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James Liu - Asian Social Psychology and Asian Epistemologies

james Liu

Professor James H. Liu

School of Psychology, Centre for Cross-Cultural Psychology

Victoria University of Wellington.

Email: james.liu@vuw.ac.nz

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Summary: Asian tertiary institutions were constructed during the peak of Western imperial power relative to the rest of the world, and as an aftermath and residue, Asian social sciences have been crafted in the image of Western institutions.

Asian social psychology imported an epistemic model of psychology as an experimental natural science, and is in the main today a hotbed of replications that fly below international radar. In recent years, international movements in cross-cultural and indigenous psychology have both augmented and challenged Western theories and methods and injected some vitality into the discipline.

The rising power of Asian societies has resulted in the creation of the Asian Association of Social Psychology, which has as its goal the creation of a "third force" complement the existing strengths of American and European psychology. There is considerable debate as to what the shape of that third force should be. Under the backdrop of extensive Western influence, the first unique element of Asian social psychology is its ongoing scientific cross-cultural debate with American social psychology as to the universality of mainstream findings and theory.

The second unique element is the development of indigenous psychologies as systems of thought and practice rooted in a particular cultural tradition and expressed in the language of that culture. Different Asian indigenous psychologies have emphasized different elements of praxis: the Philippines focuses on ethnographically oriented and community-based research, while Taiwan focuses on indigenous theory development using empiricist methods. A highly pragmatic approach to methodology can be said to characterize Asian indigenous psychology, where researchers routinely move between qualitative and qualitative methods, and use scientific methods to address social constructionist issues.

This appears to be characteristic of Asian epistemologies, or theories of knowledge, that are rooted in highly holistic and humanistic philosophical traditions rather than analytical traditions. I introduce the work of Mou Zongshan, the most important among contemporary neo-Confucianist philosophers in constructing a non-dualist epistemology, and argue that this forms a fundamental starting point, not a point of contentious debate for Asian social psychologists. I review the work of some major Asian indigenous psychologists, like Dharm Bhawuk and K.K Hwang, and point to possible pathways forward for Asian social psychology as it continues to develop as part of an emerging global psychology.