Places as Emergent Dynamic Structures in Everyday Life
Nov. 8, 2018, 3 p.m. UTC // Nov. 8, 2018, 10 a.m. in America/New_York
Even as perception–action processes are coupled to relational environmental structure at the levels of affordances and dialogical exchanges, they are also embedded, especially in human societies, within identifiable higher-order, dynamic, eco-psychological structures that emerge from joint action in the course of daily life. These dynamic, self-organizing structures stem from collective, normatively-constrained actions across individuals and carried out with the support of affordances. Such emergent dynamic structures (behavior settings) were first discovered through the extensive naturalistic, observational research of Roger Barker and colleagues in the 1950’s. More specifically, owing to shared intersubjective intentions of individuals as committed participants (constituents) in some joint action, the degrees of freedom of their individual actions are normatively constrained; and in the process, these constrained actions taken collectively and reciprocally give rise to the very higher-order eco-behavioral dynamic structures to which individual intentions are aligned and with reference to which they are constrained. As a result, places as behavior settings that afford particular socio-cultural possibilities for human daily life come into existence and are sustained over some duration. These places that emerge out of collective action and affordances are among the valued eco-psychological resources in the life of a community. They include classrooms, commercial stores, museums and galleries, music and theatre performances, lectures, libraries, administrative offices, sporting events, and worship services, to name just a few. Owing to the emergence of diverse behavior settings in the course of community life, the possible dimensions of human experience and development are far wider than are those for other organisms, as far as we know. If children are to function adaptively as social beings in the community where they develop and live day to day, they must (a) learn to identify through processes of perceptual learning those patterns of collective action that signify the particular behavior setting types in their community, and (b) learn how to function as participants in those various dynamic, self-regulating, higher-order structures to gain access to what they afford and to help sustain them. In spite of the novelty of behavior settings among humans as compared to other forms of animate life, the character of places as behavior settings is continuous with the basic tenets of ecological psychology, including environment-organism reciprocity.