Integrating Two Epistemological Goals: Why Shouldn’t We Give It Another Chance?


should be sent to Shinobu Kitayama, University of Michigan, Department of Psychology, 530 East University, Ann Arbor, MI. E-mail:


As Beller, Bender, and Medin (in press) pointed out in their target article, in the contemporary study of culture in psychology, anthropology is virtually invisible. In this commentary, I traced this invisibility to a root conflict in epistemological goals of the two disciplines: Whereas anthropologists value rich description of specific cultures, psychologists aspire to achieve theoretical simplicity. To anthropologists, then, to understand culture is to articulate symbolic systems that are at work in a given location at a given time. In contrast, to psychologists, to understand culture amounts to identifying socio-cultural variables that moderate psychological effects. These divergent epistemological goals dictate both theoretical perspectives and empirical approaches in both disciplines. Yet, the two goals are both valid and in fact complementary. A renewed effort toward integration of the two goals may enrich both disciplines.