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[xmca] guns, germs, and steel
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- Date: Sat, 25 Feb 2012 20:15:22 +0000
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In Cultural Psychology, Mike Cole traces cultural psych back to at least Herodotus, who tried to understand Mediterranean cultures to figure out why they came into conflict. The psychology Mike et al. pursue is thus cultural and historical, looking at the history of cognition as it is shaped culturally and historically in relation to problems presented by concentric environments. I've always found this idea very provocative, which is undoubtedly why I'm drawn to the work of Mike and his social, cultural, and historical influences.
I'm presently reading a book that locates this cultural history, at least in its formative stages, in geography: Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. Now, this book is hardly my own discovery. It was published in 1997, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize (in the US, a high honor), and was NY Times bestseller, so I'm not claiming to have unearthed a rare gem here. But it's surely a gem. Here's a brief description from Wikipedia:
His third and best known popular science book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guns,_Germs,_and_Steel:_The_Fates_of_Human_Societies>, was published in 1997. In it, Diamond seeks to explain Eurasian<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurasia> hegemony<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hegemony> throughout history. Using evidence from ecology<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecology>, archaeology<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeology>, genetics<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetics>, linguistics<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistics>, and various historical<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History> case studies, he argues that the gaps in power and technology between human societies do not reflect cultural or racial differences, but rather originate in environmental differences powerfully amplified by various positive feedback loops<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_feedback>.
As a result, the geography of the Eurasian landmass gave its human inhabitants an inherent advantage over the societies on other continents, which they were able to dominate or conquer. Although certain examples in the book, and its alleged environmental determinism<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_determinism>, have been criticised, it became a best-seller, and received numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulitzer_Prize>, an Aventis Prize for Science Books<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aventis_Prize_for_Science_Books><http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jared_Diamond#cite_note-rsocprizes-8> (Diamond's second), and the 1997 Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phi_Beta_Kappa_Award_in_Science>. A television documentary<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Television_documentary> based on the book was produced by the National Geographic Society<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Geographic_Society> in 2005.
Actually I'd disagree with this account. Gaps in power do not reflect cultural differences in the sense that, to give one example, European cultures were not (as they believed) w inherently better than the aboriginal cultures that they conquered during their era of conquest and colonization. That is, although European-based cultures believed that their inherent superiority enabled conquest, the culture itself was a by-product of geography. Domestication became more likely across Eurasia than in the Americas because the continental geography enabled latitudinal exchanges of plants and animals along similar climate lines. The longitudinal orientation of Africa and the Americas, in contrast, produced too many climate ranges that prohibited exchanges of crops and the animals that could be domesticated on them, and geographical boundaries (e.g., the isthmus of Panama) that reduced north/south traffic and thus the exchange of goods and technologies.
So, a long introduction to a short question: Has anyone put the field of Human Geography (in which Diamond's work can be categorized) in dialogue with cultural-historical psychology? They seem such an ideal match, and indeed, it seems that Diamond's work ought to be a cornerstone of CHT and its variants. But I don't remember ever seeing them synthesized to produce a rich understanding of cultural history and social practice. Is anyone else aware of such work?
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