EMOTIONS, THE SOCIAL BOND AND HUMAN REALITY: PART/WHOLE ANALYSIS*
EMOTIONS, THE SOCIAL BOND AND HUMAN REALITY: PART/WHOLE ANALYSIS*
First two introductions and first chapter only.
Thomas J. Scheff
THEORY AND METHOD 11
l. Part/whole morphology: Unifying theory, method and data 14
2. The limits of literary analysis of texts 39
GENERATING THEORY: THE SOCIAL BOND 53
3. Punishment, child development, and the social bond 56
4. Boytalk-girltalk: A theory of social integration 77
5. Origins of the First World War: an interdisciplinary approach 92
GENERATING THEORY: EMOTIONS AND CONFLICT 118
6. Gender wars: love and conflict in Much Ado About Nothing. 121
7. Microanalysis of discourse: the case of Martha Johnson and her therapist 137
8. Conflict in family systems 163
9. Conclusion: integrating the human sciences 179
Appendix: Retzinger's coding scheme for cues to shame and anger. 190
This book has benefitted by comments on earlier drafts by Walter Buckely,
Aaron Cicourel, Keith Oatley, and Suzanne Retzinger. Keith Oatley's comments
were particularly helpful in organizing and ordering the many strands.
It was published last month by Cambridge U. Press.
This book outlines and gives examples of a new approach to research
in the human sciences. It puts into practice the recommendation of C. Wright
Mills, for what he called the exercise of the sociological imagination.
But I would call it instead the interdisciplinary, human imagination. Here
I develop and elaborate ideas that were proposed in an early form in my
Microsociology (1990) and in Suzanne Retzinger's Violent Emotions
(1991). These two books focused on a subtantive topic: emotions and social
bonds in their interrelationship. This book continues with that focus,
but codifies the methodological dimension.
My goal is to describe an approach to all human research that allows
the interpenetration of theory, method, and data in such a way that each
equally casts light on the other, generating a theory that is based directly
on observations of actual human behavior, both inner experience and outer
conduct. This introduction and the first two chapters emphasize methodology,
of relating the smallest parts to the largest wholes. The later chapters
apply this approach to verbatim human expressions.
When part/whole methods are applied to verbatim texts, the intricate
filigree of even the simplist human transactions are revealed. Inevitably,
an important component of this filigree are emotions and bond-oriented
behavior. One important goal of the substantive chapters is to show that
understanding the intricacy of hunan expressions is not a luxury, but an
elementary requirement of human science. It is clear that societies (and
the human relationships which constitute them) ride upon extraordinarily
complex processes. Because emotional transactions are a vital part of human
exisitence, and are usually omitted, the substantive chapters emphasize
them, and their relation to behavior which is oriented toward maintaining
the social bond. The part/whole method provides a path toward relating
the microscopic filigree of human relationships to understanding the largest
At the heart of my method is what I call part/whole morphology. I borrow
the idea of morphology from botany, where it has long formed the foundation
of that discipline. In botanical research, the study of single cases (single
specimens of plants ) is just as important as making comparisons between
plants. Morphology is based equally on single cases and comparative study.
By microscopic study of the smallest details of a single plant, the botanist
learns how it works as a system, even if no other specimens are available.
To the extent that other specimens are available, microanalysis and comparative
study can be interwoven, each building on the other. Botany is the study
of both individual and groups of plants.
Although not discussed as such, botanical morphology employs what I
callpart/whole analysis, since it is concerned with relating the least
parts, the tiniest details of an individual plant, with the greatest
wholes, the structure and process of plant communities, and their relationship
to their environment. The phrase "least parts and greatest wholes"
is due to the philosopher Spinoza, who proposed that human understanding
requires relating the least parts to the greatest wholes. Spinoza's proposition
forms the basis of this book. As Spinoza suggested and as recent research
demonstrates, human beings and human relationships are so complex as to
require part/whole analysis, even in cases of simple, everyday interaction.
One area in which the many-layered complexity of human activities has
become quite clear is ordinary language. The failure of automated computer
translation of foreign languages, and of paraphrasing meaning within a
language, has strong implications for the human sciences. Typically a computer
program will offer fifty to a hundred paraphrases of the meaning of a sentence,
none of which are correct, and many of which are ludicrous. For example,
a computer program failed to provide a correct paraphrase of the aphorism
"Time flies like an arrow." One of the many paraphrases produced
was "Time flies (insects) as you would an arrow." Understandably,
the program mistook a noun (time) for a verb, and a verb (flies) for a
From a logical point of view, an ordinary language is a mess, since
its main terms, the most frequently used words, always have a multitude
of meanings. How do human beings ever interpret the meaning of a text or
an utterance correctly (i.e. consensually)? The implication is that humans
have within them computing equipment infinitely more sophisticated than
the most sophisticated computers. To correctly understand ordinary language,
humans must have access to part/whole algorithms that allow them to understand
the particular meanings of words (and when face to face, of gestures) in
context: that is, the meaning of an expression produced by a particular
person in a particular dialogue, in a particular relationship, in a particular
culture, at a particular time in history. All understanding requires a
high order of what George Steiner called "interpretive decipherment."
Like the Rosetta Stone, ordinary language is always a problem of creative
cryptography, needing vastly more intelligence than the solution of intricate
puzzles like the Rubik Cube.
The extraordinary intelligence that humans show in deciphering language
and other cultural puzzles occurs with lightning-like rapidity and effortlessness,
and often, but not always, accuracy. Even a five-year old can do it, but
makes more errors than adults. (When she was five, my daughter dragged
her feet about visiting my friend Dennis because she though he would examine
her teeth. ). Adults also make errors, but much of the time their interpretations
are consensual, or else society would be impossible. Loan companies survive
when most of the understandings they enter into with their customers are
The rapidity and effortlessness with which people sometimes understand
each other poses a profound problem for the human sciences, because it
comes to be taken for granted, not only by the participants, but also by
researchers. The design of most studies of human beings assumes that the
words and sentences used by the researchers and their subjects are largely
unambiguous, and also assumes that their subjects' intelligence is not
extraordinary. This assumption is particularly marked in the construction
of scales, but is also central to all experiments and most interviews.
Even qualitative studies make this assumption, if somewhat more cautiously.
The problem is that humans are capable of not understanding or misunderstanding
standardized research situations, or of using them to their own ends, concealment,
getting the researcher's sympathy, etc. Similarly, it is all to easy for
the researcher to misunderstand or not understand their subjects' responses.
Understanding the meaning of human expressions is a complex and intricate
process, but it can be understood if part/whole methods are applied. The
nearer we take as our data VERBATIM records of human expressions, the closer
we can come to understanding our subjects. Verbatim records include transcriptions
based on mechanical recording of interaction and all written materials.
It is now taken for granted that the "two cultures" of science
and humane letters are so separated that there is no way of connecting
them. This assumption pervades both cultures. Here is an example from psychology
(Maher 1991, p. 72):
[One approach to psychology] is to assert that individual behavior cannot
be predicted, but only "understood" after it occurs. This solution
puts [psychology] firmly into the arean of hermeneutics, i.e. the humane
study of texts... Close examination shows us clearly that this approach
is indistinguishable from that of the biographer writing as a contributor
to nonfiction literature...(emphasis added)
The purpose of this book is to show that it is possible to integrate
hermaneutics with prediction, that they need not be mutually exclusive.
Part/whole morphology, as outlined here, combines the interpretation of
texts with the use of explicit theory and method. Contrary to what Maher
said, this method is quite distinguishable from the current beliefs and
practices in both the scientific and humanistic camps.
There is a powerful intimation that science and humanistic interpretation
can be combined in an extraordinary work of the literary imagination by
Nuttall (1983). He distinguishes between two types of interpretation of
texts. The first he calls "opaque," which involves the separation
of the interpretor from the characters represented in the text:
In the opeing of King Lear folk-tale elements proper to narrative
are infiltrated by a finer-grained dramatic mode (p 80).
In the second mode, which Nuttall calls "transparent,", the
interpretor projects life into the characters:
Cordelia cannot bear to have her love for her father made the subject
of a partly mercenary game (p. 80).
Nuttall has two complaints about the formalized interpetations in the
"opaque mode" which parallel my discussion here. First, no matter
how formalized, opaque language must smuggle in transparent interpetations,
otherwise it would be meaningless (p. 84-87). Secondly, opaque interpetation
is necessarily narrow and partial, since it rules out the other mode. On
the other hand, transparent langauge does not rule out formal analysis,
but can easily include both. This latter point that Nuttall made is quite
parallel to my assertion that science and hermeutics can be combinded.
The intensive study of single cases, when accompanied by comparative
study of cases, enables the researcher to understand human behavior in
all of its complexity. When Durkheim, the founder of modern sociology,
borrowed what he thought was the morphological method from botany, he left
out exactly half of it, the systematic study of single cases. Seeking to
demonstrate that social processes exert what he thought was an autonomous
influence on human actions, he focused entirely on the comparative part
of morphology, shearing away a vital part of an organic approach to knowledge
and discovery. The division between sociology and psychology that Durkheim
proposed in his early work is leading to impasse. This division, which
was necessary in order to found sociology, has frozen into rigid separation,
with tragic consequences for both disciplines.
One of the signal weakness of Durkheim's comparative approach, which
continues to haunt modern social science, is the lack of temporal data
showing time order of events, and therefore of causation. In his powerful
study comparing suicide rates in different societies and in different social
strata, Durkheim was forced to speculate on the causation of suicide, since
he had no data which showed the temporal development of behavior. This
is the key weakness of all "structural" analyses: the absence
of process data.
The combination of single case and comparative study in botanical morphology
enabled researchers to understand both structure and process, by observing
both the single plant as a system, and also the system of many plants as
a functioning community. The most important aspect of this approach is
more subtle, however: one understands the single plant in the context
of knowing a great deal about the plant community, and the plant community
in the context of knowing a great deal about the single specimen. Morphology
offers a methodological solution to a the most intractable problem in the
human sciences, the relationship between the individual and the group.
In this book I use discourse analysis to explore single cases of social
interaction, and show how it may be used in conjunction with social system
analysis to understand these cases in the context of other similar cases.
I use the term discourse is an extremely broad way, to include not only
spoken language, the usual sense of the word, but also any record of communicative
expressions. I resort to this unusual definition to avoid ponderous terms
like communication or social interaction The reader should keep in mind
the broad way that I use discourse, which includes written texts of any
kind. My emphasis on verbatim discourse proposes that we allow the actual
voices of our subjects to be heard in our studies, voices which have almost
disappeared from the human sciences.
In my approach to morphology, I suggest that the basic molecule of social
behavior is what I call the exchange: one action (usually discourse)
by one person, and the response of another person. In much of social interaction,
such exchanges are usually quite brief, as little as one transcripted line
for each participant. Exchanges are small systems made up of least parts
and larger wholes, at various levels.
We can think of each exchange as involving a part/whole ladder of levels.
An exchange between a particular mother and daughter, for example, is made
up of still smaller parts: the words and gestures (Level 1) of each of
the component expressions. And each exchange (Level 2) is also itself a
part of still larger wholes: the conversation (Level 3) of which the exchange
is but a part; all conversations between the two participants (their whole
relationship, Level 4), all relationships of their social type (the mother-daughter
relationship in that particular society, level 5) etc.
By taking into account the parts and wholes of specific episodes of
discourse, and the relation of those episodes to the larger social and
cultural wholes of which they are a part, many of the most recalcitrant
problems that face the human sciences may be confronted directly. My approach
combines elements that are usually pursued separately, attempting to present
human experience as a whole rather than as separated parts (such as data)
and separated wholes (such as theory).
Basing this approach on the exchange does not eliminate levels of subjective
experience which underlie outer behavior. In order to understand the meaning
of an exchange, a researcher must make inferences about the motives, intentions,
and feelings of the participants, as they themselves do, because they too
are parts of the whole, even though only inferential. In this respect the
researcher has a great advantage over the participants; he or she has the
time and inclination to subject the exchange to microscopic examination.
Because of many years of such minute examination of verbatim excerpts of
dialogue, it seems to me that most human interaction is so complex that
its participants understand only a tiny fraction of their own motives,
intentions and feelings. In an earlier publication (Scheff 1990, 100) I
referred to both inner and outer levels of dialogue as the "message
3. Implicature (Unstated implications of words and gestures).
All interpretations of meaning require analysis of these four levels,
but usually leave out explicit references to the lower three levels, depending
almost entirely on the verbal components. Even studies which include nonverbal
gestures seldom explicitly refer to the lower two levels. Part/whole morphology
of discourse integrates innner experience with outer conduct.
The new approach subsumes and clarifies knotty theoretical problems.
Many critics have complained that Parsonian theory overemphasizes social
control as a determinant of behavior, the hypothetical grid of norms and
sanctions which actors take into account in constructing their behavior.
In the abbreviated part/whole ladder implied above, Level 5 implicates
such a grid, but only as one part of complex structure in which the exchange
is embedded. Part/whole analysis assimilates most of the current theoretical
proposals in the human science, theories like social control and rational
choice, but locates them within a much larger matrix. Of course actors
sometimes deliberately or even rationally compare their options in coming
to a decision, as rational choice theory would have it. But sometimes they
don't. Both alternatives can easily be included in part/whole analysis.
In terms of methodology, the approach outlined here is addressed first
to what Denzin and Lincoln (1994) call the "dual crisis" in qualitative
methods, a crisis of representation and a crisis of legitimation.
The crisis in representation involves the mass of thorny issues that have
arisen in the last twenty years about how to portray the Other in our research,
another person, race, gender, or class than one's own. This issue has surfaced
with intense criticism of conventional descriptions of the Other in anthropological
writing, and also in postmodernist trends. The issue is closely related,
if not identical, to a classic tradition in philosophy, the problem of
Other Minds. How can we be sure that we understand the thoughts and feelings
of a person other than ourselves? The first crisis in qualitative methods
concerns the formats we use to depict the minds and behavior of our subjects.
Denzin and Lincoln specify the problem of representation in terms of
production and ordering of text and context (578):
... (ethnographers) must take steps to ensure that the words they put
in subjects' mouths were in fact spoken by those subjects...But more important,
the ethnographer must take care when changing contexts and reordering events...
The crisis of legitimation, as Denzin and Lincoln present it, overlaps
with the crisis of representation, in that both involve the truth of our
representations of the other, but the crisis of representation goes further,
by referring to (578):
... the claim any text makes to being accurate, true, and complete.
Is a text, that is, faithful to the context and the individuals it is supposed
Although Denzin and Lincoln do not use these terms, probably because
they equate them with positivism, the crisis of representation appears
to be closely related to the issue of validity, and the crisis of legitimation
to the issue of reliability. What is the most valid method of representing
our subjects, and how can we demonstrate that the results of this method
are reliable? The present volume outlines an approach to this exact problem,
reporting and relating text and context in a way that offers a measure
of both validity and reliability.
The crisis of representation can be confronted by reporting verbatim
the exact dialogue of the participants in a specific encounter. Where possible
the dialogue should be a transcript based on mechanical recording on audiotape
or film. In this way, one can be sure that the actual words and gestures
are being represented. This method is also applicable to written texts,
such as the telegrams (Chapter 5) between the heads of state immediately
prior to the onset of the First World War. Written texts omit nonverbal
components, but if sufficient attention is paid to both text and context,
one can understand both surface and subsurface meanings in dialogue. Since
the researcher is presenting the raw data and the method of analysis, the
reader is empowered to confirm or criticize the interpretation, giving
rise to a measure of reliability.
This method can also be used with dialogue as remembered by a participant
or researcher. With this type of data, of course, the warrant of validity
and reliability is less certain, since discourse that is filtered through
the memory and perceptions of the reporter is subject to many kinds of
distortion. Nevertheless, since this approach injects the remembered voices
of named persons into an investigation, it offers an approximation of the
least parts of a relationship. I have found this method to be of great
help in teaching; many of my courses on social relationships begin with
role-playing of dialogue as remembered by the students.
The analysis of a specific exchange (for example, the quarrels with
parents, in Chapter 8) usually catches the student's attention, since it
suggests new features of which the student was unaware. It would not be
an exaggeration to say that many students are astounded when they discover
their own contributions to the problems they have with parents and lovers.
In the context of similar exchanges of other students in quarrels with
their parents, each single case takes on a heightened interest. By using
both a single case and a comparative approach, the morphological method,
each student can better understand her own quarrel in the context of the
other students' quarrels, and vice versa (for example, those students who
found new awareness through analysis of their own quarrel usually showed
more sympathy with other students' parental quarrels).
Remembered dialogue can be useful in teaching and research, but the
strongest warrant for validity and reliability can be obtained through
the use of verbatim reproductions of social interaction or written materials.
Verbatim records catch more of the least parts than field notes or verbal
transcriptions of interviews, especially the gestural parts. Giving the
reader access to the raw data, the exact voices of the participants, and
the theory and method being used by researcher, the reader is empowered
to test the validity and reliability of the author's interpretations of
the data. Just as important, the social reality under study comes vividly
alive for the reader. This method can be applied in such a way as to combine
the advantages of the three most important current approaches in social
science: eye-witness qualitative methods, quantitative methods, and theoretical
The introduction of the subjects' own voices as data to be systematically
analyzed, directly in the final report, may overcome the relentless march
of standardization, what Weber called routineization, into social science
procedures. This trend has been noted in feminist scholarship (see particularly
Krieger's  forceful comments). Part/whole morphology incorporates
the least parts, the clues to personal identity, into the ever larger wholes
of sociological analysis.
Although my approach is a way of upgrading qualitative research by making
it more objective and more systematic, in response to the crises of representation
and legitimacy, it is also relevant to the practice of quantitative research.
The success of a quantitative study does not depend entirely on technical
questions such as research design, data gathering and analysis. It also
depends on how accurate and how important the hypothesis that is being
tested. Quantitative research is often of little importance because the
hypotheses that are tested are too simple to catch human reality. They
lack grounding in actual human behavior, what the French call gout des
terres, the taste of the earth, the intricateness, ambiguity, and complexity
of human experience. In these instances the skill and talent in conducting
surveys or experiments is wasted, the hypotheses are too far afield to
be worth testing.
The approach outlined here is one that attempts to generate increasingly
accurate and general hypotheses by close examination of the actual reality
of social life. By grounding investigation in examination of the "minute
particulars" as Blake said, the least parts of single cases, and later
in the comparison of these cases with one another in the context of larger
wholes, one may generate hypotheses that are general and important. As
pointed out, quantitative analysis leads to verification or disconfirmation
of a hypothesis. But verification is the third step in part/whole morphology.
Before taking the last step, it is usually necessary to tale at least one
of the earlier steps: exploration (conventional eyewitness field work using
qualitative methods), microanalysis of single specimens and comparison
of specimens. (See Figure 1, Chapter 1.) Figure 1 can be used as a guide
for beginning or expanding research in the human sciences.
In Elias's (1978) magisterial study of the civilizing process, he first
analyzed excerpts from advice manuals from the same historical era in each
of four European languages. These excerpts represent specimens from the
13th through the 18th century. He also examined excerpts in the same four
languages from the 19th century, showing a decided change in emotional
content. His method involves both single cases and comparisons of cases
in different languages and historical eras. For these reasons, his results
are specific, general and important. But like literary analysts, his theory
and method are not made explicit. Probably for that reason, his work has
failed to have the impact it should have had.
In the approach advocated here, since verbatim texts are used, the researcher
(and the reader) has the advantage of direct eye-witness observation of
the behavior under consideration, as in the best qualitative methods. The
researcher has access to features of the text which are often ignored by
the participants, and to instant replay, which is also seldom available
to the participants. If as suggested in the chapters that follow, the researcher
provides the reader with a comprehensive description of the methods employed,
the study, like quantitative methods, offers the reader exact definitions
of concepts and procedures. Finally, as in the studies to be described
below, if the study is either built on or generates general theoretical
propositions, then it will have the advantage of being embedded in an abstract
theoretical framework, which is the strength of current social science
work in theory. Drawing on the strengths of these three areas, the studies
presented in this book are therefore reminiscent of current research in
the human sciences, because they combine some of the strongest elements
in what is currently being done.
But in another way, all of the studies presented here will seem quite
different than current studies, because each of them carries out the part/whole
theme. As required by the part/whole paradigm, each study is multi-level
and multidisciplinary. The studies involve microscopic examination of discourse,
and understanding the results of microanalysis in the context of larger
wholes, social institutions and cultural systems. The analysis of various
levels also involves concepts and propositions from many disciplines, with
emphasis on connecting social science propositions with concepts and propositions
from history, political science, anthropology, linguistics, psychology,
psychiatry and psychoanalysis. The method combines, therefore, what is
often separated - for example, microlinguistic analysis of discourse, on
the one hand, with social system analysis, on the other.
One feature of the studies presented here which may seem particularly
strange and unusual is the pervasive focus on emotional elements in social
interaction. Certain emotions, such as shame, pride, and anger, will be
identified in virtually all of the episodes that are discussed. This focus
does not mean that I think that all behavior is determined by emotions.
Rather it means that that I believe that emotions, like perception and
cognition, are present in most behavior. Emotions stand out a prominent
features here because they are usually left out of studies in the human
sciences. Even the most qualitative of studies almost always analyze the
verbal part of discourse, ignoring the rich nonverbal accompaniment, like
a pianist playing only the left hand. Social science studies are seldom
scored for nonverbal behavior. The part/whole method includes not only
many levels and disciplinary perspectives, but also all of the components
of behavior, including emotions.
It has become a tradition in the human sciences to focus on cognition,
(as in cognitive science), behavior, (as in behavioral analysis), and/or
beliefs, (as in most survey studies). If emotions are mentioned at all,
they are given short shrift, treated as irrational elements briefly and
casually. But because I analyze emotions systematically in this book doesn't
mean than I think they are the whole story, only that they should be taken
as seriously as the other components of human behavior. For example, Chapter
5 suggests that unacknowledged shame, particularly the French reaction
to their defeat by the Germans in 1871, was an important factor in the
origins of World War I. But in suggesting that a chain of humiliated fury
ran through French politics from 1871 to 1914, I am not proposing that
that it was the only cause of the war. The actions of the other major nations
were just as important, as were other motives, such as desire for power
and expansion, and perhaps fear of the other countries. I emphasize one
motive, humiliated fury, because earlier explanations have left it out.
The first chapter is very dense, covering a broad spectrum of methodological
issues necessary for understanding human beings. It makes the point that
human understanding is far richer and more complex than had been previously
thought, showing the actual processes of effective thought. The remaining
chapters are more accessible, since they involve applications of the main
ideas in the first chapter to concrete episodes of human behavior. The
idea of parts and wholes is very powerful, but it is also quite abstract.
It may be the most general framework possible. It needs to be shown how
it applies to real human activity in diverse settings, fleshing it out
with actual speech and gestures, as interpreted in context.
At the center of the first chapter is Spinoza's insight that human understanding
requires knowledge of the "least parts and the greatest wholes"
and the relationship between them. This idea leads to the very heart of
human reflexiveness: when we are thinking clearly, we carefully relate
ourselves to both the microcosm and the macrocosm. This movement clarifies
what it is that we are doing, it makes contact with efforts of others,
and makes our thoughts maximally useful. It is at the same time a declaration
of both dependence and independence. To use Elias's favorite word, it is
a declaration of interdependence, of unity and difference.
This idea suggests a way of correcting for the overspecialization of
knowledge in the modern world. There is a joke among academics that they
either know everything about nothing or nothing about everything. As in
most jokes, there is some truth to this one. There are the parts
people, who know everything about next to nothing, and the wholes
people, who know next to nothing about everything. By struggling to relate
parts to larger wholes (the empiricists in psychology and history, for
example) and wholes to the parts of which they are to be composed (theorists
in the social sciences and the humanities), perhaps some of the alienation
and waste motion in our attempts to understand the human world can be overcome.
This book shows the need to include and study all of the parts of human
communication: gestures and emotions are just as important as words, thoughts
and actions. All of these components are equally necessary in understanding
the character of the participants and the nature of their relationships.
It is mainly for this reason that many studies of human beings seem thin
and airless, since the various approaches typically omit one or more components.
Many studies in the social sciences are based on interviews which focus
solely on words. Studies in the behavior sciences usually focus only on
thoughts and actions or actions alone (as in the psychology of facial expressions).
Social scientists usually study minds without bodies, psychologists bodies
without minds. Because of these lapses, it is rarely possible to come to
valid conclusions because some of the parts of the system are missing.
Although recently emotions are beginning to receive notice, they have been
ignored for so long that it will take some time to catch up.
Even studies that include emotions usually leave out one particular
emotion, shame. I argue, as implied in Goffman's (1967) brilliant essay
on embarrassment, that shame is the master emotion, in that it is an actual
part of, or more frequently, is anticipated in virtually all human contact.
Several of the chapters focus on this emotion in order to show how shame,
ordinarily considered at best as only a vanishingly small part of the human
drama, may indeed play a major role in most human activity.
Shame is crucial in social interaction because it ties together the
individual and social aspects of human activity as part and whole. As an
emotion within individuals it plays a central role in consciousness of
feeling and morality. But it also functions as signal of distance between
persons, allowing us to regulate how close or far we are from others. Observable
cues to shame and embarrassment make social relationships visible to participants,
and are available in verbatim transcripts for the researcher, materializing
an otherwise intangible but vitally important part of human affairs. This
idea runs through many of the chapters; it is most elaborated in Chapter
6-8. Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 8 deal both with single case analysis and comparison
of cases, more advanced part/whole morphology than the single case, but
still at a low level. Advanced morphological methods requires systematic
comparison of many cases, as well as single case analysis.
Needless to say, the approach outlined here will not solve all of the
manifold problems of the human sciences, or come anywhere close. The basic
idea, of part/whole relations as the fundamental building block of the
human sciences, is still much too abstract, even given the illustrations
of its use in the chapters below, to be yet easily applied to the task
of rebuilding research on human beings. It will need to be further fleshed
out with a much wider variety of problems and settings than I undertake
in this book. Because these examples are only preliminary, I have given
far more emphasis to single case analysis than to comparative analysis.
Mature applications of my approach must give balanced attention to both
single case and comparative analysis. The examples of applications of part/whole
morphology below should be taken for what they are, preliminary and incomplete
exercises, used to illustrate a new path for the future.
It will also be evident to the reader that I largely proceed from the
work of others. I show how the part/whole paradigm can expand our understanding
of work that is already been recognized as significant. Finally, my emphasis
on the role of emotion in the chapters below is a further instance of the
limitation of range. A more balanced application of the ideas outlined
here would give equal attention to perception, cognition, behavior and
Section 1: Theory and Method
There is a marvelous passage in one of Kundera's (1995) essays on the
history of the novel which exactly evokes the problem I attack here, how
to access human reality (Kundera 1995, 128-129, emphasis added):
Try to reconstruct a dialogue from your own life, the
dialogue of a quarrel or a dialogue of love. The most precious, the most
important situations are utterly gone. Their abstract sense remains (I
took this point of view, he took that one. I was aggressive, he was defensive),
perhaps a detail or two. but the acousticovisual concreteness of
the situation in all its continuity is lost.
And not only is it lost but we do not even wonder at this
loss. We are resigned to losing the concreteness of the present. We immediately
transform the present moment into its abstraction. We need only recount
an episode we experienced a few hours ago: the dialogue contracts to
a brief summary, the setting to a few general features. This applies
to even the strongest memories which affect the mind deeply like a trauma:
we are so dazzled by their potency that we don't realize how schematic
and meager their content is.
When we study, discuss, analyze a reality, we analyze
it as it appears in our mind, in our rnemory. We know reality only in the
past tense. We do not know it as it is in the present in the moment when
it's happening, when it is. The present moment is unlike the memory
of it. Remembering is not the negative of forgetting. Remembering is
a form of forgetting.
We can assiduously keep a diary and note every event.
Rereading the entries one day we will see that they cannot evoke a single
concrete image. And still worse: that the imagination is unable to help
our memory along and reconstruct what has been forgotten. The present-the
concreteness of the present-as a phenomenon to consider, as a structure,
is for us an unknown planet: so we can neither hold on to it in our
memory nor reconstruct it through imagination. We die without knowing
what we have lived.
How can a scientist or scholar capture the reality of human life, when
the people whom we study usually cannot do it themselves? As Kundera suggests,
only the greatest of novelists, giants such as Tolstoy and Proust, have
even come close, by reporting the evocative details of sight, sound, and
context that we usually ignore or immediately forget.
Kundera's comments clarify and extend the Proustian quest, not only
for the lost past, but for the lost present. The title of Proust's masterpiece,
if translated literally into English, is not The Remembrance of Things
Past, but The Search for Past Time. And the title of the triumphant last
chapter is The Past Regained. A great artist, he demonstrates, can find
the universal moments of childhood living within his or her memory, but
hidden behind the conventional facade of everyday life.
Although most of Proust's commentary concerns the recovery of the distant
past, a few passages concern a past so immediate that it edges upon the
present. For example, in the section called Within a Budding Grove, there
is an incident in which the narrator, Marcel, finally gets to meet Albertine,
the girl he has been yearning for (and who later becomes the love of his
life). At first he is deeply disappointed with the meeting; the whole episode
seems banal and empty; he and she both conventional and distant. But that
evening, as he reconsiders the meeting, he begins to remember the fine
details of her gestures, facial expression, and inflections. She comes
to life for him, in his "darkroom," as he says, where he is able
to develop the "negatives" of his impressions of her earlier
in the day. By focusing on the details, he is able to regain a past so
immediate that it points toward the possibility of recovering the present.
Proust is still ridiculed for his seeming preoccupation with minutiae.
A favorite jest is that it takes him fifteen pages to describe turning
over in bed. But Proust implies that the ability to recover even fleeting
moments of the past and present are the sine qua non of the great artist:
it is these recovered moments that breath life into art. The main difference
between art and kitsch is the abstractness of the latter. It describes
not the details that make up human experience, but conventional abstractions
of them, as Kundera suggests.
But why do we need the living present in the human sciences? I propose
that it is needed to breath life into our enterprise also. I suggest a
method, part/whole analysis, for restoring human reality to the social
sciences. This approach is a way of filling in the details of Proust's
method of "developing our negatives in our darkroom." Using transcripts
or verbatim texts as data, one interprets the meaning of the smallest parts
(words and gestures) of expressions within the context of the ever greater
wholes within which they occur: sentences, paragraphs, the whole
dialogue, the whole relationship, the whole culture and social structure.
A central theme in the work of Spinoza was the thought that human understanding
requires relating the least parts to the greatest wholes. This book shows
how this idea may be carried out in disciplined program of inquiry.
The first chapter describes how the morphological method can be applied
in the human sciences. It then develops the idea of part/whole analysis.
In order to show how important this approach is for the human sciences,
the first chapter takes up the complexity of human intelligence. It slows
down part/whole processes that occur in our thinking and feeling that are
so fast as to be practically invisible. It shows how these processes lie
at the heart of capable, despecialized problem-solving, of what is usually
called common sense. It provides examples of two thinkers who made progress
toward part/whole thinking, Elias and Levi-Strauss, and the consequences
for those who made little or no progress in this vital direction.
The second chapter examines the strengths and limitations of literary
analysis in two studies. In the first, a study of poetic closure (B. H.
Smith, 1968), the author takes several steps toward locating her work on
a part/whole ladder, how the issue of poetic closure and non-closure occurs
in Shakespeare's sonnets, and in other poetry, literature, and art. The
author takes one more step up the part/whole ladder, suggesting, in passing,
that closure in poetry is one aspect of closure in language as a whole.
However, she does not elaborate this idea, which could have related her
study to those in linguistics which deal with the same issue: openings
and closings in conversation. Such an elaboration could have enriched her
study and those in linguistics, suggesting continuities and differences
between poetry and ordinary language, making the study reflexive.
A more powerful literary study concerns the six heroines of Jane Austen's
novels (J. Hardy 1984). The author shows that the romantic love relationship
that can be inferred in all six cases involve what he calls the sharing
of experience between the heroine and her prospective husband. This idea
is demonstrated by close analysis of dialogue, which utilizes, by implication,
what I am calling part/whole methods. His discussion of the romantic love
relationship is much more convincing than anything to be found in the psychological
and psychoanalytic literatures, because it is data-driven. Potentially
this method could lead to consensus as to the validity of Hardy's analysis,
since he presents both concepts and data for the reader's inspection. However,
since he offers no exact definition of what he means by sharing, and no
method for classifying hits and misses in his analysis of the data, independent
agreement among readers of would be unlikely.
Hardy's idea of sharing as an indication of true love comes very close
to my concept of attunement as the mark of a secure bond, which
I develop in the next three chapters. These chapters generate and elaborate
a theory of the social bond. This theory is based in part on earlier theory
and findings, but it is also generated and vivified because is it is driven,
like Elias's and Hardy's studies, by close attention to verbatim texts.
By combining the skills and sensitivities of social scientists and humanists,
perhaps some progress can be made toward understanding the human condition.
In this section , I show how social structure lives in the smallest
parts of discourse, when interpreted within the local and extended context.
The manner of expression, particularly, carries clues to emotions and the
social bond. These ideas will be applied to concrete situations in later
sections of this book: The social status of Goodwin's boys and girls in
Chapter 4 is continually signaled and responded to in their discourse.
When one black child derides another for having thick lips, he doesn't
realize he is re-affirming the social structure of the boy's group and
of the larger society at the same time. In chapter 7, by attending to the
smallest parts of discourse, I show how age, gender, occupational and social
class invade a psychotherapy session, all but overwhelming it. Chapter
5, on the origins of the First World War, shows how smallest parts of telegrams
between heads of state signal the kind of alienation that leads to violence.
The social structures that rule our lives, all but invisible to the untutored
eye, are manifest in the smallest parts of discourse, when interpreted
within larger contexts.
Chapter 1 PART/WHOLE MORPHOLOGY:
UNIFYING SINGLE CASE AND COMPARATIVE METHODS
Here I describe the morphological method as a new stage of inquiry,
between the first stage, qualitative methods, and the third quantitative
methods. The proposed second stage involves microscopic examination of
single specimens, and, if more than one specimen is available, the comparisons
of specimens with each other. This method is particularly useful for the
objective determination of meaning, a crucial problem for the human sciences.
Because the determination of meaning is complex, yet taken for granted,
I describe its intricacy. The new method also can be used to generate micro-macro
theories, perhaps the next stage in the development of the human sciences.
Morphology of Human Conduct
To form a bridge between qualitative and quantitative methods, which
are increasingly separated, part/whole morphology can lead to research
which is valid, reliable, and cost-efficient. Qualitative methods involve
exploration, the first step in inquiry. Quantitative methods involve verification,
the last step. Although preliminary exploration is usually necessary and
always helpful, exploration requires verification. The weakness of verification
alone is that since experiments and other standardized formats (such as
the scale and the standardized interview ) are narrow and rigid, one needs
to have considerable knowledge before an adequate testing procedure can
be designed. Qualitative methods are like wide-angled lenses with little
depth; quantitative methods are as narrow as using the wrong end of a telescope.
Furthermore, since verification is costly and time-consuming, only hypotheses
and theories should be tested which are not only plausible, but have
been shown to be general and important. The procedure outlined here is
more laborious than most qualitative studies, but it is also more cost-efficient
than those which automatically seek verification.
The approach outlined here can be seen as the next step after what Giddens
(1984) has called "instantiation." He asked for actual instances
of the behavior described by any theory. His call, in turn, can be seen
as a reiteration of Max Weber's (1947) insistence that the task of sociology
is to reduce concepts about society to "understandable action, that
is, without exception, to the actions of participating individual (persons)."
To summarize my approach: with or without initial exploration (Stage
1), the researcher would examine individual specimen cases (such as verbatim
texts) microscopically, Stage #2. This step can lead directly to the development
of a theory grounded in intimate knowledge of the specimen cases, but oriented
toward placing them in the largest possible context, generating a micro-macro
theory. Should such a theory appear promising, the final stage, verification
(3), could follow.
The term morphology is meant in the sense that it was originally used
in botany, which includes the intense microscopic investigation of single
cases (in botany, a specimen plant). This is not the sense in which Durkheim
(1903) used the term. In his usage, because of his bias toward comparative
studies, he excluded the examination of the minutia of the single case.
The same bias is found also in the otherwise admirable development of "grounded
theory," by Glaser and Strauss (1967). In my usage, morphology includes
intense study of both the single case and comparisons between cases.
The sequence in which these stages occur, except for the last, verification,
need not be chronological. Investigation of a problem might as easily start
with #2 or #1. This point should be kept in mind in reading this chapter,
because, for emphasis, I focus on the bottom-up strategy of starting with
#1 or 2. There is no reason that one could not start with a theory (topdown),
or better yet, juggling research and theory at the same time (See my comment
on abduction below).
Figure 1 here.
The new stage provide the potential for squaring the circle, achieving
at least a measure of both validity and reliability. The format
for reporting morphological findings requires that the researcher spell
out the concepts and methods used explicitly, and make the texts that were
analyzed available to the reader. The interested reader will then be able
to apply the researcher's methods to the researcher's data. Provided with
the researcher's concepts, methods and raw data, this procedure allows
judgment of the relevance (validity) of the concepts and methods employed,
and the repeatability of the findings (reliability).
This is not to say that this approach could rapidly solve the many problems
of research in the human sciences. It could bring together the necessary
elements for solutions, but it is still to early to tell whether it would
be practical to do so. Much of the specialization that has run riot in
the human sciences, specialization by discipline, sub-discipline, levels
of analysis, method and theory, has occurred for reasons that are extraneous
to science. But some amount of specialization is probably necessary. In
the long run it will probably be necessary to work out some compromise
between the kind of de-specialization I advocate here and what Oatley (1996)
has called the "social distribution of cognition", the specialized
thinking (and behavior) that requires division of labor.
However, for the almost continuous determination of the meaning of human
expressions that forms a major part of all social science research, it
seems impractical to distribute cognition. Part/whole morphology of social
interaction or written texts is particularly suited for determining the
meaning of human expressions. Because the new approach uses verbatim transcripts
or texts, it allows for the patient interpretation of meaning that include
the smallest details and the largest contexts. This method points toward
the objective (consensual) determination of meaning.
The Problem of Meaning
Can the meaning of human expressions and behavior be determined?
In the tradition of verstehen established by Weber, Dilthey, and
others, meaning was the most important component of social science. To
understand human behavior, we need to understand the subjective orientation
of the actors. But the originators of this tradition and its followers
did not consider the determination of meaning to be a technical problem,
one that requires the close consideration of human actions and expressions
in relationship to the context in which they occur. The technical problem
of determining meaning is one that extends into the vital core of all activities
of the human sciences, theory, method and empirical research.
Meaning as a technical problem is crucial in the current crisis in the
human sciences because of the way in which humans in everyday life are
able to exact accurate meanings from expressions that are both highly complex
and ambiguous. Understanding ordinary language and other kinds of human
behavior requires the consideration of the smallest parts of expressions
and their relationship to the largest possible wholes (not only grammar
and syntax, but biographical structures, as well as the structure of the
entire language and culture.) Part/whole analysis of this kind would seem
to be the key component of what is called "common sense." We
humans have become so adept and quick at understanding expressions by relating
their least parts with the largest wholes that we don't realize the extraordinary
complexity of what we do. In this chapter I slow down and therefore make
explicit the bare outlines of this process.
In my view, the human sciences are becoming ever further removed from
reality because they are so specialized that they cannot use part/whole
analysis in the way that their subjects do. Understanding ordinary language
and other kinds of human behavior, because of its complexity and ambiguity,
requires a global, and therefore a de-specialized point of view. Fragmentation
into disciplines, sub-disciplines, levels of analysis, types of method,
and schools of thought has deprived the human sciences of the ability to
understand human behavior even as well as their subjects do, which is not
very well. The approach outlined here would enable us to at least compete
with our subjects in understanding their behavior. Although ordinary people
do poorly with understanding emotions and social bonds, they are probably
more cunning than human scientists in using part/whole analysis to determine
meaning. The method outline here is oriented toward uncovering both overt
and covert meanings. It is particularly suited toward discovering hidden
emotions and bond-oriented behavior.
Hypothesis: The meaning of human expressions and behavior can
be determined, but objective interpretation requires disciplined investigation
of the complex three- way relationships between meaning, text and context,
in the way that will be made explicit below.
Theory: Most current discussions assert that meaning is by and
large a subjective matter. This position is by now so established that
its adherents assume rather than investigate it. Postmodern thought, a
recent development, assumes that meanings are not only subjective, but
essentially undecidable. Although there is no actual evidence to support
this conclusion, postmodernists postulate that poems, novels, and indeed
all texts are inherently ambiguous.
The founder of the postmodern critique, Derrida, made a point which
is both true and important. He and his fellow deconstructionists have demonstrated
that if taken out of context, any text becomes ambiguous. In this
light, James Thurber should be considered the first deconstructionist.
In his essay on his late night thoughts about the name Perth Amboy, he
tells the results of repeating the name many times. After many repetitions,
not only did the name begin to lose its meaning, but the very room began
to whirl around his bed. Thurber had stumbled into a way of decontexualing
an expression. Words and other expressions in ordinary language are only
indexical, they are ambiguous when context is removed. This idea suggests
that if we are to understand how meaning can be determined, we must consider
the relationship between meaning, text and context.
The only sustained consideration of this three-way relationship has
been conducted by Cicourel. Compared to him, I am a late arrival in this
field. Although our styles of thought and investigation are different,
I recognize that he was the first to realize the crucial importance of
this problem, and to devote most of his time and effort in an attempt to
solve it. As in my approach, Cicourel has shown repeatedly that a text
can only be understood in context, necessitating a detailed ethnography
of context. This chapter extends his analysis, by outlining an explicit
theory and method.
In this chapter I outline a theory and method to deal with the relationship
between meaning, text, and context. Certainly the deconstructionists have
not seriously considered this issue. In particular, they have not understood
that their main point, that all texts are undecidable when removed from
context, implies an equal and opposite corollary: in context, the
meaning of a text is decidable. Postmodernists have jumped to an unwarranted
conclusion that context or no, the meaning of all texts is undecidable.
This chapter will argue for the importance and truth of the corollary:
given sufficient investigation of a text and its context, it is possible
to approach an objective determination of meaning.
To begin with humor, an everyday example of the issue of decideability.
A joke can be lengthy and complex; "getting it" may require weaving
together various relevant but conflicting threads in the narrative, ignoring
extraneous details, and understanding the way the punch line resolves the
conflict. Grown-up humor requires a high level of sophistication, one that
is absent in young children.
When a joke brings genuine laughter, its meaning was not ambiguous to
the audience; they got the point. But a joke may be funny to one audience
and not another. "You have to have been there." Even if the joke
was told exactly as before, some element(s) could have been different in
the new context. The decidability of meaning changes with context.
Empirical research: The problem of meaning is seldom discussed
by empirical researchers; they usually assume that the meaning of subjects'
responses is unproblematic. Although the occasional qualitative researcher
may be sensitive to this problem, few studies have explored the relationship
between text and context in the determination of meaning. Both in direct
observation and in sophisticated techniques of measurement, researchers
take much the same position as their subjects; the construction of meaning
is taken for granted: it is "common sense.".
Rather than explore the matter, empirical researchers have instead divided
into two camps, both usually avoiding the problem of meaning. Qualitative
studies use interpretation in context, quantitative studies, standardized
procedures. The two approaches are exact opposites: qualitative work is
unsystematic but contextual, quantitative work is systematic but acontextual.
Qualitative studies, oriented toward face validity, neglect reliability.
Face validity is important; it means that an analysis of meaning can be
related to ordinary language, a vast repository for understanding the complexity
and subtlety of human expressions. But ordinary language is also a repository
of bias, a bastion of the cultural status quo. Face validity alone, plausibility,
can never be a sufficient basis for determining meaning.
Quantitative studies, oriented toward reliability, neglect validity.
Reliability is also of great importance; it insures repeatability. But
erroneous procedures can be repeated as easily as correct ones. (See my
discussion of standardized scales below). Reliability alone can never be
a sufficient basis for determining meaning.
Both approaches are rational, but only in part. Reliance on face validity
exemplifies substantive rationality. This approach is sensitive to the
particularities of situations, just as procedural rationality is attuned
to their general features. Weber has warned that substantive rationality
is marred by capriciousness, and procedural (formal) rationality leads
to bureaucratic deadlock. A marriage seems to be needed, one which would
unite substantive and procedural rationality (validity and reliability).
Several examples will suffice to illustrate the need. The capriciousness
of direct observation has been demonstrated repeatedly in ethnographic
studies. Oscar Lewis saw a different Tepoztlan than the one reported by
Redfield, and Freeman (1983) has argued that Margaret Mead's description
of adolescent sexual behavior in Samoa is entirely fictitious. Neither
Lewis nor Redfield offer hard data. Freeman's critique of Mead's work is
well documented, but by no means foolproof. For example, although his two
visits to Samoa covered years compared to Mead's months, they took place
long after Mead's visit.
Plausibility is both strength and weakness; it soothes and beguiles
our judgment by "commonsense" reasoning, even with claims that
are false or groundless (Commonsense will be discussed below). Direct observation
is invaluable at the beginning of an investigation, but not sufficient
for the objective determination of meaning.
The widespread use of scales to measure psychological and social attitudes
provides an example of the need for both validity and reliability in the
determination of meaning. Although my colleagues and I (Scheff, Retzinger,
and Ryan, 1989) reviewed the literature only on self-esteem scales, our
conclusions may also apply to all scales currently in use.
At the time we conducted the review (1988), we estimated (with the help
of Morris Rosenberg) that there had been more than TEN THOUSAND studies
using self-esteem scales. Yet despite this massive effort, no consistent
findings had been reported. We found that the six comprehensive reviews
of the self-esteem literature in print at the time of our article were
in agreement on the absence of significant findings. The chaotic state
of the field is suggested by the most recent of the reviews:
What has emerged ... in the self-esteem literature is a confusion of
results that defies interpretation. Hypotheses have been tested about the
relationships between self-esteem and hundreds of other psychological variables.
Many of these variables have been supported, but most observed trends have
been weak and insubstantial. There are few replications or systematic extensions,
and it is difficult to know which findings are worth pursuing. Moreover,
because different investigators begin with different assumptions, their
findings stand in obscure relation to one another. (Jackson 1984, 2-3).
Jackson and three of the other reviews are basically critical of the
whole field. On the other hand, two of the reviews are strongly positive
and optimistic in their orientation. However, all six of the reviews
are in agreement on the lack of significant findings. Indeed, the two positive
reviews are the most devastating on this point. Now, some eight years and
perhaps four or five thousand studies later, the situation does not seem
to have changed: deadlock.
Jackson (1984, passim) takes up an additional issue, one not addressed
directly in the other five reviews: lack of a theory or even an abstract
concept of self-esteem may be the crucial reason for the failure of the
field to develop. I will return to the point below, after discussing the
stages of inquiry.
Text and Context
The state of the art in the detailed analysis of meaning can be found
in Pittenger, Hockett, and Danehy (1967) and Labov and Fanshel (l977).
Each study carefully analyzed every sound, both verbal and nonverbal, hearable
in audiotaped excerpts from single psychotherapy sessions. Unlike most
studies, they also reported the reasoning upon which they based their inferences
about meaning ).
Although the authors of these two studies were not familiar with them,
both consistently used two methods which have been described abstractly
in the phenomenology of meaning. The first has been called the method of
prospective-retrospective understanding (Schutz, 1962). This idea
breaks down the extremely broad and abstract concept of context
into two components, the past and the future context. One understands the
meaning of an expression by placing it in context of what has happened
before it occurs, and what happened afterwards. One can further subdivide
into the local and extended context. That is, one understands
a word or sentence in terms of the some of the text that comes before or
after it (local context) or, ranging more broadly, events before and after
the entire text, the extended context.
As might be expected, both Pittenger et al and Labov and Fanshel based
their inferences of the meaning of expressions on references to the local
context, passages occurring before and after the expression in question,
often immediately before or after. Occasionally, however, they looked further.
An example in the former study is the analysis of the meaning of the patient's
third utterance. When the therapist asks her why she came, near the very
beginning of the session, the patient lists her symptoms in a formal, organized
manner. As it turns out in the rest of the session, her report exactly
summarizes her main problems. Also she uses several contractions which
suggest repeated use of this form. The study's analysis is based in part
on knowledge that she is a nurse, which she mentions in her l6th utterance.
Using both the prospective and retrospective method of understanding, Pittenger
et al reason that she is enacting the role of a nurse reporting to a doctor.
Pittenger et al's interpretation of the patient's misunderstanding of
the therapist's manner, one of the central findings of their study, is
based in part on their knowledge that she has had only one prior session
with a mental health professional, which she mentions only near the end
of the session. (A substantial book can hardly be understood in one reading,
especially if one begins at the beginning and then proceed to read the
pages in the correct order. Readers who peek ahead in order to understand
what they are reading are using the method being discussed here.)
Pittenger et al make no explicit use of historical, biographical or
follow-up data: they make no references to factual events in the extended
context. But Labov and Fanshel had such data; they made references to the
extended context. For example, their understanding of the effects of the
therapist's tactics is based in part on their knowledge of events before
and after the patient's sessions with the therapist. Before psychotherapy
began, the patient, who was anorexic, had starved herself to the point
that her life was endangered. At follow-up, five years after the last of
many sessions, the patient was reported to be symptom-free. Labov and Fanshel
used this information to confirm their analysis of the meaning of the therapist's
tactics in the excerpt they studied.
Hypotheticals (Counterfactuals): Even though Pittenger et al
did not use historical or biographical knowledge not contained in the actual
dialogue, their analysis of meaning is based not only on the dialogue itself,
but also on events that they imagine had happened before it began. In the
language of phenomenology, such events are called counterfactuals. Because
the usage of this term varies somewhat in philosophy and linguistics, I
will use the term hypotheticals instead.
Much of the analysis in Pittenger et al is based on imagined, hypothetical
events. Already mentioned is their explanation of the form of the patient's
report of her symptoms; the researchers imagined her making such a report
in this form many times before the present instance in her capacity as
a nurse reporting symptoms of a patient to the doctor.
Pittenger et al also make more extended use of hypotheticals in understanding
the patient's response to the therapist. They imagine that the patient's
response to a therapist who seems to her cold and detached is much like
her response to her husband, who she refers to in a way that suggests that
she also sees him as distant and unsympathetic. Although Pittenger et al
never use the term, their analysis involves almost constant use of hypotheticals.
They even name the method they use to understand one type of hypothetical
(those that could have occurred instead of the actual utterance), the Principle
of Reasonable Alternatives.
Similarly, Labov and Fanshel do not limit their search of the extended
context to factual data. Much of their analysis of meaning is based on
hypotheticals, such as patterns of discourse within the patient's family.
On the basis of re-enactments by the patient of conversations between herself,
her mother, and her aunt, Labov and Fanshel imagine patterns of highly
conflictful discourse in the family. They largely understand the meaning
of the patient's responses to the therapist in these terms.
This chapter suggests that the determination of meaning is neither mostly
subjective, as assumed by theoretical approaches, nor objective, as assumed
in most empirical research, but a varying mixture of subjective and objective.
To the extent that researchers locate all relevant context, and
to the extent that their hypotheticals are confirmed by factual data,
their interpretation of meaning is objective.
Of course in actual practice discovery of the relevant context, and
the confirmation of hypotheticals with factual data, is likely to be beyond
the range of a single researcher. But it is conceivable that one or more
later re-analyses could approach the objective determination of meaning,
limited only by the amount of interest and resources. What kind of data
could warrant such an expenditure of effort?
The parameters that determine the answer to this question would probably
concern the importance of the problem, method or theory under investigation,
the extent of research investment, and the promise shown by existing studies.
Choosing an exemplary study from a series of important studies for a replication
using part/whole morphology would be ideal. For example, the study of Expressed
Emotion (EE) represents considerable investment by a wide variety of researchers
in a very fundamental problem, the possible origins of mental illness in
George Brown (1972) and others have shown a promising connection between
family criticism and emotional over-involvement with ex-mental patients
and relapse. However, the studies are virtually atheoretical, the methods
difficult and time-consuming, and the size of the relationship is only
moderate. A part/whole morphological study of the audio-tapes generated
in one of these studies might be of particular help in generating a theoretical
framework. (For a first step in this direction, see Ryan's  microanalysis
of the transcription of one of the cases from an earlier EE study [Hooley
1986]. Ryan shows that the discourse between an ex-patient and his wife
exactly fits the shame-rage paradigm (See Section 3).
Another example of texts which might deserve subsequent reanalyses are
analyzed in my study of the emotional causes of the First World War (See
Chapter 5). Immediately prior to the beginning of the war, there were six
telegrams exchanged between the heads of state of Russia and Germany, and
the Foreign Minister of England. In addition, the Kaiser's comments that
he wrote on three of the telegrams he received have been preserved. Although
these texts have been the subject of many prior analyses, I found them
each to be incomplete, since they all focused on content, without analyzing
Because of the formal and somewhat oblique language of the telegrams,
a deep search of the extended context was needed to determine their meaning.
The texts being brief, I feel confident of my analysis of their structure.
But the 25 pages that I devoted to the context, political, psychological,
and social seems a mere beginning. Since the causes of this war are still
a mystery and an enigma, the objective determination of the meaning of
the these texts might be of great import.
Even though a single researcher is unlikely to have the time, resources
or patience for an objective determination of meaning, the more resources
put into microanalysis, searching the context and confirming hypotheticals,
the more objective the determination of meaning. Once again I turn to Pittenger
et al and Labov and Fanshel as examples. In the cases of both studies,
their analysis takes up an entire volume, even though the excerpts they
studied are brief (5 minutes for Pittenger et al, 15 for Labov and Fanshel).
But their analysis is not complete, because of limitations in their methods
In regard to methods, both studies determine only cognitive meanings.
Though both frequently mention anger, embarrassment and other emotions,
analysis is brief and casual. For that reason, their determination of emotional
meanings is incomplete. In subsequent re-analyses, I (1990. Chapter 6)
inferred emotional meanings omitted from the Pittenger et al study, and
Scheff and Retzinger (1991, Chapter 6.) inferred emotional meanings omitted
from the Labov and Fanshel study.
In regard to data, Pittenger et al were unable, as any subsequent
analysts would be, to confirm the accuracy of their hypotheticals in the
extended context, since they made no explicit use of historical, biographical
or follow-up data. (I personally contacted the therapist in the recorded
session used by Pittenger et al; he told me that he had no further information
about the session or the patient). Labov and Fanshel had only a limited
amount of factual data outside of the text they analyzed. For example,
they had no actual verbatim dialogues from the patient's family that would
confirm their hypotheticals regarding patterns of discourse there. (I also
contacted both Labov and Fanshel, but neither responded).
Although Scheff, and Scheff and Retzinger removed a limitation in the
methods of the original studies, they could not remove the limitations
of data. Because of the lack of sufficient historical and biographical
data in these four studies, their determinations of meaning are a mixture
of objective and subjective elements.
An additional expenditure of effort in collecting relevant data in the
extended context might have been justified. My re-analysis of the Pittenger
et al data is one of the bases of a general theory of interminable conflict.
The Scheff and Retzinger (1991, Chapter 7) re-analysis of the Labov and
Fanshel data proposes a theory of the causation of anorexia. Although anorexia
has been studied extensively, there is no successful theory of its causation.
Under these conditions, further steps toward testing might have been warranted.
There is one further limitation of these two studies. Exemplary as they
are, their purview is only psycholinguistic: they fail to discuss or investigate
the institutional context in which their texts are embedded. For example,
even a casual hearing of the recorded session will reveal that the patient
in the Pittenger et al study had a strong Boston working class accent.
(A LP record comes with Gill, Newman and Redlich 1954). The therapist,
on the other hand, has no discernible accent, strongly suggesting a difference
in social class between the two subjects. The researchers do not comment
on this difference, let alone investigate its implications.
Gender differences are also observable. The therapist's tactic of responding
only to the informational aspects of the patient's expressions, brusquely
ignoring her emotional responses, is gender related, at least in part.
Since the session is an initial one, the therapist no doubt had a rationale
for this tactic. But his curtness in ignoring the strong emotions expressed,
and abruptness in switching back to information issues seems connected
with the state of gender relationships, and perhaps class and age, in the
U.S. in the l960's, the era in which the session occurred.
Surprisingly absent from the excerpt is even the slightest attempt of
the therapist to explain his tactics, even though they seem to confuse
and irritate the patient. On the patient's part, no attempt at overt protest
was made. At several points she withdraws or sulks, but she doesn't put
into her words her feelings about the therapist's behavior toward her,
which borders on being abusive. The male therapist, who is undoubtedly
older and of a higher social class dominates the younger, lower class female
patient. Although she withdrew several times, the patient mostly subordinates
herself to the therapist. If sufficiently analyzed, this session might
tell much about the role of gender in therapist-patient contacts in that
time and place.
Similarly, in the Labov and Fanshel study, although her accent suggests
that the patient is Jewish, the researchers did not investigate this issue.
They comment on it, but only in passing. Neither study develops the sociological
implications of clues to the embededness of their data in age, class, gender,
or ethnic structures. This kind of embededness will be a key issue in my
discussion of theory, below.
The Balance between Text and Context
Several implications relevant to the problem of meaning follow from
my discussion. One is that no matter how exhaustive the analysis of a text,
the determination of meaning will be incomplete, and therefore partly subjective,
without referring to relevant historical and biographical knowledge. For
example, the interpretation of the meaning of a poem or novel may require
substantial biographical knowledge of the author and/or of the historical
period in which she wrote. Although this proposition in contrary to most
literary theory, it follows inevitably from my argument. Postmodern ideas
distract attention from this issue.
One example of the need for supplemental factual data is provided by
the study of several hundred recorded psychotherapy sessions by Helen Lewis
(1971). Using a systematic procedure for coding emotions (Gottschalk and
Gleser, 1969), she discovered a consistent pattern of hiding virtually
all of the emotion of shame and much of the anger among patients, and that
the therapists ignored most of these episodes. However, lacking the methods
used by Pittenger et al and Labov and Fanshel, her analysis of cognitive
meanings is incomplete.
Even Lewis's analysis of emotional meanings is incomplete, because she
had no data outside of the transcripts to confirm her inferences. For example,
since she couldn't tell from the text alone whether the patients were aware
that they were hiding their shame and anger experiences, she used an ambiguous
term for classifying these experiences: unacknowledged emotion.
She was unable to distinguish, therefore, between conscious and unconscious
emotion. Nor could she tell the extent that the therapists were aware of
the patients' emotions, the emotions that both patients and therapists
seemed to ignore. Lewis's classification of all of the shame episodes as
either overt, undifferentiated or bypassed shame suggest that she assumed
the patients' experiences of shame were below the level of consciousness.
But without debriefing, she had no way of to confirm this supposition..
The amount of supplemental data needed for the determination of meaning,
the balance between text and context, will vary. In the case of
Lewis's study, she might have been able to clear up some of the ambiguity
over the patient's and therapists' awareness by reviewing a sample of the
requisite episodes in their transcripts, a relatively small addition to
the original analysis. This expenditure of effort would have been justified,
since the existence of vast amounts of unconscious shame has been a sticking
point in the acceptance of Lewis's findings.
On the other hand, a comprehensive analysis of cognitive meanings, in
the manner of Pittenger et al or Labov and Fanshel, would have made for
a huge additional amount of analysis, even with only a sample of the cases.
Such an expenditure of effort would have been difficult to justify. Unlike
Lewis's findings on shame, her analysis of cognitive meanings did not suggest
an important new direction for future research.
Parts and Wholes in Verbatim Texts
The issues concerning the balance between text and context can be considered
in a more abstract way by invoking relations between parts and wholes.
The parts are words and accompanying gestures (if available), wholes the
biographical, linguistic, social, cultural and other structures in which
the text is embedded. This very general mode of analysis has been adumbrated
in earlier discussions in social science and philosophy.
The idea of part/whole analysis is implied in C. Wright Mills' (1959,
p.7) definition of "the sociological imagination:"
...the capacity to shift from one perspective to another--from the political
to the psychological; from examination of a single family to comparative
assessment of the national budgets of the world; from the theological school
to the military establishment; from considerations of an oil industry to
studies of contemporary poetry. It is the capacity to range from the most
impersonal and remote transformations to the most intimate features of
the human self--and to see the relations between the two.
Mills begins ("from the political to the psychological") and
ends his definition with the psychological ("the most intimate features
of the human self"). The latter passage implies minute psychological
aspects. In the remainder of the passage, Mills ranges over social institutions
of the largest magnitude. Since in several places in this book he explicitly
refers to relations between parts and wholes, Mills seems to have been
implying that the human sciences should study the relations between the
smallest parts and the largest wholes.
The idea of relations between parts and wholes is a familiar topic in
philosophy. It is particularly crucial in the work of Spinoza. Although
his treatment of this theme is not free of l7th century theology, the implication
is clear: human understanding requires relating "the least parts to
the greatest wholes" (Sacksteder, 1991).
The idea that understanding a problem requires knowledge of its least
parts, on the one hand, and the greatest wholes, on the other, may be used
as a foundation for inquiry. It points to a path which could lead, potentially,
to the objective determination of meaning. In following this path, the
least parts-greatest wholes idea also suggests a way of connecting meaning
and social structure. As discussed below, the objective determination of
meaning makes explicit the micro-macro connections which arise in understanding
Although the least parts-greatest wholes paradigm provides an explicit
contrast to specialized approaches, it subsumes rather than rejecting them.
Highly specialized knowledge is implied by understanding least parts (e.g.,
empirical data) and largest wholes (e.g., abstract theory). Part/whole
analysis begins where specialized approaches leave off: it relates the
findings that specialized work takes as ends in themselves.
Specialized and General Intelligence
The part/whole approach can serve as complement and corrective to specialization,
the reigning pattern in our current quest for knowledge. Specialization
brings benefits, but also limitations. The most puzzling aspect of this
irresistible tide involves narrowing of vision, not only in behavior, but
also in thought. The neurosurgeon needs special skills, but need not think
only as a neurosurgeon. Narrowing of outlook because of disciplines, theories,
methods and schools of thought is creating a crisis of knowledge in our
time. Given their intellectual and emotional commitments, the great majority
of researchers seem to be entrapped within their specialty. The part/whole
approach described here suggests that we need de-specialization as much
as we need specialization.
Pathologies seldom occur at the time of founding a new specialty. At
this point a combination of system and intuition, procedural and substantive
rationality, may be a necessary condition. A clear illustration of this
is the birth of computer science, created largely by the mathematician
John von Neumann. The computer is an exact embodiment of what Pascal called
"the spirit of system." It is based on processes which are linear,
reductive, and explicit. The language which drives a computer is so systematic
that the slightest ambiguity, even a missing comma, cannot be tolerated.
In this respect, program and ordinary language are exact opposites: the
symbols in a program must be completely unambiguous, in ordinary language,
the symbols are virtually all ambiguous.
Computers are monuments to procedural rationality. Yet von Neumann's
own method of mathematical work, which triggered the birth of computers,
was completely intuitive. His intimates have described his mode of operation.
To begin, von Neumann would list, on separate pages, a large selection
of unsolved mathematical problems. He would then turn the pages, giving
each problem a glance, one by one. If he did not quickly see a plausible
solution, he would go on to the next problem. When he came to the end of
the set of problems, he would begin again, continuing until he either found
a solution or quit.
Von Neumann seems never to have troubled grinding out analytical solutions.
His method of thinking was entirely intuitive, the exact opposite of the
machine he helped create. Von Neumann was an embodiment of what Pascal
called "the spirit of finesse" (i.e., intuition). The subsequent
development of computer science might be viewed as the routinization of
Von Neumann's charisma.
It appears that specialties are effective as long as system and finesse
are in balance, or near it. But as a specialty becomes institutionalized,
the spirit of system (procedural rationality) increasingly prevails. Making
this point exactly, the physicist Boltzman noted, with some bitterness
(he was a genius unrecognized during his lifetime): when a new method yields
"beautiful results," many become unconsciously wedded to it;
they come "to believe that the development of science to the end of
all time would consist in the systematic and unremitting application of
it." Although this statement was written at the turn of the century,
it exactly captures the trajectory of current science and scholarship.
An imbalance has been created which seems to be leading rapidly to ineffectiveness,
if we haven't already arrived. System alone, as Weber pointed out, creates
Science and scholarship which overemphasizes system at the expense of
finesse corresponds to the stage that Kuhn (1962) called "normal science."
He pointed out that this stage is effective in the "mopping up operations"
that are needed in the wake of a great discovery. For example, the Human
Genome Project represents a vast investment in mopping up the discovery
of the structure of DNA. Perhaps Kuhn was too tactful to point out, however,
that normal science is completely ineffective in areas where there have
been no great discoveries, as in the humanities and social sciences.
The great problem-solvers in science have usually been intuitive types
like von Neumann, who corrected the over-emphasis on system with a great
jolt of imagination. Kepler broke through the bizarrely complex mathematical
systems of centers and epicenters that were impeding the science of astronomy.
He was able to discover the orbit of Mars because he placed the sun rather
than the earth at the center of the orbit, an intuitive leap.
Kepler's leap was based on a premise that was entirely irrational, both
in its source and content: as a young man, he had literally dreamed a fantastic
scheme of crystalline solids which were supposed to determine planetary
orbits. (He thought that the orbits of planets were constructed by their
enclosure in five perfect solids [a sphere, pentahedron, tetrahedron, etc).
The orbit of the earth and the other planets were determined by polyhedrons
of various shapes. The orbit of Mars was determined by a sphere. (The circularity
of the orbit of Mars was an assumption began by Aristotle and continued
by Kepler until he finally made his discovery.)
The main features of Kepler's scheme were outrageous, but contained,
unconsciously, the last step Kepler needed to break the impasse. After
struggling for decades to determine the orbit of Mars on the assumption
that the earth was at its center, his realization that the sun was at the
center of his structure of crystalline solids was the final step that allowed
a solution. He was right, but for the wrong reason.
Being right for the wrong reason is an enormous advantage that intuition
provides in solving problems. Another example of this advantage in Kepler's
case involves the astonishing inaccuracy of his numerical calculations.
He made a multitude of errors, some quite large. Yet he correctly plotted
the elliptical orbit of Mars; his errors canceled each other out. His unconscious,
one might say, was working overtime.
Similarly, Einstein intuited the solution to the failure of classical
physics with a stroke of imagination, a direct intuition of the nature
of the physical universe. Virtually illiterate in mathematics, he first
proposed the special theory of relativity as a joke. When David
Hilbert, the great French mathematician, was asked why Einstein, rather
than others (like himself or Poincare') immeasurably better qualified,
made the discovery, he responded: "Because he had learned nothing
about all the philosophy and mathematics of time and space" (cited
in Feuer, 1982, p. 62).
Both in the case of Kepler and Einstein, it is clear not only that system
may not solve difficult problems, it can actually stand in the way. Yet
it was Brahe's systematic data which allowed Kepler to make his discovery.
Einstein called upon friendly mathematicians, those hostages to system,
to put his theories in their final form. Although no such credit was given,
his general theory of relativity required virtual collaboration with a
Perhaps the classic case of the marriage between system and finesse
in problem-solving is the discovery of the structure of DNA by Crick and
Watson. Like von Neumann, Watson represented pure intuition. He was a graduate
student when he and Crick made their discovery, utterly ignorant and untrained
in requisite sciences. The model of DNA they developed was an assembly
of the discoveries of others, but an assembly touched by imaginative genius.
The scientists on whom the discovery of the structure of DNA was based
each understood their own findings and fields, but misunderstood or ignored
the work of the others. They had tunnel vision ; they were trapped within
their specialized outlook.
Like Einstein in his ignorance, Watson was a complete outsider. Being
on the outside, he didn't suffer from the biases and limitations of vision
of the insiders, and from specialized procedures that had become more hindrance
than help. Watson was something of an outlaw: he abandoned normal procedures
and channels in a way that is still shocking to established scientists
(Watson, 1980). But Watson also needed a conventional insider, Crick, to
help him put the partial discoveries together into a workable whole. Discovery
of the structure of DNA, like Kepler's and Einstein's, required a partnership
between system and intuition.
Intuition: its Structure and Function
Attempts to use computers to linguistic ends suggest that human intelligence
is vast because it involves balancing system and intuition. The failure
of automated translation of ordinary language posed a puzzling problem:
if machines can't understand ordinary language, how is it understood, quickly
and without effort, in daily life? The solution to this problem points
to the nature of general intelligence, how it requires balance between
system and intuition, and the crucial role of ambiguity in human expressions.
Linguists have long known that certain types of expressions have meanings
that are entirely contextual. Pronouns are an obvious example. When words
like you, he, she or it are used in discourse, their meanings are
blank checks, to be filled in by contextual knowledge. But the failure
of automated translation has shown that all expressions in ordinary
language are ambiguous without context. (Artificial languages, such as
math and computer programs are exempt, since their symbols have singular
meanings. Unlike a text in ordinary language, a file in Word can be translated
quickly and exactly into Word Perfect.) In ordinary language, commonly
used words have many meanings; the correct meaning can be determined only
This point suggests that understanding ordinary language requires a
mind that is a general problem-solver; it relates the smallest parts
(words) and wholes (not only systems of grammar and syntax, but a vast
array of cultural practices). Even before the advent of attempts at automated
translation, the philosopher Wittgenstein understood this point. He proposed
that understanding even a simple rule ("Stop at red lights")
involved what he called "mastery of practice" (understanding
an entire cultural system).
The relation of text to context in the determination of meaning can
be rephrased in part/whole language. The method of prospective/retrospective
understanding implies that understanding ordinary language requires search
of the local and extended context. Although the local context is strictly
finite, the particular text of which an expression is a part, the extended
context is not. The prospective context is all that happened after the
expression, the retrospective context all that happened before it.
As if two potential infinities were not enough, the necessity of using
hypotheticals to infer meanings requires still another file that may be
large, if not infinite: all the statements that could reasonably have been
used as alternatives to the actual one. As indicated earlier, Pittenger
et al discuss this type of hypothetical under the heading "The Principal
of Reasonable Alternatives." Their discussion concerns only alternatives
to actual statements in the text, the local context. It is not applied
to the past and future in which the text is located, as does my discussion
of hypotheticals in the extended context.
One component needed for understanding ordinary language is a vast file
of information, which amounts to biographical knowledge of the author(s)
of the text, the audience, and historical and cultural knowledge available
to both authors and audience. A second component involves the pathways
used in the search for understanding. Given the vastness of the context,
how can one find all the information needed for an objective determination
of meaning? What makes this task impossible for computers is not merely
the size of the information base, but also the means for searching this
Computers are limited to pre-defined pathways for searching a file,
and, for the most part, to strictly logical operations. These operations
involve concepts, class names built upon similarities and differences.
Although the classificatory principle is a powerful method of searching,
human thought seems to involve many other kinds of paths in addition. Recent
attempts to use "fuzzy logic" in computer programs represent
a step away from strictly logical operations, if only a very small step.
Compared with the ambiguousness of ordinary language, fuzzy logic still
reflects the spirit of system.
In explaining their thought processes, chess-players and creative scientists
usually refer to non-logical paths such as the "feel for the positions
of the pieces on the board" in chess, and instinct or intuition in
science. Ordinary language makes use of a wide variety of associations
which are not logical. Puns, for example, depend on sound rather than meaning.
Solving complex problems seems to need not only logical connections, but
also idiosyncratic ones: emotional or biographical contiguity, for example.
(One remembers the date of one's first investment because it happened the
day before the death of John Kennedy).
Pathways of creative thought involve what I call total association,
of which logical associations are only one part. Associations which are
merely contingent, such as punning, emotional or alliterative associations,
etc., allow for a diversity of connective paths that may be as vast as
the memory files themselves. It is the number of pathways that allows human
intelligence to be an open system, a general problem-solver (Scheff, 1990,
Human intelligence is an open system because problem-solving operations
need not follow pre-defined pathways. To phrase the matter under discussion
here in computer language, the kind of mental processes that occur in problem-solving
may be massively parallel, rather than serial in nature (Scheff,
1990; 1993). Total association, much of it improvised at moment of need,
allows for a vast number of pathways. Computers, no matter how large the
memory and how advanced the program, are limited to pre-defined pathways
using non-ambiguous information. For this reason, the number of pathways
is likely to be small compared to the size of the file. And logical connections
are inherently serial, since they requiring matching each item with each
other item for similarities and differences.
The exact difference between artificial and human intelligence is that
mental processes use ambiguous tokens, and proceed through improvised pathways.
The ability of the mind to deal with ambiguous tokens and contingent pathways
gives rise to what is called intuition, the rapid and seemingly effortless
solution of complex problems.
Since words and gestures in ordinary language are only indexical, context
dependent for their meaning, understanding and using ordinary language
requires the analysis of smallest parts and the largest wholes, a general
problem solver. It may therefore be the acquisition of ordinary language
that lays down the template for human intelligence. This proposal seems
to contradict the prevailing theory of language acquisition (Chomsky 1957).
Chomsky proposes that language ability is an inborn drive. This idea bypasses
what I consider to be the supreme importance of language learning in forming
Minsky's Society of Mind
Minsky's (1985) theory of mind is useful for explaining intuition. He
argued that mind is based upon structures he called "agents,"
procedures that generate rapid problem-solving. In Minsky's scheme, the
infant comes equipped with only a few agentic procedures, eating, sleeping,
playing, smiling, crying, etc. (See Figure 2.). Very early, however, the
infant begins developing learned agents, skill procedures, such as walking
erect, tying shoe laces, throwing a ball (and jumping into a complex realm),
speaking sentences. Adult competence depends upon developing, in Minsky's
estimate (1985, p. 314), as many as a billion such agents.
Minsky is careful never to use the term self in his discussion, but
his scheme suggests a theory of selfhood. He predicates a type of agent
more complex than a skill sequence, capable of command and control. An
infant early experiences conflicting desires, e.g. playing, eating, and
sleeping. The presence of an ego or self means that the infant develops
an agent to detect conflicting desires and to mediate between them by issuing
commands. In this case, the control agent might command the playing and
eating agents: "Stop!" , the crying agent: "Cry!" and
the sleeping agent "Wait!" Without a command-control agent, the
neonate must respond only passively to stimuli. Self-control and thought
require the regulation of conflict.
A command-control agent is complex compared to a skill sequence because
the latter is fixed; it is a constant, one might say. Although a
molecule of DNA in situ is extremely large and complex, it is unchanging.
A command/control agent is not constant, but variable. In order to serve
as mediator, it must be able not only to detect conflict, but make decisions
which resolve it. It seems to follow, therefore, that self and mind arise
out of conflict.
Minsky's discussion of mental processes implies a further complexity.
Even in infancy, he proposes a hierarchy of control agents.
Figure 2 about here.
Level 1, under "builder" (level 2), building with blocks,
is simple and concrete, made up of discrete actions: begin, add, end. But
level 2, builder, already implies control, able to choose between the impulses
to begin, add, or end. The diagram also implies, but doesn't show, a level
5, perhaps at this age the highest level, the ego, which mediates all conflicting
impulses. Given the growth of the number of agents, and the increasing
complexity of the problems to be solved, more and more levels of control
surely would be required.
For example, as an adult vocabulary and syntax are acquired, the language
agent presupposes a structure huge both in width and height. Yet this structure
must be under the control of an agent at a still higher level, the ego.
Another example concerns dreams. Supposing that dreams are produced by
a dream agent, the nature of dreams might give us some idea of the functions
of the ego, those I assume to be unavailable during sleep.
The particular combination of coherence and incoherence typical of dreams
suggest the possibility of a tripartite level of control immediately below
the ego level, as it functions when one is awake: l. Receive Information,
2. Evaluate, and 3. Remember. During the dream state, #2, Evaluation, seems
to have entirely closed shop, and #3, Remember, functions only weakly or
Whatever the specifics of the structure of intelligence, this discussion
implies that the mind grows not only horizontally, with increasing numbers
of skills, but also vertically, with an increasing number of levels of
control. Although horizontal growth may occur through passive accumulation,
as in memorization, vertical growth occurs only through conflict.
The area (size) of intelligence, one might say, is as dependent
on conflict as on breadth of learning. This proposition has so many implications
for learning and for education that brevity forbids further discussion,
except to say that it implies a need for conflict and discovery in education
at least equal to passive acquisition.
Minsky's theory suggests an explanation of intuition. The image that
he uses is that the mind is like a society made up of myriads of
agents: intelligence involves effective cooperation between them. In Minsky's
scheme, the mind is a large society; the number of agents is of the same
order of magnitude as the human population of the earth. Given the importance
of the differentiation of levels of agents, this model emphasizes hierarchy,
as do most sociological models of society. But this is the only aspect
of social organization that Minsky invokes. His discussion treats society,
with this one exception, as a mass of unorganized individuals.
Minsky proposed that most of the actions of agents goes on out of awareness:
"An idea will seem self-evident -- once you've forgotten learning
it" (1985, p. 128). In the predicated society, most of the activity
of individual and groups of agents occurs outside of the ruler's (the ego)
awareness. Minsky's model, in the context of the discussion above about
parallel sequencing, suggests the way in which complex problems can be
solved rapidly and with little conscious effort.
Suppose that the challenge of a complex problem triggers the actions
of thousands of agentic attempts at solution simultaneously. There
are a wide variety of logical paths to be tried. At the same time, however,
many more non-logical paths, which is probably what we call guessing,
might also be involved. If one of the paths unconsciously followed leads
to a solution, we call the process intuition. The vast number of diverse
paths, logical and non-logical, gives rise to a great multitude of simultaneous
investigations. Intuition is constituted by this covert process.
Although the covert mental processes summarized under the heading intuition
can lead to rapid solutions of novel and complex problems, this process
is not infallible. Since deductions are built on past experience, they
may be inadequate in situations not encountered earlier. Like any other
hypotheses, intuitive insights need to be verified.
General intelligence requires both deduction and induction, a rapid
movement between imagination and observation. The philosopher C. S. Peirce
called this process abduction. He was referring not only to the
scientific process, the testing of hypotheses against empirical data, but
more generally any kind of movement back and forth between imagination
and reality. Although not quite stated explicitly, Peirce seemed to imply
that the most efficient kind of problem-solving involved the rapid movement
between imagination and observation by the individual thinker. The approach
to inquiry outlined in this book seeks to maximize the opportunities for
abduction, for rapid interplay between theory and fact.
The morphological approach, when combined with explicit part/whole analysis,
can generate investigations which are both theory- and data-driven. The
method of botanic morphology requires the close observation and description
first of single specimens, then comparison of specimens with each other
and with other plants. The study of specimen plants in botany is microscopic,
the analysis of minutiae, the smallest parts. These minutiae are used for
two different purposes: first, to understand the way the specimen itself
works as an organism, and second, to differentiate specimens of a given
plant from each other and from other plants, a larger whole.
The greatest triumph of the morphological method occurred not in botany
but in Darwin's research. One of the crucial observations that figured
in the theory of evolution was the minute differences in finches' beaks
on neighboring islands. He reasoned that the birds on separate islands
were beginning to differentiate because differences in their environments
called forth differences in form.
The most explicit description of the morphological method, however,
occurs not in Darwin but in Goethe. Although today known only as a poet
and writer, Goethe was a polymath, as active a scientist as a poet (Amrine,
et al 1987). In his substantial studies in botany, he proposed, contrary
to Linnaeus, that the scientist should study function as well as
form. This idea goes to the heart of the morphological method. One
needs microscopic understanding of the details of a specimen, not only
to describe it, as Linnaeus did, but also to understand how it works as
a system (in the case of plants, as organisms.) Goethe championed what
would today be called functionalism, but as a method (in modern terms,
systems analysis) rather than a theory.
Goethe proposed that specimens should be understood in terms of gestalten,
a word with no exact equivalent in English. It roughly means patterns,
but in Gothe's usage, he emphasized one connotation, complete patterns.
Goethe meant not only the pattern within the specimen, but also in relation
to its environment. Collecting a huge number of specimens of plants and
of animal skeletons, and closely investigating their gestalten, form and
function, Goethe came close to anticipating, by almost a hundred years,
some of the features of Darwin's theory of evolution.
Goethe's morphological method implies part/whole analysis. His use of
gestalten as patterns of relationship within and between organisms, and
with the environment, and his pursuit of the relationship between form
and function both involve least part/greatest whole analysis. In order
to understand the organism, he implied, although it is a system itself,
one also needs to understand the host environment, and the relationship
between organism and environment. Although Goethe couldn't know about cells,
one can pursue his metaphor within the organism as well: to understand
the cell, one needs to understand the host organism, and vice versa. In
modern terminology his approach was to show the interrelations between
systems and subsystems.
Some passages from Goethe explicitly suggest part/whole analysis (1790):
In every living thing what we call the parts is so inseparable from
the whole that the parts can only be understood in the whole, and we can
neither make the parts the measure of the whole nor the whole the measure
of the parts; and this is why living creatures, even the most restricted,
have something about them we cannot quite grasp and have to describe as
infinite or partaking of infinity.
Goethe's idea of part/whole relations can be easily applied to Darwin's
theory of evolution. He showed how all living organisms are subsystems
within a larger system of organism-environment relations. Can similar concepts
and methods can also be applied to psychological and social systems?
Time order and causal inference
One advantage of the morphological method applied to discourse is that
because the temporal sequence is unmistakable, it generates causal rather
than correlational theories and evidence. In mechanical records of interaction
(that have not been subject to tampering), there can never be any doubt
about the time order of events.
Retzinger's(1991) study of the causes of escalation in marital quarrels
was generated by Lewis's (1971) study of emotions in psychotherapy because
it was causal. Lewis noted in many instances that a patient's hostility
toward the therapist seem to occur shortly after the patient showed cues
to unacknowledged shame. From these instances, Lewis reasoned that the
patient's hostility was caused by shame that went unacknowledged by the
patient and uninterpreted by the therapist. Since Lewis had only commented,
in passing, on the causal sequence leading from shame to anger, Retzinger
designed her research to provide systematic support for it. Both studies
were grounded in the incontrovertible time order in which anger and shame
appeared in the recorded data.
Retzinger developed a causal theory of destructive conflict, and supported
it with 16 instances, all escalations of conflict in the four marital quarrels
she studied. She found that although overt anger was present in all instances,
cues to unacknowledged shame invariably preceded the indications
of anger. (The coding system which Retzinger (1991;1995) developed for
identifying hidden shame and anger can be found in the Appendix to this
The advantage of a clear temporal order occurs in verbatim texts, but
is not absolute. Although unusual, deception and mistakes are possible.
For example, it is now clear that after the end of the First World War,
the Russian and French governments faked documents attempting to obscure
the order and completeness of mobilization of the armies of the combatants.
The fact that the Russian army mobilized first and that their mobilization
was complete rather than partial is a key piece of evidence in understanding
the origins of the war (Chapter 5). Nevertheless, the time order of most
verbatim texts is establishable, as is the case with all mechanical recordings.
For this reason, the generation of causal hypotheses and evidence is facilitated
more than with correlational data.
Returning once more to Pittenger et al and Labov and Fanshel, these
studies can be seen as a beginning step in the morphological method. Each
was a microscopic examination of a single specimen. Although not using
this term, each was able to describe gestalten, recurring patterns
within the single texts they studied. Lewis went a step further in this
method, microanalyzing not only single texts, but comparing them each to
the other, the second step in morphology. But she did not take the final
step, the systematic comparison of the patterns of dialogue she found with
types of dialogue other than psychotherapist-patient.
Perhaps because she dealt with so many cases, Lewis failed to make inferences
about larger patterns beyond the subjects she studied. Analyzing only a
single text, but intensively, both Pittenger et al and Labov and Fanshel
took an inferential step beyond their texts. As already described, both
studies inferred relationships within their subjects' families: Pittenger
et al compared the subject's relationship with her therapist with a hypothetical
relationship with her husband, and Labov and Fanshel inferred extensive
hypothetical relations within the subject's family. The comparison of the
Pittenger et al and Labov and Fanshel inferences with Lewis's suggests
a surprising advantage of intensive study of single cases, as against Lewis's
much more extensive study of many cases. The closer the analysis of a single
case, the more likely it will generate micro-macro inferences, even if
they are inadvertent.
On the other hand, findings in the approach called Conversation Analysis
so far seem to contradict this last proposition. CA, as it is called, is
a highly developed example of the microanalysis of verbatim texts. Their
analysis of the words and gestures in ordinary language is state of the
art in terms of precision and rigor. This approach, however, has produced
few inferences about the institutional embededness of their texts.
The lack of higher order inferences in CA seems to follow from their
concern for objectivity. The central tactic employed to this end has been
to avoid the analysis of meaning; the procedures are intended to concern
behavior rather than thoughts and feelings. But the extent to which analysis
of meaning is avoided is questionable. If my reasoning is correct, because
of the indexicality of ordinary language, the objective determination of
meaning requires least parts/greatest wholes analysis. The parts are the
words and gestures, but the wholes that are needed to understand them include
the thoughts, feelings, motives, intentions and institutional and historical
embededness of the subjects who create the text. These components of social
interaction seem to be implicated in CA analysis, but only covertly, as
in quantitative studies, disguised as common sense.
Like most other approaches, CA is highly specialized: it is tied to
only the first and second steps in what I am calling morphology, the microanalysis
of single specimens. Like computer science, CA was created by a highly
intuitive researcher, Harvey Sacks. Like most other specialties, this one
has gone the route of increasing emphasis on system at the expense of finesse.
The incorporation of CA into the three stages of inquiry advocated here
might be stimulating and beneficial both to CA and to human science as
One last example of the potential of the part/whole approach concerns
the construction of psychological scales, such as the self-esteem scales
mentioned earlier. The construction of scales bypasses explicit theory
by using what has become a conventional "empirical" method. Psychologists
construct scales by first generating a set of scale items intuitively (i.e.
by using an implicit, unstated and therefore undiscussed theory), give
these items to subjects, perform a factor analysis, and derive groups of
items that correlate with each other more than with other groups, so an
individual item correlates with summed scores of its group. In the case
of self-esteem, the concept comes to be whatever the vernacular term means,
which is assumed, without evidence or even discussion, to relate to the
operational concept derived from the scale.
I will use items from a standard scale, the Coopersmith Self-Esteem
Inventory (1967), to illustrate a glaring problem with this approach. My
argument seems to apply equally well to all of the items that make up the
scale; three were selected for brevity.
4. I can make up my mind without too much trouble.
19. If I have something to say, I usually say it.
24. Things usually don't bother me.
All three of these items are scored as positives; that is, a "yes"
indicates high self-esteem. Although this may be true in some cases, it
is probably false in others. Lacking an explicit theory of the relation
between feelings, thoughts and behavior, the construction of the scale
doesn't deal with the possibility that positive responses could also reflect
Although an explicit theory has never been used in the construction
of scales, the procedures used imply an implicit one: other things being
equal, when responding to a researcher who is a stranger to them, with
little or no incentive or time for truthfulness and self-awareness, subjects
usually say what they mean and mean what they say. Given the sizable literature
on the contradictions between attitudes (as constructed from interviews,
paper and pencil tests, etc) and behavior, the implicit use of such an
obviously inaccurate theory suggests that an explicit theory is needed
for the construction of any scale.
Neither these three items nor any of the others attempt to tap repressed
or hidden feelings. For this reason, they could just as well indicate impulsive,
repetitive, or inappropriate speech (19), or the repression of feeling
(4 and 24). Indeed, all three of these items could be scored negatively
on a scale designed to detect freedom from obsessive-compulsive behavior.
The positive scoring of items that might equally well indicate defenses
against feelings of unworthiness as genuine self-confidence
may be one of the reasons for the poor performance of self-esteem scales.
How could one distinguish between self-confidence and defensive maneuvers?
The morphological method, in the form of microanalysis of verbatim dialogue,
might be a place to start. Suppose in a study using a self-esteem scale,
one also interviewed the respondents afterwards, asking them to explain
their answers to the paper and pencil test. By probing for examples, one
might be able to form an accurate idea of the particular meaning to the
subject of the answers to these three or any other scale items for each
subject. By making the transcripts of the interviews available to the reader,
and by explaining one's methods, the resulting study might be both valid
Part-whole analysis is the effective component in what is referred to
as common sense. It is this process that enables the construction
of scales (and all other reliable procedures) that the creators believe
to measure self-esteem or other attribute. Yet it has become customary
in the human sciences to disparage this process as "psychologizing."
Unknown to the creators of scales, they also indulge in the same process,
but in a covert and therefore undisciplined way.
In naming the concept purportedly measured by the scale, self-esteem
in this instance, and in coding responses as positive or negative, the
scale-maker is psychologizing, but in a way that is hidden and not debatable.
For example, judging that a positive answer to item 4 above is an indication
of high self-esteem involves inferring the meaning of the item, but in
a mechanical way. The morphological method could determine the meaning
of scale items for each subject individually, and perhaps in the
long run, lead to modifications of scaling procedures that might make them
Although there are hints of such inferences, neither Pittenger et al
nor Labov and Fanshel took the next step beyond inferring patterns in the
subject's families, which would be to infer patterns in types of families,
or membership in religious or other institutions. Even if they had made
such inferences, they would have been unable to confirm or modify them,
since their data was limited to texts only.
Inferences concerning the social institutions within which a text is
embedded provide a rich resource for generating a micro-macro theory. Such
a procedure is enriching because the texts intimate, in great detail, the
subjects' connections to larger institutions. Mention has already been
made to institutions beyond the family within which the texts studied by
Pittenger et al and Labov and Fanshel were embedded: class, gender, ethnicity,
and age. Verbatim excerpts from discourse, one might argue, are microcosms,
they contain within them, brief as they may be, intimations of the participants'
origins in and relationships to the institutions of the host society.
Perhapsthe idea of functionalism could still be useful, not as a theory
but as a method. The discussion of the analysis of psychological and social
systems and sub-systems involves the method implied in functional
ideas. These earlier ideas about functions concerned relationships between
parts and whole, but without a method or data. The method described here
leads to the investigation of such relationships, rather than using them
as explanations. The stages of inquiry proposed here lead from the microanalysis
of single specimen texts up to the generation of theories grounded in texts.
The generation of micro-macro theories from linguistic texts is an unusual
procedure, but it has been practiced by two masters. In a series of studies,
Levi-Strauss (1963) teased out cultural implications of myths that he gathered
from small traditional societies. From the myths of each culture studied
he deduced what he called the cognitive structure of that culture, the
fundamental dimensions of thought.
Although in some ways Levi-Strauss's approach is similar to mine, it
is also quite different. Two differences are basic. First, Levi-Strauss
did not use verbatim transcriptions of the myths he gathered. For this
reason, he was unable to analyze what I would consider the smallest parts
of the cultural systems he studied, the words and their nonverbal accompaniment.
But emotions and social structure virtually always ride upon gesture. Even
adroit questioning will seldom yield much reliable information about emotions.
Institutional connections might be somewhat more available, but even there
the descriptions are usually threadbare. Without the nonverbal components
of discourse, even if he had wanted to, Levi-Strauss would have been unable
to infer much about emotions and social structure.
For example, in my re-analysis (Chapter 8) of the text used by Pittenger
et al, I used nonverbal elements in the recording to infer that the patient
was responding to the class difference between her and the therapist. At
several points, after mispronounced words or other errors, the patient
not only corrected her speech, but also showed signs of embarrassment.
I inferred that she was seeing her responses from the point of view of
the therapist, and judging them from the point of view she attributed to
him, rather than her own. This finding is a clear indication of dominance-subordination
in the relationship.
These instances of the patient's behavior also hint at what I call engulfment
on the patient's side, giving up parts of herself out of deference to the
other person. The difference between engulfment, a form of alienation,
and isolation, the other form of alienation, on the one hand, and
solidarity, on the other, invokes fundamental structures of relationship
that are just becoming available to empirical research (See Chapter 4 )
The smallest parts, in this case the words and their accompanying emotion
cues, allow inferences about the emotional meaning of the relationship
to the patient, and also its social structure.
Just as Levi-Strauss's analysis is entirely cognitive, it is also entirely
psychological. He makes inferences about the mental functions of individuals;
he has no categories of relationship. Except for hierarchy, Minsky's (1985)
brilliant analysis of the nature of mind has a similar limitation. Just
as Levi-Strauss interprets culture in individual terms, Minsky interprets
society. Neither analysis conceptualizes types of relationships, which
are as much building blocks of societies as individual persons are.
Elias (1978), a second master who generated micro-macro theories from
linguistic texts, conceptualized both individual and relational structures,
both cognitive and emotional meanings. For these reasons, his approach
is much closer to mine than Levi-Strauss's.
Drawing upon some 500 years of European history, Elias analyzed excerpts
from etiquette manuals in four languages. Closely examining advice on table
manners, body functions, sexuality and anger, he showed that his excerpts
suggested an explosion of shame connected with modernity. His analysis
of an excerpt from a l9th century text advising mothers about their daughters
is illustrative. The author, a male, advises fables, silence and suppression
when daughters ask sexual questions, such as where babies come from.
Although working with a printed text, Elias was able to tease out the
emotions implied, principally the author's intense embarrassment about
sexuality, and how the behavior advised would shame the daughter into silence.
Elias notes both what is stated and what is omitted, and most importantly,
the manner of presentation, to infer emotional meanings.
Elias provides a very close analysis of specific texts, but he also
infers emotional meanings involving social structure. In a bold and provocative
way, Elias linked changes in emotional expression to changes in social
structure. For example, he outlined the way in which the narrowing of the
control of the means of violence in a society to a small ruling elite might
be related to increasing suppression of individual anger throughout a society.
Unlike Levi-Strauss and Minsky, Elias uses relational categories as
well as ones involving individuals. He criticized studies based on what
he called homo clausus, the closed, solitary individual. In the
place of this conceptualization, he proposed an incipient theory of social
solidarity/alienation. He argued that social relationships can involve
either independence, interdependence, or dependence. This scheme is only
implied in the 1978 study, but is stated more explicitly in his later work
(for instance, Elias 1987). His scheme is closely related to Durkheim's
analysis of the causes of suicide, and other classic work in sociology
(See Chapter 4).
Elias used elements in the two stages of inquiry I am advocating, morphology
and micro-macro theory, but his approach is still different from the one
outlined here. The difference involves explicitness with regard to concepts
and methods. Although he analyzed verbatim texts, Elias has no explicit
description of his methods, nor of the concepts in the micro-macro theory
he seems to generate. For this reason, it is difficult to argue with his
findings, or even to state with any precision exactly what they are. This
limitation, lack of explicitness about methods and concepts, may be the
reason for the widely varying understandings and evaluations of his work.
Elias's study pointed the way to the approach outlined here because
it combined elements of two of the three stages of inquiry. In this particular
study, all of Elias's propositions about personality, social structure
and social change are derived from and grounded in microanalysis of verbatim
texts. The clarity and incisiveness of this study, as compared to most
of his later work, are probably due in large part to this procedure. If
Elias had been more explicit about his methods and concepts, perhaps the
study would have been more widely accepted, and generated later attempts
Being cavalier about methods and concepts may be characteristic of discoverers.
The above comments are also applicable, to a slightly lesser extent to
the major work by Lewis (1971). Although she used a standard and therefore
explicit method as one part of her approach to coding emotions (Gottschalk
and Gleser 1969), she did not attempt to explain or even discuss the more
intuitive methods that she combined it with. And although she was explicit
about defining some of her concepts, there is no formal statement of theory,
and no attempt to infer larger social structures.
This chapter has described a part/whole morphology of human behavior.
The core of my proposal is the need for a new step of inquiry that will
bridge the chasm between exploration and verification. When combined with
qualitative methods, part/whole morphology can be used to approach
seemingly intractable problems in the human world, generating comprehensive
hypotheses to the point that they might be tested. When combined with quantitative
methods, the same two steps can lead to the comprehensive testing of the
hypotheses they generate.
The basic strength of this approach is that it places the researcher
(and the reader) into direct contact with the raw data of human behavior,
verbatim texts or mechanical records of interaction. This approach has
an intensely inductive quality that is missing from conventional research
designs. Quantitative studies shield both researcher and reader from contact
with actual events and sequences of events by cross-sectional designs and
by layer on layer of paper and pencil tests, coding, scales, and numerical
analysis. Qualitative studies may come closer to human reality, or plausibly
appear to do so, but only as filtered through the observers' fallible memory,
sensitivities, and biases. As in quantitative studies, the human reality
on which studies are based is usually unrecoverable.
The approach outlined here allows for the recovery of large parts of
the original events -- instant replay -- in a way not permitted by conventional
methods. Such recovery not only allows direct falsification, it also means
that data are not lost forever. It can become the grounds for subsequent
advances, as I have shown with the Pittenger et al and Labov and Fanshel
studies in this chapter. Given this approach, the voices of our subjects
are not silenced by our methods, but amplified and preserved for future
Being exposed continually to the raw data of human interaction is particularly
stimulating to a researcher. Listening to audiotapes and viewing videotapes
or film come very near to being able to reproduce the original scenes at
will. Exposure of this kind allows us to learn something new about the
subjects and about ourselves, expanding the horizons of the study, whatever
its original intent. Human voices and faces, so long absent from so much
of human science, spring to life repeatedly, as they are needed as a prod
to our sleepwalking through our projects.
Since the approach proposed here is synoptic, rather than specialized,
it might be a way to begin integrating the contributions of theory and
method, and the various methods, disciplines, levels of analysis, and schools
of thought in the human sciences. In this way it is possible to envision,
instead of the alienation that now prevails, at least a beginning for community
among those of us who try to understand the human condition.
One final implication of the approach outlined here is the need for
generalists as well as specialists to solve the problems which beset our
disciplines and our societies. Perhaps one direction would be to press
for centers of general studies, whether programs, institutes, or departments,
to deal with the masses of specialized knowledge with which we are now
inundated. The fate of the interdisciplinary programs in our era has not
been heartening, but our circumstances cry out for new beginnings.
This chapter has argued that part/whole morphology, by successive approximation,
can generate valid micro-macro theories. Although this approach is arduous,
it may provide a framework for integrating existing work in the human sciences,
and goals for the future. As Blake noted, all art and science is based
on "minute particulars." The approach outlined here may yield
robust theories of individual and collective behavior that are deeply grounded
in the minute particulars of human existence. Needless to say, there is
many a slip between the cup and the lip. The chapters below show, in a
halting, preliminary way, some of the results of applying the new method.