Thursday, 5 October 2017

Behave Yourself

Behaviours are learned and displayed in both everyday life and in aesthetic performances. Schechner writes that we learn behaviour from birth through social and cultural conditioning, or “…a continuous training by osmosis”[1]

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Any interaction is a relationship system. We could say that an interaction starts with an actor and a spectator or an audience. However, we are, at all times, both the spectator and the spectated. An observer observes, but is, in turn, being observed.

Within society we perform behaviours depending on how we want other people to see us. Goffman writes that “…the individual will have to act so that he intentionally or unintentionally expresses himself, and the others will in turn have to be impressed in some way by him.”[2] Schechner explores this in the context of performance studies, writing that “A ‘performance’ may be defined as all the activity of a given participant on a given occasion which serves to influence in any way any of the other participants.”[3]

We modify our behaviour depending on the situation and the expectations of behaviour within that context. We rely on social conditioning and previous experience, which dictate the behaviours appropriate to the context. “…any arrangement is conventionalised and conditioned by particular world and/or political views […] From birth, people are immersed in the kind of social performative actions…””[4]

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Turner states that “We never cease to learn our own culture, let alone other cultures, and our own culture is always changing.”[5] And Schechner writes that “In this epoch of information and reflexive hyperconsciousness we not only want to know, we also want to know how we know what we know.”[6] Taken together I believe this reflects our changing behaviours in society in response to a hyperawareness of ‘self’ in relation to the ‘other’. Modified displays of behaviour are represented as original on social media, presenting an idealised version of ourselves for consumption (as Goffman depicts through his ‘Preedy’ example[7]). We perform the role we want others to see us as. 

“In a very real way the future – the project coming into existence through the process of rehearsal – determines the past […] rehearsals make it necessary to think of the future in such a way as to create a past.”[8]

In both the everyday and the aesthetic performance, what we want as an outcome determines our actions in the present. Schechner depicts this as the 12, or the ‘me now’ → ‘someone else’.[9] This is depicting both the process of ‘getting in to character’ and also the ‘future self’. For example, when attending an event, one takes care to dress in a manner appropriate to the future setting, to convey the impression that one wishes to give, which also ties in to Goffman’s theory of presentation.

I have written before that I believe a Culture is both the creator of, and created by, its culture. Cultural conditioning and expectations dictate our behaviours in both the everyday and aesthetic performance. Schechner writes that “There is also a continuum linking the ways of presenting the self to the ways of presenting others: acting in dramas, dances, and rituals. The same can be said for “social actions” and “cultural performances”…”[10] This also reflects Turner’s theory of a cultural feedback loop, which places behaviour as a reflection of culture, and culture within the context of behaviour – Literally cultural conditioning! When cultures change, so does the normative behaviour within that culture. A society creates and conforms its own methods of normal communication and behaviour, and ‘normal’ can only ever be ‘normative’ within the context of the home culture.

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How a society understands itself is rooted in the origin myths their culture creates, and this, in turn, provides a frame of reference which informs present actions and behaviours. Schechner writes that “Restored behaviour offers to both individuals and groups the chance to rebecome what they once were – or even, and most often, to rebecome what they never were but wish to have been or wish to become.”[11]

A society chooses its own ‘culture-bearer’ – Schechner uses an example from the village of Magendo in Papua New Guinea – and whether the culture-bearer is a historical or mythological figure, they have placed upon them the qualities a group desires to embody. Turner states that there is a “…relationship between this foundation narrative and the political structures…”[12] of a society. How a society wishes to be seen, or sees itself, in the present informs the qualities and behaviours bestowed upon their past, which in turn informs their behaviours in the present and the future. The ways in which a society is structured informs the action within that society. The behaviours and structures of a society inform the theatre that can be created.

Turner, P.72.

There is a relationship between social dramas and aesthetic performance. It is a feedback loop, in which social drama affects artistic output, Artistic output provides a frame of reference for action, which then informs actions during social drama. In Schechner’s terms, this “Restored behaviour is living behaviour… the main characteristic of performance.”[13] Restored behaviour is a repeat, or rearrangement of previously learned behaviours, reconstructed according to new societal norms or the expected behaviour in a given context which has been standardised and presented.

Expectations of behaviour vary across different cultures and cultural groups. Turner defines one behavioural grouping as “…our “star” group or groups to which we owe our deepest loyalty…”[14] Turner suggests that some of these star groups are obligational, incidental or accidental, such as family, age group, nationality, etc., but that we choose other star groups for ourselves, based on, for example, shared interest. Recently, Michelle Obama stated that she believed that those women who voted for Trump in the 2016 Elections voted against their own voice. Taking Turner’s theory in to account, Obama has assumed that identification to being female should have been the overriding concern, but, for many women who voted Trump, their affiliation to the Republican values were of a higher priority. Behaviours within a star group define our belonging to that caucus, such as Colin Kaepernick’s ‘Take A Knee’ gesture, which others have started to emulate in order to identify, or show solidarity with, that social grouping.

“{…] social dramas {…] can be aptly studied as having four phases. These I label: breach, crisis, redress, and either reintegration or recognition of schism. Social dramas occur within groups bounded by shared values and interests of persons and having a real or alleged common history.”[15]

Turner’s theories of Social Drama and Star Groups can be seen in both artistic performances and in the everyday. For example, in the context of Brexit the breach was the referendum campaign and the realisation of a schism in the country, and the breach exposes identification to a star group. The crisis is the continuing aftermath of the vote itself. The redress needs to be the finding of mechanisms to recognise and repair the social construct. And the redress will lead to either reintegration (of society or within the EU) or schism (either from the EU or within the UK).

However, as Turner says: “…redress may be through rebellion, or even revolution, if the societal value-consensus has broken down...”[16] A social drama, like an aesthetic drama, depends on the individual’s point of view or the context in which the original breach occurred. For example, one person’s redress may be another’s crisis.

Storming of the Bastille
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As with every aspect of existence, personal bias informs our interpretation of an event or a behaviour. Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov ascertained that it took around one-tenth of a second for a person to form a first impression.[17] We form this impression, and assign judgements of behaviour based on cultural conditioning and past experience, and expect certain behaviours within these conventions.

When these conventions are corrupted, expected modes of behaviour break down, or, as Goffman states, assumptions can “…become untenable…”[18] Culture has conditioned us to cast people as stereotypes. For example, the ‘goody’ or the ‘baddy’. When individuals act outside of these proscribed caricatures our expected response behaviours are not supported.

Goffman writes that “…the witness is likely to have the advantage over the actor…”[19] Meaning that our presentation of ‘self’ is always determined by the observer’s point of view, and that we are always defined in opposition to the observer, the ‘not I’. Schechner views this through the prism of performance:

“…acting is both false and true, because acting is a playful illusion – as is the world itself. The boys who represent/are the gods in Ramlila are both “playing at” and “being” the gods […] theater is the art specialising in the concrete techniques of restoring behaviour […] While performing [an actor] no longer has a “me” but has a “not not me” […] The spectators do not “willingly suspend disbelief.” They believe and disbelieve at the same time.[20]

Our own experience of behaviour provides a subjective placement to a context within the created constraints of the performance. However restored behaviour can become behaviour proper as rehearsal and repetition allows a behaviour to ‘go in to the body’.  An actor is both themselves and the character. They both ‘are’ and ‘are not’ themselves, and both ‘are’ and ‘are not’ the character they are portraying.
  




[1] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.41.
[2] Erving Goffman, ‘Introduction’, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959) P.14.
[3] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.26.
[4] Ibid., P.40-1.
[5] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.64.
[6] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.109.
[7] Erving Goffman, ‘Introduction’, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959) P.16.
[8] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.39.
[9] Ibid., P.38.
[10] Ibid., P.37.
[11] Ibid., P.38.
[12] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.66.
[13] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.35.
[14] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.69.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid., P.71.
[17] Janine Willis, Alexander Todorov, ‘First Impressions’, in Psychological Science Volume 17, Issue 7, 2006.
[18] Erving Goffman, ‘Introduction’, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959) P.23.
[19] Ibid., P.20.
[20] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), pp.97-113.

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