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Abstract We address the issue of how cultural psychologies relate to human everyday life-worlds.

Everyday life entails the extraordinary within the ordinary, and vice versa often described as cultural practices. We present the case of an involuntary eventbreaking a legwith all its temporarily debilitating experiences. The person became involved in a series of new activities of meaning construction as a way of reorganizing her life during the recovery period. If cultural psychologies are to offer adequate explanations for emerging practices, the central role of personal agency needs to be restored into their general theoretical schemes. The cultural organization of human living includes the organizerthe personwho actively makes meanings in ever-new life contexts. Key Words cultural practice, dialogical self, emergence, interpretive schemes, meaning-making, socialized medicine

Jeanette A. Lawrence and Agnes E. Dodds

University of Melbourne, Australia

Jaan Valsiner
Clark University, USA

The Many Faces of Everyday Life: Some Challenges to the Psychology of Cultural Practice
It has become customary in contemporary psychology to talk about practiceoften in the form of cultural practices, where the plural highlights the variety of forms these events can take. It is easy to add practices to the category of cultural practice without specifying their essential features or their usefulness under that rubric. Similar ways of handling theoretical ideas can be seen in areas of activity theory and social representations. Yet, once the plurality of possible cultural practices (activities, representations) is admitted by researchers, it highlights the need to describe various forms, and to identify their generalities. A collection of colorful instances does not readily yield workable meaning. What, then, do cultural practices involvein the multifaceted contexts of peoples everyday living? The idea of new units of analysis that are molar rather than
Culture & Psychology Copyright 2004 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) Vol. 10(4): 455476 [DOI: 10.1177/1354067X04045746]

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molecular has been accepted into the discourse of cultural psychology. The eld of currently burgeoning concepts, well represented in this journal for instance, abounds with loosely used complexes of ideas that reect the plurality of forms that constitute everyday experience. Aside from practices, we have narratives, activities, masteries and competencies, semiotic mediation, and many more. It is not immediately clear, however, what we gain by the invention of such descriptive terms. In some sense, all human life with all of its complexity is a kind of (mega) practice. It is also culturalwhenever we deal with human beings who spend their lifetimes in the effort of making sense of what happens within and around them. Yet simply relabelling the notion of life as practice does not yield new understanding. A major challenge for the theoretical schemes of current cultural psychologies involves focusing fresh attention on the large number of phenomena that are crucial in human experience, whether or not they are labelled practices, activities, or the like. The extent to which the term cultural practices can be applied to lifeworld experiences also needs to be considered. It may be reserved for the normal and everyday aspects of human life. But that is an unnecessarily impoverished view if, in dealing only with the ordinary, the concept leaves no room for concurrently dealing with the extraordinary events that are a natural part of the ordinarythe unexpected within the expected, the occasional within the common. At times, all of us have to change our plans and expectations, in response to some life event. We fall ill (and become well again), we make mistakes (and correct them), we embark on dangerous adventures (and live to tell the tale). The decision by any social science to single out any of these aspects of complex human life to label as practices, or behaviors, involves that science in the task of making sense of the designated phenomenon. As scientists, we wish to understand the meaning in the world of everyday life of, for example, being farmers, falling in love, becoming competent internet buyers and sellers. Yet, if such scientic endeavours address only usual practices, and fail to also cover the mishaps and the surprises that occur in daily living, then the idea of cultural practice serves as an empty concept for the bland and the boring. Human daily experience is neither bland nor boring. The issue, then, is to understand how the richness and diversity of cultural practices evolve, and how they can be interpreted. Merely identifying a particular slice of rich everyday life as a practice does not help scientists to understand that practice, any more than taking a slice of biological tissue and staring at it through a microscope reveals all its secrets. The researcher needs an appropriate lensin the case of 456

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cultural psychology, an interpretive frame that allows scientists to say more about a practice than that it is a practice. Likewise, practitioners do not nd value in being told by a specialist (after they have discovered x), You have a problem of x. They need to know how to act, within their range of possibilities, in order to comprehend and resolve that x. For scientic understanding and for intervention in existing practices, something else is needed.

The Culture of Science: Creating New Meanings for Handling Flexible Reality
Interpretive schemes for analyzing practices involve the construction of cultural meanings for phenomena that intrigue the researcher. The general meanings of the science are brought to the inquiry into a practice, and specic meanings are generated within the process of inquiring. Prominent in these meaning-making activities are questions of uniformity and regularity. Is practice uniform, so that we can think of a smoothly running everyday life as a typical practice? Or is it more protable to think about the ordinary and extraordinary facets of a practice as being naturally bound together? If they are bound together, can that binding be seen as harmonious, conictive or contradictory (depending on the situation)? Is a violation (e.g. a disruption or deviation) of what has been known as a particular practice a part of that (changing) practice, or should it be seen as a new, emergent practice? Ordinary life does not operate within strict boundaries that dene borders, with here Practice P ends and here Practice S begins. Instead, life consists of a stream of the kind of happenings that are desired and of the kind that occur as unexpected mishaps. The meaning-constructing system of the person needs to be able to handle the expected and the unexpected in the same framework. All these questions are shared by both cultural psychologies and that part of cognitive science that deals with mental processes. Turning ongoing behavior into a social practice involves an act of cultural reclassication on the part of the researcher. Looking at that practice as either uniform or heterogeneous is but one instance of the researchers cultural constructive activity. The introduction of meanings that guide the classication denes the cultural moment. Cultural moments occur everywhere in real lifeone encounters a novel setting, and a meaning-making system comes into action to enable rethinking ones role in that setting in the light of ones past meaningful experiences and current future goals (or their substitutes). What was a usual set of understandings is turned into the unusual and 457

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challenging. Novel ways of making sense of the current situation emerge. Both old understandings and new understandings are built through cultural means, and the newly built meansdemanded by the new settingare the vehicles of psychological and social preadaptation to the indeterminate future. For example, a boy starting school who had spent all summer in shorts and bare feet around the swimming pool was puzzled at something he met for the rst time at school. When asked by his mother how his rst day had been, he replied: Its OK, Mum, but every time I ask them can I take my shoes off now, they say No. Well, son, its like that at school. You wear shoes all the time. Oh. How do people in general, as well as researchers in particular, construct meanings for such moments and for such recurring practices? Here, the interests of developmental, cultural and cognitive psychologies converge. The issue, then, is criticalhow to account for the exibility of human constructions in real life. The schoolboy example illustrates the exibility that is needed to account for the inconsistencies of experience. Otherwise, we would be constantly surprised by the diversity of what is expected of us in social institutions. This issue sets tough standards for science. Science needs to make sense of variability within the sphere of phenomenaand, most importantly, within both actual and potential kinds of phenomena. The usual is knowable only in contrast to its opposite (the unusual), and what concretely happens in a lifecourse gains its meaning by contrast with what could have happened, but did not (i.e. possible, but not actualized, trajectories at each decision point). The decision of a promising young tennis player to take up a career in sports promotion instead of going on the circuit represents a case in point. The meaning of the new career is bound up with its choice over an alternative. Events are processed in relation to the might have been. The pleasure of living in a stable environment and having a regular routine gains fresh signicance, for instance, each time he thinks about living out of a sports bag in hotel rooms. Human life phenomena are created at the boundaries of tension between many potentialities, but only one course of life events, actualized out of these potential directions. Each of these moments in the life-course is a decision point. Looking at the Decision Points Decision points can be seen as problem situations containing the possibility of more than one way to proceed. The person is faced with choice. Some aspects of choice are given, the rest s/he creates as novel ways of being in given settings. It follows, then, that such choices and 458

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their outcomes can only be studied as they occurembedded within situations. Decision points cannot be excised from the contexts in which they occur, where they are enmeshed with all their contextual constraints and emotional overlays. The contextual embeddedness of these decision points commits the experiencing person and also the scientic observer to viewing the decision from within its situational boundaries. In Karl Dunckers (1926) terms, the embeddedness requires that we understand the functional value of a whole situation in order to be able to extract the meaning presented by the physical and conceptual pieces that make up that total experience. By obtaining a Gestalt of the phenomenon as a whole, the person is committed to re-interpreting what is occurring and what can be achieved. Then, by rearranging and manipulating the pieces in relation to the whole (e.g. assigning new priorities, making novel connections), that person can recast the mishap as a challenge, or a missed opportunity as opening up a new possibility (e.g. a missed ight can become a lucky break if a crash occurs). An error becomes a creative invention (e.g. as in the case of the universal sticky label, where an accident with glue resulted in a new invention). Thus, a sports injury or an emergency knee reconstruction can be reframed as a wake-up call about ones life-styleIt is time I hung up my football boots (or tennis racquet). An instance gains fresh meaning in relation to the sequence of connected events that constitutes the whole, as Duncker (1939) pointed out sixty-ve years ago when discussing the importance of the mind in understanding ethical concepts (the comment applies beyond the ethical also to the experiential).
Well if one leaves out meanings i.e., if one fails to dene the situation in psychological terms, how can one expect to meet with general consent. . . . The term situated meanings is meant to convey the notion of relevant features of the actual psychological situation with reference to which the subject behaves. (pp. 43, 44)

Now while Dunckers perspective brings out one vital dimension of interpreting situations, another dimension also comes to the fore, related to how such situated meanings, once constructed, can be explained and generalized. Like an unanalyzed tissue slice under a microscope, the experiential situation only yields scientic value for psychology when it is interpreted psychologicallyin terms of reasoning processes into which wider culturally constructed meanings are either imported, or constructed in situ, out of what is available in the total situation. The implications of both the decisions once made and 459

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the meanings used to make these decisions transcend the specic instances, and are open to theoretical modelling. The meanings used in a particular decision process link the history of the society to the history of the person, with yet unknown implications of the decision for the persons future. When a chemical substance is taken, by an active decision-maker, into his or her body for a particular purpose (e.g. as medicineto reduce pain; or as a drug to get high), the person now relates to that act via the different meanings given to the substance. Yet the actual substance, marijuana, may be the same in both meaning contexts. Performance-enhancing drugs are made to enhance performanceand are at the same time declared illegal in areas where performance matters most (athletics). In contrast, drugs for immediate body-weight reductiondiet pillsare part of the positively socially sanctioned industry of body un-building. The decision processes involving ones most intimate basis for existenceones body and its intakesare heavily socially regulated by cultural meanings, and hyper-meanings. One is able to move forward into the future with uncritical optimism, because the pills are given the (often hard to check) imprimatur, This substance is safe. The meaning bubble that frames their continued use is likely to burst later, however, if the user is faced with organ failure or other unpredictable drug interaction effects. Hence the here-and-now decision making is made under ill-dened conditions that lack foreseeable tests of the possible effects of proceeding within one meaning frame (drug safety) as compared with another (drug risk). Interpreting the Whole Process The stream of thinking in cognitive psychology that emphasizes the study of problem solving as a process shares historical roots with cultural psychologyin the areas of Vlkerpsychologie and Ganzheitspsychologie (Diriwchter, 2004). The primacy of the whole over its partsviewed in terms of processesconstitutes the central core of these disciplines. Yet what we can most immediately observeextrospectively or introspectivelyis the myriad of highly variable parts that are united by the whole, and given meaning in relation to the whole. Cultural-psychological theories, accordingly, appear to be in an ideal position in the discipline to take on the challenges that are posed by the culturally enhanced variability of the phenomena. But how can they do that? The task of this essay is to challenge these theories by an ordinary (yet, at the same time, extraordinary) phenomenon. A person breaks a leg, and, instead of carrying out her life plans, has to take on 460

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the task of recovering the very ordinary functions of life, walking and continuing work and social activities. This persons relations with the object world have to be reorganized, personally, as well as by involved others. Such situations occur in everyday life all the time. They are not life-threatening (in most cases), but they certainly are lifeinconveniencing. Yet they constitute a vast eld of study for cultural psychologies that is largely ignored by current research practices. The Phenomenon of Life Altered: The Extraordinary-Ordinary The broken-leg phenomenon can be seen as both a common occurrence (because it happens frequently and may happen to anyone) and an uncommon occurrence (because it does not always happen), but when it happens, it causes disruption to daily life. The ow of usual activities is disturbed and changed, regardless of the persons desire. Many situations in everyday life have these same seemingly disjunctive characteristicsfalling ill with u, adjusting to life in prison or boarding school, losing ones job, and so on. The phenomena we want to bring to attention here are so ordinary, and transitory, that they are not viewed as problems by outsiders looking at the insiders living through them. People, indeed, get over u, are released from prison and even from boarding school, and may be re-employed. Yet, from the perspective of persons who do experience these transitions rst-hand, their importance creates uncertainty and new task demands, and forces them to reorganize their current ways of making sense of their lives. For the person with a broken leg, the usual course and simple functions of life are changed. Daily events are experienced in a new way. Stepping out the front door, for example, may become an effortful adventure: a step requiring the kind of negotiation that usually befalls only a toddler. Dressing oneself while standing on one leg can become a gymnastic achievement, depending on ones ability to wield that instrument of mobility and torturethe crutch. Together with walking frames and walking sticks, crutches are instruments overladen with cultural meanings. They usually connote age, inrmity and disabilityat least for people over 30 years of age in occidental societies.

Breaking and Knitting: The Experiences of Pat

Welcome the voice of Pat into our presentation of the selected phenomenon surrounding the disruption that itself is organized into a temporal scheme of events. It is not one event, but a series of events requiring decision points that together make up the Gestalt of Pats 461

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experience. We narrate the sequence of what happened to her, concentrating on some specically highlighted decision points. At each of these decision points, immediate actions were necessaryand carried with them further implications for Pat. Each decision point is thus not a point, but a phase in a decision-making process that leads to actualizing one of a number of possible action strategies. That decision process is organized by cultural meanings the acting person (the agent) brings to the situation, or invents within the situation in response to the various contingencies. These cultural meanings may be suggested by other parties who place an interpretive gloss on what Pat should or should not be doing, thus invoking meanings that they assume (sometimes incorrectly) she shares with them. Alternatively, their voices can be inferred from Pats inner dialogue about more and less acceptable ways of resolving the points of difculty. The Unfolding Event The initial event happened when Pat, a t, professional middle-aged Australian woman, broke a leg one week before an international trip. It happened at home, which, fortunately, was within a kilometre of a private hospital. The unfolding of the event(s) that exerted signicant effects on Pats life over the next fteen weeks involved a series of decision points and choices where the ordinariness of the social life and her extraordinary state led Pat into a sequence of dynamic encounters. We report her inner dialogue, as she reported to us in reective mode: dialogues sometimes with herself, sometimes with real, sometimes with imagined, others. What Will I Do Now? The rst decision point was to decide if the leg was sufciently injured to require a hospital visit. Reluctantly, Pat realized it was a serious injury and immediately, after plunging the leg into a bucket of ice, she decided to go to the hospital. A friend present at the time questioned the degree of injury, but Pat felt she had to seek medical help:
I knew it was serious, but hoped it was no more than a severe sprain. By going to the hospital, I thought I might be able to x it quickly and not interrupt my trip. I told myself that if I ignored ittreated it as nonseriousit may take longer to heal and I could miss my overseas trip. At the same time, I knew in my heart that there was something radically wrong. The pain did not subside, and the bucket of ice seemed not to make any difference at all.

The prospect of the international trip led Pat to seek medical help more quickly than she would have without that inner pressure. There 462

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was no hesitation about how to get to the hospital. Two ancient family walking sticks were standing in the hall; these were brought into service, and Pat hobbled to the car with the friend to drive. This represented an unconsidered choice point in itself, related to not seeing herself as inrm or badly injured. Pat was taking precautions for the sake of her goals. Someone else may have phoned for an ambulance or a doctor. That alternative did not enter her head. She simply took herself, with suitable assistance, to the emergency department, where she could be X-rayed and treated efciently. Stay and Pay? The second decision point was about whether to stay at the hospital and be treated or to leave and go elsewhere. Why did that need a decision? Pat sat in a wheelchair while her friend approached the receptionist. To the side was a family with a sick child talking amongst themselves. They turned away from the desk and walked out of the emergency area. The reason for their exit soon became clear. The friend talked directly with the receptionist, as she reported later.
As I leant on her desk, and said We want to see a doctor please, the receptionist handed me a clipboard, at the same time reading out a statement that there was a non-refundable fee that had to be paid before you could see a doctor. I was outraged and reported back to Pat. Its outrageous. This is the modern health system. They demand a certain amount of money upfront and non-refundable.

Meanwhile Pat had already decided she would stay and pay, although at that moment she didnt know she had no money or cards on her. The social event unfolded quickly:
Pat: I didnt care what they charged. I was sitting in that wheelchair with a leg blown up to elephantine proportions. I wanted to know what was happening to me. I was thinking, Just be quiet and pay up. But then I realized I didnt have my wallet with me. A little more meekly I asked my friend, Do you have any ready money on you? I turned back to the receptionist, pulled some notes from my pocket, with OK, well pay up, and waved them in the receptionists face. There she was making a social statement to the receptionist and all that mattered was that my leg hurt, and, furthermore, it would be me they would punish in response to her complaining. I could see myself going to the bottom of every list. I just wanted to see a doctor. I remember wishing shed just shut up and get on with it.



The receptionist drew back physically from the waving cash, and 463

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exclaimed, Its OK, you dont have to pay this minute, not until youve seen the doctor. She was obviously embarrassed at the script she had read out, and probably at the annoyance this commonly produced. Pat proceeded to the treatment room. The X-rays were duly taken, the diagnosis made, and the leg set and plastered and an appointment made for a visit to the orthopaedic surgeon (at his private rooms of course) in the next week. Some time later, the political correctness of this decision to stay and pay was questioned by a socially minded friend who claimed Pat should have exited to the emergency department of a public hospital. Such was the generally socialist thinking to which Pat and her friend ascribed. In her youth, she would not have considered a private hospital. However, faced with an eight- to ten-hour wait compared with half an hour at this private facility, and feeling shocked and shaken, Pat did not hesitate to pay. Unlike the family in front of her at the desk, she could pay without difculty, except for her social difculties with the current health system. Pin or plaster? The surgeon eventually offered two alternate routes to healing. Pat could undergo surgery, have the break pinned, and be in a lightweight (and washable) plaster cast for about three weeks after surgery. Alternatively, she could persist with the existing heavier cast and contemplate six weeks in plaster (non-washable). Pat felt the choice was easy. The surgeon favoured the six weeks plan, and she agreed that intrusive surgery seemed unnecessary. The trip was disappearing fast, and was no longer a consideration. After all, it was only six weeks. She would manage. At this point, she had no idea of what managing would involve. She had no experience of what being in a cast would mean.
It all seemed terribly straightforward to me. I didnt want an operation. All sorts of things could go wrong. It was intrusive and unnecessary to have surgery. Having a broken leg was bad enough without having a wound and stitches as well. The difference between three and six weeks did not appear like enough of a difference. In retrospect, I made this decision with no insight into what a plaster cast would do to my mobility, my life-style, my daily functioning. At the time, I had no idea that I was committing myself to longterm hopping.

Hopping on one leg, indeed, became Pats primary mode of perambulation for ten weeks altogether. She hopped by walking frame in the house, and by two kinds of crutches outside.


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Ofcial or Alternative Treatment? Following the disappointment of the lost trip, Pat could have gone home and started the six weeks wait. However, she had experienced successful alternative modes of treatment for a back problem, and so she consulted her naturopath practitioner.
I decided to go to C. He had made such a difference to my back and to other peoples physical problems. I decided to just ask if there was anything I could do to help the process along. I wanted, when it was over, to be able to function fully again. I did not want to limp for the rest of my life. I quietly went to see what, if anything, he could suggest to help the process along. C recommended a series of gentle, supervised exercises for the injured limb while it was encased in the plaster, as well as some general strengthening exercises for the other leg. His advice rang true for me. I decided to commence gentle exercises of the leg, but not to make a big point of it to other people.

Pat began Cs regime immediately, albeit quietly. She realized that the decision would not be seen as appropriate. The accepted wisdom for treating breaks was to wear the cast and then begin physical therapy once it came off. Her belief in Cs deep understanding of bodily functioning allowed her to modify the accepted wisdom, but discreetly. Aids and Assistance? Meanwhile, Pat concentrated on learning how to take a shower sitting on a plastic chair with the offending leg sticking out of the shower stall wrapped in a plastic bag. More importantly, she had to work out how she could carry a cup of tea while hopping and on two crutches. A travelling drinking cup with a lid was the solution, together with a basket on the walking frame. She now could carry things around. Pat also decided to continue her occupation as best she could with appropriate aids and assistance. Every acquaintance knows how one should act when injured. There are cultural folk stories and myths about how to walk, remain mobile and healthy and be of a cheerful disposition. Some people think one should take to the bed or couch with chocolates and enjoy the injured status. Others think that one should continue life as usually as possible and feign normality, declaring Theres nothing wrong with me. Still others, from the height of previous experience, can share knowledge about where to get aids (e.g. a walking frame, a constructed stool for elevating one leg while working on the computer, drinking mugs, wheelchairs for negotiating elevators), and how to get helpers to


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provide appropriate assistance (e.g. know when to arrive with food, how to park cars near the curb to save excessively long hops). Pats thoughts about most arrangements followed along the line of, I have to do this without taking all day.
I felt I had made a great achievement if I could get a hot dinner from the microwave to the table intact. I replaced elegant wine glasses with deep tumblers. Side plates were dispensed with altogether. Once, without a knife, I felt I reverted to hunter-gatherer chewer rather than eat my meat stonecold out of modern nicety. I couldnt face going back to the oven two rooms away.

Making Regular Wheelchair Journeys The decision to go to work on a regular basis involved being willing to ride around the corridors in a wheelchair pushed by a colleague. The bathroom, for example, was out of crutch-hopping distance. If Pat wanted to go to work each day, she either had to stay there only for a limited period, or had to be willing to ride around in a wheelchair. This trip was along a corridor of tutorial rooms inhabited by Pats students. Dignity was sacriced to utility.
Oh dear, the amount of energy I expended to get to work and negotiate all those obstacles, like elevators and people who didnt get out of my way, left little for the actual work. But I was being part of life and not stuck to the side on my own. I may have looked like a granny being wheeled around, but that was not a high price to pay for some semblance of normal life.

Continue to Hop or Force Oneself to Walk? The hopping seemed endless. Pat faced the post-cast period as another unknown, secretly hoping shed walk through the doctors ofce, to the car and be driven off. She talked with as many people as she could who had had broken legs. Not one of them could say what it was like when the cast actually came off.
Later I realized that none of these people could remember their post-cast experience. It must have been pretty traumatic. The stories of fellow-hoppers seemed to jump over the weeks after the cast came off to long-term recovery periods.

This was Week 7. She, in fact, was not to walk for three more weeks. C recommended very slow and carefully orchestrated use of the leg and no quick change of the hopping gait. Pat felt devastated, more so because those around her expressed great surprise that she was still using the crutches. Their expectations made her feel a failure.
I felt as if Id failed Crutches One. I wondered if I would ever walk properly again. The people around me seemed to think there was something wrong


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with me because I was not walking. Yet I believed that C knew what he was doing and that the overall outcome would be better if I took this time more slowly. When given more information about the type of break I had experienced, one colleague actually apologized for her critical comments. At the time, though, I felt pretty low at not having lived up to the expectations of a good recovery.

Nevertheless, engaging in exercise several times each day, Pat decided to ignore the social chorus and follow Cs advice. She kept on hopping, began to walk in the local pool and to gently move the leg. It proved to be much stronger than expected. There was no sign of the withering and weakness that people had predicted, and Pats regime began to work. Continuing to hop, Pat carried out a normal working life, and eventually went overseas to a conference, on crutches.
I began to face the possibility of going to [a major metropolis in] Asia for a week, still on those crutches. I had previously made the decision that this second trip would be OK. The closer it got to the date, the more likely it seemed that I would not be able to go under my own steam. So I got in touch with the conference people and explained the situation. And they wrote back and said I wouldnt need to climb any stairs and that theyd re-allocate my workshop group to be close to the main lecture theatre. This was very nice of them, but they hadnt considered getting on and off buses to go out to eat. Once I got there, I found the wonder of being ceremoniously wheeled through airport checkpoints. The airline was marvellous, and I can recommend disabled ying as a very efcient and painless alternative to queueing and waiting.

When Do I Need Help? During the whole time of hopping, Pat found herself dealing with numerous novel small encounters that focused on whether to assert her independence or to be dependent on others. She usually decided on the basis of the form and manner of proffered help.
When you struggle to do things for yourself, people tend to stand and watch. My world was divided into the people who pressed the door open on the elevator as I stumbled in, and the people who sighed with impatience, and looked aggrieved to have share their space with the disabled.

A major distinction was whether help was verbally offered or simply given in action. There were fewer emotional overlays to matter-of-fact, but adjusted, help. An example related to how she was accepted or not as part of the social and physical landscape. At the conference in Asia, she found an unexpressed, but automatic, acceptance that she would need special help in getting into elevators and walking between conference sessions. 467

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In one case, the chef simply left the barbecue, picked up my noodle bowl and carried it into the eating area of the hotel. There was no comment. He simply seemed to see that I couldnt carry a noodle bowl on crutches, and to act. Chefs did not usually go into the hotel lobby, but my situation seemed to override the usual for him. I was so grateful for the lack of fuss.

Similarly, at home one friend, without comment, removed the rugs from Pats home oors and another built a ramp so she could avoid hopping down that precarious front step. Does She Really Need Help? An opposite mode of accepting her place in the landscape involved inserting Pat into daily life without any adjustment on the part of the other. Walking down a city street could become a nightmare experience if people did not give her a wide berth.
People became obstacles to be avoided. I looked at the ground in front of me all the time, and a pair of legs coming towards me was a threat. People also kept me standing while they expressed sympathy for my plightnot thinking that I was standing on one leg. The thought of another fall was terrifying. Well-meaning friends told me about people who had broken both legs, and who fell while on crutches and broke an arm. I frequently found myself carrying a notebook in my teeth between meetings while a colleague walked beside me. Car drivers who didnt judge the hopping distance from the car seat to the sidewalk created their own hazard. Car rides that were tted into the drivers schedule meant early starts and late ends to some working days. I just couldnt make it for the whole day. I ached to go home and put up both feet. But I was dependent on their kindness and it didnt seem appropriate to give orders about how the help should be organized. Someone elses comment became a reality now: You cant eat oral arrangements.

While Pat turned away from being cast in the role of a disabled person, she was expecting some greater adjustments to her needs when people offered or gave help. At times, she felt as if people were adding her to their daily chores, without creating a particular place in their day for her. At other times she felt like the little old lady helped across the street by the scout whether she wanted it or not.

Linking Two Lines: Pats Life Experience and Theories in Cultural Psychology
Pats story is not exceptional, and it invites explanation by cultural psychology precisely because it unfolds as the extraordinary within the 468

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ordinary. We may look at Pats experience, then, from the perspective of multiple possible trajectories and variable meanings. At each decision point, her thoughts (at the time and on reection) evoked particular reorganizations of generalized meanings. The general meanings that surround a simple, routine act were transformed in light of new meanings related to being temporarily disabled. The social embeddedness of the incidentals of daily life could manifest itself in a conscious commentary made by Pat or someone else (e.g. interpretations of hospital fees), or it could simply emerge without commentary (e.g. the chefs unexplained assistance). Decisions not to warm up her food or to do without a knife, for example, were now carried out with a running dialogical gloss about the expendable quality of social niceties. Pat was engaging with cultural expectations and practices at the same time as she was handling the contingencies of living. The pay upfront decision point specically brings out social expectations of medical institutions. Formerly in Australia, each person could expect to be treated at an emergency department of a public hospital for free, or to have most expenses covered by medical insurance. Recent changes in government regulations now permit private facilities to charge extra fees not covered by health insurance. For Pat, who lived through an era of social medicine, this non-recoverable cost violated historically entrenched expectations. The friends cashwaving, then, takes on special meaning, as a protest against the change, rather than as any over-compliance to the new procedures. In the minds of Pat and her friend, the request for payment was a violation of social rules, of cultural practices enshrined in socialist medicine. Yet such strongly held social beliefs were open to being set aside in the face of present circumstances and needs. It is only by gaining access to Pats inner dialogue that the combination of the extraordinary with the ordinary gives insight into the signicance of the possible along with the actual. There is more to Pats story than the mere charting of her different I-positions, as is usual in contemporary dialogical self theory (see Hermans, 2001). Admittedly, such positioning occurs in the story, but its signicance lies in the dynamic ow from one form of positioning to another under the demands of concrete life tasks. Pats activities and intentions were constructed in the service of her longer-term goal of being able to recover fully from the injury. Her decision to follow the in-cast exercise regime, for instance, had a signicance that transcended the normal routine of waiting until the cast was removed. She exercised regularly, with little social support for her belief about possibilities after recovery. Thus, the meanings she brought to the experience and the meanings 469

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she generated within it ll out the routine with variety and possibilities (taken up or ignored).

Implications for Theories of Cultural Psychology

What, then, is needed from theories of cultural psychology if they are to account for this and other cases where people live through multifaceted routine experiences? Can psychology bring to light the richness of cultural practices, so that observations and analyses go beyond the level of Ive found another cute cultural practice? We think so. Already, contemporary accounts have progressed beyond simply labelling an activity as a cultural practice. The continuing work is not to engage in the taxonomic listing of the numerous forms practices can take. If we are to explain more phenomena that are culturally pertinent (i.e. any essentially human phenomena), models should broaden the scope of what that label identies, and provide fresh lenses for penetrating into the kinds of activities that make practices a culturally relevant topic of psychological theorizing. We need, in short, to treat cultural practices as multifaceted and dynamic arenas where mental processes reorganize events and their meanings. We need to account for personal reorganizations of generally understood activities, and we need to show how the exceptional can be found bound within unexceptional participation. The markers of cultural practices to be developed in accounts of the different manifestations of this human phenomenon include variability, temporality, spatial location. These dening features of cultural practices all emanate from specifying their essentially psychological character as the work of active minds. It is by attending to these markers and to the meaning-making activities of persons, we submit, that analyses of cultural practices can incorporate both the particulars and the generalities of participation in practice. Variability of Action and Meaning in Time and Space Variability comes from the imbedding of the extraordinary within the ordinary, as people construct their personal meanings and externalize them into the social situation. Cultural inventions become real only as persons live through them with all their powers of sense-making. The reorganization of the meaning of any given practice is not the work of only one person (no matter how central she may be to the events), but meanings are reconstructed by every person functioning within the phenomenon. It follows, then, that variability and diversity of ideas is the norm. Different persons who happen to be differently positioned 470

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in the same practice take on complementary roles (e.g. the helper/the helped, the actor/the commentator on the actor)all co-emerging with the developing Gestalt of the practice. Accordingly, cultural practice can be seen as a co-mental construction created by active persons ideas and reconstructions. An event such as leg-breaking triggers polarized goal orientations and interpretations, and these continue to be elaborated and modied as the event unfolds. Any account of a particular practice remains partial so long as it neglects the unfolding nature of that practice and its attached, uid meanings. Multiple meanings are attached to activities and take people along different lines, as sequences of decision points are encountered (e.g. how to achieve ones own ends in a common activity). Both the actual and the possible are constantly contributing to cultural signicance in a practices evolution. The setting of a practice adds its own demands for variations. The human mind penetrates into the demands of the particular situation, adapting the presenting features to personal goals, as Duncker (1945) demonstrated, but also importing suggestions and meanings from other settings. Variability is created and practices are extended when the transfer is successful in its adaptations. Yet, strangely, variability also is created when the transfer is unsuccessful, so that previously acceptable meanings are modied in light of situational demands. For example, any importation of traditional ways of farming from one country to another involves the farmer in bringing over the accumulated wisdom of previous methods, but also in adapting or even abandoning that wisdom in light of new circumstances. The history of European agriculture in Australia, for instance, is full of examples of human ingenuity seen in replacing European tools with the odd materials that were to hand (e.g. handles made out of horse-shoes) and modifying strains of animals to suit the new, dry terrain. Early settlers were successful where they adapted, and this led to new varieties of sheep. Where they did not marry existing skills to new situational demands, they failed and frequently perished. Improvised Practices as Generators of Variability The cultural nature of the human mind is a powerful generator of variability. In the process of constructing meanings, people can give a particular action a multitude of new possible ways for proceeding further from one given setting to the next. Let us assume that in a nonhuman case, there are basically two open pathways at each decision point in a given settingapproach or withdrawal. Consider what would have been different if the broken leg had happened to a pet dog. 471

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Obviously, when taking the dog to the vet, the dog owner could experience something similar to Pat in dealing with social institutions, but the dog itself would not become involved in intricate meaning construction. In the human case, the meanings added to these two basic possibilities actually create a massive increase in the number of options available at each decision point. The approaching can be accomplished heroically, aggressively, happily, and so on. The withdrawing can become cowardly, tactical, panicky. The attributions can multiple and add to the disharmony of the practice. What one person sees as patriotic and heroic, for instance, another sees as terrorist and cowardly. Particularly interesting for our analyses of practices is that members of the same group can be simultaneously giving a practice such as suicide bombing these opposing meanings. One does not need to step outside a given practice to nd disharmonious views about it. Active Persons as the Unifying Core of Practices Unrealized directions may be as signicant for understanding a practice as the actual directions persons take. Indeed, people do not enact cultural practices as scripted theatre performances, but construct them as improvisational solutions to the demands of a setting (Sawyer, 2003). We need to ask, then, where people are directing their attention and energies in cultural situations, what they are working towards, and how they are doing it. In her classic study of workers activities in a milk factory, for example, Silvia Scribner (1984) showed how workers organized their bottle- and carton-arranging efforts to support their mental calculations. Their efforts were goal-directed and interconnected. Such meaning-making and -exchanging processes can be seen, then, as a general feature of otherwise perpetually localized cultural practices. Once the meanings of peoples activities and commentaries are understood, the events themselves (with all the ordinary and extraordinary features of the practices involved) are infused with signicance beyond the immediate to explanatory concepts that can be generalized across practices. The goals and adaptive processes of active participants consequently become a unifying feature of cultural practices that transcends their localized manifestations. Models need to address both their local and their general signicance. The Ever-Practising Society Parallels to the personal sides of practice participation can be observed at the sociological level of analysis. Just as interpretive points emerged and re-emerged throughout Pats recovery, requiring reinterpretations 472

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of privacy/observability, and autonomy/assistance dualities, so they emerge and re-emerge throughout society. Mutually linked oppositions generate tensions in whole societies as well as in persons. A new dance movement, for instance, becomes a religious ritual once an innovative improviser reframes its signicance. An upfront fee becomes a marker of social decline. Text-messaging activities create new signs whose sense is transferred from one person to another to become institutionalized. Social discourse about citizens rights for privacy or handicapped persons rights to assistance in public places recurs in many societies, and selectively involves argumentation crossing between social and personal spheres. Loudly proclaimed needs to help citizens provide a social base for discrimination against other persons (non-citizens, aliens, etc.). Whenever the helping social system requires upfront fees, the autonomy of the sick can be expressed in deant obstruction of the established social order. The freedoms of modern democratic life are precarious and demand individualized action if they are to be realized. Yet the prole of such demands continues under the control of social institutions. Institutions determine when, and in which forms, individual actions are required, allowed, frowned upon (yet possible), socially reprimanded, and, nally, strictly ruled out. As a result, we can characterize any society as tentatively proceeding (hopping) within the indeterminacy of the social order:
Any generalization that seeks to understand individualized society only in terms of one extreme or the otherautonomy or anomieabbreviates and distorts the questions that confront us here. This society is characterized by hybrid forms, contradictions, ambivalences (dependent on political, economic, and family conditions). It is also characterized . . . by the do-ityourself biography. (Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 2002, p. 31)

Individualization becomes a marker, then, of modern life, precisely because of the opposing demands and exibilities, as Beck and BeckGernsheim (2002) argued. Fitting the disabled into ones own demanding schedule is a frequent instance. Another instance is found in peoples propensities, while constructing their biographies, to develop commentaries on anothers behavior, even if such commentaries remain submerged in their inner dialogue. Once expressed, one persons interpretation can become the trigger of another persons doit-yourself individualized construction. Adaptations in practices are susceptible to dynamic interchanges.


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Assumptions of Harmony or Disharmony in Theory Building In order to deal adequately with everyday practices, theories of cultural psychology need to encompass the kinds of experiences met and constructed by Pat and by all who face intrusion, disruption and adjustment in daily living. The ordinary state of the human psychological world is that of disharmony, although that disharmony encompasses peoples effortful striving for harmony. In contrast, psychological theories seem to be built on the assumption of basic harmony (relying on ideas of the uncomplicated t of persons to social practices). That good t is violated by disharmonious episodes that are being re-equilibrated by the persons involved. The two assumptions are mirror images of each other, differing merely in the direction assumed to be present in psychological lives (striving towards harmony versus restoring harmony). It may be fruitless, then, to search exclusively for the personsociety t in practices, and to analyze, in addition, the personalized and institutionalized points of non-t. Theories in cultural psychology face a challenge of habitthat habit of classication of the unknown into known categories. If theoretical accounts remain xed at the level of classicatory generalities, they are likely to be unable to realize one of their most signicant potentials the potential to account for the complexity and variability of daily life. We reiterate the old saying by Kurt Lewin that there is nothing more practical than a good theory. This is a major challenge for contemporary psychology, where theories are either not built, or are built around limited data. Cultural psychologies have widened the scope of our view by allowing more direct and varied access to their phenomena. Yet the price is the lack of general theories. Under what rubrics can distinctive cultural practices be interpreted as psychologically signicant? We submit that a way of lling out the dimensions of cultural practices is to readmit the cognitive activities of the person into the account. It is in the persons decisions and meanings that the phenomenon is organized into a whole activitya practice. It is in the activities of different minds that the same practice is full of multiple meanings and disharmony. Here we turn to Dunckers (1945) insistence on understanding peoples interpretations as the processes by which they comprehend the situation and attend to and reorganize its localized different features in relation to their own goals and understanding (see Lawrence & Dodds, 1999). Instead of simply taking a slice of intriguing experience, cultural psychological theories need to be able to make some general 474

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observations that allow them to designate what in a given phenomenon is culturally constructed, and how. When we stand back from Pats experience, we note that much of what was happening involved the centrality of constructed meanings to negotiate activities that in themselves need little elaboration as they occur in daily life. Yet as part of the whole, unfolding phenomenon, each of these activities, with Pats interpretation and the interpretation of other persons, became culturally restructured. How that restructuring process is lived through may be the general feature that interests both cognitive and cultural psychologies. It does not require a crisis for ordinary practices to encompass variability and novelty. The typical contains the atypical in its ow. The call is for models that incorporate and account for the escalation of complexity of meanings and actions that come with emerging practices, and the psychological processes by which people reconstruct the ordinary and the extraordinary. Acknowledgments
The writing of this paper was made possible by the generous Brotherton Fellowship to the third author that made it possible to revisit Melbourne University and return to his dreamtime of riding the grand trams of the city. The authors are also grateful to Pat (a pseudonym) for sharing, retrospectively, her thoughts of her personally distressful life experiences and allowing us to make those part of our public knowledge base.

Beck, U., & Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2002). Individualization: Institutionalized individualism and its social and political consequences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Diriwchter, R. (2004). Vlkerpsychologie: The synthesis that never was. Culture & Psychology, 10(1), 85109. Duncker, K. (1926). A qualitative (experimental and theoretical) study of productive thinking (solving of comprehensible problems). Pedagogical Seminary, 33, 642708. Duncker, K. (1939). Ethical relativity? (An enquiry into the psychology of ethics). Mind, XLVIII, 3957. Duncker, K. (1945). On problem solving. Psychological Monographs (Whole No. 270), 1113. Hermans, H. (2001). The dialogical self: Toward a theory of personal and cultural positioning. Culture & Psychology, 7(3), 243281. Lawrence, J.A., & Dodds, A.E. (1999). Dunckers account of productive thinking: Exegesis and application of a problem solving theory. From Past to Future: Clark Papers on the History of Psychology, 1(2), 2944. Sawyer, R.K. (2003). Improvised dialogues: Emergence and creativity in conversation. Westport, CT: Ablex.


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Scribner, S. (1984). Studying working intelligence. In B. Rogoff & J. Lave (Eds.), Everyday cognition: Its development in social context (pp. 940). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

JEANETTE A. LAWRENCE is an associate professor at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She teaches developmental psychology and the ethics of psychology. Her current research interests are on development in adolescence and adulthood, with particular focuses on intergenerational interactions and contributions, and culture and justice in family and legal settings, with particular interest in procedural justice for young people. She is past president of the Australasian Human Development Association. ADDRESS: Jeanette A. Lawrence, School of Behavioural Science, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic., 3010, Australia. [email:] AGNES E. DODDS is a senior lecturer in medical education at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She teaches developmental psychology to medical and psychology students. She is responsible for curriculum development, assessment and evaluation of the medical curriculum. Her current research interests are on the transitions to young adulthood and teaching and learning in university settings. ADDRESS: Agnes E. Dodds, Faculty Education Unit, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry, & Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic., 3010, Australia. [email:] JAAN VALSINER has been active in psychology, promoting the development of new perspectives and emphasizing the relevance of phenomena. His main interests are in the thinking of psychologists, old and young, and in the accomplishment of seemingly impossible tasks. ADDRESS: Jaan Valsiner, Frances L. Hiatt School of Psychology, Clark University, Worcester, MA. 01610-1477, USA. [email:]