Emergent Dynamic Structures in Everyday Life: Contexts for Situated Action

Colloquium | September 16 | 4-5:30 p.m. | Berkeley Way West, Room 1102, Berkeley Way West (2121 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94720)

 Harry Heft, Denison University

 Graduate School of Education

From the perspective of ecological psychology, perception–action processes are coupled to relational environmental structures at the level of affordances and dialogical exchanges. Less often realized is that they are also embedded within identifiable higher-order, dynamic, eco-psychological structures that emerge from joint action among individuals 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 1950s. More specifically, owing to shared intersubjective intentions among individuals as participants 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 are among the valued eco-psychological resources in the life of a community. Within the standard educational sphere, they include classrooms, school assemblies, musical performances and practice, and sports events. 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 as well as to help sustain them.

About the Speaker. Harry Heft Is Professor Emeritus at Denison University, a liberal arts college in Ohio. He is a Fellow in the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science, held the Henry Chisholm Chair in the Natural Sciences at Denison, and was recipient of the Charles Brickman Award for Teaching Excellence. He is author of the book Ecological psychology in context: James Gibson, Roger Barker, and the legacy of William James’s radical empiricism (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001). Last month he delivered the APA Russell Lecture (Div. 24), “Visual perception considered through the lens of art history: The retinal image as artifact and its vicissitudes.” He has served as the Associate Editor of the journals Ecological Psychology and the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

Recent publications include “Revisiting the discovery of the occluding edge and its implications for perception 40 years on” (in J. Wagman & J. Blau, eds.); Perception as Information Detection: Reflections on Gibson’s Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (2019); Places: Widening the scope of an ecological approach to perception—action with an emphasis on child development (Ecological Psychology, 2018); “William James’ psychology, radical empiricism, and field theory: Recent developments” (Philosophical Inquiries, 2017); and “Perceptual information of ‘an entirely different order’: The ‘cultural environment’ in The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems” (Ecological Psychology, 2017).