Postmodernism and Indigenous Psychology: Are They Intertwined?

Tulisan ini adalah esai yang dibuat untuk memenuhi tugas akhir kuliah pascasarjana “Theoretical Issue in the Study of Society and Culture” bersama Prof. Mark Hobart. Kuliah tersebut saya ikut Februari 2014 lalu di Fakultas Ilmu Budaya, UGM. Pengalaman yang sangat berkesan dan bermakna. Sekalipun kuliah tersebut lebih banyak membahas tentang poststrukturalisme, kuliah dua minggu tersebut menjadi semacam pengantar bagi saya untuk memasuki dunia yang lebih luas: postmodernisme, dan yang lebih spesifik: indigenous psychology. Belajar semua ini tidak lantas menjadikan saya seorang pakar, tetapi saya memetik banyak hikmah tentang apa yang sedang terjadi di dunia ini, terkhusus pada bidang psikologi.

Saya mengucapkan terima kasih pada orang-orang yang telah membantu saya belajar. Ada Prof. Mark Hobart. Ada rekan saya dari Fakultas Filsafat yang menjadi teman diskusi membicarakan postmodernisme. Ada sensei yang juga membantu saya memahami postmodernisme dengan meminjakan saya buku “Asal-Usul Posmodernisme”. Ada Pak Bagus Riyono yang meminjamkan saya buku “Psychology and Postmodernism”. Ada petugas perpustakaan Fakultas Psikologi UGM yang meluangkan waktu sebentar membantu saya mencari buku-buku tentang indigenous psychology. Dan masih banyak lagi, saya sebutkan dalam hati saja ^^

Mohon komentar, kritik, dan saran dari teman-teman yang membaca ya.


This article is an essay made for final assignment of the course on “Theoretical Issue in the Study of Society and Culture” with Prof. Mark Hobart. I joined that course on February 2014 ago, in Faculty of Social Sciences, UGM. It’s very impressive and meaningful experience . Even though it talked more about postpostructuralism, that two weeks course became an introduction for me to enter a wider world of postmodernism, and eventually, indigenous psychology. Knowing all those things doesn’t make me a scholar, but I get so much lesson about what is happening in this world, especially in psychology field.

I would like to say thanks for some people, for their help. Prof. Mark Hobart, my friend from Faculty of Philosophy, my sensei from Faculty of Social Sciences, my teacher from Faculty of Psychology, and some librarians. There are many more, of course… I say big thanks!

Please give your feedback. I intend to revise this writing .


Postmodernism and Indigenous Psychology: Are They Intertwined?

Aftina Nurul Husna


It’s true that psychology here in Indonesia is relatively still in a tranquil phase. European scientific reactions, as the consequence of postmodern thought in the mid of 20th century, is unreachable, unthinkable and even unimaginable for many students of psychology and even perhaps their lectures too until now. Time is barely flowing in Indonesia since nobody questions or has questions about what happen with their psychology. Why do we never hear about postmodern psychology and its critical ideas? Is it a matter of some knowledge lag that is common in the Third World countries? Or is it just the matter of popularity that the new psychology needs time to ensure the academicians to adopt the new view of psychology? Or, does it actually exist but with a completely different name?

In the same period of time with the publication of Psychology and Postmodernism (Kvale, 1992), the first book about the implication of postmodernist idea for psychology, indigenous psychology begin to be conceptualized as a new field or a branch of psychology. Indigenous psychology is described as an intellectual movement across the globe as a reaction against the colonization or hegemony of Western psychology. Indigenous psychology supports the need for non-Western cultures to develop psychological constructs and practices that address local problems and generate theories that promote global discourse.[1]. It may be not explicit, but that concept correlates with one critic within postmodern critic in the matter of universalism of knowledge. Indigenous psychology enables the development of cultural-contextual psychology, a not universal psychology or local psychology. So, in my simple thought, those two kinds of psychology might share some similarity or support each other.

In Faculty of Psychology, Universitas Gadjah Mada, indigenous psychology is flourishing because of a vision to develop Indonesian psychology. I think, it is good to know how postmodernist ideas will benefit indigenous psychology, and Indonesian psychology specifically. The critic postmodern psychology bring about is not only concerning with universalism of knowledge issue, but also with subject matter, methodology of psychological research, and the truth. Because of this problem is not simple, in this essay I’ll try to first describe only some aspects of postmodern psychology in the book Psychology and Postmodernism and later, look for its suitability to indigenous psychology.

This essay won’t talk about poststructuralist thinking as required in general final assignment of the course. Poststructuralism as a part of postmodernism seems not significant in mainstream psychology since I don’t find any literature about poststructuralism and psychology yet. So, concerning its usefulness for myself and people around me, I choose to write about postmodernism in psychology, especially its potential or actual contribution for indigenous psychology.


From Gergen, 1992 and 2001: Advancement in Psychology Named Humility

Two interesting article are written by Kenneth Gergen in two different times. First is Toward a Postmodern Psychology (Gergen, 1992) and the second is Psychological Science in Postmodern Context (Gergen, 2001).

Responding to the boom of postmodernism within psychology in its early years, Gergen (1992) wrote to give us understanding about the initial condition that triggers postmodern psychology, “There is increasing talk about the problematic value inherent in psychological research. Critical psychologists question the individualistic and exploitative ideology underlying such inquiry; feminists question the androcentric biases inherent in theory and method. There is increasing talk of epistemology. Constructivists raise questions concerning the possibility of a world independent of the observer. Constructionists turn their attention to the social basis of what we take to be knowledge. There is increasing talk of alternatives methodologies. Phenomenologists undertake new forms of qualitative research. Hermeneuticist (or interpretative) psychologists explore the possibilities of dialogic methodology. There is increasing concern with forms of human interdependence. Ecological psychologists search for concepts relating person and environment. Ethogenecists turn their attention from events within the head to the social rituals in which we are enmeshed. Discourse analysts move from the relationship of mind and language to language as a system of social interdependence. There is increasing concern with theoretical as opposed to empirical issues.” (pp. 17)

Gergen (1992) tried to show a way to make the postmodernism turn relevant and apparent for the discipline of psychology. Psychology in the new era should exclude itself from presumptions of modernism about four things: the knowable world, universal properties of that knowable subject, empirical method as the way to truth, and the progressive nature of research. The reason lies within a philosophical debate. “Truth seems primarily to be a matter of perspective. … Perspectives are after all by-products of social interchange. They are built into systems of communication and relationship. … what passes as knowledge within the sciences may properly be seen as the result of social processes within the culture of science.” (pp. 21)[2] “… when we enter the process of description we invariably rely on conventions of language. … Yet, these conventions simultaneously govern what can be communicated… Thus, as the language guides the formation of our accounts, so does it construct an array of putative objects. One may never exit the language (the system of signifiers) to give a true and accurate portrayal of what is the case. Understanding of the world is thus a product not of the world as it is, but a textual history.” (pp. 22)[3]

Postmodern arguments then offer opposing views to answer four problems above. There is no basic subject matter; neither mind nor behavior as the knowable world of psychology. It cannot be presumed that those subject matters are independent existence since discourse about the world is based on social process that is not free from various ideological and valuational biases. Inquiry into the universal properties of the subject matter would not only be to reify the forestructure of understanding, but to hide the valuational commitments in which the forestructure is enmeshed. Postmodern thought invites the investigator take account of the historical circumstances of his/her inquiry. Methodology that before was the means to the truth, now loses its position. Research methods are viewed as misleading justificatory devise, especially for experimental methodology. For the postmodernist, both concept of truth and research as a means to truth are impugned. The very idea of scientific progress is just a literary achievement based on grand narrative of Western culture: the long struggle to ultimate victory, as Lyotard suggested (Gergen, 1992).

Looking it carefully, the postmodern turn begins to offer psychology new ways of conceptualising itself and its potentials. But, it is inevitable that many psychologists that have been for decades established psychology feel abused and betrayed (Gergen, 1992). They launch some critic and question too toward postmodernism and Gergen collects those critics in his later article (Gergen, 2001).

According to Gergen (2001), there are some major criticisms. The first is from both the material and psychological realists. Concerning the knowable world that turn unknowable, they argue that actually there is a world out there. There is no denying the reality of the human body or the death. Human body that contains psyche is not a product of social process or socially constructed. Further, to deny the reality of mental process is to destroy the discipline of psychology. To deny the reality of individual experience and human agency is to destroy the moral foundations of society. The second is from the skepticists. If it’s claimed that there is no truth, no objectivity, no knowledge without value or ideological biases, and no universal logic, so the ideas of postmodernism cannot be said as true, objective, and nonpartisan. Postmodernism ideas thus are incoherent. (pp 806-807)

Gergen (2001) then try to correct them, showing his support toward postmodernism. First, the postmodernist proposes that in the present global condition in which cultures increasingly collide and social movements can be organized with dispatch, taking stands on what is ultimately real (or true, or moral) is increasingly perilous. There are conflicting conceptions about many things. Strong commitments invite intense conflict and frequent attempts to eradicate those who stand as threats.

Second, to propose that human beings live in a socially constructed world does not make it a world of any less significant. Consciousness of the cultural constitution of human emotion and behavior does not render them null or void. It is just like to know that a home run is only part of a game. It does not lessen the thrill of hitting one when the bases are loaded. Once conscious of the cultural contingency and values, one can acquire a certain degree of humility. He/she will be more prepared for a more searching dialogue about these matters, especially with those who do not share the assumptions. For example, the death is real and inexorable. But, if one understands this reality is simply the end of biological functioning, he/she impoverish the event in term of the rich meaning of death available.

Third, in the matter of truth, postmodern constructionism makes no claims for the truth, objectivity, universality, or moral superiority for its own tradition. Postmodernism argument is not to generate yet another first philosophy of foundation to replace all that has preceded, for example to put logical empiricism to death like in modernism paradigm. When one enters the postmodern dialogues, one begins to look at such argument in their pragmatic capacity. The advantage of postmodern constructionism is that it does not seek to lodge these commitments in some form of foundation, a secure base from which others may be viewed as transendentally wrong or evil. When one understands one’s own values as historically and culturally situated, one is more prepared to engage in the kinds of dialogue from which new and more viable constellations of meaning may emerge.

Postmodernism invites intercultural dialogues, in which concepts of the person and of the knowledge itself, along with methods and practices, are appreciatively exchanged. It makes one keenly aware of the historical and cultural location of the empiricist tradition in psychology. One slowly becomes aware that some taken-for-granted assumptions about mental life or human behavior, along with its methods of exploration or research, are saturated with Western values or Western tradition. Indeed, there is much to be appreciated in Western tradition, but postmodern dialogue suggests a certain degree of humility in this appreciation or respect. It also opens doors to new methodologies, practices, and knowledge from any other human tradition, culture or values in the world. It enables the emergence of cultural psychology and indigenous psychology as the most visible movement toward intercultural dialogue (Gergen, 2001).


Understanding People in Context: Indigenous Psychology, A Rising Star

Modern psychology is a discipline predominantly rooted in the Western cultural practices and ideologies. Euro-American scholarship has been perceived as universal truth. It has been transported and imported by many developing countries to understand themselves. However, along with the emergence of postmodernism, given rise awareness about the nature of Western tradition that is not valid and applicable in non-Western country, especially in Asia, and consequently discontentment toward Western psychology. That critical period thus bring out a movement to indigenizing psychology and create some local psychologies (Allwood & Berry, 2006).

From online encyclopedia I cited, “indigenize” has several definitions and is used in a variety of ways depending on the context. The term is primarily used by anthropologists to describe what happens when locals take something from the outside and make it their own (e.g. Africanization, Americanization). In world politics, indigenization is the process in which non-Western cultures redefine their native land for better use in agriculture and mass marketing. Due to imperialism and the impetus to modernize, many countries have invoked Western values of self-determination, liberalism, democracy and independence in the past. But now that they are experiencing their own share of economic prosperity, technological sophistication, military power and political cohesion, they desire to revert to their ancestral cultures and religious beliefs.

Since the 1980s and the 1990s, there has been a resurgence of Islam and “re-Islamization” in Muslim societies. In India, Western forms and values have been replaced in the process of “Hinduization” of politics and society and in East Asia, Confucian values are being promoted as part of the “Asianization” process. Japan has also had its share of Indigenization in the form of “Nihonjinron” or the theory of Japan and the Japanese. The word indiginization is also used in almost the opposite sense, according to, it means: to increase local participation in or ownership of; to indigenize foreign-owned companies; to adapt (beliefs, customs, etc.) to local ways.[4]

The history of indigenous psychology can be traced back to the years when Wilhelm Wundt established psychology as an independent branch of psychology. He recognized two traditions in psychology: psychology as natural science and psychology as cultural science. Experimental tradition that vastly develops since then and determines the future general psychology now is a method in natural tradition of psychology. It cannot be used to study psychological phenomena that are shaped by language and culture. This recognition is rejected since natural science paradigm is the dominant framework, but as decades of year passes, the needs to develop theories and methods that appropriate for human beings arise. Human qualities and their cultural contexts are the incorporated into research design, especially through qualitative inquiry (Kim & Berry, 1993).

Indigenous psychology is defined as the scientific study of human behavior (or mind) that is native, that is not transported from other regions, and that is designed for its people. It emphasizes understanding rooted in the ecological context. It is not studies of exotic people in faraway places. It can be a multitude of perspectives not shared by all group. It does not affirm or preclude the use of a particular method. It does not assume that a particular perspective is inherently superior to another. Its aim is to discover the universal facts, principles, and laws. It does not, however, assume a priori the existence of psychological universals. If they exist, they need to be theoretically and empirically verified (Kim & Berry, 1993). Indigenous psychology seeks to reflect the social, political, and cultural character of peoples around the world. It attempts to develop psychology science that more closely reflects their own social culture and cultural premises (Allwood & Berry, 2006).

As I observe and read, indigenization of psychology happens in two kinds, namely religiously and culturally. First, religious-indigenous psychology takes form a religious psychology like Islamic psychology that closely related to Islamization movement in muslim countries (see Badri, 1980), like Indonesia and Iran (Allwood & Berry, 2006). Islamic psychology contains some critics toward secular Western psychology and suggests muslims to develop psychology under Islamic values. Another is Buddhist psychology that roots in Buddhist philosophy (De Silva, 1993) and suggests new kind of psychological practices like meditation as a psychological therapy. These kinds of indigenous psychology are related to psychology of religion and spirituality.

            Second, cultural-indigenous psychology takes form many cultural-ecological psychology, like Javanese psychology (Psikologi Jawa; Jatman, 1997) in Indonesia, indigenous psychology of India (Misra & Mohanty, 2002), psychology of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese (see Kim, Yang, & Hwang, 2006), and many psychology from different cultures or country in the world, like Mexican, Greek, Polish, Russian, American Indian, Iranian, Philipino, Latin American, and African psychology (see Kim & Berry, 1993). These kinds of indigenous psychology are related to cultural or cross-cultural psychology.

Even though indigenous psychology is promising for non-Western country to develop their local psychology, it is also being criticized by academicians and academic institutions that see indigenous psychology as threatening movement (Allwood & Berry, 2006). Indigenous psychology will be threatening, at least, economically since advancement in academic career for scientist in the West is depended on publication, publishing, and teaching Western psychology across the world. Another critic concerns with anticipation that indigenous psychology will cause parochialism (parochialism: the state of mind, whereby one focuses on small sections of an issue rather than considering its wider context) and blind nationalism if indigenous psychology is politically supported. However, indigenous psychology is not developed to be a threat since it is an effort to view and understand people in their own culture, rather than using foreign conceptualization and culture.


Are Postmodernism and Indigenous Psychology Intertwined?

Yes. They are intertwined. Indigenous psychology is undoubtedly implication of postmodernism. But, it is only a half explanation for why indigenous psychology arises.

It seems true for Western perspective since postmodernism is new movement after modern era in the West. Postmodernism is the answer for problems within modernism that knowledge actually is socially constructed, that what was called objective science is now perceived as subjective and culturally bounded, that empirical methods are limited in conveying human psychology, and that what people need is a local understanding about their own selves, rather than an universal explanation for their live problems. Postmodern ideas lead psychology back to be a science of understanding human, humanely. So for Western scientist, postmodernism suggests them to be humble.

Another half explanation is implication of an awareness of non-Western people to self-understand themselves, to be independent intellectually after a very long time colonialized by Western people and eventually being independent country, free from Western intellectual authority. People begin to see inward and realize that their own culture (religion or social tradition) is valuable and useful and may be source of richer knowledge that is not possessed by Western people. Progress through more Western knowledge is now a dead utopia (Kvale, 1992). They manage to build their own fate, empower themselves, and realize that they are in equal position to Western scientist. For them, it is now the time to be proud.

As conclusion, psychology now becomes new again. It slowly frees itself from the old age trap. Psychology restores people to their contexts and rehabilitates concepts of nation, tradition and even religion. Psychology accepts for various research methods especially qualitative approach and values the local truths that previously denied (Kvale, 1992). ‘‘You do not know what you think you know about human behavior; at least not until you know it in context, both locally and comparatively” may be the motto for psychologists today. It still needs time to fully indigenizing psychology, but whatever its effort, it is worth to do.



Allwood, C. M. & Berry, J. (2006). Origins and development of indigenous psychologies: An international analysis. International Journal of Psychology. 2006, 41 (4), 243-268.

Badri, M. B. (1980). The Dilemma of Muslim Psycholgists. London: M. W. H. London Publishers.

De Silva, P. (1993). Buddhist Psychology: A Therapeutic Perspective. In U. Kim & J. W. Berry (Eds.). Indigenous Psychology. Research and Experience in Cultural Context. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publication.

Gergen, K. (1992). Toward a postmodern psychology. In S. Kvale (Ed.). Psychology and Postmodernism. London: SAGE Publications.

Gergen, K. (2001). Psychological Science in a Postmodern Context. American Psychologist. October 2001. Vol. 56, No. 10, 803-813.

Kim, U. & Berry, J. W (Eds.). (1993). Indigenous Psychology. Research and Experience in Cultural Context. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publication.

Kim, U., Yang, K. S., & Hwang, K. K (Eds.). (2006). Indigenous and Cultural Psychology. Understanding People in Context. New York: Springer.

Kvale, S. (1992). Postmodern Psychology: A Contradiction in Terms? In S. Kvale (Ed.). Psychology and Postmodernism. London: SAGE Publications.

Misra, G. & Mohanty, A. K. (2002). Perspectives on Indigenous Psychology. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company.

Triandis, H. C. (1994). Culture and Social Behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Jatman, J. (1994). Psikologi Jawa. Yogyakarta: Yayasan Bentang Budaya.

[2] This arguments are from Kuhn’ The Structure of Scientific Revolution (1970) and Fayerabend’s Against Method (1976)

[3] This is from Jacques Derrida (1976)

[4] See the definition of “indigenize” in




One thought on “Postmodernism and Indigenous Psychology: Are They Intertwined?

  1. Dari Pak Jony Eko Yulianto via Facebook. Terima kasih banyak!

    Saya baru saja baca artikelnya. Salut untuk semangatnya nulis dalam Bahasa Inggris. Saya punya beberapa komentar. Dalam Bahasa Indonesia aja gapapa ya, Aftina.

    Pertama soal irisan antara posmo dengan indijenus. Saya perhatikan, semua argumen dalam menjelaskan topik ini berhulu dari dua artikel dari Gergen yang memang adalah bapak konstruktivis. Alhasil, analisanya soal posmo sangat berbau Gergenian. Sangat konstruktivis. Nadanya lebih condong ke implikasi kebaharuan soal “how to constructing phenomena in postmodern era”. Soal generalisasi tidak menjadi tujuan. Tapi jangan lupa bahwa ini bertentangan dengan paham yang jadi lawan konstruktivis, yaitu realis, yang sangat mengedepankan nilai-nilai universalisme dalam membahas fenomena, meskipun paling tidak generalisasi minimal dalam konteks tersebut. Untuk jenis artikel yang sifatnya mereview pada level perspektif, menurut saya sebaiknya kita musti mempertimbangkan soal dialektika konstruktivisme vs realisme ini. Bahkan Kwang Kwo Hwang di buku Indigenous and Cultural Psychology (yang juga dikerjakan dengan Kim) justru membuat beberapa tulisan bahwa ia sepakat bahwa indijenus itu sebenarnya malah bukan konstruktivisme, ataupun realisme. Tapi keduanya. (Ia menyebutnya “constructive-realism”). Prof. Fatur lagi mendalami ini.

    Kedua soal psikologi Islam sebagai produk indijenus. Menurut saya ini pernyataan yang kemungkinan besar belum bisa dengan mudah diterima semua pihak. Misalnya soal dimana letak indijenusnya secara konkrit. Akan lebih baik jika hal ini mendapat porsi yang besar dalam pembahasan di artikel tersebut. Karena (saya ingat penjelasan Mas Ibad, kebanyakan dari kita kesulitan untuk mengidentifikasi apakah yang sedang kita bicarakan adalah budaya Islam ataukah budaya Arab. As those are really different). Hal yang lain adalah apakah Psikologi Islam (as a whole) memang (benar-benar) indijenus (yang context bound) dan proses mentalnya tidak ditemukan di negara Islam yang lain? Atau jangan-jangan yang lebih tepat adalah ada ‘bagian’ dari Psikologi Islam yang adalah produk indijenus (menurut saya ini lebih mungkin). Saya ingat Uichol Kim selalu meminta kita untuk membedakan cultural psychology dengan indigenous psychology. Dulu beberapa mahasiswa yang konferensi di Kunming pernah dikritik Prof. James Liu. Katanya gotong royong is cultural but not indigenous, kecuali kita bisa membuktikan bahwa dinamika proses mental pada perilaku goyong-royong memang context-bound hanya bisa terjadi di Indonesia.

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