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No Five Fingers Are Alike

No Five Fingers Are Alike

Cognitive Amplifiers in Social Context

Joseph C. Berland

ISBN 9780674625402

Publication date: 04/14/1982

Snake charmers, bards, acrobats, magicians, trainers of performing animals, and other nomadic artisans and entertainers have been a colorful and enduring element in societies throughout the world. Their flexible social system, based on highly specialized individual skills and spatial mobility, contrasts sharply with the more rigid social system of sedentary peasants and traditional urban dwellers. Joseph Berland brings into focus the ethnographic and psychological differences between nomadic and sedentary groups by examining how the experiences of South Asian gypsies and their urban counterparts contribute to basic perceptual habits and skills.

No Five Fingers Are Alike, based on three years of participant research among rural Pakistani groups, provides the first detailed description in print of Asian gypsies. By applying methods of anthropological observation as well as psychological experimentation, Berland develops a theory about the relationship between social experience and mental growth. He suggests that there are certain social conditions under which mental growth can be accelerated. His work promises to stand as an important contribution to the cross-cultural literature on cognitive development.


  • Joseph Berland’s study of South Asian nomads and entertainers is unique among cross-cultural studies of cognition. Berland, an anthropologist by training, has spent several years living among the people he describes for us. This familiarity already sets him apart from most psychologists, like myself, who have limited time to spend among the people they study. Even more remarkable is the appropriateness of the people chosen for this research. The Qalandar offer a special opportunity to overcome obstacles posed by alien test procedures, because their cultural traditions and world view encompass the very theory and methods that Berland wanted to use! In fact, as we quickly discover, the Qalandar sophistication in testing people and in being tested to determine intellectual competence is sufficient to tax the researcher’s ingenuity. Like the people who won his admiration in this research, Berland knows how to live by his wits. He judiciously mixes anthropological observation and psychological experimentation. He permits the setting to guide his choice of method and his knowledge of the overall cultural context to constrain his interpretation. His work will provide an important model for those of us who, like Tylor long ago, believe that the study of culture can shed light on the nature of human thinking.

    —Michael Cole

Book Details

  • 246 pages
  • Harvard University Press