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IACCP Research Heroes: John Berry

Elina Halonen

After a long break we return to the Research Heroes interview series with John Berry, who has a PhD from University of Edinburgh 1966 and is now Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Queen's University, Canada. He had visiting appointments in several different parts of the world and currently teaches short courses in cross-cultural and intercultural psychology since his early retirement in 1999.

He is the author of a large number of key publications in the field of acculturation and cross-cultural psychology. One of his recent books is Cambridge Handbook of Acculturation Psychology with David Sam. His edited books include Handbook of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Cross-Cultural Psychology: Research and Applications, and Human Behavior in Global Perspective.

I got into cross-cultural psychology because... I spent a number of years working as a merchant seaman before studying psychology. Based on my international observations and experiences [mainly in Africa, and the Arctic], I knew that most psychology research was both culture blind and culture bound. As a result, I set out to include cultural contexts as part of my own work, and to try to change psychology in general to be more international and more culturally inclusive.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career...That an academic career could be both fun and useful, if one followed one’s own interests and ignored the usual confines of academic structures.

I most admire academically... those who combine ethnographic field work and psychology in their research and practice. This is because no human behavior can be understood without a first-hand knowledge of the cultural context in which it developed, and is now displayed.

The best research project I have worked on during my career... is the set of studies that led to my 1976 monograph (Human ecology and cognitive style: Comparative studies in cultural and psychological adaptation). This project established the basis for my long-standing joint interests in the ecocultural approach to understanding similarities and differences in human behaviour around the world, and in the consequences of culture contact (including acculturation and intercultural relations).

The worst research project I have worked on during my career... I have not regretted doing any research project, even though some of them were very difficult to carry out and complete. Both physical and social hardships have made some projects less enjoyable than others, but not to the point that I have regretted doing them.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research… My main interests and pleasures have been in working with hunting and gathering peoples across the world (Inuit, Arunta, Telefomin, Cree, Ojibway, Dene, Biaka, Birhor) as a basis for examining how the 95% of the history of human existence was carried out.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance… I always speak my mind, especially if there is a good audience!

A research project I wish I had done... All projects that I have ever wanted to do have been done to some extent over the years.

If I wasn't doing this, I would be... sailing and building houses (which I have done anyway throughout my academic career).

The biggest challenge for cross-cultural psychology in the next 10 years is... to get the field back to its roots in ethnography and the study of cultural context, and away from mass surveying by questionnaires.  The initial goal of CCP was to get away from using students in one society; this has now been largely replaced by using students (and other non-representative samples) in many societies.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is... Do what interests you; pay no attention to the conceptual fads and political incentives that pervade academia.


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