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Explanation and Power

The Control of Human Behavior

Morse Peckham

Publication Year: 1988

Explanation and Power was first published in 1988. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.

The meaning of any utterance or any sign is the response to that utterance or sign: this is the fundamental proposition behind Morse Peckham's Explanation and Power. Published in 1979 and now available in paperback for the first time, Explanation and Power grew out of Peckham's efforts, as a scholar of Victorian literature, to understand the nature of Romanticism. His search ultimately led back to—and built upon—the tradition of signs developed by the American Pragmatists. Since, in Peckham's view, meaning is not inherent in word or sign, only in response, human behavior itself must depend upon interaction, which in turn relies upon the stability of verbal and nonverbal signs. In the end, meaning can be stabilized only by explanation, and when explanation fails, by force. Peckham's semiotic account of human behavior, radical in its time, contends with the same issues that animate today's debates in critical theory — how culture is produced, how meaning is arrived at, the relation of knowledge to power and of society to its institutions. Readers across a wide range of disciplines, in the humanities and social sciences, will welcome its reappearance.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

...everyone else I usually do what I am told to do. Some years ago my friend and colleague, Robert L. Stewart, Professor of Sociology, University of South Carolina, told me that my writing through 1970...

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pp. xiii-xx

...Often enough it is easier to grasp a book and what it is up to and what is going on in it if the reader has some notion of how and why it came to be written and what the issues were which impelled the author to write it. For such a book as this...

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I. Explanation

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pp. 1-88

...itself a mode of human behavior. No matter how carefully we may observe nonverbal behavior, no matter what safeguards for that observation we may set up, no matter how exacting the controls, we still must state...

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II. The Nonverbal

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pp. 89-154

...Words are instructions or directions for behavior, and they may be responded to either appropriately or inappropriately, but the appropriateness or inappropriateness depends upon the judgment of someone. The appropriateness and inappropriateness...

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III. Culture and Social Institutions

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pp. 155-244

...For human beings, the world consists of signs, and it is impossible for human beings to consider the world, or themselves, from a metasemiotic point of view or position. The world is an immense tapestry of...

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IV. The Individual

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pp. 245-284

...By "individual" I mean the individual organism as mere observable configuration—a mere sign—separable from its ground. There is no difficulty in the notion that the individual as an observable physiological organism is an entity. All...


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pp. 285-290

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About the Author

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pp. 291-291

...Morse Peckham is professor emeritus of comparative literature at the University of South Carolina; he has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers University. Peckham's most recent publications...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816655762
E-ISBN-10: 0816655766
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816616572

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 1988

OCLC Number: 842588893
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Explanation and Power

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Meaning (Psychology).
  • Psycholinguistics.
  • Personality.
  • Culture.
  • Social history.
  • Human behavior.
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