The Internationalization of the History of Psychology

by Rubén Ardila,

National University of Colombia

Rubén Ardila
Rubén Ardila

The history of psychology has traditionally been the history of the most relevant developments that have taken place in Western Europe and in the United States in psychology as a science and as a profession. It almost always begins with German experimental psychology, with Wundt and his Leipzig University laboratory, and then there is a description of how German experimental psychology spread to the United States, where it grew, bore fruit and transformed into a vibrant and important discipline and a profession with numerous applications and a great impact on society. In some cases the historical description begins with the Greek culture, and then continues to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to converge in the 19th Century with important contributions in the context of the German culture and then its migration to the United States where it grew by leaps and bounds.

In the last few decades other focal points of development have begun to be emphasized and the history of psychology has been internationalized. A description of the advances worldwide, in such diverse nations as China, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, Norway, Egypt and many others, shows that psychology is an international discipline with contributions coming from many regions, with different points of view (or “approaches”) but centered around a core, which is science, research, professionalization and insertion around the world, not only in the “central” countries (like the USA) but also in the “peripheral” ones.

Several recently published books about the history of globalized psychology are evidence of this. Outstanding examples are Brock (2006), Pickren and Rutherford (2010), Shiraev (2011), and above all, Baker (2012). They indicate to us the growth, development and diversification of psychology worldwide, something very different from the scene a few decades ago. It is obvious that the internationalization of psychology begins a lot earlier, with the foundation of the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP), the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS), the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP), the International Council of Psychologists (ICP) and other associations. However, globalization, internationalization and the impact at the world level and communication networks is a fresh scenario.

We benefit significantly by being aware that psychology is an international discipline, not a product of a specific culture or a determined geographic region, but rather a world endeavor. In all the known cultures that have existed, there has been an interest in understanding our own selves, to know what our motivations are, how we think, perceive the world, learn, how we relate with others, what good and bad is, the life cycle from conception until death, the relationships that people have with their society, with other species and with the ecological context. Psychological phenomena have interested the members of human cultures throughout time.

The internationalization of psychology and as a consequence the internationalization of its history has considerably broadened the panorama of psychology as a discipline. I have always considered that one of the main functions of history is to give identity, to know who we are, where we come from, where we are at the moment and where we are heading. History is tremendously important to provide an identity to a discipline, in this case to psychology.

This international identity of the history of psychology implies achieving a balance between what is universal in psychology and what is local and contextual, a complex and difficult balance to find, one that is associated with the terms etic and emic. Psychology is a science with universal laws, beyond the here and now, but it is also a culturally orientated, contextualized and localized discipline. In the search for this balance between the universal and the particular, between the etic and the emic, the history of psychology can shed much enlightenment.

The internationalization of the history of psychology is an achievement that will help to strengthen our identity as psychologists, to better understand where we came from, why we are here and where we are heading.

Published in: IAAP Bulletin, July 2013, Vol. 25 (2), 33-34

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