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The Cultural Psychology of Treat
Kevin R. Carriere
Washington & Jefferson College
To be published in:
Where Culture and Mind Meet: Principles for a Dynamic Cultural Psychology
Information Age Publishing
This is the version prior to proofs. Changes may have been made to the final version.
As he looked upon five years of Cultural Psychology in Aalborg, Valsiner looked forward
to the future. What would remain? What challenges did the field face from its
emergence in the 1990’s (Valsiner, 1995), and what will it continue to face in the future?
What critical commentaries were raised – and what were the responses? At the border
of a transition, of past and future, the processes around which cultural psychology stood
became threatened. And, thus, Valsiner (2018) poses a serious concern in his final
lecture – that cultural psychology stands at a border.
“It is my deep conviction that cultural psychology as a general orientation of
psychological science towards the study of higher psychological functions cannot
survive unless they develop their theoretically based and phenomena-
appropriate methodologies—which are those of open systemic phenomena”
(Valsiner, this volume, chapter 9, p.XX).
On one side, the death and destruction of cultural psychology to be relegated to such
other psychologies – of closed systems, and therefore, of closed ideas. On the other
side, he sees freedom and open-systemic reasoning of the world. Cultural psychology –
if it does not take a step forward – will not survive. This threat to the survival of our
school of thought requires immediate action and reactions. In this ‘final stand’ of cultural
psychology, Valsiner lays out a clear bifurcation point – and it is up to us, as cultural
psychologists, to decide on which side of history we fall.
So – what side should we fall on? The path to destruction is relatively painless. It
requires us simply to acculturate the various methodologies of other schools – reviving
the p-value and embracing the lens of a cross-cultural psychology of group differences
and averaged-out individuals. Some advancements in such acculturation has already
been achieved – with a development of the notion of semiotic capital (Salvatore et al.,
But perhaps we can consider a different version of acculturating cultural
psychology. Andreouli (2013) conceptualizes a dialogical model of acculturation, where
the process of adopting a new identity depends on the positioning of the individual and
the negotiations of developmental trajectories between the individual and the Other. The
acculturation of cultural psychology need not be an outcome of p-values and causal
models, but instead, an interactive process of multiple schools of thought. Instead of
looking to what cultural psychology can take from the rest of psychology, let us open the
development of cultural psychology by looking at what we can provide the rest. By using
the other schools of thought as a grounding, cultural psychology can emerge as a true
trans-disciplinary way of thinking.
What then, can we provide the other schools of thought? Valsiner (this volume)
outlines a few core beliefs of cultural psychology that must remain for it to survive. In
particular, he notes a new axiom – the axiom of inherent directionality. This axiom states
that all objects contain a disposition to move from the present state (A) to some other
future state (B), even if we cannot currently predict or state what the future state B
would look like. This is a useful concept that is needed to disregard models of causality
– A to B cannot be confirmed in its entirety nor in its direction – so another model is
Directionality is a fascinating concept. Lewin (1942) notes that meanings of
events can only be known if we understand the position and direction of the even are
determined. If one understands the direction of the event, we can begin to uncover
which actions will lead to which results. Lewin’s example – of an individual situating
themselves in a new city – provokes multiple directions. First, the individual needs to
reflect on where they themselves are. They emerge from the train station, and have an
understanding that they are placed somewhere in this space, but are still unclear of
what actions would best lead them to their goal (getting to their new apartment).
Second, the individual needs to find the direction in which they are headed – a direction
directed with a second object. One’s direction in relation to other objects provides them
necessary information about where shortcuts are and where the traffic hits hardest. One
can also consider the direction of the town limits, restricting the individual. If they went
too far off and start seeing signs for the next town, or next neighborhood, they may soon
realize it was not the direction in which they sought out. There are negotiations of the
borders of the town that provide the individual with directionality to their goal. Finally, the
individual does learn more about their route every time they take it, gaining a time-
directionality to solving her dilemma.
Therefore, the axiom of inherent directionality that Valsiner proposes needs to
consider the various ways one might be directed towards. I consider four types of
directionality that are needed to be acknowledged when considering directionality. The
first is the axiom of inherent self-reflecting directionality – the object itself seeking to
change itself. Looking at this axiom determines that we cannot consider outcomes of
psychological construction, but the process of psychological construction. The second is
the axiom of inherent dialogical directionality - the object directed in relation with
something else. This axiom requires us to reflect on the multitude of voices and
individuals that co-construct objects together. The third, the axiom of inherent bordering
directionality - the object directed in relation towards another object. When looking at
objects, we must recognize that their direction is based on a meeting of constant
borders at multiple levels of being. And finally, the axiom of inherent historical
directionality, the object directed through time and history. While we are always directed
into the future, the importance of the socially constructed past and imagined futures
direct individuals in distinct ways that must be accounted for.
Inspired by these two points – that cultural psychology is in a state of threat, and
that the axiom of directionality requires four aspects of directionality - This paper seeks
to outline a cultural psychology of threat focusing on four types of inherent directionality
within threat. First, the understanding of threat as a stable outcome needs to be
reconceptualized as an open-ended process that can continually re-build and
reconstruct itself over time. Second, the process of threat needs to be understood in its
dialogical nature, where threat is not something a single individual perceives, but a
mutual engagement of minds each building on top of one another. Third, threat requires
us to consider from where it occurs, and the meeting place of the border-zone is put
forward. Finally, threat requires a consideration of the past and future that the group
socially constructs together in order to situate the process of threat as a unique, but
Once all four directions of threat are reviewed, I take the remainder of the paper
to explore both new avenues where threat can be developed, but also provide some
directions where an open-system methodology to examine threat can occur.
Towards a Cultural Psychology of Threat
There are many ways one can think of threat. In the classic sense of the term, threat is
understood in health psychology as any event that we perceive as something we have
relatively little control over, in comparison to a challenge, which is any event that we
perceive as something we have control over (Keinan, 1987). However, more recently,
threat has been re-conceptualized in terms of in-group and out-group relationships.
Threat is when an individual feels that their way of life – be it their in-group, their
resources, their land, their culture – risks becoming unstable or disappearing. It is
beyond just resource management in its scarcity (c.f. realistic group conflict theory,
Ashmore & Del Boca, 1976), but to any type of action that can impact the welfare of an
individual or their group (Stephan, Ybarra, & Backman, 1999). This welfare of the group
is not strictly resource-laden, but can also be semiotically-resourced – i.e. – the culture,
values, and meanings of the group that are perceived to be threatened ( Stephan,
Ybarra, & Backman, 1999). In all, threats occur both at the individual level (my job
security) but also the collective level (my cultural values).
Overall, in the current literature, threat is codified as an independent variable –
you read of a terrorist attack and are asked to rate to what extent do you feel personally
threatened by terrorism (Fischer et al., 2011). Something is provided, and the outcome
of this provision is threatening feelings. Yet, this unilateral causal chain of events omits
the preceding question of how issues of asymmetry, conflict, power, and emotions lead
to this feeling of threat, or what catalytic events moderate the relationship between
creating A from B (Cabell & Valsiner, 2014). There are many potential outcomes in
regards to reading threatening stimuli. We overcome ruptures to our day to day life
(Kadianki & Zittoun, 2014), we resist movement of change and tradition (Chaudhary,
Hviid, Marsico, & Villadson, 2017), and we create poetic imagery from the hardest of
family times (Abbey & Bastos, 2014). When we face threat, we face it with a lifetime of
symbolic resources, of cultural values, and of pre-existing knowledge and meanings that
provide the framework to build a psychological defense – or offense – against such
feelings. Muslim women in minority countries discuss their decisions of wearing the veil
in terms of affirming one’s cultural identity and opposing the negative stereotypes of the
burqa (Wagner, Sen, Permanadeli, & Howarth, 2012).
I do not mean to insinuate that one needs to control for an ever-growing variety
of endogenous variables that impact the relationship between threat and reactions to
the point where one’s theoretical model of threat is so great and nuanced that it
struggles to say anything at all. To do so would be to support a fine-grain nuanced
approach to threat (Healy, 2017), which I find antitheoretical. Instead, I mean to push
forward a reconceptualization of threat that goes beyond outcomes. The benefits of a
causal model of threat should not be discounted – one can recognize the advancements
of SEM and machine learning in detecting and parsing relationships between variables
where such relationships exist. Yet, with the replication crisis facing social psychologists
as a whole (Pashler & Wagenmakers, 2012), a move towards something beyond
linearity must be considered. The failure of these models to be able to properly describe
any true outcome of the world requires that we reconceptualize exactly what the goal of
psychological research is. Instead of focusing on topics such as acculturation or threat
as outcomes, perhaps we should focus on the process of democratization
(Moghaddam, 2016; Wagoner, Bresco de Luna, Glaveanu, 2018) acculturation
(Andreouli, 2013), or threat instead.
The Axiom of Inherent Self-Reflecting Directionality
Furthermore, threats impact individuals differentially. Some studies focus on
terrorism as a realistic threat - using the fear of a loved one or yourself dying in a terror
attack to test reactions against civil liberties (Hetherington & Suhay, 2011; Huddy,
Feldman, & Weber, 2007). Fear of loved ones being a victim of a terrorist attack
increases support for harsh methods to punish terrorists, including torture, wiretapping,
and withholding of rights (Huddy, Feldman, & Weber, 2007; Welch, 2015). Yet,
personality characteristics that are highly correlated with measures of threat and civil
liberty restrictions - right wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation - are
predictive of terrorism being seen as a symbolic threat, not realistic (Crowson, 2009).
Those who are asked to recall an act of terrorism are more supportive of negative
policies against Muslims due to their perceived symbolic threat (White, Duck, &
Newcombe, 2012). When individuals are considering terrorism as a symbolic threat,
fears of clothing attire (such as in France and Netherland’s burqa bans), shar’ia law, and
other value conflicts take precedent. In Valsiner's (2007) terms, terroristic threat does
not lead to specifically A or B – but a wide range of possible outcomes that cannot be
determined prior to the outcome being seen. It could be that feeling the threat of
terrorism causes us to consider selling our possessions, to calling our parents, to
watching more or less cable news. The ambiguous nature of the outcome of threat
requires us to move beyond its outcome and into its process.
And while the process is indeterministic in its outcome, it is also important to
recognize the first directionality of threat – that it itself is constantly directed to new
outcomes. Threat breeds more threat – until it doesn’t. One may be scared of a dog –
until the stimuli of threatening dog changes to playful puppy as it rolls around waiting for
the ball to be thrown. The Muslim women who wear the veil take the threatening society
around them and turn threat on its head – pushing a counternarrative of affirming a
cultural identity (Wagner, Sen, Permanadeli, & Howarth, 2012).
The axiom of inherent dialogical directionality
If we consider threat a process, instead of an outcome, then we must ask: a process of
what? This question brings us to the second directionality of threat – that threat is a
process between two or more individuals that attempts to negotiate a given, ambiguous
state of affairs and how meanings of such affairs may conflict and contradict one
The process of threat is not unidirectional. The first direction is typically the most
understood - majority group members’ perceptions of the out-group influence future
contact with minority groups (Van Acker, Phalet, Deleersnyder, & Mesquita, 2014).
Majority group members who were able to take the perspective of the minority group
reported more enrichment-related emotions in terms of contact with the minority groups,
while those who were unable to reported their contact in terms of threatening contact
and conflict. This is the basis of contact theory – that the more two opposing groups can
meet under circumstances of trust between each other, the better their future
relationships will be (Hewstone et al., 2006; Maoz & McCauley, 2011).
Yet, there’s a second actor in these cases – the minority group. A longitudinal
study showed that for minority groups, there’s less benefit for contact in repairing
relations among majority members (Binder et al., 2009). They not only receive the
consequences of the potential outcomes of threat – such as a negative psychological
wellbeing (Schmitt, Branscombe, Postmes, Garcia, 2014), but they are agential to
responding to such efforts of prejudice and discrimination. The movements around
#MeToo and feminist activism are just one such example of the types of responses that
can come from a minority group.
Take the Black Lives Matter movement. It was a response to continued
systematic anti-Black racism throughout the United States and how that racism
pervades, influences, and impacts relations of Black individuals with the police, and how
that relationship bleeds into community relations as well (Garza, 2016). The movement -
#BlackLivesMatter – highlights the ways in which state violence - or macro-level
processes – continue to discriminate against Black individuals, and that there is a
specific sub-group of individuals who face these conditions and consequences on a
daily basis. The cases of minority discrimination is well-documented – recent special
issues have highlighted the difficulties of minority leadership (Rast, Hogg, & Moura,
2018) and psychologists’ role in studying Black issues (Stewart & Sweetman, 2018;
King, 2018), and meta-analyses of such problems (Pieterse, Todd, Neville, & Carter,
2012) show that systemic racism against Blacks has not simply gone away.
#BlackLivesMatter stands as a challenge of the power dynamics by the minority.
Yet, at the onset of such a movement, a counter-protest emerged. The issue
became not #BlackLivesMatter, but of #AllLivesMatter. A discourse analysis of Twitter
data showed that as spikes of #BlackLivesMatter occurred on Twitter, so did spikes of
#AllLivesMatter (Gallagher, Reagan, Danforth, & Dodds, 2018). Indeed, a majority of
tweets that used the hashtag #AllLivesMatter focused on the lives of police officers,
while #BlackLivesMatter focused primarily on the lives of the victims including Freddie
Gray, Michael Brown, Antonio Martin, Eric Garder, Walter Scott, and Sandra Bland
(Gallagher, Reagan, Danforth, & Dodds, 2018). Activists of #BlackLivesMatter took up
the hashtag of #AllLivesMatter to discuss the hypocrisy (Freelon, McIiwain, & Clark,
2016) – that in taking up such a stance, one was exhibiting colorblind racial attitudes
that minimizes the significance of race and context (Tawa, Ma, Katsumoto, 2016).
In both sides, of #BlackLivesMatter and of #AllLivesMatter, we find a dialogue of
ideas, of values, of beliefs. The perceived threat both sides felt at each other – that one
was not recognizing the plights of the other’s side – was a threat that developed not
only towards a given group, but with that given group. There is a process of mutual
radicalization (Moghaddam, 2018) that is present at each moment. Thus, the process of
threat needs to emphasize the flow and change of values of what is threatening from
both sides of a diametrically opposed conflict. Threat does not happen in a vacuum –
both sides engage in responding to each other.
This active responding to threat is critically missed when considering threat – and
fails to account for the historical, piling up process of threat that can occur over time. It
is not the direct exposure to threat at once – but the continued, long term exposure of
threat that is predictive of political intolerance (Peffley, Hutchison, & Shamir, 2015).
More than threat responding to threat, Ducksworth’s seminal construct of grit (2016)
provides a direct notion that individuals, when faced with threat, do not simply bow
down and ‘experience threat’. They are active agents that can push back with equal and
opposing force – and it is these individuals – the ones who face their threats and
continue on – that are the most interesting to study.
Therefore, a cultural psychological understanding of threat needs to recognize
the multi-directionality of threatening stimuli. Threat is an active process both towards
others – it is dialogical in its existence. But, it is also a process that is done with others –
it is dialectic in that it occurs with others, formulating one’s opposing side
(#AllLivesMatter or #BlackLivesMatter) and increasing in conflicting sources that both
play off each other in evermore novel ways (c.f. dialectic & dialogic – Glaveanu, 2018).
This fulfills the second directionality of threat – that it is interactive with individuals.
The axiom of inherent bordering directionality
First, we reviewed that threat is directed onto itself, constantly striving for new meanings
and creations that we cannot predict. Then, we moved to looking at how threat is
directed with others, engaging in a dialogical relationship that builds and deconstructs
further threats across multiple interactions. The third directionality of threat requires an
examination of where such threats can occur – examining the directionality of two
borderzones coming in contact with each other.
We can consider these borderzones in a multitude of ways. The first way is the
borders between various levels of social organization. This includes the social groups
the individual identifies with and against, and the systemic ideologies they live with and
interact with at a daily level – including the justice system, power differentials, and ideas
around nationalism and patriotism. In this way, directionality needs to bridge the micro,
meso, and macro levels of individual behavior (Jaspal, Carriere, & Moghaddam, 2015).
We must also be willing to engage with the dialectic nature of each level influencing
each other (Gottlieb, 1992). It is at these borders of where the macro and the micro
meet – or the macro and the meso, or the meso and the micro – where threat occurs. At
the micro<>macro level, we can consider how an individual situates themselves against
the justice system and the police. At the micro<>meso level, an individual may find
themselves pushing against their political party’s policies and wonder if they still identify
as a member of the in-group. At the macro<>meso level, conflicts of group-procilivity
and competing ideologies of states threaten each other, further radicalizing each group
(Moghaddam, 2018). At each borderzone of levels of organization, there permits the
chance for threat, for resistance, and for resilience.
Beyond the borders of social organization, we can also zoom into how different
individuals differentiate themselves in a given level – such as in terms of group
membership. After September 11th, more Americans felt ‘American’ than prior, and rates
of nationalism increased (Li & Brewer, 2004). At the same time, more hate crimes
against Muslim Americans appeared and prejudice against Muslims also continued
(Abu-Ras & Suarez, 2009). The country began to clarify a qualitative distinction
between us and them, promoting a new bona fide border of groups. At the same time,
crossing international borders increased in difficulty due to threat, bringing out the fiat
borders of where one country ends and another one begins (Smith & Varzi, 2000).
This rallying cry around both kinds of borders of groups is inherent to intergroup
relationships. When we look at intergroup relationships, we categorize others into
groups, identify our group within that category and context, and then compare our group
against others (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). This is the basis of social identity theory – that
groups are formed and conflict arises from these group-based comparisons. We want to
be similar to others in our group, different from those outside of our group, and better
than those outside of the other, and so we hierarchically integrate ourselves into a
sound structure (Werner, 1957).
Yet, these group constructions are necessarily imaginary. We cannot be certain
that some individuals (our in-group) think in more similar ways than those in the out-
group. Conflict already emerges when dealing with intersubjective sharing - where
either too much similarity is bad (and one’s individuality is lost) or too much
disagreement is bad (and the other must be wrong) (Carriere, 2013a). There is a
balance of intersubjective sharing that occurs at the border-zone that promotes one’s
uniqueness yet also one’s group cohesion. We see this more directly when individuals
will prescribe more individuality to members of their in-group, while prescribe more
general, stereotypical principles to members of an out-group (Simon, 1992). Group
prescriptions are important – until they are not.
However, imaginary does not mean false. The unidirectional causal models of
threat asking how likely you believe you will be a victim of a terrorist attack is directly
targeting the inherent imagination of threat. It is the perceived size, not actual size, of an
immigrant group that relates to how threatening one finds the minority (Semyonov,
Raijman, Tov, & Schmidt, 2004). Individuals exposed to a constant life of threat, such as
individuals living in Israeli and the Gaza Strip, exhibited higher levels of threat and lower
levels of political tolerance (Peffley, Hutchison, & Shamir, 2015).
For fiat borders, stories of swimmers and hikers finding their way crossing the
borders of countries unintentionally appear in the news constantly. There are no ‘lines in
the sand’ that determine the border from one country to the next, but instead, a vast
system of negotiations, agreements, and treaties that are accepted as the current
standard. And, in the case of these clarifying fida borders of groups, there is no real
need for them. Those who view themselves as members of a global citizen are the most
supportive of human rights (Hackett, Omoto, & Mathews, 2015).
The axiom of inherent bordering directionality provides the ability to recognize
that the individual both meets threats at various level of social organization, but also
when their levels of social organization interact with another individual’s level of social
The axiom of inherent historical directionality
These interactions of social organized borders carry with them years, perhaps
even centuries, of prior contacts. The psychological make-up of how a border is
constructed at any given moment is tied to the past constructions of such a border by a
variety of past individuals. A recent move in cultural psychology has been to consider
the effects of the collective group in terms of its meaning-making process. Groups
collectively construct national memories (Wagoner & Bresco, 2016), they imagine
futures as a whole (de Saint Laurent, Obradovic, & Carriere, 2018), they stress over the
complexities of work (Kirkegaard & Brinkmann, 2015) and they perpetuate rumors in an
act of collective forgetfulness (Haas & Levasseur, 2013; Carriere, in press-a). This
movement away from the isolated individual who receives from the open-system around
her towards the open-system functioning through and alongside of the individual is an
important theoretical advancement that was sorely needed in cultural psychology
(Carriere, 2014; Lyra, 2014).
How would we conceptualize a collective perception of threat? When I speak of
collective threat, there is a tendency to consider it in individual-focused terms – i.e. – to
what degree does an outgroup target my ingroup or to what degree do I feel that the
average individual within my group is threatened. However, this is not the type of
collective threat I refer to. When I speak of collective threat, I refer more to the collective
as defined as “not [a perceived threat] by society, performed by a mysterious group
mind, but one of society, developed by people as they engaged in collective living”
(Glaveanu & de Saint Laurent, 2015, p. 558, emphasis original). This re-focus on ‘of
society’ permits us to move beyond cross-cultural outcomes towards intercultural
processes. It is highlighted already with dialetic – we feel threat not just towards
individuals, but with individuals.
It is important to recognize both the individual and collective natures of threat.
The individual, as an agentic meaning-maker in her own right, receives information from
the collective about what they should or should not be fearful of. They grow in their own
value system, laden with collective connections, and respond appropriately when their
worldview is challenged. The collective shares fake news, remembers history in various
ways, and creates the catalytic conditions for individuals to generate their own
understanding of the event. The individual places themselves both inside of and outside
of the culture at any given moment. For example, disadvantaged group members
perceive higher levels of discrimination targeted at their collective group rather than at
themselves individually (Taylor, Wright, Moghaddam, & Lalonde, 1990). The individual is
appropriating themselves into the group while at the same time distancing themselves
from it – relying on a symbiotic relationship of giving and taking.
Groups make collective decisions and spur movements on the basis of an
imagined future soon to come (de Saint Laurent, Obradovic, & Carriere, 2018). This is
where threat interacts at the border of retroactive-imagination and proactive-imagination
(Valsiner, this volume, chapter 1). The historical, socially constructed memories of a
past event can have large impacts on how individuals consider the Other. In the case of
Israeli & Palestinian individuals, both sides remember their history through the lens of
victimhood (Nicholson, 2017). In looking to the future, Serbian individuals faced their
proactive imagination of being in the European Union with the retroactive imagination of
remembering a life of conflict and the hard-fought steps taken to preserve one’s national
identity (Obradović, 2018). There are threats in both directions – a step forward into the
European Union may threaten the past work done by one’s ancestors in forming a
Serbian claim, and at the same time, not moving forward into the future threatens
generations to come that may need the support of a larger system to survive in the
current economy. The process of threat requires an examination of both the threats from
keeping the past memory constructed in a sensible way (and creating new meanings
when the current memory does not line up with past memories) and ensuring the future
– of which is uncertain – is imagined in such a way that provides the least amount of
threat to the other.
Therefore, a cultural psychology of threat needs to examine how both individuals
and groups make meaning of threatening stimuli together. And, by including the
collective whole into the picture, it requires a recognition of the socially constructed past
memories and the variety of possible futures that are also imagined. How we position
ourselves – both in terms of how we imagined the past and how we imagine the future –
direct the object in such a way where new processes will continually be presented.
Towards a Cultural Psychology of Threat
In the prior section, I outlined four axioms of inherent directionality that need to
be accounted for in appropriating a cultural psychological lens onto other fields. These
four directionalities were self-reflecting, dialogical, bordering, and historical. In self-
reflecting directionality, I covered how threat needs to be seen as a continuous process.
In dialogical directionality, I reviewed how this process interacts with others, using the
protests and counterprotests of #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter as examples of
dialogical threat. An exploration on the borders of threat both at group-level borders
(ingroups and outgroups), individual-level borders (myself compared to my group), or
societal level borders (the justice system’s interactions with the executive branch)
exemplified the bordering directionality of threat. These borders are directed at each
other and away from each other at every moment. Finally, the historical directionality of
threat included focusing on the collective and the continued socially constructed
process of threat in both remembering the past and imagining the future. Now that I
have reviewed all four axioms and placed them in terms of threat, the next step is to
consider holistically how one can understand threat (See Figure 1).
The above figure adapts Brofenbrenner’s (1993) model of individual development and
places it in terms of a cultural psychological understanding of directionality. First, the
borders of threat at each level are bi-directional and continue to clash against each
other, signifying the first axiom of self-reflecting directionality. Also, each level is open to
new experiences and inputs from outside sources, providing the open-system
methodology that is needed to account for such novelty. The axiom of dialogical
directionality is highlighted through noting these external inputs are constantly being
added into and taken from the individual’s system. The bordering directionality is noted
in Brofenbrenner’s original model – that each level interacts and influences each other
at the borderzones. Finally, the historical directionality of threat is accounted for by
focusing the model onto a future oriented x-axis, with past levels and future possibilities
always present as the individual moves forward in her life.
Now that a model has been presented, where can the cultural examination of threat
take us further? I believe we can start by exploring arenas where a cultural psychology
of threat could use expansion.
First, is in the context of work and leadership. Cultural psychology is just now
exploring the psychology of work (Bendassolli, 2017; Carriere, in press-b), and
examining work in the context of threat is the next logical step. Ethical leadership is
critical to the preservation of our democracy (Comey, 2018), and how threat from
political pressures, key stakeholders, and a neo-capitalist culture put heavy demands on
our leaders and their interactions with both their employees and their consumers.
Second, examining threat from a cultural psychological point of view requires the
expansion of a forward-oriented methodology (Valsiner, this volume, chapter 9). To
understand threat in such a way that is truly applicable to the current world, we must
move beyond unidirectional models of causality towards an open-system
methodological approach. In doing so, we must promote both mixed-methodological
advances (Moghaddam, Walker, & Harre, 2003) but also, permit the novel exploration of
new methodologies. An important target for such open-system methodologies includes
the single case design and a microgenetic, moment-by-moment process as soon as a
threat gets introduced. Recently, research designs around in-the-moment diary
reporting using smart phone apps have taken off (c.f. Runyan et al., 2013), and using
such methods to track how individuals manage their threats on a daily basis would be
enlightening. Individuals could also be exposed to such threats in a systematic
desensitization manner, with the researcher examining how the individual negotiates
feelings of threat from the stimuli at each moment.
Third, we need to examine what kinds of questions both can and should be
asked if approaching threat through a cultural psychological lens. As noted, the
questions should involve processes, not outcomes. Questions can be asked such as,
“How do individuals make meaning of threat in their daily lives, and what symbolic
resources do they rely on in order to move forward?” A quantitative examination of
collective trauma post 9/11 showed that individuals who found meaning in the attacks
exhibited lower symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder compared to those who
found no such meaning (Updegraff, Silver, & Holman, 2008). While their operational
definition of searching for meaning was reduced into a numeric scale, their results
speak to the importance of understanding the process of meaning making. Some
individuals failed to make meaning, others succeeded. And within the data of Guassian
statistics, there were clearly individuals who failed to make meaning but suffered no
PTSD and those who did make sense but exhibited PTSD symptoms anyway. How
were certain signs promoted or depressed, how did some move on to the future while
others stayed in the past in their retroactive imagination – and, how did both groups look
towards the proactive imagined future in vastly different ways? Zittoun & Sato (2018)
suggest that recovery from such trauma requires a reconnection from the rupture of the
imagination of the past with the imagination of the future. Is that what these participants
were able to do? If we can tap into how various environments are cultivated and
affectively laden (Carriere, 2013b; Cornejo, Marsico, & Valsiner, 2018), we can begin to
explore a world constantly fighting and promoting threats.
Conclusion: Is There a Threat to Cultural Psychology?
In this manuscript, I have outlined four directionalities that should be accounted
for when dealing with open-systems. This extends Valsiner’s notion of a self-reflecting
directionality (I AM-> constantly generating new outcomes; see Valsiner, 2014, p. 18-19)
to considering the multiple directionalities meanings face at every moment. The clear
next step would be investigating how these multiple directions interact at any given time
– how does the historical direction influence our interpretations of the bordering
direction, or how does the dialogical direction impact future bordering directions or our
own self-reflective directions.
Secondly, I attempted to dialogically acculturate cultural psychology into research
on perceived threat. While we recognize the pitfalls of a causal-model-based
psychology, their results can help build into larger understandings of theoretically
interesting phenomenon. In doing so, I have elaborated that threat must be understood
as a historically situated, future-forward directed dialogical process that occurs at
multiple levels of social organization and can exhibit multiple outcomes. This is a
novelty in understanding perceived threat, which has for too long been considered an
outcome from intergroup contact and conflict. Perceived threat research needs to
remove itself from considering the individual as one who simply gets a feeling, but
instead, an active member of a rich social community that is both restricted by the
borders of her social class, but also free through an open-system to break free of such
borders and create a novel approach to conflict resolution.
As Valsiner (this volume, chapter 9) writes, the time for cultural psychology to
begin experimenting with open-system methodologies is on us. In such a theory-driven
school of thought, this call is relatively easy to attain at a theory-developing level. But,
the true test of cultural psychology in the future will be whether or not we can translate
such open-system methodologies to real-world observations and individual cases. I
believe that accounting for the four directionalities of observing such open system
processes is a critical first step needed for this call to succeed. Since the development
of cultural psychology is itself a process, I shall not claim to know its final outcome, but
instead, reflect that its directionality in regards to novelty, youth scholars, and new
horizons places itself in a very strong position to move psychology into the future.
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