Approaching Privacy and Selfhood through Narratives

Approaching Privacy and Selfhood through Narratives
Nandita Chaudhary and Indu Kaura
This paper examines the notion of privacy in the Indian cultural context
by utilising narratives from three research studies done at New Delhi.
Beginning with the cultural understanding of the terms privacy and self
through the voices of children and their parents, the paper addresses key
assumptions of the individualised self. These assumptions are then examined
from a cultural perspective and juxtaposed with issues of privacy and social
relationships, using examples. An attempt is made to articulate selfhood as
experienced in India. Through the narratives the emerging picture of privacy
can be constructed from two positions, the parents and the young adolescents.
The findings display that the older generation clearly finds privacy a
divisive force for which there is no place within the family. The children on
the other hand, define privacy more in terms of “being on one’s own” rather
than “away from other people”. The notion of privacy adjusted well with the
conception of the self within the cultural context. Indian youth were found to
be socialised to put others, particularly family members before them.
Everyday talk is replete with references to other people, over and above
references to objects. The child is constantly instructed on socially appropriate
behaviour by adults and is mostly engaged in social games through language
that involve interpersonal play. From the different studies referred in this text
it seems that the self in these situations seemed to be defined more from the
position of the “other”. This is especially true for relationships within the
family. Despite the socially-oriented themes during childhood, it seems that
the urban educated youth are struggling for the sense of individuality at this
developmental phase of their lives. How things will turn out for them as they
take on adult roles, only time will tell.
Another contribution of this paper is in terms of method. The studies
referred are examples of qualitative approaches to the study of psychological
phenomena. Regarding selfhood, an important finding of the different studies
substantiates the construction of selfhood as predominantly defined and
applied in terms of significant others. In this manner, the investigation of any
self-related study has to incorporate the “other” in a procedural manner to
allow the local sense of self to stand out and speak for itself. It is important
therefore, to accept that it is not only method, but also the theory behind the
method that will ensure an appropriate access to and analysis of findings in
research pursuits.
Address correspondence to the authors:
Nandita Chaudhary, Ph. D. –
Indu Kaura –
Approaching Privacy and Selfhood through Narratives
Ever since the categories of Individualism and Collectivism were
introduced into academic literature, social scientists have had a useful
classification to invoke while studying different communities, see Valsiner,
1994. Recent studies have assumed greater complexity of individual and social
processes and plurality has become more acceptable than it has ever been
before. Post-modernism has helped the reception of this plurality in all phases
of human activity. For those of us who are engaged in research in developing
countries, the acceptance of theory and research techniques generated from the
“White community” was facilitated by the fall out of our colonial past. Indians
were used to listening to “white masters”. The influence of political freedom
took a long time to percolate down to the area of academics and many of us
have had to deal with multiplicity and conflicting forces even within
ourselves. An added dimension has been the prevalence of the English
language, particularly for University education in India. On the one hand there
is a struggle for indigenous research (Gergen, Gulerce, Lock & Misra, 1996)
and on the other, there is the need to fall back on the security of the written
This paper is a presentation of the ways and means that we have
developed to deal with some of the conflicts that are basic to the discussion of
cultural psychology. Taking the specific area of privacy and selfhood as an
example, we have tried to come up with illustrations of how innovative
methods can be developed. In doing so, several findings have been unearthed
which may otherwise have gone unnoticed. Thus, apart from the findings,
there are some significant methodological implications of such work.
The definition of “culture” that one ascribes to in research is an
important feature in the interpretation of the findings. The position that is
productive for all of us is more appropriately described as a “constructive or
“characterising” rather than “defining” approach (Markova, 2000; Valsiner,
1994). If we accept a position wherein culture is treated more as verb rather
than a noun, maybe the task would be further simplified. See also Ratner,
In Sanskrit, related terms interestingly, are all action-based. Kr is a
syllable that refers to action, Kratur or Karya (Hindi) is an act, Karma is
action, Samskara is the imprinting of past action on the self and Samskriti
means tradition or culture. All these words have the kr sound to indicate the
doing or acting element.
The key issues raised in the paper include discussions on the origin of
the self within academic discourse, the construct of privacy and the
implications of the latter for the construction of selfhood within a specified
temporal and spatial context. Data is also presented to demonstrate the
“otherness” of the self as presented in everyday talk in families.
This paper alludes to data from three studies. All three are located in
New Delhi and deal with familial correlates of stress among adolescents,
social axioms and language socialisation.
Defining Selfhood
The term “self” as a pronoun and pronominal adjective, is akin to an
assertion that the reference is to the person or thing mentioned and not to
another. In a sense, that which is truly and essentially she or he, in a person,
versus what is accidental. The self has also been used to refer to the
characteristics constituting conflicting personalities within a human being, the
different selves. The self can be argued as being merely the fiction of a broad
set of “misconceptions” regarding the meaning of humans. A fundamental
error in the belief in a separate self is that the human individual is a conscious
and autonomous being in charge of her or his own fate. This assumption is
intrinsically linked with Western culture and does not withstand historical
validation. Arguments against traditional notions of the self have been
developed within diverse schools of thought, the chief of which are:
 Marxism, which maintains that the self is constructed by class ideology
 Lacanian psychonalysis, which maintains that the self is constructed via the
mirror stage of individual development, and
 Poststructuralism, which argues that the self is produced by language and
Though these views vary in focus, the idea of the self's fictive or
constructed nature is shared by all. Literature has made a significant
contribution to the ideological construction of individuals. Foucault's early
focus (1989) on the discourse systems behind the idea of a central and
independent identity, whether human, governmental, national or global -carries a similar view of the self as an unconscious site rather than a conscious
entity. More recently, critics have reinterpreted the rather depressing idea of
the self as a mere location in order to assert the self-constituting relation of
constituents of human identity. These views strengthen the notion of self as a
mere construct. This idea of the “I” as the mere product of ideological and
linguistic discourses mirrors the poststructuralist claim that the subject is not,
as in traditional definitions unified and autonomous, but heterogeneous and
dependent. The psychoanalytic theory of the “mirror stage” of self-constitution
has contributed extensively to this negative view of the autonomous self
(Lacan, 1991). Erving Goffman (1959) argued that due to the influence of
burgeoning technology and the mass media, the postmodern individual is a
master of “impression management”. Postmodern identity is basically
dramaturgical, composed of a series of roles and masks sported by individuals
under pressure of surveillance and the importance of image over substance.
Thus meanings of the self, however honorable, are located much more
significantly under the surface rather than deep within.
In Hindu philosophy, life consists of the jiva and atman (empirical and
essential self). The sentient self is what we know of and atman is unknowable
through ordinary everyday experience. It is only while interacting with the
outside world, material or personal, that evidence of atman can be gathered.
Consciousness, or knowledge of the inner self (contrary to the construction in
Western psychology) is believed to be attained through meditation and
spirituality. The experiences of the sentient self are seen as illusionary and
inconsequential for true happiness and a meaningful life. This sounds quite
similar to the idea of a fictitious self with the added dimension of an inner,
spiritual element of life itself. Thinking too much about the self, i.e. the
empirical self, is believed to lead to ahankara or undesirable pride.
The domain of selfhood has generated a great deal of research in the
recent past. In this section, the theoretical linkages and dynamics of the
construction of the self as it pertains to the construct of privacy are examined.
The self has been defined as “the essential being that distinguishes him or her
from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive
action”. If this view of the self is adopted, there are several problems that arise
for a researcher, particularly when working with a “non-western” group. The
definition of selfhood therefore carries three basic assumptions, namely:
exclusivity or separateness, introspection and self-reflection.
These assumptions are basically the reasons for a potential mismatch. First,
the assumption of an exclusive self is Euro-centric, we have had access to
scholars like Roland (1988) and Hermans (1999) who address this issue in
great detail. Second, introspection, the second element of the construct as it is
understood in Psychology, is also western in orientation. People from Indian
communities are much more likely to resort and respond to external criticism
than to self-evaluation through introspection. Thirdly, self-reflection almost
always implies overtones of spirituality in Eastern traditional thought as well
as folk literature, a dimension that the field of psychology has been
particularly challenged by in the recent past. Vipassana, observing oneself, is
an ancient technique of meditation used by the Indian sages that was revived
by Buddha. This exercise is believed to act as a bridge between the known and
the unknown. Usually, the conscious mind has no idea about the unconscious.
Through Vipassana, the entire functioning of the mind becomes available and
ignorance is believed to be dispelled (Sharma, 2001).
Therefore, the Self as implied in a western setting will not evoke the kind
of image in an Indian that it would in German or American people. This takes
up the whole issue of national identity and cultural differences versus
universalism that is usually avoided, mostly because the use of labels to refer
to groups always carries the exclusion clause that we may be better off
without. When a national level label is used, unfortunately a normative
approach is adopted and ideas are invoked without much reflection. The term
Indian would immediately generate specific images in the mind. Are we so
naïve to assume that this image is stable enough to represent the thundering
variety that the nation carries? But this is also not the main point here (see
Shore, 1996 for discussion on “otherness”). Even though the label is used even
in this paper, it is important to note that using it outside the country is more
acceptable than within.
In a recent review, Valsiner (2000) introduced an appealing insight into the
formation of identity. According to him, the element of identity, which can be
argued as being close to selfhood, has a strong dimension of fantasy, that
fantasy to which the “identified” person chooses to ascribe. He goes further to
propose that in communities where roles and relationships are marked very
clearly, the element of identity has much less significance. The term hyperidentity is used to refer to those persons who over-ascribe to adopted views
about the self, as in the case of terrorists. This analysis appears extremely
useful in trying to come to terms with the variety of manifestations both within
and among cultural locations.
Indeed, this was true of young adolescent girls in India (Sharma, 1996). It
was found that there was a much greater confusion along with perceived
choice among “modern”, urban young girls in comparison with their rural,
traditional counterparts. Roland (in press) also quotes the example of a
Turkish scholar who finds greater doubt and confusion among westernised
Turkish students rather than among those where roles were clearly defined.
Also very useful has been the proposal of the dialogical self that allows the
multiplicity of representations within the self (Hermans, 1999). However, the
degree of self-reflection expected of a person while employing the method
proposed by the Dialogical Self poses a practical problem while considering it
in different cultural settings. Perhaps the most comfortable fit has been with
the conceptualisation of the various selves (Roland, 1988), the Familial,
Spiritual, the Extended and the Individual, coexisting in a dynamic way,
allowing a person to operate in an interactive fashion depending upon the
requirement of the situation. With this perspective, an additional clause would
be the identification of an in-group or an affiliation with specific members. In
an Indian family, it is not unusual to identify strongly with the natal family,
particularly for a woman. In the study on Language socialisation referred to in
this paper, many instances of subtle referencing were found by mothers to
their side of the family by revisiting persons and events to the child through
conversations. There may be specific exclusions of the “in-laws”, perhaps
sometimes as a reaction to the demands of patriarchy. Several studies have
been able to discern the “in-group”, “out-group” phenomenon in other parts of
the world as well (Chaudhary, 1999).
What about the younger child? While working with children below the age
of four, it was found that there were very specific ways in which the mother
positioned herself in conversation with the child (Chaudhary, 1999). The
caregiver (mostly the mother) usually presented events to the child from her
perspective, rather than from that of the adult or an objective one. This was
particularly evident in the wide range of kin terms that are used in Indian
families. Relationships were almost always marked by the kin term specific to
the child, usually without the use of the pronoun. Use of names without a kin
marker is discouraged while referring to older people. The perspective that the
child was getting was a “joint” or connected one. For example, a mother
would typically ask a child a brief, “Open?” (Shall I open this box for you?)
while she was struggling to open a box. Does the child growing up with
speech patterns like this begin to see the self and the world around in a sort of
connected manner.
The autonomy of the self was believed by Mead to be constructed through
inner speech during the ontogenetic progression from “outer” to “inner”
direction (Valsiner, 2000b). If the “double input” that Mead spoke about
consists of repeated perspective-taking that is connected or joint in nature as in
the example above, surely there will be implications for the self-other
configuration within that setting. The “immersion of a growing child in
dialogue” (Valsiner, 2000b, p. 38) that consistently presents a complex
interconnectedness in relationships would also result in a person orientation
that may differ from other cultural settings.
In the presentation of the notion of the “I” being essentially unknowable
and the “me” as being constructed in response to every external person or
internal drive Valsiner, 2000b) resonates with an obviously independent view
in Indian classical beliefs. Among the Hindu philosophy, the self is essentially
unknowable, indestructable and irreducible. It is only against the interactions
with internal (desires, senses) and external realities (others), that the evidence
is ascertained.
As Shweder, Mahapatra and Miller (1988) found among Hindus, “Society
is not separated from nature. What is natural or moral has not been narrowed
down to the idea of an individual, empowered and free to create relationships
at will, through contract. Forms of human association are believed to be found
(natural law), and not founded (conventionism) (emphasis mine). In those
parts of the world, the idea that social practices are conventions plays a
minimal role in the child’s understanding of the source of obligations.” (p.
374). We move to the discussion of privacy as it is defined in ordinary English
Defining Privacy
According to the dictionary, privacy is “a state in which one is not
observed or disturbed by others, or freedom from public attention”. The
traditional understanding of community was characterized by physical
proximity, face-to-face and primary relationships, and a strong commitment to
a body of meaning providing a collective sense of identity or consciousness. In
the late 20th century, this sense of community was displaced, at least in the
industrialized world. Spatially, the post-modern individual shied away from
collective affiliation and communal responsibility, considering these to be a
hindrance to personal development, and a threat to privacy. Modernity has
been called the “culture of separation” (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swindu, &
Tipton, S. M., 1985). The evolution of society from the communal to the
associative has been studied extensively. For the individual, this has meant a
restructuring of social space and interpersonal relationships from homogenous
to heterogeneous societies. The idea of collectivism introduced by Hofstede
(1984) implies the orientation of people towards the communal and therefore
more ancient way of understanding relationships. However, a closer look at
interpersonal dynamics requires a more complex theoretical paradigm.
“We have very little privacy in our home”, is an item aimed at assessing
individual independence within a family through the Family Environment
Scale (Moos & Moos, 1994). For her study on adolescents’ perceptions and
experiences of stress and family environment, Kaura (2000) presented the
items of this scale to her respondents. Instead of just using it as a
questionnaire, she chose to explore the understanding of the items by
interviewing the respondents. The responses came as no surprise, but caused a
methodological difficulty. It seemed that one could not assume a uniform
understanding of the terms in spite of the fact that the respondents were
multilingual, speaking Hindi and English (sometimes along with another
language as well). The young respondents tended to say with a grimace, “Yes,
we have no privacy within our home” and parents, also giving the same
answer, responded with enthusiasm, “Of course we have no privacy in the
home”. The responses reflected very different orientations, even if these were
developmental. The trouble was that both the children and the adults who
responded in this way had marked the item “True”, the children with an added
“there is something wrong” and the adults with an “all is well”. This
investigation unearthed a fascinating collection of narratives around the issue.
It was found on further investigation that the respondents defined privacy
primarily as “withholding information”, more like secrecy and the
unwillingness to open oneself to the other. Only a few persons said that
privacy was just “wanting to be on your own”. Adolescents said privacy for
them was keeping their matters to themselves and for adults, it implied hiding
things from each other. Whereas the young person tended to give a “selfrelated” response, the adults looked at it as “other-related”. A significant point
here is that the study was introduced as concerning the adolescent.
Consequently, the responses of the adults may have been focussed towards the
children and reactions may have been different if their own privacy was
discussed. Another difference emerged in the content of the “private” domain.
Whereas adolescents mentioned thoughts and actions only, the adults included
possessions, bank accounts and such-like things as well. Some of the other
impressions are that men seem to have a greater right to private space and for
women the expectation seems to be to be physically and emotionally available
for others all the time. Among couples, there was some evidence of the same
situation to be seen as fairly private by the men and intrusive by the women,
perhaps because of the greater care taken for privacy of the couple when the
man is home! To illustrate the points raised, let us consider some narratives in
detail. The narratives presented are mostly translated from Hindi, though some
words of English were also used as is common in Delhi homes. The term
Privacy was always invoked in the English language as it had been introduced.
Dynamics of Privacy and Selfhood
Neeru, the mother of a young girl, remarked that “We believe that
too much privacy is not good because due to this, we are unable to
develop closeness with others. Not able to share views freely,
unable to share problems and feelings with others. If there is
privacy, everyone will go into their own rooms and close their
doors, stay busy with themselves. In our (indicating the opinion of
the ‘family’) opinion, privacy is not very conducive for a ‘good
and happy’ family life. By privacy we mean someone is doing
some work, they do not tell others about it, do not share it with
others. Either about children or about adults or about the kitchen,
anything, any matter at all. I believe it is very important to share.”
Neeru’s husband said “Privacy means ‘separation’. No
one to disturb you. Doing whatever you want to in your own room.
I believe that privacy is not good because if we do everything our
own way, then we may even go wrong. If something goes wrong
then it will affect the whole family (joint). If I absolutely do not ask
anybody, do not attend to anybody, neglect others………. For
instance, if I do something without asking my father, I go by my
own wishes for everything, then he (my father) will feel that it is
not good….. meaning, am I doing the right thing or not…… If I do
not consult him, he will feel bad. A little bit of privacy, if I can
say….. then it is with my wife… I think sitting with her, discussing
with her… some privacy we have. But if we want complete
privacy, then I don’t think it is possible in a joint family because
you have to consider others’ opinions and decisions also. If you
want a lot of privacy, then one should live separately (In a nuclear
family). Even in a nuclear family, it should not come to pass that
children are neglected and mother-father are completely on their
own, do not even ‘see’ (supervise) the children. This much of
privacy is not desirable. Parents should remain involved with
children, ………. what the children are busy with ……. This
should also be taken care of… .”
According to Ramesh, the father of a child in the study, “Privacy
means hiding things from each other …… not telling what you are
doing… where you are going. In our family, we know all about
each other. I feel privacy is not good for the family. Suppose I am
going out of town and I don’t tell my wife till the last minute, how
will she feel? How will she plan who will stay with her when I am
not at home, her mother or my mother…?”
It seems that there was a linkage in the minds of the respondents
wherein privacy was believed to exclude sharing, a highly valued trait among
family members. Perhaps also that these people were not anti-privacy per se,
but pro-sharing.
The mother of a 13 year-old girl living in a nuclear family
mentioned that “Privacy for husband and wife is okay but within
limits. For children, it is not good. Privacy means hiding things
from each other. If we have too much privacy in the family, it
increases curiosity among children, but when we share, they take
things naturally. In one of my friend’s house, children are not
(even) allowed to enter parents’ bedroom, that I think, is not
The paternal uncle of a subject, a young girl, said “Privacy……?
See, now we all, three brothers…. It is a ‘complete’ joint family. In
case there is anything I want to keep private, like related to money
or any thing I bring home…. I tell my wife this object, or this gold,
you keep separately, don’t disclose it to anyone. That if anyone
else sees, either my brother’s wife, or anyone else…. They will feel
bad that we did not disclose this thing. Many families have broken
as a result of privacy, such crises were created that were difficult
to manage. In my view privacy is not at all okay. It means hiding
things from each other. In my opinion it is absolutely wrong. Ours
is a Hindu undivided family….. Why privacy? It is very difficult to
explain privacy. There is privacy of a husband and a wife….., then
they have children, there are some top secrets that a couple can
not disclose to their children… there are some secrets that I can
not tell my parents… or my wife can not tell her parents things
related to our family. These are the situations in which privacy is
fine, otherwise, there should be no such thing as privacy!!”
The dynamics among the different sub-systems within the family (rather
than between individuals) becomes significant here and distinct levels or
layers were evident in conversations with members from different kinds of
families, joint, nuclear and extended.
There seemed to be a clear divide in the adults’ responses related to the
boundaries of privacy and its relationship to selfhood. According to them,
privacy within the family (usually defined as the nuclear unit, though not
always, since children may be excluded), whether it was in terms of sharing
information or wanting to be on one’s own, was not desirable. Children were
discouraged from being on their own too much, having conversations over the
phone with unknown persons out of hearing range, or visiting places the
parents would not know of. Our hunch is that it is particularly true for girls,
but also holds true for boys. The rationale for this was declared as “They are
not yet aware of right and wrong and can easily be misled, so if we do not
know, how can we guide them”. With reference to adults, privacy within the
family is seen as breeding suspicion and mistrust, a process that hinders
Suchi, a 15 year-old girl in the study feels that “At this age we feel like
sitting alone. But if (we) do, then scolding is done…. Why are (you) alone?
Within a joint family, the dynamics becomes more complex. Since there
are differences in the degree of closeness among nuclear units, the extent of
exclusion or inclusion depended very much on the emotional climate. Privacy
in terms of exclusion and withholding was valued among nuclear units when
relationships were not so cordial. When the joint family was declared as being
close, privacy was perceived to be a threat to family unity. “Hiding things
from each other was perceived as being threatening”. Across all family types,
privacy within the nuclear family unit was perceived as undesirable, except in
business-related information in some families. Further, there were a handful of
parents who did support the provision of privacy for children from a very
young age.
It was also found that who was told secrets also depended on the content
of the information. Family matters remained strongly within the family and
talking to others, even in counselling sessions, was seen as betrayal. One girl
said that she shared matters with her mother, but not everything. If there was
something that would hurt her mother, she would hold it back and not tell her,
then she may speak with her cousin or a friend. Who will be told?, “It depends
on what I am upset about”, said another subject.
During the course of the study, it emerged that privacy was treated as a
sort of privilege and not a right. It is sanctioned on the basis of power and
authority. The husband-wife dyad is one sub-system that is granted this
privilege, particularly among the urban upper class. However, in a majority of
homes, closed doors are seen as an insult. For many couples, particularly those
living with other members, either their own children or extended family,
finding opportunity for intimacy is usually an adventure that calls for
innovation and manipulation. This is particularly true for families that live in
smaller homes with fewer rooms.
With regard to children, the adults are unanimous. Secrets and secret
relationships are a threat. It was not so clear what was threatened, family
loyalty, family cohesion, or just the power of the adult. Maybe a bit of all
three. It seems to me that this has begun to sound like sharing for a young
child, “what is yours is mine and what is mine is also mine”. Privacy is a
privilege that children certainly are not believed to have a legitimate right
over. As far as information to children is concerned, adults are fairly selective
in believing what the child “should know”. “Children should only know what
is right for their age” was a common belief. There were a few voices from
parents who did not fall into this pattern, those few who believed that children
also need space to call their own. It is my hunch that even in these homes,
what is sanctioned may be a far cry from the independence that is so sacred to
the young person in western society.
Emotional Display among Youth
In this study Jain (2001) utilised the format of the Social Axioms
Survey based on a cross-cultural study (Leung, 2000). During the survey, the
social axioms survey items that were presented in the format of a five-point
scale were to be rated by the respondent. Using the items with an Indian
population was indeed a difficult task. There are many terms that require
translation and choosing the appropriate words was a monumental task. The
survey was presented with the translated items alongside the English one, a
technique that the multilingual respondents said was very useful for them.
Extending the study to include questions related to emotional display (Jain,
2001), the young respondents were asked whether expressing emotions was a
good thing and if so, why. In the analysis, we looked at how many of the
responses referred to needs of the “self” and how many to those of “others”.
Not surprisingly, the predominant theme for either display or control was
related mostly to “other people”. The responses were mostly balanced around
many themes such as:
 Others can help solve a problem
 Positive feelings can be multiplied by sharing
 If you really care for someone, showing the emotion will help the
 If the emotion is negative, do not show it since it may upset the other
 If one displays happiness upon success, it may lead to envy from
others and result in negative vibrations (evil eye). These may even
cause potential harm.
 You should be aware of the person who is watching you.
 Be sensitive to what is expected of you from others.
 Maintain interpersonal harmony.
Thus it seemed that even reasons for keeping things to oneself were
other-related. Fewer reactions related to the outcome as it implicates the
individual. Certainly this would be an expected finding. To take the clause a
little further, it was clear the “other” did not mean the man on the street. The
respondents mentioned unambiguously that it was the “significant other” and
not just anyone who would play an important role in determining action.
Certainly the argument of “collectivism” would fail to fulfil the requirement in
explaining these phenomena. For instance, one person added that the situation
in which another person can not be helpful is the instance of an egotistical
person. Thus, this is not an unconditional clause. Further, it is not that the
cultural pattern is of devaluing oneself it is perhaps that others are valued
Some Lessons
For Theory
The Czech novelist Milan Kundera (1986) was moved enough to write a
glossary of 63 terms after being repeatedly dismayed by the translations of his
works. “The writer who determines to supervise the translations of his books
finds himself chasing after hordes of words like a shepherd after a flock of
wild sheep – a sorry figure to himself, a laughable one to others” (p. 121).
While using labels to refer to events, it is essential to reflect upon the local
meaning for the term. If the population is English speaking or bilingual, it may
be assumed that words carry the same meaning for them. Indeed this is not
true, as in the case of privacy discussed earlier. The term “pride” was part of
the investigated emotions regarding display. The respondents were able to
identify 5 ways of describing the word in Hindi: Garv (pride), gaurav (pride),
ghamand (pride), ahankar (pride) and abhimaan (pride). These terms have
different connotations and a uniform interpretation would be unwise. Garv and
gaurav imply positive values of honour and esteem, whereas ghamand,
ahankaar and abhimaan all three carry a somewhat negative connotation of
showing off, egoism and larger than necessary sense of self. Pride was mostly
understood as a negative term. Even if it was seen as a positive emotion for
being good at something, showing it was deemed unnecessary.
For Method
In some cases, the modifications in method have been based on a priori
beliefs in a more interactive method and in other cases, the investigations have
actually been prompted by responses on items. As we can see from the
example of the Social Axioms Survey, surface level questions do not reach far
enough to make investigations meaningful for the researcher. Some crosscultural studies are now being conducted with enthusiasm to accomplish
surveys. The motivation seems to be to gather comparable data about
otherwise silent populations. I seriously believe that this kind of research does
not contribute very much to the understanding of the cultural dynamics. At
best, they provide a kind of generalised picture. Cultural comparisons have to
carry background about the people, the history and social setting in which
people are living. In addition, the usage of terms (Shweder’s example of
shame is a case in point) in the different locations must be investigated prior to
or as part of the study. It is only then that the “polyphony of cultures” can find
true representation.
In conclusion, therefore, it is important to adopt a position of an insider
while studying a psychological phenomenon. As demonstrated in the paper,
when the issue of privacy was addressed to the subjects, there was a need to
pitch the questions at a deeper level rather than assuming a surface level
acceptance of the construct in order to fully understand the meaning making
processes of the respondents. Unless the “local” usage of researched terms is
investigated using simple everyday language through discursive interactions, it
is difficult to assume validity of method. As the methods have demonstrated,
the issue of privacy could not have been appropriately related to the discourse
on selfhood unless these alterations in method were applied. Regarding
selfhood, an important finding of the different studies substantiates the
construction of selfhood as predominantly defined and applied in terms of
significant others. In this manner, the investigation of any self-related study
has to incorporate the “other” in a procedural manner to allow the local sense
of self to stand out and speak for itself. It is important therefore, to accept that
it is not only method, but also the theory behind the method that will ensure an
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