Asian Indigenous Psychologies in the Global Context
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Asian Indigenous Psychologies in the Global Context

Kuang-Hui Yeh

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Asian Indigenous Psychologies in the Global Context

Kuang-Hui Yeh

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?This volume introduces Asian indigenous psychologies with an emphasis on major theoretical and practical issues. The contributions demonstrate the potential for the indigenous psychologies of Asia to offer an alternative model of the internationalization of psychology—an internationalization not dominated by Western psychology.As a whole, this volume explores knowledge production outside of Western psychology; asks important questions about the discipline, profession, and practice of Asian indigenous psychology; makes critical appraises of cultural and psychological assumptions; sheds light on the dialectics of the universal and the particular in indigenous psychology; and explores the possibilities for a more equitable global psychology.

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© The Author(s) 2019
Kuang-Hui Yeh (ed.)Asian Indigenous Psychologies in the Global ContextPalgrave Studies in Indigenous Psychology
Begin Abstract

1. Introduction

Kuang-Hui Yeh1, 2 and Louise Sundararajan3
Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan
Department of Psychology, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
Rochester, NY, USA
Kuang-Hui Yeh
End Abstract
Asian indigenous psychology is a particular form of Asian psychology, marked by its commitment to indigenous psychology (IP). An introduction to Asian indigenous psychology, therefore, needs to start with an overview of IP. The late Jahoda (2016) claimed that IP is in demise due to its intrinsic weaknesses, most notable among which are diversity, lack of consensus, lack of identity and lack of scientific rigor. For a formal rebuttal of Jahoda (2016), the reader may consult Hwang (2016). For our purposes, we use Jahoda’s (2016) critique as a key part of reaching a clearer vision of IP.

What Is Indigenous Psychology (IP)?

Put it succinctly, IP is an intellectual movement across the globe to resist the hegemony of Western psychology in representations of the human mind, and in investigations of local mentality. This definition has the following implications:


One way to understand an intellectual movement is to think of it as a mighty river with many tributaries such as critical psychology (Teo, 2015), postcolonial psychology (Hook, 2012), and psychology of First Nations (Wilson, 2008), none of which, however, are recognized by Jahoda (2016) as disciplines relevant to IP. Another way is to conceive of IP as a verb, not a noun. As a verb, IP refers to a dynamic ongoing process that is bound to change over time, including “radical” shifts “in [the] meaning of ‘IP’” (Jahoda, 2016, p. 178). As a process, all existing IPs are approximations to the visions of IP, rather than finished products. Of course, this is the way we judge any pursuit of ideals, including democracy. By contrast, Jahoda (2016) approaches IP as a noun—a static, finished product. This is characteristic of majority groups’ approach to minority groups, which are considered as something lesser in being hence relatively less dynamic and open ended. To complicate matters, Jahoda (2016) follows one particularly problematic definition of IP (Kim & Berry, 1993), which he himself points out; when that version of IP leads Jahoda down a dead-end street, he declares IP to be infeasible.


The intellectual attributes of IP have the following implications:
  • To the extent that cultures are memes (Lindenfors, 2017), which are—like epidemics—not bound by national or geographical boundaries, IP and nationality are not synonymous terms. Mistakenly looking for IP along geographical and national divides, Jahoda (2016) found only one full-fledged IP of a particular country—Filipino psychology (Enriquez, 1993). This reinforced his suspicion as to whether IP really exists.
  • As an intellectual enterprise, IPs can be unified through science. Put another way, science is the language through which IPs communicate with one another and with other disciplines. By science, we mean scientific inquiry, which is the guiding principle across modern disciplines ranging from psychology, anthropology and sociology, to the humanities. This notion of science deviates from Jahoda’s (2016) narrow definition of science in terms of experimental and quantitative approaches. For IP, a broader definition of science that embraces many disciplines beyond psychology is necessary, since culture is a complex phenomenon, the understanding of which requires insights from multiple disciplines.
  • As to the question of intellectual identity, Jahoda (2016) complains of the lack of identity in IP, as evidenced by its overlap with cross cultural psychology in topics and methods. We believe that intellectual independence is necessary and possible, regardless of the overlap with other sub-fields of psychology. We also believe that it is the research goal, not the research topic or method, that sets IP apart from mainstream psychology. As a research programme (Allwood, 2011), the goal of IP is to investigate and understand local cultural phenomena without reducing them to variables of behavior or of the brain. IP can certainly use scientific findings on behavior or the brain to shed light on a particular cultural phenomenon, but it does not reduce the latter to the former. In this sense IP is complementary to but different from many sub-fields in mainstream psychology, including cross-cultural psychology.

The Intellectual Makeup of IP

The training of IP consists of two major components: importing theory and method from the West; and drawing on traditional resources from the local culture (literature, history, philosophy, etc.) in hypothesis testing and theory construction.
This intellectual hybridity of IP is problematic to Jahoda (2016). He sees a dilemma on multiple grounds. First of all, according to Kim and Berry (1993), IP has to do with the study of behavior that is not transported from other regions. This definition of IP casts a jaundiced glance at anything imported from the West. Secondly, it sounds like treason for the IP researchers to be trained in Western science, but to then refuse to accept its hegemony. Jahoda (2016) calls this a dilemma: “The dilemma was that of wanting IPs to share the prestige of science, while at the same time displaying a reluctance to be shackled by the demands of rigor; it tended to result in more flexible re-definition of ‘science’” (p. 177). However, both redefinition of science and rejection of its received wisdom are fine examples of critical thinking, which is an intrinsic component of science. Unfortunately, Jahoda (2016) considers exercises of critical thinking as exemplified by critical psychology to be outside the scope of IP.

Measuring the Success of IP

As Intellectual Tools

Contrary to his portrayal of IP as being on the decline, Jahoda (2016) concludes: “So it appears that both ‘IP’ and indigenization have come to serve as intellectual tools in a much broader context than that originally envisaged” (p. 178). To the extent that, as Vygotsky points out, language is one of the most important tools for thinking, we may pause to ponder the fact that, “What the IP movement has successfully done is put the phrase ‘IP’ on the linguistic map, and it is now quite widely used” (Jahoda, 2016, p. 178). A new vocabulary opens up a new horizon of meaning making. That is why “The search for IPs inspired a considerable number of interesting and valuable empirical studies” (Jahoda, 2016, pp. 177–178).

Global Psychology

IPs have been interested in global psychology ever since the beginning. Various blueprints have been drawn and rightly judged to be inadequate by Jahoda (2016). The fact of the matter is that global psychology is an emerging phenomenon that no one, neither mainstream psychology nor IP, can fully predict. But one thing seems clear, namely that resistance against the hegemony of Western psychology is necessary in order to keep the possibilities open for a more equitable global psychology (De Vos, 2012; Sundararajan, 2014). It is this insight and insistence of IP that secures it a place at the forefront of debates on the new internationalization of the human sciences and psychology. By going beyond Western psychology in researching the ontological, epistemological, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of the mental life around the globe, IP plays an increasingly important role in shaping the psychology of tomorrow. That is why in the recent issues of psychology’s flagship journal, American Psychologist, IP features in a series of articles that are concerned with the future of psychology (e.g., Blanco, Blanco, & Díaz, 2016; Christopher, Wendt, Marecek, & Goodman, 2014; Teo, 2015).


One of the reasons behind Jahoda’s (2016) pessimism about IP is attributable to ignorance. He does not seem to be aware of the far-reaching impact of the IP literature. For instance, works of the El Salvador psychologist MartĂ­n-Baráœč (1989) recently inspired Blanco et al. (2016) to challenge the DSM model of psychological trauma. Promotion of scholarly work in IP can definitely benefit the rest of psychology. It is for this reason that this volume is being published by the world’s first book series on IP: Palgrave Studies in Indigenous Psychology (http://​www.​palgrave.​com/​us/​series/​15445). This volume on Asian indigenous psychology seeks to promote research on Asian indigenous concepts, theories and related empirical findings to shed light on the distinct ways that Asians view culture, mind and psychological phenomena against the backdrop of a global context.

IP in the Global Context

Globalization—defined as “a transplanetary process involving increasing liquidity and growing multi-directional flows of people, places, products, and information”—is a powerful force that has shaken established structures and social relations and at the same time provides new opportunities and challenges. If globalization is a potential force that levels everything down to a homogenous mĂ©lange, one consequence of this universalizing trend is the counter-movement of diversity, joined by a growing number of psychologists who recognize that all psychologies, including Western psychology, are ‘indigenous’ to the cultures in which they arise and are sustained (Marsella, 2013). Globalization is indeed an exciting time of competing claims about culture and the mind. How will Asian indigenous psychologists respond to the challenges and opportunities of globalization?
As Asia’s economy, especially that of China and India, is becoming the focus of worldwide attention, psychological research on Asians is gaining importance at the international stage. Showcasing Asian indigenous psychologies and their major theoretical and practice issues, this edited volume has the potential to make significant contributions to the field. Potential contributions consist of asking important questions about the discipline, profession and practice of psychology; exploring knowledge production outside the framework of Western psychology; constructing theories to shed light on mind and behaviour from an Asian perspective; going beyond Western psychology in researching the ontological, epistemological, ethical and spiritual dimensions of the mental life; shedding light on the dialectics of the universal and the particular in psychology; and exploring possibilities for a more equitable global psychology.

Purpose and Scope of This Volume

To the extent that diversity is endemic to IP, this volume does not intend to represent ‘the field’ so much as to present—to showcase—the potentials and emerging possibilities of Asian IP. Celebrating diversity, rather than lamenting its lack of consensus like Jahoda (2016), we need to get the metaphor right about the ‘field’: The field of IP is not a fixed space that can be mapped (represented) with precision so much as a dynamic, ongoing movement. Incompleteness in coverage is therefore to be expected. Indeed, many scholars in Asia publish in their native languages, thereby rendering their work inaccessible to the international community. Consequently, only Asian psychologists who publish in English were considered for this volume. As we know that contributions in Asian IP are not evenly distributed. What seems to be over-represented—the Chinese and Indian contributions—in fact under-represent the extant scholarship, in light of the many well-qualified Chinese and Indian researchers that we have overlooked. There are two regrettable omissions: experts on Filipino psychology (Rogelia Pe-Pua) and Korean psychology (Uic...


  1. Cover
  2. Front Matter
  3. 1. Introduction
  4. Part I. New Visions of Asian Indigenous Psychology in the Global Context
  5. Part II. Current Scholarships in Asian Indigenous Psychologies, with Special Focus on Contributions to Theory Construction and Methodological Innovations
  6. Part III. Showcase the Next Generation of Scholars Who Develop Novel Applications of Culture-Inclusive Concepts, Topics, and Empirical Research to Asian Societies
  7. Part IV. Conclusion
  8. Back Matter