Monday, September 2, 2013

Through-Lines and the Dramaturgical Pattern


“Dealing with heterogeneous behavior patterns as a single type of behavior does nothing toward elucidating the pattern. And yet the understanding of such full scale patterns in real life is essential for understanding the behavior of persons.”  
Peter Ossorio, The Behavior of Persons


Everyone has a place on the stage of the World. Everyone is in the game. The stage has props and actors. The game has rules and boundaries.  The players have statuses assigned by themselves and others as they go about their different roles.  Some people are well cast for what they encounter and some are not.  At times people recognize the part they are playing, at times they don’t. How cognizant and well-cast is always a matter of “more or less”. 

Although there are reality constraints, how the drama or game unfolds is uncertain. The Actors are agents who play within and against the constraints. 

Living one's life involves improvisation.  There is no “script” except ex post facto; it emerges from the interaction. The Actors might be told what they should be doing, they may have plans, but such direction does not determine what actually happens.  The only certainty is that choices will be made and action will ensue.  Actions will follow from the opportunities and dilemmas that accompany each player’s unfolding circumstances given their individual and changing powers and dispositions.  Since it is improvisation, the actors will change each other as they interact, as their response incorporates the other player's moves.

The actual “through-lines” are visible only after the play is significantly underway. The game must be afoot. Although the actor knows what she finds significant, the observer-critic must watch and see. 

The script is the relevant historical narrative told from varied perspectives after enough events, enough social practices have happened for significant patterns of behavior to be intelligible. The appraisals and competencies that the actor actually brings to the circumstances shape the play.  This is only incidentally related to what the actor claims he intended.  (The road to Hell is paved with good intentions). People are only more or less competent and honest judges of their own powers and dispositions and only have so much to say about the circumstances and outcomes they meet.

Conceptualization

What a person finds significant organizes their selection of behavior. Implementation rests on recognized opportunity and competence.  Implementation is the performance. I know what I am doing because I know what I am about. I make choices based on their significance to me. You understand what I am about by observing and thinking about my performances. Performances have achievements and consequences. Notable patterns of significance implemented over time with their corresponding consequences establish what I call “through-lines”.

Through-lines identify what it is “in character” and “out of character” for an Actor. Keep in mind that some claims of something being “out of character” may be “in character”.  People can deny responsibility and disown their actions. It takes an observer-critic to point out when this happens.

Through-lines identify not just the organization of patterns of significance but the actor’s power and disposition to use what is achieved for corrective feedback. Through-lines are constituent treads of life's dramaturgical patterns.

Indentifying through-lines is an Observer's task, subject to all the dilemmas of observation, disagreement and negotiation. Notice that as an observer's task, the identification of through-lines involves an appreciation of the actor’s reckoning with the consequences of implementation.  Implementation, the performance of the intended act, achieves some new state of affairs. Consequences, to the extent known, are part of corrective feedback.

The Observer can be the Actor or someone else.

Corrective feedback can be effective or ineffective. Does the actor learn from his mistakes? Are mistakes even recognized? Does the actor have the know-how to do something differently when similar circumstances recur? 

The pattern of through-lines intertwined together over the course of life weaves a dramaturgical pattern of unfolding social practices, performances linked by their achieved consequence and significance.  People simultaneously and sequentially live on many fronts as they go about their lives. Some through-lines may appear consistent, while others may not. Some may appear for a time, disappear, later to reemerge. They may end in satisfaction or be abandoned in frustrated disappointment. They may be given up with insight or because of an absence of opportunity for expression. Some may seem to go on forever. 

The fundamental coherence of the dramaturgical patterns are that, in some manner, a person's life makes sense. The choices made are not random or arbitrary but follow from opportunity and the significances that a person's values, knowledge and competency allow. But people are complicated. Circumstances are complicated. Even knowing a person's true colors, they still can throw you for a loop. Life's a drama and  "All the World's a stage." 






15 comments:

  1. Very nice, Wynn.

    A quibble: It isn't clear to me that there is any "pattern of through-lines" to bundle together -- in fact it seems really unlikely -- and they certainly do not add up to "the dramaturgical pattern." At any given time a person's behavior is paradigmatically performed in a dramaturgical pattern, but what pattern it is varies from time to time. There is no overall dramaturgical pattern -- in the end, what a person's behaviors add up to is their life, which is not reducible to something more basic.

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  2. There is the play and there is the play within the play, each having constituent episodes, acts if you will. At some level of abstraction the whole life is an episode but for there to be patterns, the pattens must have a place within the boundaries of the life. Is that what is involved in your "quibble?" Seems worth wondering more about whether something viewed as a whole can be said to have a pattern as opposed to being constituted by patterns.

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    1. Wynn, a play is an entity -- an independently existing whole within which all the constituent parts have their place and meaning. It is a substantive concept, in the sense Ossorio uses that term. A life is not an entity -- it does not exist in any way independent of the person living it. Life is a methodological concept -- similar to self-concept -- that enables us to talk about that which we cannot adequately describe not enumerate. I'm sure through-line is a concept that will prove useful -- but not as a constituent of a dramaturgical pattern or a life.

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    2. Tony, it is beginning to look like, if I have this right, that you are seeing a person's life as having many varied dramaturgical patterns and that it is not useful or correct to suggest that a person's life is lived in "a dramaturgical pattern" using the concept to cover the whole course of a person's life.

      I understand that the use of "drama" is to provide the reminder that episodes in a life make sense and that the entire life makes sense.

      I am still using Ossorio's "A Person is an individual whose history is, paradigmatically, a history of Deliberate Action in a dramaturgical pattern." The confusion might be the small "d" dramaturgical pattern vs. the big "D" "Dramaturgical Model". I am using "through-lines" as a dramaturgical structure identified by the critic who has tracked Significance and Achievement as used in self-regulation by the Actor. I am interested in the feedback loop's recurrence over time. A person acts on or with many different Significances in selecting behavior. These behaviors have consequences that more or less effect subsequent implementations of those actions that reflect the Significance in question.

      It may be that what I am trying to get at is simply a refinement of the Critic's identification of small "d" dramaturgical patterns. The Critic notices the feedback effects whereas the actor just goes about life.

      (I am sure you have more corrective feedback to offer regarding correction, confusion and utility of "through-line". We are both engaged in ones that typify us now. )

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    3. Wynn -- Yes, you are correct: I am saying that it is not useful or correct to say a person's life is lived "in a dramaturgical pattern", using the concept to cover the whole course of a person's life.

      Lives do not consist of episodes -- only constructs such as plays, novels, and TV series consist of episodes.

      I suspect you in fact are simply trying to get at a refinement of a Critic's identification of dramaturgical patterns, which is a useful thing to do.

      Yes, I have more to say about this, which I will save for the SDP Conference.

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  3. Tony, think of biscuits and gravy. That's a thing. And it isn't a thing until you have biscuits with gravy on them. But there are lots of different kinds of biscuits, and there are lots of different kind of gravy. The progress from a set of ingredients to a biscuit or to the gravy is not always the same; but biscuits are biscuits and gravy is gravy; and biscuits and gravy is biscuits and gravy.

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    1. CJ -- Lives are not things. They are not built from the bottom up. You don't assemble ingredients, follow a recipe and produce a product called a life. Quite the contrary: persons live their lives from where they are, in the world they find around them and they create significance as they go along in whatever dramaturgical pattern they happen to be enacting at the time. The rook is whatever piece I have at hand -- whatever I use as rook; the adversary is whomever we square off with, who we cast as adversary. A through-line is whatever pattern a critic can discern in what I have done; a bundle of through-lines may be serve as a history, but not as a dramaturical pattern and certainly not as a life.

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    2. And yet, you do assemble ingredients and produce a product called a life. Social practices are what there is to do. You combine them. They themselves have ingredients (elements) and so on. Doing a social practice is like making a biscuit--you have a lot of different ways you can go with the basic biscuit ingredients...stages, options, contingencies. And you have that with all the things that go into making a meal. Potatoes, chicken, flour, fat could be a chicken dinner with gravy and biscuits; could be chicken soup; could be chicken stew. The ingredients don't force an implementation. And yet, in making biscuits, I could be evincing a pattern of making biscuits. And I might never bring that pattern to the dinner table, maybe only breakfast, or maybe only for myself and not for a meal, or whatever. Or I can combine that pattern with a pattern of making a certain kind of meal. And I might combine those certain kinds of meals into being a certain kind of host. Yes, I do assemble the ingredients and produce a product BUT I must have something in mind first--a significance, whether that's for making a biscuit or for doing a social practice. The significance tells me how to implement the ingredients. The ingredients don't force an implementation.

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  4. "You do not know that your intentions will be carried out but you can suppose that they will be. Then you must have an idea about the rest of your day. Don't you feel that solid line as it stretches out into the future, fraught with cares, responsibilities, joys, and griefs? In looking ahead there is a certain movement, and where there is movement a line begins." - Stanislavski

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    1. Very nice find, Bryan. Yes, the through-lines we are conceptualizing here has a family resemblance to the concept used in method-acting, but where the stage-actor has it as direction, for the purposes of Descriptive Psychology it is identified by the Critic in retrospect.

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  5. A suggestion: let's take an example, one with a couple of clearly visible through lines, and then let's ask, "Do they bundle" and "Do these add up to a pattern?" I tentatively (since I know I do not thoroughly understand the concepts) propose the following: A business person gets an MBA, rises high in a financial services organization, and after 20 years quits, gets teaching certificate, goes to teach in very tough ghetto school. If I understand "through lines," this case has 2, which we might call "business executive" and "dedicated teacher" or perhaps "making the world a better place." Questions: 1) Are these what you mean by through lines? 2) If so, do you see these are a "bundle", and 3) Also if so, do you see a single pattern here?

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  6. To address the move from being a high riser in business to teaching in a tough school, we'd want to know the significance of those choices for the actor. They may be very different or very similar. For example, does this person alway's looks for the hard but rewarding path or after tiring of success as an exploitive capitalist who "took no prisoners", he has had a change of heart and wants to give back to those in need or those he has hurt? Could be he's always looking for a challenge, could be he's developed a "social conscious", could be both but is changing the implementation.

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    1. I am also thinking that the word "bundle" needs rework, explication, or something. I may be in a sort of metaphor trap by using this term.

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    2. So there may be two through-lines or just one implemented in very different ways.

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  7. This blog reminds me of reversibility, a concept you introduced to us in class earlier this month. You mentioned how reversibility is defined as having sufficient power and agency to change the course of action, sort through options, renounce one's behaviors, and to even decided whether or not to "leap before you look" (Dr. Schwartz's lecture, September 17, 2013). How fitting is your class comment to your last paragraph above: "The choices made are not random or arbitrary but follow from opportunity and the significances that a person's values, knowledge and competency allow. But people are complicated. Circumstances are complicated. Even knowing a person's true colors, they still can throw you for a loop". Joseph Caston would agree that we are actors and can create behavior and meaning because we are doers. He would also agree that in order to have reasonable flexibility in one's behaviors, there needs to be a conscious focus available regarding one's own behaviors. In other words, one needs to be cognizant of our actions. However, not only are we actors, but we also become our own observer of the things we do in this world. We can easily change roles to that of a critic when we recognize we are getting off course and then correct ourselves and ultimately engage in self-corrective behaviors. I believe the dramaturgical pattern is not static, as one can easily flow between the roles of actor, observer, and critic.

    ~G. Cruz

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