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Epistemology, Individual Diversity & Cultural Competence Luis A. Vargas University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

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Presentation on theme: "Epistemology, Individual Diversity & Cultural Competence Luis A. Vargas University of New Mexico School of Medicine."— Presentation transcript:

1 Epistemology, Individual Diversity & Cultural Competence Luis A. Vargas University of New Mexico School of Medicine

2 Epistemology, Individual Diversity & Cultural Competence Culture as a variable first mentioned at APA Vail Conference in 1973 Surgeon General emphasizes disparities in mental health services for racial and ethnic minorities in Guidelines on Multicultural Education, Training, Research, Practice, and Organizational Change for Psychologists advise using a “cultural lens” in our professional behavior

3 The Concept of Cultural Competence Emerges from our historical tie to the Enlightenment Period Influenced by our culturally constituted dominant epistemology in psychology Merges two seemingly incongruent concepts: culture and competence “Competence” as a central value within a cultural tradition Turning the cultural lens toward our discipline

4 Three Aspects Related to the Concept of Cultural Competence Psychology’s Cult of Expertise Psychology as a Science Isolation of Culture as a Variable

5 Cult of Expertise Cultural competence as arising from our cult of expertise* and control of knowledge Inadvertently diverting focus on culture by controlling who is culturally competent to address cultural aspects * Term coined by John Ralston Saul

6 Cult of Expertise Unintended outcome of our professional organizations providing specific forums for ethnic and political minorities – For minority psychologists: Preaching to the choir – For the majority psychologists: “I’m sorry I can’t help, but I’m not culturally competent”

7 Cult of Expertise Unintended outcome of minority psychologists’ efforts to designate those who are culturally competent – Absolving the majority group from viewing culture as integral to their clinical work, teaching or research – Limits on minority psychologists: “I’m sorry but I can only stretch myself so far!”

8 Breaking Down the Cult of Expertise Some mainstream divisions focusing on cultural diversity (e.g., 2, 17, 37, 48, 52) Some efforts at interdivisional communication and activities; e.g., the Multicultural Summit Establishing culture as equal in importance in psychology to behavior or emotion

9 Breaking Down the Cult of Expertise Defining psychology as the study of behavior in context (that includes culture) Shifting focus in teaching from cultural content to cultural context – From acquisition of knowledge to development of skills with which to effectively navigate within cultural settings to learn content – Avoiding risk of teaching to stereotype Addressing culture in all seminars or CE

10 Breaking Down the Cult of Expertise Addressing culture is every psychologist’s responsibility Increasing interdivisional activities Increasing interdisciplinary efforts Requiring familiarity with and appreciation of literature from other fields in our teaching and training

11 Psychology as a Science Mainstream psychology’s adherence to a logical positivistic perspective Scientism as a new religion Political beliefs and values intertwined with our concept of science Need to examine the beliefs and values of our dominant epistemology by which we define science (appreciating that epistemologies are culturally constituted) Appreciating how American and Western psychology is socio-historically situated

12 Psychology as a Science The current Western thinking of the science of psychology in its prototypical form, despite being local and indigenous, assumes a global relevance and is treated as a universal mode of generating knowledge. Its dominant voice subscribes to a decontextualized vision with an extraordinary emphasis of individualism, mechanism, and objectivity. This peculiarly Western mode of thinking is fabricated, projected, and institutionalized through representation technologies and scientific rituals and transported on a large scale to the non-Western societies under political-economic domination. Misra (1996), as quoted in Marsella, 1998, p. 1285

13 Psychology as a Science A growing number of non-Western psychologists are noting that the worldwide acceptance and popularity of Western psychology, complete with its academic emphasis of the individual, objectivity, quantification, narrow disciplinary specialization and universal “truths,” may be irrelevant and meaningless for non-Western people and their life contexts… Western psychology, they contend, can at best offer only a limited perspective that reflects its present position of power and privilege. Marsella, 1998, p. 1285

14 Expanding our Perspectives and Definition of Science Advocating other perspectives within psychology (e.g., Valsiner or Cole in developmental psychology; Gergen and work of narrative therapists in clinical psychology) Acknowledging the cultural-political nature of the “practice” of science (e.g.,Valsiner & van der Veer’s “science as a situated activity” or Espỉn’s view that “scientific” definitions of reality are created by those who hold power) Defining science from other perspectives outside of psychology

15 Expanding our Perspectives and Definition of Science Understanding culture as a process Need to broaden the perspectives that psychology considers legitimate Romanticism’s reaction to the Enlightenment Period

16 “Culture” Defined through Dialogue with other Disciplines Benefit of integration of knowledge from other fields into our theories and research Consolidating knowledge so as – To better meet the needs of our culturally diverse society – To preserve cultural diversity both nationally and internationally

17 Isolation of Culture as a Variable Problem of approaching culture from an empiricist (reductionistic) perspective Risk of missing the “big picture’ by isolating culture from experience, historical time, and context Restricting analyses only to those consistent with dominant epistemology

18 Isolation of Culture as a Variable Methodologically treating culture as a static outcome Focusing on problems that can be studied from our dominant epistemology – Operationally defining “cultural competence” – Implications to the methods and analyses we use – Implications to training “culturally competent” psychologists – Implications to creating standards and criteria by which to measure “cultural competence”

19 Broadening our Understanding of Culture Collaborate with researchers from other disciplines (e.g., anthropology, social work, sociology, public health) Diversify journal and book reviewers Viewing our subjects of study or our clients as helpful in informing scientific inquiry

20 Broadening our Understanding of Culture Shifting to a more encompassing concept of culture to address changes at local, national and global cultural levels Directing attention to the developmental and sociopolitical processes and transactions that threaten cultural diversity Directing attention to the psychocultural processes that give rise to group (e.g.,corporate) behavior, attitudes, and values and by which dominant societies impose their cultures on others

21 Broadening our Understanding of Culture Legitimize other methods Need to expand from “empirical support” to “evidence” to broaden our understanding of “culture” Include “practice-based evidence” Broaden our array of “acceptable” analyses so as to better understand “culture” in behavior


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