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RE: [xmca] Culture & Rationality

Martin - this is a reference to Richard Nisbett's recent work, is this what you're looking for?  this is a quote from his web page regarding "Geography of Thought", which came out a few years back.

"The Geography of Thought shows that East Asia and the West have had different systems of thought, including perception, assumptions about the nature of the world, and thinking processes, for thousands of years. Ancient Greek philosophers were "analytic" — objects and people are separated from their environment, categorized, and reasoned about using logical rules. Psychological experiments show the same is true of ordinary Westerners today. Ancient Chinese philosophers and ordinary East Asians today share a "holistic" orientation — perceiving and thinking about objects in relation to their environments and reasoning dialectically, trying to find the Middle Way between opposing propositions. Differences in thought stem from differences in social practices, with the West being individualistic and the East collectivistic. "

Nisbett is at university of michigan.  he does not assert that western or east asian systems of thought are better between one or the other - just that they're different and that it's connected to social practices.  though possibly his explanation is too cause and effect - and he does makes connections between what a phd dissertation in china would look like compared to one is the west. (the chinese dissertation is iterative and circular, which i connected to some african-american oral story conventions, while a western dissertation is linear in practice, which i connect to the way 'creative writing' is taught in elementary school with the emphasis is setting, character development, linear narrative in which a problem is introduced, conflict, followed by solution and resolution.

anyway, some thoughts here reflecting on Huw's emphasis on systems of thought.


Phillip White, PhD
Urban Community Teacher Education Program
School of Education & Human Development
University of Colorado Denver
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Martin Packer [packer@duq.edu]
Sent: Friday, June 29, 2012 10:46 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Culture & Rationality


What I meant by this - unclearly said, for sure, but I'm trying to work all this out myself, I don't have a hidden agenda - was that we already have lots of studies that claim to show that people in non-western cultures employ kinds of rationality that differ from 'ours' - but always that they are 'weaker' rationalities.

On the other hand we have more recent studies that (to generalize wildly) claim to demonstrate that 'in fact' these people from other cultures are using the 'same' logic that we do. To pick one example, I believe that this is what Ed Hutchins did in his study of a Trobriand legal dispute...

Hutchins, E. (1980). Culture and inference: A Trobriand case study (Vol. 2). Harvard Univ Press.

.. but I've not yet read the whole book.

What we don't seem to have (much) are studies that show a different rationality that is not weaker. Perhaps the Bates & Bates article I cited a day or so is one of the few.

Does this help? What's your take on this tricky topic?


On Jun 29, 2012, at 10:53 AM, Huw Lloyd wrote:

> How about "demonstrably weaker"?  Do you mean expressively more powerful,
> such as Bakhtin's assertion that the novel is more expressive than earlier
> forms of writing, or has better survival value, or something else?

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