Tag Archives: rochat

Esther Perel and ownership

Text #8

I’ve recently finished reading Esther Perel’s Mating in intimacy (Perel, 2006). What a great book. Highly recommended, not only to couples’ therapists or even psychotherapists. All psychologists should read it. Her view of relationships and particularly of sexuality in the contemporary world is really revolutionary. The only thing I don’t completely buy are her interventions in couples’ therapy: some of them sound as too theoretical, and I don’t think such verbal and general explanations can make people change. Usually, they just become rationalizations.

What does her book have to do with the stuff I discuss in this blog? Not much. But let me emphasize that I don’t consider ownership as only a social phenomenon that children need to learn about. In other words, I don’t consider ownership just as a topic within social cognition. (For example: how children develop heuristics to understand what belongs to whom). Ownership is not outside the child; ownership is not a source of input for children’s cognitive system. Not only, at least. The socio-cognitive approach reveals an important aspect of ownership, but not the most fundamental.

I’m rather interested in the experiential, existential side of it: why is it that humans need to possess stuff and to be acknowledged by others as legitimate owners; how do individuals clash with each other when competing for possession; how they become attached to their property. This is the kind of questions Rousseau used to ask, and that Rochat (Rochat, 2014) also tackles in his recent book on possession.

And Perel’s book does teach us something about it: that people can have a satisfactory sexual life only when they own it: when they own their bodies, their erotic imagination, their capacity to love.

Perel, E. (2006). Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic. HarperCollins.

Rochat, P. (2014). Origins of Possession: Owning and Sharing in Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

In-formed and co-formed thinking (Sinclaire-Harding, Miserez, Arcidiacono, Perret-Clermont)

Paper #4

Sinclaire-Harding, L., Miserez, C., Arcidiacono, F., & Perret-Clermont, A. N. (2011). Argumentation in the Piagetian clinical interview: A step further in dialogism. In M. B. Ligorio & M. Cesar (Eds.), The interplays between dialogical learning and dialogical self (pp. 1–45). IAP: Information Age Publications.

This is the fourth and last paper on argumentation by Perret-Clermont and her collaborators that we are going to discuss for the time being. Here the authors make a distinction between a) co-formed thinking, i.e. the type of thinking shaped by the desire to comply with relational and contextual expectations and norms, and b) in-formed thinking, i.e. the type of thinking shaped by the desire to voice one’s own identity as an authentic self and author, thus expressing original ideas, creativity and knowledge. This distinction is evidently inspired in the Piagetian distinction between autonomy and heteronomy.

The authors explain that the co-formed thinker tries to respond to expectations without critique, taking little responsibility, obedient and submissive, and sometimes excessively loyal to the obligations of the interlocutor, social group, or institutional context. The co-formed thinker is externally inspired, regulated, or governed by the values, beliefs and ideas of others.

The authors mention that phrases such as “I think that…”, or “Yes, but…” are usually markers that precede the expression of children’s independent opinion or ideas (in-formed thinking). Further, children feel they own such ideas. Of course, Sinclaire-Harding et al. do not seem to take the relationship of ownership as seriously and literally as I do. (As we have insisted elsewhere, I understand the discursive act of taking a position as rooted in the legal act of taking possession).

But the authors do not seem to be interested in argumentation in everyday life and in the context of institutional contexts and normative practices in general, but more narrowly in argumentation as an activity performed in knowledge-related tasks and with cognitive ends. Thus, although they include the social context of argumentation, argumentation itself seems to be essentially cognitive for the authors, and they aspire to improve educational contexts by implementing more participatory and democratic dynamics that favor in-formed thinking.

The article rightly emphasizes the affective aspect of argumentative exchanges. For example, the authors claim that when children feel their opinions are vulnerable, they frequently withdraw in order to protect their ideas and, ultimately, their self. (This might be connected with the ideas of Jack Ito, a rara avis about whom we’ll someday write in this blog).

In any case, the authors end up talking about how children need to defend their public self and manage their reputation, a topic that for some reason seems to be extremely important for Genevan authors (Rousseau, Rochat, and now Sinclaire-Harding et al.)

The authors also mention some interesting conceptual tensions, even paradoxes of argumentation. For example, an excessive desire to cooperate might make an individual want to agree with other members of her group and therefore boost co-formed thinking (which actually is the cancellation of thinking). Too much desire to argue may create too much competition between the interlocutors and end up in aggression and “war” (again: cancellation of thinking). So, for educational purposes, it seems important to calibrate how much to stimulate the collaborative and competitive kinds of argumentation.


Summary of my presentation at the fairness conference

I like the summary Erin Robbins and Philippe Rochat wrote for my presentation at the Fairness Conference (Emory University, 2012). It really captures the spirit of what I was trying to convey. It goes as follows:

Gustavo Faigenbaum from the University Autonoma de Entre Rios in Argentina (“Three Dimensions of Fairness”), in contrast to the preceding two evolutionary perspectives, argues that in understanding fairness, individual morality has been overrated and institutions underrated. To this end, Faigenbaum advances several claims that draw from both psychological and philosophical theories. First, he argues that institutional experience shapes concepts of fairness. This is evident in children’s interactions in schoolyards, where they engage in associative reciprocity (sharing with others to build alliances and demonstrate social affinities) rather than strict reciprocity. At the level of adult behavior, this associative reciprocity is also evident in gift-giving rituals. Second, Faigenbaum argues that possession and ownership are the most important institutions in the development of fairness reasoning because they involve abstraction and are the first step in the development of a deontological perspective.

Concepts of morality do not need to be evoked; he argues that research on children’s protests of ownership violations reflect an emphasis on conventional rather than moral rules. Faigenbaum concludes by arguing that participation in rule-governed activities is sufficient to create mutual understandings about what constitutes fair exchange (per philosopher John Searle’s “X counts as Y” rule). Developmental research demonstrates that fairness is an autonomous domain of experience that is fundamentally tied to institutions and cannot be reduced to moral reasoning proper.

The complete presentation is available at youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZcLicg_Dw8) yet the sound is terrible and it’s practically impossible to listen to.

Reputation and identity, according to Rochat

“Self-worth is at the core of the psychology that surrounds the issue of identity” (p. 214). “The caring about reputation is just part of the human struggle for recognition. We care about what others think of us simply because we need their approval to exist.” (p. 223).

(Both quotes come from Rochat, P., 2009. Others in Mind: Social Origins of Self-Consciousness. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 157).

Out of reciprocal exchanges, morality emerges

More Rochat:

Children between three and five years develop an understanding that they are potentially liable and that they are building a history of transactions with others. Needless to say, parents and educators foster this development in all cultures, but this fostering is essentially the enforcement of the basic rules of reciprocity, the constitutive elements of human exchanges. Children are channeled to adapt to these rules they depend on to maintain proximity with others. From this, they begin to build a moral space in relation to others, a moral space that is essentially based on the basic rules of reciprocity.

Again: Rochat, P., 2009. Others in Mind: Social Origins of Self-Consciousness. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 180.



The possessive word mine, typically uttered over and over again from the end of the second year, means that it is not yours. It marks the emergence of a new affirmation of the self in relation to others.

In: Rochat, P., 2009. Others in Mind: Social Origins of Self-Consciousness. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 157.

Rhetoric of possession

So writes my friend Philippe Rochat (2009):

I would argue that much of the possession game is to seduce others, or at least gain recognition from those we select to maintain social closeness with, gaining reputation and social ascendance over them. Possessions, the ways we possess and how we display or carry them, are instrumental in our constant attempt at controlling what people see of us. We incorporate all of our possessions as part of “Me,” in William Jame’s sense, “Me” as a conceptual and constructed notion of self that is projected into the public eye for evaluation.

Another way to say the same: we arrange our possessions with rhetorical sagacity and with an audience in mind.  

See: Rochat, P. (2009). Others in Mind: Social Origins of Self-Consciousness. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 147.