An Overview of BBA Concepts

In this section, you will find an overview of the key concepts of the building block approach. The links in the right hand bar take you to basic definitions and detailed discussions of each concept.

The building block approach (BBA) is premised on the idea that to explain human experience, which is typically expressed in terms of “complex cultural concepts” (CCCs) and embedded in social formations, we need to redescribe phenomena of interest in behavioral terms and decompose them into components (or building blocks) in order to reconstruct how the phenomena emerged and identify mechanisms that interact to produce them. The process for doing this is referred to as reverse engineering.

The BBA makes a core distinction between CCCs and “basic concepts” (BCs). CCCs are typically embedded in and, thus, derive their meaning from social formations. BCs are concepts that translate relatively easily across times, places, and levels of mental processing.  BCs can be used by researchers investigating phenomena at the level of ordinary human awareness (the personal level) and by researchers investigating processes that take place below the threshold of awareness (the subpersonal level). “Rite”, “ritual,” and “ceremony” are examples of complex cultural concepts that take on overlapping, but diverging meanings in specific social formations. All three can be described behaviorally as practices and expressed in terms of “actions,” a basic concept that can be studied at both the personal and subpersonal levels. Casting the object of study in basic concepts allows us to identify the components or building blocks – of the actions that constitute the practices characterized variously as rites, ceremonies, or rituals. In this instance, the subpersonal building blocks might include action representation, agent detection, and attributions of intentionality. The BBA’s research strategy is to analyze how complex cultural phenomena are created by interactive assemblies of lower-level building blocks.

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