The diagram I used in the last post is misleading in that it makes things look more contained and bounded than they actually are.  The circle that surrounds “Jim” (substitute your name here)—i.e., an enviro-human system—is actually quite porous.  Aspects of the environment and of the human wash across the boundary in both ways.  The system is not closed, though it does keep a certain degree of integrity, nonetheless.

We have also not said enough about the environment.  Humans act, but often not alone.  They often act in league with others, with tools, and with other aspects of the environment.  Let’s distinguish between “individual acts” and “joint acts”.  Now think about cases where people act alone as an individual and cases where they act jointly with others, tools, and aspects of the environment.  It is easy to think of cases of joint action: bridges, talk-in-interaction, driving a car, cooking a meal, making love, and many more.  It is hard to think of individual actions beyond basic things like walking, sleeping, and such.  When we write and read we most often trade on ideas and words that stem partly from others, as well as a bunch of historically specific technologies.  The same is true when we think.

There are few, if any, non-basic actions that humans do not do jointly.  And, when humans act jointly, the actor is not them alone, it is them joined with other people and things.  Let’s call the tethered forces of action in a joint action an “ensemble actor” (because it is from this that causes come and consequences follow).

The diagram above is misleading in that it shows only one part (the human-as-complex-messy-system part) of what is usually an ensemble actor.  One key place where ensemble actors occur is in social interaction.  In such interaction humans as systems use language, gesture, and eye gaze—as well as the context (environment) around them—to meld together as an ensemble actor.

Thus, we need a diagram in which more them one “Jim” is in the diagram relating to each other.  I can’t draw multiple versions of the diagram above, it would take up too much space and get to be a real mess.  So, let’s use the abbreviation “EHS” (Enviro-Human System) to stand for the diagram above, to stand for an enviro-human system (a system of systems).  Then we can represent social interaction as follows:

What we see above is a system (the whole thing) of systems (like each EHS) of systems (multiple EHSs) interacting with language, tools, and contexts (environments) to pull off joint action.  So, we will call this system of systems of systems a “joint actor system” (JAS).  The complexity of this system of systems of systems is beyond ken, certainly beyond any conscious awareness of any depth.

A JAS is what we get, for example, in any classroom when students and a teacher are interacting.  We get something yet more complicated when groups are interacting with other groups as different but interacting joint actor systems.  So, a classroom is a complex system of complex systems of complex systems (and with interacting groups) of complex systems.

Physics deals with complex systems in the material world.  Such systems are not open to investigation by controlled studies since a complex system (let alone a complex system of complex systems) involves so many variables and is so sensitive to initial conditions that it never operates the same twice and is not open to determinist predications.  Physicists must use powerful theoretical, mathematical, model-based, and simulation-rich methods to understand complexity.  Yet, educators and policy makers in the United States have determined that the “gold standard” for studying classrooms (a complex system of complex systems of complex systems …) is controlled classroom studies and simple tests of “significance”.  It is it any wonder we know so little—and do so poorly—in our educational research?  We face problems harder than physics and attempt to use tools that are far, far too weak to understand them, let alone solve them.

When we want to analyze human social interaction we need to analyze joint actor systems.  In such systems, each EHS (itself a system of systems) is a locus of action (causes and consequences), but so is the JAS (a system of systems of systems).   Action at any one level reciprocally interacts with and shapes action at the other levels until these actions are not truly separate.  There are no well-developed analytic techniques for this sort of analysis, as of yet.


1 2 3
March 29th, 2018

The Interpreter System (7)

Let’s return to our diagram of a human being (or, “an enviro-human system”).  I want now to look just at […]

March 27th, 2018

Joint Actor Systems (6)

The diagram I used in the last post is misleading in that it makes things look more contained and bounded […]

March 26th, 2018

A Human Being (5)

Last time, we raised the question: “What is ‘Jim”?” (substitute your own name for “Jim” here).  We think of ourselves […]

March 25th, 2018

Jim and Identities/Discourses (4)

When we make a choice, who is making the choice?  We have already seen that there are lots of things […]

March 10th, 2018

Alternates (3)

When we make a choice about ourselves often that choice is vastly undetermined by the information we have available.  Say […]

March 7th, 2018

Flourishing (2)

It makes little sense to see a human being (or any other animal) as an individual making free choices.  In […]

February 25th, 2018

Free Will (1)

Note that the question of free will simply does not arise for animals.  We think that, even for intelligent species, […]

October 29th, 2017

The Principle of Charity

October 8th, 2017

Character Education

Recently, the College of Education at Arizona State University—where I work— received funding from the Kern Family Foundation to make […]

June 15th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 6 (The End)

What killed people’s sense of mattering was the growth of very high levels of inequality.  What caused such high levels […]

June 14th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 5

Many of us tend to think of history as a march forward and upward. So, we tend to interpret the […]

June 14th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 4

The Catholic Church declined in three stages. The same was true for many other institutions.  “The Sixties” (roughly from 1963 […]

June 12th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 3

Today, we have among the highest levels of inequality we have ever had.  Drug addiction, environmental degradation, flows of climate […]

June 11th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 2

The British economist John Maynard Keynes and “Keynesian Economics” were foundational to the Bretton Woods Agreement and to the world […]

June 10th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 1

Though neo-liberalism is the “usual suspect” for the miseries of our institutions and society, it is not nearly as relevant […]

May 30th, 2017

Main Points from My New Book

Teaching, Learning, Literary in our High-Risk, High-Tech World: A Framework for Becoming Human (Teachers College Press, 2017). Ignorance We humans […]

April 17th, 2017

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 10 The End

Neither love nor liking is necessary for the sorts of critical discussions among different frameworks that might lead to shared […]

April 15th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 9 Interpretation

Goodwill.  What could possibly encourage people in a fractured and inequitable world to have goodwill?  I, for one, do not […]

April 14th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 8 An Example

I want now to give an example of two different frameworks that certainly appear incommensurable.  My purpose here is make […]

April 12th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 7 Discussion

We are at a critical juncture now in our attempt to understand why frameworks can cause us humans such grief.  […]