Bruner asserts that meaning should have a place in any study of human psychology. This meaning-centred psychology was intended as a response to behaviourism and supported the idea of an interdisciplinary study of human activity. An important interdisciplinary link within this study is that of psychology and anthropology.

Bruner insists that meaning is neither biologically innate nor created in the mind. He posits that meaning is rooted in culture rather than biology. He argues "that culture and the quest for meaning within culture are the proper causes of human action"(Bruner 1990).

Bruner posits that:
Meaning making draws from symbolic systems rooted in culture and language.
"a 'great divide' in evolution was crossed with the introduction of language and culture."[p2]
Humans are "incomplete or unfinished animals who complete or finish [them]selves through culture"(Bruner 1990)

Bruner was skeptical of the culture and personality school as a useful effort to bring anthropology and psychology together. He found an anthropological foundation for a cultural psychology in interpretive anthropology, concerned with symbols and the cration of meaning.

Cultural Psychology

Psychology played a role in training early anthropologists. Anthropologist Franz Boas was a student of psychologist Wilhelm Wundt.
Boas argued against the idea that race determines intelligence (1911).
Little other research was done on comparative thought processes until the late 1950s and the birth of cognitive anthropology.[p4](Bock 1988)

Bruner was skeptical of psychoanalysis and anthropological contributions to it in the 1920s.
Anthropologists adopted and began using the psychological notion of configuration in the 1920s.
Bruner recognized the role of child care as a significant force in enculturation.[p5]

Bruner was skeptical of any study of personality.
Sapir: "every person has a unique culture because, first, his personal history brings him into contact with a unique configuration of influences in a manner consistent with the unique organization of his personality"(Handler 2005) Cultural anthropology "is valuable [to psychiatry] because it is constantly rediscovering the normal"(Sapir 1966)

Bruner's interest in the mind and meaning making led him to take an early interest in the works of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, but Piaget's isolation of the individual was off-putting to Bruner. He argues that context is a critical element shaping mental development[p7] This view is supported by studies of children in different cultural contexts that eventually led to the development of cultural psychology, the study of mind, language, and culture. (Bruner et al. 1966)

Psychological Anthropology and Bruner's Cultural Psychology

Psychological anthropology seeks to understand subjective experience (among other things) and rejects the idea that a tabula rasa mind simply acquires culture. The acquisition of culture is influenced by mental structures, functions, and processes. Psychological anthropology (and cultural psychology) seeks to understand the nature of this influence.

Narrative, Cognition, and the Self

Narrative as: reasoning, language, sense-making, structuring action, creating self-identity.
Reality is narratively constructed.
"the concept of intention is... 'irreducible' in the human mind."[p11]
Proposed "biological basis for narrative apprehension of the world."[p11]

"one can make a strong argument for the irreducible nature of the concept of intention (much as Kant did for the concept of causation)" (Bruner 1986)
Humans ascribe intentions to moving geometric shapes on a screen and connect intentional movements narratively.(1986)

All stories have the same elements, including mental narratives (characters, conflict, etc.). They explore possibilities rather than certainties.(1986)

"Culture provides...'symbolic systems' offering tools necessary to construct meaning"[p12]
"Meaning, via culture, is 'rendered public and shared'."[p12](Bruner 1990)
Shared meaning allows interpretation regardless the ambiguity of discourse.
Culture is a narrative which new-comers come to understand with the help of elders.

Cultural psychology should concern itself with folk psychology.
"the organizing principle of folk psychology is narrative"[p13]
Narrative apprehension of the world is a learned capacity, regardless the existence of a biological basis thereof.
Narrative schemas allow people to manoeuvre in their social world with relative ease.(Bruner 1990)
"it is only when constituent beliefs in a folk psychology are violated that narratives are constructed"(1990)

Thick description: Anthropological interpretations of how cultural actors are interpreting their world, "explicating explications[and so on...]"(Geertz 1973)
Bruner: narrative in education and law --> narrative in medicine

"Bruner's theory of culture and meaning making [(above assertions)] is radical"[p16](Geertz 2000)

A Universal Cultural Psychology

(1) delimits and routinizes the ordinary,
(2) limits and defines the possible, and
(3) offers a means to [make] sense of breaches or violations to what is otherwise culturally expected"[p16](Bruner)

Experimental Methods

"is cultural psychology possible in zones of intimate familiarity with particular communities of practice to which one already belongs?
...is it possible to be a cultural psychologist while employing experimental methods?
...is thick description and participant observation... essential to the enterprise of cultural psychology? Or are these two varieties of a number of suitable methodologies that may be employed?"[p20]

Summary author's notes:

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