Çiğdem Kağıtçıbaşı, a pioneering woman in cultural psychology

Çiğdem Kağıtçıbaşı, a pioneering woman in cultural psychology

We said goodbye last week to a world-class scientist who grew up in this country.

Professor Çiğdem Kağıtçıbaşı was one of the leading names in the field of cultural psychology and made a global contribution to the science. 

Up until the 1970s, models specific to Western societies still marked psychology. However, academics from various countries, including Kağıtçıbaşı, were pointing out that these models would not be sufficient to explain the behavior of people in various different cultures around the world.

To understand the behavior of people in different countries, psychology had to develop new models that took into account the differences that are unique to these cultures. In this sense, Kağıtçıbaşı made a universal contribution to the science.

Her contributions to the development of psychology in Turkey are likely to be the subject of many scientific conventions in the coming years. Kağıtçıbaşı is probably the second biggest name in psychology in Turkey after Professor Muzaffer Şerif, who became one of the founders of social psychology after he was forced to flee to the United States following his arrest in 1944 during the single party period, on the grounds that he made “communist propaganda.”

With the research she made and the models she developed, Kağıtçıbaşı opened the way to the development of psychology in Turkey. Her research showing how children who receive pre-school education are much more successful in life than those who do not has a particularly special place. Behind the pioneering work of the Mother-Child Education Foundation (AÇEV) in Turkey in this field lies the work of Kağıtçıbaşı.

Another equally important contribution is the constructive and encouraging role she played in raising several scientists in her field. “As a teacher she used to applaud even the smallest achievement. She valued every work, listened to young academics, and encouraged them with enormous positive energy. She opened the way for us by motivating us all. She had always a positive impact on her surroundings,” said one of the academics who worked with her. 

Working with an endless energy was another of Kağıtçıbaşı’s important characteristics. Despite her illness, she participated in the 1st Congress of Social Psychology in Ankara last November before going abroad for treatment. Despite her advanced age, she continued to initiate long-term projects that will be continuing for many years to come.

She thus presented an extraordinary example of success for all Turkish women.

In recent years, the issue that worried her most was the loss of achievements gained in preschool education. The June 20, 2016 interview she gave to Hürriyet’s education editor Nuran Çakmakçı, headlined “There is a decline in school education,” is an important reference point in terms of understanding the scientific bases of the subject and understanding Kağıtçıbaşı’s concerns. 

“Early childhood is the fastest period of development in the human brain. Development is slower in subsequent years. The family and the environment are influential in this process. There is a great need for preschool educational institutions,” she said in that interview. 

“Early childhood education should be provided not only for those who have a higher socioeconomic level; it should be accessible to all. The issue must be made into a state policy that recognizes the importance of science-based early childhood education ... This is both an ethical responsibility and a child’s [human] right. It is also a valuable economic and social investment, with higher returns than other economic investments,” she added.

 Some of the figures that Kağıtçıbaşı shared in the interview are truly worrisome. While the proportion of children receiving preschool education was 11 percent at the beginning of the 1980s, this rate rose to 67 percent in the 2000s. But with the arrival of the controversial 4+4+4 system in 2012, this rate dropped to 50 percent.

Kağıtcıbaşı was much more than just a scholar. She was also a light from the universe who came to enlighten the world and the country she lived in, enriching the people she touched.

We have now said farewell to her, but her light continues to enlighten us more strongly than ever.