Acts of Meaning: Four Lectures on Mind and Culture (The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures) Reprint Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0674003613
ISBN-10: 0674003616
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Editorial Reviews

Review

The failure of the cognitive revolution to unravel the mysteries of the workings of the human mind as the creator of meanings is the starting point for Jerome Bruner’s Acts of Meaning. He argues that psychology should return to human concerns, especially the role of culture in shaping our thoughts and the language we use to express them… [He] seems to have read and assimilated everyone else’s ideas on the topics he discusses. He can—and does—allude to them in context, so that we are constantly rubbing elbows with the giants on whose shoulders he stands. Erudite and recondite, the text glistens with Bruner’s bold style. (Dava Sobel New York Times Book Review)

Bruner again demonstrates his impressive range of interest as he proposes nothing less than to set the essential agenda for psychology today… Bruner aims his manifesto not at the behaviorists—he considers that struggle long since won—but at those members of his own cognitive party who have sold their souls to the computer… [He] describes how psychology can rededicate itself to the study of meaning and its formation. Having spent an illustrious career ascending the mountain, he now takes an elder statesman’s panoramic view… Those interested in the current debates in psychology will find [this] book provocative and stimulating. (Paul Buttenwieser Washington Times)

An engaging, provocative, and knowing book. (William Kessen Contemporary Psychology)

Acts of Meaning, written by one of the most distinguished thinkers in human development, is an insightful summary of the past trends in the field, and is, perhaps, a prophetic glimpse into the future. Bruner’s breadth of knowledge makes for thought-provoking and enjoyable reading for anyone interested in human culture. (Harvard Educational Review)

[An] extended, contemplative essay on the role played by narrative in the construal of meaning. In [this] work, Bruner elaborates on the failure of cognitive science in abandoning ‘meaning-making’ for ‘information processing,’ and its attendant concentration on computational logic… Bruner, as one of the most influential psychologists of this century, makes an important statement well worth reading. (Choice)

About the Author

Jerome Bruner is University Professor at New York University and the author of many books, including Acts of Meaning; On Knowing; The Process of Education; and Toward a Theory of Instruction (all published by Harvard).
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Product Details

  • Series: The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures (Book 3)
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674003616
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674003613
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Vincent Hevern on October 19, 1999
Someday, I suspect, ACTS OF MEANING will be regarded as one of the more important psychology texts at the end of the 20th century. In it, Jerome Bruner, a founder of the "Cognitive Revolution" and witness to psychology for more than 60 years, surveys what went wrong with the revolution he helped start and where psychology ought to be in the generation ahead.
The error, he argues, came when psychology adopted the metaphor of the computer as an information processing device to describe the mind. In doing so, psychology severed itself from ordinary human experience and its own 19th century roots. He proposes that humans are concerned centrally with questions of "meaning" and that the computer metaphor will never allow psychology to answer meaning questions with any conviction. Rather, a narrative metaphor -- of humans as storytellers -- is essential to reach the level of meaning. He further details the deficits of a decontextualized psychology which fails to take culture seriously.
Bruner's language and style are both rich and deceptively straightforward. There is a magisterial sense that he has seen psychology in all its variations and has a vision of how it can fashion an integration which does justice to that variety. His chapter notes contain a particularly wonderful set of references should a reader wish to pursue his ideas more fully. Be prepared: this is terrific stuff.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Mark Valentine on May 19, 2000
The juggernaut of Cognitive Psychology has created enough havoc, decries Bruner, and it is now time to re-structure the revolution back to its original goals: "meaning-making." The computer model of intelligence advocated by behavioralists has reduced human intelligence to a mere system of processing information, and rarely is there any allowance in this empiricism for an individual's construction of meaning.
Further, Bruner stresses the influence of culture on the individual, stating, "human beings do not terminate at their own skins; they are expressions of their culture." There is a constant dialogue between the individual and culture, with the individual searching and constructing meaning, and hence, building culture.
One way in which we find meaning is in the construction and interpretation of narratives. Bruner demonstrates that narratives are a construct of meaning and should be respected. He writes, "culture and the quest for meaning within culture are the proper causes of human meaning."
Yes, buy and read this book, often; Bruner communicates stimulating ideas that have helped me in constructing my own meanings. I endorse it enthusiastically.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David Beswick on May 30, 2007
This is an outstanding and important work although some years have passed now since its publication and Bruner has written two other books further setting out his narrative understanding of identity and meaning - amazing, given his age. He was one of the originators of the "cognitive revolution" beginning in the late 1950s and this is a mature work of one of its most creative thinkers, brilliantly presented. His reflections on the early days of the so called cognitive revolution are most interesting although I think perhaps now seen with greater clarity than was then apparant, and the points at which he believes it has since lost some of its original purpose are important considerations for all in this field. My memory of him as a teacher in graduate work at Harvard has him although already well established in cognitive studies then more like a representative the Tolman tradition (vs. the Hullians, then represented in the same seminars by George Mandler who was in the process of moving over to the cognitive camp but not yet there). We have travelled a long way since then, and the position he took in this work in 1990 is more relevant than ever today.
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For sure, Jerome Bruner is an interesting guy (well, if you are interested in cognitive science). He has the unique perspective of having been at the forefront of both the information processing revolution and the constructivst (some might say postmodernist) backlash it inspired. This book collects four essays together that move quite well sequentially. Basically, the theme is that cognitive science - in its information processing zeal - has overlooked the significance of how humans make meaning of cultural symbols and how this meaning-making seems to resist being explainable in IP terms.

The first essay, The Proper Study of Mankind, is somewhat of an 'intellectual history' account of the development of cognitive science and its information processing roots, as well as a commentary on where Bruner believes it went wrong. Bruner believes that IP has become quite similar to behaviorism in reducing everything to a kind of input and output that leaves no real room for talk of how humans make meaning of things. If I may be so bold, for Bruner, IP has become a study of semantics without semiotics or pragmatics.

The second essay, Folk Psychology as an Instrument of Culture, is a discussion of what we are learning (at least as Bruner was writing) about how humans come to understand other minds and how they work; we erect a 'folk psychology' that owes at least partially to cultural learning. We learn how others think and act, in part, based on how we hear others talk about how others think and act. (Some of this is showing to be innate, too, and Bruner doesn't discount that.
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Acts of Meaning: Four Lectures on Mind and Culture (The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures)
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