Language and symbolic mediation in the social psychological Four Historical moments Dr Derek Hook Language and the stuff of psychology • How does the ‘turn to language’ change our conceptualization of the psychological? • The linguistic turn impacts upon how we think the focus and methodological priorities of psychology. • What do we consider to be the ‘stuff’ of psychology? 1. Language as thought organized in sound Without words our thought is a vague and shapeless mass; without signs we would be incapable of differentiating any two ideas in a clear and constant way. In itself, without signifiers, “thought is like a swirling cloud, where no shape is intrinsically determinate”. Of course, the substance of sound is no more fixed or rigid than that of thought…a malleable material “which can be fashioned into separate parts”. Language as thought organized in sound Language may be thought of as a “series of adjoining subdivisions simultaneously imprinted both on the plane of of vague and amorphous thought (A) and on the equally featureless plane of sound (B) Language as ‘series of adjoining subdivisions’ (A): plane of thought plane of sound (B): The dual nature of the linguistic unit Saussure’s starting points: Linguistic units are dual in nature; comprising two elements. When analyzing a linguistic sign we are not simply concerned with the the link between a thing and a name, but with the link between a concept and a ‘sound pattern’ The dual nature of the linguistic unit Both of these units are psychological in nature. This is obvious in the case of a concept; it is also the case though with a sound pattern, or ‘acoustic image’, which must be at least partly psychological in nature if it is to be comprehended. The Saussurean sign (Arrows represent the reciprocal implication of signifier and signified in signification; the enclosing circle shows the union between the two). Signified Signifier The arbitrary relation btw signifier and signified… Both signifier and signified are necessary for signification to take place however; a concept in my head without an attached signifier cannot be easily communicated (except, of course, with reference to a series of other signifiers). Similarly, a signifier ‘hlahlapanzi’ without any attached signified, means nothing to me. The arbitrary relation btw signifier and signified… However, the relation between signifier and signified, although thoroughly conventionalized, is, nonetheless, arbitrary. (Why, incidentally, is a sign not a symbol? Symbols are, for Saussure, never entirely arbitrary, they show “a vestige of natural connection btw signifier and signified”). Agreed meaning To emphasize the arbitrary relationship between signifier and signified is not to detract from the fact that it is thoroughly conventionalized… A signifier, for example, does not depend on the free choice of the speaker. A new domain for social psychology “What are the relationships between linguistics and social psychology? Everything in language is basically psychological, including its material and mechanical manifestations, such as sound changes; and since linguistics provides social psychology with such valuable data, is it not part and parcel of this discipline? (Saussure, 1966, p. 6). Agreed meaning It is conventionalized in the sense that there is a kind of standard agreement amongst English-language speakers that “bat” when written or spoken corresponds to a certain concept or idea – namely that of a club with a handle which one uses to strike a ball. 2. Vygotsky’s general genetic law of cultural development • “Any function in the child’s cultural development appears twice, or on 2 planes. First it appears on the social plane, and then on the psychological plane. First it appears between people as an interpsychological category, and then it appears within the child as an intrapsychological category” (Vygotsky, 1988, p. 73). Vygotsky’s general genetic law of cultural development • The essential element in the formation of a Higher Mental Function (i.e. higher order properly human symbolic cognitive ability) is the process of internalization. What 1st appears as a external sign-mediator or an interpersonal communication later becomes an internal psychological process…. Internalization • “Any mental function necessarily goes through an external stage in its development because it is initially a social function. This is the centre of the whole problem of internal and external behaviour...” (Vygotsky,1990, p. 116). Internalization • “…When we speak of a process, ‘external’ means ‘social’. Any higher mental function was external because it was social at one point before it became an internal, truly mental function” (Vygotsky,1990, p. 116). What room for biology? • Although the most interesting questions of human development for Vygotsky are those concerning the HMF, he does not deny the role of biology and the LMF. In fact he postulates a phylogenetic ‘natural’ line of development as primary within early infancy and linking to the “direct relations...based on instinctive forms of expressive movement and action between people” (Vygotsky, 1988, p. 71). Natural and cultural lines of development • The lines of natural and cultural development are separate until approximately the end of the 2nd year of life when they merge with the advent of language acquisition. Natural and cultural lines of development • At this point, the ‘cultural’ line takes precedence, changing the very nature of development from biological to sociohistorical. From this point on, biological maturation will be secondary to development although it does operate as a parameter/boundary to the process (Vygotsky, 1978). Practical intelligence & sign use “The most significant moment in the course of intellectual development, which gives birth to the purely human forms of practical and abstract intelligence, occurs when speech and practical activity, two previously completely independent lines of development, converge…as soon as speech and the use of signs are incorporated into any action, the action becomes transformed and organized entirely new lines…” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 24). “The essence of complex human behaviour” “Although practical intelligence and sign use can operate independently of each other in young children, the dialectical unity of these systems in the human adult is the very essence of complex human behaviour” (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 24). 3. Symbolic interactionism • Sociology of micro-scale analyses of interaction • Mead, Cooler, Blumer • People act towards things based on the meaning these things have for them and these meanings are derived from social interaction and modified through interpretation. • ACTION – (based on) – MEANING (those things have for them) – (based on) – SOCIAL INTERACTION – which is itself subject to INTERPRETATION Basic premises of symbolic inter• 1. Humans act towards things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe things. • 2.The meaning of such things is derived from, arises out of, social interaction one has with others and society. • 3. These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by persons dealing with things they encounter Meaning over action • It is never a case of just responding to one another’s actions, but of making meaning from those actions. • People interpret, define, one another’s actions. • Their ‘response’ is never direct but mediated, based on meanings they attach to situations and actions. Continual meaning makers • Human interaction is mediated by the use of symbols and significations, by interpretation. • Symbolic interactionist perspective is to be contrasted to behaviourist explanations of human behaviour which don’t allow for interpretation between stimulus and response. • Humans are continually making meanings during social interactions, defining situations. View of the social world • The social world is a dynamic and dialectical web. • Attention to the network of roles, roleinductions, subject-locations, normal expectations of such roles, reciprocations, interactions, ‘slots’ in the social field, stability of the situation of interaction, discrete rules of engagement. 4. Discursive psychology…in brief • “Discursive psychologists suggest that language is a precondition for much of what we call ‘social psychology’. • Our psychological lives…are profoundly shaped by the linguistic resources that culture makes available to us, that we must use to make sense of reality. • Many higher-order reasoning-processes (stereotyping, attribution of causality, social attitudes, collective interest) are only possible because we share a common language and are able to jointly ‘construct’ the meanings of social relations and identities (Dixon, 2006). Discursive psychology…in brief • Theorists approach discourse in the sense of linguistic practices, as ‘textual formations’, societal operations of knowledge, linguistic performances… • Potter & Wetherell: “We use ‘discourse’ in its most open sense…to cover all forms of spoken interaction, formal and informal, and written texts…” 1. Speech-acts: what is done in saying •We are concerned here with the performative dimension of language, what language actually does. •Not just a question of content but of what occurs by virtue of having said something – what commitment is made, what action achieved (apologizing, declaring, blaming, affirmation, excusing) •What kind of relation is thus established by virtue of what has been said; what pact established; how is the speaker positioned? 2. The rhetorical aspect: persuasion •All effective discourse functions to normalize, naturalize itself, to affirm itself as the only sensible truth of a matter. •The traditional study of rhetoric identifies three main axes of rhetoric, logos, ethos, pathos: •the rationality and convincingness of the argument being made, the status and performative qualities of the speaker themselves, and the affective quality of the argument, how it moves me. 3. Negotiated meanings •We are concerned with jointly produced meanings, with ‘interacted’, negotiated constructions. •Not just a case of language-in-action and the social construction of the world, but of how collectively generated and conventional meanings are continually subject to conflict, tussle, contestation. •Dialogical context of construction is important: my meaning is in part a function of your recognition & agreement. 3. Negotiated meanings •Billig’s idea of ideological dilemmas underlies this idea that the making of meaning is always somehow argumentative, anticipating opposing arguments. •The production of discourse is not simply the collection of assertions, but a fraught terrain of contested meanings. •The dialogical, to-and-fro pattern of discourse is also a pattern of thinking. 4. Narrative coherence •Even apparently scientific discourse maintains a strong narrative quality; it engages and involves us on the level of a good story •Narrative devices are a part of what makes an argumentative position powerful (hero/villain, tension, identification, the developing story-arc, struggle, resolution). •Hayden White suggested that these narrative devices typically over-ride the content of historical narratives. Potter and Wetherell: Interpretative Repertoires • A way of engaging discourse in use as ‘contrasting structures of explanation’, as modes of explanation and rationalization in speech • The various and often contradictory ways in which people explain facts and behaviours. More specifically: the linguistic resources available to speakers in the construction of their accounts (Potter & Wetherell, 1987), the rhetorical strategies of speakers. You can’t disentangle ostensibly psychological functions from the utilization of rhetorical, argumentative, linguistic, discursive features. Criticism of the notion of interpretative repertoires • This approach is about how various traditional concerns of social psychology can be ‘fixed’ or studied ‘on the outside’ in discursive modes of exchange, in commonplace social interaction. • It, says Fox (1991), is more concerned with how people talk than with the attempt to progress political change. Fairclough (1993) considers ‘interpretative repertoires’ to be a “one-sided individualistic emphasis upon the rhetorical strategies of speakers”. Criticism of the notion of interpretative repertoires • Parker: this model is more accepted in psychology because it contains the work of discourse analysis within traditional psychological categories and…evades reference to politics or power. • The model relativizes categories that psychology likes to see as essential or unchanging, it restricts its analysis to a particular text rather than locating it in wider discursive practices…much of the research in this tradition is rather descriptive; a range of techniques from micro-sociology make the description look more objective (2003, p. 127).