Behavior, Action, Pattern and Structure

©2006 Edward G. Rozycki, Ed. D.

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edited 8/17/11

A. The purpose of this exercise is to help the student get beyond immediate perceptions and habitual interpretations and understand both new patterns of human interaction and the structures that support them.

B. We will make the following distinctions:

by behavior, we mean an "uninterpreted" or "minimally interpreted" camera-eye or recording device description of events. What we are aiming at here is what people from different cultures, with different values would agree was happening; (in common parlance behavior is not clearly distinguished from action, indeed, the distinction between behavior and action is a particularly modern one: ancient peoples interpret all behavior, even that of physical objects, as intentional , i.e. action.)

by action, we mean an interpretation of events in terms of human (or other intelligent beings') intents and purposes. This may not be something which people from different backgrounds can agree on (Consider John's arm went up vs. John raised his arm: we don't know if the former was intentional);

by pattern we mean to look at repetitions and relationships over time and through space of human action, or behavior and the contexts in which they occur. These are often described as correlations among variables; and, as traits to indicate special interest by persons studying or dealing with them in special contexts, e.g. psychology, anthropology, animal husbandry, etc.

by structure we mean to focus on relatively stable configurations of both physical and social situations that may give rise to or help explain the patterns of action and behavior we perceive. Social institutions, games, and political movements are examples of structural explanation.

C. Examples of the distinctions: a man throws a ball - -- behavior

a man plays baseball -- action

a pitcher pitches to a batter -- pattern

a game of baseball -- structure

(consider what differences in our characterizations of action and pattern there might be for example C., if we understood the structure to be rehearsing a play.)

D. More examples of the distinctions: a boy holds a book in front of his face --- behavior

a boy reads a book -- action

a boy studies from his text -- pattern

a student does schoolwork -- structure

E. Structures provide a deep level explanation for the patterns, actions and behavior we observe. (Cause-Effect is a common structure postulated to exist between variables. Causal Loops are another. See "Varieties of Explanation and Cause.") But observed actions and behavior may provide evidence for or against hypothesized patterns or structures. In the following four examples, what structure might explain the observed behavior:

a. Harry prepares food that he never eats.

b. Sally hands Jane some kind of paper. Jane gives Sally a doll.

c. Leon raises his hand before he talks.

d. Maria sits in front of the TV.

e. Lila comes to school without books or pencils.

F. For the following five examples, indicate what behavior would count as evidence against the structure hypothesized to explain the events mentioned:

f. Sally is crying because she got to the lunchroom late.

g. Carole is cheating on the test.

h. Sara is teaching Carlos mathematics.

i. People with advanced schooling make higher salaries.

j. Poverty causes delinquency in teenagers.

AN IMPORTANT CAUTION*:

Academic disciplines vary as to what level of analysis is appropriate to their enterprise as well as what counts as evidence for any level. Also, different traditions within an academic discipline will emphasize different levels. The chart below, although simplistic, shows some important variations. (X) indicates a de-emphasized mode of analysis.

Level of Analysis

Discipline

Behavior
Action
Pattern
Structure
Behaviorist Psychology
X
X
X
Cognitivist Psychology
(X)
X
X
X
Sociology
(X)
X
X
X
History
(X)
X
X
(X)
Organization Theory
(X)
X
X
X
Physics
X
X
X
English Literature
X
X
X
Anthropology
(X)
X
X
X
Philosophy
(X)
X
X
X

*See Tony Becher (1989) Academic Tribes and Territories. Open University Press.

 

 

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