Across phenomena and areas of inquiry, social psychology often emphasizes social categories as the unit of explanation. However, the primacy of categories often leads social psychologists to neglect contextual features that might shape people’s psychologies and behaviour, limiting social psychology theories and their real-world applications. In this Perspective, we urge researchers to move beyond categories and incorporate context more deeply into their theorizing. To make this call actionable, we introduce social constructionism, assemblage theory and dynamic systems as alternative frameworks and present examples of how these frameworks already inform social psychology research. The work featured is not an exhaustive review of research emphasizing context in psychological theorizing, but rather serves to highlight the importance of alternatives to category-based or pseudo-universal frameworks. Social science that considers context must focus on psychological, structural and material features (rather than classifications), their interconnections, and temporal dynamism.
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The authors thank the National Science Foundation (CAREER award BCS-1653188 and BCS-2116543 awarded to M.C.), the Wojcicki-Troper Harvard Data Science Initiative postdoctoral fellowship fund (to J.E.M.) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (grant 77117 to N.A.L.) for their support.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Cikara, M., Martinez, J.E. & Lewis, N.A. Moving beyond social categories by incorporating context in social psychological theory. Nat Rev Psychol 1, 537–549 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s44159-022-00079-3
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