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Contribution to Book
The "inside" story: A cultural-historical analysis of being smart and motivated, American style
Handbook of competence and motivation (2005)
  • V C Plaut, Berkeley Law
  • H R Markus

In this chapter, we examine the importance of cultural models to both scientific and lay understandings of competence and motivation. We (1) provide some examples of sociocultural diversity in models of competence and motivation, (2) describe the origins and nature of the common European American model that underlies most psychological theorizing and research, and (3) review recent comparative empirical research that illuminates the sociocultural specificity of many findings in the competence and motivation literature. In examining cultural models, we draw on the cultural psychological literature. "Cultural psychology" is the interdisciplinary study of how cultural practices and meanings, and psychological processes and structures depend on each other. A cultural psychology approach focuses on the interpretive structures of the world within which the person is a participant. We analyze cultural models of competence and motivation as significant features of cultural contexts that fashion individual experience. Being competent and motivated, as well as identifying competence and motivation in others, entails engagement with cultural models. Although a variety of models of competence and motivation are possible and indeed exist in various contexts, the most prevalent and well-elaborated lay and scientific models within American contexts represent these phenomena as innate individual properties and locate them firmly "inside" the individual. As these models are taken for granted and absorbed in the everyday practices of teaching and testing, their organizing force is made transparent, so that the search for the sources of competence and motivation focuses on the internal properties of brains, minds, and people. There are, of course, and have always been other theories and perspectives suggesting that competence and motivation--in fact, all of human behavior--is best understood by focusing on the outside: the external, the contextual, the social, the cultural, and the historical. Likewise, there have always been theories proposing that the self is socially constructed. Why the "inside" story tenaciously persists as the most prevalent interpretation of differences in competence and motivation is the story of this chapter.

Publication Date
Andrew J. Elliot and Carol S. Dweck
Guilford Publications
Citation Information
V C Plaut and H R Markus. "The "inside" story: A cultural-historical analysis of being smart and motivated, American style" Handbook of competence and motivation (2005)
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