Editorial: Technical Language in Cultural Analysis

By Mattaini, Mark A. | Behavior and Social Issues, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Editorial: Technical Language in Cultural Analysis


Mattaini, Mark A., Behavior and Social Issues


All sciences require common language to advance. One reason behavior analysis has been so successful scientifically (though its success culturally may be questioned) is because of the precision of behavior analytic language. One of our core journals, The Behavior Analyst, irregularly features a section "On Terms," and lack of precision or confusion in discussions of behavior analysis are assertively addressed-sometimes to the point of pedantry. As a result, behavior analysts share common understandings and definitions of such terms as reinforcement, discriminative stimulus, and tacting. One of the major advantages of behavior analytic conferences is the opportunity for the field collectively to construct, refine, and clarify the terminology by which our science is communicated. As that language evolves (consider, for example, the importance in recent years of terminology related to motivative/establishing operations and equivalence relations), behavior analysts attend carefully to the changes.

As the field moves toward developing a rigorous science of cultural analysis (see Behavior and Social Issues, Volume 15, No. 1), similar precision is clearly required. Certainly in its earliest days, it appeared that common language was emerging. B. F. Skinner defined culture as "the contingencies of social reinforcement maintained by a group" (1984/1987), and suggested that what was selected in cultural selection was "practices-better ways of hunting, gathering, growing, making tools, and so on" (1988, p. 36). While not quite providing a definition, Glenn (1991) attempted to further specify what cultural practices were, indicating that they "involve repetition of analogous operant behavior across individuals of a single generation and across generations of individuals" (p. 60). Things were not quite this simple, however; on the same page noted above and elsewhere, Skinner discussed cultures themselves as being selected. At the least, this suggested four, rather than three levels of selection (natural selection, operant selection, selection of cultural practices, and selection of cultures), which may prove to be the best way to approach the issue. Much of the early writing on cultural analysis also drew on Marvin Harris' cultural materialism in anthropology (1979); although some of Harris's constructs and terms were difficult (the permadonic system comes to mind), they were clearly defined and relatively precise.

So far, so good, in moving toward a science. Glenn and others, drawing as I see it on Skinner's work on verbal behavior, clarified the importance of interlocking behavioral contingencies (IBCs) within cultures. In IBCs, the behavior of one class of cultural actors was contingently related to the behavior of other classes of actors-and cultures typically involve many such contingent relationships (Mattaini, 1996). Up to this point, there is little if any disagreement in our literature.

Every behavior analyst knows what a behavioral contingency is; in the words of Sulzer-Azaroff & Meyer, "Contingencies are relations between responses and the events that follow them-their consequences-and the events that precede or accompany them-their antecedents" (1991, p. 98, emphasis in original). The simplest behavioral contingency, the 2-term contingency, is the relation between a behavior and its consequence. It may seem apparent that there cannot be a 1-term contingency since a contingency is a relation (which implies an X and a Y that are related)... but wait.

The next level of complexity that is commonly discussed in cultural analytic literature is the macrocontingency-and here the trouble begins. Ulman first defined the macrocontingency in 1978 as "a set of differing actions (topographies) of different individuals under common postcedent control" (Ulman, 1998, p. 209). (Loosely, "postcedent" is a term used by behaviorologists to communicate what other behavior analysts communicate using the term "consequences. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Editorial: Technical Language in Cultural Analysis
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.