Actual minds, possible worlds (Bruner)

Bruner, J. (1986). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 3-20.

Bruner reflects on the advent of the cognitive revolution in psychology, in which theorists began to “consider the question of how knowledge and experience in their  myriad forms were organized” (p.8). Also, by the mid-70s, there was a move away from positivism in the social sciences; and in its place welled up a more “interpretive posture: meaning became the central focus — how the word was interpreted, by what codes meaning was regulated, in what sense culture itself could be treated as a “test” that participants ‘read’ for their own guidance” (p.8).

Bruner also noticed that the approaches to narrative followed two main styles: top-down and bottom-up.

  • Psychologists worked top-down. This approach involves first selecting a theory and then using the text as evidence to prove or disprove.
  • Playwrights, poets, novelists, critics and editors worked bottom-up. They tend to select a text first and then explore it (deconstruct/reconstruct). “The effort is to read a text for its meanings, and by doing so to elucidate the art of its author” (p.10). The point is not to prove or disprove but to simply explore and strive to understand.
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