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Abstract

A fundamental tenet of much sociological, psychological and educational literature assumes that the creation of a predictable environment is crucial for nurturing a sense of well-being, as well as for generating a sense of trust in the wider social order. Still, the ways in which the environment is structured, and the very importance attached to the notion of predictability, will vary in different cultural contexts. Findings from an ethnography of daily life at an Israeli kindergarten over the 2001 school year show how the teacher, albeit unwittingly, shaped an environment that was inherently unpredictable. This unpredictability, in turn, served to mobilize personal resources and social practices among the children as a means not only of coping with the unpredictability, but of turning it to their advantage. Studies of Israeli Jewish youth reveal that the resources that are appropriate for successfully managing in an unpredictable environment are indeed salient and positively valued also at later stages in life. It is argued that socialization into an unpredictable environment at an early age reflects an enduring and characteristic facet of Israeli culture with regards to child-rearing.
Forthcoming in Culture and Psychology
On the Alert in an Unpredictable Environment
Deborah Golden and Ofra Mayseless
Deborah Golden Ofra Mayseless
Faculty of Education Faculty of Education
University of Haifa University of Haifa
Mount Carmel 31905 Mount Carmel 31905
deborahg@construct.haifa.ac.il ofram@construct.haifa.ac.il
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On the Alert in an Unpredictable Environment
Abstract
A fundamental tenet of much sociological, psychological and educational
literature assumes that the creation of a predictable environment is crucial for nurturing a
sense of well-being, as well as for generating a sense of trust in the wider social order.
Still the ways in which the environment is structured, and the very importance attached
to the notion of predictability, will vary in different cultural contexts. Findings from an
ethnography of daily life at an Israeli kindergarten over the 2001 school year show how
the teacher, albeit unwittingly, shaped an environment that was inherently unpredictable.
This unpredictability, in turn, served to mobilize personal resources and social practices
among the children as a means, not only of coping with the unpredictability, but of
turning it to their advantage. Studies of Israeli Jewish youth reveal that the resources that
are appropriate for successfully managing in an unpredictable environment are indeed
salient and positively valued also at later stages in life. It is argued that socialization into
an unpredictable environment at an early age reflects an enduring and characteristic facet
of Israeli culture with regards to child rearing.
Keywords: child-rearing, early education, ethnography, Israel, predictability
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Introduction
Predictability and well-being
The experience of our daily lives as more or less predictable is essential for
ensuring a personal sense of well-being and security as well as for generating a sense of
trust in the surrounding social order. These two dimensions – "ontological security" and
"sense of trust" in the social order (Giddens 1984) - are deeply intertwined, not only
because each enables the other but also because both emerge out of constant
engagement and immersion in routines. Indeed, the notion of routine is fundamental to
Giddens' (1984) theoretical endeavour to elucidate the reciprocal, and circular, links
between social structure and practical action. Though the predominance of predictable
routine may be deemed inimical to creativity and spontaneity (Misztal, 1996:111), the
absence of regular, routine, habitual modes of acting in the world may undermine not
only our sense of the normality of the world around us but also our very sanity insofar as
we would be in a state of "permanent uncertainty, puzzling all the time what to do"
(Misztal, 1996:108):
For most people the existence of social order, which dwells in day-to-day
predictability, is convenient and comforting. Daily routines, in particular,
create a feeling of security. Since the world of everyday life is the most
important reality with which human beings are in contact, the habits of
everyday life can be seen as devices to sustain the predictability and stability
of social life (p. 102).
From a psychological perspective, the importance of predictability in the
construction of reality was powerfully articulated by Martin Seligman (1975). He
contended that a sense of predictability is essential for survival and suggested that
without it humans and animals alike are prone to helplessness, depression and even
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death. He further suggested that to develop a sense of security and efficacy individuals
need to perceive contingent predictability, namely some sense of predictable control
(controllability) over outcomes. This core need for predictability pertains to achieving
positive outcomes that the individual desires, as well as to having signals predicting
negative outcomes such as disasters. He stressed that even if controllability over negative
outcomes cannot be achieved, the existence of alarm signals that indicate when and
where a negative outcome is expected (even if this is unavoidable) gives individuals a
sense of security, because as long as the signal is not activated they can feel secure.
These notions have been amply applied in underscoring that the task of
caregivers, most notably parents, is to provide children with moderately predictable and
controllable environments in which routines, rituals and clear contingencies are operating
and are articulated (e.g., Ainsworth, 1979; Scarr, 1996). Further, in view of the difficulty
of young children to observe contingencies even if they exist and to self-regulate, it is
stressed that caregivers should make extra efforts to construct predictable and safe
environments and that it is their task to provide such contexts and circumstances and to
buffer children from unpredictability (Barnard & Solchany, 2002). In particular, the idea
that parents' major task is to protect their child from physical danger and from
psychological danger such as emotional or cognitive overload has been in the center of
most core theories of child development (e.g., Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991; Bowlby,
1988; George & Solomon, 1999). Thus, it is suggested that setting up a predictable
environment and buffering children from exposure to unpredictability and, in particular,
an unpredictably dangerous environment is at the heart of caring for the young. Only in a
relatively predictable environment will children flourish and learn to confidently explore
their selves and their world (Sroufe, 2002).
The organization of such an environment is dependent upon the structuring of
time and space, the existence of rules and regulations pertaining to behavior and social
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interaction, and the regular presence of a familiar adult who serves to protect the
children from undue chaos and to mediate intrusions in the daily routines in such a way
as to preserve the safe environment (Sroufe, 2002; Sytsma, Kelley & Wymer, 2001). This
sense of a secure base, somewhat paradoxically, helps them to explore beyond the bounds
of these routines and to learn to cope with ambiguities and with unanticipated
disruptions in them (Bowlby, 1988).
Predictability in cultural context
The process of generating a deep sense of trust in the social order through
exposure to predictable routines begins in early childhood, primarily in the home
(Giddens, 1984; Misztal, 1996). Such a sense of trust, however, is not a once-and-for-all
attainment in the domestic environment; rather, its maintenance consists of ongoing
exposure to, and engagement in, predictable routines of daily life (Giddens, 1984). With
growing numbers of women in the work force, industrialized societies are increasingly
turning to institutionalized settings to educate, nurture and socialize young children on a
daily basis (see Wollons, 2000). Such early education settings are entrusted with the task
of transferring young children from home to the wider society; in so doing, they present
children at an impressionable age with their first extra-familial experience of organized
social order. An anthropological perspective would suggest that the ways in which a
predictable environment is constructed, indeed the very importance attributed to the
notion of predictability, will be culturally informed and variously elaborated in specific
socio-cultural contexts (see also Bradley, 2002). Given the understanding that "classroom
organization is in part a working-out of culturally embedded values" (Alexander, 2000:
385), how do such settings go about the task of constructing a predictable environment
for the children in their care? Notwithstanding the similarities shared by many early
education settings worldwide (see Wollons, 2000), detailed ethnographies of such settings
in different cultural and social contexts reveal that there are significant differences
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between them in the ways in which they juxtapose the need for predictable structure, on
the one hand, and the requirements of a child-centered pedagogy, namely demonstrating
sensitivity to children's needs and changing circumstances, on the other (see Ben-Ari
1997; Lubeck, 1985; Norman 1991; Peak 1991; Polakow, 1982). For example, in Japanese
preschools, fighting among children is regarded as natural and there is much leeway for
them to do so; at the same time they learn to obey the rigid dictates of more organized
activities: "chaotic periods of free play are followed by silent formal ritual" (Peak, 1991,
78; see also Tobin, Wu and Davidson, 1989).
In this paper, we set to understand the ways in which predictability is constructed
within an Israeli early education setting, with particular attention to the effects of this
structuring on the sorts of social practices, characteristics, and values encouraged in the
children. The Israeli context is instructive for exploring the construction of a predictable
environment because it may be characterized as a society in turmoil. Since the
establishment of the state in 1948, the population of the country has grown from half a
million to six million citizens mostly by way of recurrent waves of immigrants, many of
whom were refugees. These large numbers of newcomers presented Israeli society with
urgent and thorny economic, social and cultural issues and Israeli society continues to be
internally divided into different social groups, each of which wages an open cultural war
against the others, in a "continuous conflict over the meaning of what might be called
Israeliness, the rules of the game, and the criteria for distribution and redistribution of
common goods" (Kimmerling, 2001:2). Moreover, recurrent violent conflicts with
Israel's Arab neighbours, and acts of terrorism inside the country present a persistent
security threat. These circumstances, as well as the pending compulsory military service
for youth, reinforce themes of threat and danger for Israeli youth. Finally, this turmoil
and unpredictability in the present are further reinforced by the memory of trauma in the
past, especially the Holocaust, both on the part of individual refugees to Israel and on the
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part of the Israeli state which keeps alive this collective memory of disaster as part and
parcel of its very identity.
Given this wider context, it seemed interesting to examine how a teacher in an
early education setting chose to construct the children's immediate environment. Did the
turbulence of the wider environment pervade the kindergarten, unchecked? Alternatively,
did the teacher invest greater efforts in setting up an orderly, predictable environment in
order to buffer the children from the intrinsic circumstantial unpredictability over which
they had no control? Furman's (1994) ethnographic account highlights the daily life of
four early education settings in Israel, including a day-care center, preschool,
kindergarten and first grade class. The findings reveal an absence of clearly defined and
consistently adhered to rules and routines, particularly in regard to those pertaining to
social interaction between children and teachers and among themselves. Framing her
study in terms of the individual-collective dialectic, Furman claimed that Israeli children
learn to be assertive, even aggressive, on the individual level, at the same time that they
learn passive obedience to dictates of the collective, via ritual ceremony, on the other. In
a previous paper, Golden (2006) looked at the way in which daily life is structured at an
Israeli kindergarten with a view to examining notions of social order conveyed to
children. In that paper, she described two alternative sources of social order, namely,
collective order and personal order, embodied by the teacher. Building upon these
studies, in this paper we ask how might the ways in which the teacher structured the
kindergarten environment be reflected in the sorts of characteristics, practices and values
inculcated among the children? And what are the long-term developmental trajectories of
Israeli children in this regard?
After a brief description of the kindergarten in which fieldwork took place and
the mode of fieldwork, we turn to a fine-grained ethnographic account of daily life at the
kindergarten. We first describe the ways in which the teacher mediated the outside world
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to the children; we then describe the ways in which she constructed the routines that
made up daily life inside the kindergarten. Taken together, we show how the teacher,
albeit unwittingly, shaped an environment that was inherently unpredictable. This
unpredictability, in turn, acted to mobilize personal resources and social practices among
the children as a means, not only of coping with the unpredictability, but of turning it to
their advantage. We then present findings from studies of Israeli Jewish adolescents
which accord with this interpretation and suggest that socialization into an unpredictable
environment at an early age reflects an enduring and characteristic facet of Israeli culture
with regards to child rearing.
Setting and Mode of Study
Fieldwork was carried out by the first author of this paper who is a social
anthropologist trained in ethnographic fieldwork. The study was undertaken in a regular
state-run kindergarten which, serves as the first year of compulsory education in the
Israeli education system although it comes under a semi-autonomous unit in the Ministry
of Education, The kindergarten was located in a central neighborhood of a small town in
the north of Israel. The particular town was selected by the ethnographer because she
had read in a local newspaper that the town was investing huge sums of money in
upgrading the school system and thought that they might not be averse to an
ethnographer. She received permission from the regional Ministry of Education to
undertake research. The particular kindergarten was selected by the regional supervisor
for early education in conjunction with the woman in charge of the same at the local
municipality. The kindergarten, housed in a purpose-built building, unattached to any
local school, catered to 31 children ranging in ages from five to six, a third of whom were
from families who had arrived from the Caucasus over the prior decade, as part of the
massive wave of immigration from the (former) Soviet Union starting in 1989. There
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were sixteen girls and fifteen boys. Staff consisted of the main teacher, her assistant, and
a special needs teacher who came in approximately twice a week to attend to particular
children.
Although we make no claims for this kindergarten as typical or representative of
Israeli kindergartens, we have no reason to believe that it was a-typical either - the fact
that it was selected for the ethnographer by two women in authority would seem to
suggest that the teacher and her kindergarten were highly thought of, that is, not only
typical, but typically good. Moreover, the teacher was well esteemed among her
professional colleagues, as well as among the parents, some of whom had insisted on
sending their children to her kindergarten in spite of its being outside their
neighborhood. It is important to bear this in mind throughout because none of what we
describe in the following was considered remarkable in any way by participants, including
the ethnographer herself who only in hindsight recognized the issue addressed in this
paper as worthy of analytical attention (a belated discovery not unusual in ethnographic
research).
Fieldwork consisted of participant observation at the kindergarten for two full
days a week from December 2000 through until the end of the school year in June 2001.
The ethnographer's initial interest in the kindergarten was wide-ranging and she made
copious, detailed handwritten notes of all routines and activities as they occurred, so as to
capture the natural flow of events. On the whole, the ethnographer remained at the edge
of the proceedings – proffering help or otherwise actively participating in what was going
on only when called upon to do so by staff or children. Apart from many informal
conversations with the teacher, her assistant, and the special needs teacher during the
course of the day, she held open-ended, in-depth interviews with them towards the end
of fieldwork, addressing their views on early education and on their role. She also held
in-depth interviews with some of the parents which addressed their general expectations
9
of early education, and their views on this particular kindergarten. Given the agreement
with the Ministry of Education, the local municipality, and the teacher, according to
which research was to focus on the teaching rather than the learning, observations
focused on the teachers and teaching practices and the ethnographer tried not to watch
the children too obtrusively and did not hold lengthy conversations or interviews with
them.
The ethnographer was primarily and most generally concerned with the ways in
which the teachers sought to nurture and inculcate a deep sense of cultural, social and
political belonging to Israeli society among the children in their care. Accordingly, and
undertaken in the spirit of exploratory research, the ethnographer made no a-priori
decision to focus on specific topics; rather, these emerged as part of the subsequent
process of reading and writing up the accumulated material on leaving the field. As topics
of interest emerged (see Golden 2004; 2005a; 2005b), all pertinent materials were read,
organized and analyzed in accordance with conventional modes of coding, classification
and analysis of qualitative data, based on the constant comparative method (see Maykut
and Morehouse, 1994).
Findings
The broad structure
On the whole the atmosphere at the kindergarten was relaxed and lively. The
teacher was experienced and confident - though sometimes strict, she was spirited,
humorous and affectionate and the children seemed happy and forthcoming. Observed
through a wide lens, life at kindergarten appeared regularly structured: the school year
was organized in accordance with the religious/national calendar which not only marked
time in a formal manner but also determined the substantive content of the curriculum;
moreover, within the broad parameters of this curriculum, the kindergarten day consisted
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of a regular sequence of activities which, apart from special festive days or trips outside
the kindergarten, rarely changed. Both teachers and children were well aware of this
sequence and, within these routinely scheduled activities, children seemed to be quite
clear about what they were to do and what sort of activity, engagement and behaviors
were expected of them. Similarly, on the whole, the spatial layout of the kindergarten
remained stable – from day to day there were few substantial changes in the way in which
the kindergarten was physically organized. Demarcations between inside and outside,
between different corners of the kindergarten, and between the objects and activities
appropriate to these different spaces, were clear-cut. Regarding behavior, the teacher was
quite strict regarding the outer limits of social behavior acceptable to her. Thus, at one
end of the spectrum, there was very little overt physical aggression or violence among the
children and any evidence of it was severely curtailed by the teacher. At the other end of
the spectrum, children who wandered around on their own, or made it otherwise obvious
that they were averse to group activities - were called to order. Thus, in accordance with
the expected duty of care, this teacher has succeeded in establishing a moderately
predictable environment.
Lurking danger
In the midst of this generally lively and moderately predictable atmosphere was
an underlying thread of anxiety, routinely voiced by the teacher, about potential accident,
danger or ill health. Clearly, we would expect that part of the adult role in relation to
children consists of instructing them in taking care. Indeed health and safety education is
included, in some detail, in the national preschool curriculum as one of the basic life
skills to be imparted to the children, along with intellectual skills, language and literacy,
physical education and road safety (Ministry of Education, 1995: 57-69). In the
kindergarten under study, notwithstanding the unpredictability of external events over
11
which the teacher had no control, in her depiction of the outside world to the children,
she appeared to magnify the sense of unpredictability, even danger. How was this
magnification articulated?
Ad-hoc, urgent and anxious warnings.
In the daily run of things, on the whole,
instructions to the children in taking care were not set out in advance but rather made ad
hoc, in response to situations or discussions that arose. These warnings were often
accompanied by a sense of urgency and were expressed in an anxious manner because
the teacher seemed afraid that some harm might be about to befall the child there and
then, unless she responded quickly and assertively. For instance, in response to the
children's burst of energy on being let out to play in the outside yard, the teacher
insinuated that physical activity might get out of hand: "You've forgotten the rules of
behavior in the yard. The most important thing, you've forgotten how to take care of
yourselves. Don't run. Don't jump. Don't kick", or "You can play but don't run". Or, in
response to a child's curiosity about a stone she had found, she said, "Gently, carefully,
pick it up, check it out, move it, take care that it won't sting or bite. Don't be wild, don't
snatch, make sure that nothing is hiding there, be careful, be responsible"; to children on
the swing, she said: 'the most dangerous thing is the swing"; or, to one of the girls who
had picked up a sack of sand: "Don't pick that up or it'll fall on your toe"; "Get off -
that's dangerous"; or, in an endeavor to persuade one of the children not to take out a
large play truck: "What'll happen if you bump into someone?". In addition, the children
themselves were portrayed as potentially harmful to each other. Such harm might occur
during physical play: "Don't play football", but also, through close physical contact, even
if this was friendly in nature. Two girls hugging each other in the yard were told to
separate, as were two others who were running along while holding each others" hands:
"If one of you falls down, she'll drag the other one down".
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Outings outside the kindergarten evoked numerous warnings and exhortations to
the children to take care of themselves and the teacher did nothing to hide her sense of
immense relief when, indeed, nothing at all went wrong.
Worst-case scenarios.
The second way in which the teacher appeared to magnify
the sense of danger was by evoking the worst case scenario in the instructions issued to
the children regarding taking care and avoiding accident. Natural elements such as water,
the sun or fire might be depicted as potentially dangerous. For example, regarding cold
water she said: "Don't go and fetch water without permission. It's cold today and if you
get wet you'll get sick"; regarding exposure to hot sun she cautioned: 'the sun is burning
hot and you could get hurt". The teacher further warned the children against playing with
matches: "Children mustn't play with matches because it ends up with fire and death".
An illuminative instance may be seen in a conversation between the teacher and children
on the occasion of Tu Bi-Shvat, a festival day celebrating the new year of trees, in its
religious tradition, and to afforestation in its Zionist adaptation (see Doleve-Gandelman,
1987).
The teacher was showing the children a colorful poster depicting an Israeli
family having a picnic in the shade of some trees. 'that's the Jewish National
Fund (Keren Kayemet Le-Israel) that planted trees for people to come and have
picnics. God created the natural world – the sky, the earth, plants and
animals, water – he created a very, very, very beautiful world and what do
you have to do? You have to take care of it. Go home and ask your parents
how to take care, how to behave and, god forbid, what happened last year,
there was a huge disaster –an entire forest was destroyed." The children
intervened with various ideas of how this could have come about: 'the trees
were cut down", "An earthquake", "The Arabs went to war", "The Arabs cut
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down the trees", to which the teacher responded: "No children, it was a huge
disaster … a huge disaster, something terrible, a huge disaster. There was a
strong wind together with … should I tell you? There was fire, fire, fire ….
What do you use to make a fire? A pine cone caught fire, the fire broke out
and the trees burned down, the animals were burned. They had to bring
helicopters and water and it took three days to put out the fire. A very big
fire … During the barbeque somebody forgot to put out the fire …"
Though evocation of worst-case scenarios might serve as sanctions for good
behavior, on the assumption (that is itself culturally embedded) that children cannot
understand nuances but need extreme examples, these evocations, brought up in the
midst of discussion of positive holiday experiences, still served to magnify the sense of
immanent danger and the possible dire consequences of carelessness. In addition, when a
child came to kindergarten after an illness or accident, the teacher might ask him or her
to relate to the entire group their stories during which she encouraged the listeners to ask
questions – where it hurt, whether it bled, what the doctor had done, whether he or she
had cried. The teacher's interest in these particular stories of distress and bodily danger
is noteworthy given that, on the whole, she was dismissive of the children's home lives
and reluctant to permit the children to relate stories from home.
Unreliable authority.
Moreover, in the face of this unpredictability and potential
danger, the teacher appeared to imply some reservations about the protective capacity of
adult caretakers to prevent harm from befalling the children. Thus, for instance, bringing
to a close a long conversation between teacher and children about a recent suicide bomb
attack, the teacher invoked the power of the state and its army to protect its citizens. Her
final words of assurance, however, consisted of her routine imperative to the children
that they take care of themselves: "The most important thing is that we take care of
14
ourselves, that we're on the lookout". When all else fails to protect, even the state, she
seemed to be saying to the children, you must take care of yourselves. Clearly, it could be
argued, in the case of a suicide bomb attack, the teacher's reservations about the
protective capacity of adults were accurate. However, as we have seen, even in the daily
run of things, on the whole, instructions to the children in taking care were ad hoc, in
response to situations or discussions that arose, rather than setting out clear-cut rules and
regulations in advance, or arranging an appropriate environment – physical and social –
to prevent harm and accident. The absence of preventive measures was apparent on a
local walk, for example, during which the children were repeatedly reproached for their
untidy walking and their stepping off the pavement into the road; however, no organized
solution was provided for this difficulty; indeed, they were forbidden to walk in pairs
hand in hand just in case "one of you trips up and pulls the other one down".
In lieu of organizing a physical and social environment in which unpredictability
was minimized, by implication it was the children themselves who were encouraged to
take responsibility for taking adequate care. Hence, attention to issues of accident and ill
health took the form of cautionary tales in which the teacher seemed to be suggesting
that notwithstanding the danger lurking in an unpredictable world, things gone awry were
the outcome of not heeding warnings and not taking care, and that the key to remaining
unharmed lay within the children's own grasp. In the event that the children did hurt
themselves during the day or did not seem to be feeling well, the teacher took elaborate,
highly visible care of the children's illnesses and injuries: asking solicitous questions,
bandaging their cuts, and massaging their sore tummies. In so doing, she seemed to
assure the children that she would be there to take care of them if and when harm befell
them. Responsibility for things going wrong in the first place, however, rested on the
children themselves.
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In sum, in her portrayal of the outside world to the children, the teacher
appeared to magnify a sense of lurking danger, to express some reservations about the
protective capacity of adults – both at home and elsewhere - and, hence, to imply to the
children that they themselves were ultimately responsible for their own well-being and
safety. As we shall see in the following sections, the sense of intrinsic unpredictability
conveyed to the children by the teacher did not only pertain to the outside world but also
to the daily run of kindergarten life over which the teacher, in principle, had greater
control and more leeway to shape as she saw fit.
Daily run of kindergarten life
Writing about the establishment and maintenance of classroom routines by
expert school teachers, Leinhardt, Weidman and Hammond (1987) distinguish between
rules, or "explicit or implicit constraints" and routines which are clearly defined and well
known "shared socially scripted patterns of behavior". The study, based on the
observation of six teachers, showed how detailed routines (management, support and
exchange routines) were established and maintained throughout the year, primarily by
frequent, and precise, rehearsal. In the kindergarten under study, daily life was
characterized by some rules, which set out the outer constraints on acceptable behavior,
but few routines. Routines were characterized by a degree of inconsistency that
consistently served to undermine their very function as routines. This relative absence of
routines would seem to be over and above what we would expect from the flexibility
inherent to a child-centered approach.
Management routines.
Management routines are particularly apparent during
transitions between activities (Leinhardt et al, 1987). Precisely because such moments
require special attention, we might expect them to be more carefully worked out by the
teacher so as to ensure their smooth running. In the kindergarten under study, a close
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look at the transitions between activities reveals a sense of raggedness which pertained to
both when and how activities began and ended. As to when activities took place, although
there was a regular sequence of activities and broad time limits within which these were
to take place, and in spite of the large clock on one of the walls, there was no precise
time for anything. Clearly, the children themselves could not tell the time. Rather, the
lack of precise time would appear to be indicative of the teacher's looseness in
interpreting the wider temporal structure in which daily life was anchored. This same
looseness also extended to how activities began and ended.
Although some activities might have a formalized beginning, they seemed to
peter out towards the end. Thus, for instance, the first formal gathering of the morning
was usually opened by a ceremonial greeting by the teacher, accompanied by a song and
rhythmic hand movements. By contrast to this formalized, ceremonial beginning, which
heralded the whole group learning activity, this same activity very rarely came to a clear
end. It might come to an end because the teacher had rounded off the topic and
appeared to have completed the task she had set for herself and the children; or because
of extrinsic factors that changed from day to day such as a chance telephone call that
interrupted the proceedings, or because some of girls seized a pause in the activity to
rush across the room and hug the teacher. Actions designed to aid the transition between
activities were inconsistently used. Thus, for instance, the teacher might use a bell, or ask
a child to ring the bell; at other times, the children themselves would ask to ring the bell,
to which request she might or might not agree, or the bell would lie unused for days on
end. Moreover, and perhaps precisely because of the sporadic use of the bell, it seemed
to command very little attention – nobody would pay it very much heed and the teacher
usually needed to back it up with verbal exhortations. Alternatively the teacher might say
that she was going to count to ten during which time the children must finish a certain
17
task, such as setting the room to order, she would begin counting but it would simply
dwindle away without ever reaching ten.
Another example of the inconsistency that characterized management routines
pertained to rotation. There was no rotation of tasks of any kind among the children
including tidying up, sweeping, cleaning, watering the plants, tending to the garden,
feeding the fish, etc., as well as participating in various activities, such as taking on parts
in dramatic enactments of stories, poems and conversations (cf. Peak, 1991). Even if the
teacher might have had some rationale for the choices she made, this rationale was not
made explicit and remained unclear to both observer and, presumably, children. Further,
her inconsistent actions could not be easily interpreted as flexibility and responsiveness
on her part in response to changing circumstances, as she would appear to respond
differently even in similar circumstances, as is apparent in the following example.
Mid-morning snack followed the group learning activity but had no fixed
time: sometimes it took place as early as 9:45, at other times an hour later.
During the learning activity, as time went by, the children grew increasingly
restless, fidgety and otherwise disengaged. The more outspoken children
might complain to the teacher that they were hungry, to which complaints
the teacher might respond by glancing at the clock and saying "My goodness,
I didn't notice the time"; or by reproaching the children who aired their
complaints: "You don't think I' m going to stop teaching because you're
hungry!" Sometimes the teacher signaled to the assistant teacher that she
should bring in the children's bags which were hanging on pegs or scattered
on the floor in the small entrance hall; at other times she might send out one
or two children to bring in the bags; sometimes the assistant teacher
appeared to decide that enough was enough and simply commenced with the
preparation for snack-time and with or without the help of one or two
18
children. Once the children had taken out their snack, the mode of
commencing to eat remained uncertain. Some children might begin to eat
straightaway, usually very hungry by the time snack-time commenced; other
children appeared hesitant, waiting for a signal or a ritualized "bon appetit"
from the teacher, an extremely common mode of indicating the start of
consuming food in Israeli everyday life. A child might ask whether they were
permitted to begin eating, to which the teacher would respond with a
wholehearted "bon appetit", or appear surprised at the request: "Of course!
Is food for talking? Is food for asking how you're doing? Of course it's for
eating". Finally, the mode in which snack-time came to an end changed from
day to day: sometimes each child went out to play as soon as he or she had
finished eating; at other times he or she would have to wait –with arms
folded or without - until the assistant teacher called him or her by name and
permitted him or her to leave; or the entire group had to wait until everyone
had finished before they were all sent out to play.
As this example shows, the point here is twofold: first, there was no consistent
routine in terms of frequency of one way of doing things as opposed to another;
second, that the different ways were not contingent upon observable changing
circumstances, apparent to the observer who, in this regard, was in a similar position
to the children themselves.
Support and exchange routines.
During whole class learning activities, the
teacher would sometimes endeavor to monitor the mode in which the children
responded to her questions and she would tell the children to put their hands up if they
wished to speak. Often, however, this endeavor was short-lived, and the children would
simply call out their answers, rather than putting their hands up to get permission to
speak. Furthermore, the teacher's reaction to these intrusions was inconsistent without
19
apparent reason – she might respond in a positive manner without acknowledging the
fact that the provision that she herself had put in place had been overridden, or she
might just ignore the calls. At other times the teacher would declare that a particular
child's contribution to the discussion was the last one but then permit an additional child
to add his or her contribution. In so doing, she herself overrode her own regulations
regarding permission to speak. In similar fashion, the teacher might initiate a round in
which each child took his or her turn to answer a question or participate in the task at
hand, thus ensuring everyone's participation. Sometimes this mode of turn-taking would
work but at other times it would simply dwindle away. Thus, for instance, what started
out as a round would end up by children shouting out answers, or the next turn would be
taken by whoever happened to be ready. In another example, calling attention to
themselves by calling out the teacher's name might work, on other occasions, the teacher
would reprimand the child for calling out her name and told them to put up their hand
instead.
As the following example shows, even with regards to particular children and
their particular needs, similar behaviors might call up no more than a cursory response or
none at all, or at some occasions meeting with approval, and on others - disapproval .
On the way to finding a seat ready for circle time, Dina approaches the
teacher, and gives her a hug. The teacher returns her hug and gives her a kiss.
Towards the end of circle time, Dina rushes across the room and hugs the
teacher. Annie and Ellen join in. The teacher laughs and circle time comes to
an end.
Ali approaches the teacher for a hug. The teacher holds her off: "Ali I'm in
the middle of talking. I'm in the middle of talking".
20
During circle time, Ellen approaches the teacher and puts her head in her lap.
"Have you forgotten the rules of behavior during circle time?", says the
teacher.
Dina approaches the teacher for a hug in the middle of the day. The teacher
reprimands her by saying: "What did we agree? Once at the start of the day,
once at the end". Still, she gives Dina a hug.
These incidents of hugging, which accompanied and punctuated most days, well
illustrate the teacher's inconsistent reactions to the same behavior, and the children's "try
your luck" strategy, in response. Indeed, the inconsistent responses on the part of the
teacher did not necessarily discourage the children; on the contrary, some of them
seemed to rise to the challenge of the game and enjoy the gamble. Thus, throughout the
year, not only did the hugging become more frequent but more and more girls took part
in it - at any one time, there might be a heap of five or six girls clasping onto any part of
the teacher's body of which they could get hold. Moreover, as we have seen, the absence
of rotation of tasks meant that the criteria according to which children were chosen, or
not chosen, were fuzzy and unclear. In these circumstances, the children simply tried
their luck. Trying their luck might mean finding ways to make themselves scarce so as to
avoid and evade tasks that they did not want to take on, such as sweeping up or,
alternatively, finding ways of drawing the teacher's attention to themselves if they were
keen to participate, like persuading her to let them ring the bell. Thus, for instance, when
the teacher invited children to volunteer for roles in the dramatic enactment of a popular
story, some of the children physically pushing themselves forward, others called out her
name, while others sat quietly with arms folded in pronounced fashion. Any of these
strategies might work, if not on one occasion, then on another.
Clearly, there is a thin line between what we have characterized as inconsistency,
on the one hand, and the flexibility required of a child-centered approach to early
21
education, on the other. However, we would suggest that, borrowing the notion of
consistency from attribution theory (Kelley 1967), namely, the degree to which the actor
performs the same behaviour towards an object on different occasions, we are justified in
characterizing much of what went on at the kindergarten as leaning towards
inconsistency rather than indicating flexibility. This is particularly clear in the instances in
which the teacher's response to the children's needs, both as a whole class, and on the
individual level, was itself inconsistent. Thus, as we saw in the example of snack-time, the
teacher's response to the children's needs, in this case, for food, was inconsistent and did
not seem to reflect sensitivity to circumstances or to unique needs of different children.
The incidents described above well illustrate the unpredictability that
characterized daily life at the kindergarten. This unpredictability was apparent even in
situations in which it would not be difficult for the teacher, in principle, to set out certain
regulations and to adhere to these regulated ways or in the case of any deviation, to
provide some rationale. As the above account reveals, however, within the broad
structure there appeared to be no such regulated and consistently implemented ways of
handling much of daily life at kindergarten. On the contrary, although there was some
broad structure in place, the stability that might emanate from the consistent
implementation of such a structure was undermined, primarily by the teacher herself. In
these circumstances of intrinsic unpredictability, the children appeared to try their luck.
Thus, the children learnt that it might be worthwhile trying to intervene in the daily run
of things, in various ways, so as to effect the unfolding of events to their advantage. This
implied that children learned to be on the lookout for opportunities to act to achieve
desired outcomes, but that this alertness was accompanied by a sense of uncertainty,
precisely because the actions they took could never ensure a predictable desired
response.
22
To sum up, as we have seen, at the kindergarten, the outside world was explicitly
depicted as unpredictable, if not downright dangerous. In these circumstances, the
teacher's responsibility for protecting the children took the form of issuing a series of
prohibitions to be obeyed. In other words, in these circumstances of lurking danger, the
children were to learn that they were responsible for protecting themselves: that they
were fundamentally on their own, that there were no adult figures to effectively protect
them from danger, and that in order to avert danger they must be on the alert, listen to
warnings, and take care to act in certain ways or to refrain from various acts in order to
keep safe. The world of social interaction inside the kindergarten appeared more
complex, yet here too children were to learn to be on the alert, not so much to avert
danger, but in order to accrue benefits. At the same time, the ways and means as to how
to go about this were far more ambiguous than the ways to protect themselves from
outside dangers and the teacher herself did not appear to see herself as responsible for
easing the children's way by making clear the rules of social interaction within the
kindergarten realm. In a lengthy interview with her towards the end of fieldwork she
talked in detail about her understanding of her role as kindergarten teacher which she
described primarily in terms of helping each individual child discover his or her inner
worth and capacities. When she did describe her role in shaping the general environment
at kindergarten, it was not in terms of creating structure or rules of behavior but, rather,
in terms of creating a "warm loving home".
Growing up in an unpredictable environment
The ethnographic account of daily life at the kindergarten reveals the co-
existence of two mutually constitutive processes: first, the children's environment, both
outside and inside, was structured as inherently unpredictable; second, this
unpredictability, in turn, encouraged the children to fend for themselves and take on
23
responsibility for managing within this unpredictable environment. In this scheme of
things, the children were to learn to nurture those personal resources and social practices
by means of which they were able not only to avoid hazards, but also to turn the very
unpredictability of the social order to their advantage.
What might be the developmental trajectories of children raised in such an
environment? Studies of Israeli Jewish youth reveal a cluster of findings that would
appear to resonate with the findings from the kindergarten described above. First, studies
of Israeli youth paint a picture of high resourcefulness coupled with anxiety and stress.
For example, findings from a representative sample of adolescents in Israel reveal that
Israeli Jewish youth report high levels of efficacy, that is, a sense of capability in effecting
outcomes, high levels of self-esteem, and low levels of felt helplessness, compared with
adolescents in 25 other Western nations (based on multinational representative samples
of adolescents - Harel, Kanny & Rahav, 1997). Similar high levels of self-efficacy were
also reported in studies examining young recruits in the Israeli army (e.g. Mayseless &
Hai, 1998). This reported high level of efficacy and self-esteem, however, is coupled
with high levels of psychological and physical symptoms of stress. For example, in the
same multi-national representative survey (Harel, Kanny & Rahav, 1997), around 40% of
Israeli adolescents reported feeling agitated, upset and/or distressed almost every day
during the preceding six months as compared with 20% to 30% in Belgium, Ireland and
France. For Israeli adolescents a high sense of efficacy and esteem is coupled with
physical and psychological signs of stress.
Studies also reveal that Israeli Jewish adolescents report low levels of respect for
authority figures as well as non-compliance with rules and regulations, including etiquette
(Mayseless & Salomon, 2003). For example, studies of peer evaluations in the United
States found that among early to late adolescents leadership was highly correlated with
both politeness and compliance with rules (Chen, Rubin, Li & Li 1999; Morison &
24
Masten, 1991). In contrast a similar study among Israeli youth revealed no such
correlation - items referring to compliance with rules, politeness and good manners did
not cluster with either the sociability or leadership factor (Krispin, Sternberg & Lamb,
1992) and in fact were negatively correlated with them (Barzilai, 2003). Another
illustration of this espousal of non-compliance to rules and regulations comes from an
earlier study that compared children's responses to moral dilemmas by asking them to
choose between conventional standards approved by adults and mildly "antisocial"
actions urged by peers. Unlike children in other countries who gave their most "moral"
response when they thought that their parents would know of their responses, and the
least moral response when they thought their peers would know, Israeli children gave
their most moral response when they thought no one would know their answer, and gave
their most "immoral" response when they thought that either their peers or their parents
would know of it (Shouval, Kav-Venaki, Bronfenbrenner, Devereux, & Kielyl, 1975). In
so doing, these children appeared to be adhering to the public approval of finding ways to
get around rules and regulations. This finding corresponds with other studies on Israeli
society which reveal a deeply entrenched "culture of illegalism" consisting of a
"prestigious and influential ideology that either degrades the rule of law or assigns it a
low priority" (Sprinzak, 1993:177; see also Roniger & Feige, 1992).
These findings, taken together, may be seen as mutually reinforcing: the relative
downgrading of the importance of rigid adherence to rules, regulations and obedience to
authority, serve to encourage personal initiative and resourcefulness. In turn, this need to
be on the alert without being able to rely on consistent rules and routines may have its
costs in moderately high levels of stress and anxiety. In sum, these studies of Israeli
Jewish youth reveal a cluster of findings that resonate with the findings from the
kindergarten described above. That is, the same personal resources and social practices
deemed appropriate for successfully managing in an unpredictable environment, into
25
which young children are socialized in early education settings, appear to be salient and
positively valued at later stages in life.
Discussion
The findings on Israeli Jewish adolescents may be explained as related to, and
emerging out of, the complex, and somewhat troubled, circumstances of Israeli society.
As the ethnographic account of the kindergarten has revealed, this wider social context
does not permeate into the lives of its citizens in a somewhat vague, unspecified fashion.
Rather, children appear to be socialized into this context, and into the personal resources
and social practices deemed appropriate for successful management within it, in specific
settings and specific ways. Given the intrinsic unpredictability built into the
circumstances of Israeli society, it could be argued that the teacher at the kindergarten
under study is simply reflecting in her behavior and practices the turmoil and
unpredictability characteristic of the wider context and which pervade the kindergarten
realm unchecked. The ethnographic account, however, reveals that the teacher herself is
deeply, albeit unwittingly, implicated in actually constructing the children's environment
as unpredictable, even in situations in which she has some control over the unfolding of
events. Hence, the argument according to which the teacher is merely echoing a given
state of affairs is inadequate. In this regard, we suggest that what we are witnessing at the
kindergarten is not mere failure to buffer the children from the unpredictability
emanating from the wider context. Rather, this is a child-rearing strategy (though not
necessarily consciously adopted) by means of which the children are exposed to a
stressful environment in a relatively sheltered setting and thereby prepared to fend for
themselves, and to cope with an unpredictable, sometimes chaotic, environment beyond
the confines of the kindergarten. In other words, we suggest that these practices of the
teacher are at the core of a major facet of Israeli child rearing culture, one of whose
26
functions is to raise children who not only show resilience to conditions of
unpredictability but actually thrive on them by promoting in them resourcefulness and
skills for taking care of themselves. These characteristics may then serve children and
youth well in the event of having to contend with future situations of unpredictability
and danger. In this regard, our ethnographic account of daily life at an Israeli
kindergarten supports the assumption that underlies much of the literature on culture
and child-rearing according to which child-rearing practices are strategies appropriate to,
and compatible with, local conditions (see Levine, 1980; Rogoff, 2003).
What may be the long-term implications of these findings for the development of
a "sense of trust" in the social order (Giddens, 1984)? Paradoxically, in the very act of
preparing the children to contend with an unpredictable environment outside the
confines of the kindergarten, such an environment necessarily becomes an intimate part
of their daily lives and their consciousness. This, in turn, may have far-reaching
implications in terms of the type of environment with which these children feel familiar
and at ease, and hence seek out and perhaps even contribute to shaping. In this regard,
the unpredictability of the wider context is not simply there, inviting response, but rather
constituted as such, through, among other cultural practices, child-rearing itself.
But does this mean that Israeli children acquire a lack of trustworthiness in the
social order? Not exactly. In fact, social-psychological studies of Israeli youth
demonstrate another intriguing dialectics of Israeli culture. Though Israeli adolescents
mistrust rules and regulations and do not tend to obey authorities or the law, they evince
high level of conformity to societal values (Mayseless & Salomon, 2003). Israeli youth
seem to be conformist with regards to their attitudes towards the country and towards
military service, the general values they hold, and their emulation of their parents'
political and religious values. Thus, Israeli Jewish adolescents value resourcefulness,
27
creativity, and independence in their pursuit of ways to overcome challenges and solve
problems, yet they are conformist in relation to the expectations of mainstream Israeli
society, as articulated by their parents, as well as strongly collectivist in orientation
(Furman, 1994; Mayseless and Salomon, 2003).
How is this apparent paradox to be explained? As we have seen, growing up in
an unpredictable environment may serve to instill among children a number of
interlinked perceptions: that the outside world is risky, even dangerous; that the abstract,
impersonal structure of rules and regulations is inherently untrustworthy and cannot
serve as protection; and that it is they themselves are ultimately responsible for fending
for themselves. This sense of responsibility for self is double-edged: on the one hand, it
appears to provide children and young people with a sense of self-reliance and
confidence; on the other hand, this same sense of power contains its own stresses and
strains. These latter pertain not only to the ongoing uncertainty of the outcomes of one's
interventions but also, and perhaps more profoundly, to the anxiety entailed in bearing
ultimate responsibility for the unfolding of events upon which one's own welfare is
deeply tied up. It could be argued that it is precisely this experience of anxiety that fuels,
and reinforces, the quest for a trustworthy community, based not on the predictability of
structure but on the predictability, albeit more elusive, of feeling or sense of togetherness
(see Dominguez, 1987). Indeed, it is pertinent to recall that the teacher not only
described her aspiration to create a kindergarten in terms of a warm, loving home but
also made sure that she was there to take care of them should the children need her, to
tend to their cuts and bruises, and to listen attentively to their stories of illness and
accident. Hence, the detailed ethnographic study reveals the complex ways in which
socialization into a lack of trustworthiness into particular modes of social order may
combine with, and facilitate, socialization into trustworthiness in other modes.
28
Concluding Remarks
In this paper, we have adopted a socio-cultural perspective on culture, in the
Vygotsky and Luria tradition, according to which the "efforts of individuals are not
separate from the kinds of activities in which they engage and the kinds of institutions of
which they are a part" (Rogoff, 2003, 50). In this approach, society organizes the kinds of
tasks children have to face and the type of mental and physical instruments to be
provided, so as the children can achieve mastery on those tasks. In this regard, culturally
organized kindergarten environments, routines and activities shape modes of thought
and socialization at early ages and, in so doing, reflect societal/cultural processes and
beliefs with regard to child rearing. The study has revealed that, at the very least, the
definition and implementation of what consists of a predictable environment may vary
across contexts and, at the most, that the very notion of predictability as crucial for
adequate child rearing cannot be assumed across contexts. Indeed, an inquiry into the
culturally-specific conception and construction of a predictable routinely structured
environment by adults for children may lead us to question the very cardinal importance
attributed to predictability itself as crucial for adequate socialization. Clearly there is a
need for further ethnographic research in other early education settings in order to
ascertain, with greater confidence, which elements can be generalized to the broader
Israeli context and which are specific to the particular setting and teaching style.
Methodologically speaking, the increasing exposure of young children to
institutionalized care would seem to suggest that research into the "formative years" of
young children can no longer restrict itself to study of children in the home. Early
education settings, serving to mediate between home and the wider social order, are
crucial in introducing young children to an officially-sanctioned version of the wider
social order as well as providing them with the opportunity to learn what personal
29
resources and social practices they are to bring to bear in order to ensure their successful
management in this social order. This paper, which combines an ethnographic study in
an early education setting and findings from quantitative, psycho-social studies of
adolescents, is quite unique. First, the reach enabled by quantitative research offsets the
limitations of the possibility of drawing broader inferences on the basis of a single
ethnographic case study. Second, the ethnographic study provides a grounded, nuanced,
cultural understanding of quantitative psycho-social data (see Miller, 1997). Finally, each
of the sources of data taken on its own taps only one point in time and may therefore
suffer from being too "present oriented". The ethnographic study of an early education
setting that lacks a future and the study of adolescents that lacks a past complement each
other in important ways by enabling a look at vital socialization practices and their
aftermath over time. Thus, in more ways than one, this study demonstrates the
possibility, perhaps even the necessity, of combining different research paradigms and
perspectives in examining the process of growing up.
30
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... New authors have entered the field, and new topics have become emphasized-ruptures as central for new developments (Hale, 2008;Zittoun, 2004Zittoun, , 2006Zittoun, , 2007, actuations as a new way to unite actions and meanings (Rosa, 2007), generalized significant symbols (Gillespie, 2006) as well as a search for the self through looking at the other (Rabinovich, 2008;Simão & Valsiner, 2007) and finding that other in the contexts of social interdependence (Chaudhary, 2004(Chaudhary, , 2007. At the same time we see continuous interest in the cultural nature of subjectivity (Boesch, 2005(Boesch, , 2008Cornejo, 2007;Sullivan, 2007) and the unpredictability of environments (Abbey, 2007;Golden & Mayseless, 2008). The topic of multi-voicedness of the self as it relates with the world has emerged as a productive theme (Bertau, 2008;Joerchel, 2007;Salgado & Gonçalves, 2007;Sullivan, 2007), including the move to consider the opposites of polyphony ('intensified nothingness '-Mladenov, 1997). ...
... At the same time, many cultural-psychological phenomena are better fitted with models using imaginary numbers (Valsiner & Rudolph, 2008) and topological models (Rudolph, 2008a(Rudolph, , 2008b(Rudolph, , 2009). Such number systems may be better fitted for dealing with the phenomena of the uncertainty of living (Abbey, 2004(Abbey, , 2007Golden & Mayseless, 2008), and with dynamic boundary-making (and unmaking) in human social Culture & Psychology 15(1) 20 lives (Madureira, 2007a(Madureira, , 2007bTsoulakas, 2007). Tsoukalas (2007) has brought the issue of religiosities-differentiating doctrinal and imagistic types-back to our focus of attention. ...
... Valsiner Editorial parents operate at the intersection of various cultural models (Keller, Demuth, & Yovsi, 2008); kindergarten teachers evoke danger scenarios for children in the middle of mundane everyday activities (Golden & Mayseless, 2008). The cultural-psychological worlds are relational worlds, yet that recognition leads us to inquire into what relational could mean. ...
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Culture & Psychology has developed from a small start-up journal in 1995 into the key trend-setter in the field. This editorial analysis continues the tradition of inquiry started in previous efforts (Valsiner, 2001, 2004a) and extends it to the needs of psychology as a whole for the study of dynamic, meaning-making human beings. Cultural psychology—using the term culture as a generic term in various versions—continues to be an arena where innovations can occur. Separate research fields— such as the dialogical self, social representation processes, semiotic mediation, symbolic action, and actuation theories—have all been co-participants in this new advancement of ideas. Yet the central problem—an innovation of empirical research methodology which would appropriately capture human active meaning-making—has not been solved. Likewise, cultural psychology has only marginally touched upon the lessons from indigenous psychologies—the richness of folk psychological terms, and the cultural over-determination of objects used in human everyday living. Contemporary cultural psychology turns increasingly towards the study of objects as cultural constructs. Editing a journal is itself an act of construction of a cultural object, and the current state of contemporary scientific journals indicates a re-construction of the social nature of knowledge. Moving beyond its postmodernist and empiricist confines, psychology is set to return to the level of an abstracted generalization of its culture-inclusive theories. Culture—in terms of semiotic mediators and meaningful action patterns—is the inherent core of human psychological functions, rather than an external causal entity that has `effects' on human emotion, cognition, and behavior.
... Humans have a fundamental need to control their environment (Kelly 1963;White 1959). Such a desire (i.e., the sense of personal control) can be satisfied in a number of ways, such as through the perceived contingency between action and outcome (Gurin and Brim 1984;Weisz and Stipek 1980), the perceived predictability of events (Affleck et al. 1987;Golden and Mayseless 2008;Heckhausen 1977), and the perceived ability to alter one's environment (Burger 1992;Glass, Singer, and Friedman 1969). However, when one of these conditions is not met, individuals can experience threats to their personal control. ...
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