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. …