Professor of Psychology Gary Gregg received the 2008 Florence J. Lucasse Fellowship for Excellence in Scholarship during a well-attended award ceremony on April 30.
Interim Provost Jan Tobochnik called Gregg the "epitome of a teacher and scholar at Kalamazoo College." His scholarly work is both cross disciplinary (psychology and anthropology) and intercultural, and it is infused with Gregg's "passionate critical spirit," according to faculty colleague Chris Latiolais, Philosophy, who read the award citation.
Gregg has published numerous book chapters and articles on the subjects of cultural and social psychology. Most noted is the scholarly work that serves as the basis for his two recent books: The Middle East: A Cultural Psychology and Culture and Identity in a Muslim Society.
His research for those works-in true Kalamazoo College fashion-was, in large measure, hands-on and in country. Gregg lived in Morocco and Egypt for periods of time totaling five years in order to conduct the research.
With him was his wife and colleague, Alison Geist, director of the College's Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Institute for Service-Learning. In fact, Gregg's acceptance speech cited her important work in Morocco. There she created a dairy goat project in order to improve women's nutrition, health, and empowerment over their own lives. It worked so effectively that it is today supported by the Near East Foundation and has a significant presence throughout southern Morocco. "As proud as I am of these two books," said Gregg, "they're pretty minor in comparison to Alison's accomplishments."
Gregg described those books, in part, as "an attempt to point cultural psychology in two directions." Cultural psychology, the study of how culture shapes psyches and personalities, "saw a revitalization in the '80's and '90's and quickly converged around the idea that the world's cultures can be ranked on a dimension of individualism versus collectivism that correspondingly produces egocentric versus sociocentric selves."
Gregg disputes the simplicity of that construct. He broke new ground in his first book, The Middle East, by relying heavily on Arab researchers and Arab language publications. "One of the things I'm proudest of is that I think I've covered about two-thirds of the relevant writings in Arabic-which aren't even indexed anywhere," he said.
The book also rejects the common definition of culture as shared values and meanings and adopts viewpoints called dialogic (culture "consists of contrary values and meanings that often engender dispute") and distributed (cultural heritage tends to be apportioned "in pieces to individuals and groups, with some people only dimly aware of what others live their lives by").
Gregg eschewed writing The Middle East as a "Westerner who's gotten hold of the truth." Instead he concludes each chapter with a focus on a conflict of findings. He also pursued a developmental approach. "Rather than talking about 'culture and self,' I described cultural influences on the development of six 'lifespan' periods." And that, he said, is the first direction in which he hopes to nudge the discipline of cultural psychology. In the aftermath of the overly simplistic theory of individualism versus collectivism, "we should stop talking about 'culture and self' and investigate culture and life-span development.
"I now believe that [George Herbert] Mead's 'social self'--actually 'social selves'--coalesce in late childhood and early adolescence, and this then triggers the identity formation process [Erik] Erikson describes: to live up to what the Generalized Other-the social system-expects one to become, or somehow to define oneself differently."
Gregg's second book, Culture and Identity, a "labor of love" based on life history interviews he completed with a dozen young Moroccans, serves as a signpost for a second path along which Gregg hopes cultural psychology will proceed: a study of culture and identity.
"'Self' has too many definitions and has become almost useless as a term," he explained. "'Identity' has
We should stop talking about "culture and self" and investigate culture and life-span development.much more substance, at least when anchored in narrative theories and studied as a system of representations embedded in a larger structure of personality. Identity takes shape as a person's belief system, their worldview, their theology, their social ideology, and their personal mythology. It defines what sort of world one lives in, what kind of person one is, what one seeks to live for. Yes, people construct scores of self-concepts as they navigate changing situations and relationships in the course of a day, or even in the course of a conversation. But people also carry identities around with them from dawn to dusk and from situation to situation.
"This does not mean that they have a single, stable identity. The life narratives I've elicited from both Americans and Moroccans show that they shift among identities, often dramatically between seemingly contradictory ones."
Many of the Moroccans he interviewed shift between two identities: the one casts "the narrator as fleeing the backward, superstitious, and constraining world of rural tradition for the rational, free, and civilized world of Westernized urban modernity;" the second rejects the corrupt, alienating, and insecure world of Westernized urban modernity in favor of the authentic, simple, and secure rural world of family and religion." Gregg noted that the political conflict of Westernist and indigenist ways of life help forge this duality of seemingly contradictory identity in Arab-Muslim societies, and Islamist doctrine responds to the need to resolve the inner tension that derives from these often conflicting indentities.
"In the New World Order of ethnic and religious nationalisms," he concluded, "cultural psychology needs to investigate this politics of identity. It especially needs to take up the question of what facilitates the synthesis of 'holistic' identities that embrace dualities and tolerate difference and what provokes the formation of 'totalistic' or 'monologic' identities that commit to a single right way of life and seek to destroy the wrong ways and the people who live them."