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Abstract

There has long been a criticism that scholarship devoted to the study of cultural variation in psychology has too easily ascribed the observed differences between different societies to essentialized notions of ‘culture’ while paying less attention to historical forces that shape these differences. In this paper, we argue that the conceptual frameworks of cross-cultural and cultural psychology should allow for analysis of how major geopolitical events and historical processes bear on people's lives. Specifically, we point to colonialism, a discussion that has been less attended to in psychology, and argue that colonialism and its legacies exert a powerful influence on many worldwide populations. Analysis of colonialism and its legacies necessarily calls for attention to its prominent ideological cornerstones: race and ‘culture’, which are also central concepts in psychology as a global discipline. In psychology, colonialism has primarily been engaged in two ways: the study of the colonial impact on individuals; and the consideration of the colonial impact on the discipline and practice of psychology in formerly colonized nation states. We review this engagement and introduce examples of scholarship from each. This paper challenges the field to pay greater attention to sociopolitical discourses and historical contexts and, in turn, to theorize culture in ways that are responsive to the fluidity and complexity of social lives.