Gathering essays from a group of cultural and literary scholars, sociologists, and philosophers, Addressing Modernity reassesses the claims of American exceptionalism by setting them in the context of Luhmann’s conception of modernity, and explores how social systems theory can generate new perspectives on what has often been described as the first thoroughly modern nation. As a study of American society and culture from a Luhmannian vantage point, the book is of interest to scholars from both American Studies and social systems theory in general.
I claim that concepts such as competition, evolution of the fittest and regulation through hierarchical constructs are all attributions we make to nature based on our culture. I think these concepts, and others of like ilk, are the results of a particular manner of emotioning, sensing and acting that is now common to most of our modern cultures. Once attributed to nature, we use these concepts as grounding premises, or as justification, to continue the manner of emotioning, sensing and acting which gave rise to them. I see this as a disquieting circularity, a blindness, that results in a way of being that we do not want, but feel compelled to. However, since we have the ability to reflect on our beliefs and to consider whether we want the consequences of maintaining them, I also see the possibility of living in a manner that we find more ethical and more pleasurable.
Excerpt: The concept of constraints enabling action is not at all new. Games have rules that enable the play. Focus on any one thing enables effective action through excluding what we might consider distractions or irrelevancies. Creating a computer simulation model enabled us to consider the implications of some relations by explicitly choosing them and not others. However, on thinking about uceps as enabling constraints I came to see them as a way of pointing at something fundamental to us as biological beings living in language and embedded in a culture. I wish to address the idea of constraints that serve as possibilities in this paper. I will discuss how cognition, language, and culture all serve as constraints that enable action in given contexts, while at the same time obscuring other possibilities that we could be dancing with.
Buddhism originated and developed in an Indian cultural context that featured many first-person practices for producing and exploring states of consciousness through the systematic training of attention. In contrast, the dominant methods of investigating the mind in Western cognitive science have emphasized third-person observation of the brain and behavior. In this chapter, we explore how these two different projects might prove mutually beneficial. We lay the groundwork for a cross-cultural cognitive science by using one traditional Buddhist model of the mind – that of the five aggregates – as a lens for examining contemporary cognitive science conceptions of consciousness.
Heroic images are presented here as constructed possible selves which may play an important role in self development. A questionnaire was given to 510 Irish and 190 U.S. third and fourth grade children in a study designed to investigate (1) their conceptions of the heroic and (2) the effects of a classroom intervention on the Irish children’s choices of heroes and heroines. The educational program was constructivist and designed to challenge children to reconsider their ideas about heroic figures and to engage in discussion designed to promote prosocial attitudes in concrete ways. While national origin and gender strongly influenced children’s heroic images, there were strong factor structure similarities in U.S. and Irish samples. “The good” was the first factor, the fifth an antiheroic factor, and the others reflected figures from film, television and sport. In addition, gender differences in the choice of proximal and distal heroic figures were identified. Prosocial effects due to the intervention program were encouraging and discussed within the context of Irish educational objectives. Relevance: Heroes play an important role in identity. This study shows both national differences between Irish and US primary/elementary age children, and also shows how a classroom intervention can influence heroic figures chosen.
Children’s self concepts are important constructions of their experience in childhood. Following Ernst von Glasersfeld’s approach, self concepts are personal organisations of self-other experiences. Heroes as admired figures have a role in self-concepts and play collectivist or individualist roles in the child’s imagination and self-development. Further, they reflect what the child has chosen as important. Representations of heroic figures in questionnaires given to French (n = 241) and Spanish (n = 227) samples of 10 and 15-year-olds were examined to assess the extent that heroes originated in digital media, and whether they were proximal or distal personalities. There is strong evidence that heroes in this sample were largely learned about in digital media (France 45%, Spain 50%): family and community heroes were a minority (France11%, Spain 9%). Male heroes were more important to Spanish participants compared to their French peers. The acquisition sequence for hero type reported in the pre-television era, proximal (family and community) to distal (beyond the neighbourhood), is reversed in this study. Generally, 10-year-olds preferred heroes with collectivist qualities and 15 year olds with individualised qualities. Findings are discussed in terms of the emergence of social capital. Relevance: This survey shows cultural differences in the choices of Spanish and French 10 and 15 year olds.
In this chapter, we will present various research projects dealing with children’s perceptions of other cultures, the word “culture” referring primarily in this instance to other national or ethnic entities. The issue of perceptions of other cultures is important in that it is linked with children’s constructions of their identity and may eventually determine their attitudes and behaviour to many others. Children construct social images of the groups they belong to and of other groups at an early stage of their socialisation. These early representations are acquired without them being aware of the processes at work. This is why representations often resist modification. This issue is difficult to deal with in schools and the tendency is for teachers to keep away from it. Outlining the nature, characteristics and role of social perceptions and representations of otherness in cross-cultural communication is a first step towards a fuller understanding of this area. We agree, however, with Goldstone who warns that researchers who identify difference merely reify it. We suggest strategies in line with the constructivist philosophy of the Primary Curriculum to promote pluralism. Relevance: This chapter is about identity construction in different cultures. It provides evidence of the variations in such constructions depending on the cultural context.
The blogosphere supports an interpersonal meaning production process by providing the space and opportunities for communication through the circulation and discussion of topics. I explore how garden bloggers issue invitations to communicate by studying their selection process from all possible entries and images. I examine the selection criteria for posting an entry and especially look at Swedish and German garden blogs to study “ordinary” people’s relations in the blogosphere from the perspective of sharing opinions, impressions, and emotions about their garden environment. As a result, the selection criteria of novelty, values, identification, conflicts, visuality, and sociality are revealed. A communicative culture of approval, admiration, and respect, which promotes emotional ties and strengthens the feeling of common concerns in the blogosphere, is noticeably present. Relevance: This article draws on systems theory as developed by Niklas Luhmann.
The goal of this article is to explore the website communication of urban activist gardeners by focusing on the concept of ritual as a heuristic category. In contrast to the majority of those doing research on ritual, I use a systems-theoretical approach in applying the concept of ritual to communication processes. I explore the role played by ritual in communication in order to answer questions such as, “What is specifically unique about the ritual mode of communicating?” and, following from this, “What function do these rituals serve in communication?” My subject, urban garden activism, is thus addressed from the perspective of media- and communication research. First, I briefly describe urban activist gardening and how communication is usually structured on their websites. Second, I present an outline of some theories and concepts of communication and ritual within media studies, and give a brief account of the systems-theoretical approach that I use. Third, I define some areas of ritual – that is, ritualized patterns of communication found in the urban activist gardeners’ empirical material – so as to provide answers regarding the means and function of ritual in communication. Relevance: The role of ritual is explored from Luhmann’s systems-theoretical approach.
Excerpt: My focus is this essay will be somewhat different than in How We Became Posthuman. Whereas there I emphasized connecting embodiment with information, here I will be concerned with the role of metaphor and constraint in re-envisioning agency within posthuman contexts. If the posthuman implies distributed cognition, then it must imply distributed agency as well, for multiplying the sites at which cognizing can take place also multiplies the entities who can count as agents. I will take as my tutor texts Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene and Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Enacting the posthuman primarily through speech acts, these two texts mirror each other. One is a work of popular science that occasionally looks as if it is trying to do philosophy, the other a work of philosophy that occasionally looks as if it is trying to do popular science. Both propose radical reconfigurations of agency, Dawkins through the selfish gene and Deleuze and Guattari through “desiring machines” that engage in a ceaseless play of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. What can their mobilizations of metaphor tell us about the cultural significance of the posthuman, and what does their use or neglect of constraints imply about the viability of their respective projects? What is at stake in redefining agency, and how do these redefinitions of agency fit together with distributed cognition? Perhaps most significantly, what do these projects imply about our ability to exercise agency? Should we count as conscious human subjects capable of meaningful action, or are we rather assemblages of selfish genes and mutating desiring machines?