Culture and Human Development

Jaan Valsiner - Culture and Human Development. Sage, 2000. 319 lk

See on üks raskemaid raamatuid, mida ma viimasel ajal lugenud olen. Teen siinkohal eristuse "keerulise" ja "raske" vahel. Keerulisest raamatust ei saa ma palju aru, raskest raamatust saan aru, aga loen kaua või vaevaliselt. Selles võib süüdistada nii autori kirjastiili kui ka raamatu formaati (tekst on väike ja kahes tulbas). Hoolimata raskuest oli raamat huvitav. Esimene osa räägib arenguteooriast ja -metodoloogiast (James Mark Baldwin, George Simmel, Herbert Mead, Lev Vygotski), teine osa analüüsib inimarengu keskkonda (perekond, semiootiliselt vahendatav koht), kolmas raseduse ja imetamise kultuurilist organisatsiooni (sünnitamisrituaalid), neljas varase lapsepõlve arengut (esimesed eluaastad) ja viies kultuuri poolt valitsevate tegevuste maailma (haridus ja töötamine). Raamat meeldis väga, aga niipea uuesti ei loeks (sest see võtab mitu päeva). Sealjuures tekkis küsimus, mida mõned väga tuttavad sõnad eesti keeles tähendavad:
  • conduct - juhtima, läbi viima, käitumine, ülevalpidamine;
  • semble - otsetõlget pole; assemble on kokku koguma, koostama ja koguma ning dissemble on hämama, puru silma ajama või (tundeid) varjama;
  • teleology - teleoloogia (õpetus arengu eesmärgipärasusest).

Järgnevalt palju juhuslikke tsitaate, mis võivad kuidagimoodi kasuks tulla:

No science can be 'empirical' only (if it were, it would become equal to accounting). Instead, each science has its empirical part, the meaningfulness of which for knowledge depends upon the theoretical productivity if the given science. Methodology is of crucial importance since it relates the empirical and theoretical sides of a science. How it does it determines whether the given science provides new understanding of the phenomena, or keeps constructing illusionary accounts.
All human life is constantly novel as long as it lasts. There is no repetition of the same experience - each new occasion of making a bed, shaking hands, or opening a can is a qualitatively new event - even if it is similar to some previous, analogical, event. Yet, at the same time, we all live a relatively stable life. We do not doubt our identity as the given person from one morning's waking up to the next. We take for granted that the ways we move, talk, write etc. are in principle understandable for others (and remain "typcially ours" over time). Thus, the constant novelty of our life experience is paralleled by our psychological construction of stability at the same time.
Human mental orientation towards categorization is a major way to create relative stability in the life-worlds of continuous flux. Construction of categories - or classes of objects - can be accomplished in two different ways. Categorization on the basis of "bad infinity" leads to the creation of homogeneous classes of objects. Homogeneous classes of objects are compilations in which each and every member of the class is considered to be exactly the same in quality as each and every other member in the class.
What are signs?
Signs "stand for" something else - in generic terms, they present that something to somebody in some capacity. Peirce emphasized three kinds of signs:
  1. An icon is a sign that denotes its object on the basis of a similarity that exists between the sign and the object it represents. Thus, a sculpted human figure is an iconic representation of the person, since the sculpture represents the person.
  2. An index is a sign that denotes its object by way of representing the results of the objects inpact. For example, a footprint is an index of the foot that made it. The search for fingerprints by the police in the context of a crime is an effort to identify the person by his or her indexical sign.
  3. A symbol is a sign that represents an object by way of associations and general ideas that operate in such ways that the symbol is interpreted as a representation of the object. The word foot (which, as a word, has nothing in common with the object foot, as it is neither the result of the action of a foot nor a physical replica of it) is a symbol of the object foot.

the study of the time course of the formation of selected phenomena
explain the present state of these phenomena

both persons and contexts are culturally constituted. They are interdependent with each other: persons can exist as they always live within their contexts; and contexts exist because they are constructed by persons. The cultural nature of human psychology specifies the meaningful nature of both persons-in-context and contexts-as-created by persons. In this respect, the life of humans as species differs dramatically from other biological species, even when rudiments of cultural organization of life can be found, as among higher primates.
In Western culture, sexual inequality if based on the belief in women's biological inferiority. This explains some aspects of Western women's liberation movements, such that they are almost always led by women, that their effect is often very superficial, and that they have not yet succeeded in significantly changing the male-female dynamics in that culture. In Islam there is no such belief in female inferiority. On the contrary, the whole system is based on the assumption that women are powerful and dangerous beings. All sexual institutions (polygamy, repudiation, sexual segregation, etc.) can be perceived as a strategy for containing their power. (Mernissi, 1987, p. 19)
Psychological organization
In contrast to other marriage forms (which function to eradicate feelings of jelaousy), monogamy is largely built upon the personal-cultural construction of jealaousies. Often jealousy is equated with the organizing concept of love. Love is a basically ill-defined concept, which nevertheless governs the feelings of human beings in their personal cultures in very powerful ways. As love may be linked with the notion of belonging (of one marital partner to another), the linkage to a monogamic relation as "mutual ownership" of the other is easily made. The basis for building such affective limits on the borders of monogamy is the symbolic "ownership" of the other (by the husband of the wife, and by the wife of the husband). Such ownership is cultivated through the collective-cultural myth systems of a society (for example, a belief that if the spouse is not jealous, the spouse "does not really love" the partner). In dyadic marital relations, testing of the fullness of the "ownership" of the other can occur constantly from the beginning (as well as from times before) the marriage. For example, the bride or wife may indulge in genetic dramatism of jealousy over the husband's real or imaginary female friends, thus both testing the "love tie" of the relationship and trying to channel the husband's interests (see Busco, 1995, pp. 115-116 for a description of marital relations in Colombian marriages). The needs of the traditionally economically more insecure partners - the women - are guaranteed by their implicit power control over the marital tie through the inevitable embeddedness of the husband in the wife-controlled negotiations of the family with its needs of everyday life.
The covered body: cultural organization of the body in movement
Human social life entails constant constraining on one's own and each other's conduct. It is not only the ways in which the human body is covered (or uncovered) in one or another setting, but how that (clothed, semi-clothed, or unclothed) body moves in the given activity setting. The patterns of human movement are culturally organized. This can entail amplification of the movement in special cases, such as making music or dancing, or attenuation of the movement on other occasions (for example, children forced to sit still in school lessons, or during rituals; promotion of the non-moving body as being culturally desirable etc.)
Patterns of human movements are most directly under the control of social others in specific settings. Social institutions often craft rituals of conjoint and coordinated movement of decorated bodies (for example, military parades of persons dressed up in parade uniforms). Angry crowds of people can become uncontrollable through their heterogeneity of movement. Ceremonies of calamity, such as funerals, entail prescriptions for slow movement of the participants. Fashion models are specifically prepared for moving their bodies on the catwalk. Children can be instructed not to move their bodies in one or another way so as not to appear "improper" - it is precisely some of these ways in which striptease artists may be instructed to move in order to appear "proper" in their profession.
In the history of human societies, human movement patterns have ben targets of ideological controversies. The Catholic Church (as well as the forces of the Protestant Reformation) fought a war against the movement of bodies in contexts of dancing, resulting in downplaying the flexibility of hip and leg movements in dance (see Wagner, 1997). That restriction did not work in the context of Latin and South America. In Christian churches in Africa (and in Afro-American churches in the USA), the basic dance rhythms of the history of the societies have become the rhythmic carriers of the religious services. Human body movements is an interface between the personal-cultural body and the activities that the person undertakes in the given setting.
Human environmental settings are cultural in their physical organization. This applies both to the physical setting within which persons move (external environment: houses, streets etc.) and those which persons move along with themselves (clothing, body decorations etc.).
A crucial aspect of human cultural development is migration. Migration opccurs for any age group, or gender group, depending upon specific circumstances. Migratory experiences differ by their permanence or temporariness, and, in the latter case, in the tempo of change of the settings. History of human societies indicates that the migration of children from natal homes to the homes of relatives, schools etc. has played a relevant role in their cultural development.
It is obvious that becoming pregnant is a result of sexual intercourse (or at least some manipulation in a test tube). Sex is of interest to males and females of many species, including humans. Yet, contrary to claims by people from the ambience of Freud's couch in affluent Viennese environments - sexuality is not the only, nor even the major, domain of human activities that are culturally regulated for the purposes of societal control over human conduct. Food-related activities are as important (or possibly even more so: as will be seen below, human sexual functions can be subsumes under nutritional ones, but it is unlikely that the reverse is true), and power issues stemming from property ownership, inheriting and production of exchange valie are probably central to human psychological organization of dealing with getting and raising offspring.
Communication and meta-communication
Meta-communication is communication about communication:

Parallel: Message Y (About Message X)
Communicative: Message X

The notion of meta-communication entails a focus on messages that guide the direction of interpretation of communicative messages. Such interpretation has two sides:
1. the direction of interpretation of the message itself;
2. the direction of interpretation of the inention of the communicator (relation with the recipient)
Thus, a communicative message "This is beautiful", when accompanies by laughter, can be interpreted as "You and I jointly understand that it is stupid to consider this beautiful". The primary message is guided by the meta-communicative message to be interpreted in terms opposite to its primary contents ("beautiful" = NOT BEAUTIFUL), with the notion of commonality of the interpretation direction ("You and I agree that beautiful = NOT BEAUTIFUL").
Adjustments to homogenization: relations between different rule systems
A child brought into the school context is set up within a field from which there is no exit. All formal schooling systems keep students within the field of educational activities - on the school territory, within a classroom, and often within a particular seat. Constraining of children's freedom of movement in the school context is similar to the phenomenon of infant swaddling (or cradle-board use). The function of such restraints is to maintain the children's activities within a range in which different educational efforts - both curricular and extra-curricular - can be inserted into the children's activity structure.
Given this function of the school, children who come from family backgrounds that are different would be faced with the need to coordinate different rule systems. By definition of its informal education focus, any home environment is different from a school environment. The contrast is especially profound if the collective-cultural background of the home is different from that of the school.


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