Bringing together ethnographic and experimental approaches for culturally grounded comparative research
Anni Kajanus is an Assistant Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Helsinki. She is a cognitive and psychological anthropologist, working at the interfaces between culture and cognition, morality and cooperation. Her research brings together methods and approaches from anthropology and psychology, for a comparative study of human cooperation, child development, social organisation and emotional life. Her most recent work focuses on the cultural and psychological aspects of the emotion of irritation, and is funded by the ERC Starting Grant and Academy of Finland.
Human social behaviour is simultaneously shaped by the cognitive capacities and psychological dispositions that have evolved in humans as a species, and their development in an individual embedded in a particular cultural-historical environment. Research that cuts across the social, cultural and psychological dimensions of human experience is rare, however, due to various institutional barriers, and ethical and epistemological challenges. Even though comparative approach has been the bedrock of anthropology from the outset, its critical re-evaluation has been at the centre of disciplinary debates since the 1960s. Recently, the overall ethos of particularism is showing signs of exhaustion, and there have been a number of calls for rethinking the crosscultural comparative project of the discipline. In psychology, much of the research has focused on WEIRD populations, and while cross-cultural work has yielded interesting findings, it is often embroiled in simplistic comparative models, e.g. between individualistic and collectivistic societies. Through collaborative work involving anthropologists and psychologists, I have been involved in developing approaches to human development that bring together in-depth ethnographic research and experimental methods of systematic comparison. By sharing examples of research on cooperation, hierarchies, and emotional life, I will discuss the benefits and challenges of these mixed-method approaches.