Thursday, June 9, 2016

Albert Bandura’s “Toward a Psychology of Human Agency” (2nd of 2 or 3 posts) — its partial attention to space and time orientations confirms STA:C proposition


This post continues the analysis of Albert Bandura’s work on agency and efficacy that I began in Part 1 (here). See that post for background on why doing it should serve my effort to unfold a framework about people’s space-time-action orientations and their significance for cognition and culture — a nascent framework currently dubbed STA:C.

Part 1 explains why I use Bandura’s “Toward a Psychology of Human Agency” (2006), rather than one of his renowned writings. Briefly, because it provides a recent summary overview; can be accessed digitally; and contains many key points that appear in his famed Self-Efficacy (1997) book and other overviews. Where handy, I supplement my effort with a few gleanings from his more-quoted writings. (Quotations and page numbers below are all from this 2006 paper, unless otherwise indicated.)

Remember, my goal here is not to survey Bandura’s work thoroughly, but only to verify that, when he goes about analyzing people’s agency (STA:C’s action) orientations, he includes a lot about people’s space and time orientations as well. This is the same kind of goal that I applied in my earlier analyses of writings by experts on space (Lefebvre) and time (Zimbardo & Boyd).

My proposition is that an expert writing about any one of the three STA:C orientations — time, space, or action — must turn to include all three to some degree. Thus my review is meant to help confirm, for STA:C’s sake, that people’s space-time-action orientations exist as a bundle — a triplex of interrelated cognitive-knowledge elements that no mind or culture can do without. Expert analyses would improve if they recognized this, rather than sticking to their traditional focus on just one (or maybe two) of the three, while suborning or neglecting the other(s).

As for Bandura, my Part-1 post showed that his concept of agency closely matches STA:C’s action component. This Part-2 post inquires into how well he covers people’s space and time orientations. I find that his analysis attends explicitly to selected aspects of time, mostly the future (e.g., forethought, future expectations), but not to time per se. He attends somewhat to spatial matters (e.g., people’s sense of identity, presence of others), but does so in a way that makes space per se only implicitly significant. This continues to confirm my proposition that an expert on any one of the three orientations — in this instance, Bandura on the action (agency) orientation — cannot avoid explicitly or implicitly including the other two in his or her analysis, to some degree.

I still have not enjoyed doing this post. But it’s completion is essential for my next post: an updated depiction of STA:C that draws on my reviews of Lefebvre, Zimbardo & Boyd, and now at last, Bandura. Onward we go.

Bandura’s attention to time orientations


Bandura offers no explicit systematic treatment of people’s time beliefs. But aspects receive constant attention, especially the future, showing up in points he makes about anticipations, aspirations, outcome expectations, optimism and pessimism — how people try to “achieve desired futures and avoid untoward ones”. The following two quotes speak to this:
“To make their way successfully through a complex world full of challenges and hazards, people have to make sound judgments about their capabilities, anticipate the probable effects of different events and courses of action, size up socio-structural opportunities and constraints, and regulate their behavior accordingly. These belief systems are a working model of the world that enables people to achieve desired futures and avoid untoward ones.” (168)
“Efficacy beliefs affect whether individuals think optimistically or pessimistically, in self-enhancing or self-debilitating ways. Such beliefs affect people’s goals and aspirations, how well they motivate themselves, and their perseverance in the face of difficulties and adversity. Efficacy beliefs also shape people’s outcome expectations — whether they expect their efforts to produce favorable outcomes or adverse ones. In addition, efficacy beliefs determine how opportunities and impediments are viewed. People of low efficacy are easily convinced of the futility of effort in the face of difficulties.” (170-171)
These valuable points trace back to passages in Bandura’s magisterial Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory (1986), if not also to his seminal paper, “Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change” (1977). As supporting material for the above quotes, then, here are a two oft-cited quotes from the 1986 book that I plucked from an impressive online archive (here). In the first, I especially appreciate his point that efficacious people may “produce their own future”. In the second, I regard “outcome beliefs” as having a time-orientation component.
“People who regard themselves as highly efficacious act, think, and feel differently from those who perceive themselves as inefficacious. They produce their own future, rather than simply foretell it.” (1986, p. 395)
“In any given instance, behavior can be predicted best by considering both self-efficacy and outcome beliefs ... different patterns of self-efficacy and outcome beliefs are likely to produce different psychological effects” (1986, p. 446).
Yet his points seem to be mainly about how agentic beliefs affect a person’s future outlook, more than vice-versa. I see few indications that Bandura regards time beliefs as a distinct cognitive domain that may be equal in coherence and significance to agentic beliefs.

The one time-oriented concept that receives systematic treatment is forethought. It shows up in Bandura’s list of the “four core properties of human agency”: i.e., intentionality, forethought, self-reactiveness, and self-reflectiveness. I detect time-orientation aspects in each, but forethought is particularly temporal in nature. And Bandura deems it crucial to people’s agency and efficacy orientations:
“The second property of human agency is forethought, which involves the temporal extension of agency. Forethought includes more than future-directed plans. People set themselves goals and anticipate likely outcomes of prospective actions to guide and motivate their efforts. A future cannot be a cause of current behavior because it has no material existence. But through cognitive representation, visualized futures are brought into the present as current guides and motivators of behavior. In this form of anticipatory self-guidance, behavior is governed by visualized goals and anticipated outcomes, rather than pulled by an unrealized future state. The ability to bring anticipated out-comes to bear on current activities promotes purposeful and foresightful behavior. (164)
Thus, there is enough about future orientations in Bandura’s analysis to confirm my STA:C proposition. But while selected aspects of time are significant, time per se does not receive systematic recognition as a distinct perceptual domain on a par with agency. Indeed, his key concept — forethought — is regarded as just “the temporal extension of agency”. Thus he suborns time to agency.

Bandura’s attention to space orientations


According to my reading of Bandura, space per se receives no explicit theoretical attention, not in the way STA:C means. But spatial qualities do appear, at least implicitly, in what he writes about the formation of individual selfhood, the perception of other actors in one’s environment, and the rise of the Internet and other advanced communications networks.

Indeed, the new global communications networks are the one regard where Bandura explicitly writes about space — though he says “place” rather than “space”:
“They transcend time, place, and distance, as they interact globally with the virtual environment of the cyberworld.” (173)
“People worldwide are becoming increasingly enmeshed in a cyberworld that transcends time, distance, place, and national borders.” (175)
“People can now transcend time, place, and national borders to make their voice heard on matters of personal interest and concern.” (177)
Thus he asserts (much like everybody else nowadays) that these new technologies expand people’s access to space and time and thereby increase people’s agency. Valid enough point. My point is simply that this is the only regard where he explicitly mentions space/place. But these passages about space do not seem crucial to his theory; they read more like commentary on current conditions. So I don’t regard them as providing much confirmation for my STA:C proposition that his theorizing about agency is bound to have spatial cognitions embedded in it.

The key place where spatial cognitions show up is in Bandura’s identification of “three modes of agency”: direct personal agency, proxy agency (exercised indirectly, often by somebody else), and collective agency (say, by a group) — with “everyday functioning” often requiring “an agentic blend of these three forms of agency” (165). As I noted in Part 1, this typology is sensible. Moreover, it reflects what Bandura calls “properties of the environments” (166), “in which people are each other’s environments” (165), subject to “triadic reciprocal causation” (see Part 1).

But from a STA:C standpoint, this typology’s underlying essence is not about agency. The three types are more spatial than agentic in nature, for they presume that one’s environment — one’s space — contains other actors, and that they may be able to connect to each other. Perhaps Bandura views that as yet another “extension of agency”. However, from a STA:C viewpoint, perceptions about the existence of one’s identity, the presence of other actors, their location and distribution, connections among them, etc., are mostly a structural spatial matter.

That, in my view, is the best confirmation I find for the space part of my STA:C proposition. In addition, spatial factors peek through, though less so, in his analysis of “the construction of selfhood” (170). Bandura rightly focuses on how childhood development concerns the creation of identity — self-identity, personal identity, social identity — and how this process involves “recognition of oneself as an agent” who “becomes differentiated from others” (169), resulting in “a distinct self capable of making things happen” (170). Then he elaborates as follows:
“As an agent, one creates identity connections over time … and construes oneself as a continuing person over different periods in one’s life. Through their goals, aspirations, social commitments, and action plans, people project themselves into the future and shape the courses their lives take. Personal identity is therefore rooted not only in phenomenological continuity, but also in agentic continuity.
“… Personal identity is partially constructed from one’s social identity as reflected in how one is treated by significant others. As the model of triadic reciprocal causation suggests, a sense of selfhood is the product of a complex interplay of personal construal processes and the social reality in which one lives.” (170)
Per STA:C, however, such passages about identity are loaded with spatial constructs — the words about individualism, selfhood, recognition, differentiation, connections, significant others. Not to mention the temporal references to aspirations, plans, and projection into the future. I’d say this further validates my STA:C proposition — space and time orientations are embedded in Bandura’s theorizing about agency, both explicitly and implicitly.

Closing comment


With that, I have accomplished my purpose for this post: I’ve shown that Bandura’s analysis of agency (i.e., STA:C’s action component) is bound up with explicit and implicit observations about space and time perspectives as well — as STA:C would expect. And I’ve elaborated on that so often throughout this post, that I shall hesitate to do so again here.

There is still lots of additional interesting material in Bandura’s 2006 paper, not to mention his other writings. Perhaps someday in a Part-3 post, or by adding an Addendum to this post, I can better show the fullness of his theorizing by relaying points I’ve set aside for the time being — points he makes about moral agency and personal responsibility, the value of self-directedness, the agentic management of fortuity, the ways agency is being amplified for beneficial as well as hazardous purposes around the world, the exercise of agency in cross-cultural contexts, the growing primacy of human agency in most spheres of life, and about organizations as expressions of collective agency. I could even use some his statements about such matters to further document the blending of space and time into his agency views — e.g., “Through collective practices driven by a foreshortened perspective, humans may be well on the road to outsmarting themselves into irreversible ecological crises” (174).

But I am too spent to persist with all that right now, though I want you to know it’s there in his writings. I’ve done enough to confirm my proposition on behalf of STA:C. Time to proceed to that briefing-like overview depiction next.

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