Emergence of Meanings Through Ambivalence

  • Emily Abbey Clark University
  • Jaan Valsiner Clark University
Keywords: ambivalence, uncertainty, microgenesis, semiotic mediation, ambiguity, pre-control, attractor point, semiotic emergence, projective contextualization


Ambivalence has been a key notion that is used in most basic areas of psychology—research on perception, thinking, personality, and communication. However, its implications for processes of meaning-making have been largely overlooked. All meanings are created in the present (integrating elements of past experience) in relation to a future that can never be entirely determined at the present. We outline a developmental model of how meaning emerges through the tensions between the present and the future. Three trajectories can be found in this process. First, lack of ambivalence (the null condition) leads the meaning production to reach a status quo and decline. Secondly, low to moderate ambivalence leads to erratic movement of starting and stopping of the meaning making through the production signs. These signs tentatively control meaning in the present while not constraining the path meaning may take in the future. Thirdly, maximum ambivalence leads to the emergence of "strong" signs that function to constrain the uncertainty of the future as it is becoming present. Empirical data from a microgenetic study of meaning making in the development of young adults will be used to illustrate the model. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0501231


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Author Biographies

Emily Abbey, Clark University
Emily ABBEY is a graduate student in Psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts. She is currently looking at how the construction of meaning in uncertain circumstances relates to identity development. She teaches classes in the areas of developmental and cultural psychology at the College of the Holy Cross.
Jaan Valsiner, Clark University
Jaan VALSINER (http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs/beirat/valsiner-e.htm) is the founding editor (1995) of the Sage journal, Culture & Psychology. He is currently professor and chair of Department of Psychology, Clark University, USA, where he also edits a journal in history of psychology—From Past to Future: Clark Papers in the History of Psychology. He has published many books, the most recent of which are The guided mind (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1998), Culture and human development (London: Sage, 2000) and Comparative study of human cultural development (Madrid: Fundacion Infancia y Aprendizaje, 2001). He has edited (with Kevin CONNOLLY) the Handbook of Developmental Psychology (London: Sage, 2003).