Welcome to The Cultural Pathways Website

This website is part of a syllabus accompanying the paper
Keller, H. (2008). Culture and Biology: The Foundation of Pathways of development. Social and Personality Psychology Compass,2/2, 668 – 681.

Download Paper (pdf file, 0.4 MB)

The paper develops the argument that the relationship between biology and culture is systematic. Humans are equipped with evolved predispositions and devices to assess and process information from the environment in order to become competent in this particular context. Thus the human nature is biological and cultural at the same time. Two extreme environments are characterized in the paper: urban middle class families from Western societies and rural subsistence based farmers from non-Western societies. Of course, there are many differences between people living in these two extreme environments as well as among inhabitants of the respective environments. However, prototypes can be identified that embody the cultural models associated with these environments: autonomy is the driving force for socializing children in Western middle class families, relatedness is the driving force for socializing children in non Western rural families. Socialization goals, parenting ethnotheories and behavioral strategies differ as is outlined in the paper for the developmental phase of infancy. Infancy is a distinct developmental phase in all cultural contexts, however the cultural interpretations and practices vary widely.

This webpage offers examples for the better understanding of contextual developmental conceptions of cultural self-ways. We depicted the following proponents of the two prototypes: Western middle class families from the German capital of Berlin and Cameroonian Nso farming families in the North Western Province around the small city of Kumbo.

The illustration sections of this website are organized as follows:

  • a selection of photos characterizing the sociocultural environment of the Nso, followed by
  • short video clips characterize typical interactional situations between mothers and infants from the Nso and German middle class families. These videos especially highlight the different parenting parenting strategies as described in the paper "Conceptions of Parenting". The parenting strategies are elaborated in more detail in the book Cultures of Infancy.

This web page also contains examples of different solutions of universal developmental tasks beyond the early months of life.

With about 19 months of age, infants solve the developmental tasks of developing a categorial – distinct – self concept and the ability of social regulations. Based on the different early socialization strategies, the timing of these developmental tasks differs across the cultural contexts - and may be also other dimensions, that are not yet understood well. Short video clips demonstrate these differences.

A more substantial discussion about these differences can be read in two papers ("Developmental Consequences of Early Parenting Experiences: Self-Recognition and Self-Regulation in Three Cultural Communities" and "Parenting styles and the development of the categorical self: A longitudinal study on mirror self-recognition in Cameroonian Nso and German families") .

The next developmental task to solve with regard to self development concerns the narrative self – as expressed in talking about past events around three years of age.

Therefore we have included in this webpage two examples of conversations about memories highlighting especially differences between the two contexts with respect to

structure (elaborative vs repetitive) and content (non-social vs social)of the conversations.

These examples are only examples - but they highlight different developmental pathways in different cultural contexts. It is important to stress that we are not referring to better or worse developmental patterns, to more developed or less developed patterns and the like – we talk about different adaptations. Better or worse has to be defined within each context. The knowledge about development in textbooks in mainly based on conceptions of Western scholars and empirical research, predominantly from Western middle class families in the United States and Europe. The conceptions as well as the studies reflect the Western philosophy of the ideal of the autonomous and self-contained individual. However, this is representative only for a very small portion of the world’ s population. We have characterized an alternative philosophy, the one of relatedness that characterized the ideal of rural farmers, living in traditional villages in the non-Western world. Much more research is needed to complement the one sided view in our developmental textbooks. Hiltrud Otto has done a marvelous study on the Nso conception of attachment – which is quite different from the Bowlby/Ainsworth view (Otto, H., 2008). A short interview with her is included in which she highlights her field experiences.


Impressions of Nsoland

Parenting strategies

Developmental tasks of toddlers

Mother-child conversations

Interview with Hiltrud Otto