What went wrong in cross-cultural psychology over the past 40 years? The developmental approach in opposition to two main ideologies of our time, cultural relativism and universalism of mind

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 32 – n.1-2 – 2017

DOI: 10.14673/HE2017121026
Key words: Developmental psychology, cross-cultural psychology, psychological stages, cultural relativism, universalism of mind, history of the human being.

From roughly 1850 to 1950 theories were widespread according to which greater parts of premodern humankind were at childlike psychological stages, or resembled children in many aspects. It was believed that modern civilization resulted from the psychogenetic advancement of those people who lived in the Western nations. Many representatives of early developmental psychology, psychoanalysis, sociology, ethnology, and historical disciplines contributed to this approach. Especially after 1970, however, “cultural relativism” and “universalism of mind” very quickly conquered practically every human discipline right across the five continents, and replaced the previously strong developmental theories that still adhered to the prewar theories mentioned. Deficit and developmental theories were removed by relativistic approaches that, since that time, have dominated the ideas of the scientific, media, and political establishment throughout the world. This article scrutinizes the argumentation of the relativistic approaches, and proves their many mistakes. It is argued that the dominance of relativism and universalism has led to catastrophic developments right across the whole range of the human disciplines, endangering and blocking their progress. Further, the article implies a far-reaching rehabilitation of the prewar theories, which were more advanced than the currently most influential relativistic and universalistic approaches. What has happened in cross-cultural psychology is nothing less than a scandal and a breakdown of scientific standards.

Oesterdiekhoff, G.W.
Department of Sociology
Karlsruhe Institute for Technology
Karlsruhe, Germany.
E-mail: Oesterdiekhoff@t-online.de

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