Through-Lines, the Dramaturgical Pattern and the Structure of Improvisation: A Descriptive Psychological Account
Part 1: Some Descriptive Psychology Concepts
.... All explanation must disappear, and description alone must take its place. ... (109)
.... Since everything lies open to view, there is nothing to explain. .... (126) Ludwig Wittgenstein, PHILOSOPHICAL INVESTIGATIONS
What makes an individual a person is, paradigmatically, to have mastered the concept of a Person. Peter G. Ossorio, PLACE
Improvisation creates novel social practices, manners of engagement and meaning that are an intrinsic feature of the lives of persons. Unfortunately, most existing systems of psychology, given their commitment to causal explanation and reductionism, while attempting to be systematic and scientific, have failed to provide a satisfying account of the creative nature of improvisation. In contrast, those psychologies that do embrace the creative and novel tend to lack sufficient systematic structure required for an intellectually satisfying understanding of persons, let alone an empirical science. An exception to this state of affairs can be found in the discipline of Descriptive Psychology as it has unfolded over the last forty or so years.
Descriptive Psychology is the intellectual discipline that makes explicit the implicit structure of the behavioral sciences. It develops conceptual, pre-empirical and theory-neutral formulations identifying the full range of a subject matter. This concern with full inclusion, with clarifying the full set of possibilities, is a hallmark of Descriptive Psychology.
The pre-empirical work is accomplished through identifying and interrelating the essential concepts, the vital distinctions, characterizing all possible instances of a subject matter. The empirical project, on the other hand, involves finding the specific possibilities and patterns that actually occur. To do this, we use our conceptual tools and go out and look. Descriptive Psychology separates the conceptual and empirical from the theoretical. The conceptual formulation is logically prior to finding appropriate empirical instances.
Once an adequate conceptualization is achieved, theory may be employed for explaining why, out of the full range of possibility, only certain empirical patterns are found.
What I hope to accomplish here is to provide a very brief introduction to Descriptive Psychology relevant to a systematic exploration of improvisation. So, to set a stage, here is a relevant set of descriptive maxims that identify some of the structure of improvisation. From Ossorio’s Place, (1998/2012):
F5. If C makes the first move in a social practice, that invites Z to continue the enactment of the practice by making the corresponding second move. (Move 1 invites Move 2.)
F6. If C makes the second move in a social practice, it makes it difficult for Z not to have already made the first move. (Move 2 preempts Move 1 ex post facto.)
F7. Z’s positive or negative evaluation of C’s behavior provides reasons for C to continue, discontinue, modify, or elaborate (etc.) such behavior.
For purposes of this essay, I am going to focus on the Descriptive Psychological concept of a person as an individual who is inherently able to improvise.
A Person is an individual who paradigmatically engages in:
1. Deliberate Action (An intentional or goal directed action in which the actor is both cognizant and chooses to do it)
2. Language (deliberate symbolic verbal behavior)
3. The significance of which reflects the actor’s perspectives and concerns with Hedonics (pleasure, pain, disgust, noxiousness, etc), prudence (self -interest, what is to my advantage or disadvantage, aesthetics (fittingness in the artistic, intellectual and social domains), ethics/morality (right or wrong, fair or unfair, just or unjust, and carries duty or obligation).
4. Resulting in a Dramaturgical Pattern of intelligible Through-Lines (i.e. significance patterns).
The concept of behavior employed in Descriptive Psychology involves a Parametric Analysis of Intentional Action allowing an observer to indicate how any particular action is the same or different from any other action. It looks like this:
Behavior = Intentional Action = < I, W, K, KH, P, A, S, PC >
I: The Identity of the actor.
W: What the actor wants to accomplish.
K: What the actor knows, distinguishes, or recognizes in the circumstance that are relevant to what the actor wants. (In Deliberate Action the actor recognizes different options, in Cognizant Action the actor is self aware of the ongoing behavior).
KH: What the actor knows-how to do given what the actor wants and knows about the relevant circumstance.
P: The procedural manner or performance of the action in real time.
A: The achievement of the action.
S: The significance of the action for the actor.
PC: The personal characteristics of the actor expressed by the action.
Persons as Deliberate Actors are able to self-regulate or adjust their behavior to fit their changing circumstances in response to their appraisal of how effective they are in achieving their goals. For this, Descriptive Psychology employs the Actor-Observer-Critic feedback loop of self-regulation. A person is an Actor able to Observe and describe his behavior and Critique and adjust his behavior accordingly. The observer’s role involves engaging in Cognizant Action and the critic role involves Deliberate Action.
Although this feedback could be a process of deliberation, of thinking through the possibilities, it ordinarily isn't. Instead, for the most part, people simply recognize their options and what they take is the "best" course to follow.
The A-O-C model naturally relates to the concepts of Intentional, Cognizant and Deliberate Action. Cognizant and Deliberate Action are types of Intentional Action along with Emotional and Unconscious action. All are intentional but not all involve the same degree of awareness. Emotional actions are cases where a person has a tendency to act intentionally and immediately on their recognition or reality appraisal without deliberation.
I will employ the concepts above in what follows.
Part 2: 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 G. Ossorio, The Behavior of Persons, 2013, p 293)
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.
What a person finds significant organizes their selection of specific behaviors. Implementation rests on both recognized opportunity and the actor’s 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 am calling a “through-line”. This concept bears a family resemblance to Stanislaviski’s (1936/1989) concept of through lines but is adapted for the purposes of precise behavior description rather than actor motivation.
Through-lines identify what it is in character and out of character for an actor. Keep in mind that self-status 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 also the actor’s power and disposition to use what is achieved for corrective feedback. Through-lines are constituent treads of life's dramaturgical patterns.
Identifying 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. Here cognizance matters. 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 or competence 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 with the other ways a person goes about living, 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 is that a person's life makes narrative 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.
Part 3: Formulation of "Through-Lines" and "Dramaturgical Pattern"
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
"The appropriate size of the unit for conceptualizing a person is not a behavior but a life history."
Peter G. Ossorio
"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."
"I spoke of performers and audiences; of routines and parts; of performances coming off or falling flat; of cues, stage settings and backstage; of dramaturgical needs, dramaturgical skills, and dramaturgical strategies. Now it should be admitted that this attempt to press a mere analogy so far was in part a rhetoric and a maneuver."
A Dramaturgical Model
"In the Dramaturgical Model, behavior is intrinsically and fundamentally a matter of creating and realizing personal and social dramas. Human lives are intrinsically and fundamentally dramatic in form."
"... a drama is a structured behavioral episode or series of episodes which makes sense to Us." Peter G. Ossorio
Dramaturgical patterns are the creative improvisation of individuals, of ongoing and overlapping social practices, resulting in the creation of their worlds.
Through-lines are significance-implementation-achievement patterns of social practices. Through-lines are the observed patterns of choice made by a person that reflect what the person finds intrinsic. Significance linked intrinsic social practices are through-lines. A set of temporally co-occurring through-lines, a "bundle", constitute some of the intentional aspects of the overall Dramaturgical Pattern for any meaningful duration up to and including a person's entire life span. (The word "world" derives from an old Anglo-Saxon locution that meant "the course of a man's life").
Nothing necessarily ties a bundle together except that the varied through-lines express a person's significant concerns enacted in the same life-interval. Sequential and co-occurring through-lines may be relatively independent, or have a dynamic relationship of interdependence, conflict, complementarity, inhibition, and so on.
The overall Dramaturgical Pattern with its constituent through-lines involves a person's response to sought-after and unsought circumstances. Accidents and the passage of time are the not chosen features of life that necessarily shape a person's history. A person's life also includes average expected challenges that follow from age, sex, gender, class, culture, appearance, etc.
The overall Dramaturgical Pattern also involves social practices independent from what an observer classifies as a through-line. Some challenges and opportunities might happen infrequently resulting in one-off behavior hard to classify. An observer may be noncommittal about assigning such behavior as in or out of character. Some social practices may not be part of a discernible through-line.
A person creates a world in the wake of his progress. In the role of observer-critic, a person notes the quality and significance of how his implementations create, change and maintain this world.
From a observer's perspective, a through-line is a set of social practices, extended over time, that constitute the enactment of a status that is a significant aspect of a person's identity. The observer can be oneself or another.
A person's self-knowledge of engaging in what she finds intrinsically significant will correspond to what she can acknowledge as in character. Observers may differ about the adequacy or accuracy of such self-status assignments.
Given continued relevance and opportunity, a through-line can appear, disappear and reappear. Significant changes in what a person finds intrinsically significant correspond to where a through-line may start and end. There are as many through-lines as an observer can potentially identify.
Identification and Knowledge of Through-Lines:
To say that a Person "A" knows one of Person "B's" Through-Lines, she would have observed that
A) "B" engaged in a series of social practices that
B) Share a common significance
C) The specific implementation/performance of the practices
D) What the implementations achieved in "B's" world
E) What "B" knows regarding what the implementations achieved
F) How "B" appraised the consequences of the achievement
G) How "B" did or did not correct his course of action based on his appraisal of the consequences.
H) A significance description that encompasses A) through G) and names this particular through-line. (Reduce the details and/or increase the abstraction until a workable encompassing significance description can be offered).
The through-line will describe improvisational creative engagements with the circumstances of a person's world in which a person's relevant personal characteristics are identified as making understandable the way the person acts given their opportunities and dilemmas.
To the extent that an observer identifies significance linked intrinsic social practices germane to the actor's identity, she will have identified a through-line. She could just as well be commenting on the actor's world since she will be offering a commentary that links the actor's personal characteristics to the sort of world he finds, creates and maintains.
The Descriptive Psychological concept "through-lines" resides in an intermediate zone between social practices and ways of life (Ossorio, 2006/2013). People know how they expect to live their lives; looking back, their observer-critics can understand what they actually did.
Incomplete descriptions of through-lines that lack information regarding their significance and achievement correspond to the standard dispositional descriptions of traits, attitudes, interests and styles.
Part 4: Examples of Through-Lines
The through-line concept refers to a person's history of varied performances that have a common and recurring significance. Any personal characteristic can be an aspect of a through-line description. Here’s some examples of how they look. When there is opportunity and while doing other things as well:
She heedlessly and perhaps unconsciously goes through life attempting to score competitive victories with women who resemble her mother and does so with an eye toward currying favor with unobtainable men.
While fearfully avoiding degradation, he manages his affairs in such a way as to offend no one while never stepping outside of what be thinks are his competencies.
He consciously and unconsciously strives to put people in a helpless position in a manner that keeps him, in his view, on the moral high ground.
Terrified of being alone and doubting her worth to others, she seeks satisfaction by tolerating the abusive needs of others or in actions that undo and distract her from being aware of her loneliness.
Requiring a sense of specialness, he looks for opportunities to demonstrate his worth by achievement in competitive arenas while making sure not to out-step the values and achievements of those he considers the conventional esteemed judges.
Notice the multiplicity of similar and dissimilar performances that can be the enactment, performance or implementation of the significance described in any of the examples above.
There is not always opportunity nor will an opportunity that exists in the ongoing circumstances always be reason enough for something of significance to be enacted. A person's other significant hedonic, prudent, aesthetic and ethical perspectives might prevail. Still, over time, patterns can be observed by self or other defining what is in character for the actor in question.
Some through-lines can coexist with other through-lines. And some implementations may satisfy a variety of through-lines.
A through-line is a significance driven description that can be built with any and all of the relevant features needed to make a pattern understandable regarding what a person is repeatedly up to in the course of their life.
Some through-lines end in satisfaction, some are out grown or are no longer relevant, some are extended compulsively without satisfaction, while others are extended because the satisfactions remain valued. They may look, in some cases, to the psychoanalytic observer as a function of a fixation.
A through-line that has significant unconscious aspects is prone to unsatisfying repetition since the actor is not in a good position to critically modify behavior or reorder priorities. This is the heart of the repetition compulsion if it involves fundamental and ongoing desire. Sex, trauma and dependency may work this way when the desire for connection, restoration or support remains without a self-aware practicing of alternative serviceable implementations. Without adequate self-critical awareness, a person may repeat a tragic pattern, feeling born to lose unable to learn from misfortune.
Through-lines organize a descriptive narrative in a manner that highlights a status dynamic similar to what Roy Schafer (1976) called psychoanalytic action language.
While writing this I was troubled by the generally negative, restrictive and pathological tone of the examples. To the extent that pathology involves a restriction in behavior potential or ability, it is often easier to identify patterns. Pathological restrictions limits performance in a manner that produces stereotyped behaviors. This is what allows diagnostic categories to work. Pathology is simpler than health. The through-lines of the healthy are organized in a manner that involves varied and flexible satisfactions with less insistent repetition. A happy and healthy life is less predicable than one restricted by fixation and compulsion. So how's this:
Grabbing all the gusto she can, mindful of the rights and plights of others but careful not to compromise herself, she speaks truth to power while seeking novelty, pleasure and beauty.
Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. 1959
Ossorio, Peter G. Place. Ann Arbor, MI: Descriptive Psychology Press. 1998/2012
Ossorio, Peter G. The Behavior of Persons. Ann Arbor, MI: Descriptive Psychology Press. 2006/2013
Schafer, Roy. A New Language for Psychoanalysis. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 1976
Stanislavski, Constantin. An Actor Prepares. New York: Routledge. 1936/1989
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. 1953/2009
The following is from a May 11th, 2014 exchange between Joe Jeffrey and myself regarding the "through-line" concept:
1) What's the difference between "pattern of significance" and "pattern of behaviors," particularly in light of the fact that the concept of behavior includes that of significance? In other words, is "pattern of significance" saying anything different from "pattern of intrinsic practices"? If so, what?
I am always amazed that although the concept of "intrinsic practices" makes immediate sense to me, rarely do others outside our team get it. Patterns of intrinsic behavior, I think, mean behaviors that are not instrumental, that is, not done for the purposes of doing something else. Instead, intrinsic behaviors are self-contained in purpose, are reason enough without having to refer to another behavior or level of significance to make understandable. So, to the question are "patterns of significance" different from "patterns of behavior,": Yes, I do mean something different. All Intentional Actions (IA) have Significance (S) of some sort and that significance may be intrinsic or instrumental. A through-line identifies a group or pattern of behaviors that over time show the same Significance. The Performance (P) parameter (the implementation) may be the same or different, the S parameter is always the same.
Now, this is where the issue of usefulness appears. At some level of abstraction all of a person's S can be one of, I guess, 4 significances, Hedonic, Prudent, etc. so at the most abstract and not very useful level, at least not descriptively or clinically useful, we could talk about the interplay of hedonic, prudent.... through lines. (But as I will indicate below, even so it is more than that). We'd see individual differences but at too molar, too large a grouping, to really help understand an individual person's status dynamics. It is sort of dealer's choice what degree of abstraction is useful and the examples I have provided get at that intermediate level somewhere between a social practice and a way of life. (I suppose we would find similar difficulties with "ways of life".)
So "pattern of significance" seems clear to me but maybe it creates some ambiguity with all IAs having significance. I mean the IAs that have the same S even through the P may be the same or very different.
2) What is the point of talking about implementation? Is it any different from the existing concepts of personal characteristics, which include the concept of the version of an intrinsic practice the person engages in (e.g., "He much prefers driving in the outside lane," "She put a high priority on esthetic considerations in everything she does," "He's aggressive, but in a passive, low-power style," etc.) Or, to ask it differently, what would be missing if you left out all reference to implementation, and just said, "Patterns of significance" (or, "Patterns if intrinsic practices"?)
And here is where I thought I was using just another ordinary language synonym for performance, i.e. implementation. One of the intellectual powers of Descriptive is an attempt at exact and precise language with a particular attention to nuance. I have learned when talking to members outside the tribe that our repeated use of the same word becomes baseball talk for me but soccer for her. So using a variety of words with the same meaning while anchoring them in the exact formulation of IA parameters seems to help clear up the way I am using our technical language. . I am surprised, at times, when I use the term "Performance" and people take it to mean something different than the P parameter. So I use other words that seem to clear up the nuanced meaning such as Implementation. Seems to work with them but maybe not so much with us.
In any case, there are many ways to perform or implement a behavior, an IA, that has shared significance. I find all sorts of ways to get myself in the same sort of trouble but you might not notice I was up to the same sort of mischief if you only looked at the P or the implementation without knowing that they share the same S.
One other point for now: The S matters but for the observer of a through line, the actors K of A and how that effects subsequent implementations is also key. This feedback is of central clinical/status dynamic significance. So modifiers like, Mindfully, Heedlessly, Recklessly, With-ever-greater focus, are part of a possible through line description.
3) Pete says (Behavior of Persons, p. 290), "At a concrete level of description the behavior pattern in question is a sequence of Versions of multiply overlapping social practices. The larger scale structure will not be a social practice.....The term "drama" is use here to designate such behavior patterns: a drama is a structured behavioral episodes or series of episodes which make sense to Us." So: when you talk about through-lines, are you saying anything different than "dramas" -- i.e., structured series of behavioral episodes that make sense to Us?" If you are, could you help me see what?
Yes and no. I am giving the observer's description of repeated dramas. A person engages in many different overlapping dramas and the dramas that share the same significance are through-lines in a person's life.
4) Your characterization, "through-lines are significance-implementation-achievement patterns of social practices" appears to articulating a particular kind of behavior description, a "through-line description," just as "achievement description" is a form of behavior description. Specifically, it is form of description that identifies a pattern, the intrinsic practices, the versions of those practices, and the specific outcomes of those versions." As I believe have said elsewhere, I think that's an excellent idea, one that is very helpful, particularly in making sense of a person's life. If that is the case, we would have available things like, "Let's give a through-line description of the dramas [the structured series of behavioral episodes] that comprise this guys life, and look carefully at the kind of outcomes he keeps getting." In other words, through-line description would be a tool for helping focus on one aspect or another of a person's life, in an organized, systematic way. We would have immediately a series of questions: 1) OK, it's a pattern; what kind of pattern? Sequential? Scattered over time? Constantly overwhelming all others dramas? Appropriate to the circumstances? Idiosyncratic but not pathological? 2) What intrinsic practices? 3) What kind of versions? 4) What kind of outcomes? So: am I correct or not? Is the concept here that of through-line description?