Friday, January 08, 2010


Cool paper from the International Journal for Dialogical Science, (Fall, 2007. Vol. 2, No. 1, 51-76). I've been doing a lot of reading on the origins and development of the self, so this was fun - and a unique perspective considering the other approaches I have seen.

Andrea Garvey, American River College;
Alan Fogel, University of Utah

ABSTRACT. The present paper is grounded on the premise that emotions are an essential component of self development as they simultaneously foster a sense of connection with and differentiation from others. Emotions are viewed as holistic as they dynamically involve the whole body and emerge in dialogical contexts. Emotions involve feelings of being alive (or not) in relationships, experiences that are dynamically lived and developed over time through coregulated dialogues with others. We contend that the study of early emotions in dialogical contexts constitutes a viable avenue to study how young infants develop their sense of self. A case study of a mother-infant dyad’s co-regulated experiences is presented with the goal of illustrating the theoretical and methodological contributions of examining self and emotions as dialogically and dynamically evolving over time.

This paper examines emotions as a crucial and integral component of self development. We argue that emotions are dialogical experiences lived in bodies – bodies that co-exist in relation to other bodies, bodies that engage in alive communication with others, bodies that co-regulate their movements with the movements of others. It follows then that a productive strategy to study how infants develop their sense of self is through the examination of early emotions in the dialogical contexts infants co-created with their mothers. The theoretical underpinnings of the work presented are influenced by dynamic systems theory and the works of Henri Wallon, Mikhail Bakhtin, and David Bohm.

We start by presenting Wallon’s efforts to integrate emotions and self development, followed by a short discussion of Bakhtin’s contributions to conceptualizing selfhood as dialogical and Bohm’s view on dialogue, self and emotions. We then discuss dynamic systems principles relevant to our understanding of emotions as developing dynamically over time in dialogical contexts. Lastly, we present a case study of dialogical exchanges between a mother and her infant in the first months of life to demonstrate how a microgenetic analysis of emotions can add to our understanding of self development in infancy.

Henri Wallon: Self, Emotions and Relationships
French psychologist Henri Wallon (a contemporary of Jean Piaget) has long offered a perspective in which self and emotions are viewed as emerging in the context of the dialectical interchanges between the child and his/her social surroundings (Birns, 1984; Wallon, 1951). At a time when dualistic views of self-other dominated psychological discourse (that is, social others were either neglected for the sake of studying the “inner” self or were conceived of as external forces imposed upon the self), Wallon (1954) wrote about the child’s bodily, emotional and dialogical vicissitudes as being central in the development of self; also known as the “body-psycho-social” model. In Wallon’s own words:
For the first individual self awareness emerges from passionate involvements where each person distinguishes himself with difficulty from others and from the total scene in which his appetites, desires, and fears are bound up. […] The socius, or other, is the ego’s constant partner in mental life. […] All deliberation and indecision is a dialogue–sometimes a rather explicit one–between the ego and an objector (Wallon, 1946, p. 96 & 100, emphasis in original).
According to Wallon (1954, 1984), it is through emotionally charged exchanges with others that children simultaneously experience a sense of connection with and separation from others, thereby contributing to their self development. Children’s emotions are not just adaptive reactions to situations; instead, the foremost function of emotions is that of communication between self and others, including others in the family, the school system, among peers, and so on.

When Wallon (1956) describes five stages of self development, he consistently incorporates the child’s emotional and social experiences as an integral part of this developmental process. During the first stage of self development, the Impulsive Stage, Wallon contends that an infant’s sense of selfhood in the first months of life is primarily free-flowing and governed by its emotional and physiological needs that are lived and fulfilled through others. During this stage, an infant’s self is predominantly fused with others. The second stage of self development emerges by the third month of life, the Conditioned Associations Stage. Infants begin to recognize recurrent relationship patterns associated with their experiences of satisfaction and frustration. As these patterns of satisfaction/frustration emerge, infants start to associate certain bodily experiences of pleasure or displeasure with specific routines lived with others.

By six months of age, the third stage of self development takes shape, the Emotional Stage. Infants now experience and express a wide range of emotions through their affective relationships with others. This broadening in infants’ emotional repertoire is pivotal in facilitating an infant’s insight into his self contributions to these affective experiences. For instance, when playing with and smiling at their mothers, infants do not merely respond to their mothers; instead infants actively contribute to the feelings of joy as they participate in an episode of positive emotional communication with their mothers. Likewise, as infants become overwhelmed with their mothers’ intensely charged efforts to play with them, infants may attempt to disengage from their mothers by looking away from them, stretching their bodies, while maintaining a somewhat neutral facial configuration. As infants widen their repertoire of emotions through affective experiences with their primary caregivers, they also begin to develop and experience a sense that engaging (or disengaging) in communication with others may escalate (or de-escalate) the flow of that communication. Through these lived experiences, infants embark on a gradual process of differentiation from others, or what we like to refer to as a process of distinguishing their self positioning from that of others.
He [infant] begins to recognize the indications of probable success, soon located in the person of the provider. In this way, his gestures, postures, countenance, and voice enter the expressive realm, which thus has a double action: an efferent action that translates the child’s desires and an afferent one for affecting the disposition which these desires encounter or elicit in the other person (Wallon, 1946, p. 95).
The Sensorimotor/Exploratory Stage follows the stage just described. The fourth stage of self development occurs between the ages of 8 and 10 months as infants begin to more consistently explore their physical environment by manipulating various shapes and structures. While these exploratory manipulations are relatively more independent due to the infant’s newly acquired motor and postural skills (such as sitting upright and holding two objects at the same time), an infant’s experiences with others continue to be permeated by “affective contagion and confusion” (Wallon, 1956, p. 28). In other words, the power of emotions to foster a sense of connection with others continues to overshadow the power of emotions to highlight an infant’s unique contribution to the flow of these affective experiences. To put it simply, an infant’s sense of self has not been fully differentiated from that of their relationship partners (or what Wallon referred to as a child’s essential strangers).

Around the third year of life, as the Personalist Stage begins, the child now has experimented with various self-positions in playful contexts with a variety of social others. These experiences, referred to as games of alternation by Wallon, allow the child to finalize his differentiation process from his relationship partners. An important paradox is highlighted by Wallon: by becoming more fully aware of his separateness from others, the child is also reminded of the dialectical necessity (or what we refer to as dialogical necessity) of others as his position in these “games of alternation” can only be lived in the presence (physical or imaginary) of others.

In sum, Wallon (1946; 1956) suggests that emotions lived in relational contexts involving self and others create opportunities for children to not only connect with others but also to differentiate themselves from others. This is because emotions are powerfully felt experiences that orient the child toward and away from others, they enhance a child’s awareness of his unique self position in relation to others while also facilitating a sense of connection with (or disconnection from) others. It is important to highlight that the child’s sense of separateness is not to be confused with a dualist view of self and others in which the self is conceptualized as a self-contained entity. For Wallon, distinction from others is only accomplished dialectically in the midst of a child’s emotional experiences of relating with others. A classic illustration of this simultaneous experience of relating to and separating from others in the process of self development is a child’s imitation of a model, typically observed during the Personalist Stage. When imitating, a child is very selective, often choosing models to which the child feels emotionally close. In mimicking his models, the child temporarily “borrows or becomes these persons” (Wallon, 1965, p. 136), while also slightly modifying the imitated act, endowing it with emotions and making it his own.

Before proceeding to our brief discussions of Bakhtin’s view on dialogical self and Bohm’s view on dialogue, we would like to emphasize that recent research (e.g., Fogel, 2005; Rochat, 2003) on infants’ self experiences has consistently demonstrated that infants as young as 2 months of age are able to integrate sensory information from their eyes or ears, for example, with the coordinated sensations of their bodies. These cross-modal experiences are crucial in the early development of an infants’ sense of self; this sense of self rooted in an infant’s cross-modal, bodily experiences is known by infancy researchers as ecological or situated self. For instance, as infants observe their hands moving in front of them while also feeling the movements of their hands, infants also experience their bodies as situated in a unique location – a location that is different from the location occupied by others. Similarly, hearing infants recognize their own emotional vocalizations (content or distress) as their sound production is cross-modally associated with different experiences of their throat and mouth as well as the social situations in which these experiences emerge. Therefore, infancy research indicates that an infant’s cross-modal experiences contribute to the early experiences of feeling positioned in a unique location in relation to others.
When infants experience their own crying, their own touch, or experience the perfect contingency between seen and felt bodily movements (e.g., the arm crossing the field of view), they perceive something that no one but themselves can perceive. The transport of their own hand to the face, very frequent at birth and even during the last trimester of pregnancy, is a unique tactile experience, unlike any other tactile experience as it entails a ‘‘double touch’’: the hand touching the face and simultaneously the face touching the hand. (Rochat, 2003, p. 723).
While we embrace Wallon’s contributions to our studies of emotions and self development, especially his consistent efforts to integrate children’s emotions and their social experiences as part of the study of self development, we argue that an infant’s bodily experiences of differentiation from and through others can be found in earlier dialogical exchanges between mothers and her infants during the first months of life (a topic we will cover later in this paper). We now turn our attention to Bakhtin’s and Bohm’s contributions on our view of dialogue, self and emotions.

Mikhail Bakhtin and David Bohm: Self in Dialogue
Another important theoretical influence to the work presented in this paper is Mikhail Bahktin’s view of dialogical self and David Bohm’s philosophy of dialogue.
Read the whole article (PDF).

No comments: