Textual and Behavioral Analysis

Last revision - 16 July, 2004

Traditionally in science, the activities of reading/writing and doing research are generally demarcated as qualitatively different. This distinction is brought into question, however, when we consider branches of science that study the behavior of organisms, such as ethology, psychology, anthropology, sociolinguistics. Investigators in these areas work closely with texts in the form of behavioral descriptions, narrative accounts, ethnographies, transcriptions and coding schemes. These various forms of textual accounts constitute the data of the investigations.

While the use of text in these fields may be more central than in most, we suggest that in all fields of science this activity should be raised to the level of other activities, materials and tools used in the conduct of scientific research, in the form of articles, notes, theories, etc.

Just as the scientist manipulates his "data" in an experimental situation by the use of a laboratory, procedures and instrumentalities, so the behavioral scientist uses textual resources for creating data.

Our concern in these pages is not so much with constructing accounts of behavior, but rather with what we take to be an appropriate posture to the reading of texts. Also, what we read is of crucial importance. The texts discussed below are taken to be pointers toward a revaluation of the human sciences.

Textual Analysis

Gaining access to a text:   A text may be taken to be a system of paritionings, or distinctions, which constrains the manner in which it is interacted with by a reader. The system of partitionings is often laid out at the beginning of the text. If the writer is consistent, the sensitive reader will know where the writer has to end up, given the distinctions made in the first few pages.

Introducing categories that mirror body and mind, for example, will consrain the conclusions, the mechanisms postulated, the nature of our subject matter, the drawing of domains, etc.

In order to understand what a writer is doing early in a text one must read through and then revisit earlier uses of terms, because the meaning of the terms is given through their use in the text. We might say that the writer is creating a "language", in that the meaning of the words used is given by their location within the network of partitions. For this reason writers who are concerned with repartitioning, or redrawing boundary conditions and defining an object of study, are often want to introduce new terms to indicate that the usual words belong to another language with another meaning. And even if a familiar word is used, its meaning is derived from its location and function in the network of partitions presented by the text. An example here might be Freud's use of the term "instincts", which is consistently used by those with little familiarity with Freud's writings in today's parlance of behavior that is biologically determined. In the first place, we are faced here with a problem in translation (Freud did not use the word "instinct"); but more to the point the meaning of the term has to be seen in the context of his developmental theory and has been more aptly described as refering to "sedimented history" (Jacoby)

We also have what the reader brings to the text.

Reading and interpretation is a creative, interactive process between the writer and reader.

Likewise, we come to organize our social interactions and create sense by situating ourselves relative to each other and relative to an issue. A Soviet psychologist says that language develops within a triadic relationship between adult, child and objects. The interaction gives structure to the experience, by determining what becomes foreground and what is background through a postural/gestural/vocal process of partitioning. What is significant then becomes part of a larger experience. Individuals work together to bring out a figure and a ground. The focus cannot easily be given ahead of time, but is a product of interaction. To use a term from ethnomethodology, the significance of an interaction and its structure is created by the production cohort.

Our relationship with texts is a communicative relationship. The process of reading is an interactive process. The text, through a system of partitionings, partially constrains attention to figure and ground. In addition, we bring our own set of partitionings to bear on the text, which constrains the manner in which we attend to its features.

"The text, in its mass, is comparable to a sky, at once flat and smooth, deep, without edges and without landmarks; like the soothsayer drawing on it with the tip of his staff an imaginary rectangle wherein to consult, according to certain principles, the flight of birds, the commentator traces through the text certain zones of reading, in order to observe therein the migration of meanings, the outcropping of codes, the passage of citations (p. 14)."
From the present point of view, a problem exists in that most texts in the behavioral sciences consist of partitionings that are residuals from various systems of antiquated philosophy. The texts that are most interesting today are texts that attempt to re-work the categories which we have inherited from the past. Our problem is to recognize such work, which is some sense requires a "suspension" of our usual ways of reading.

Outrageous Models: Read across a range of disciplines. One never knows where new models and approaches might be found. Different perspectives and methodologies arise in response to different subject matter and problems. There is a chance that we can come to see the problems in our own domain in a fresh light.

Masters: One should seek out the inventors and the masters. Until one does, one will not be able to recognize the water that one is swimming in, the wood for the trees. A master is one who can construct accounts that communicate. Freud was a master. Piaget was not.

One can learn more about human behavior by reading a few of the best than by religiously following the journals that come out with increasing frequency. The most valuable writers are not necessarily those most popular today. Reading a "classic" will often get you farther than reading the most recent articles.

If you want to pass judgment on someone like Freud, read him. And if a critic whom you quote hasn't extensively read Freud, then don't believe him. In this particular case, one cannot hardly even trust the critics who worked directly with him. They are suspect of trying to overthrow the father. A further point -- keep an eye out for those who elicit strong attacks - anyone who generates such polemics around their perspective just might be onto something.

Freud's Group Psychology and Analysis of the Ego. Freud was engaged in an activity of repartitioning the categories of individual and social ("...and so from the very first individual at the same time social psychology as well.")So given Freud's own statement here, how can one come up with a reading of Freud as being exclusively concerned with the "individual mind?"

How to Read: Here's an example from poetry. Ezra Pound's How to Read has some fine points to make about methodology. It is based on using the "comparative" method, so basic to science as well as literature. In order to "see" we have to observe contrasting situations, perspectives, i.e. systems of partitionings.

What to Read & Some Orientation on Doing the Reading

Complete references are on the master reference page.

Philosophy of Science

Let's say we can identify four or five major stages in the development of the philosophy of science.

The first started with Francis Bacon and ended the line with the logical positivists. Empiricism. Then comes Popper, Kuhn, Bohm and Feyerabend. Prior to Popper however, we would have to include Dewey.

It is not possible to give an adequate account of all their contributions here. But the "roadmarks", the partitions to look for.

John Dewey: America's greatest philosopher, and practically ignored by psychology. He is obviously studied in the field of education. His approach is programmatic, don't get hung up in logical arguments about the meaning of "knowledge" (like Bertrand Russell). Dewey was working to bring philosophy and psychology "up-to-date" in a world that has been shaped by the rise of science. A master re-partitioner. Changes the way we view philosophical systems of the past.

The Quest for Certainty
Reconstruction in Philosophy
Logic: The Theory of Inquiry. Don't expect a typical book on logic. Here you won't find syllogisms nor symbols. You will find that the first chapter deals with the proper subject matter of logic (a method of inquiry), the second and third with biological and cultural foundations of logic, respectively. It deals with methodology in science.

Dewey was very much aware of the epistemological status of logic. Logic is an instrument of inquiry --- not related to ontological laws of thought.
Understanding science requires understanding actual, situated praxis.

Karl Popper: the notion that theories can never be proven true, in an idealistic sensce, but that they can only be falsified.

Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions immortalized the word "paradigm" and anyone with pretensions has used the term to apply to their own perspective. Those who don't use it are dreaming about it, nonetheless. After all, who doesn't want to be in the company of Newton or Einstein? So many new paradigms have been proposed for the social sciences in recent years that the term has lost its meaning.

Read it. Consider that Kuhn is proposing that science be viewed as a developmental, life phenomena, and he proposed a type of developmental sequence in science. Science is no longer viewed as a "mental" activity. He proposes that in order to understand science we need to put it in historical, evolutionary perspective. This represents a change from previous philosophy of science, most of which traditionally focussed on logical criteria for defining what scientists must do (and hence of course ignored by most scientists). The philosophy of science therefore for Kuhn (or us, at least) becomes a branch of the life sciences. A "paradigm" involves a way of life, actual human activity, a situated activity. Going through graduate training is an education in established ways of seeing. It involves practices. Einstein was able to create a new paradigm in physics in large part because he was not initiated into grad school. He was sitting in the patent office away from establishment influence.

My own feeling is that the work to be done in creating a new paradigm in the human sciences will not be accomplished by one person, the task is too great. It will require the group.

How to recognize a candidate paradigm? A new paradigm involves a repartitioning of the categories commonly used to make our way in the world. For this reason it will often be missed by those who do not do the work of really understanding what they read. As a result of this repartitioning, "facts" change and take on a new significance.

One has to have a nose for seeing that something is completely different.

A guide for the reading of Kuhn:
He is viewing science as a situated activity, not a product, not an autonomous activity.
He is viewing science from a developmental, life-sciences perspective.
A "paradigm" refers to situated praxis - it involves ways of working and of being in the world.
As a historical, evolutionary activity, science is not going to achieve ultimate truth. Science is a continual process in which new, unpredicatble, problematic situations arise out of solving previous ones. This continually demands new instrumentation. We could never imagine a situation in which there were no problematic issues to address.
These points are more important, I think, than whether his is an accurate characterization of the development of science, or of whether his concepts of "paradigm", "normal science", and "revolutionary science" are useful. For an excellent discussion of these terms, especially that of "paradigm", read Sigmund Kochs "The Age of the 'Paradigm'" in Psychology in Human Context.

Is psychology a "science" in Kuhn's sense? Does it have a "paradigm?" Perhaps yes. We would say that perhaps the dominant paradigm is characterized by the partitions of body and mind and inner and outer causes. David Bohm:Read Causality and Chance in Modern Physics. I haven't seen too many references to this excellent early work, but those interested in epistemological issues from the point of view a practicing scientist/philosopher would be well advised to read it. I can't say much about where he went later - haven't followed the texts.

Paul Feyerabend: His classic Against Methodology. Anything goes in science.

Others of considerable note;

Stephen Toulmin:Read An Introduction to the Philosphy of Science. Great development of the notion that theories function as heuristic maps of a scientific domain. Note: do not cognitivize the notion of a map. It is not the same as a "schema".

R. Norwood Hanson:

Biological and Ethological Sciences

Biological Systems Theory

Information Theory

Language and Sociolinguistics

Evolutionary Theory

Freud and Others


Developmental Psychology:

Literary Theory:


"I want to wage no war agains the ugly. I do not want to accuse, I do not want even to accuse the accusers. May looking away be my only form of negation! And, all in all: I want to be at all times hereafter only an affirmer (ein Ja-sagender)!
Nietzsche, The Gay Science
"Anything goes!"
Paul Feyerabend, Against Method

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E-Mail: Laurence E. Heglar, PhD