PhD by Kevin Murray

Department of Psychology, University of Melbourne, 1990

Narrative Psych


1. Introduction; 2. Narrative making sense; 3. Life manuals; 4. Life construction groups; 5. Travel space; 6. Travel and personal change; 7. Travel talk in context; 8. Narrative partitioning; References; A. Appendix

1 Introduction

In this study, I wish to take a route towards understanding the making sense of personal change that begins outside a purely academic framework. Such a route covers the territory of the conversation, rather than the laboratory: it looks to a region of making sense that is not specific to a formal institution of knowledge. Because of this orientation outside the conventional region of the laboratory, I think it is necessary to start by considering the basic questions by which such an investigation directs itself.

1.1 The questions

‘What made her gain in confidence so much?’ ‘He’s been particularly uptight lately.’ ‘What am I going to show for myself?’ How a person can be one thing one day and another thing the next, yet be the same person, is a complex philosophical problem. [1] The everyday encounter with this dilemma is complex in a different way. There are practical considerations: Can one trust that the changed person will remain the same for long? Has the person really changed or is it only a fabrication? Have they learned something that I might find useful? To mark out the features of this making sense is complex—the available literature, as this section will show, is not particularly helpful. Because of this, I will initially map the dimensions of this phenomenon within the simple terms provided by everyday language. Making sense will be circumscribed by a panel of questions which represent different types of operation: what, how and why one makes sense.

These questions distribute making sense into domains of information, process and motive. The initial question concerns the area of personal change that is chosen—what counts as information about personal change. Does one look for changes in practical skills, such as driving habits, or more expressive qualities, such as body language? Are there particular times and places when one should look for signs of change: under stress, in a strange country, during the midlife passage? Once change thus presents itself, there arises the question of ‘how’ one makes sense—the process of explaining change. In Book Two of Physics Aristotle outlines a way of understanding change which entails the identification of four elements: matter, form, mover and purpose. Thus personal change can be made sense as a combination of: underlying trait, structure governing transformation, triggering event, or end which is served by this change. The ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions, however, do not account for the question of ‘why’ this making sense should occur—the motive seen to govern the way sense is made of change. Is it an exercise in reducing unpredictability, or does personal change serve to demonstrate particular points within an argument?

The aim of this study is to provide an understanding of making sense of personal change which can respond to this panel of questions. In this Introduction, I will examine the degree to which social cognition provides such answers, particularly in the metaphor of person ‘as scientist’. [2]

1.2  Person as scientist

Social cognition contains scientists who study how people make sense of other people. In recent developments, these scientists study how people ‘as scientists’ made sense of people. In this section I present a brief outline of this situation.

1.2.1  Implicit theories

Bruner (1958) approached making sense as an act of ‘person perception’. The logical principle guiding this process was induction: the experimental subject was seen to require a reduction of the amount of information that is processed. This reduction was manifest in the principle of categorisation known as ‘economy of difference’: minimise the differences within the categories and maximise the differences between categories. ‘Categories’ here refer to ‘traits’; i.e., orderly regularities in the behaviour of another person. A similar picture was elaborated by Brown (1965) under the title ‘impression formation’. Though here Brown suggests that there are parallels between scientific theories and the categories employed in making sense of others. As an understanding of making sense it only addresses the question of ‘how’—the identification of what counts for information and why information should be reduced is left unaccounted for.

Social cognition was further developed as ‘attribution theory’ by Kelley (1972). Rather than posit a logical formula for making sense, Kelley turned to the statistical processes by which scientists ordered their data. Kelley claimed that the analysis of variance represented the processes by which ordinary persons made sense of others. Analysis of variance entails the search for ‘covariances’ between behaviours and contexts. Kelley (1972, p.171) outlines the assumptions of the covariance model:

...that there are only a limited number of ways of making sense out of the available data about the world and that the scientific procedures are merely refined and explicit versions of methods upon which the common man also comes to rely. If there is a continuity between the scientific and the everyday procedure for organising information, it is proper to draw upon the more explicit processes for insights into the more implicit ones.

Kelley examines making sense as the construction of a cause and effect picture that is based on incomplete information; he uses the formalised procedures of a scientist as a model this process in everyday life.

An important implication of Kelley’s comparison of data analysis by scientists and experimental subjects is that can be used to demonstrate the flawed nature of everyday reasoning. Kelley explains this deficit by the limited resources (e.g., time) that inhibit the rigorous application of statistical procedure. Instead, subjects bring to any new set of data a readymade template, a ‘schema’ that is derived from a prejudged cause and effect picture. The direction of information here changes from bottom-up to top-down. Fiske & Taylor (1984, p.140) define schemata as: ‘...theories or concepts that guide how people take in, remember, and make inferences about raw data’. How do these ‘schemas’ compare with scientific theories?

In social cognition, the link between scientific and lay processes of making sense is presented in the language that they share in common: mathematics. Jones & Nisbett (1972, p.90) link these lay theories to a mathematical model: ‘We carry trait intercorrelation matrices around in our heads, or to put it in a more traditional way, that we have implicit personality theories.’ Jones & Nisbett orient the model more specifically towards the scientific discipline of psychology. Within ideal of the hypothetico-deductive method, scientific theories should be capable of demonstration. According to this method, those theories not yet demonstrated demand empirical falsification. This is not always the case with the lay scientist, who uses what is termed ‘implicit personality theories’ in a less falsifiable manner. Wagner & Vallacher (1977) have gone as far as naming this field of inquiry, ‘implicit psychology’. This is not just ‘person as scientist’, but ‘person as psychologist’.

Social cognition therefore understands how one makes sense of others in terms of the metaphor of scientist, in which information is assimilated as it corresponds to theories that consist of mathematically related variables.

1.2.2  Information about others

From the perspective of social psychology, everyday making sense converts available information into the cause and effect pictures of behaviour. What is the first stage in this process? What is the information that is made ‘available’ for making sense? In cognitive psychology the initial registration of the outside world is known as ‘encoding’. Is everything of the world encoded? According to social cognition, the encoding principle which filters out unnecessary information is ‘salience’ (Fiske & Taylor, 1984). The principle of ‘salience’ is determined by the uniqueness and unexpectedness of the information in the environment. This understanding of encoding assumes a passive position towards the world: the subject stands back and notes irregular events—these events are not made by the subject, rather, information comes to the subject as a readymade source like images to a camera. [3]

It is this passive position towards information that limits the scientific metaphor. While the scientist has special laboratory techniques for isolating him or her off from subjects, everyday actors are part of the world they attempt to make sense of. Indeed, it is the involvement of self in the database, which is of particular concern in social cognition. It is presented in terms of the problem created by different pictures constructed of the same information by different subjects—scientific findings should not be dependent on the investigator. Wagner & Vallacher (1977, pp.27273) attempt to resolve this inconsistency within the original metaphor:

...two scientists examining two different phenomena will often come up with different theories. Similarly, we each experience a self different from others and therefore construct quite different self-theories, each a unique and personal expression of our lives.

Although the basic materials of making sense are seen to be independent of the person, there may be differences in their distribution between individuals. This involves the subject purely at the level of accident.

A more complex involvement of self is entailed in the phenomenon of ‘fundamental attribution error’. This phenomenon describes the tendency to see situation as the cause of one’s own actions, and attributing others’ behaviour to internal traits. While one’s own behaviour may thus be ‘reasonable’, others are seen to be controlled by internal forces. The fundamental attribution error exists as a systematic bias in the cause and effect picture everyday actors bring to new situations. Fiske & Taylor (1984, p.99) compare this bias to the scientific ideal of disinterestedness:

Overall, these biases in the attribution process suggest that, rather than being a naive scientist, the social perceiver can be a self-centred, conservative charlatan who distorts reality in a personally advantageous manner.

Fiske & Taylor use the scientific metaphor partly to provide this satiric picture. Such a characterisation appears a sufficient account of making sense for some researchers such as Nisbett & Ross (1980), who accuse laypersons of ignorance in statistical reasoning. Their statement forms what Bil lig (1982) refers to as a ‘competence’ theory. It separates the official institutionalised routines of the scientist from the erroneous practices of unauthorised individuals. [4]

One serious problem with this ‘competence’ theory is that it can fail to extend the course of explanation. Resting simply in the contrast between professional and amateur becomes an exercise in the legitimisation of scientific institutions. Others have gone further in this direction, however, and used this contrast to deal with the question of why one makes sense.

1.2.3  Control over others

The scientific metaphor is partly characterised by the absence of motive. Ideally, knowledge is sought after for its own sake: the scientist has no official interest in the outcome of research. However, the distortion of information by laypersons suggests an alternative motive. Kelley (1972, p.xi) posits motives of truth and usefulness in the process of making sense:

Attribution theory begins with man’s motivation to understand the cause and effect relations that underlie and give stable meaning to the shifting surface of events. It assumes a need to have a veridical understanding of these relations (a reality orientation of the world) and a need to predict and apply them (a control orientation). [italics in original]

Kelley’s theory serves to relate the process of making sense with environmental conditions. In the mind of the scientist, the ‘reality’ orientation dominates: the laboratory world is already controlled by virtue of strict routines and disciplined subjects. By contrast, laypersons inhabit a world where the actions of others are less predictable, and therefore the ‘control’ orientation characterises their acts of making sense. Taking this state of affairs into account, Kelley revises the metaphor from ‘pure’ to ‘applied’ scientist. While this revision may appear more productive than the judgemental account of the ‘competence’ theory, it still provides an idealised picture of scientific practice.

1.2.4  Shortcomings of scientific metaphor

The scientific metaphor as used in social cognition offers relatively weak answers to the three questions of making sense. It demonstrates an incapacity to deal fully with the constitution of ‘what’ information counts as worthy of being made sense. ‘How’ one makes sense is implicitly understood as a process that has no time or place: the layperson is like a fixed computer that is never switched off (As Brown [1965, p.652] claims, ‘The human mind cannot suspend theoretical work.’). The actual process of making sense appears more developed than this though it is restricted to a mathematical model; of Aristotle’s four causes, for instance, only the idea of primary cause is covered in the concept of ‘implicit personality theories’. The question of ‘why’ one makes sense is covered by motive of control over the actions of others. This entails a picture of a social life in which individuals form isolated units in competition with others. But why should this be true? The use of the scientific metaphor thus far has provided only sketchy answers to the questions of making sense.

I argue that this problem is not the product of the choice of science as metaphor of making sense, but is the particular picture of science that has been offered for comparison. By examining more realistically the practical context in which scientists operate, one can gain an understanding of what constitutes information about others and why it is gathered.

1.2.5  The practices of science

The anthropological study performed by Latour & Woolgar (1979) represents an attempt to subject the practical context of science to scrutiny. This study is typical of the sceptical attitude towards official accounts of science: rather than read journal articles, Latour & Woolgar chose to examine life in the laboratory, including work at the bench, conversation at coffee breaks, paper presentations, and requests for research funding. The picture of science which Latour & Woolgar construct deals much more with the actual constitution of experimental data than is made possible in the idealist version. These data are seen to be actively worked on: e.g., to identify the presence of an enzyme one must find the technology to eliminate all transitory substances. Information is not readymade, but must be ‘inscribed’ on complex monitoring devices, and these inscriptions then interpreted and identified. This is a reality which is ‘set up’ rather than always already present.

Latour & Woolgar’s observations provide an alternative picture to the angelic scientist posited in the idealist metaphor. The motive assigned to the laboratory scientist is one of survival: one constructs the picture of nature which enables one to continue being a scientist. To continue being a scientist requires resources: labour, materials, and information about the field. These resources are supplied by the scientific community. A laboratory scientist must therefore have something of use to this community in order to maintain a place in the profession. The purpose of scientific exchange is to assess this usefulness against others in a context of limited resources. It is paramount, therefore, to capture a place in the conversation between scientists to gain credit.

Latour & Woolgar offer a pragmatic picture of scientific practice. The social context is one of where individuals survive by having information that is of value to others. There is no motive necessary: individuals act as the system demands. While this context seems more realistic than that assumed by social cognition, in which individuals share nothing in common, it is still a form of intelligibility for which usefulness to fellow scientists is the dominant value. Although, the scrutiny with which Latour & Woolgar observe scientific practice provides a more realistic picture to draw on, it is necessary to take a wider perspective in order to place scientific activity in a community context.

Harré (1986) has developed a philosophy of science that responds to this anthropological perspective while at the same time pointing scientific activity outside of itself. Like Latour & Woolgar, Harré contrasts the official picture of science with a realist version. While officially the accounts of scientists are seen as independent of laboratory practices, Harré assigns a critical role to the activity of identifying data. Harré (1986, p.162) stresses the materiality of this process:

Reference is a practical achievement in a context of material practices, such as picking out, picking up, and so on. Sense is a cognitive matter in a theoretical context and is germane to the formation of communicable belief. [my italics]

Harré claims that the ostensive practices of science are conducted independently of the criterion of verification. He provides the example of Galileo’s revision of the theory of motion. Aristotle illustrated the earlier proposition that motion requires a sustaining cause with the examples of rolling balls and coasting ships. Such a theory is perfectly adequate to its purview. However, in a willingness to entertain an alternative hypothesis of motion as a continuous self-maintaining state, Galileo was able to attend to experiential evidence that had been excluded from Aristotle’s vision. He referred to the event of a rider throwing up a spear and catching it again while at a gallop. Although similar phenomena must have been available in Aristotle’s time, his theory was partly limited by the phenomena that were conceived as relevant. The alternative theory of Galileo can therefore be seen as not so much a product of experience—something shared by himself and Aristotle—his theory was also a means by which certain experiences could be granted significance. Har ré (1986, p.83) articulates this function of theory: ‘Theory becomes a device for focusing our attention.’ What is made sense of thus becomes a contingent feature of scientific practice, not a purely empirical phenomenon as suggested by the ideal model.

Where Harré’s picture differs from Latour & Woolgar’s is in the context assigned to scientific activities. While Latour & Woolgar consider the usefulness of experimental findings within the immediate scientific community, Harré extends this to the wider community in which science operates. In this context, the usefulness of science is less easily calculated. Harré claims that the goal of scientific activity is the attainment of ‘trustworthy’ knowledge: knowledge that can be taken for granted outside the scientific community. Yet if there is no immediate form of exchange for this knowledge, how is its trustworthiness guaranteed? Unlike Latour & Woolgar, Harré grants a central role to the standard of ‘truth’ in scientific activity. This truth is not the single picture which science produces, it is rather part of a language game that makes possible an investigation of unknown regularities in the world. ‘Truth’ is the rhetorical standard of consistency by which arguments between scientists are conducted. As Harré (1986, p.19) writes:

Neither falsehood nor truth is an attainable epistemic ideal. They are proper only for the moral exhortation and castigation of a community of seekers after trustworthy knowledge.

The ultimately rhetorical notion of ‘truth’ allows the opposition of theories to be structured as an argument from which a rigorous scientific knowledge can emerge. ‘Truth’ may be conceived here as a necessary fiction.

With this philosophical argument in mind, I claim that the idealist picture of scientific practice is deficient at two levels. [5] First, the readymade status of information ignores the ostensive activities in which data are isolated and rendered observable; and, second, the motive of control leaves unaccounted the social context in which the scientist must operate. Both these failings are absent in the realist picture of science. The following two sections attempt to deal more extensively with these levels of ‘what’ and ‘why’ of making sense. Section 1.3 outlines a set of features belonging to referential practices as examined in a variety of recent theoretical concepts. And Section 1.4 extends the implicit contexts of the ideal and realist models of science into the domain of social life. These sections are designed to give flesh to abstract formulations in order to reveal the unexamined assumptions made about the way information is presented and the uses it can be put to.

1.3    The matter of making sense

Having proposed that the process of making sense does not necessarily entail the purely passive collection of information, but rather involves the active construction of data, it is necessary now to investigate ways of thinking about what this process might entail. Outside the field of social psychology there is a variety of concepts that cover the pre-givenness of experienced reality. Particularly useful is the principle of duality of structure contained in structuration theory (see Giddens, 1979). Persons are here understood not simply as products of structures, but as actively involved in the reproduction of those structures as well. So, for example, not only do individuals comply with rules of grammar in their everyday speech, but they can articulate and negotiate those rules as well.

The following brief summary of developments related to the question of referential practices is designed to bring into play a number of features that may be considered in the initial process of making sense.

1.3.1 Foucault’s concept of ‘gaze’

The perspective of many recent French theorists is useful in indicating the social practices entailed in the way the world is revealed. Of these theorists, Foucault’s ‘genealogies’ of discourse are most clearly relevant to scientific practice. In his history of the clinic in France, Foucault (1973, p.xix) attempts to delineate the ‘conditions of possibility of medical experience in modern times.’ He attends to the ‘objectifying practices’ by which maladies are made observable and available to discourse. According to Foucault the classical practice of medicine prefigured the causal path of the disease in terms of resemblances, similar to those used in the classification of species, which were clearly evidenced to the eye. By contrast, the modern understanding of disease presumes the presence of invisible forces. Foucault makes the point that the development of this modern medicine could only have occurred once anatomists felt it was possible to conduct experiments on the body: this is presented as a change in the nature of the scientist’s gaze towards the subject. While the classic gaze was an open repository of truth, in modernity, ‘...the gaze plunges into the space that it has given itself that task of traversing’ (Foucault, 1973, p.136).

According to Foucault, this modern gaze made possible clinical practices which actively intervened in the object of investigation; e.g., the development of ‘pneumatics’, where the chest is tapped to determine volume (Rose [1989] extends Foucault’s analysis into the practices of psychological testing.). What is critical in Foucault’s accounts of the clinic, the asylum (Foucault, 1971), and the prison (Foucault, 1979) is the relation of the observer to observed. This relation is seen to change, particularly in forms of discipline, from one where the observed is shown in terms of visibility, or spectacle, to one where practices are developed that work on invisible forces, such as germs, soul, desire. For current purposes, Foucault’s work alerts this study to the presence of the ‘gaze’: the conditions by which the observer is brought into relation with the observed.

1.3.2  ‘Partitioning’ in ecological psychology

There are parallels between Foucault’s historical studies and the work on perception by Gibson (1966). The active dimension of looking is one of the principle themes of ecological perception. It is contrasted with classical laboratory studies of perception which immobilise the body of the subject in an attempt to achieve data that appear independent of point of view. Gibson argues that the use of objects such as the headrest in the laboratory context inhibits subjects from perceiving objects as they would naturally—as beings that move around the world among objects that concern them in different ways. This practical engagement with the world is evidenced through what Gibson terms ‘hexis’: the position taken by the body to collect information. The main interpolation of the body into the environment is in the principle activity of perception: the discernment of invariances in the environment. To demonstrate an invariance entails creating changes. So, for example, to gain a perception of the stable qualities of a glass one can pick it up and rotate it in one’s hand. The construction of a picture of the world which ‘affords’ picking up is the practical context of this act of perception.

‘Picking up’ an object requires the prior perceptual act of partitioning: the separation of a set of invariants which foreground the contingent elements of the environment. ‘Partitioning’ divides the world of the subject into what is given and what can be taken from it. Johansson, von Hofsten & Jansson (1980, p.30) extend this to perceptual practices in general; the product of these is ‘...figural relations which are constant (or invariant) under transformation of the figure.’ Partitioning has been extended beyond objects that can be grasped by hand, and includes phenomena such as talk where the emotional state of the speaker is registered as separate from the manifest meaning of the utterance (Shepard, 1984). [6]

‘Partitioning’, like ‘gaze’, assumes the active participation of observers in the process by which their environment is ‘objectified’. However, while Foucault deals mainly with the historical conditions of discursive possibility, Gibson posits an ahistorical hold, or ‘hexis’, which enables a useful picture of the world to emerge (Foucault would perhaps see Gibson as working within the modern gaze). Partitioning names the process by which the environment is held still by the observer, in order to make perceptible the object of interest. I will have much to say about this process later in this study when examining the way a world of activity towards a fixed ends is differentiation from a space where the limits that frame that world are revealed.

1.3.3  Bourdieu’s concept of ‘habitus’

The noun ‘hold’, or ‘hexis’, is used by Aristotle in his definition of science as a ‘capacity [ hexis] for demonstration’. [7] ‘Hexis’ refers here to the foundational principles of scientific method; Aristotle uses this term to describe the ‘character’ of action: the ability to make the right decision automatically, with courage and perseverance. It is the latter aspect of ‘hexis’ which Bourdieu examines in his concept of ‘habitus’ (a Latin translation of hexis). This concept represents the practices involved in structuring one’s world and one’s place in it. According to Bourdieu, habitus is developed in the context of the social field—the network of competing interests within a society. In his early anthropological work, Bourdieu (1977) examines the role of habitus in organising the life of a relatively small social group. In a later study of aesthetic consumption (1984) he examines how various forms of habitus are formed in competition with others in the society. [8]

These forms of habitus concern such capacities as ‘taste’ which involve the dual process of categorising and evaluating cultural objects. However, it would be a mistake to assume that habitus concerns only perceptions of the exterior world. Bourdieu uses habitus also to depict bodily reactions: its manifestations include disgust at facile pleasures and empathetic participation in objects. In his study of academic life, Bourdieu (1988) describes habitus as consisting of ‘transindividual’ and ‘objectively orchestrated’ dispositions. The important point about these is that they are not entirely reducible either to individual psychology or collective factors: they are objective structures that have a life of their own. Actions are thus not understood in terms of intention, yet neither are they reduced to a causal analysis.

The concept of ‘habitus’ brings ostensive practices into relation with individual biography. It alerts this study to the objective practices for revealing meaning that form the individual subject. While he avoids the generalisations of an historical ‘episteme’, characteristic of Foucault’s history, at the same time Bourdieu does not subscribe to a universal mode of revealing, as in ecological psychology.

1.3.4  Bakhtin’s concept of ‘chronotope’

In studies of literary texts there has been a complementary interest in structures that reveal the world of the novel. In Bakhtin’s study of the origins of the novel form he develops the concept of chronotope, which literally means ‘time-space’ (Bakhtin borrowed the term ‘chronotope’ from the mathematic biology that was influenced by Einstein’s theory of relativity; see Todorov, 1984, p.14). Like the Kantian a priori, chronotope describes the organisation of time and space necessary to reveal phenomena; Bakhtin’s specific concern is the regularities of form and content by which certain literary genres construct pictures of the world. Bakhtin (1981, p.250) writes:

It is precisely the chronotope that provides the ground essential for the showing-forth, the representability of events...Thus the chronotope, functioning as the primary means for materialising time in space, emerges as a centre for concretising representation, as a force giving body to the entire novel.

One variety of chronotope claimed by Bakhtin concerns the place of ‘adventure time’; this is part of the plot which entails an extraordinary episode outside the normal life of characters. In the ‘ordeal’ chronotope of adventure time a hero’s outside life is unaffected by events: the adventure merely serves to test the strengths of the hero. By contrast, the ‘everyday life’ chronotope of adventure time entails the development of the hero: here the character learns from the adventure and carries this lesson into outside life. At a simple level, these chronotopes share the same spatial structures (viz., a space for adventure which is separated from normal life) yet are different in their temporalities (viz., in one, destiny is consistent over time, whereas in the other there is development).

Chronotope provides a further level of specificity for ostensive practices. Chronotope attends to the organisation of space and time by which meaning is revealed. Bakhtin does not tie any particular chronotope to the interests of groups, though some, such as the carnivalesque genre, are subversive of official authority.

1.3.5  Goffman’s concept of evidential boundaries

The particular marking of space and time in everyday life is given focus by Goffman’s (1975) analysis of framing. The object of this analysis as stated by Goffman (1975, p.10): to try to isolate some of the basic frameworks of understanding available in our society for making sense out of events and to analyse the special vulnerabilities to which these frames of reference are subject.

By examining the ‘lapses’ in the application of frames, Goffman hopes to disclose their operation. One of the operations of a frame is to refer meaningfulness to a limited number of spaces. The construction of these spaces entails what Goffman terms ‘evidential boundaries’: these identify those aspects of an event that one can speak about from facets that remain concealed and not pertinent to discourse. Goffman illustrates this with the scene of the television broadcasts of the Kennedy funeral, during which the freely ranging eye of the camera transgressed the evidential boundaries of the setting and uncovered the marginal activities of conversation and even jokes that normally are cordoned off to the periphery of action.

Goffman’s analysis draws attention to the conventional nature of ostensive practices. Like Harré’s example of Galileo’s shift of attention in theories of motion (on page 12), Goffman works with a distinction between what is on or off the stage. This practice of limiting the action accessible to the public gaze is similar to the structuring of theatre, where a segment of action is elevated from the ordinary flow of events onto a stage that is the focus of audience experience. ‘Theatre’ treated thus broadly can include scientific laboratories, cocktail parties, and religious confession. In this sense, theatre is understood as a social event in which action occurs that is the legitimate subject of talk about what is real. So what emerges from the laboratory experiment is granted the authority to settle matters such as whether or not the effect of conformity occurs in the absence of other people; in this manner, the cocktail party informs one what a person is like while drunk without the normal inhibitions; and the religious confession is the place for revealing impure thoughts that are hidden from others. Goffman refers to the way of rendering action meaningful and thus constituting social action as ‘framing.’ Theatre represents a type of ‘framing.’

What is significant about the introduction of the notion ‘theatre’ to an understanding of the ‘capacity to demonstrate’ the world is that it makes relevant the material practice involved in the separation of action off from the normal flow of events. This is the subject of recent attention by theorists such as Wilshire (1982), who analyses how the architecture of Greek and Roman stages determined how action was seen to be done, and Giddens (1984), who examines the effect of telecommunication on the regionalisation of social life into front and back stage. The act of reference can be seen in social life as well as scientific work as a material practice that involves the act of partitioning relevant action off from the routine course of events. By approaching demonstration as a social act one can then attend to the ways in which its meaning is negotiated, including arguments about which aspects of the world should be promoted to the official stage. [9]

Goffman’s work is useful in pointing to the presence of spaces in which information is made available for public scrutiny. Evidential boundaries concern the general difference between spaces that ‘count’ and those that do not. Though, like Bakhtin, Goffman’s analysis lacks a specifically political perspective, his work does illustrate the way spaces may be constructed in public life to provide information.

1.3.6  Heidegger’s concept of clearing

In his earlier work, Heidegger (1962) worked within the distinction between the ontological and ontic realms—the difference between forms and things. Later, it was the nature of this difference itself which he saw as the primary object of philosophical thought. He claims that the ideal point of technology is that this difference is cancelled: things are no longer revealed but ‘set upon’ according to their calculable utility. Part of this process involves modern science, which Heidegger (1977, pp.16869) describes in his essay ‘Science and Reflection’:

Science sets upon the real. It orders it into place to the end that at any given time the real will exhibit itself as an interacting network, i.e., in a surveyable series of related causes.

Using the words of Max Plank, Heidegger claims that eventually scientific understanding reaches a point where: ‘That is real which can be measured’. The source of objectivity is seen to lie then within the system of measurement rather than what can be conceived as a real world beyond this reckoning. [10] Dreyfus & Wakefield (1988) propose that Heidegger’s ‘clearing’ be understood as a ‘cultural paradigm’, similar to the scientific paradigms of Kuhn (1970). However, the concept of ‘clearing’ relates more strongly to the conditions in which such paradigms can emerge. This process of ‘setting upon’ is similar to Foucault’s description of the medical ‘gaze’. Heidegger differs from Foucault in granting emphasis to the prior act of creating a space in which meaning can occur. Heidegger uses the word ‘clearing’ to suggest this process: science is thus one modern response to this originary act.

‘Clearing’ has an epic historical status in Heidegger’s thought, which differentiates it from the more comic everyday status of Goffman’s ‘evidential boundaries’. Heidegger’s approach has the advantage of addressing how space is granted meaning, rather than just being available for comment. ‘Clearing’ focuses attention on the pre-conditional act of meaning.

1.3.7  The necessity of demonstration

Foucault gaze historical, epochal
Gibson partitioning practical
Bourdieu habitus historical, practical
Bakhtin chronotope historical, conventional
Goffman evidential conventional boundaries
Heidegger clearing

epochal, textual

Table 1.i Features of Modes of Revealing in Theoretical Concepts

Table 1 presents a very schematic overview of the features of ostensive practice, which have been brought into consideration. These include: the observer’s relationship to the observed (Foucault’s gaze); the separation of static and contingent aspects of the environment that can be acted upon (Gibson’s partitioning); competing transindividual forms of making sense (Bourdieu’s habitus); the construction of space and time in which narratives occur (Bakhtin’s chronotope); everyday frames for marking significant spaces (Goffman’s evidential boundaries); and the poetic act prior to meaning (Heidegger’s clearing). The range of conditions that informs these referential practices are: historical development; larger shifts between epochs in the constellation of meaning; their practical usefulness as a means of going about in the world; and conventions shared between people as a common language. While the definition of each of these types of condition sustains extensive examination, this list serves to identify the course of this particular study. While I admit that the constitutive practices of making sense, which I hope to identify in this study, are subject to historical conditions, this will not be the focus. The central interest of this study is more concerned with the practical conditions of reference in making sense: i.e., how the choice of object for making sense enables one to go on in one’s social environment. This deals with the uses attached to the process of foregrounding features of the environment for attention. While this interest in partitioning reflects Gibson’s understanding of how figure-ground perception renders the world ‘pickupable’, it is important to acknowledge the difference between the world of objects assumed by Gibson and the social environment examined in this study.

Before considering this difference, however, I would like to make a distinction that is critical for the rest of this study. This is a distinction between regions, in which with world is represented, and spaces which points to the domain of life upon which that region is focused. Thus within the region of scientific argument, the space attended to as evidence of motion changed in the writings of Aristotle and Galileo (see section 1.2.5). And in this study, the region of scientific laboratory is contrasted with the region of everyday conversation as practices through which pictures of the world are constructed. In this following section, I will present these two regions in terms of the distinction between the practical and expressive domains of social life.

1.4    Two contexts of making sense

This section introduces the distinction in ethogenic theory between practical and expressive orders of meaning. The particular social contexts derived from these orders will be elaborated. Chapter Two will outline the research in narrative that deals with the mode of making sense, which contrasts with the practical rationality of social cognition.

1.4.1  The practical-expressive dichotomy

In ethogenic theory, action is seen as bound to the meanings that are attributed to it. There are two orders of meaning (see Harré, 1979): the practical order concerns the acquisition of resources necessary to sustain certain forms of life; and the expressive domain of meaning deals with reputation, or how one stands in the eyes of another. In order to apply this distinction to different social contexts, it will be extended to cover the difference between practical and representational actions: performing a task and demonstrating a meaning.

The lines along which this dualism will be extended relate to the presence of associated dualisms in the work of many modern theorists. One of the most common of these is the difference between showing and saying presented in Wittgenstein’s (1961) theory of language, and Foucault’s (1986a, see also Deleuze, 1988) understanding of the separate domains of visibility and language. At a general level, these dualisms concern the difference between the material practice of revealing things, which cannot be manipulated or controlled by individuals, and the uses towards which it can be put, including being categorised in language. This dualism overlaps with both a passive/active and possible/real dichotomy: it is the difference between what is given by things, and what one can make of them.

The example of a car will serve to illustrate this distinction. To make practical sense of a car one conceives of a goal for which the car is a means—reaching a destination is an obvious goal. It is a characteristic of this sense that there exists one best way of achieving this goal: viz., one sequence of actions for starting the car and the shortest route to the destination. There are, however, associated with this series a number of expressive meanings—these concern the embodiment of one’s actions. To be able to drive one needs a car. It matters little what colour the car is to be able to carry out its practical purpose. Yet a car must have a colour. Any practical action thus carries a train of expressive possibilities. The space for making a choice may be occupied by testing out what colour most satisfies oneself or others. The colour one eventually chooses will be one of a number of possible colours, and therefore this can demonstrate something about oneself which is different to others. That which is in excess of what is necessary for the securing of ends may thus be used to demonstrate personal identity. [11]

The example of a car is straightforward enough, but what happens when the object is a person? The difference between these two situations parallels the distinction between the ideal and realist models of scientific practice: one works outside a social context and the other is embedded in it. Different modes of sense making intimate different forms of life. These forms of life provide the context in which that mode of sense making has a role.

Before determining how to set about researching making sense, it is important to consider what world one is getting oneself into. The two forms of life outlined below relate to the practical-expressive dichotomy. Social cognition has dwelt largely on the practical mode of making sense of others, whereas ethogenic theory deals more with the expressive. Each presumes radically contrasting pictures of social relations. While the considered point of view in this chapter tends to favour the ethogenic approach, an effort will be made to resist evaluation and simply explicate the logic at work in each field of explanation.

1.4.2  Practical form of life

The notion of control implicit in the concept of fundamental attribution error assumes that practical mastery is the reason for making sense. This control is expressed in the relation one has to an object, such as a car: one makes sense of others in order to control another’s actions. Naturally, it is not necessary for the object to agree to this control. Because of this, the capacity of one’s ‘control’ is limited only by one’s ability to master the inert object. [12] Fiske & Taylor (1984, p.136) enunciate this principle as follows: ‘The potential for control depends fundamentally upon the perception that one is able to perform a given action’. There are no other perceptions to consider in this explanation. Social cognition, therefore, presumes a region in which atomised individuals attempt to predict the actions of others and thus exert control over them. [13] As suggested by McIn tyre (1984), these are the conditions in which one finds the paradigmatic character type of the manager: a role that is dependent on an ability to make the actions of others predictable. Once the nature of this predicability is known then that person’s actions may be manipulated by those in possession of such knowledge. [14] An extension of McIntyre’s analysis into social cognition is illustrated in current attempts to ground cognitive science in practical contexts. Clark (1987) attempts such an explanation for the ability to reason in terms of means and ends. He claims this form of cognition is a necessary condition of our social relations. He proposes that means-end reasoning is something ‘wired-in’ in order to discern another’s thoughts, ‘ enable us to make the best deals we can.’ (p.15) In Clark’s framework, cognition has adapted to the real-life demand to anticipate what another is thinking: Clark presumes an ecology for thought that is similar to the marketplace, where strategies need to be hidden rather than communicated.

A social context, therefore, for social cognition, is one where survival depends on predicting the behaviours and thoughts of others. The identification of appropriate ends and the possibility of collective ends is not a problem in this form of life.

1.4.3  Expressive form of life

Harré & Secord (1972) characterise the above picture of social relations as based on a Humean conception of cause, where action impresses on passive objects. They contrast this with an alternative agenda: ‘Action is to be treated as the realisation of a potentiality created in space in the neighbourhood of active things’ (p.68). It is the extension of this concept of space, which fills out the ethogenic picture of social relations.

Though the practical order is easily understood by a means-end rationality, this is more difficult to apply within the expressive order. The expressive dimension of action deals with the exteriority of social behaviour—what it offers to others for judgement. By contrast, social cognition represents making sense as private recognition of consistent patterns of behaviour. The expressive, on the other hand, is a necessarily public realm. Sullivan offers as a principle that ‘ the end there must be some audience, however, sparse, to make the judgement of the significance of a human act.’(1984, p.46) Expressive action is that which is mediated by the recognition of others. It entails demonstration rather than efficacy. It is thus a dramatic rather than a pragmatic matter.

In contrast to the scene of power as exacted from another is the system where power is granted by another in exchange for something useful, such as protection. Power was so conceived during the Renaissance period: Hobbes writes about reciprocity as central to one’s value in society.

The value, or WORTH of a man, is as of all, the things, his price; that is say, so much as would be given for the use of his power: and therefore is not absolute; but a thing dependent on the need and judgement of another. [Leviathan, Pt.1, Ch.X]

Being able to control what another does is dependent on having something to exchange for this compliance. And conversely, the worth of one’s compliance is related to the value of what will be exchanged for it.

In terms of the social setting for such a picture, modern management practices emphasise also the shared interests of all members of an organisation. This entails recognition of the role of trust in cohering together an organisation as diverse as business, scientific community, or even the city itself. Simmel (1950, p.131) makes a similar point about modern social relations:

Our modern life is based to a much larger extent than is usually realised upon the faith in the honesty of the other. Examples are our economy, or our science, in which most scholars must use innumerable results of other scientists which they cannot examine.

Simmel describes the Western social system as a ‘credit economy’ in contrast to ancient Greek, Jewish, and South sea communities, who rely less on belief in another’s utterances. A system based on trust must be capable of allocating responsibilities appropriately—giving power to those who know how to use it. [15]

That one’s own actions conform to a recognised set of ends is the aim of rendering one’s actions accountable Shotter (1984) claims this is a duty inherent in social life. One’s audience determines accountability: one must demonstrate to others that actions, which may seem to be out of the ordinary, can be rendered intelligible. The ability to have one’s accounts count for others is tied by Giddens (1979, p.83) to one’s power in society.

Power is expressed in the capabilities of actors to make certain ‘accounts count’ and to enact or resist sanctioning processes; but these capabilities draw upon modes of domination structured into social systems.

Like Harré’s concept of moral order, ‘modes of domination’ refer to the practices governing the allocation of power within a community. The unique focus of ethogenic theory is on how the moral order is reproduced by the rules that govern the attachment of appropriate meaning to one’s actions.

The social context presumed by the expressive making sense resembles more having a conversation than performing a task. Rather than seeing conversation as a reflection of the world that passes time between acquaintances, the realist point of view approaches the practice of conversation as partly determining the way the world is structured. Harré, Clarke & de Carlo (1985) refer to conversation as the ‘basic reality’ in which subjectivity and understanding is housed. The inquiry they outline examines the relation between this public ritual of commenting on things and the private reflections that occur in its absence.

The ultimate project is to discover how far individuals’ personal ‘worlds’ of thought and feeling are reflections of the social world created by the conventions to which they adhere in interacting one with another. [Harré, Clarke & de Carlo, 1985, p.71]

Harré, Clarke & de Carlo are concerned to question the Cartesian scheme that sharply divides the realms of private subjective knowledge and public objective fact. According to this scheme, private beliefs are obtained independently of their circulation in conversation with others. The relation of sense making to control of others in social cognition thus requires revision in this alternative scheme of conversation.

The conversation can be seen as a setting that is crucial to the determination of one’s powers. The power to hold the floor in a conversational setting depends on many factors that require cooperation from the members of the conversational group. These factors may include credit in the community, relative standing within the group, the level of interest of one’s statements, and the usefulness of one’s contributions to others. These are some of the factors to which making sense may be seen to conform.

1.4.4  Control versus agency

The difference between the individual powers involved in the task and the conversation is presented here in terms of the difference between control and agency. ‘Control’ measures one’s power in terms of the capacity to determine the actions of an object. And ‘agency’ examines the place one has in the world of other similar subjects. The weakness of the social cognition approach is that it extends unquestioningly the task-oriented mode of making sense into the domain of modern social life. Of course, this does not negate the presence of practical reasoning, but it does limit its role. Zukier & Pepitone (1984) take a more open approach. Their focus is the sensitivity of probabilistic reasoning to task-oriented and social contexts. By contrasting scientific and clinical settings, they were able to change the way subjects handled information about other people. Their study opens the path for thinking about different modes of sense making for different settings.

At the same time, one should still consider the possibility that there are contexts in which the motive of ‘control’ is most appropriate. A setting where strangers engage in competition over scarce resources might be such a situation. In these cases, trust in another makes one unnecessarily vulnerable to exploitation.

1.5    Social context for study

The object of this study is making sense of personal change. The aim is to reveal the process of making sense in its three dimensions: the information, process, and motive of personal change. This chapter offers two perspectives of sense making: unmediated information about the regularities of another’s behaviour used to predict future actions (social cognition); and talk concerning the point of another’s actions in order to determine the appropriate degree of social credit (realist model of science).

This study investigates the latter mode of sense making for two reasons: first, because it is associated with modern forms of life; and second, because the understanding of its principles is not as developed. [16] Given this context, the question of concern is how one makes sense of another in these terms: how does one demonstrate agency, trustworthiness, credibility, etc. If the inductivist logic of prediction is suited to contexts where resources are subject to competition between social actors, then what means of representation is appropriate when the context demands reciprocity of interests? The identification of an alternative scheme for making sense is the task of the following chapter.


[1] .Wollheim (1984) provides an example of this problem from a philosophical angle. The question here, though, concerns practices of making sense, rather than formal philosophical proofs. The phrase `making sense' is particularly allusive and therefore adaptable. `Making' attends to the active process of constructing a picture of things, and `sense' suggests the process of making familiar something initially strange. Fiske & Taylor (1984, p.1) equate their discipline in social psychology with this term: `Social cognition is the study of how people make sense of other people and themselves.' At this point though, the possibility that one deals with unfamiliar details by making `nonsense' of them should be kept open.

[2] . As metaphor, science suggests particular `pertinencies'; it leads one on a particular path of similarities and differences. As a construction of scientists themselves, this metaphor is oddly self-reflective, which should prompt wariness at the possibility of a mythification of the scientific pursuit. Such a choice exclude other candidate metaphors: e.g., the `business' of making sense of others points to the ways in which a market runs: look for the `currency' of making sense, who it can be exchanged with, and the effects of collective depression and boom.

[3] .Bruner (1958) attributes selectivity of information to a need-based alertness, which ties the process of making sense to practical requirements. Though Bruner comes closer than others, the basic constitution of the information is still left unaccounted for.

[4] .Shotter (1981, p.172) outlines a political interpretation of this situation:

To award ordinary people the status of scientists, from, perhaps, an egalitarian desire to attribute to everyone the ability to conduct the supposedly most highly valued activity in our time, is, I think, misplaced; it is a status which is clearly inimical in many respects to the normal living of everyday life; a quite different moral order is involved...In, for instance, failing to distinguish between tellings and reportings, between the prospective and the retrospective functions of self-descriptions, and in treating them all as reportings, they have failed (while claiming exactly the opposite) to accord the same social status to their subjects as themselves.    

[5] . A more detailed philosophical analysis of these two shortcomings can be found in Heidegger's essay, `The Age of the World as Picture' (1977/1938). The Cartesian ontology of the world as picture assumes a stable world that exists independently of attempts to render it representable. In social cognition, the implication of this is to leave unproblematised the constitution of what it is that makes sense. An alternative ontology to the world as picture should lead us to examine the practices by which information about others is created - once the world itself is no longer seen as a sufficient account of the picture that has been taken of it.

The second false assumption is allied to the subject-object division entailed in the ontology of the world as picture. Here is it implicit that subject and object are autonomous, as are man and nature, etc. In social cognition this presupposition is sympathetic to the belief that the possibility of agency rests in the hands of the individual. Agency here may be seen as equivalent to the instrumental relation between an actor and the inert object that serves as a tool for the achievement of a certain end. This conception leaves unaccounted for instances, such as political action, when agency requires the acknowledgment of others to be realised.

[6] . The extension of the principle of ecological perception into the social domain would seem an unproblematic move. The understanding of what a person `affords' seems the same type of problem as the actions enabled by a physical object. Yet such a development challenges the cognitivist axiom that social perception is guided by inference. In the words of McArthur & Baron (1983, p.215) an ecological social psychology advises attention to ‘...the structured stimulation that exists in our social environment.’

While the concerns of this investigation are compatible with this model, the passage from perception of physical objects to the making sense of people introduces a significant problem. As Schmidt (1987) argues, the assumption that the physical extension of objects provides sufficient information for social perception ignores information that contains a ‘socially constructed relevance’. In using the language of affordance to describe Harré's realist model of science one attends to the information that enables belief in the trustworthiness of another's statements. No doubt physical manifestations such as blushing or stammering provide clues as to whether or not another can be counted on as a reliable source. Yet when such obvious information is unavailable, especially when the other cannot be counted on as having interests that are sympathetic to one's own, one must turn to more indirect means. What authority has been granted to the speaker? Attention to this important problem in social perception directs one more to the role of talk in mediating social relations.

[7] . Nicomachean Ethics (Bk. VI.3, trans Martin Ostwald). The following sentence from this work expresses an attitude in agreement with this chapter: `When a man believes something in the way there specified, and when the starting points or principles on which his beliefs rest are known to him, then he has scientific knowledge; unless he knows the starting points or principles better than the conclusion, he will have scientific knowledge only incidentally.'

[8] . One application of `habitus' in psychology allies it with locus of control; Sullivan (1984, p.81) defines it as `ordered stability' something which enables members of the dominant class to participate in official life. This definition seems limited to only one particular expression of habitus.

[9] . Heidegger links theory and theatre together in the root `thea', referring to the `face' of things, the outward ostensive appearance of things. Complementing this with `horao' to result in the word `theory', Heidegger includes the way of looking at something. In posing a Heideggerian question of the theatre, Wilshire argues for the necessity of temporal and spatial limits on the representation of action.

Concepts have instances, observed Kant, but space has parts. We must take that part of space to which we can have access and so isolate it and so set up reverberations within it that we can get some sense of the totality and our place within in. We must try - and fail - to bound the boundless if we would reveal it. A place of geography is transformed to become a place for presencing. [1982, p.201]

Here the world is bounded into a region where making sense can occur. To take this into account our inquiry must incorporate a dual process of making sense that involves the practice of showing and the response of telling: setting up the world to appear before us (reference), and evaluating the action in a practical context (sense).

[10] . These thoughts are particularly appropriate to the theoretical apparatus of social cognition. The research in impression formation assumes that information about others is mediated in numerical form, and is thus subject to the manipulations of addition, multiplication, log transformations, etc. Such an assumption has no theoretical ground other than an unstated equation of mind with mathematical ratio, an equation that supports the computer motif in the idealist model of science. As Heidegger argues, this mode of revealing lacks recognition of its historical specificity. The assumption that there is only one ideal answer to how a person is made sense of grants no role to the historical changes in representational practices.

[11] . How one performs the action at hand is the expressive order. It is represented in adverbs such as `gracefully', and `heavy handedly.' In talk, it is the way words are put together and embodied in the voice of the utterer that carries the expressive significance of speaking. It is possible to link this expressive-practical dichotomy back to the structurationist position discussed in the previous sections. The practice of partitioning lays a ground of invariance from which a contingent event may be figured. The necessary element of the practical and the unpredictable nature of the expressive can be seen as constellated by such a practice. Lotman and Uspensky (1978) make an analogous division between the `content' dimension of culture - rules that generate order - and its `expression' where the evaluations of good and evil occur. The significance of structurationist theory here is to open for investigation the mode of revealing that constellates the two orders. This will be more extensively discussed in the final chapter.

[12] . This is supported by the ontology of world as picture as it grounds the individualist ideology, identified by Hogan & Enler (1978) as the ethical ground of much social psychology. The control of subject over object is located within the subject rather than the way both are constellated.

[13] . This relationship between the scientific way of representing the world and individualist ideology is perhaps more readily apparent in other representational practices. Arnheim (1977) analyses the social function of urban architecture by reading its implicit theory of space into the individualist work practices. Arnheim sees the relatively anarchic and crowded distribution of buildings in a modern city as being made possible in a community of atomising social relations, where minding one's own business is complemented by a Euclidean understanding of space as an empty container. The occupation of space by one building is seen to have no bearing on the adjacent buildings. The modern structuring of urban space can be seen to reflect the social relations of the city in the same way that the theoretical field of agency offered by social cognition is sympathetic to the notion of a world of independently constituted social actors.

[14] . The blind spot in this understanding is identified by McIntyre as the absence of any consideration of a competition of managerial interests. Necessarily, one's attempts to render others predictable can be countered by their similar counter moves. A manager's time and motion study can be subverted by an anticipation of the predictable nature in which management attempts to exert control over one's actions. The only successful counter is thus to organise one's behaviour in such a way as to make it difficult to foretell one's actions in advance. That the display of randomness in one's actions is a necessary path to agency is something to be taken up when discussing the question of dramatisation of autonomy.

[15] . In this outline of group praxis Sartre (1976) anticipates the structurationist principle that culture can only be reproduced by the active co-operation of its members. However, to be granted authority to carry out the tasks of the group, the individual must be recommended to others as a potential source of trust. Though Sartre does not take it upon himself to articulate the methods available for this accreditation, he does refer to tests of character as one means by which the moral qualities of an individual can be revealed. One could also include letters of introduction, marks of status such as school ties, physical ease and personal charm. The collection of practices for demonstrating personal qualities and the values attached to them are what Harré calls the `moral order.'

[16] .Markus & Zajonc (1985, p.213) signal this area for future development in their overview of social cognition:

It is likely that in the near future the major new method of studying social cognition and of cognition in general will be the dialogue, supplementing the paradigm of recognition memory and reaction time. Individual subjects in interaction, each asking the other questions and responding, may disclose a great deal of content and structure of their own cognitions and help reveal the cognitions of the other

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