Various Seminar Texts (4)

Ökoloogiliste süsteemide teooria
Odum, Eugene P. 1968. Energy Flow in Ecosystems: A Histprocal Review. American Zoologist 8(1): 11-18.
In a recent article (Odum, 1962) I suggested that ecology could best be defines as the strudy of relationships between structure and function in nature, and that the following breakdown might provide a simplification of the first order for purposes of study.
  • Structure
    1. Composition of the biologicl community (species, numbers, biomass, life-history, dispersion, etc.).
    2. Quantity and distribution of abiotic materials (nutrients, water, etc.).
    3. Range of gradient of conditions of existence (temperature, light, etc.).
  • Function
    1. Range of energy flow through the system (eco-energetics).
    2. Rate of material cycling (eco-cycling).
    3. Regulation by physical environment and by organism (eco-regulation).
(Odum 1968: 11)
It starts to look as if Odum is a structuralist ecologist - the terms (structure and function) and era (1960s) fits. Not that there's anything wrong with that, just mentioning. The structure and function distinction is sensible; analogies can be found even in medicine: structure = anatomy; function = physiology. In this case the structure or "anatomy" of the ecosystem consists mainly of materia (and it's composition, quantity and gradient of conditions); the function or "physiology" of the ecosystem consists mainly of energy (it's range of flow, rate of cycling and regulation). Very sensible.
The behavior of energy in ecosystems can be conveniently shorthanded as "energy flow" because energy transformations are directly in contrast to the cyclic behavior of materials. The potential and kinetic components of neergy flow through an ecological system are lumped under the designations, production (P) and respiration (R), respectively. Consequently, energy flow (E) can be very broadly defined as the sum of P and R, or E = P + R. We need, of course, to further subdivide P and R into their ecologically significant subcompartments. (Odum 1968: 11)
I don't yet grasp the significance or implications of production and respiration; other that both transform energy somehow. I noticed the notion of subcompartments here, as I didn't make note of it when I read Patten and Odum (1981). I'm guessing the factors outlined under stucture and function are these subcompartments, no?
Not all the biomass is transformed; some of it may simply pass through the biological structure, as occurs when food is egested from the digestive tract without being metabolized, or when light passes through vegetation without being fixed. This energy component is indicated by "NU" ("not utilized"). That portion which is utilized or assimilated is indicated by "A" in the diagram. The ratio between these two components, i.e., the efficiency of assimilation, varies widely. It may be very low, as in light-fixation by plants or food-assimilation in detritus-feeding animals or bacteria feeding on high energy food such as sugars and amino acids.
In autotrophs the assimilated energy ("A") is known as "gross production" or "gross photosynthesis." Historically, the term, "gross production," has been used by some authors for the analogous component in heterotrophs. However, since the "A" component in heterotrophs represent food already "produced" somewhere else, the term "gross production" should be restricted to primary or autotrophic production. In higher animals, the term, "metabolized energy," is often used for the "A" component.
A key feature of the model is the separation of assimilated energy into the "P" and "R" components as previously described. That part of the fixed energy ("A") which is burned and lost as heat is designated as respiration ("R"), while that portion which is transformed to new or different organic matter is designated as production ("P"). This is the "net production" or "net photosynthesis" in green plants and simply "production" or "secondary production" in animals. It is important to point out that the "P" component is energy available to the next trophic level, as opposed to the "NU" component which is still available at the same trophic level. (Odum 1968: 13)
The diagram itself is incomprehensible (for me), but these shorthands are neat: energy that is not utilized is NU, energy which is utilized is A; autothropic photosynthesis "produces" energy, heterothropic consumption "metabolyzes" energy. The "subcompartments" here seem to be only energetic: burned and lost energy is "respiration" and transformation of organic matter is "production". On the next page it is pointed out that in populations of large organisms (like men and trees) energy is mainly used for respiration, and in in populations of small organisms such as bacteria and algae energy is mainly used for production. In a metaphorical sense this relates to the general difference between Western exercises and Eastern yoga: one is set on quantity or production of muscle mass; the other is set on quality or respiration which will induce elasticity of muscles and tendons.
The idea of looking at nature as an energy-flow system is deeply rooted in the early history of science. Interest in the "fires of life" goes back to antiquity. Many of the concepts that we now apply to the population and community level had their origin in the physical sicneces and in the early history of physiology and medicine. (Odum 1968: 15)
So my earlier arbitrary conflation of structure with anatomy and function with physiology wasn't that incorrect. As a sidenote, the term "energy budget" is also suitable for speaking about the relationship of mental and physical development (studying and exercising).
Odum, Eugene P. 1976. Energy, Ecosystem Development and Environmental Risk. The Journal of Risk and Insurance 43(1): 1-16.
The term feedback refers to that part of the output (energy or money, for example) "fed back" into the system to accelerate (positive) or decelerate (negative) a rate function. Positive feedback that accelerates growth is necessary and desirable in a socieyt that has not yet fully utilized its available resources, but to maintain control, energy and money have to be diverted from growth to maintenance. Thr process is painful in a country such as the United States where growth is nearly an "ethic" or "cult" of exciting, as opposed to maintenance which is considered dull and uninteresting. (Odum 1976: 1)
To draw (perhaps unsuitable, but possible) analogies between this and the last article, it would seem that positive feedback (increase of energy-flow) produces growth; while negative feedback (maintenance of energy-flow) creates steady states, metaphorically, respiration (instead of producing more, let's lay back and take a breath). The social ethic or cult of producing more for the sake of producing more has been pointed out many times and has sparked a whole discourse in the philosophy of ecology (e.g. capitalist mindstate of infinite increase of production).
The greatest of all challenges is how to make the transition from growth to maturity so as to avoid the third possible state, the negative transit state that leads to aging and death. Individuals experience all three states: youth, maturity and aging. However, it is important to emphasize that large complex systems can on the level of ecological ones, such as an ocean or a city, do not necessarily have to age and die after cessation of growth and achievement of a mature state. Individuals come and go, speciees evolve and become extinct, societies rise and fall, but, at least up to now, large natural systems and civilizations have continued. No theoretical reason exists why a well-ordered system of man and nature cannot maintain an equilibrium state and continue to improve the quality of human life. (Odum 1976: 1-2)
This third state is aptly described as "negative transit state" - in humans this takes the form of loss of suppleness, muscle tone, cellular reproduction, etc. In ecological terms, however, it most likely designates such affairs as erosion and drying up or salination of fresh water sources. Generally, Odum seems optimistic here: while small things perish, large (natural systems and civilizations) remain.
In broad, non-technical terms, an ecosystem consists of living components (organisms, including humans) and non-living components (the physical environment) functioning together as a whole according to well-defined natural laws. The fact that human beings alter nature, and introduce new power flows (chiefly fossil fuels at the present time) to supplement the energy input of the sun, does not in any way change this basic concept since people-developed ecosystems, such as cities, also function as wholes according to the same thermodynamic and other natural laws. (Odum 1976: 4)
It is starting to seem that Odum is preoccupied with energy, no wonder that his concept of information is very closely tied to the flow of energy.
Natural environment refers to any area of the biosphere essentially self-maintaining in that little or no energy or money input from the power flows controlled by people are required for continuous and orderly operation. In terms of energy, this environment is occupied by natural solad-powered ecosystems which provide the basic life support for civilization. A large natural forest, the sea or a river are examples.
A developed environment is structured and maintained by large man-controlled power inputs which increase with the intensity of development. In terms of energy, this environment is the habitat of fuel-powered or fuel-assised ecosystems that run on concentrated energy stored in the earth's crust. A city is the ultimate example of a highly developed fuel-powered ecosystem, but a golf course, a suburban development, or a corn field also are developed environments because large amounts of fuel and money are required to maintain them in the developed state, even though they contain certain natural elements such as trees and grass. (Odum 1976: 5-6)
Here the distinction is fairly simple and hinges on energy input. In Kalevi Kull's ecosemiotics we find a more elaborate version of this, where the distinctions hinge on any kind of man-made changes. I also like the contention that a city is the ultimate example of a highly developed (and fuel-powered) ecosystem. This almost links up with landscape semiotics.
Argikultuuri teooriad: Independent Work (Week 3)
Fuchs, Stephan 1989. On the Microfoundations of Macrosociology: A Critique of Microsociological Reductionism. Sociological Perspectives 32(2): 169-182.
Methodological versions of microsociological individualism (Watkins 1955; O'Neill 1973) argue that although macrostructures "really exist," we must scientifically explain them in terms of individual behaviors ("methodological individualism"). Ontological version of individualism, on the other hand, argue that macroconcepts represent reifications beause only individuals "really exist" ("ontological individualism"). [...] The behaviorist paradigm (Watson 1924) claim that macrosocial units should be reduced to psychological mechanisms formalized in stimulus-response models of individual behavior. (Fuchs 1989: 169)
These are three (the fourth is rational choice or economic paradigm) reductionist microsociologies. Also, check out "Methodological Individualism: A Reply" (Watkins 1955) and "Methodological Individualism Reconsidered" (Lukes 1968 [1977]).
However, more recent and more sophisticated microsociological reductionisms draw upon nonindividualistic and nonpsychological sociological traditions, such as cognitive sociology, sociolinguistics, symbolic interactionism, and ethnomethodology. They focus on interactions, situations, and contexts of interaction to explain macrostructures; rather than on individual behaviors (Knoww-Cetina 1981; Alexander & Giesen 1987). That is, more recent microsociology acknowledges the "emergent" and "irreducible" character of interaction systems but, at the same time - and, as we shall see, paradoxically - claims that interaction systems (situated encounters, interaction rituals, interactions-in-context) constitute the only social reality "sui generis." Therefore, the argument continues, macrodynamics and macrostructures should be "reduced to," "explained in terms of," or "translated into" the situational and contextual dynamics of interaction. (Fuchs 1989: 170)
Wow. This just blew my mind. So concise! (short, to the point) - I've been thinking along these lines for a while now, it's kind of baffling to see these ideas presented in so few words.
Society, on the other hand, is the "comprehensive system of all reciprocally accessible communicative actions" (Luhmann 1982: 73). Unlike organizations, society does not institutionalize formal and voluntary membership. Unlike interactions, society does not depend on copresence. The boundaries of society (today: of world society) are the boundaries of meaningful communication. Even revolutionaries can only change, but not "leave" society. Therefore, unlike interactions, society cannot be "interrupted" and resumed again. (Fuchs 1989: 171)
In this sense society as a total concept can be viewed as a "semiosphere" - or the total sphere of meaningful communication; and not only, any kind of signification. That is, even those forms of behaviours that do not "communicate" can "signify", and later be made to communicate (a text can be read whenever and wherever). Hmm. This is where I disagree with Fuchs: he claims that in interaction you cannot not communicate, but I would say the same for society. Every action, be it social or personal, can be ground for social activity.
All participants in interaction systems know that they are being perceived, know that others know this, and thus must mutually adjust communicative suggestions [sociosemiocoenesis]. In interaction systems, it is impossible not to communicate; and even the refusal to communicate is communicated and interpreted as conflict. Copresence is the constitutive self-selection and boundary maintenance principle of interaction systems: only those who are copresent can decide who counts as being copresent [#avoidance], who belongs to the system, and who (or what) is being perceived as part of the environment. Copresence accounts for the duality of sensory perception and meaningful communication that is specifically characteristic of interaction (but not: of organizational and societal) systems. (Fuchs 1989: 171)
Copresence is the measuring pole for who participates in the goffmanian play.
Participants in interaction can perceive the world simultaneously, but they can talk only one at a time. Moreover, perception allows for the indirect and nonverbal communication of gestures that can interpret, modify, emphasize, or even substitute explicit talk. Being together, lovers can sometimes understand each other (especially: when simultaneously looking at the moon!) without talking. Copresent interactants can pause to observe, and then resume communication about what was being observed. Perception provides a pool of information about what was being observed. Perception provides a pool of information from which communications can be selected while presupposing the communality of perception. (Fuchs 1989: 172)
Yeah, okay, but! But! This author doesn't (rather, couldn't) take into account modern technologies: copresence and perception are no longer the prime "environments of reference" (pools of information) available to interactants. There is now also the internet and the vast amount of information (and memes, codes for interpreting and communicating this information) that must be taken account of. That is, we no longer admire the moonlight and feel a deep understanding, but rather name a meme and precommunicate a funny joke; breaking social tension as well as establishing common understanding about something.
As realities sui generis, itneraction systems must demarcate themselves from personal systems or individuals, from other interaction systems, and from other types of social systems. A model of boundary maintenance operations in interaction systems not only suggests that reductionist strategies fail to realize the emergent differences between various types of social and nonsocial systems. Such a model might also be helpful in organizing and explaining thich microsociological descriptions of subtleties in ongoing interaction processes. I believe that without such theoretically driven systematization, microsociology just accumulates details. (Fuchs 1989: 173)
Ah, finally a sensible voice amid all this cacophony. And indeed, all my work thus far has been a mere accumulation of details which fit together badly, like a puzzle with contorted pieces. This is the model Fuchs proposes [ibid]:
According to Luhmann (1984), personal systems use consciousness to constitute individuality in a self-referential way. That is, "individuality" denotes the ability of personal systems to distinguish themselves from other individuals; and these distinctions can only be accomplished by internal autopoietic operations. This self-referential constitution of personal systems accounts for the "spontaneity" frequently ascribed to individuals. Individuals can disrupt interactions through surprising innovations, misplaced and "inappropriate" behaviors, through remarks that are simply "our of place." To suppress such possible disruptions, interaction systems use embarrassment, but once embarrassing gestues or remarks have been emitted, tact is employed to treat embarrassing remarks as if they had not occurred at all. Tact and embarrassment thus demarcate interaction from personal systems by protecting interaction from being disrupted by the unpredictability of consciousness. If tact and embarrassment repeatedly and systematically fail to suppress and repair disruptive individual gestures or remarks, these individuals are "avoided" by others, in extreme cases possibly even declared "insane." Insanity may be understood as a protective label by means of which interaction systems exclude "disruptive" individuals. Being "weird" and "strange" means being perceived as someone who is unable to adjust to the emergent properties of interaction systems, as someone who violates the boundary maintenance operations established by interaction systems to demarcate themselves from personal systems. "Weird" people are unashamed and tacless. (Fuchs 1989: 174)
At first sight this "distinction through autopoiesis" seems to be in line with Lotman's "personality as a selection of code" - autopoiesis constituing this selection. On the other hand this author seems to follow suit with those who identify individuality with error. Thus it becomes inevitable that Fuchs views #avoidance as a means for equilibrium in interaction systems. There seem to be goffmanian stigmatization overtones here.
A focal interaction system also demarcates itself from other interaction systems. It is useful to distinguish between two kinds of interaction systems: ephemeral interaction systems, and more enduring groups. Although these two kinds of interaction systems are both based on copresence, and hence belong to the same generic class of social systems, ephemeral interaction systems face different and less difficult problems of self-maintenance. (Fuchs 1989: 174)
At first sight this distinction coincides with Rom & Harre's distinction between enigmatic and paradigmatic situations, but this approach is not rule-based, but rather relies on boundaries. In a sense they are the same, as in ephemeral interactions, "boundaries are very transparent" (ibid, 175).
In sum, the dynamics of interaction systems serve to demarcate interactions from precisely those types of social systems that microsociological reductionisms want to reduce to interactions. Older individualistic reductionist strategies fail to see that individuals or personal systems are best understood as parts of the contingent environments of social systems (Parsons 1951). On the other hand, recent interactionist reductionism fails to realize that copresence is characteristic of interaction systems, but not of organizational and societal "macrostructures." The very emergent structures of different types of social systems suggest that these recent microsociological strategies to "reduce" or "translate" macro- into microsocial realities (Knorr-Cetina & Cicourel 1981; Alexander, et al. 1987) rest upon a conceptual confusion between distinct levels of system-building. The duality of sensory perception and communication typical of interaction systems implies that explaining macrolevels of social reality (e.g., organizations or society) in terms of microevents (i.e., interaction episodes) amounts to ignoring the constitutive difference between emergent types of social systems. This conceptual confusion generates serious theoretical problems. (Fuchs 1989: 175-176)
The essence of the argument seems to be that interaction systems are bounded or demarcated by it's dynamics (it's relationship to other social systems). Then, interaction systems are different from other social systems in that it involves copresence and copresence initself is bounded/demarcated by other (ephemeral, personal, group, etc.) systems. And we cannot reduce or "translate" macrostructures directly to interaction system because there then emerge various conceptual confusions, which Fuchs goes on to explain...
First, because interaction systems are based on copresence, they face rather narrow restrictions on structure and function imposed by limited size, space, and time. Copresent interactants must sooner or later leave their interaction to fulfill other obligations. Members of organizations leave their organizations, too; but it can be expected more safely that they will be back the next day. If not, other individuals will be employed to perform the same task. Because copresence involves mutual perception, the number of participating actors and the spatial extension of encounters must be very small. One can interact only with those that one can see and listen to. For this very reason alone, it appears rather implausible to say that multinational corporations, for exmaple, can be "reduced to" or "explained in terms of" interactions. (Fuchs 1989: 176)
That is, copresence sets contingencies on interaction systems. Size - the amount of participants; space - the distribution of participants; and time - the temporal sequencing and availability (presence in time) of participants. Copresence is a limited affair (other obligations or necessities impinge on it). Ephemeral interactions can be very fluid and last for fractions of time; organizations and institutions on the other hand last in time (and one could even say, expand in space). I do think that multinational corporations can be reduced to and explained in terms of interactions - in sequences of interactions, that is. Organizations set order to interactions - i.e., organize them.
Second, unlike organizations and society, interaction systems must organize communicative contributions sequentially, which dramatically cosntraints their capacity to process meaning and deal with their environments. If we conceptualize organizations or even society as macrinteractions (or as "aggregates" or "representations" of microinteractions) (Collins 1981a, b; Cicourel 1981), we ignore the crucial complexity differentials between these systems. Organizations, for example, are not based on copresence, hence do not have to process communications sequentially, and thus need less time to perform more complex tasks, adapt more flexibly to more diverse environments, and allocate various functions to different organizational positions. (Fuchs 1989: 176)
Firstly, yes "society as a macrointeraction" is metaphorical - they may be in some abstract sense similar, but by no measure the same. Secondly, I have a feeling that Fuchs sets too much emphasis on copresence and dismisses less bodily forms of interaction.
Third, as opposed to organizations and society, interaction systems are not complex enough to draw internal systemic boundaries; that is, to build subsystems specializing in particular tasks. Of course, more enduring interaction systems such as groups or families usually based on copresence, interaction systems cannot institutionalize permanent subsystems that operate simultaneously. For example, societies may institutionalize legal systems specializing in conflict resolution, whereas interaction systems can either avoid conflicts or be conflicts themselves. If communicative suggestions are rejected, interactions cannot delegate conflict resolution to a permanent subsystem. To "reduce" macrounits of analysis to microevents and microinteractions means to be unable to explain why organizations and society manage to monitor diverse systemic processes at the same time. (Fuchs 1989: 176)
Yet again, I am left with the feeling that Fuchs has a weird understanding of interaction. But this, in hindsight, seems inevitable - systems approach to behaviour is bound to run into these kinds of misdefinitions. It is nevertheless very interesting how these arguments pan out.
Fourth, the duality of perception and communication typical of interaction system makes possible "personal" and "contextual" modes of communication not found on emergent levels of organization or societal systems. To conceptualize organizations or society as macroaggregates of encounters is to misunderstand and romanticize them - as Jonathan Turner (personal communication) formulates it - as macroscopic "cocktail parties." To be sure, organizations and society always "employ" interactions and always use sensory perception, but neither organizations nor society are interaction systems. Similarly, all interaction systems "use" individual minds to process meaning, but interactions do not "consist" of individuals and - as recent microsociology paradoxically admits (Knorr-Cetina 1981: 9) - cannot be "reduced" to them. It would be just as inappropriate to say that because individuals "consist of" cells, we can "reduce" the meaning of "individuality" to associations among cells. Ontologically, interactions are not "more real" than individuals or organizations; and methodologically, "consisting of" does not imply "being reducible to." In sum, then, reductionist microsociological strategies mistake one type of social systems (interaction) for the model or basic (aggregated) element of other types of social systems (organization, society), and thus fail to account for the constitutive differences between these emergent types. (Fuchs 1989: 177)
I still retain an incling that organizations and society can at some level or in some dimension be explained in terms of interactions - or at least this is what goffmanian dramaturgy would tell us. I have yet to make up my mind, as I am a novice.
Epistemologically, radical microsociology [Collins 1981] advocates the empiricism of primary observational data about microsocial events and situations. Microsocial reality is held to be somehow "more real" and "more empirical" than macrosocial reality; and thus all sociological knowledge depends on microsociological observations for its "ultimate empirical validation" (Collins 1981b: 265). In fact, while macrosociological concepts such as "state" or "organization" are only reified constructs lacking true empirical referents, microsociological concepts such as "interaction" and "situation" have privileged experiential access to the only objective reality there is; that is, the reality of microsociology... (Fuchs 1989: 177)
And he goes on citing Collins about there are no state, economy or culture and social class as such, only collections of individual people acting in particular kinds of microsituations which are characterized by these macrosociological terms by a kind of shorthand.
Strictly speaking, however, there are no such things as "individuals," "interactions," or "situations" either. The constructs of "situation" or "interaction" are in no sense less "reified" and "more empirical" than, say, the constructs of "state," "revolution," or the Watson-Crick model of DNA. Our answer to "What is a situation?" would not be less abstract and more verified than our answer to "What is a revolution?". The idea that microphenomena are somehow "more real" or "more empirical" than macrophenomena rests on the deeply flawed and long-abandoned logical positivist project to ground all knowledge in the absolute certainty of sensory perceptions that once and for all tell us what objective reality really looks like (Fuchs 1986). But sheer microsociological perception does not tell us what interactions and situations relaly are; just as it does not tell us what states, economies, or molecules really are. (Fuchs 1989: 177-178)
Firstly, Fuchs is trying to point out that social constructionist notions are themselves socially constructed. Secondly, I cannot help believing that bodily behaviour - or in more eloquent terms, the flow of material and energy - is somehow more real than the informational content we ascribe to these. That is, macrostructures exist only as far as human interaction reifies them.
Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" does not become more real if we translate the semantics of love and passion into statements about hormonal processes; instead, we would erase one language game and make the world a lot less interesting place to live in. (Fuchs 1989: 178)
Haha. Well that is just like your opinion man.

Lukes, Steven 1968. Methodological Individualism Reconsidered. The British Journal of Sociology 19(2): 119-129.
Let us begin with a set of truisms. Society consists of people. Groups consist of people. Institutions consist of people plus rules and roles. Rules are followed (or alternatively not followed) by people and roles are filled by people. Also there are traditions, customs, ideologies, kinship systems, languages: these are ways people act, think and talk. At the risk of pomposity, these truisms may be said to constitute a theory (let us call it 'Truistic Social Atomism') made up of banal propositions about the world that are analytically true, i.e. in virtue of the meaning of words. (Lukes 1968: 120)
One of these truisms touched me deeply: roles and rules are for people in institutions. Of couse! Rom & Harre's role-rule theory tries to break out of the institutional base and apply roles and rules to all groups and interactions, which is fallacious.
Somethinkers have helf it to be equally truistic (indeed, sometimes, to amount to the same thing) to say that facts about society and social phenomena are to be explained solely in terms of facts about individuals. This is the doctrine of methodological individualism. For exaple, Hayek writers:
there is no other way towards an understanding of social phenomena but through our understanding of individual actions directed toward other people and guided by their expected behaviour.
Similarly, according to Popper,
...all social phenomena, and especially the functioning of all social institutions, should always be understood as resulting from the decisions, actions, attitudes, etc., of human individuals, and ... we should never be satisfied by an explanation in terms of so-called 'collectives'...
Finally, we may quote Watkins's account of 'the principle of methodological individualism':
According to this principle, the ultimate constituents of the social world are individual people who act more or less appropriately in the light of their dispositions and understandings of their situation. Every complex social situation, institution of event is the result of a particular configuration of individuals, their dispositions, situations, beliefs, and physical resources and environment.
It is worth noticing, incidentally, that the first sentence here is simply a (refined) statement of Truistic Social Atomism. (Lukes 1968: 120)
I like these quotes. At this point still Truistic Social Atomism seems common-sense.
...A theory of meaning to the effect that every statement about social phenomena is either a statement about individual human beings or else it is unintelligible and therefore not a statement at all. This theory entails that all predicates which range over social phenomena are definable in terms of predicates which range only over individual phenomena and that all statements about social phenomena are wholly about individuals. As Jarvie has put it, '"Army" is merely a plural of soldiers and all statements about the Army can be reduced to statements about the particular soldiers comprising the Army'. (Lukes 1968: 121)
This is what previous author called radical microsociology.
What is a fact about an individual? Or, more clearly, what predicates may be applied to individuals? Consider the following examples:
  1. genetic make-up; brain states
  2. aggression; gratification; stimulus-response
  3. co-operation; power; esteem
  4. cashing cheques; saluting; voting
(Lukes 1968: 123)
Lukes goes on to argue how any one of these is insufficient. I am content with the classification itself.
To explain something is (at least) to overcome an obstacle - to make what was unintelligible intelligible. There is more than one way of doing this.
It is important to see, and it is often forgotten, that to identify a piece of behaviour, a set of beliefs, etc., is sometimes to explain it. This may involve seeing it in a new way, picking out hidden structural features. Consider an anthropologist's interpretation of sacrifice or a sociological study of bureaucracy. Often explanation resides precisely in a successful and sufficiently wide-ranging identification of behaviour or types of behaviour (often in terms of a set of beliefs). (Lukes 1968: 125)
Identification is only one technique of explanation; there is also description; and here Lukes identifies description - in actuality - with schkovskian deautomatization.
Watkins, J. W. N. 1955. Methodological Individualism: A Reply. Philosophy of Science 22(1): 58-62.
I will begin by reformulating the principle. It is based on the metaphysical commonplace that social events are brought about by people. Speaking loosely, one cay say that climate, famine, the location of minerals, and other physical factors help to determine history, just as one can say tha alcohol causes road accidents. But speaking strictly, one should say that alcohol induces changes in people who rink it, and that it is the behavior of some of these affected people, rather than alcohol itslef, which results in road accidents. Alcohol may indirectly affect society in another way, through the ideas which people entertain about alcohol. People who believe that it is evil, or profitable to manufacture, or that it can bear a heavy tax, may behave very differently because of their different ideas; and their behavior may, as Prohibition showed, have all sorts of unintended consequences. (Watkins 1955: 58)
The methodological individualism thus states that people are at the center of social events. Put in neater terms:
in short, large-scale social phenomena must be accounter for by the situations, dispositions and beliefs of individuals. This I call methodological individualism. (Watkins 1955: 58)
Situations = social interactions; dispotisions = patterns of behaviour; beliefs = ...beliefs. I have little to say about the latter, but the first two hook up with my own stuff neatly.
What I did say was that they were not surprising in the same way that explanations in natural science, which explain the familiar in terms of the unfamiliar, are surprising. Explanations in social science, I said, explain the familiar in terms of the familiar, but the connection may be very surprising. (Watkins 1955: 59)
Comparing the natural and social sciences and their methods of explanation.
I think the distinction between an anonymous individualistic explanation and a holistic explanation is pretty obvious, but let me drive it home with another example. Suppose an election-results is explained in terms of a "swing of the pendulum". According to the principle of methodological individualism, such an explanation is permissible if it is no more than a short-hand way of saying that an increasing number of (anonymous) electors grow increasingly dissatisfied with any party the longer it remains in office. But it is an impermissible holistic explanation if it reallt intends to assert that there is a social law, which cannot be derived from individualistic principles, which requires an oscillating pattern of electoral behavior. (Watkins 1955: 60)
This is where the "shorthand" notion in latter radial microsociologists / methodological individualists seems to originate.
If "The Great Depression caused the defeat of the Labor Government in 1931" is short-hand for something like "Most electors blamed the Government for the unemployment and poverty and voted anti-Labor" then it is permissible; but if it were really meant to suggest that the behavior of votres is controlled by an economic cycle, then it is macroscopic and impermissible. (Watkins 1955: 60)
An example.
I do not see how such concepts ["group climate" or "cohesiveness"] can be meaningful and yet involve no reference to individuals. If "The Jewish race is cohesive" does not mean that, for instance, Jews usually marry Jews, live in close communities, share religious rituals, etc., if it does not refer to Jewish people (whose behavior can be observed) but only to the Jewish race (which cannot be observed), then I do not see how it can be tested or have any empirical content. (Watkins 1955: 61)
That is, reference to individuals is necessary for a theory to be empirical; an anytical theory could probably speak about "The Jewish race" in abstract and idealistic terms, but it would be totally divorced from actual Jewish people.
If you become persuaded that the metaphysical assumption on which methodological holism is based is true, then your whole view of yourself and other people, of the social world in which you live, would be transformed. You would believe that the things we think we do because we want to do them are really done because our society requires us to fulfil its purposes; you would believe that we are like actors unaware that Society is a sort of superintending playwright-cum-producer which devises our parts and induces us to perform them. This is not the sort of belief with which one can come to a comfortable compromise. (Watkins 1955: 62)
This sounds very dystopic.
Miller, Richard W. 1978. Methodological Individualism and Social Explanation. Philosophy of Science 45(3): 387-414.
For over twenty years, Karl Popper, J.W.N. Watkins and others have argued for methodological individualism, the doctrine that social phenomena must be explainable in terms of the psychologies and situations of the participants in those phenomena. This statement of methodological individualism is vague, because the claims put forward in the name of that doctrine have seemed to many readers to be extremely diverse. (Miller 1978: 387)
Another account of Watkins's methodological individualism.
Thus, at one point, Watkins says that no statements compatible with methodological individualism can explain reflex-like group behavior in which "some kind of physical connection between people's nervous systems ... cause automatic, and perhaps in some sense appropriate, bodily responses." But he remaks that such actions are not a sufficient basis for "typical long-lived institutions, like a bank, or a legal system or a church" and do not "endure ... through generations of men" ([13], pp. 273f). (Miller 1978: 389)
Thus, Watkins pointed out already in 1953 that interaction systems cannot fully explain social systems (institutions last longer than interactions).
While the realm of subjective meaning is extremely broad, it has its limits. One obvious limit is suggested by Weber's distinction between "meanigful action and merely reactive behavior to which no subjective meaning is attached" ([17], p. 90). Actions performed purely out of habit are not subjectively meaningful. (Miller 1978: 392-393)
Max Weber: meaningful action vs reactive behaviour [intentional vs routine].
In any case, our discussion suggests that moderate individualism, plausible as it sounds, lacks an a priori justification. Social phenomena are brought about by acts which are the result, in turn, of the psychological characteristics of the agents. But a description of those characteristics need not explain the social phenomenon in question. (Miller 1978: 413)
As I'm not at all sure what is or is not a priori justified, I guess I can take the trivial moderate individualism route - for nonverbalism, this seems prudent.
Arrow, Kenneth J. 1994. Methodological Individualism and Social Knowledge. The American Economic Review 82(2): 1-9.
In the usual versions of economic theory, each individual makes decisions to consume different commodities<, to work at one job or another, to choose production methods, to save, and to invest. In one way or another, these decisions interact to produce an outcome which determines the workings of the economy, the allocation of resources in short. It seems commonly to be assumed that the individual decisions then form a complete set of explanatory variables. A name is given to this point of view, that of methodological individualism, that it is necessary to base all accounts of economic interaction on individual behavior. (Arrow 1994: 1)
Watkins seemed to base his theory on Weber and historicism. Fuchs and others based it in social systems theory. This one is based on economic theory and more specifically, the rational-actor model.
The starting point for the individualist paradigm is the simple fact that all social interactions are after all interactions among individuals. The individual in the economy or in the society is like the atom in chemistry; whatever happens can ultimately be described exhaustively in terms of the individuals involved. Of course, the individuals do not act separately. They respond to each other, but each acts within a range limited by the behavior of others as well as by constraints personal to the individual, such as his ability or wealth. (Arrow 1994: 3)
The analogy with chemistry is neat. Responding to each other is what is meant by "interaction". Limits have here to do with economic notions (ability or wealth), but in other fields of inquiry may take other forms (such as Power, or Knowledge, or Cultural know-how, etc.).
But an army is equally composed of individuals, and no analysis of its workings can ignore how individuals give orders or react to them. (Arrow 1994: 3)
This is important for me, as giving orders and reacting to orders have observable nonverbal components.
Social and historical determinism is not as popular a viewpoint as it used to be, and an individualistic perspective is a guard against such theories. Whether in Marxist or other forms, such theories relied heavily on disembodied actors such as classes or national spirits, rather than on the actual persons. (Arrow 1994: 4)
This is important because cultural semiotics seems to rely on a disembodied reader (a reader as such, not a specific person).
Among the externalitites that Marshall was concerned with, a prime example was information, especially technical knowledge. The caustic dissenter, Thornstein Veblen (1919 pp. 180-230; originally appearing in 1908), in reviewing John Bates Clark's textbook, identified socially held technical knolwedge as a main determinant of economic activity in every economy. (Arrow 1994: 6)
Something along the lines of "knowledge is power".
He [Hayek 1945/1948] does acknowledge (pp. 79-80) that scientific knowledge differs from the tacit knowledge held by individuals and not easily transmitted to others. In scientific knowledge, expert opinion may indeed count for more than the knowledge disperse throughout economy. However, Hayek tends to minimize the role of scientific knowledge and does not really discuss technological knowledge at all, a good deal of which is transmittable to others. Let me call scientific knowledge and the more transmittable part of technological knowlede together "reproducible knowlede." (Of course, a fuller account would have to recognize varying degrees of reproducibility.) In many ways, the distinction between reproducible and tacit knowledge is parallel to that between evolutionary and conscious changes in social organization that I referred to earlier. (Arrow 1994: 6)
This made me think how semiotics is scientific knowledge about tacit knowledge.
New knowledge is acquired in two different ways: (1) acquisition from observing nature (whether by research or by less formal procedures); and (2) learning from other individuals, which in turn can be subdivided into (a) intended learning (communication, education), and (b) inferring the knowledge of others by observing their behavior. (Arrow 1994: 7)
Hmm... The central part here is played by the interpreter and whether it's sign-giving is intentional or not.
As the late 19th century writer, Samuel Butler, said: "A chicken is an egg's way of making an egg." (Arrow 1994: 7)
Hmm... since this quote is often used without reference to Samuel Butler, it seemed to me before that it comes from some older philosophy.
Information privately produced for private gain contributes as an unintended byproduct of the social pool of information. (Arrow 1994: 8)
Thus, while I blog for the sake of my own academic work, anyone crafty enough to find it and witty enough to understand it, can profit from it.
Kunstisemiootika ja kunstiteooriad: Independent Work (Week 3)
Burnham, Linda Rye 1986. "High Performance," Performance Art, and Me. The Drama Review: TDR 30(1): 15-51.
What is performance art? I have been asked so many times to define the term, and I find that it can be done only in a most general, non-specific way. We may call it time-based and non-statid and intermedia art, but what we have is a definition so broad that it includes work at the opposite ends of any spectrum you care to name. I might as well be asked to define art itself. (Burnham 1986: 15)
The difficulty in defining performance art. This one is pretty good, though, as it takes note of the time constraints involved (it is temporary) and its non-static, e.g., moving, nature (bodies are in action). Intermedia is also good, but the notion of media itself is kinda of problematic.
The more we try to document and historify performance, the more wily and slippery and broad it becomes. Sometimes an artist will express her/his displeasure with "the system" by specifically designing a work which foils the sponsor's expectations. (Burnham 1986: 15)
Taking anti-estbalishment to the level of self-injury (in economic and institutional sense, not bodily harm).
On another axis, the ephemeral base of performance art can link it closely to the most transitory and issue-oriented kinds of art, work that is so tied to the crusade of the moment that it writes itself out of a possible place among "great timeless works of art." This sacrificial commitment makes it particularly useful to political activism, especially the issues that are local or peculiar to a small public. However, on the same program about the same issue, there might be included a live work that can speak to any number of issues eloquently and which is issue-oriented only by context. (Burnham 1986: 16)
The political dimension in performance art makes it transitory (impermanent, momentary, temporal; brief and fleeting event).
In another ironic twist, certain producers seek to ally themselves with performance art for the purpose of acquiring not only its audience but also its sponsors, funding sources, and publicity outlets. Thus, certain theater groups garner more of the spotlight by entering their activities under the relatively spare category of "performance art", in newspaper calendars than they would under "theater." (Burnham 1986: 18)
This seems to be exactly what a local "train theater" [rongiteater] group was doing. At least they made it to newspapers.
However you define it, there are traces of performance throughout art history, and historians are having fun mining as far back as the Renaissance for performance art by Bernini and da Vinci. While performance art is actually the oldest form of communication, probably pre-dating language itself, its contemporary phrase is usually traced back to the turn of the turn of the century in Europe, in works by the Dada artists and the Futurists. Indeed, the ideas of these movements - eloquent responses to the birth of the 20th century: the age of machines, world wars, and mass communication - are still being exercised today. (Burnham 1986: 20)
"...historians are having fun mining..." - I bet they are :D
I don't mean that Burden's pieces necessarily operate on the same wave lenght as these feminist works, but there is something they have in common, something that can be found in all work by visual artists - a distillation of thought and feeling into a cohesive visual form and a reliance on that visual communication. The transmutation of art from the static into performance added the element of time and the human body, the very idea of which produced an electrifying effect on my imagination. The possibilities for communication were mind-boggling. (Burnham 1986: 21-22)
I can fully understand this last sentence - the transmutation from visual to bodily art brought about a widening move from projecting something on a canvas to doing something with your body, expressing much more in both time and space than a canvas could ever mediate.
The peculiar nature of performance art attracted my interest in the first place. Here was an "art form" that was literally open to anybody. Anyone, even a person who had no art education, could announce a piece and perform it, photograph it, publish it, place it in a resume and use the printed account as credentials, thereby proving her/himself a performance artist. The performance could take place literally any place, indoors or out, or it could be entirely conceptual and never exist at all. It could mimic, parody or comment on existing phenomena in such a way that it might even be mistaken for that which it was commenting on. it defied description and classification. This work, then, reported in a magazmine, took on a ring of something "real." (Burnham 1986: 29)
Making performance art world sound awfully awesome.
For most people who have only recently become acquainted with performance art, the piece is on the stage and the audience planted firmly and safely in the seats, observing the action as if in an orthodox theater. Far less emotional risk, no shocks to the psyche, no danger of actual contact with the art or of getting it on your clothes. For this lopsided view we can thank the notorious successes of Laurie Anderson and Robert Wilson and Robert Longo and Ping Chong and the flock of prominent artists who have taken to the stage in the last ten years. (Burnham 1986: 33)
A description of what non-theatrical performance art could or must do.
Performance art critics guard against seduction by technique and can actually become bored by a reliance on great acting, whereas theater critics are driven to the wall by what they perceive as bad timing or mechanical devices that don't work. If performers speak in their own voices, revealing their own vulnerabilities, some theater critics recoil from the "bad acting," expecting a good actor to dissapear into the role. (Burnham 1986: 34)
Debaser put it well in "Crown Control", saying: "Now it's time to earn your trust, all heads to the front, gather 'round to watch me and Ethic do impressions of us".
Performance artist Paul McCarthy said, "It is my belief that our culture has lost a true perception of existence. It is veiled. We are only fumbling in what we perceive to be reality. For the most part we do not know we are alive" (LAICA Journal, January-Fabruary 1979). In his performances he takes his witnesses on a journey in which he exhibits beastly characters, wearing their twisted psyches on the outside, displaying for us what humanity has actually become. His performances are called disgusting and impossible for some people to watch. McCarthy and others who make shocking images of human existence might be regarded as the soul of man crying out for help, in a state of extreme emergency. Maybe we are using performance art to snap us out of it. As the Rev. Ivan Stang said, "You're still looking where They're pointing, when you ought to be looking all around" ("Quit Your Job and Praise Bob," HP Issue #24, 1983). (Burnham 1986: 50)
Ah, this is exactly how I feel about institutional education. I may look where they are pointing, but I also want to look all around.
Blau, Herbert 1991. The Surpassing Body. TDR 35(2): 74-98.
While the breaking and tearing continued, through the anatomy of modernism, as the structural principle of artistic forms, there were as a preface to postmodern performance various notions of body consciousness or disciplines of the thinking body or the signifying body or, amidst the baffling semurgy of exchangeable signs, regimens of the body and its authority in the rhetorical struggle to assure a future. One might have thought that Meyerhold's biomechanics was, in its articulartion of signs, an important part of that struggle, but about that particular system in the theatre of his time Trotsky is not at all sanguine. And as he questions the historical necessity of this apparent innovation - which impressed both Brecht and Eisenstein - it's as if he were writing off in advance the body language of the American theatre of the '60s, when it was under the spell of Artaud and Grotowsky and, in a more populist mode, the messianism of the Living Theatre. (Blau 1991: 74)
I don't comprehend all of this, but I do draw a connection between Roland Barthes (in Image, Music, Text) having pains at describing what we know as body language, in Eisenstein's work, and with avant garde semiologese, a third in the signifier and signified relationship.
As with the psychophysical exercises of a generation ago, the model and motive power is the liberated economy of the unconscious, the seeds of the psyche's history spilling over the stage, confounding representation and, in the play of body parts, disrupting the hegemony of the specular with oral drives, anal drives, labial, olfactory, epidermal, duodenal. (Blau 1991: 77)
I suspect Blau is trying to pull off a bodily Sokal hoax. That is, he has written "...a pastiche of Left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense ... structured around the silliest quotations..." This text feels like it's merely stuffing together tantalizing jargon from extremely different discourses and leaving the impression that it somehow must make sense. Sentences like "That is not exactly the millennium of the desiring-machine in the rhizomatic space of a thousand plateaus." leave me wondering if Blau is the Lil B of the surpassing body, excreting thought constructs with no hinderance from semantics. Fuck this article, let's read something more intelligible.
Novakov, Anna 2003. Point of Access: Marina Abramovic's 1975 Performance "Role Exchange". Woman's Art Journal 24(2): 31-35.
In 1973 she [Marina Abramoviç] began working with the innovative Body Art Movement, which included Serbs Nesa Paripovic and Zoran Popovic and involved many of the same corporal issues addressed by the American Artists Vito Acconci (Seed Bed, 1971), Chris Burden (Shoot, 1971), Bruce Nauman (Corridor, 1972), and Dennis Oppenheim (Parallel Stress, 1970). (Novakov 2003: 31)
As I am already or going to be soon familiar with some of these (Burden's Shoot is on youtube, for example), I thought I'd make note of these acts. I think since I like this era (beginning of the 1970s) in science, why not also in art.
Also important to Abramovic are the psychological consequences of personal space. During their early years together Abramovic and Ulay led a nomadic existence, often sleeping in their Citroen van, while performing and traveling from one city to the next. They were interested in the idea of displacement, including their own lack of a fixed address. Their projects, generally performed for a small audience of ten or less, spanned twelve years and were captured in videos, films, and photographs. Their collaboration ended in 1988 with The Great Wall Walk, a three-month, 2000 kilometer journey in which Abramovic and Ulay walked toward each other from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China - Ulay fell in love with his Chinese guide. (Novakov 2003: 31)
Hmm... I knew from Abramovic's interview that she and Ulay did something on the Great Wall of China and that it was their last piece together... I did not know that they walked towards each other from the opposite ends. As I read this, I though "damn, three months to walk toward someone whom you have been - even braided - together must be tough", and then came the last sentence, which makes perfect sense. Of course you're going to fall in love with your Chinese guide, Ulay, of course.
Employed as a framing device for the desire of the spectator and the spectacle and seen as a frame around a painting, the picture window acts to isolate and delimit the erotic arena or the space of sexual fantasy. Similarly, the picture window of the gallery emphasizes the space of aesthetic containment, the venue for the playing out of visceral experiences. According to the architect Le Corbusier, "a window is man himself... The porte-fenetre provides with a frame, it accords with his outlines... The vertical is the line of the upright human being, it is the line of life itsself." (Novakov 2003: 32)
Firstly, I considered this paragraph significant because I thought about writing about the view from my window for the landscape semiotics course. Secondly, I really should some day read Le Corbusier and other influential architects, even for the sake of finding out their rational or not-so-rational explanations for why our buildings are the way they are.
Baudelaire described the 19th-century Parisian flaneur as a kind of urban nomad who walked the teeming streets with a keen sense of sight and smell. The modern street became to him a sensory text that needed to be deciphered, read, and interpreted from an objective and privileged position. In other words, the flaneur saw all but was consumed by nothing. (Novakov 2003: 33)
In short, what Baudelaire described as a 19th-centuyry Parisian flaneur is very close to what I consider a nonverbalist, e.g., Clarisse, taking long rides on the Metro to go nowhere, but to investigate the people, guess their personalities, their aims, their destinations; seeing all but herself remaining innocuous to the gaze of others.
Rush, Michael 1999. A Noisy Silence. PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 21(1): 2-10.
"Museums," they [Kelley and McCarthy] go on to say in a printed statement available in the gallery, "continue to find it difficult to present work whose ... form and subject are time, memory, perception, spoken language, sound, human action, and interaction. ... This prejudice creates an object-oriented history of contemporary art. Many significant works of art do not reference the genres of sculpture or painting and are not meant to be seen within the physical framework of the museum." Touché. (Rush 1999: 2-3)
Upon first reading the last word of this paragraph, I misinterpreted it as the author exasperating "Douche!" But yeah, Kelley and McCarthy have a point there.
It is in exposing the "destructive" aspect of this performative art that Schimmel makes his strongest point. This is in no small part due to the visual impression (from graphic photographs, videos, articles of clothing) that artists of the 60s and 70s had an unusual preoccupation with biolence and bloodied body parts. From images of Chris Burden forcing his torso along a street littered with cracked glass to Gina Pane slashing her toes (a "psychovisual gesture," she called it) to Marina Abramovic submitting her body to audience members who cut her skin and sucked her blood, artists were enacting extreme gestures to awaken art from its painterly sleep. (Rush 1999: 4)
Burden's actions kind of remind me of a person I know in real life. I like Gina Pane's notion, and did now know that people sucked Abramovic's blood in Rhythm 2.

For Muehl, acts normally seen as perverse or degrading, were actually means of escaping the confines of social mores. By 1971 he, in fact, abandoned art and actions to form a commune [the Friedrichshof Commune], which exists to this day [with now 50yo inhabitants], in which free sexual expression and uninhibited interactions are expected of all inhabitants. When some of these behaviors were discovered to include children, Muehl was imprisoned for seven years, from 1991-1998. His utopian practices had collided with the law, making transgression intolerable to the society he saw himself as trying to liberate. (Rush 1999: 5)
There is an interesting article about this published in The Guardian titled "The price of free love". It discusses how Otto Muehl's commune became authoritarian very quickly, and even sent the brightest - indeed, successfully - to earn millions of dollars in stockbroking. He got in trouble with the law because at some point he "began telling women of 35 they were too old for him to want to have sex with and that he preferred young flesh. Brought up by their mothers to regard sex with Otto as a privilege, the 14 year olds began swarming round him even in his shower." As 14 was the age of consent in Austria, he must have preferred even younger flesh than that to be arrested.


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