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A Cultural Analysis of the Experiment and an Experimental Analysis of Culture

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Abstract

What is it that one can and cannot learn from experiments? The present paper addresses this question from the perspective of cultural psychology. The first half of the paper examines implicit constructions of reality – like individualism, assumptions about the purity of the experimental context and the nature of mind, and the meaning of empirical– that constitute the culture of experimental social psychology. The second half of the paper illustrates an experimental approach to the study of culture with an example from a program of research on enemyship. Overall, the paper suggests that experimental methods may be best suited for arguments about proximal cause, but less appropriate for arguments about the distal causes of events in the everyday world. Rather than advocate that social psychologists abandon the experiment, a cultural psychology perspective suggests the reflexive use of experimental methods in conjunction with multiple techniques of empirical observation.

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