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What Jerome Bruner (1915 -) calls "folk psychology" is deeply functional cultural beliefs on this and that, life included. At times presented in tiny capsules, they can be used fairly and otherwise by anyone, and also discussed to some degree by intellectuals so bent.

If relations are strained or get violated, a need to understand what is going on comes to the fore, and the need to portray oneself and one's in group(s) in a good light. Bruner goes into that in his Acts of Meaning of 1990. Bare page references below, are to it.

He says in the book that he does not think psychology is permanently condemned, but it could be less dear to the hearts that most other cultural sides of life, who also include proverbs and memorable sayings to make life easier or perhaps somewhat more understandable too. Minds are shaped in history or by culture, and we humans should proceed, he holds. (p. x, xiii)

Ideas from the Culturally Oriented Psychology

A. Constructing Cultural Conclusions within the Confines of Psychology

A culture must contain a set of norms, it must also contain a set of interpretive procedures for rendering departures from those norms meaningful . . . It is narrative and narrative interpretation upon which folk psychology depends for achieving this kind of meaning. Stories achieve their meanings by explicating deviations from the ordinary in a comprehensible form. - Jerome Bruner p. 47

A domain under the control of our own intentional states: a domain where Self as agent operates with world knowledge and with desires that are expressed in a manner congruent with context and belief. The third class of events is produced "from outside" in a manner not under our own control. It is the domain of "nature." In the first domain we are in some manner "responsible" for the course of events; in the third not . . . [A] second class of events . . . comprising some indeterminate mix of the first and third . . . requires a more elaborate form of interpretation in order to allocate proper causal shares to individual agency and to "nature." . . . the second is ordinarily seen to be governed either by some form of magic or . . . by the scientism . . - Jerome Bruner p. 40-41

A study by Peggy Miller concerns the narrative environments of young children in blue-collar Baltimore. In that intimate environment, the flow of stories recreating everyday experiences is, to paraphrase Miller, "relentless." in every hour of recorded conversation there are 8.5 narratives, one every seven minutes. They are simple narratives of a kind widely in everyday use in American talk. A very considerable number deal with violence, aggression, or threats, and a not inconsiderable number deal explicitly with death, with child abuse, with wife-beatings, and even with shootings. This lack of censorship, this parading of the "harsh realities". The stories, moreover, almost always portray the narrator in a good light. [There is a need for that. - TK]- Jerome Bruner p. 83, abr

Autobiography . . . the act of constructing a longitudinal version of Self." - Jerome Bruner p. 120

Communal ways of life are [not] easily changed. - Jerome Bruner p. 24

Cultural commitment is a belief, an "ontology" that a certain mode of life merits or deserves support. Those committed to such a mode will be suffering to do so if necessary. - With Jerome Bruner p. 22

Cultural contexts . . . are always contexts of practice: it is always necessary to ask what people are doing or trying to do in that context. - Jerome Bruner p. 118

Interpretation and meaning central to a cultural psychology—or to any psychology or mental science, for that matter. - Jerome Bruner p. 19

It is through folk psychology that people anticipate and judge one another, draw conclusions about the worthwhileness of their lives. - Jerome Bruner p. 14

[The American anthropologist] Margaret Mead [(1901-78) raised] such questions as why life stages such as adolescence were so differently defined among the Samoans. - Jerome Bruner p. 36

Narrative . . . also requires a sensitivity to what is canonical and what violates canonicality in human interaction. - Jerome Bruner p. 77

Narrative requires something approximating a narrator's perspective: it cannot, in the jargon of narratology, be "voiceless." - Jerome Bruner p. 77

Narrative . . . mediates between the canonical world of culture and the more idiosyncratic world of beliefs, desires, and hopes. It renders the exceptional comprehensible and keeps the uncanny at bay—save as the uncanny is needed as a trope. It reiterates the norms of the society without being didactic. And . . . it provides a basis for rhetoric without confrontation. It can even teach, conserve memory, or alter the past. - Jerome Bruner p. 52

Organizing experience, what functions it may serve. - Jerome Bruner p. 43

Pain (as in torture) obliterates our connection with the personal-cultural world - narrows human consciousness to the point where man literally becomes a beast. - Jerome Bruner p. 22, abr

People and their actions dominate the child's interest and attention. - Jerome Bruner p. 78

The invasive bureaucratization of life in our times, with its resultant erosion of selfhood and compassion - Jerome Bruner p. 23

The meaning of talk is powerfully determined by the train of action in which it occurs. - Jerome Bruner p. 18

The nine-month-old looks out along the trajectory of an adult's "point" and, finding nothing there, turns back to check not only the adult's direction of point but the line of visual regard as well. And from this folk-psychological antecedent there eventually emerge such linguistic accomplishments as demonstratives, labeling, and the like. Once the child masters through interaction the appropriate prelinguistic forms for managing ostensive reference, he or she can move beyond them to operate, as it were, within the confines of language proper. - Jerome Bruner p. 75

There has been a lively debate in the burgeoning literature on "developing theories of mind" as to whether children have such theories before the age of four. - Jerome Bruner p. 74

For [Donald] Spence, then, the ego (or Self) is cast in the role of a storyteller, a constructor of narratives about a life. - Jerome Bruner p. 111

How does the child "grasp the significance" of situations (or contexts) in a way that can help him or her master the lexicon and grammar that fits those situations? - Jerome Bruner p. 71

Information processing needs advance planning and precise rules. - Jerome Bruner p. 5

The acquisition of a first language is very context-sensitive. - Jerome Bruner p. 71

There is . . . a constraining biological limit on immediate memory—George Miller's famous "seven plus or minus two." But we have constructed symbolic devices for exceeding this limit: coding systems like octal digits, mnemonic devices, language tricks. Recall that Miller's main point in that landmark paper was that by conversion of input through such coding systems we, as enculturated human beings, are enabled to cope with seven chunks of information rather than with seven bits. Our knowledge, then, becomes enculturated knowledge . . . [and] we have broken through the original bounds set by the so-called biology of memory. Biology constrains, but not forevermore. - Jerome Bruner p. 21

Narrative is not just plot structure or dramatism. Nor is it just "historicity" or diachronicity. It is also a way of using language. To a striking degree, it relies upon the power of tropes—upon metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, implicature, and the rest to explore the full range of connections between the exceptional and the ordinary. Indeed, Ricocur even speaks of mimesis as a "metaphor of reality." - Jerome Bruner p. 59-60, abr

Roger Lewin, reviewing the primate literature of the last decades, concludes that it is probably sensitivity to the requirements of living in groups that provides the criterion for evolutionary selection in high primates.- Jerome Bruner p. 73

If the cognitive revolution erupted in 1956, the contextual revolution (at least in psychology) is occurring today. - Jerome Bruner p. 105-6

The biological substrate, the so-called universals of human nature, is not a cause of action but, at most, a constraint upon it or a condition for it. - Jerome Bruner p. 20-21

The existence of story as a form is a perpetual guarantee that humankind will "go meta" on received versions of reality. - Jerome Bruner p. 55

The organizing principle of folk psychology [is] narrative in nature rather than logical or categorical. Folk psychology is about human agents doing things on the basis of their beliefs and desires, striving for goals, meeting obstacles which they best or which best them, all of this extended over time. - Jerome Bruner p. 42-43

The story is being put together. - Jerome Bruner p. 122

To say something useful about truth. . . [Rorty says,] is to "explore practice rather than theory". - Jerome Bruner p. 26

In the end, "learning theory" died, or perhaps it would be better to say it withered away. - Jerome Bruner p. 104

Initial mastery [of language] can come only from participation in language as an instrument of communication. - Jerome Bruner p. 73

Is what we know "absolute," or is it always relative to some perspective, some point of view? . . . is reality a construction? - Jerome Bruner p. 24

There was . . . the standard way of adding a landscape of consciousness to the landscape of action in narrative. - Jerome Bruner p. 91

The study of the human mind is so difficult, so caught in the dilemma of being both the object and the agent of its own study. - Jerome Bruner p. xiii

A group of young sociologists led by Harold Garfinkel, mindful of the sorts of problems in epistemology such issues raised, took the radical step of proposing that in place of the classic sociological method—positing social classes, roles, and so on ex hypothesi --the social sciences might proceed by the rules of "ethnomethodology," creating a social science by reference to the social and political and human distinctions that people under study made in their everyday lives. In effect, Garfinkel and his colleagues were proposing an ethnosociology. - Jerome Bruner p. 37

I take the constructivism of cultural psychology to be a profound expression of democratic culture. It demands that we be conscious of how we come to our knowledge and as conscious as we can be about the values that lead us to our perspectives. It asks that we be accountable for how and what we know. - Jerome Bruner p. 30

It is only when constituent beliefs in a folk psychology are violated that narratives are constructed - Jerome Bruner p. 39

People narrativize their experience of the world and of their own role in it. - Jerome Bruner p. 115

Scientific psychology will fare better when it recognizes that its truths, like all truths about the human condition, are relative to the point of view that it takes toward that condition. And it will achieve a more effective stance toward the culture at large when it comes to recognize that the folk psychology of ordinary people is not just a set of self-assuaging illusions, but the culture's beliefs and working hypotheses about what makes it possible and fulfilling for people to live together, even with great personal sacrifice. - Jerome Bruner p. 32

Since C. S. Peirce, we recognize that meaning depends not only upon a sign and a referent but also upon an interpretant. - Jerome Bruner p. 69.

Stories seem to be designed to give the exceptional behavior meaning in a manner that implicates both an intentional state in the protagonist (a belief or desire) and some canonical element in the culture . . . The function of the story is to find an intentional state that mitigates or at least makes comprehensible a deviatiotion from a canonical cultural pattern. - Jerome Bruner p. 49-50

That we "store" specific archetypal stories or myths, as C. G. Jung has proposed . . . seems like misplaced concreteness. Rather, I mean [humans have] a readiness or predisposition to organize experience into a narrative form, into plot structures and the rest. - Jerome Bruner p. 45

The culture . . . provides us with guides and stratagems for finding a niche between stability and change: it exhorts, forbids, lures, denies, rewards the commitments that the Self undertakes. - Jerome Bruner p. 110

The interpreter has to grasp the narrative's configuring plot in order to make sense of its constituents, which he must relate to that plot. But the plot configuration must itself be extracted from the succession of events. - Jerome Bruner p. 43-44

The narrative's opaqueness, its circumstantiality, its genre, are taken to be as important as or, in any case, inseparable from its content. - Jerome Bruner p. 113

Narrative organizes experience. - Jerome Bruner p. 35

Utility is the multiplicative resultant of the value of a particular choice and its subjective probability of being successfully executed, and it has been the cornerstone of formal economic theory since Adam Smith. - Jerome Bruner p. 28

Where verifiability and verisimilitude seem to come together, to bring off a successful convergence is to bring off good rhetoric. - With Jerome Bruner p. 94

The new cognitive science . . . has gained its technical successes at the price of dehumanizing the very concept of mind it had sought to reestablish. - Jerome Bruner p. 1

Constructivism . . . is what legal scholars refer to as "the interpretive turn". - Jerome Bruner p. 25

Culture is also constitutive of mind. - Jerome Bruner p. 33

Human reflexivity, our capacity to turn around on the past and alter the present in its light, or to alter the past in the light of the present. - Jerome Bruner p. 109

I believe that we shall be able to interpret meanings and meaning-making in a principled manner only in the degree to which we are able to specify the structure and coherence of the larger contexts in which specific meanings are created and transmitted. - Jerome Bruner p. 63-64

People hold beliefs not only about the present but about the past and future, beliefs that relate us to time conceived of in a particular way—our way, not the way of [Meyer] Fortes's Talensee or [Margaret] Mead's Samoans. We believe, moreover, that our beliefs should cohere in some way. - Jerome Bruner p. 39

Pragmatic, perspectival questions would be more in order: "What would it be like to believe that?" or "What would I be committing myself to if I believed that?" - Jerome Bruner p. 26

Self too must be treated as a construction that, so to speak, proceeds from the outside in as well as from the inside out, from culture to mind as well as from mind to culture. - Jerome Bruner p. 108

Story, in a word, is vicarious experience, and the treasury of narratives into which we can enter includes, ambiguously, either "reports of real experience" or offerings of culturally shaped imagination. - Jerome Bruner p. 54

The Essential Self gave way to the Conceptual Self with hardly a shot fired. - Jerome Bruner p. 100

The fact that the historian's "empirical" account and the novelist's imaginative story share the narrative form is, on reflection, rather startling. - Jerome Bruner p. 45

The values underlying a way of life, as Charles Taylor points out, are only lightly open to "radical reflection." They become incorporated in one's self identity and, at the same time, they locate one in a culture. - Jerome Bruner p. 29

Well-formed stories, [Kenneth] Burke proposed, are composed of a pentad of an Actor, an Action, a Goal, a Scene, and an Instrument—plus Trouble. Trouble consists of an imbalance between any of the five elements of the pentad: an Action toward a Goal is inappropriate in a particular Scene . . . an Actor does not fit the Scene . . . or there is a dual Scene . . . or a confusion of Goals. - Jerome Bruner p. 50

When anybody is seen to believe or desire or act in a way that fails to take the state of the world into account, to commit a truly gratuitous act, he is judged to be folk-psychologically insane unless he as an agent can be narratively reconstrued as being in the grip of a mitigating quandary or of crushing circumstances . . . folk psychology has room for such reconstruals. - Jerome Bruner p. 40

Culture became the major factor in giving form to the minds of those living under its sway. A product of history rather than of nature, culture now became the world to which we had to adapt and the tool kit for doing so. - Jerome Bruner p. 11-12

Power of narrative, the ability not only to mark what is culturally canonical but to account for deviations that can be incorporated in narrative. The achievement of this skill, as I shall try to show, is not simply a mental achievement, but an achievement of social practice that lends stability to the child's social life. For one of the most powerful forms of social stability . . . is the human propensity to share stories of human diversity and to make their interpretations congruent with the divergent moral commitments and institutional obligations that prevail in every culture. - Jerome Bruner p. 68

Rules . . . affected human action. - Jerome Bruner p. 3

Utterances were treated in the classical tradition as decontextualized or unsponsored locutions. - Jerome Bruner p. 62.

Ten sides to narrative

In 1991, Bruner published an article in Critical Inquiry entitled "The Narrative Construction of Reality." In this article he proposes that the mind structures its sense of reality through "cultural products, like language and other symbolic systems," and he focuses on the idea of narrative as one of these cultural products. He defines ten sides to narrative:

  1. Narrative diachronicity: The notion that narratives take place over some sense of time.
  2. Particularity: The idea that narratives deal with particular events, although some events may be left vague and general.
  3. Intentional state entailment: The concept that characters within a narrative have "beliefs, desires, theories, values, and so on".
  4. Hermeneutic composability: The theory that narratives are that which can be interpreted in terms of their role as a selected series of events that constitute a "story." See also Hermeneutics
  5. Canonicity and breach: The claim that stories are about something unusual happening that "breaches" the canonical (i.e. normal) state.
  6. Referentiality: The principle that a story in some way references reality, although not in a direct way; narrative truth can offer verisimilitude but not verifiability.
  7. Genericness: The flip side to particularity, this is the characteristic of narrative whereby the story can be classified as a genre.
  8. Normativeness: The observation that narrative in some way supposes a claim about how one ought to act. This follows from canonicity and breach.
  9. Context sensitivity and negotiability: Related to hermeneutic composability, this is the characteristic whereby narrative requires a negotiated role between author or text and reader, including the assigning of a context to the narrative, and ideas like suspension of disbelief.
  10. Narrative accrual: Finally, the idea that stories are cumulative, that is, that new stories follow from older ones. [Source of the ten: Wikipedia, s.v. "Jerome Bruner"]

Bruner observes that these main marks describe both narrative and the perceived world that may to some degree be constructed and posited by narrative - as far as perception and mental categorisation go toward reality, also called Brahman. Juan Mascaró writes:

According to the Upanishads, the reality of God can only be apprehended in a consciousness of joy that is beyond ordinary consciousness . . . the Eternal cannot be grasped by the transient senses or the transient mind. This is beautifully expressed in the Taittiriya Upanishad: 'Words and mind go to him, but reach him not and return. But he who knows the joy of Brahman fears no more.' (Mascaró 1965, 12)

Physicists have grappled and still grapple with the problem of perceiving full well, focusing on whether there is a world out there, or whether it is all of the mind and projected "out there". It may be both: Says Mascaró: "Brahman is described as . . . within all and outside all." (Mascaró 1965, 12)

The central philosophical issue of quantum mechanics is: "What is it that quantum mechanics describes?" Gary Zukav informs further:

The Copenhagen Interpretation does away with this idea of a one-to-one correpsondence between reality and theory . . . scientists attempting to formulate a consistent physics were forced by their own findings to acknowledge that a complete understanding of reality lies beyond the capabilities of rational thought . . . The new physics was based . . . upon us." (Zukav 1979, 62-63)

I would maintain that if two persons were lying side by side in the sunlight, and one of them died there and then, the world would go on anyway, simply said. Thus, there is an outer world which is pretty independent of the mental categorisation of a man who dies anyhow.

However, good, mental categorisation helps us to appropriate the world (as we know it) "up to a point", to make use of main features in it. And yes, theory is not all there is to life, for sure. Mathematical and theoretical "skeletons" miss a whole lot, but we should not - and go for a fuller life the day we can.


Jerome Bruner abstracts and quotations, a learning theorist, Literature  

Bruner, Jerome S. Acts of Meaning (the Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Mascaro, Juan, tr. The Upanishads. London: Penguin Books, 1965.

Zukav, Gary. The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics. London: Rider, 1979.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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