Contemporary, Science

A Brief History of Turkish Cross-Cultural Psychologist Çiğdem Kağıtçıbaşı (1940-2017)

Written by Dr. Asli E. Mert and Dr. Defne Çizakça

Born in 1940, Professor Çiğdem Kağıtçıbaşı has been a prominent name in the history of Psychology and one of the founders of Social Psychology in Turkey. Kağıtçıbaşı graduated from The American College for Girls, Istanbul, in 1959, after which she completed her undergraduate degree at Wellesley College in 1961. Professor Kağıtçıbaşı received her PhD degree from the University of California, Berkeley in Social Psychology. Being among the founders of Turkish Academy of Sciences, she has worked in the Department of Psychology at Middle East Technical University (1969-1973), followed by Boğaziçi University (1973-1995) and Koç University (1995-2017). Her scholarly achievements can best be summarised in three main headings: her contributions to cross-cultural psychology, her work on “The Value of Children,” and her pivotal role in Turkish letters and feminism.

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Ever since her PhD studies, Kağıtçıbaşı held the belief that Western psychology could not account for the whole of humanity and it needed to recognise the experiences of those living in non-Western cultures and geographies. In 1988, she became the first female President of the International Association of Cross-Cultural Psychology, and developed two important theories that changed the field dramatically: “The Model of Family Change” and her “Autonomous-Related Self”, the latter of which led her to be chosen as one of the greatest names in the history of Psychology in “The Psychology Book: From Shamanism to Cutting-Edge Neuroscience, 250 Milestones in the History of Psychology” by Wade E. Pickren.

In different theoretical psychological perspectives, both autonomy and relatedness are posited as necessary needs for the development of the human subject1. Despite the necessity of both elements, Euro-American Psychology has prioritised autonomy over relatedness, which is reflected in an emphasis on individual independence, agency and privacy. The stress on autonomy has often been at the expense of interpersonal relatedness, with some fields of psychology, such as psychoanalysis, considering autonomy and agency as antithetical to relatedness2. Kağıtçıbaşı proposed that this viewpoint originated in cultural difference rather than scientific research. Namely, psychology as a Western product reflected the individualistic ethos of the Western world when it made autonomy primary, whilst sidestepping the collectivistic cultures of the “Majority World” (Non-Western World). Instead, she proposed that separateness and relatedness could be equally agentic and volitional. To this end, she studied the construction of the self within socio-cultural and familial contexts, offering a new model of self and family that incorporated both agency and relatedness: the “Autonomous-Related Self” and “The Family Model of Psychological Interdependence”. These models managed to reflect the changing family structures in both the majority world and in postmodern societies, forming integrative syntheses rather than binary oppositions between said cultures3.

Alongside cross-cultural psychology, Kağıtçıbaşı was passionate about the field of child development. She conducted several studies on “The Value of Children,” the first of which focused specifically on Turkey as part of a nine country cross-national comparative project, and was supported by the International Development Research Center (1975-79). This study was followed by her “Early Childhood Development and Education Project,” undertaken for the Turkish Ministry of Education (1978-80), and the “Comprehensive Preschool Education Project” conducted with her colleagues Diane Sunar and Sevda Bekman (1982-86). The “Comprehensive Preschool Education Project” investigated the impact of different types of pre-school care, the level of education of mothers, and the development of children in lower socio-economic urban settings in Turkey. Her role in non-profit organisations as a founder member, consultant and board member has contributed greatly to individual lives of children, women and men in many ways. Kağıtçıbaşı’s work on parent education programs eventually led to the establishment of AÇEV (Mother Child Education Foundation, MOCEP). This was established in 1993, with the goal of implementing early childhood education, family literacy, functional adult literacy and women’s support programs all of which aimed to create equal opportunities for all citizens as well as to provide socially disadvantaged people with access to low-cost, alternative early childhood and adult education4. Currently, MOCEP is in wide application in Turkey and in some centres in Europe (Belgium, Germany, France and Switzerland). The educational programs of MOCEP have been translated into Arabic and are being implemented in Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. These programs have been adapted to television and aired on public TV both in Turkey and internationally. Within the field of children’s education, an interesting side note pertains to Kağıtçıbaşı’s role as chief academic advisor to the Sesame Street television program in Turkey, beloved by both children and adults 5

Kağıtçıbaşı was a life-long feminist and a secularist, helping women from a variety of social and economic backgrounds through her academic work and mentorship roles. Kağıtçıbaşı was also the founder and director of KOÇ-KAM, the Center for Gender Studies at Koç University, and the UNESCO Chair on Gender Equality and Sustainable Development was assigned to her name in 2016, also at Koç University. Along with her roles in various non-profit organisations and successful research projects, she supported social sciences in many other ways; the first ‘Human Development Research Award’ was presented to two social scientists in December 2016. The award aims to reinforce applied research projects and scientific works that support human well-being. This award is among Kağıtçıbaşı’s countless contributions to social sciences considering that the award was created with her personal funds as the UNESCO Chair. 6

As if she felt her time with us was nearing to a close, Kağıtçıbaşı also penned an inter-generational memoir in the last two years of her life: Lüla ve Ben [Lula and I]. The book is a continuation of the autobiography Kağıtçıbaşı’s mother Süheyla Çizakça had written in 1990, “Bir Ömür ki…”. Like Kağıtçıbaşı herself, Süheyla Çizakça was a teacher, a feminist and a secularist. Together with her husband, İhsan Çizakça, she had established a private school in Bursa where Kağıtçıbaşı was educated. Thus, “Lüla and I” not only charts the lives of a mother and daughter dedicated to education, but also a micro history of feminism and secularism in the Turkish Republic.

Professor Kağıtçıbaşı was an inspiration due to her selfless determination and her passion to contribute to society. However, she was not only a prominent academic but also was and continues to be a remarkable role model for women of different ages, backgrounds and professions. Among the qualities that made her even more impressive alongside her academic achievements are genuinely supporting other women and caring deeply about her community. Despite being among the most significant names in Psychology as well as among the founders of Social Psychology in Turkey and all the traits she possessed, her down-to-earth attitude was one of her best-known features. She has always helped other women to achieve and reach their goals, and she was “the academic mother” of many prominent academics -women and men- themselves today. Her dedication to her work, her kindness, and her versatility in all areas of life have been and will continue to aspire young women via the people she has taught and known so far.

Her perspective on gender focused on equal participation and a modern representation of women in all parts of society alongside an emphasis on the importance of family. She has advised hundreds of students and was a mentor to everyone around her. Those lucky enough to have met her have not only benefitted academically, but also gained invaluable insights about life even in the briefest conversations; from manners and human interaction to public speech, from academic writing to grasping what matters most in life. Amongst those whose lives have been touched by her, there are linguists, psychologists, academics like herself and even professional chefs, as well as family members and friends. Her legacy and vision will prevail through the life journeys of all these people. Yet she will be greatly missed.

Featured photo credit: 


Pickren, W. E. (2014). The psychology book: From Shamanism to cutting-edge neuroscience, 150 milestones in the history of psychology, p. 502. New York: Sterling Publishing.


Çiğdem Kağıtçıbaşı, “Autonomy and Relatedness in Cultural Context: Implications for Self and Family,” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Vol. 36, No. 4 (2005), 403.


Ibid., 403-417.






2 thoughts on “A Brief History of Turkish Cross-Cultural Psychologist Çiğdem Kağıtçıbaşı (1940-2017)”

  1. Thank you for writing such an amazing bio about the life and work of this great therapist 👍work!

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