Tuesday 6 November 2012

Drama theory and Concert theory

Nigel Howard's 'Drama theory' has fascinated me in recent months. As a theory of political behaviour, and with some powerful mathematical reasoning to back it up, together with a critique of conventional game-theory and rational choice, I think there is something very important there.

But I have been looking at a particular adaptation of it which brings in Luhmann's theory of communication and establishes a way in which reflexivity (expressed in terms of thinking about strategies, meta-strategies, and higher-levels of recursion) translates into action and social structure, and social structure in turn feeds into reflexivity. In bringing in Luhmann, I am arguing that the games people play are communicative, and that the individual game of communication is dependent of their communications (their agency) being successful. And successful communication depends on building coalitions of others whose behaviour becomes known and predictable.

Howard's 'drama theory' is a practical theory for addressing problems. Its first stage is to identify the particular problems and possible actions of a situation, and then to think through the various combinations of strategies and meta-strategies which might pertain to those identified problems and actions. This helps identify the likely actions of individual players. Howard was able to apply this thinking to dramatic scenarios too, showing how the behaviour of characters in a drama can be accounted for by this same approach.

Much as I admire this, I think there are some oversights. Most importantly, I think there is an assumption that the processing (the reflexivity) of individual action takes place in the individual mind. Whilst the composition of meta-strategies includes predictions of what others might do, given enough information about the behaviour of others, then effective reflexive processing can take place.

I do not share this view. The big problem with regard to agency as communication is the problem of how one utterance is chosen over another. In essence this is a problem of identifying 'equilibrium points'. But (importantly) equilibrium points do not emerge from thinking about what we can think about. They emerge from what we do not think about. It is the absences in thought which lead to decision.

What is necessary for successful communication is shared equilibria. What that means, in a practical way, is shared absence: we all see the same thing missing (rather like watching a disaster movie where everyone knows what's going to happen next). Shared absence means shared experience. Finally, the only conclusion is: Togetherness is fundamental to thinking and being.

What this means is that it is not the drama itself, but "acting in concert" which matters.

But of course, there are musical resonances here too.

A note is a shared experience. It creates a shared absence. What is remarkable about our music is not that a dominant seventh falls to the tonic, but that we all agree that it should!  That is the codification of a shared absence. It is the identification of equilibria within particular contexts. If there was no shared absence, no shared experience, there would be no music. The agency of musical utterance creates a shared experience which hones-in on absences from where the shared realisation and expectation of the unity of the work arises. Listening, performing and composing are all done in concert.

That our rationality depends on this is a conclusion which is having a deep effect on me.

1 comment:

dkernohan said...

You're making me think of Lucy Green's "How Popular Musicians Learn" :-)

The shared anticipation based around established solutions to the same simple harmonic "problem" in shared composition.

Which also makes me think of connectivism.

Good post!