Further Explorations of the "Western Mind". Euro-American and German Mothers' and Grandmothers' Ethnotheories


  • Heidi Keller University of Osnabrueck
  • Carolin Demuth University of Osnabrueck




independence, interdependence, autonomy, relatedness, parental ethnotheories, Western mind, transcultural and transgenerational comparison


This paper tries to disentangle the conception of independence as the dominant sociocultural orientation of care giving in Western postmodern societies sometimes referred to as the "Western mind." Mothers and grandmothers in Los Angeles, USA and Berlin, Germany were interviewed about their socialization goals and their ideas of good parenting with respect to a three months old baby using a semi-structured picture card interview technique. The analysis was based on qualitative content analysis. All participants share equally independent and interdependent socialization goals. They also have a common understanding about which care giving practices are important. There is, however, a cultural difference with respect to their conception of care giving. German participants share a holistic view in that they expect breastfeeding, body contact and Beschäftigung ("dealing with the child") to be composed of closeness and stimulation that facilitates relational closeness as well as healthy mental/psychological development. Los Angeles mothers and grandmothers share a functionalistic view (with the exception of breastfeeding) in that they conceive of different care giving practices differently with distinct developmental outcomes (breastfeeding is for health, playing is for stimulating cognitive development, bodily proximity is for soothing). All participants share an understanding that (motor) over-stimulation is not good for children's development. Grandmothers and mothers basically do not differ in their views as the grandmothers seem to have in part adopted their daughters' opinions. Results are discussed with respect to contextual factors, especially women's participation in the labor force. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs060159


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Author Biographies

Heidi Keller, University of Osnabrueck

Heidi KELLER is a professor of psychology at the University of Osnabrueck. Her research interests are directed at the integration of biology and culture over the lifespan. She is currently conducting a cross cultural research program on developmental pathways over the first six years of life.

Carolin Demuth, University of Osnabrueck

Carolin DEMUTH is currently a doctoral student of the Graduate School of Integrative Competences (Graduiertenkolleg Integrative Kompetenz) at the University of Osnabrueck. Her main interests are in the fields of cultural psychology and qualitative methods.




How to Cite

Keller, H., & Demuth, C. (2006). Further Explorations of the "Western Mind". Euro-American and German Mothers’ and Grandmothers’ Ethnotheories. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-7.1.74



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