Writing Seminar in Cultural Psychology

Course Description

We begin with the assumption that the cultures one experiences and especially the culture with which one identifies have a primary and powerful influence on perceptual, cognitive and behavioral development. Since culture (as context) is literally everything, everywhere, across time, how can the science of psychology expect to study it in any meaningfully scientific way? This seminar takes an exploratory look at how the recent cultural psychology movement fights to avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of what it hopes to study- by thinking outside the discipline, compromising when necessary and otherwise letting the questions (rather than traditional methodologies) lead the way.

Many class meetings will be conducted in a discussion panel format similar to the type you would experience at a professional conference. These will be lead by a Panel Chairperson who will be supported by a discussant. The remaining class members will serve as panelists. There will also be some discussion and lecture classes.

In addition to culture this course is designed to train students in the format, structure, organization, tone and style of scientific writing used in psychological research. In the process you will also develop and practice good habits that will serve you well in any kind of writing.

Reading for the course is critical. Students are expected to read and be prepared to discuss all of the required readings before the date each is scheduled for discussion.

Course Outline

  1. Cognition: Here, around the world and around the block.
  2. “What the cock knows how to do, he does. What I know, I say, and nothing beyond that!”
  3. It would not be to great an exaggeration to assert baldly that… method effects (major variations in research findings due to slight variations in research procedure, elicitation techniques, wording of questions, description problems, representation problems, expectations of experimenters or subjects etc) are the main findings of decades of [cross- cultural] psychology.
  4. The smallest meaningful unit of study is child-in-activity-in-context.
  5. Exactly what is culture? Functional vs. Fundamental
  6. Cultural Deep Structure:
    1. Culture and the Brain
    2. Group/Self Orientation
    3. Stimulation Preference (Verve)
    4. Time Orientation
    5. Emotions
    6. Morality

Course Requirements

The writing element of the course is oriented around two main ideas:

1) The first main idea is that learning to read effectively will get you a big step closer to learning to write effectively. Thus we will conduct Excavative Reading exercises. As far as I know excavative is not a word but, to excavate means: To remove earth or soil, carefully and methodically, taking notes about procedures, conditions, and finds, with a view to discovering or uncovering something about the events, objects or lives who left their traces there. In that spirit, your goal in these exercises will be to read so as to discover why the author has written what they wrote in the way that they wrote it. This kind of reading will set you up to emulate their good strategies and avoid their less effective choices. You will produce what is called a review letter for each excavative writing assignment. Detailed instructions for excavative reading and the review letter are included on the pages titled “What the &%#@ is excavative reading?”& “writing the peer-review letter”.

2) The second main idea is that all writing should have a motivating & practical purpose. I believe that whenever possible one should avoid writing in a format or style that only a teacher would ever read. That is why we begin with a letter home.

All of the writing assignments for the course will give you a chance to practice persuasive writing in formats that could be useful in your professional lives (whether you become an academic psychologist or not). As such the main writing element of the course will be to develop and write a research grant proposal for a research project in cultural psychology. By making the goal evident and meaningful , I hope to help you focus on writing persuasively toward that goal. Aside from that you will write what are called peer review letters to go with your excavations. These will help you practice evaluating other’s writing and communicating your feedback in an organized and diplomatic fashion.

Research Grant Proposal: A grant proposal is exactly what it sounds like. You have an idea for a research project, but it will cost money to do it. Rather than spend cash you don’t have, you will ask someone else for the money. In this case you will ask a grant-funding agency. As with most requests for money (when blackmail is not an option) your proposal will need to be creative and persuasive. You will develop the proposal in 4 stages called 1) Excavative reading: three-studies, 2) the Pitch Meeting, 3) Full Proposal & 4) Revise and Resubmit. See the pages titled developing the grant proposal for details.

Once you have submitted your formal written proposal the funding agency will usually send your proposal out for peer review by experts in the field. Those experts read and evaluate your proposal and write a letter to the grant agency making a recommendation to fund or not fund. Sometimes they report that the study is interesting but the proposal needs work and might be worth funding if properly revised. In that case you may be told to please revise and resubmit your proposal. Each of you will serve as peer reviewers for your classmates.

Peer Review: As a peer reviewer you will conduct excavative readings of proposals written by your classmates. These will be due no less then 48 hours before the hearing date (see below). As part of the peer reviewer letter you will also prepare two questions that you will raise during the hearing. Questions can address ideas, clarity, methods and nearly any other aspect of the proposal.

Questions should be substantive and must absolutely be posed diplomatically. Diplomacy in evaluative writing is an important target skill for these assignments and will be weighed heavily in how your letters will be graded. Please be as considerate of the work put into a proposal by its author as you would have them be of your own efforts, however humble. I will read and grade peer review letters before the hearing and I will distribute them to the respective authors. See the pages titled writing the peer review letter for details on how to complete a peer review.

Grant Review Hearings: In real life, if after receiving feedback from peer reviewers, the granting agency likes your ideas but is not quite persuaded, they might invite you to sell your idea in person at a grant review hearing. In this class we will assume that you do get this invitation to sell your project. You will propose your research orally to their grant review panel. Your classmates and I will serve as the panel whom you will try to persuade to fund your project.

Later in the term, several class periods will be conducted in a Grant Review Hearing format with each of us playing a role. In these, groups of 3 students with similar topics will propose their projects orally in the hope of persuading the agency to fund their research. To do this they will describe their proposals on the topic of interest in a 10-minute pitch to the review panel members and peer reviewers (the class & me) See the pages titled “How the Hearings will go down” for detailed instructions.

Revise & Resubmit: Finally, after your peer review & hearing you will have an opportunity to respond to the feedback you have received throughout the process by revising your proposal and resubmitting it along with a cover-letter in which you detail the ways that you modified your proposal to accommodate feedback or justify not taking each bit of advice and feedback you received.

That’s a decent overview of what we will be doing. It sound a bit complex and it is a bit complex so be sure to stay on top of things and it will work out. I will try to help you stay organized.