Does the shift from ‘conduct’ to ‘behaviour’ terminolgy reflect a shift in mental set?

Not too long ago we talked in terms of how people conducted themselves at work or in public. And before that we referred to the way people acted.  Now we seem to be  concerned with how people behave and / or  perform. What, if anything, is implied by these shifts in terminology?

The weak interpretation is that it signifies nothing other than a change in vocabulary. The strong interpretation is that it reflects a change in mind-set: a shift from a self-authenticating subjectivism to a bureaucratic-regarding objectivism: from holding the agent as being primarily responsible for their own actions to holding condition (genetic) or circumstances (social) being responsible for their behaviour.

Support for this interpretation is to be found in the shift to ‘measuring’ behaviour with a variety of performance indicators, from judging conduct in terms of the relationship of intention to action.

Remnants of their former use is still to be found in phrases like: “act according to your age,  stop acting the fool; how are you going to conduct the research? They conducted themselves with great dignity”.

An interesting exercise is to substitute act, conduct and behave in each of the above phrases, and by noting where the substitution can be made and what other changes are needed to produce ‘equivalent’ sentences,  decide whether meaning has been subtly altered.

About petermathews

Member of the Royal Society of Medicine
This entry was posted in Labelling, language change and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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