The results of a collaboration between an anthropologist (Astuti) and two developmental psychologists (Solomon and Carey),this monograph unites two literatures that make very different tacit assumptions about the very nature of conceptual development. Anthropologists' focus on the cultural construction of knowledge leads many of them (including Astuti) to expect radically different conceptual understandings across cultures. In contrast, some cognitive developmental investigators (including Solomon and Carey) work to discover innate representational constraints that channel cognitive development, thus expecting cross-cultural universality in representations of the world. The studies concern Malagasy children's and adults' conceptual representations of human and animal kind, biological inheritance, innate potential and family relations. The Vezo of Madagascar were chosen because the ethnographic literature has attributed to them folk-biological and folk-sociological theories that are radically different, even incommensurable, with those of North American adults. Vezo therefore provide a challenging test for the innate conceptual constraints hypothesis.
The results of the studies reported here have surprises both for anthropological claims of cross-cultural differences and psychological claims for cross-cultural universality.
Rita Astuti and Gregg Solomon are the authors of Constraints on Conceptual Development: A Case Study of the Acquisition of Folkbiological and Folksociological Knowledge in Madagascar, published by Wiley.