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Poortinga, Y.H.

Poortinga, Y.H.

Ype Poortinga, born in Stroobos, the Netherlands, in 1939. Ph.D. from the VU University, Amsterdam. Emeritus Professor of Cross-Cultural Psychology at the University of Tilburg and at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.

Fellow (1 September 2004 – 31 January 2005)


During my stay (September 2004-January 2005) I worked mainly on a monograph with the provisional title: “The cultural organisation of human behaviour”. An extensive outline was prepared and a first draft of about a quarter of the text was written. A perspective on relationships between individual behaviour and cultural context was developed and focussed on three main areas: (i) historical trends in research findings, (ii) conceptualisations of culture and behaviour, and (iii) methodological issues. Much of the discussion centres on three points. First, psychologists tend to emphasise differences in behaviour between cultural and ethnic groups rather than what is common or similar. Second, data tend to be interpreted with reference to broad concepts, such as social dimensions or systems of meaning that are susceptible to over-generalisation. Third, the two dominant approaches of relativism and universalism cannot be integrated; they need to be demarcated with a limited reach for each. The argument is synthesised in a framework with two main distinctions. The first is between levels of explanation ranging from distal (biological properties of the species) to proximal (behaviour in concrete situations). The second distinction is between constraints on behaviour and a space of affordances or choices. Constraints imply regularities open to (quasi-) experimental and psychometric examination. Choices between alternatives within an available space of affordances lend themselves to phenomenological analysis, but are largely beyond experimental analysis and prediction.