- Series: The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures (Book 3)
- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; Revised ed. edition (1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674003616
- ISBN-13: 978-0674003613
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #497,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Acts of Meaning: Four Lectures on Mind and Culture (The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures) Revised ed. Edition
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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)
From the Back Cover
Jerome Bruner argues that the cognitive revolution, with its current fixation on mind as 'information processor, ' has led psychology away from the deeper objective of understanding mind as a creator of meanings.
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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.
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. Studies in the last decade show that very early on, babies instinctively try to pick up and hand back something an experimenter drops, implying that some basic 'theory of mind' is already present shortly after birth.) But Bruner's big emphasis is the cultural influences on how we think about what others do.
Entry Into Meaning, third essay, is an expansion upon the second. Just as we learn our folk psychology partly from cultural surroundings, so do we learn how to narrate and think about what happens to us. We, as humans, not only think about what happens to us (or others) but why, and the attempts to make sense of those things (via some sort of implicit or explicit story) depends on what we learn about the world (and culture) we live in. What needs explaining? Well, says Bruner, usually, we usually devote our energies to explaining the unexpected - stuff that deviates from the norm. (He goes through some qualitative evidence that children pay most attention in speech to the unusual.) But that is entirely dependent on what the norm is, and that is generally a culturally-learned thing.
The last essay is perhaps the weakest - Autobiography and Self. I've read a lot about the narrative theory of identity, and that is what Bruner is talking about here. We are, in many ways, who we say we are. Moreover, Bruner suggests that our identity is relational; it is not just who I think I am, but who I think I am in relation to others. Again, Bruner recounts some experimental data (some of his own) suggesting that parts of our identity and our characteristics often change, at least slightly, depending on who we are with. (A confident person in one setting may become less confident in another. One is not just shy, but is shy in some settings and less shy in others.)
One small criticism is that in this book, Bruner seems to have a hammer that tends to make him see a lot of nails. In the last essay, for instance, he really overplays the degree to which what we tell others we are shapes who we are. To my mind, it seems that the opposite may be equally true: who we think of ourselves as being dictates what we tell others we are. And while a lot of our learning is 'culturally mediated,' Bruner takes this as evidence to suspect Noam Chomsky's idea of a universal grammar (which I honestly think Bruner misunderstands or exaggerates).
But those are small potatoes. I really like Bruner's work. He is our generation's John Dewey, for sure. And this work gets to the heart of some of Bruner's work in the 'interpretive turn.'
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.