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Journal Article

The need for systematic ethnopsychology: The ontological status of mentalistic terminology


Turner,  Robert
Department Neurophysics, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Turner, R. (2012). The need for systematic ethnopsychology: The ontological status of mentalistic terminology. Anthropological Theory, 12(1), 29-42. doi:10.1177/1463499612436462.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-5E63-D
The conceptual foundations and ontology of cognitive neuroscience are rarely analysed in cross-cultural perspective, although they are manifestly the outcome of historical currents in specifically Western psychological science. How robust such concepts are, and how generalizable to other cultures, is thus quite problematic. Users of empirical techniques in imaging neuroscience are now actively exploring such topics as attention, volition, emotion and empathy, but with little awareness of how well or badly these concepts can be translated. This essay addresses issues of cultural bias and the potentially misleading use of extended metaphors in the typical deployment of mentalistic terminology, and suggests that there may be alternative conceptualizations, perhaps inspired by phenomenology, which would have less cultural baggage. Ultimately, the most scientifically useful ontology for interpreting and predicting human action may result from an integration of high quality ethnographic reports of mentalistic concepts and terminology found in other cultures. Social and cultural anthropologists are urged to prioritize the identification of such concepts during their fieldwork experience.