Mind, Culture, and Activity
An International Journal


MCA Vol. 01, No. 1-2

Michael Cole & Yrjö Engeström

Dorothy Holland & James R. Reeves
Activity theory and the view from somewhere: Team perspectives on the intellectual work of programming

The study we describe here, an ethnographic investigation of the cognitive work of three programming teams, led us to emphasize an aspect of situatedness that is relatively unexplored: the developing perspective ofintellectual workers on their contexts of action. We followed teams composed of students in a Department of Computer Science as they were being taught “software engineering.” Despite their subordinate position as students, we found that the institution was not totally successful in dictating their work; we could not assume a similarity of work activity across teams. Instead the teams’ perspectives on their projects were collectively developed over the course of the project and they diverged. Consequently, the teams differed in their construal of the objects of their intellectual work and in the significance and time they devoted to the components of their work, and to the ways in which they carried them out. In this paper we recount these differences and relate them ultimately to ongoing tensions and contradictions within, and external to, the university. “Perspective,” we argue, usefully extends the applicability of theories of situated cognition, especially activity theory, to the type of diversity we encountered.

Jaan Valsiner
Irreversibility of time and the construction of historical developmental psychology

Developmental psychology has failed to emphasize the historical nature of the phenomena of development. Hence it continues to face a major conceptual problem: the time frame of developmental phenomena is irreversible, whereas our accounts of development assume repetitiveness of different kinds of developmental events across places and times. This problem was addressed by Henri Bergson in his philosophy of time and constructive evolution. Bergson’s thinking was the major source of intellectual influence upon the major developmental scientists of this century (e.g., J. Piaget, L. Vygotsky, H. Wallon), and was in its turn based on the psychological, evolutionary and sociogenetic thinking of the turn of the century (J. M. Baldwin, P. Janet, W. James). Despite its later development in the intuitivist direction, Bergson’s thinking about the dynamics of life processes deserves careful analysis in a number of specific domains (e.g., concept of time, role of semiotic mediation in the regulation of the stream of consciousness, constructive focus on development, etc.). Many of Bergson’s ideas are relevant to the construction of historical psychology, and might lead to a radical reorganization of methodology. It is in the latter realm that contemporary socio-cultural perspectives need a substantial breakthrough.

Robert Serpell
Negotiating a fusion of horizons: A process view of cultural validation in developmental psychology

Explanations of child development can be used to inform social action at various levels. In many cases a key factor determining the effectiveness of such explanations is the degree to which they are appropriated by primary agents of child socialization, such as parents. In every culture, parents routinely draw on implicit theoretical ideas to interpret the behavior of the children for whom they care, to decide how to respond to that behavior, and to predict changes in child behavior across circumstances and over time. The system of meanings about child development and socialization shared by most of the participant-owners of a culture may be regarded as a cultural model, or ethnotheory. Research is presented concerning caregiver ethnotheories in a rural Chewa community inZambia, and in two low-income neighborhoods in a US city. In both cases the focus of attention was on the ways in which caregivers construe the significance of schooling in children’s development. In order for this field of application in developmental psychology to achieve cultural validation, the author argues that a process of negotiation is required, in search of common ground between the explicit, formal constructs and theories of the educational establishment and the implicit ethnotheories of caregivers in the children’s homes. The first step in this process is to articulate and acknowledge differences of perspective. From there, teachers, caregivers, and psychologists can work towards a fusion of horizons.

Arne Raeithel
Symposium: Symbolic production of social coherence

This is a case study in historical empiry, makingan effort to tell a convincing story about the evolution of human communication and cognition. The story-telling is guided by Holzkamp’s (1983) five-step-rule for the explanation of a qualitative leap in evolution. Evidence is taken from archeological and anthropological sources to support the main thesis: The basic social role of communication is to reproduce the social coherence of communities, the habitual “styles of doing things” (Bourdieu). The complex cultural pattern of activites, with internal tensions and dialectical contradictions, continually changes during reproduction by the consecutive generations. It is shown how human natural and social history may be understood as expansion of the forms and means of social self-regulation. Human use of mediational means could have developed in three stages: mimetic, discursive, and object-symbolic communication develop out of each other in sequence as the dominant regulators of social coherence. In closing, some consequences for a future revision of historical materialism are suggested.

Arne Raeithel
The look back into history prolongs the stretches of travel still lying before Us

Susan Leigh Star
Convergences and divergences: Feminist comments on Raeithel’s article

Niels Engelsted
Sense and significance in phylogenetic reconstruction: A commentary on Arne Raeithel’s “symbolic production of social coherence”

Adrian Cussins
Logic or history: Comments on Raiethel’s “symbolic production of social coherence”

Ray Mc Dermott
Commodities, words, and minds

Michael Cole, Giyoo Hatano & James V. Wertsch
Book notes

MCA Vol. 01, No. 3

Michael Cole

Geoffrey B. Saxe
Studying cognitive development in sociocultural context: The development of a practice-based approach

This paper sketches the development of a research framework for analyzing the interplay between culture and cognitive development in cultural practices and the methodological tensions that gave rise to the framework. The framework consists of three components geared for analyzing intrinsic relations between culture and cognitive development. The first focuses on the analysis of individuals’ goals as they take form in everyday practices. The second is concerned with the shifting relations between cognitive forms and cognitive functions in individuals’ efforts to accomplish those goals. The third focuses on the appropriationandspecialization of forms structured in one practice to accomplish emergent goals in another. Applications and progressive refinements of the framework are discussed in analyses of practices of economic exchange in a remote group in Papua New Guinea, number play in middle and working class children in Brooklyn, New York, and candy selling in Northeastern Brazil.

Sherry Turkle
Constructions and reconstructions of self in virtual reality: Playing in the MUDs

There are over 300 multi-user games based on at least 13 different kinds of software on the international computer network known as the Internet. Here I use the term “MUD “ to refer to all the various kinds. All provide worlds for social interaction in a virtual space, worlds in which you can present yourself as a “character,” in which you can be anonymous, in which you can play a role or roles as close or as far away from your “real self as you choose.
In the MUDS, the projections of self are engaged in a resolutely postmodern context. Authorship is not only displaced from a solitary voice, it is exploded. The self is not only decentered but multiplied without limit. There is an unparalleled opportunity to play with one’s identity and to “try out” new ones. MUDS are a new environment for the construction and reconstruction of self.

Elizabeth A. Finkel & Jim Stewart
Strategies for model-revision in a high school genetics classroom

Recent proposals to improve science education (e.g., AAAS, 1989; Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990) have stressed the importance of providing high school students with a broad knowledge base consisting of a body of core concepts and theories. Science educators (Duschl, 1990; AAAS, 1989; Peterson & Jungck, 1988) have also argued that while concepts are an important part of any education, no student’s scientific education can be considered complete without a complementary knowledge of the nature of science, including an understanding of the tentative nature of scientific knowledge and how it is constructed. In this paper we describe a science classroom in which students are given opportunities to construct and use scientific knowledge to solve realistic genetics problems, and suggest that allowing students to engage in the production of scientific knowledge can support science learning.

David W. Kritt & Richard J. Ricard
Book reviews

MCA Vol. 01, No. 4

Michael Cole & Yrjö Engeström

James V. Wertsch
The primacy of mediated action in sociocultural studies

After a brief overview of the reasons for using “sociocultural,” as opposed to “cultural-historical,” “sociohistorical,” or some other term, it is argued that an adequate account of the agenda for sociocultural research must be grounded in the notion of “mediated action.” Drawing on the writings of Vygotsky, Bakhtin, and others it is argued that mediated action must be understood as involving an irreducible tension between the mediational means provided by the sociocultural setting, on the one hand, and the unique, contextualized use of these means in carrying out particular concrete actions, on the other. In this view, any attempt to reduce the basic unit of analysis of mediated action to the mediational means or to the individual in isolation is misguided. It is suggested that by using mediated action as a unit of analysis the human sciences will be in a better position to address some of today’s most pressing social issues.

Barbara Rogoff
Developing understanding of the idea of communities of learners

The idea of a community of learners is based on the premise that learning occurs as people participate in shared endeavors with others, with all playing active but often asymmetrical roles in sociocultural activity. This contrasts with models of learning that are based on one-sided notions of learning – either that it occurs through transmission of knowledge from experts or acquisition of knowledge by novices, with the learner or the others (respectively) in a passive role. In this paper, I develop the distinction between the community of learners and one-sided approaches from the perspective of a theory of learning as participation, and use two lines of research to illustrate the transitions in perspective necessary to understand the idea of communities of learners. One line of research examines differing models of teaching and learning employed by caregivers and toddlers from Guatemalan Mayan and middle-class European-American families; the other line of research involves a study of how middle-class parents make a transition from their own schooling background to participate in instruction in a public US elementary school.

Alex Kozulin & Alexander Venger
Immigration without adaptation: The psychological world of Russian immigrants in Israel

This study examines new immigrants from the former USSR, their attitudes, expectations and the awareness of change in themselves and in their fellow immigrants. Participants demonstrated attitudes toward the new society which differed dramatically depending on the sphere of life being examined: cultural, institutional, or quotidian. Participants displayed a tendency toward integration in the institutional and quotidian spheres, but not in the cultural. An attitude toward integration did not automatically lead to an awareness of change in the new immigrants themselves. Participants consistently reported higher degrees of change in fellow immigrants in comparison to themselves. The issue of preservation of self-identity through socio-cultural conservation is discussed, as well as the relevance of these findings for Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory and Feuerstein’s theory of mediated learning.

Henrik Artman & Susanne Bødker
Book reviews

Henrik Artman, Stanton Wortham & Steven Thomas Hardy
Book notes

Dr. Ana Marjanovic-Shane & James. V. Wertsch
Conference report


MCA Vol. 02, No. 1

Michael Cole & Yrjö Engeström

Vera John-Steiner
Cognitive pluralism: A sociocultural approach

In this paper, I refer to two notions which are basic to the theory of Cognitive Pluralism. First, there are multiple semiotic means. Language is a primary one, but it is not the only one. Second, semiotic means are based on cultural practices. In the theory of Cognitive Pluralism, as in other pluralistic theories, musical and mathematical notation systems, diagrams, maps, and other semiotic means are examined. The use of diverse cognitive approaches is illustrated by the accounts of experienced thinkers. I discuss analytical and analogue cognitive styles in mathematics in relation to historically shifting emphases in the discipline. The developmental and cultural implications of this theory are illustrated with analyses of narratives as they are retold by children. In closing, a contrast between Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences and the theory of Cognitive Pluralism is presented.


Susan Leigh Star
Listening for connections

Anselm Strauss
Research issues and an interactionist theory of action

Hans-Georg Soeffner
The art of experienced analysis: Anselm Strauss and his theory of action

Kathryn Pyne Addelson
Action, scientific knowledge, and the location of the scientist

Norman K. Denzin
On the shoulders of Anselm

Kari Thoresen
Action-oriented research: A commentary on Anselm Strauss

Patricia M. Greenfield, Robert Serpell & The Sociocultural Research Group
Book reviews

MCA Vol. 02, No. 2


Stanton E. F. Wortham
Experiencing the great books

Should American education focus on “the Great Books?” Neither side in the “canon dispute” looks closely at the relational side of great books teaching. To provide more information to use in judging great books curricula, this article presents a study of relational processes in great books classes. The results show that great books have both strengths and risks. The research focuses on how teachers involve students with the great books by connecting their experiences with the insights presented in the text. Among other devices, teachers use examples to establish these connections: the class explores some aspect of the text by discussing an analogous case from students’ experience. This article describes how such examples carry a certain risk. These examples can lead students to experience the text so fully that they act it out. Instead of dispassionately discussing the text, students and teachers enact the roles described in the text and the example, thus creating an analogous interactional event in the classroom. This article describes and illustrates this interactional pattern, drawing on ethnographic observations, interviews, and analyses of transcripts taken from a three year study of high school English and history classes. In light of the findings, the article reassesses the pedagogical strengths and weaknesses of great books teaching and examples as pedagogical devices.

Rick Jonasse
Collectively seeing the wind: Distributed cognition in smokejumping

This paper examines a segment of the activity of smokejumping–the aerial deployment of forest fire fighters–for clues as to how cognition is distributed among the participants. Unlike the Cartesian paradigm in which actors are portrayed as individuals who send and receive messages, the collective nature of developing a shared vision of the environment is emphasized. A shared vision of the environment is vital to the success of the smokejumping activity. It is achieved here through both the use of common reference points in the environment and through historically constituted artifacts designed for the sharing of visions. Thus, human activity can be seen as a collective, historical process.

Jens Brockmeier
The language of human temporality: Narrative schemes and cultural meanings of time

This paper examines “time” as a category of the mind. I argue that to talk about time and temporality is to talk about the way a semiotic fabric web is constructed. In particular, I shall deal with the linguistic construction of our ideas and concepts of time. Two levels of analysis will be outlined. On the level of the general relation between time and language, I will deal with the issue of how different languages construct different perspectives of time. On the level of the personal construction of time, I will discuss aspects of the individual’s time-synthesis. On the level of the personal construction of time, I will discuss aspects of the individual’s time-synthesis. On both levels the suggested linguistic approach to time has less to do with the grammatical aspects of language than with language seen as a system of action and of interaction. In the wake of Wittgenstein and Vygotsky, this is a view of language as a cultural system of discursive practices. Among these practices, I shall focus on what has been described as the “form of narrative.” Drawing on the analysis of an example of failed intercultural understanding, I will show that narrative works as a model of time; it constitutes a linguistic, psychological and philosophical framework for our attempts to order the diachronic dimension of our activities. To explain this view in greater detail, I will point out some techniques of the narrative “fusion” of different times, demonstrating that the form of narrative is not only the most adequate form for our most complex constructions of time (such as simultaneous scenarios of diverse times), it is the only form in which they can be expressed. As an outcome, language, and through language our concepts of time, appear as instruments that exist only in the uses to which individuals put them in this or that concrete context. Thus, the kind of study of time sketched in this article must be seen as part of a wider “cultural pragmatics” of time, a study which cannot be reducible to linguistic analyses; rather, the basic problem is that of cultural interpretation.

Gueda de Abreu
Understanding how children experience the relationship between home and school mathematics

This paper examines how children experience the relationship between their home and school mathematics. First, it is argued that the current theory of culture and cognition provides a limited explanation of that relationship. In particular, it is argued that it fails to take into account (a) diversity at the individual level and (b) the valorization attached to forms of knowledge of particular social groups. Secondly, it is suggested that current social representations and social identity theory can offer a basis to reconceptualize that relationship. Finally, a study with school-children growing up in a farming community in rural Brazil, where home mathematics differs markedly from school mathematics, is described to support the above argument.

Melissa Lemons, Olga A. Vásquez, Kathryn Au, Keiko Takahashi & Bonnie A. Nardi
Book Reviews

MCA Vol. 02, No. 3


David Bakhurst
On the social constitution of mind: Bruner, Ilyenkov, and the defence of cultural psychology

The focus of this paper is “strong culturalist theories of mind”, i.e., those that argue that culture is constitutive of mind and thus that the nature and content of an individual’s mental life cannot be understood independently of the culture of which that individual is a part. While such theories can be advanced on empirical grounds, it is tempting for the culturalist to seek some broad philosophical arguments that will show that the opposing positions (e.g., reductionism, eliminitivism) rest on fatal conceptual confusions. But how realistic is it to look to philosophy for a vindication of strong culturalism?
The paper setsout Jerome Bruner’s recent defence of a strong culturalist position and, after exploring ambiguities and unclarities in Bruner’s view of the status of the mental, considers whether his position can be strengthened by appeal to the writings of Russian philosopher Evald Ilyenkov. It is argued that, although Ilyenkov’s work nicely complements Bruner’s, it falls short of conclusively resolving the issue infavour of culturalism. Nevertheless, Ilyenkov’s work is a powerful source ofmetaphors, ideas and arguments that force us to interrogate the images of mind and world that predominate in our intellectual culture and often (tacitly) influence the building of empirical theories. His work thus illustrates that there is a significant role for philosophers to play in the defence of culturalism even if it is unrealistic to expect a compelling a priori defence of the position.

R. Keith Sawyer
Creativity as mediated action: A comparison of improvisational performance and product creativity

This paper elaborates the notion of mediated action through a comparison of group improvisational performance and the product-oriented creative domains studied by psychology. Semiotically mediated interaction is central to both forms of creativity: in group improvisation, the interaction is parallel and simultaneous, communication between performers is mediated by musical or verbal symbolic structures, and is thus synchronies in product-oriented creative domains, interaction between creating individuals is mediated by ostensible products in the domain, the interaction is over long time spans, and thus is historical or diachronic. After presenting a model of mediated action, six interactional dimensions of contrast are described which are characteristic of both synchronic and diachronic creative interaction. By demonstrating these processual parallels between synchronic and diachronic creativity, the model suggests that the study of performance has several implications for the broader study of creativity. The focus on processes of symbolic interaction represents an application of the mediated action concept to both product creativity and improvisational performance.

Ritva Engeström
Voice as communicative action

In microsociological studies of talkas social action, the active subjectis typically depicted as someone who interacts rather than acts. In other words, conversations produce intersubjective understandings rather than meanings based on the referential and semantic contents of talk. This paper formulates an alternative approach to the analysis of institutional conversations, based on an expanded unit of action. In this expanded unit, people act on a jointly constructed object which is outside the “social system” constituted by the parties themselves. Bakhtin’s notions of utterance, social language, speech genre and voice are interpreted and integrated into a coherent system within the framework of activity theory. The proposed theoretical approach is applied in an examination of transcript data from videotaped doctor-patient encounters from a Finnish primary care clinic. A set of voices present in medical consultations is identified. Analyses of data examples demonstrate the robustness of this set of voices as well as the appearance of new, emergent voices in sequences of locally produced interactional disturbance and innovation.

Bertram Bruce, Raija Leena Punamäki & Honorine Nocon
Book review

MCA Vol. 02, No. 4


Naoki Ueno
The reification of artifacts in ideological practice

This introduction serves to frame theoretically two research studies in this issue which explore the social and situational construction of literacy and numeracy as embedded in practice. The author argues that the “reality” of cultural artifacts is socially constructed and reconstructed in a process of ideological practice. Ideological practice reifies the “form” of artifacts such that the tool and the human relations associated with its use gain “materiality” which is powerful and tangible in spite of a lack of physical grounding. The form of artifacts reflects the form of social organization in which actual practice and artifacts socially organize each other in a reciprocal and non-deterministic manner.

Naoki Ueno
The social construction of reality in the artifacts of numeracy for distribution and exchange in a Nepalese Bazaar

This study explores street mathematics as they are embedded in the context of a governmental reorganization of the Nepalese bazaar. The forced introduction of the metric system caused merchants to organize a practice of mathematical conversions whereby the old system of measurement could be coordinated with the new allowing the merchants to comply with government requirements while responding to the public’s distrust of the new system. The author argues that the invention and social organization of new artifacts for conversionfrom the old to the new system permitted the authority of the old system of measurement to be reconstructed in the new metric system. The social organization of the new system was an ideological practice which eventually “reified” or made real the new cultural artifacts in actual contexts of the institutionalized practice of distribution and exchange.

Yasuko Kawatoko
Social rules in practice: “Legal” literacy practice in nepalese agricultural village communities

This research study explores the development of new literary practices in the context of wet-rice farming in Nepal. Designated “legal literacy” by the author, the new practice is socially organized around communal irrigation and involves the social construction of the “reality” of new relations berreen the farmers as well as the establishment of social rules which are codified in a “rulebook.” The ideological practice which establishes the materiality and authority of the new social rules and the rulebook permits them to work as resources for the resolution of disputes and for the collaborative management of water, labor, scheduling and compensation for land appropriated for the water system. In establishing the development of legal literacy as situational as well as social, the author compares the infrastructural features and ideological achievement of two villages.

King Beach
Sociocultural change, activity, and individual development: Some methodological aspects

This piece which introduces an article in this issue proposes a methodology for studying individual learning and development related to sociocultural change.1 The author argues that the mediating function of activity affords a new methodology that allows the study of sociogenetic-ontogenetic relations without having to resort to reductionism or Cartesian dualism. The tri-part methodology involves 1) Simulation by selecting key activities that can be constrained and arranged in sequence to model changesin society, and by that same sequence of activities, induce learning and development; 2) Heterochronicity which looks comparatively at the histories and time frames of various activities in a research site as well as the comparative histories and timeframes of particular activities and the lives of different generations of the research population in the interest of identifying periods of rapid societal change, and 3) Leading activity which is co-determined by the point in an individual’s developmental history at which she participates in the activity as well as the genetic sequence of activity categoires characteristic of that society.

King Beach
Activity as a mediator of sociocultural change and individual development: The case of school-work transition in Nepal

This study explores how sociocultural change and individual development are mediated by activities in a process complicated by temporal transitions in environment and in the activity which leads, or is psychologically primary. Based on research among rural Nepali high school students becoming shopkeepers and among rural shopkeepers attending adult education, the author suggests a cultural-historical alternative to transfer in understanding the continuity and discontinuity of personal knowledge across situations and over time.

Courtney B. Cazden & Jaan Valsiner
Book Reviews


MCA Vol. 03, No. 1

The Editors

Ernest E. Boesch
The Seven Flaws of Cross-Cultural Psychology. The Story of Conversion

This is the story of a clinical psychologist who got interested in the relation between depression and social support and decided to study it cross-culturally. Let me call her Jane. Her idea was to take social support as an independent variable, and to operationalize it by three cultures, one highly supportive, the second with social support, and the third with low support structures. She took care to select these cultures conscientiously on the basis of anthropological reports, and she adapted an already proven questionnaire on depressive tendencies in order to make it “culture-free.” She then had it translated and back-translated by students in her university who were natives of the chosen cultures, and with the help of psychology departments in those countries she found local researchers who appeared to be competent enough for her project. She had them come to her university in order to instruct them in the use of the questionnaire and the rationale of her project. It looked to her a neat and carefully prepared research design, and so it did to others, because she had no trouble finding the required funds. Yet, when the results came in, she found the data sent by the two researchers from Culture 3 to be inconsistent, and, her sabbatical year approaching, she decided to go and look for herself.

Mariane Hedegaard
How Instruction Influences Children’s Concepts of Evolution

This article focuses on variations in children’s understanding of the evolution of species and the origin of humans, and on how these variations are related to classroom instruction. In order to evaluate the children’s concept development as influenced by teaching method, children from two classes who participated in a teaching experiment throughout the third grade were interviewed. The teaching experiment aimed at teaching the children the theoretical concepts of evolution by teaching them to integrate their knowledge into coherent models. Two experimental groups from two different schools were interviewed during the middle of the fourth grade. A control group of children from a class that had not been taught the concepts of evolution were also interviewed. Analyses of the interviews showed that the manner of instruction influenced the children’s conceptions, both in the area they were taught, the evolution of species, and a related area, the origin of humans.

Eugene Matusov
Intersubjectivity Without Agreement

In this paper, there is an attempt to construct the notion of intersubjectivity as a process of a coordination of participants’ contributions in joint activity. This notion incorporates the dynamics of both agreement and disagreement. I argue that a traditional definition of intersubjectivity as a state of overlap of individual understandings overemphasizes agreement and de-emphasizes disagreement among the participants in joint activity. It disregards disagreement at two levels: 1) by focusing only on integrative, consensus seeking, activities, in which disagreement among participants of joint activity often is viewed as only the initial point of the joint activity that has to be resolved by the final agreement (macro-level), and by considering disagreements as only nuisances or obstacles while focusing on integrative activities (micro-level). To illustrate how disagreement can constitute intersubjectivity at macro- and micro-levels, examples of children’s development of a classroom play are examined. Diversity and fluidity of intersubjectivity will be discussed.

Janet Dixon Keller, Charles Bazerman & Bruno Latour
Cognition in the Wild (Book)

Edwin Hutchins
Response to Reviewers

Giyoo Hatano
Multiple Approaches to Sociocultural Studies of Mind (Book)

MCA Vol. 03, No. 2

The Editors

Gordon Wells
Using the Tool-Kit of Discourse in the Activity of Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning are largely conducted through talk, yet the relationship between the talk and the activity goals it is intended to achieve is rarely problematized or treated as a matter for conscious choice. In this paper, I describe a tool for the analysis of classroom talk, developed in the context of teacher-researcher collaboration, which draws upon activity theory and systemic linguistics. Three main units of analysis are proposed: episodes of talk, which are the chief interactional means by which actions are operationalized; the sequences from which such episodes are constructed; and, minimally, the moves through which each sequence is negotiated. The concept of mini-genre is then used to distinguish different patterns of sequential organization. In the second part of the paper, I contrast episodes from two different activities, showing how different choices of follow-up moves create significantly different kinds of opportunity for student engagement and learning. In conclusion, I suggest that, by recording and analyzing episodes of talk from their classrooms, teachers can become conscious of the options they select; then, if they see fit, they can, by changing the discursive operations deployed, bring about a change in the activities themselves and so change the nature of the classroom community.

Deborah Hicks
Learning as a Prosaic Act

The role of discourse as a social semiotic mediator of knowledge construction has in recent years become an important topic in the fields of psychology and education. Along with the writings of L.S. Vygotsky on relations between thinking and speech, the work of Mikhail Bakhtin has become critical to current theorizing about the mediational role of social discourses. Bakhtin’s writings on the discourse of the novel have become particularly important, in that they provide a framework for understanding how social discourses are constitutive of individual consciousness. In this paper, although I acknowledge the importance of Bakhtin’s writings on novelistic discourse for studies of social semiotic knowledge construction, I suggest that Bakhtin’s work has even wider implications for studies of learning. Drawing in particular from Bakhtin’s early writings on the conscious self, I argue that ‘dotted lines’ drawn from his writings to contemporary studies of learning would entail a theoretical focus on acting/thinking/feeling persons in relationship, engaged in prosaic acts reflective of distinctions of value. I suggest that it is through considering Bakhtin’s work in its breadth that educators and psychologists can gain the unique view of human consciousness entailed by his theories of discourse and the self. My theoretical arguments are illustrated through reference to my current research on relations between children’s classroom learning and their development as biographical persons.

Mary Bryson & Suzanne De Castell
Learning to Make a Difference: Gender, New Technologies, and In/Equity

Taking a lead from Textor et al’s (1985) innovative project of “anticipatory anthropology,” this article describes a project on gender, equity and new information technologies that is in its infancy. The authors offer a preliminary, “anticipatory” analysis of this project’s prospects and pitfalls. In search of a “community of research practice” having an explicit commitment to what we resort to calling “radical practice” in education/educational research, we invite others, using e-mail as a medium for a discourse community so focused, into an ongoing conversation concerned with marginalization, alterity, gender and identity as “tool-user,” radical pedagogies and socio-culturally situated research practice/s. It is envisaged here that the formation of larger “community of alterity in practice” could substantially enlarge opportunities for critique, support and dialogue while there is yet some material difference which might be made to the work by these means. This anticipatory account of the Gentech Project is, accordingly, one conceptual space from which such a conversation might begin.

Charles Underwood
Oral History

Margaret A. Gallego
Beyond Technology’s Promise: An Examination of Children’s Educational Computing at Home (Book)

Mary Gauvain
Child Care and Culture: Lessons from Africa (Book)

Eugene Matusov
Erratum: Correction to the article “Intersubjectivity Without Agreement” (Volume 3, No. 1)

MCA Vol. 03, No. 3

The Editors

Jean Lave
Teaching, as Learning, in Practice

Why pursue a social rather than a more familiar psychological theory of learning? ‘To the extent that being human is a relational matter, generated in social living, historically, in social formations whose participants engage with each other as a condition and precondition for their existence, theories that conceive of learning as a special universal mental process impoverish and misrecognize it. My colleagues and I have been trying to convey out understanding of this claim for some years (e.g., Lave, 1988; Lave & Wenger, 1991) and I will try to develop the argument a little further here. There is another sort of reason for pursuing a theoretical perspective on the social nature of learning. Theories that reduce learning to individual mental capacity/activity in the last instance blame marginalized people for being marginal. Common theories of learning begin and end with individuals (though these days they often nod at “the social” or “the environment” in. between). Such theories are deeply concerned with individual differences, with notions of better and worse, more and less learning, and with comparison of these things across groups-of-individuals. Psychological theories of learning prescribe ideals and paths to excellence and identify the kinds of individuals (by no means all) who should arrive; the absence of movement away from some putatively common starting point becomes grounds for labeling others sub-normal. The logic that makes success exceptional but nonetheless characterizes lack of success as not normal won’t do. It reflects and contributes to a politics by which disinherited and disenfranchised individuals, whether taken one at a time or in masses, are identified as the disabled, and thereby made responsible for their “plight” (e.g., McDermott, 1993). It seems imperative to explore ways of understanding learning that do not naturalize and underwrite divisions of social inequality in our society. A reconsideration of learning as a social, collective, rather than individual, psychological phenomenon offers the only way beyond the current state of affairs that I can envision at the present time.

Ann Shea Bayer
Orchestrating a Text Mediational View of Vygotsky in a College Classroom

Instruction can create zones of proximal development. One’s interpretation of Vygotsky’s ideas, however, would drive qualitatively different instructional strategies. A text mediational view (Wertsch & Bivens, 1992) supports the classroom as a place where the teacher orchestrates joint activities which promote dialogic texts, allowing students to use language as thinking devices to make connections between what they already know and new concepts. This study describes the author’s role in setting up such joint activities during the first few weeks of a year-long education class. An analysis of this video-taped course revealed two patterns in which the dialogic texts took place. The first pattern called ‘shared knowledge scaffolding’ involved individual student writing and small group discussion about what students already knew about the topic. Sharing similarities and differences in a whole class discussion, the students and teacher developed publicly shared composite theories regarding the topic. These early theories served as initial reference points as students looked for connections to new information generated during on going class activities. This pattern eventually disappeared as the semester progressed, but the resultant expanded knowledge base became “old” or “anchored” knowledge, which students could now use as mental hooks as they engaged in increasingly sophisticated activities involving application of course concepts in new contexts. The author argues that these two patterns, which underlie the joint activities, provided students with the means to achieve enhanced levels of intersubjectivity, thereby enabling students to increasingly assume responsibility for their learning.

Toomas Timpka & Cecelia Sjoberg
The Voices of Design: Discourse in Participatory Information System Development

There is a lack of knowledge about how participation in information system design is built in practice and, particularly, about the interaction taking place within multi-disciplinary design groups. One way to structure participatory design processes has been by the introduction of rules for a “democratic dialogue.” The purpose of this study was to explore the dynamics of small-group design meetings in which a set of rules aimed at leveling the possibility for access and display of information were used. Starting from a grounded theory method, a descriptive model was composed by the demarcation of three voices. The voices of participatory design, practice, and engineering were found to express the workplace context, the intentions and actions of the participants, and the influences from the institutions involved, which together constituted the design process. To be able to identify links between small-group discourse and organizational change, a framework for analysis is necessary which makes it possible to follow social structures from the interaction in design groups. This study provides the preliminaries for such a model.

Gary Shank
If O-Ring Booster Seals Were Alive

The following article is actually a five piece work built around an essay submitted to the Internet the week prior to the tenth anniversary of the Challenger disaster. The article discusses the juxtaposition of schooling and the Challenger disaster, and incorporates a collective response of Internet scholars to the basic theme. In a brief conclusion, the article is held up as a model for future sorts of collective Internet and print scholarly joint ventures.

Suzanne de Castell
Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language (Book)

Edouard Lagache
Educated in Romance: Women, Achievement, and College Culture (Book)

MCA Vol. 03, No. 4

The Editors

Bruno Latour
On Interobjectivity

Michael Lynch
DeKanting Agency: Comments on Bruno Latour’s “On Interobjectivity”

Marc Berg
The Fruitful A-Modernism of a Lingering Modernist: Commentary on Bruno Latour’s “On Interobjectivity”

Yrjo Engeström
Interobjectivity, Ideality, and Dialectics

Bruno Latour
Pursuing the Discussion of Interobjectivity With a Few Friends

David K. Dirlam
Macrodevelopmental Analysis: From Open Fields to Culture Via Genres of Art and Developmental Research

A new treatment of long-term developmental data originated from problems in counting categories of free behavior of animals in open fields. Codes for a multidimensional classifier (previously proven mathematically efficient and powerful) of a complex human activity were defined from Lowenfeld’s (1957) and Piaget and Inhelder’s (1948) descriptions of children’s drawing. After removing nondevelopmental distinctions from codings of l,222 drawings, remaining patterns (genres) obeyed the generalized gamma probability law. This revealed development as probabilistic, collective, occurring along several paths, and sometimes reversing directions. The probability law also identified genres, which faded in time or emerged for short spans or decades. The generality of this analysis was tested by application to historical genres of developmental research defined from Danziger (1990). Codings of 599 articles revealed the generalized gamma law also fit this context. Since ontogeny did not determine the historiogenesis, similar outcomes imply a cultural interpretation of their development.

J. L. Lemke
Sociocultural Approaches to Language and Literacy (Book)

Mark R. Gover
The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (Book)


MCA Vol. 04, No. 1

The Editors

Susan Leigh Star & Geoffrey C. Bowker
Of Lungs and Lungers: The Classified Story of Tuberculosis

The experience of a long-term chronic illness weaves together problems in biography, the body, and the cultural and organizational meanings of the disease. Time meets infrastructure; experience meets classification. We present here a close reading of two studies of tuberculosis: Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain and Julius Roth’s empirical work Timetables. Drawing on research in medical sociology and information science, we show how the trajectories of disease, biography, and institution weave together. Mismatches in the trajectories produce distortions (or torques) in time and sense of self, accounting for the phantasmagoric imagery often associated with tuberculosis. We conclude with some general observations about how the concept of trajectory might be used in understanding the intersection of biography and organization.

Karin Junefelt & Tiia Tulviste
Regulation and Praise in American, Estonian, and Swedish Mother-Child Interaction

This article deals with cultural influences on linguistic regulation and praise in American, Estonian, and Swedish mother-child interaction. Two-year-old children and their mothers from these different countries were videotaped during mealtime and puzzle solving. The video recordings were transcribed and coded for various forms of linguistic behavior. The results reveal both quantitative and qualitative differences among the 3 groups. All children were regulated and praised more often during puzzle solving than during mealtimes. The American mothers praised their children more often than mothers in the other 2 groups, and the Estonian mothers used more regulation than the other mothers. The American mothers regulated verbal activity more than the Estonian and Swedish mothers, and the Estonian mothers regulated attention more often than the American and Swedish mothers.

David K. Dirlam
Chaos, Competition, and the Necessity to Create

In a study of the frequency of usage of developing strategies in 5-year-old to 18-year-old children’s drawings and in 1968-1992 developmental research strategies, Dirlam (1996) showed that in both cases, usage declined exponentially as successor strategies emerged. This “general gamma” model revealed that macrodevelopment involves (a) inevitable declines in primitive strategy usage, (b) simultaneous use of multiple strategies, and (c) cultural mediation of strategy change. Two basic questions remained. Why does macrodevelopment involve decline, and what happens after the most advanced strategy declines? A new chaos-theory model, rooted in population growth models, assumed that the rate of strategy decline was related to the summed competition from growing, successor strategies. It fit the data as well as the general gamma and revealed that if no successor to an advanced strategy occurs, its usage usually becomes chaotic. This implies that developing systems of strategies cannot maintain stability without creatively introducing new strategies.

Dineh M. Davis
The Perpetual Novice: An Undervalued Resource in the Age of Experts

Several decades after the workplace introduction of computer-based and networked technologies and well over a decade after the introduction of microcomputers into American homes, we witness the emerging phenomenon of the Perpetual Novice: one who has been thoroughly entrenched in this technology for years without having ever lost the edge we associate with beginners. In this article, I look at the general domain of beginners and a path that many take, not toward the goal of expertise as expected by social norms but in the direction of novicehood. Through comparisons of personality, learning traits, and cognitive skills, more similarities than differences may be found between experts and perpetual novices. I thus urge that the perpetual novice be recognized as an equal but separate player whose inclusive sense of relevance about the work at hand can add a new and positive dimension to our computer-based society.

Victor Kaptelinin
Review of “The Perpetual Novice: An Undervalued Resource in the Age of Experts”

My main concern is about the meaning of the concept of “the perpetual novice” (PN). Undoubtedly, an exploratory and qualitative first step into examining a phenomenon can make a very interesting article. And I think the article does contain new and interesting ideas that will be of interest to the readers of the journal. I believe, however, that any article intended to stimulate a discussion by introducing a new phenomenon should define this phenomenon as clearly as possible. Unfortunately, the article “The Perpetual Novice,” even after the revision, does not specify clearly enough the phenomenon it introduces.

Valerie M. Crawford & William R. Penuel
The Dialogical Self: Meaning as Movement (Book)

Melissa P. Lemons
Personality and Intelligence (Book)

Liisa Torvinen
Charting the Agenda: Educational Activity After Vygotsky (Book)

MCA Vol. 04, No. 2

The Editors

David Middleton
The Social Organization of Conversational Remembering: Experience as Individual and Collective Concerns

This article examines the social organization of remembering in conversation. Examples of conversational remembering are used to discuss the way the sequential organization of talk co-opts others into the project of remembering; how we interactively commit others to the individual and collective relevance of our experience claims; and, finally, how conversational remembering is rhetorically organized in terms of the interdependencies of our own and others’ experience as individually and collectively relevant.

Angela Wiley
Religious Affiliation as a Source of Variation in Childrearing Values and Parental Regulation of Young Children

Not all parents regulate to the same degree, and one typically examined factor, social class, does not adequately account for variation. In this study, religious ideology was explored as another source of variation in parental regulatory practices. Sixteen middle-class European-American families (8 conservative and 8 liberal) with children between 2 and 3 years of age participated in parental interviews and in-home observations. In interviews, mothers showed some overlap in their beliefs about childrearing, thus highlighting the thread that binds the American middle class. Liberal and conservative mothers also showed systematic distinctions in ideology. There were also predicted differences in observed interaction. (Conservative mothers exercised more general regulation.) In one striking finding, liberals engaged in more regulation of child misbehaviors. This was related to increased negotiation and child noncompliance.

Pedro R. Portes, Tracy L. Smith, Madelon F. Zady & Kent Del Castillo
Extending the Double Stimulation Method in Cultural-Historical Research: Parent-Child Interaction and Cognitive Change

In this article, we explore the nature and role of parent-child interaction characteristics in a problem-solving task involving verbal and nonverbal concepts. The purpose of the research is threefold. First, we explore how interaction patterns identified through a factorial study may be understood through a variant of the double simulation method first described by Vygotsky, in which children convert external assistance into means that lead to task success. Second, we attempt to provide an economic, theory-based description of interaction characteristics found under school-like task conditions in examining metacognitive aspects of concept formation. Third, we examine how the interaction patterns vary as a function of the intellectual level of children and the assistance that is available to them. A discussion of the double stimulation approach in microgenetic research is presented in the context of a parent-child teaching experiment.

Charles Crook
Computers and Classroom Culture (Book)

Victor Kaptelinin
The Social and Interactional Dimensions of Human-Computer Interfaces (Book)

Eugene Matusov
The Types of Communications in Education (Book)

Martin J. Packer
The Social Self (Book)

Carol Padden
Deaf Children and Their Families/Deaf Young People and Their Families (Books)

MCA Vol. 04, No. 3

The Editors

Susanne Bodker
Computers in Mediated Human Activity

In this article, I investigate an alternative place for the computer with respect to human cognition. Instead of the computer as a model of the human being, I explore the computer in its role as mediator of human activity based on activity theory. In particular, I discuss various metaphors for this role, including that of a tool, and I look at possible roles for the computer in development of human work activity. I emphasize further the importance of the design of this alternative place. I use an example from a computer application in use in a real work setting to illustrate my points.

Anna Stetsenko & Igor Arievitch
Constructing and Deconstructing the Self: Comparing Post-Vygotskian and Discourse-Based Versions of Social Constructivism

Constructing and deconstructing the self are the two alternative ways to conceive of a human agentic individual that coexist in the present-day socioconstructivist framework. We analyze two respective theoretical approaches employing the grounding assumptions of social constructivism: (a) the discourse-based perspective, which creates important epistemological prerequisites for studying the self hut at the same time dissolves the self in the linguistic or social reality of discourse; and (b) the post-Vygotskian perspective, which turns to the methods of guided formation and views these processes as a modus vivendi of a developing self. We argue that the second perspective can provide a nonreductionist account of the agentic self by taking an active stance in co-constructing, changing, and directing its development. We compare actual post-Vygotskian lines of research (with focus on either interpsychological or intrapsychological aspects of evolving selves) and discuss the ways to synthesize their accomplishments.

Michael Cole
Seymour Sarason and the Creation of Settings

Seymour B. Sarason
Revisiting the Creating of Settings

Michael Cole
From the Creation of Settings to the Sustaining of Institutions

Luis C. Moll
The Creation of Mediating Settings

David Middleton & Charles Crook
Sociocultural Psychology: Theory and Practice of Doing and Knowing (Book)

Alberto Rosa & Graciela Martinez-Campos
Piotr Galperin: Psychologist in Vygotsky’s Footsteps (Book)

Clay Spinuzzi
Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/Culture/Power (Book)

Martvey Sokolovsky
Interactive Minds: Life-span Perspectives on the Social Foundations of Cognition (Book)

Harold D. Fishbein
Lifelines and Risks: Pathways of Youth in Our Time (Book)

MCA Vol. 04, No. 4

David Russell & Charles Bazerman

David R. Russell
Writing and Genre in Higher Education and Workplaces: A Review of Studies That Use Cultural-Historical Activity Theory

This article reviews a tradition of North American research on writing in higher education and workplaces that draws on cultural-historical activity approaches. Growing out of college composition courses, writing-across-the-curriculum programs, and technical writing courses, the research takes as its object the roles writing plays in various activities, particularly those activities in which writing most powerfully mediates work: academic disciplines, professions, and other large and powerful organizations of modern life. Genre is an important analytical category, defined not in terms of formal features hut in terms of typified rhetorical actions based in recurrent social situations. Researchers use qualitative and historical methods to trace the ways people create, appropriate, and recreate dynamic genres to mediate a wide range of social practices.

Aviva Freedman & Graham Smart
Navigating the Current of Economic Policy: Written Genres and the Distribution of Cognitive Work at a Financial Institution

Like navigating a ship (Hutchins, 1993), conducting monetary policy involves complex processes of distributed cognition. The difference is that, in a governmental financial institution like the Bank of Canada, much of the cognitive work and its distribution are accomplished by means of interweaving webs of genres of discourse. The genres of the Bank enable both the forming and reforming of policy as well as the constant reflexive self-monitoring necessary for maintaining the robustness of the institution and for achieving its goals. The genres operate as sites for the communal construction of and negotiation over knowledge; paradoxically, as institutionalized artifacts, they both channel and codify thinking at the same time that they function as sites for change.

Carol Berkenkotter & Doris Ravotas
Genre as Tool in the Transmission of Practice Over Time and Across Professional Boundaries

In this article, we are concerned with the processes through which a central activity in the natural sciences–classification–is instantiated in the writing practices of psychotherapists. We examined several psychotherapists’ grammatical, lexical, and rhetorical strategies for writing their initial evaluations of their clients’ problems. Using membership categorization device analysis from ethnomethodology, we examined several therapists’ written initial evaluations for their use of microlevel categories and categorizations derived both from clients’ own (oral) representations and the therapists’ professional repertoire. The resulting analysis suggests that clients’ emic, contextually grounded expressions are absorbed into a monological account reflecting the therapist’s professional interpretive framework. The therapist thus translates the client’s concerns into a set of meanings compatible with the classifications of psychopathology of the American Psychiatric Association’s (1994) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.). The resulting written account supports a billable diagnosis thereby fulfilling its institutional purpose. It fails, however, to serve another important purpose to many therapists, which is helping the therapist to guide the therapy process by providing a record of the client’s perspective of his or her lifeworld.

Paul Prior
Literate Activity and Disciplinarity: The Heterogeneous (Re)production of American Studies Around a Graduate Seminar

Taking up a sociohistoric approach to writing as literate activity in functional systems and to disciplines as dynamic heterogeneous networks, I examine writing in graduate education as a key arena of disciplinary enculturation. Through an ethnographic analysis centered on the literate activity of students and a professor in an American Studies seminar, I work to integrate participants’ situated activity around a field research and writing task with the historically sedimented affordances of key mediational means. The analysis particularly foregrounds heterogeneity, as multiple trajectories are woven together in the deeply laminated functional systems that (re)produce American Studies and its interdisciplinarity.

Charles Bazerman
Discursively Structured Activities

Talk helps organize the activities it is part of; people maintain regularity of activity through the typification of talk. Similarly, the recognizable similarity among written texts (i.e., recognition of genre) helps maintain social and cognitive structure within activities producing or using those genres. Enduring written texts and systems of texts provide a conservative, reproductive force on local activities. Events are particularly held accountable with those texts that count as knowledge, and thus knowledge-bearing texts are influential in the organization of daily life. Further, disciplines concerned with the production of knowledge represented in textual form develop their structures of social and intellectual practice in dialectic with the textual forms by which knowledge is created and circulated. An examination of the discursive organization of the fields of knowledge production gives us tools for examining the roles knowledge serves within modern culture and opens up questions of how society is organized and how power is distributed around the knowledges we produce.


MCA Vol. 05, No. 1

The Editors

Diane E. Beals
Reappropriating Schema: Conceptions of Development From Bartlett and Bakhtin

Bartlett posited the theory of schema as the organization and development of mind. His work pointed to the organismic (not mechanistic), active (not passive) nature of mind. Bartlett also emphasized the importance of social and cultural influences on schema, although he tended to view “social group” as a one-dimensional entity. Bakhtin, with his emphasis on mind as constructed socially through dialogue within multiple words and worlds, has provided a remedy to this problem. His view of appropriation, in which we take the words and utterances of others, reworking them for our own purposes, connects well with Bartlett’s schema. Together, the two views provide a powerful portrait of the organization and development of mind as dynamic, organismic, and dialogic.

Timothy Koschmann, Kari Kuutti & Larry Hickman
The Concept of Breakdown in Heidegger, Leont’ev, and Dewey and Its Implications for Education

Heidegger, Leont’ev, and Dewey held surprisingly similar views on the role of breakdown or failure as a means of revealing the nature of the world around us. For Heidegger, the resources by which we conduct our day-to-day activities do not usually require our conscious awareness. If our ongoing activity is blocked, however, this “transparency of equipment” is dispelled, forcing a more deliberate mode of action. Leont’ev’s development of breakdown hinges on the analytic distinction he made among Activities, Actions, and Operations. When the necessary conditions for an Operation are absent, the chain of Operations becomes transformed (“unfolded”) back into a sequence of independent Actions. Dewey’s notion of breakdown is related to his views on sensory excitation, stimulus and response, and the habit-formation function in the lives of complex organisms. Implications of these three models for learning and instruction are developed.

Nira Granott
Unit of Analysis in Transit: From the Individual’s Knowledge to the Ensemble Process

Many researchers view development as evolving through interaction between the individual and the social environment. Successive units of analysis, previously suggested in the literature, gave increasing access to studying development from this perspective. However, a few conceptual and practical difficulties in the application of these units remain unresolved. This article suggests a different unit of analysis, the ensemble. The ensemble is the smallest group of individuals who directly interact with one another during developmental processes related to a specific activity context. Like the musical ensemble, the developmental ensemble is characterized by the interdependence and interrelation between the development of its members. As a unit, the ensemble has several advantages. First, it accommodates the dynamic social constellations that form and change within social settings during unconstrained developmental processes. Second, the unit is objective and clearly identifiable. Finally, the underlying structure and dynamics of ensemble processes indicate how development occurs through social interaction and can be compared across ages, activities, and cultures. Ensemble processes allow the dynamic systems approach to be used in the study of development, focusing on interactive systems and on their dynamic processes. These attributes of the ensemble are analyzed and demonstrated by findings of a study on collaborative problem solving.

Lawrence A. Hirschfeld
Peer Prejudice and Discrimination: Evolutionary, Cultural, and Developmental Dynamics (Book)

Francoise Herrmann
Educating Hearts and Minds: Reflections on Japanese Preschool and Elementary Education (Book)

Charles Bazerman
Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-Computer Interaction (Book)

Stanton Wortham
Language in Cognitive Development: Emergence of the Mediated Mind

MCA Vol. 05, No. 2

Holbrook Mahn & Vera John-Steiner

Rene van der Veer
From Concept Attainment to Knowledge Formation

In this article, Vygotsky’s distinction between everyday and scientific concepts is outlined, and its hidden assumptions are stated. It is argued that Vygotsky’s distinction was plausible and fruitful, but that it was problematic in its details and its application in actual schooling. Vygotsky’s legacy can be criticized on both theoretical and empirical grounds, and Vygotskians are urged to continue this process.

Elvira Souza Lima
The Educational Experience With Tikuna: A Look Into the Complexity of Concept Construction

In this article I present a study on concept construction through diverse forms of semiotic mediation developed in the upper Amazon with Tikuna tribe lay teachers who are undergoing formal schooling to get their teacher certification. This project explores the process of concept construction related to the cultural context of development and focuses on the milieu as a source of different tools and possibilities of semiotic mediation. It analyzes the processes of human development when the relationship between individuals and milieu is altered by the introduction of new forms of activity and of semiotic systems and tools. I present the effort to articulate diverse forms of semiotic mediation by integrating drawings–the culturally developed form used extensively by the entire Tikuna community–with written language and by introducing diagrams.

Ellice Ann Forman & Jorge Larreamendy-Joerns
Making Explicit the Implicit: Classroom Explanations and Conversational Implicatures

Vygotsky proposed that schools have an essential role to play in the socialization of scientific or academic concepts. The aim of this article is to expand and revise Vygotsky’s proposal using Grice’s work on the informal logic underlying everyday conversations. We argue that both academic and everyday conversations rely on Grice’s Cooperative Principle and his maxims of quantity, quality, relation, and manner. These two types of conversations do differ, however, in terms of the degree and type of accountability to which the participants are subjected. For example, even among familiar interlocutors, mathematics explanations must exhibit informativeness, logical coherence, veridicality, relevance, and clarity. One teacher’s requesting and revoicing strategies (types of conversational metamessages) are examined to illustrate the contributions of a Gricean perspective to our understanding of the socialization of the mathematics register.

Mariane Hedegaard
Situated Learning and Cognition: Theoretical Learning and Cognition

The aim of this article is to analyze how schoolchildren’s thinking and concept formation generated in classroom teaching can relate to daily life situations. Situated thinking and learning and theoretical thinking and learning are discussed as learning forms that can accomplish this integration. According to Vygotsky, subject-matter concepts are transformed into personal concepts through children’s ability to use them in daily life. The relation between skill and content has to be presupposed in this transformation of subject-matter concepts into everyday concepts, because everyday or daily-life concepts are learned through and interwoven with practical activities in cooperation with other people. The analyses are based on distinctions between (a) societal and personal knowledge, (b) subject-matter and everyday concepts, (c) subject-matter methods and content, and (d) thinking as related to subject-matter methods and concepts as related to subject-matter content. For the personal aspect of knowledge, everyday concepts are located within the life setting of a person; therefore, the relation between subject-matter concepts and personal concepts is often much weaker for immigrants and refugees coming to a new country than for children with generations of ancestors in a society. A project with Puerto Rican children is sketched to discuss how classroom teaching can relate subject-matter knowledge of social science with children’s everyday concepts and thereby enhance the children’s theoretical concepts and thinking.

Vera John-Steiner, Teresa M. Meehan & Holbrook Mahn
A Functional Systems Approach to Concept Development

In Vygotsky’s description and analysis of everyday and scientific concepts, he uses as an example the differing processes for acquiring a first and second language. In this article, we also draw an analogy between the processes of acquiring a first and second language and acquiring everyday and scientific concepts. Our analysis, however, is grounded in a functional systems approach that allows us to conceptualize everyday and scientific concepts as an interconnected dynamic system rather than as separate processes implied by dichotomous relationships.

Bert van Oers
The Fallacy of Detextualization

In this article, I argue against views of the development of abstract thinking that employ the notion of decontextualization. Starting from an assumption that conceives of context as constitutive of meaning, it becomes clear that the notion of “decontextualization” is a poor concept that provides little explanation for the developmental process toward meaningful abstract thinking. I propose a conceptualization of the notion of context from an activity point of view and contend that the conscious process of (re)contextualizing–that is, the continuous process of embedding contexts in contexts–can lead to an explanation of the development of meaningful abstract thinking. The process of continuous progressive recontextualizing is described in the article on the basis of how young children expand their play activity toward embedded, more abstract activities.

Willem L. Wardekker
Scientific Concepts and Reflection

An interpretation of the idea of “scientific concepts” as the products of science that should supersede prior everyday knowledge of pupils is untenable and obscures the relation between learning, reflection, and morality. Instead, in this article I propose to think of scientific (or “scholarly”) concepts as the products of reflection in a practice that includes choices about the future development of that praxis and are, in that sense, of a moral nature. Teaching scholarly concepts should be “genetically adequate,” meaning that it should encourage pupils to reflect and interpret concepts as elements to be used in co-reconstruction of practices. In teaching, subject matter, identity formation, and the development of practices are interconnected.

MCA Vol. 05, No. 3

The Editors

Peter Smagorinsky
Thinking and Speech and Protocol Analysis

Some form of verbal report–that is, a research participant’ s concurrent or retrospective verbal account of thought processes during problem-solving activities–has been used throughout this century as the database from which psychologists have developed theories of human mentation. Newell and Simon (1972) and Ericsson and Simon (1980, 1993) have provided extensive justification for using one such method, protocol analysis, as a tool for investigating cognition from an information-processing (IP) perspective. Their arguments have characterized protocol analysis as a methodology capable of providing evidence of the ways in which people attend to information stored in short-term memory to solve problems, with the evidence providing them with the grounds from which to generate models of human cognitive processes. A different view of protocol analysis is available from the perspective of cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) based on the work of Vygotsky (1987), Leont’ev (1981), and others, and its concern with the mediation of human development by culturally and historically grounded signs and tools. Because of its emphasis on culturally channeled development, a CHAT perspective views speech, including the speech that serves as evidence for cognition in psychological research, as a tool that potentially enables changes in consciousness. In this article I outline a CHAT perspective that accounts for protocol analysis along three key dimensions: (a) the relation between thinking and speech from a representational standpoint, (b) the social role of speech in research methodology, and (c) the influence of speech on thinking during data collection. The purpose of this discussion is not to refute the IP perspective on protocol analysis but to illustrate how this method can be viewed through a CHAT lens and to identify alternative assumptions that must be made to use it from a CHAT perspective.

K. Anders Ericsson & Herbert A. Simon
How to Study Thinking in Everyday Life: Contrasting Think-Aloud Protocols With Descriptions and Explanations of Thinking

Paul Cobb
Learning From Distributed Theories of Intelligence

The analysis reported in this article is grounded in the practice of classroom-based developmental or transformational research and focuses on the distributed views of intelligence developed by Pea (1993) and by Hutchins (1995). The general areas of agreement with this theoretical perspective include both the nondualist orientation and the critical role attributed to tool use. Against this background, I focus on two aspects of the distributed view that I and my colleagues have found necessary to modify for out purposes. The first concerns the legitimacy of taking the individual as the unit of analysis, and here 1 argue that the distributed view implicitly accepts key tenets of mainstream American psychology’s characterization of the individual even as it explicitly rejects it. The second modification concerns distributed intelligence’s characterization of tool use. Drawing on a distinction made by Dewey, I argue that it is more useful for the purposes of instructional design to focus on activity that involves using the tool as an instrument, rather than focusing on the tool itself.

Katie Vann
Contexts for Learning: Sociocultural Dynamics in Children’s Development (Book)

Margaret A. Gallego
Innovations in Learning: New Environments for Education (Book)

A. P. Craig
Differences and Sameness: A Review of Modes of Thought. Explorations in Culture and Cognition (Book)

Judith Diamondstone & Mary Beth Monahan
Situating College English: Lessons From an American University (Book)

Barbara Graves
Situated Cognition: Social, Semiotic and Psychological Perspective (Book)

Eugene Matusov
Non-Western Educational Traditions: Alternative Approaches to Educational Though and Practice (Book)

Stephanie Urso Spina
Stress, Risk, and Resilience in Children and Adolescents: Processes, Mechanisms, and Interventions (Book)

Paul J. Thibault
Textual Politics: Discourse and Social Dynamics (Book)

Jay Lemke

Stanton Wortham
What’s Social About Social Cognition? (Book)

MCA Vol. 05, No. 4

The Editors

Alessandra Fasulo, Hilda Girardet & Clotilde Pontecorvo
Historical Practices in School Through Photographical Reconstruction

Small groups of 4th-grade school children worked autonomously on the analysis of a photograph, guided by a set of questions ranging from particular issues to more general ones. Transcripts of the recordings show that children’s talk deals with key issues of historical methodology: reliability of the source, manipulations transforming findings into a “source,” generalizability from single cases, and interpretation and comparison with present times. In addressing the latter point, children are also drawn to a prospective view of the present time, social organization, scientific progress, and the like. The depth of the discussion was the result of the nature of the stimulus material, the group situation, and the structured format of the task.

Diane Celia Hodges
Participation as Dis-Identification With/in a Community of Practice

Michael Cole
Can Cultural Psychology Help Us Think About Diversity?

Bente Elkjaer
Mind and Social Practice. Selected Writings of Sylvia Scribner (Book)

Felix Diaz
The Roots of Modern Social Psychology (Book)

Shaun Perceval-Maxwell
Evolving the Mind: On the Nature of Matter and the Origin of Consciousness (Book)


MCA Vol. 06, No. 1


Charles M. Keller & Janet Dixon Keller
Imagery in cultural tradition and innovation

Cultural traditions are preserved in the mental images stored and reconstructed from past experiences. Innovation requires the manipulation of this imagery in the course of productive activity. Tool use in the broadest sense is the mechanism enabling these processes. Vygotsky articulated a significant role for instrumental mediation in human psychology. We combine his perspective with insights from phenomenology and cognitive anthropology to develop a cultural psychology of visual imagery in the context of contemporary artist-blacksmithing.

Terezinha Nunes
Mathematics learning as the socialization of the mind

This article offers an integrated theoretical perspective of work where mathematics is defined as a cultural practice. The implication of this definition is that to learn mathematics is to become socialized into the ways of knowing used in the community of mathematicians and mathematics teachers. Four aspects of the process of socialization are discussed: the redescription of meanings to fit with the systems of signs learned in mathematics, the influence of the connections created by teachers in the classroom between the new concepts and the old meanings, the consequences of using particular systems of signs as mediators in reasoning, and the development of social representations of what mathematics is (and the associated process of valorization of particular methods) that takes place in the classroom. Implications for multicultural classrooms are briefly discussed.

Adolfo Perinat & Marta Sadurní
The ontogenesis of meaning: An interactional approach

The aim of this article is to shed new light on the process through which infants acquire a set of cultural meanings around the use of objects during play interactions with adults. It is based on the authors’ longitudinal study of manipulative play interaction between mothers and infants. The authors propose a theoretical framework to explain the acquisition of shared meanings based on ideas borrowed from Vygotsky (intermentality-intramentality), Trevarthen (primary and secondary subjectivity), Bruner (joint activity formats and narratives), and Peirce (theory of signs). They argue that meanings are generated in a dialogical process in which the adult acts expressively; the infant understands and is then able to reproduce the expressive actions previously performed by his interlocutor. This behavior is a recursive loop that, according to Maturana and Varela, is a typical autopoietic process. With emphasis on the infants’ comprehension, a facet rarely studied and often approached from an erroneous standpoint in the psychological study of personal interaction, the authors distance themselves from the traditional Piagetian approach to symbol acquisition by infants. They schematically present some prototypes of interaction, with an emphasis on developing a conceptual framework that could explain how infants gain access to the cultural meanings conveyed in and by everyday human activities.

Giyoo Hatano, Katherine Brown & C. Tane Akamatsu
Book reviews

MCA Vol. 06, No. 2


Patricia M. Greenfield
Historical change and cognitive change: A two-decade follow-up study in Zinacantan, a Maya community in Chiapas, Mexico

Suzanne Gaskins
Historical and cultural perspectives on socialization

Robert L. Munroe
Historical change and developmental change

Richard Alterman
The closed room

Sumedha Gupta & Jaan Valsiner
Coordination of speaking and acting in the second year of life

We offer a conceptual reformulation of the relations between two major psychological functions, speaking and acting. The role of speech in regulating action is traditionally presented in cultural-historical psychology as a gradual takeover and control of the flow of actions by emerging speech functions. We expand this notion to include a variety of coordinated forms between speaking and acting in which the speech-controlling-action model is but one of the possibilities. Human development can be characterized as a constant overproduction of action and speech efforts, which are context-bound, and from which the constructive selection of surviving speech and action forms emerge. Ontogeny thus entails the selective attrition of speech and action forms that emerge through episodes of individual and individual-social other activity. Empirical evidence from a short-term longitudinal study of toddlers’ speaking and acting in everyday-life problem-solving situations is provided to indicate how different forms of speech-action relations coexist and may transform into one another.

Pedro R. Portes, Madelon Zady, Joseph Polman & Pedro Pedraza
Book reviews

MCA Vol. 06, No. 3


Reijo Miettinen
The riddle of things: Activity theory and actor-network theory as approaches to studying innovations

This article compares cultural-historical activity theory (AT) and actor-network theory (ANT) as approaches to studying technical innovations. The concept of nature and society production in the ANT and the concept of activity in the AT have much in common as attempts to transcend the dualism between subject and object, nature and society. The symmetrical (ANT) and the dialectical (AT) interpretations of the concept of mediation are compared. It is suggested that the historically developed, artifact-mediated structure of human activity is instrumental in studying interaction and coevolution of social and material entities. Three limitations of the concept of generalized symmetry, or symmetrical mediation, become evident when the concept is used in empirical studies of innovation: First, it does not supply any criteria for defining the nature and scope of actors in a heterogeneous network. Second, it leads to an asymmetrical, Machiavellian analysis of innovation in which the contribution of designers, users, and nonhuman entities remains marginal. Third, it does not provide any explanation for the intentionality and competence of humans. It is suggested that these problems can be solved if the innovation network is studied as a network of activity systems. Nonhuman entities are included in the analysis as historically developed arrays of tools and raw materials of the activity systems. This approach is elaborated by analyzing an unsuccessful innovation process, the production of ethanol from wood through the use of cellulose-degrading enzymes. It is suggested that instead of applying the symmetrical semiotic language proposed by ANT in the analysis, a dialogue that utilizes the historically developed resources and languages of different thought communities is needed.

Jessica Berit Kindred
“8/18/97 Bite me”: Resistance in learning and work

This article examines characterizations of resistance in learning and at work and provides an alternative interpretive position and empirical work concerning the productive role of the performance of resistance in learning and self-development at work. Specifically in contrast with more traditional views of resistance as an obstacle or impediment to learning, I suggest that resistance can be read as a constructive and deconstructive process in which learners forge bridges between pasts and presents and emerge themselves as authorial participants in workplace change.

William R. Penuel & Tim L. Davey
“I don’t like to live nowhere but here”: The shelter as mediator of U.S. homeless youth’s identity formation

Identity formation, from a sociocultural perspective, involves people choosing from among the variety of historical and cultural resources available to them for living their values, making a commitment to a particular life course, and grounding their hope in the future. Researchers in the past have argued that homeless shelters provide few such resources for children and youth to form healthy identities. At the same time, these researchers have not examined how young people themselves make sense of the shelters in which they live in the course of their own development. This article examines how children living in two small family shelters in a large southeastern city understand the shelter as a place they call home in relation to their families, friends, and themselves. Implications for the study of identity formation of homeless children and youth are discussed.

Myra Bookman
Phantoms slain: Reading Gilligan as a revolutionary text

This article follows Carol Gilligan’s work on moral development and gender psychology from its inception through its contemporary refinements and reads the entire opus as a revolutionary text, in terms of method as well as content. An interdisciplinary argument drawing on political philosophy and feminist theory supports a Vygotskian sociocultural-historical interpretation. Simplistic dualistic models of gender development are rejected in favor of one that describes an embodied cultural-historical subject capable of agency, resistance, and change. This reading works against the persistent essentialist misinterpretations of Gilligan’s writings.

MCA Vol. 06, No. 4


Richard S. Prawat
Social constructivism and the process-content distinction as viewed by Vygotsky and the pragmatists

In a recent article in this journal, Stetsenko and Arievitch compared and contrasted 3 versions of social constructivism, all of which successfully deal with one vexing epistemological problem, the separation of mind and world. However, solutions offered by the first 2 approaches are problematic, according to the authors, because of the way they treat the subject-object issue. On this score, Gal’perin’s (1989) brand of post-Vygotskianism is preferred because it manages to retain the individual while externalizing the mind. As I point out in this article, all 3 approaches fail when it comes to solving a third, equally intractable problem–the process versus content dualism. In the last part of the article, I present a promising solution to all 3 problems first proposed by Peirce and Dewey and later embraced by Lev Vygotsky in the last years of his life.

Peter E. Jones
The embodied mind: Contrasting visions

This article presents a critical examination and discussion of 2 arguments in support of the embodied mind position as developed within the philosophical literature of the Cognitive Linguistics paradigm. Employing the dialectical Materialist approach of Evald Ilyenkov (1997), closely allied to the cultural-historical and activity theory traditions, the article argues that neither Lakoffs cases of reasoning from “typical examples” nor Thelen and Smith’s (1994) example of dynamic cognition undermine a Materialist perspective on cognition as a process of knowing the objective properties of an independently existing reality.

Kris D. Gutiérrez, Patricia Baquedano-López & Carlos Tejeda
Rethinking diversity: Hybridity and hybrid language practices in the third space

In this article we provide a perspective on hybridity both as a theoretical lens for understanding diversity and a method for organizing learning. We argue that the use of multiple, diverse, and even conflicting mediational tools promotes the emergence of Third Spaces, or zones of development, thus expanding learning. Using examples from our ethnographic study of the literacy practices of one dual immersion elementary school classroom, we illustrate through an analysis of the discourse and literacy practices of the teacher and students in this culture of collaboration, how hybrid activities, roles, and practices can lead to productive contexts of development.

Farida Abdulla Khan
The social context of learning mathematics: Stepping beyond the cognitive framework

Two groups of vendors and a group of schoolchildren were compared for differences on their knowledge of number systems and their competence and understanding of a set of mathematical word problems. Statistical analyses revealed that vendors had a better understanding of the mathematical principles and a better range of strategies than the schoolchildren, who were constrained by a narrow application of school-learned routines and algorithms. A lack of the more conventional mathematical algorithms, however, reduced the efficiency of the vendors in solving the problems. The performance of all 3 groups was evaluated in the contexts of the sociocultural milieu within which they function. Ethnographic descriptions and a contextual analysis of the activities of vending and of schooling, as also the involvement and participation of the vendors and schoolchildren in these settings, helped to explain and locate the mathematical practices and the mathematical understanding of the participants. The argument put forward in the article is that cognitive and psychological functioning is deeply embedded in historical and sociocultural contexts and that any understanding or assessment of the individual will remain incomplete if these are ignored.

For Discussion: Jacques Carpay
The interdependence between forms of mutuality and the development of theoretical interest in the classroom

The present Vygotskian community is divided by a common language, 1 argue. By closer inspection there appears to be 2 quotation communities. The reasons for this are many, but the main reason seems to be the different reception histories of Vygosky’s work in Russia and in the U. S., respectively. Concurrently, on the continent there also exist 2 different quotation communities. In one community Vygotsky’s work initially was introduced through his Russian disciples; in the other community through his American adherents. This article focuses on a Vygotsky-inspired curriculum rationale that is not yet widely known abroad. It is authored by El ‘konin and Davydov. In Russian parlance this approach is called Developmental Education. By closer inspection it turns out that there is a remarkable family resemblance between this approach and the American approach known as the Schools-for-Thought movement. Here both approaches are juxtaposed and critically valued.


MCA Vol. 07, No. 1-2

Charles Goodwin
Vision and Inscription in Practice

Lucy Suchman
Embodied Practices of Engineering Work

This article explores relationships between activity theoretic and ethnomethodological studies of work and its objects, with specific reference to the case of design practices in civil engineering. My starting point is the shared interest of activity theory and ethnomethodology in the place of artifacts in everyday working practice. I review briefly some basic premises of first ethnomethodological, then activity theoretic studies of artifacts-in-use. I then offer a preliminary account of computer-aided and paper-based design work in civil engineering, informed by both perspectives. My account emphasizes the multiplicity of media and associated objects involved in the work of engineering on the one hand, and their integration in practice into a coherent field of action on the other. The article concludes by returning to the question of relationships between ethnomethodology and activity theory, focusing on differences in their respective stances toward theory itself.

Charles Goodwin
Practices of Color Classification

Color categories sit at the intersection of 2 central topics in the study of human cognition: (a) the analysis of vision, and (b) the study of semantic categories, or more generally processes of classification. Using as data videotape of archaeologists filling out a coding sheet that requires them to systematically describe the color of the dirt they have excavated, this article describes the practices required to competently classify color within the work life of their profession. The task of color classification is embedded within a situated activity system, which includes not only several different ways of identifying the same color (each designed for alternative uses), but also cognitive artifacts, such as a Munsell color chart and specific embodied practices. The chart creates a historically constituted architecture for perception, a heterotopia that juxtaposes in a single visual field 2 very different kinds of space. As multiple parties fill out the coding sheet together, the full resources of the organization of talk-in-interaction are brought to bear on the contingent tasks they are charged with accomplishing. This investigation of a situated activity system encompassing not only semantic categories, but also physical tools and embodied practices, contrasts with most previous research on color categories, which has focused almost exclusively on mental phenomena, and not on how people perform color classification to pursue a relevant course of action in the consequential settings that make up their lifeworld.

Yasuko Kawatoko
Organizing Multiple Vision

In a factory that produces large quantities of precision metal parts through the use of computer-controlled lathes, workers from different divisions of labor such as lathe operators, inspectors, and managers organize multiple vision to make cutting processes and the quality of products visible. The first part of this article investigates how the lathe operators juxtapose a range of different kinds of documents and artifacts to both program their lathes and build a perceptual field where relevant events in the process become visible. In the second part of the article, particular attention is paid to a standard plan as a boundary object. A common standard plan is used in different ways in different sections of the plant to accomplish its practice. A standard plan organizes multiple, perspectival vision of the “same” events in different sections while simultaneously becoming a tool for coordinating different divisions of labor.

Naoki Ueno
Ecologies of Inscription: Technologies of Making the Social Organization of Work and the Mass Production of Machine Parts Visible in Collaborative Activity

This article focuses on technologies for making social organization, work, and mass production mutually visible in collaborative activity. I describe how practitioners in a manufacturing factory mutually organize accountability of their own social organization, the work, and the mass-produced products through using various inscriptions and other technologies along with concretely demonstrating these presuppositions of society and work. Among them, I focus on how multilayered accountabilities are organized and on how the multilayered accountabilities or multiply-organized activities are linked up and coordinated with inscriptions and other technologies. At linking points, mutualities of various divisions of labor are organized. In addition, at a linking point, what occurs is not the transmission of invariant information, but the transformation of the information. Imaging the relations across inscriptions as a linear chain can be viewed as one of the more popular inscriptions locally utilized by management on specific occasions.

Christian Heath
Configuring Action in Objects: From Mutual Space to Media Space

It has long been recognized that the material environment is an essential feature of the organization of social action and interaction. It is only recently, however, that we have witnessed a burgeoning body of empirical studies, from within both the social and cognitive sciences, that has begun to delineate the ways in which objects are socially constructed and feature in social relations and activities. Despite this growing interest in the object in social life, there remains a paucity of research concerned with how objects are reflexively constituted in and through social interaction. In this article, we consider how aspects of the material environment are rendered momentarily intelligible in and through interaction and the ways in which objects provide a resource for the recognition of the actions and activities of others. We examine interaction in both conventional working environments and new experimental spaces created through advanced telecommunication and communication technologies to reveal the ways in which the sense and significance of social actions and activities are embedded in, and inseparable from, the local ecology.

Aug Aug Nishizaka
Seeing What One Sees: Perception, Emotion, and Activity

In this article, it is demonstrated (a) how seeing is organized in the spatiotemporal arrangement of bodies and conduct within which the participants display and manage their orientations to the ongoing activity, and (b) how seeing and emotion are mutually constituted in the precise coordination of conduct and how they, can constitute resources for organizing the ongoing activity. The view advanced in this article sharply contradicts the traditional conception of visual perception, according to which the verb “see” names a discrete process, event, or state hidden under the individual’s skin. Seeing is rather an organizational feature of an embodied, visible activity.

Michael Lynch & Kathleen Jordan
Patents, Promotions, and Protocols: Mapping and Claiming Scientific Territory

Scientific representations include a diverse and confusing array of maps, descriptions, diagrams, and protocols. This study examines and compares the practical and communicative uses of such artifacts. The main source of material is the authors’ ethnographic research on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a laboratory routine that has numerous scientific, medical, and forensic applications. Contextually relative versions of PCR are examined: schematic diagrams for popular audiences, advertisements in biotech publications, patent descriptions, praxiological descriptions (recipe-like formulations), and material standards and references. These renderings do not exemplify a single type of cognition or information processing. Schematic diagrams, advertisements, patents, protocols, and material standards are differently formed, and the information they convey substantially differs from one form to another. This study contributes to a noncognitivist understanding of representation that emphasizes a plurality of material formats and communicative practices rather than an underlying mental process.

Geoffrey C. Bowker & Susan Leigh Star
Invisible Mediators of Action: Classification and the Ubiquity of Standards

This article is a methodological think piece about the ways in which classifications (and standards) impinge in myriad ways on our daily lives. We argue that although they are frequently invisible to us, they are highly political and ethically charged. We suggest 4 principles garnered from our own research and that of others that can together be used to give a picture of their scope and reach: recognizing their ubiquity, analyzing their material texture, examining ways in which they reconfigure our understanding of the past, and exploring their practical politics. Together, the principles suggest a “reverse engineering” of classification systems to reveal the multitude of local political and social struggles and compromises that go into the constitution of a “universal” classification.

MCA Vol. 07, No. 3

The Editors

Susan Leigh Star
Making Music With Cases: Symposium on the Work of Howard S. Becker

Howard S. Becker
The Etiquette of Improvisation

Debra Cash
Response to Becker’s “The Etiquette of Improvisation”

R. Keith Sawyer
Improvisational Cultures: Collaborative Emergence and Creativity in Improvisation

Karen Ruhleder & Fred Stoltzfus
The Etiquette of the Master Class: Improvisation on a Theme by Howard Becker

Howard S. Becker
Examples and Generalizations

Steven R. Guberman & Geoffrey B. Saxe
Mathematical Problems and Goals in Children’s Play of an Educational Game

In his development of activity theory, Leontiev explained that the emergence of divisions of labor in society necessarily leads to collaborative activity in which individuals, with their own goals and actions, contribute to collective achievements. In this article, we describe emergent “divisions of labor” that are common in children’s collective problem solving. Parallel to Leontiev’s argument, we show that when labor becomes divided, children often become engaged in accomplishing different goals leading to different learning outcomes. We illustrate the utility of this analytic tack in analyses of 64 third and fourth graders playing an educational game, Treasure Hunt.

Giuseppe Mantovani & Anna Spagnolli
Imagination and Culture: What Is It Like Being in the Cyberspace?

New information technologies are constructing living and working environments that people often find disorienting. This can be seen as a general effect of the introduction of new artifacts that disrupt preexisting routines and destroy the previous distribution of work. Communities have to cope with unprecedented environments by developing imagination as a cultural resource, allowing them to make sense of the ambiguous situations created by new computer technologies. New computer artifacts alter not only the social fabric of the communities in which they are adopted, but also the kind of relations that tools once had with human minds. Both processes-the appearance of uncharted environments and the emergence of an “intimate” technology-emphasize the function of semiotic mediation involved in artifact use. Making sense of new environments (such as shared virtual environments designed to support distant coworking) means making them part of the sociocultural network that maintains “real” communities and reconfiguring in imaginative ways the existing sociocultural networks.

Deborah Hicks
Self and Other in Bakhtin’s Early Philosophical Essays: Prelude to a Theory of Prose Consciousness

Bonnie E. Litowitz
Commentary on Perinat and Sadurni: “The Ontogenesis of Meaning: An Interactional Approach”

Kevin O’Connor
Book Review of “Language and Communicative Practices”

Carol Padden
Book Review of “The Guided Mind: A Sociogenetic Approach to Personality”

MCA Vol. 07, No. 4

The Editors

Willem L. Wardekker
Criteria for the Quality of Inquiry

Researchers working in Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) need to develop criteria for the adequacy of the processes and products of research that is founded on the central tenets of that theory. Criteria like validity and generalizability are not universal, but have been developed from a specific theory of knowledge use. This relation is explained both for the nomological and the interpretive paradigms, and suggestions are made for the development of criteria in the CHAT paradigm on a similar basis.

Jay L. Lemke
Across the Scales of Time: Artifacts, Activities, and Meanings in Ecosocial Systems

Paul J. Thibault
The Dialogical Integration of the Brain in Social Semiosis: Edelman and the Case for Downward

Robert Ausch
Book Review: “Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies”


MCA Vol. 08, No. 1


Mike Rose
The Working Life of a Waitress

Through a focus on my mother’s working life in family-style restaurants, and with corroborating evidence from interviews with other waitresses and from psychological, sociological, and historical research literature, I characterize the interrelated cognitive, social, emotional, and existential dimensions of the work a waitress does. The article is both an homage to a particular waitress and an argument for the complexity of everyday work and for the multiple disciplinary perspectives and kinds of knowledge needed to appreciate that complexity.

Jayanthi Mistry, Barbara Rogoff & Hannah Herman
What Is the Meaning of Meaningful Purpose in Children’s Remembering? Istomina Revisited

In a classic study, Istomina (1977) found that preschool children remembered more items when remembering served a meaningful purpose then when it was for the purpose of reporting recall to an adult. Istomina’s findings have not been replicated in several recent attempts; however, we argue that these attempts have not focused sufficiently on the purpose of remembering. We report a study in which we asked parents to present a set of pictures of 10 grocery items to their 4-year-old children (with the same order of items and number of presentations) in one of two conditions: Either, the remembering fit into a clear functional goal (making a sack lunch), or remembering was itself the goal (in a memory test). In the lunch condition, children were told that they were to remember the items so that they could get them from the “grocer” on the other side of the room in order to make a sack lunch. In the test condition, children were told to remember the items so that they could tell an adult what they were. Children remembered more items when the remembering served the goal of making lunch than when the purpose was simply remembering the items to tell someone else. We discuss the findings in the context of the other replications, some of which created fun activities to contrast with a test condition but often did not embed the remembering as a necessary way of reaching a meaningful goal. We also discuss the likelihood that across differing historical periods and cultural settings, the activities that are meaningful for young children are likely to vary.

Anna Sfard & Carolyn Kieran
In this article we take a close look at the now popular claim that many school subjects, and mathematics among them, are best learned in an interactive way, through conversation with others. Two types of specially devised analytical tools are used to analyze the data coming from a two-month-long series of interactions between two 13-year-old boys learning algebra. Focal analysis gives us a detailed picture of the students’ conversation on the level of its immediate mathematical contents and makes it possible to assess the effectiveness of communication. This is complemented by preoccupational analysis, which is directed at meta-messages and examines participants’ engagement in the conversation, thus possibly highlighting at least some of the reasons for communication failure. What we managed to see with the help of our special analytic tools led to a two-layered set of conclusions: It changed our opinion on learning-by-talking, and it also forced us to revise some of the basic assumptions with which we began our study. First, while having a close look at the pair of students working together, we realized that the merits of learning-by-talking cannot be taken for granted. Because of the ineffectiveness of the students’ communication, the collaboration we had a chance to observe seemed unhelpful and lacking the expected synergetic quality. Second, on the meta-level, we concluded that what can be seen in classrooms does not make much sense as long as thinking is regarded as a self-sustained factor that regulates communication. For us, thinking became an act of communication in itself. This reconceptualization led to the disappearance of several traditional dichotomies that initially barred our insights: the dichotomy between “contents of mind” and the things people say or do; the split between cognition and affect and the distinction between individual and social research perspectives.

Michael Cole
Symposium: Introductory Remarks

Yair Neuman
Can the Baron von Münchausen Phenomenon be Solved?An Activity-Oriented Solution to the Learning Paradox

It has been argued that self-generated explanation (self-explanation) is an important tool in the acquisition of knowledge. However, the rationalist and the empiricist approaches, with which self-referential activity has usually been discussed, makes the phenomenon of self-explanation problematic. In this article, I examine self-explanation as a private case of the classical learning paradox, which is associated with self-referential activity, and consider an activity oriented solution to this difficulty. From a practical perspective, I suggest a reframing of self-reference in Activity Theory in order to provide researchers with a method for analyzing and supporting bootstrapping phenomena, such as the self-explanation effect, in learning and problem solving.

Martin Packer
Turning the Tables on Baron von Münchausen

Rogers Hall
Cultural Artifacts, Self Regulation, and Learning: Commentary on Neuman’s “Can the Baron von Münchausen Phenomenon be Solved?”

Michael Cole
Reflections on the Discussion

Anna-Ruth Allen
Book Review: Changing Literacies

Donald J. Cunningham & Kuk Lee
Book Review: Learning with Computers: Analysing Productive Interactions

Robert B. Faux
Book Review: From Soul to Mind: The Emergence of Psychology from Erasmus Darwin to William James

Peter Tulviste
Book Review: Psychological Tools: A Sociocultural Approach to Education

MCA Vol. 08, No. 2


Carol Linehan & John McCarthy
Reviewing the “Community of Practice” Metaphor: An Analysis of Control Relations in a Primary School Classroom

Treating classroom learning as a community process of transforming participation in social practices has provided a useful corrective to predominantly abstract, mentalistic conceptualizations of learning. For example, Lave’s community of practice and Rogoff’s community of learners emphasize the ways in which learning is deeply situated in a person’s becoming part of a community through participation in socially organized activities or practices. Although highly suggestive, both practically and conceptually, a review of the community metaphor and its development in theories such as Lave’s and Rogoff’s is necessary. In current use the metaphor pays insufficient attention to the complex and often messy relations between individuals and between individuals and communities, which contribute to shaping the very social practices in which learning is situated in these models. Further development of community models of classroom learning requires a clearer conceptualization of these relations, if individual and community are not to be reified and rendered useless in a relational account of learning. We develop this argument with reference to an analysis of control relations in a primary school classroom. Our reading of extracts from interactions in this classroom highlights shifting relations of responsibility and control in the classroom and the negotiated nature of participation in particular practices.

Hilde Van Vlaenderen
Group Problem Solving Among Grassroots Development Activists in South Africa: A Process of Horizontal Mediated Action

The article reports on a study of everyday problem-solving practices of a group of community activists in South Africa. A theoretical framework for the study, based on a cultural-historical approach, is presented. Everyday problem solving is defined as a goal-directed activity that embodies a dialectical interface between person and socio-cultural environment. This interface is defined as cultural mediation. Mediation comes about through joint action between people with the help of mediational means such as values, goals, and models. Data for the study consist of 28 interviews and 10 videotaped problem-solving events. The article describes the grounded interpretative approach used for the analysis of the data and explains the multilayered process of successively deeper interpretations of the data congruent with the adopted theoretical framework. The research participants’ group problem-solving practice is steeped in the traditional African philosophy of Ubuntu, which can be loosely translated as the desire of social harmony. This was reflected in the participants’ perceptions of the concepts “problem” and “problem solving” and in their problem-solving activities, which were characterized by their sustained attempts to reach a common understanding and group consensus. The structure of the group problem-solving event, the strategies used by the participants, and the roles they played in the activity were congruent with these attempts. However, some evidence suggests that emerging assumptions and practice deviate from the traditional Ubuntu philosophy.

Charles Bazerman
Anxiety in Action: Sullivan’s Interpersonal Psychiatry as a Supplement to Vygotskian Psychology

Psychiatric issues such as the formation of intimate bonds, personality, anxiety, and antisocial behavior tend to have little place in Vygotskian and neo-Vygotskian studies, giving the impression that all humans are competent and cooperative participants in social interaction. Nonetheless, Vygotsky himself was interested in psychiatric issues and contributed to psychiatric practice. Harry Stack Sullivan’s interpersonal psychiatry is compatible with and adds to socio-historical psychology an account of the origins and consequences of anxiety and the anxiety system. Sullivan provided a Vygotsky-like account of a person trying to grow into the social world he or she is born into and trying to satisfy needs with available people, themselves already socialized, enculturated, and formed as selves. Anthony B. Gabriele’s little-known practical elaborations of interpersonal psychiatry, further, are consistent with situated micro-analytical approaches to learning within social contexts.

David Bakhurst
Ilyenkov on Aesthetics: Realism, Imagination, and the End of Art

It is sometimes claimed that Evald Ilyenkov’s writings, particularly those on the problem of the ideal, best express the philosophical framework of Russian cultural-historical psychology and activity theory. In this article I consider a neglected part of Ilyenkov’s legacy: his work on aesthetics. Ilyenkov’s writings on art cast significant light on his views of culture and mind and on the humanistic vision at the center of his philosophy. In 1964, on a rare trip to the West, Ilyenkov visited an exhibition of pop art in Vienna. He was disgusted by what he saw and wrote a scathing critique entitled “Chto tam, v Zazerkal’e?” (“What’s there, through the looking glass?”). Does Ilyenkov’s antipathy to pop-and, indeed, to so-called modern art in general-show him to be enamored of a narrow, reactionary form of socialist realism? If so, how can this be squared with his reputation as a creative, critical voice within Soviet Marxism? I examine Ilyenkov’s other writings on aesthetics in search of a nuanced interpretation of his reaction to pop. I consider his idea that art should serve to cultivate higher forms of perception and his attendant concepts of aesthetic sensibility and imagination, and I explore how these notions contribute to his view of the unity of the cognitive virtues, his hostility to the division of labor, and his ideal of genuine human activity, guided by reason. Such themes are vital constituents of Ilyenkov’s humanism, which celebrates free, creative activity as a life principle that must assert itself against the mortifying forces of mechanization and standardization. Although these ideas may not entirely redeem Ilyenkov’s hostility to modern art, they reveal his stance to be far more sophisticated than appears at first sight.

Eva Ekeblad
Book Review: Radical in[ter]ventions: Identity, Politics, and Difference/s in Educational Praxis

David Kirshner
Book Review: Entering the Child’s Mind: The Clinical Interview in Psychological Research and Practice

Bruce Robinson
Book Review: Artificial Knowing: Gender and the Thinking Machine

MCA Vol. 08, No. 3

The Editors

Jens Brockmeier
Texts and Other Symbolic Spaces

This article examines the cultural fabric of national identity in light of recent debates in the human sciences on the nature of texts and “textual realities.” In discussing various political and historical examples, it argues that conceiving of national identity as a “textual reality” is to understand it (a) as a symbolic construction, (b) as a process of continuous cultural interpretation and reinterpretation, (c) as semiotic mediation, and (d) as a heterogeneous composition of different, often contradictory, layers of meaning. Although these issues have been discussed in different disciplines and theoretical contexts, they are viewed here as aspects of the same phenomenon, reflecting, each in its way, the conceptual scope of the textual approach. In further developing this argument, the article outlines a concept of text that covers not only linguistic phenomena in the traditional sense but also meaningful structures in a larger, cultural sense: symbolic spaces that embrace several semiotic media. Based on the idea of text as a symbolic space, a concept of national identity is suggested that, although it implies viewing identity as a discursive and narrative construction, is not limited to the mode of linguistic storytelling but also includes narrative media such as architecture, landscape design, cultural traditions such as commemorative rituals, and other symbolic and material practices.

Kristina Westerberg
History and Conflicting Themes in a Gender Creating Culture

In this article statements made by elder care middle managers containing explanations of conflicts and tensions during a period of change in two municipalities are described and related to the history of the work activity. Furthermore, the explanations are associated with the construction of gender in this type of work activity. The results show that it is possible to relate different perceptions of work conflicts and various constructions of femininity to the history of the work. The use of cultural-historical and activity theory approaches on gender and management is discussed and a concept of activity identity is suggested.

Baruch B. Schwarz & Rina Hershkowitz
Production and Transformation of Computer Artifacts Toward Construction of Meaning in Mathematics

Artifacts both mediate our interaction with the world and are objects in the world that we reflect on. As computer-based artifacts are generally intermingled with multiple praxes, studying their use in praxis uncovers processes in which individuals, the community, and tools are involved. In this article, we examine a now common computer-based artifact in mathematics classrooms, the representative. This artifact is often in continual transformation in the course of action during school activities. We document how several praxes with representatives mediate the construction of meaning. We show that the ambiguity of computer representatives regarding the examples and concepts they are meant to represent boost this construction. The construction of meaning of mathematical functions is described as a process that occurs through social interaction and the interweaving of the ambiguous computer-based artifacts. We show that this construction depends heavily on intentional design of activities by the teacher, leading to the creation of states of intersubjectivity.

Jacques Carpay
A Conference That Couldn’t Take Place

Those who are acquainted with Vygotsky’s theory probably know that his publications were blacklisted in the Soviet Union from 1936 until 1956. Regrettably though, only a few adherents of Vygotsky in the West are informed about the great pains taken by the Russian Vygotskians to get hold of a firm position in the local psychological landscape between 1956 and the origin of the perestroika at the end of the 1990s. With this in mind, we here present Vasilii Davydov’s vivid account of an endeavor to organize an open conference on Vygotsky’s theory at the Moscow Institute of Psychology in 1981. Ultimately, the Communist Party officials prohibited this conference. The story involved is actually an excerpt from an unedited audiotaped interview I had with Davydov in my residence on June 13, 1994. Davydov spoke in a flawless, sparkling Russian. Therefore, it was a great challenge to translate his narrative adequately. Elina Lampert-Shepel and I have done our best to render the subtleties that reverberate in Davydov’s account of the event concerned.

MCA Vol. 08, No. 4


Jim Garrison
An Introduction to Dewey’s Theory of Functional “Trans-Action”: An Alternative Paradigm for Activity Theory

Engeström and Miettinen in their introduction to their edited book with Punamäki (1999) compared John Dewey with the work of A. N. Leont’ev. The understanding of Dewey’s work in this introduction reaches a depth rarely plumbed by those who are not specialized in Deweyan scholarship. By expanding on this comparison and contrast it is possible to develop a Deweyan critique of activity theory, at least as we find it in Leont’ev. My article suggests that activity theory (a) remains captured by a dualism between the external and the internal, (b) sometimes ignores context because it fails to distinguish existence from essence, and (c) sometimes over-intellectualizes the activities it analyzes. It is also possible to develop a Deweyan theory of activity. The article introduces (a) Dewey’s theory of “trans-action,” (b) his theory of functional coordination, and (c) the notion that we live in a world without a within. The article concludes with a comment on Dewey’s theory of the mental, intentionality, and semiotics.

Reijo Miettinen
Artifact Mediation in Dewey and in Cultural-Historical Activity Theory

Donald J. Cunningham
My Life as a Scholarly Scavenger: Reflections on Garrison’s “An Introduction to Dewey’s Theory of Functional ‘Trans-Action’: An Alternative Paradigm for Activity Theory”

Charles Bazerman
Book Review: The Evolution of Consciousness

Mary Bryson, Suzanne de Castell & Masaki Kobayashi

Book Review: Children’s Engagement in the World: Sociocultural Perspectives


MCA Vol. 09, No. 1


Judith Diamondstone
Keeping Resistance in View in an Activity Theory Analysis

In this article, I theorize resistance in cultural-historical terms, from an activity-based and semiotic perspective and argue for classroom practice that makes use of the resources deployed through resistance. Here, resistance is located below the level of goal-oriented action; the subject of resistance is a consumer of meanings made by others. To theorize resistance in these terms, I explore the role of negation in the development of cognition and semiosis and (re)introduce the problem of the subject of semiosis and, specifically, the role of mimesis-identification and resistance-in learning. Finally, I present empirical data that illustrates my argument and conclude that teachers must look below the level of goal-oriented action to recognize the resources deployed through resistance by marginalized students.

Simona Pekarek Doehler
Mediation Revisited: The Interactive Organization of Mediation in Learning Environments

This article is concerned with the social organization of mediation in learning environments. It seeks to further articulate the sociocultural notion of mediation in sociointeractional terms, combining insights from the sociocultural approach to cognition and the microinteractionist, especially ethnomethodological approach to social activities. A microanalysis of mediation in communicative 2nd-language classroom activities where the task at hand is the management of interaction itself is presented. The microanalysis stresses the fact that patterns of social interaction, tasks, and social contexts emerge from locally accomplished socioculturally shaped collaborative activities. The analysis serves as a basis for developing a pluridimensional notion of mediation-in-interaction, which accounts for its reciprocity-based, context-sensitive, and culture-related nature.

Gordon Wells
The Role of Dialogue in Activity Theory

Activity Theory as formulated by Leont’ev and expanded by Engeström has tended to emphasize activity systems in which the objects to which subjects’ actions are directed are material in form. In such accounts, discourse-if considered at all-is treated as just one of the artifacts or practices that mediate the subject’s object-directed actions. As several scholars have pointed out, however, this model does not provide a satisfactory account of the dialogue in which such semiotic artifacts as accounts, explanations, and theories are the objects created and in which the co-construction of meaning by two or more participants actually constitutes the action. This article is intended as a contribution to the ongoing collaborative attempt to provide a more satisfactory account of the role of dialogue in activity, taking as example the dialogue in which two students negotiated a decision about the object of the activity in which they were engaged.

Donald J. Cunningham
Book Review: Exploring Science: The Cognition and Development of Discovery Processes

René van der Veer
Book Review: Suggestion and Its Role in Social Life

MCA Vol. 09, No. 2


Sasha A. Barab, Michael Barnett, Lisa Yamagata-Lynch, Kurt Squire & Thomas Keating
Using Activity Theory to Understand the Systemic Tensions Characterizing a Technology-Rich Introductory Astronomy Course

In this report of our research on a computer-based three-dimensional (3-D) modeling course for learning astronomy, we use the central tenets of activity theory to analyze participation by undergraduate students and instructors, illuminating the instances of activity that characterized course dynamics. Specifically, we focus on the relations of participant (student) and object (3-D models and astronomy understandings) and how, in our course, object transformations leading to scientific understandings are mediated by tools (both technological and human), the overall classroom microculture (emergent norms), division of labor (group dynamics and student-instructor roles), and rules (informal, formal, and technical). Through analysis of the data, we interpreted and then focused on two systemic tensions as illuminative of classroom activity. With respect to the first systemic tension, we examined the interplay between learning astronomy and building 3-D models. Results suggested that instead of detracting from the emergence of an activity system that supported learning astronomy, model-building actions frequently coevolved with (were the same as) astronomy-learning actions. With respect to the second tension, we examined the interplay between prespecified, teacher-directed instruction versus emergent, student-directed learning. Our results indicated that it was rarely teacher-imposed nor student-initiated constraints that directed learning; rather, rules, norms, and divisions of labor arose from the requirements of building and sharing 3-D models.

Wolff-Michael Roth & Kenneth Tobin
Redesigning an “Urban” Teacher Education Program: An Activity Theory Perspective

In this article, we use activity theory to frame the redesign of an urban teacher education program. Some of the contradictions that we had to deal with are endemic to traditional teacher education programs while others were particular to this program, which has as its goal to prepare teachers to work in urban (inner-city) schools. Our intervention consisted of a change to coteaching, a collective form of teaching, and cogenerative dialoguing, a process of creating local theory involving coteachers and student representatives. Our coteaching/cogenerative-dialoguing paradigm makes salient the social, collective, rather than individual, psychological dimensions of learning to teach. Because of the redesign process, new forms of relations between new teachers, cooperating (in-service) teachers, and supervisors emerged that are more participatory and democratic than they had been in the past.

Kirsten A. Foot
Pursuing an Evolving Object: A Case Study in Object Formation and Identification

The notion of object is a central, but frequently misunderstood, element of cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT). From what, where, and when does the object of an activity system come? How does an activity theorist identify an activity’s multifaceted, evolving object? This article presents a rearticulation of object in CHAT perspective, illustrated by a case study of object formation in a network of conflict monitors in the post-Soviet sphere-the Network for Ethnological Monitoring and Early Warning (EAWARN). Through participant-observation field notes, transcripts of recorded discussions among EAWARN participants and of interviews with Network members and directors, and postings to the EAWARN Listserv, the author demonstrates how an activity system’s object can be identified through the varying perspectives of multiple participants in an activity system.

William T. S. Mazzarella
Book Review: The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill

MCA Vol. 09, No. 3


Åsa Mäkitalo & Roger Säljö
Invisible People: Institutional Reasoning and Reflexivity in the Production of Services and"Social Facts” in Public Employment Agencies

Categories play a significant role in the coordination of human activities. Collective action within organizations presupposes shared category systems that make institutional priorities and relevancies visible. In this study, some features of the origin, use, and consequences of a categorization tool of modern employment agencies are analyzed. This category system is complex and has come to serve a diverse set of functions (provision of financial and other kinds of assistance to the unemployed, production of a broad range of statistics, etc.). We argue that this multifunctionality of the tool implies that the employment agency officers reflexively attend to the consequences of their actions and monitor what their decisions will imply at different levels. This reflexivity plays a significant role in the services provided to citizens and in the manner in which their needs are visible to the public. We conclude that categorization practices are hidden, but highly significant, features in the production of social facts.

Rogers Hall, Reed Stevens & Tony Torralba
Disrupting Representational Infrastructure in Conversations Across Disciplines

In this article, we analyze conversations in consulting meetings where people work across disciplines to design things. We focus on interactional processes through which people disrupt and attempt to change representational technologies for scientific and technical classification. Our case material is drawn from ethnographic and cognitive studies of work in field entomology and architectural design. In both cases, we find common structures of interaction when people work across disciplines. These include selective use of talk, embodied action, and inscription to animate representational states that make up design alternatives. Participants from different disciplines animate situations in strikingly different ways, but these differences can either go unremarked or be put into coordinated use without explicit, shared understandings. Differences become remarkable either when a design proposal runs counter to deeply held disciplinary objectives or threatens to destabilize a wider network of representational technologies. These kinds of disruptions, and their consequences for representational infrastructure, are a central problem for research on distributed cognition.

Kevin M. Leander
Polycontextual Construction Zones: Mapping the Expansion of Schooled Space and Identity

By analyzing the activity of students building a cabin in a school setting, this article examines how conflicts among schooling and extraschooling activity systems can create an expansive space of identity development and learning. Drawing together activity system theories and theories of social space, the article illustrates how polycontextual conflicts and expansions are spatially contingent and productive of space. Symbolic and material dimensions of social space provide a sharpened lens through which to conceptualize intersystemic conflict and development. As the traffic of conflict and negotiation between modal schooling activity and cabin building is heightened around productions of social space, potential expansion of the systems and persons across them is related to the resolution of spatial dilemmas.

Giyoo Hatano
Book Review: The Theory and Practice of Cultural-Historical Psychology

Eugene Matusov
Book Review: Learning as Cultural Practice: How Children Learn in a Mexican Mazahua Community

MCA Vol. 09, No. 4

Harry Daniels

Cathrine Hasse
Gender Diversity in Play With Physics: The Problem of Premises for Participation in Activities

The lack of women engaging themselves in science has been thoroughly discussed in feminist and nonfeminist science studies. It has remained a mystery why so few female students take professional careers as scientists. Though more and more female students enroll in physics studies, for example, they seem to disappear before they reach academic positions. Instead of discussing this as a query of gender inequality in this article, I discuss the more general issues of inclusion and exclusion in communities of practices. I argue that selection mechanisms in a group of students can be connected to their premises for engaging themselves in an activity. As students have different embodied experiences, they also have different premises for engaging themselves. What seems like the same practice can, in fact, be analyzed as practices belonging to different activities. This approach might bring us a small step further in the discussions of the relations between gender and science.

Mark A. Spasser
Realist-ically Evaluating the Flora of North America Digital Library Project as an Activity Network: A Case Study

It has become axiomatic that everything needs evaluation. In fact, evaluation has become a mantra of modernity. The primary goal of digital library evaluation is to research and learn from system design and use to modify and optimize the social and practical acceptability, usefulness, and usability of digital libraries. Considerations outlined and explored in this article implicate the need to go beyond mere descriptions of outcomes to explanations of why information systems and digital libraries are accepted and used. Evaluation research must move from the single-minded concern with what works and whether something works to an increasingly detailed understanding of why it works, for whom, and in which circumstances, which is the province and main concern of realist activity theory.

Phillip White
Book Review: “Change and Development: Issues of Theory, Method, and Application” AND “Opening Dialogue: Understanding the Dynamics of Language and Learning in the English Classroom”

Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur
Book Review: “Exploring Borders: Understanding Culture and” Psychology


MCA Vol. 10, No. 1

Michael Cole
Introduction: “Culture, Technology, and Development: In Memory of Jan Hawkins”

Xiaodong Lin & Giyoo Hatano
Technology, Culture, and Adaptive Minds: An Introduction

Xiaodong Lin & Daniel L. Schwartz
Reflection at the Crossroads of Cultures

This article explores how technologies can transform the obstacles of geographical and cultural dis-tance into new opportunities for learning and personal growth. In particular, it focuses on the potential benefits of reflection in the context of cross-cultural exchange and how technology can bring those benefits to the classroom. Several instances of research explore the uses of technology for promoting cross-cultural contact as a way to expose students and teachers to fresh educational values and prac-tices. A consistent result is that when people experience a new culture or community or even a new classroom, they report an increase in reflection about their identities, attributions, and responsibilities. Reflection appears as a deeply social act. Several examples highlight two social functions of reflection in the context of cross-cultural interaction. One function is to help people decide which aspects of cul-ture to appropriate and how to adapt those aspects to their own interests. Another function is to help people become more receptive to the presence of different values and practices. The article conclude with a set of provisional design principles for encouraging learning through cross-cultural reflection.

Lorie A. Hammond
Building Houses, Building Lives

This article uses a narrative format to describe situations in which immigrant families from a Southeast Asian hill tribe, the Mienh, adapt to technological and cultural change within a California elementary school which sponsors a family literacy, school-community garden, and house building project. Much has been written about the ways in which immigrant families and personnel at their schools struggle to communicate. My thesis is that even in the case of immigrants experiencing huge cultural and techno-logical change, from an oral subsistence culture to an urban technological society, adjustments can be creative and empowering, if schools incorporate community “funds of knowledge” into their instruc-tional plan. Real projects such as storytelling, gardening, and house building provide rich contexts for intercultural dialogues which enable teachers and Mienh parents to build a Mienh-American house,a symbolic construct in which both traditional and modern technologies are combined.

Carol D. Lee
Toward A Framework for Culturally Responsive Design in Multimedia Computer Environments: Cultural Modeling as a Case

This article offers a framework for the design of learning environments that takes culture explicitly into account. This article situates a rationale for the framework based on research in the learning sciences, cultural psychology, and cultural-historical-activity theory. The Cultural Modeling Framework is of-fered as an example of a culturally responsive approach to design. This article makes an explicit argu-ment for the function of culturally responsive design in computer-based tools. It illustrates culturally responsive design in technology and its consequences for student learning.

Janet Ward Schofield & Ann Locke Davidson
The Impact of Internet Use on Relationships Between Teachers and Students

A 5-year primarily qualitative study of a major effort to bring the Internet to a large urban school district in the United States suggests that Internet use brought about unplanned as well as planned change in classroom roles and relationships. Specifically, it increased student autonomy, due to factors including increased student access to external resources, technical difficulties arising when students all tried to do the exact same thing on the Internet, and a reversal of the usual knowledge disparity between teachers and students. Internet use also frequently resulted unexpectedly in warmer and less ad-versarial teacher-student relations, due to factors including the tendency for Internet use to lead to small group work which in turn personalized student-teacher relations, increased student enjoyment and motivation, teachers’ discovery of unexpected Internet skills on the part of students who had not otherwise impressed them, and increased autonomy, which influenced the affective tone of student-teacher relations in direct and indirect ways.

John Bransford
Some Special Features of This Special Issue: Core Values and Possible Next Steps

Louis M. Gomez & Roy Pea
Studying Complex Social Practice to Improve Lives: Humanistic Computing for Learning

Margaret Honey & Allan Collins
Remembering Jan Hawkins

Anna Stetsenko
Book Review: “Alexander Luria and the Cultural-Historical Activity Theory: Pieces for the History of An Outstanding Collaborative Project in Psychology”

MCA Vol. 10, No. 2


Lisa C. Yamagata-Lynch
Using Activity Theory as an Analytic Lens for Examining Technology Professional Development in Schools

In this study, I examined a professional development program for integrating technology into school. The primary purpose of this study was to answer the following question: How did the participation of teachers in a year-long professional development program affect the transformation of newly introduced artifacts into cultural tools in the teachers’ activity setting? To address this question, I examined the effects of the professional development program on participant teachers, nonparticipant teachers, and others in the school districts. I went about this by using activity theory (Engeström,1987) as an analytic lens to gain a historical understanding of the developments initiated as a result of interactions that took place between the participant teachers and the professional development.

Stuart Lee & Wolff-Michael Roth
Of Traversals and Hybrid Spaces: Science in the Community

This article explores the enactment of scientific knowledge within a grassroots organization. It describes the highly distributed nature of the organization’s resources and frames members’ knowing in terms of traversals, movements across boundaries on the landscape and within institutions, and in terms of hybrid spaces. It was found that through their interactions with others, objects and discourse emerge that are hybrids between formal scientific and local situated concerns. The authors conclude by relating members’ knowledgeable movement to the emergence of a new community.

Shawna Faber, Suzanne de Castell & Mary Bryson
Renal Failure: Toward a Sociocultural Investigation of an Illness

The goal of this research was to understand life with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Medical practice, based in biomedicine, focuses on physical aspects of illness. A sociocultural case studies approach was used to develop a “situated” understanding of life for 4 people with ESRD. This research revealed that life with ESRD is work. The collaborative engagement in this work is overlooked by biomedical studies that focus on illness as a physical condition of individuals. Medical knowledge is argued to be epistemically deficient in it’s failure to consider the 3 critical sources of knowledge: practitioners, participants, and participants’ significant others. This research identifies the need for a bridge between the home world and the hospital world, creating a broader community of practice.

Falk Seeger
Book Reviews: A Large Territory: One Year in an Elementary Mathematics Classroom

Peter E. Jones
Book Reviews: New Clothes for an Old Emperor: “Evolutionary Psychology” and the Cognitive Counter-Revolution


MCA Vol. 10, No. 3

James V. Wertsch
Introduction: “Ragnar Rommetveit: His Work and Influence”

Bente Eriksen Hagtvet & Astri Heen Wold
On the Dialogical Basis of Meaning: Inquiries Into Ragnar Rommetveit’s Writings on Language, Thought, and Communication

Ragnar Rommetveit
On the Role of “a Psychology of the Second Person” in Studies of Meaning, Language, and Mind

Per Linell
Dialogical Tensions: On Rommetveitian Themes of Minds, Meanings, Monologues, and Languages

Eduardo F. Mortimer & James V. Wertsch
The Architecture and Dynamics of Intersubjectivity in Science Classrooms

Jay A. Seitz
A Communitarian Approach to Creativity

The political and cultural milieu and the differential distribution of power among individuals and groups within a society constrain creative activity in science, art, and entrepreneurship. Standard psychological theories view creativity as arising largely from the unique or extraordinary characteristics of individuals (e.g., mental processes, background knowledge, intellective style, personality, motivation, etc.), giving voice to social attitudes and beliefs about the folklore of such terms as the lone genius, brilliant inventor, estranged artist, or ruthless entrepreneur. In fact, any creative product emerges from a unique coincidence of individual intellective abilities; the nature and relative sophistication of a scientific, artistic or entrepreneurial domain; the complexity and structure of the field of legitimization; and the distribution of power and resources within a group, community, or society.

Kristin Hull Cortes
Review: “Agency or Reproduction?”

Donald J. Cunningham
Book Review: “A Stroll Through the World of Infant Professional Development With an Old Friend”

Ben Kirshner
Book Review: “Reflecting on Moral Development and Education”

Matthew Knoester
Book Review: “Education According to Chomsky”

Timothy Koschmann
Book Review: “Two Raisins in the Cake of Educational Research”

MCA Vol. 10, No. 4


Igor M. Arievitch
A Potential for an Integrated View of Development and Learning: Galperin’s Contribution to Sociocultural Psychology

Piotr Galperin was a contemporary of Vygotsky, Luria, and Leontiev and shared with them many basic assumptions of cultural-historical psychology. However, unlike his colleagues, Galperin’s work received much less attention in Western psychology and is often inadequately perceived as an elaboration of concrete instructional techniques, although it encompasses original contributions to fundamental problems of psychology. Galperin’s ideas about learning and development resonate with some recent trends in cognitive psychology, in particular, with a significant shift in cognitive psychology from machinelike models to the study of contextualized cognitive strategies. Unlike other theories though, Galperin’s approach contains a unique core component-a conceptualization of psychological aspects of human activity, distinct from its physiological, logical, or sociological aspects, as well as an elaborate concept of internalization. This unifying conceptual basis, combined with recent findings in sociocultural research and cognitive science, creates a promise for a much-desired progress toward an integrated psychological view of mental development.

Yolanda J. Majors
Shoptalk: Teaching and Learning in an African American Hair Salon

This study examines ways of speaking, performing, and reasoning within an urban, African American hair salon. I argue here that participants within the salon, through participation, collaboration, and negotiation, construct and transmit their understandings of the world within systems of activity. By identifying how members of the community hair salon use cultural resources and institutional technologies, co-construct knowledge, and change and develop through their participation in activity, my aim is to draw a better understanding of how learning takes place outside of the classroom. By identifying the labor-related activities within the hair salon, the participation structures which support these activities, and the socially shared, cultural funds of knowledge, I hope to make visible certain mediating structures that support culturally relevant learning and teaching in the African American community.

Noboru Takahashi
Learning of Disabled Children in Japan: Simultaneous Participation in Different Activity Systems

The learning activity systems of disabled children attending local public school in Japan were analyzed within the framework of activity theory. The children participated in several different activity systems at the same time, all of which have certain structural features in common. These include the Subject child, the presence of adults who guide the child’s learning, the goals of those adults, and the ontogenetic history that constrains the goals. In this study, two systems-the family and the special education classroom-and their relationship were analyzed. The data were derived from the author’s experience as an advisor of parents and teachers of disabled children in special education classes in Japanese local public elementary and junior high schools. When the same Subject child mediated both systems, two kinds of contradictions became visible, both of which were the possible moments of the development of each system: intrasystemic and intersystemic contradictions. The latter occurs because the adults in each system envision the future of the same Subject child based on the different ontogenetic history of the system, and the former occurs because the possible future of the child has to be envisioned based on the existing past. The possibility of the resolution of the contradictions and the development of the systems with a shared ontogenetic history is discussed.

Morten Nissen
Objective Subjectification: The Antimethod of Social Work

This article sets out to understand an important paradox in the author’s action research cooperation with a social work development project called “Wild Learning”: the fact that the methods developed in the project mostly consist in antimethod. A sketch of the theoretical concepts in the dialectical tradition of method, objectification, subjectification, and participation is presented to explain the idea that social work itself represents a paradoxical form of knowledge, which can be only inadequately and temporarily objectified as method by way of what is introduced as a “boundary objectivity.” Current “postmodern” forms of this paradox are briefly considered. As a conclusion, an overall understanding of social work as “critique” is suggested, in which both “method” and “antimethod” are necessary moments in a continuous transformation.


MCA Vol. 11, No. 1

Wolff-Michael Roth
Introduction: “Activity Theory and Education: An Introduction”

William Barowy & Cindy Jouper
The Complex of School Change: Personal and Systemic Codevelopment

In this article we describe the mutual development of a school system in a poor rural county with one of its teachers. We recount the conditions leading to the coordination and writing of a Technology Literacy Challenge Fund proposal to ameliorate inadequate computer technology and initiate pedagogical change. We apply the expansive methodology of Cultural Historical Activity Theory to explicate personal and systemic developments. We examine the concept of activity identity by relating it to movement and action across activity systems, and by contrasting it to the notion of self-efficacy. We find a theoretical problem emerging with the delineation of people’s activity into separate systems and scales of time.

Sasha Barab, Steve Schatz & Rebecca Scheckler
Using Activity Theory to Conceptualize Online Community and Using Online Community to Conceptualize Activity Theory

In this article we describe the evolving structure of the Inquiry Learning Forum (ILF), a sociotechnical interaction network (STIN) designed to support a Web-based community of in-service and preservice mathematics and science teachers sharing, improving, and creating inquiry-based pedagogical practices. Specifically, we apply activity theory as an analytical lens for characterizing the process of designing and supporting the implementation of this online community. Our findings lend support for three implications. First, activity theory can provide a useful analytical tool for characterizing design activity, especially in terms of illuminating the challenges of designing something like community. Second, as one moves toward trying to design a community, particularly one in which the members will be expected to engage in new practices that challenge their current culture, many tensions emerge. Third, consideration of the ILF as a STIN was a necessary conceptual step in our understanding of the ILF and the transactional nature of people and tools. It is our conception that activity theory and STIN are synergistic theoretical frameworks that, when taken together, can provide a richer view of design activity and community functioning than either can offer in isolation.

Wolff-Michael Roth, Kenneth Tobin, Rowhea Elmesky, Cristobal Carambo, Ya-Meer McKnight & Jennifer Beers
Re/Making Identities in the Praxis of Urban Schooling: A Cultural Historical Perspective

In cultural historical activity theory, the entities that make a system are not conceived as independent but as aspects of mediated relations. Consequently, an individual, a tool, or a community cannot be theorized in an independent manner but must be understood in terms of the historically changing, mediated relations in which they are integral and constitutive parts. Drawing on a case study that focuses on the identities of two of the authors, we show how, by participating in the activity system of schooling, the identities of students and teachers are continuously made and remade. A teacher changes from being “someone unable to control the class” to being a respected and successful school staff member; a student changes from being a street fighter to being an A student. Identity, we argue, should therefore not be thought of as a stable characteristic of individuals but as a contingent achievement of situated activity. Our case study suggests that cogenerative dialogues involving students and their teachers provide contexts for the reflexive elaboration of mutual understanding of the identities of individuals who occupy different social locations in the activity system.

Gordon Wells
Discussion: Narrating and Theorizing Activity in Educational Settings

Ilias Karasavvidis
Book Review: “Innovation, Resistance, and Compromise: Six Science Teacher Stories”

Pilar Lacasa
Book Review: “Creation: A Shared Adventure”

Maureen Manning, Lynda Tisa & Eugene Matusov
Book Review: “Sorting Students Through Construction of Success and Failure”

Phillip A. White
Book Review: “Exploring Experiences of Being Positioned”

MCA Vol. 11, No. 2

The Editors

Haci-Halil Uslucan
Charles Sanders Peirce and the Semiotic Foundation of Self and Reason

The philosophy of the classical American pragmatism represents one of the basic challenges to the conception of self and reason in the history of philosophical and psychological thinking. As the founder of pragmatism, Peirce is well known for his attempt to overcome the Cartesian tradition of philosophy, which was founded on the paradigm of monologic self-consciousness and self-awareness. The dialogical principle is a core piece of the Peircean semiotics, which has deep implications to subjectivity, meaning-construction, reasoning on the “self,” and communication. The reinterpretation of the classic tradition of thinking on signs leads Peirce to a triadic and dynamic-dialogical conception of signs. For Peirce, a sign is as such because it stands for something to somebody. It creates in the mind of the person an equivalent or a more developed sign. This radical conception of semiotics terminated in the idea of “man as a sign” and the claim that “men and words reciprocally educate each other.” The self is an interpreting subject and an interpreted object. In its innermost being, the self is a communicative agent. The epistemological consequence of this conception is as follows: Truth is closely related to intersubjectivity and the private is synonymous with erroneous.

Stephen J. Cowley, Sheshni Moodley & Agnese Fiori-Cowley
Grounding Signs of Culture: Primary Intersubjectivity in Social Semiosis

The article examines how infants are first permeated by culture. Building on Thibault (2000), semiogenesis is traced to the joint activity of primary intersubjectivity. Using an African example, analysis shows how--at 14 weeks--an infant already uses culturally specific indicators of “what a caregiver wants.” Human predispositions and the mother’s enactment of cultural processes enable the child to give joint activity a specific “sense.” Developmentally, the child prods the caregiver to shaping his or her actions around social norms that transform the infant’s world. This nascent lopsided relation is probably necessary for learning to talk. Acting with its mother, the baby’s full-bodied activity uses adult “understanding” in ways that are cultural, contingent, and indexical. Infant activity is already semiotic.

Anne Puonti
Tools for Collaboration: Using and Designing Tools in Interorganizational Economic-Crime Investigation

Economic-crime investigation in Finland is in transition from hierarchically organized, sequential collaboration between authorities toward parallel, interorganizational collaboration. This article describes the tools used and developed for managing the new collaborative economic-crime-investigation process. The challenge is to find interoganizational investigative tools that are flexible enough to shift between vertical use within and horizontal use across organizations. Local construction is often needed in collaborative networks, otherwise the tool never meets the needs of the divergent users. A good tool is sensitive enough to adapt to local settings, and robust enough to be transferable to other contexts. In this article, I give empirical examples of how the challenge is met in the economic-crime investigation cases followed from 1999 to 2002. The findings suggest that the standardization of tools does not take place merely from the top-down, and that something new is emerging: collaborative standardization of local innovations.

King Beach & Stephen Vassallo
BOOK REVIEW: “A History of Ideas on the Social Genesis of Mind”

Donald J. Cunningham
BOOK REVIEW: “Minding Your Gestures”

Edmund T. Hamann
BOOK REVIEW: “Practitioner Sensibility and the Negotiation of Contradictory School Reforms”

George Hruby
BOOK REVIEW: “Evolution (or Not?) of the Representational Mind”

Peter E. Jones
BOOK REVIEW: “Discourse, Social Change, and the CHAT Tradition”

Victor Kaptelinin
BOOK REVIEW: “Integrating Words and Pictures in the Design of Educational Materials”

MCA Vol. 11, No. 3

The Editors

May Britt Postholm, Tove Pettersson, Sigrun Gudmundsdottir & Annlaug Flem
The Need for Structure and Guidance When ICT Is Used in Project Work

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be integrated in the classroom processes in different ways. This study reveals ICT, as a mediating artefact in project work can contribute to the learning processes in the classroom. When ICT is used as an artefact to make a film, planning and decision making becomes natural and necessary processes in the pupil groups. The case study takes both the pupils’ and the teachers’ perspective and focuses on the learning environment and what it means for the learning processes. To understand and get more insight in the actions taking place in the classroom, the processes are analyzed from the theoretical point of view provided by social constructivist theories. The rationale for the article is to describe and thus show how the classroom structure is shaped by both the project work method and the ways the teachers organize the work and guide the pupils throughout the process in which ICT is a central mediating artefact.

Regina Smardon
Streetwise Science: Toward a Theory of the Code of the Classroom

This article takes Anderson’s (1999) “code of the street” as the context for studying science learning in an inner city American public school. It is proposed that a socio-cultural model of mind can help to explain how students in an urban chemistry class negotiate contradictory cultural codes. This analysis includes a consideration of (a) interaction styles, (b) the meaning of chemistry talk, (c) the dynamics of the code of the classroom, and (d) short-term learning and long-term consequences. An analysis of microinteractional synchrony in classroom video footage is compared with ethnographic observations. It is concluded that fostering integrative identities that blend cultural codes can help to promote a new code of the classroom that values science learning. This study suggests that students sometimes use the code of the street to enhance science achievement. Exploring this phenomenon yields new information about the process of code blending and the dynamics of classroom culture.

Sunil Bhatia & Anjali Ram
Culture, Hybridity, and the Dialogical Self: Cases From the South Asian Diaspora

This article outlines a dialogical approach to understanding how South Asian-American women living in diasporic locations negotiate their multiple and often conflicting cultural identities. We specifically use the concept of voice to articulate the different forms of dialogicality-polyphonization, expropriation, and ventriloquation-that are involved in the acculturation experiences of two 2nd-generation South Asian-American women. In particular, we argue that it is important to think of acculturation of the South Asian-American women as essentially a contested, dynamic, and dialogical process. We demonstrate that such a dialogical process involves a constant moving back and forth between various cultural voices that are connected to various sociocultural contexts and are shaped by issues of race, sexuality, and gender.

Susan Knutson
BOOK REVIEW: “Damn Interesting in Its Own Right”

MCA Vol. 11, No. 4

The Editors

David Manier
Is Memory in the Brain? Remembering as Social Behavior

Keith M. Murphy
Imagination as Joint Activity: The Case of Architectural Interaction

This article draws from the insights offered by discourse analysis and the study of gesture to examine imagination as a product of, and resource for, social action. Using data collected during ethnographic fieldwork at an architecture firm, the article explores how imagining can emerge from a group of interactants who use many semiotic media, including talk, gestures, and drawings, to imagine something together. Following the groundwork laid by Benedict Spinoza, this perspective moves the “object” of imagination out of the brain, away from mental imagery and into the space in which shared activities take place. Such a move has implications for rethinking imagination in terms of communicative interaction and social activity.

A. Susan Jurow
Generalizing in Interaction: Middle School Mathematics Students Making Mathematical Generalizations in a Population-Modeling Project

Generalizing or making claims that extend beyond particular situations is a central mathematical practice and a focus of classroom mathematics instruction. This study examines how aspects of generality are produced through the situated activities of a group of middle school mathematics students working on an 8-week population-modeling project. The project involved creating and analyzing mathematical models of population growth. Two classroom episodes are presented that focus on students’ activities across curricular tasks in which they discuss the category of sensible models of population growth and describe a pattern of guppy population growth in a natural environment. Participation frameworks introduced in the context of the episodes describe how students compare situations to determine if they belong to the same general category and predict and justify the behavior of modeled phenomena. The analysis suggests that mathematical generalizing is the outcome of processes distributed across students, tasks, embodied activity, and modeling tools.

Gordon Wells
BOOK REVIEW: “To Be Human Is to Understand Conspecifics as Beings Like Ourselves”

Linda Y. Tallman
BOOK REVIEW: “Are the Mice Working? Computers and School Reform”

Ignacio Dalton
BOOK REVIEW: “An Adventure Into the Infant’s World”


MCA Vol. 12, No. 1

Victor Kaptelinin & Reijo Miettinen
Introduction: “Perspectives on the Object of Activity”

Victor Kaptelinin
The Object of Activity: Making Sense of the Sense-Maker

The concept of “the object of activity” plays a key role in research based on activity theory. However, the usefulness of this concept is somewhat undermined by the fact that a number of problems related to its meaning and its contexts of use remain unsolved. This article is an attempt to address some of these problems. The article focuses on 3 potential sources of uncertainties and inconsistencies, which may be obstacles to a more fruitful application of the concept of the object of activity in both research and practice. The first source is difficulties related to translation of ideas, originally formulated by Leontiev (1959/1981) in Russian, into English. The second source is different interpretations of the concept of the object of activity within two contemporary approaches in activity theory, the one developed by Leontiev (1975/1978) and the one developed by Engestrom (1987). Finally, the article finds the original Leontiev (1975/1978) definition of the object of activity as “its true motive” problematic and calls for separating the object of activity from the motive of activity. The implications of that separation are discussed.

Sampsa Hyysalo
Objects and Motives in a Product Design Process

Activity theory seems to be a potential framework for analyzing the complexity of product design, because of its concern with mutual transformations of objects, collectives, and subjects. In turn, design work provides a rich ground for discussing the key concepts of activity theory. This article uses an analysis of the development of a new healthcare appliance to open up discussion about the notions of object and motive in activity theory.

Bonnie A. Nardi
Objects of Desire: Power and Passion in Collaborative Activity

This article uses activity theory to analyze the conduct of collaborative scientific research, showing how the conceptualization of object is critical to understanding key aspects of scientific collaboration. I argue that the passions and desires behind objects of scientific research are missing in most accounts. I suggest refinements to the concept of object to make it more useful for understanding collaboration. The empirical grounding for the work is a study of a biotechnology research department in a large pharmaceutical company. Theory and empirical findings interact in the analysis; activity theory illumines important aspects of scientific practice, at the same time, empirical findings suggest adjustments to the concept of object to deal more directly with issues of collaboration not emphasized in classical activity theory.

Reijo Miettinen
Object of Activity and Individual Motivation

A. N. Leontiev (1978) introduced the philosophical concept of practice, or “objective activity” into psychology to reconsider its foundations, and in this context he elaborated the concept of the object of activity. This article deals with the co-formation of an object of a collective activity and of the goals, motives and capabilities of individuals. This is discussed by taking as starting points the social and practical origins of human needs, the complex and contradictory nature of an object of activity and division of labor. The concept of artifact-mediated desire for recognition is introduced as a resource for making sense of the formation of the individual motives in collective work activities. The object-related individual capabilities that are generated in a collective activity are transferable to other activities, thus constituting the basis of professional recognition, identity and career aspirations. The nature of this co-evolution is clarified using the work of a biotechnical laboratory as an example.

Anna Stetsenko
Activity as Object-Related: Resolving the Dichotomy of Individual and Collective Planes of Activity

This article suggests that the principle of object-relatedness, introduced by Vygotsky and expanded by A. N. Leontiev, can be used to conceptualize human subjectivity within a profoundly social view of human development. This is achieved by reformulating the premises of cultural-historical activity theory to include the notion that material production, intersubjective exchanges, and human subjectivity form a unified three-fold dialectical system. Focusing on the constant manifold transitions among components of this system as its modus vivendi reveals (a) individual and collective processes as being interrelated and co-evolving levels of activity, and (b) the practical relevance of human subjectivity alongside the human relevance of material practices. Such an expanded view posits human subjectivity on a continuum of regulatory mechanisms of social practice, to which both individual and social processes belong. It is further conceptualized as a form of practical transformative pursuits in the world, and as a lawful and necessary moment of human life endowed with the capacity to generate new activity cycles. The co-evolution of collective motives and personal goals, as well as the practical relevance of theoretical constructions, are used as illustrations.

MCA Vol. 12, No. 2

The Editors

Mervi Hasu
In Search of Sensitive Ethnography of Change: Tracing the Invisible Handoffs From Technology Developers to Users

It is suggested that the prevailing form of technology adoption and stabilization through the “handing-off” of technologies across multiple, discontinuous worlds relies on articulation work that is largely invisible. In this article, I discuss the possibilities of opening the black box, that is, finding out how the “invisible” in technology production and use can be traced. I suggest a research methodology that is sensitive not only to the processes of exclusion, but also to the emerging interactions and expansive efforts among technology developers and users. The challenge of such dynamic methodology is to trace online the emerging new pattern of activity when it does not have any center or clear material entity. The context of my doctoral research, the early implementation of an innovation, is a clear example of such an activity. It is a collaborative and potentially expansive endeavor in which both the innovation and the user activity are transformed as the innovation is adopted into use. I call this research practice, which follows activity theory, the ethnography of change. I elaborate on part of my doctoral research in which the ethnographer’s sensitiveness to the participants’ marginality enriched the activity-theoretical analysis and demonstrated a need for reflecting on the methodological strategies used in activity-theoretical research on work and organizations. I suggest that if the activity-theoretical analysis of work practices is further developed as an ethnography of change, able to reveal the multivoicedness that exceeds the expected or hypothetical categories, more attention needs to be paid to the sensitivity of ethnography and the interactive processes of the data collection.

Geraldine McDonald, Huong Le, Joanna Higgins & Valerie Podmore
Artifacts, Tools, and Classrooms

Although schools contain many material artifacts, studies in classrooms have tended to focus on discourse and quality of social interaction even when artifacts are being used. Responding to Engstrom’s (1999) invitation to take artifacts seriously, three studies are described in which a material object was essential to a classroom activity. The first artifact was an enlarged text which had been transferred to a flip chart for the purpose of shared reading. The second was a jigsaw used in a mathematics session. The third was a textbook used by Vietnamese university students who were learning English. The three material objects central to the events are explored from the viewpoint of human functioning and in relation to Wartofsky’s (1979) three categories of artifact.

Gregory Z. Bedny & Steven Robert Harris
The Systemic-Structural Theory of Activity: Applications to the Study of Human Work

This article offers an introduction to the central concepts and principles of the Systemic-Structural Theory of Activity (SSTA), an activity-theoretical approach specifically tailored to the analysis and design of human work. In activity theory, cognition is understood both as a process and as a structured system of actions. Building on the general theory of activity, SSTA’s use of structurally organized analytical units makes it possible to develop taxonomies and theoretical models of human activity which provide a scientific basis for ergonomic design, education, and industrial-organizational psychology. The primary focus of this article is on design problems in ergonomics. Whereas cognitive psychology has shown a tendency to reduce design problem solving to experimental procedures, systemic-structural activity analyses focus on the interrelation between the structure of work activity and the configuration of the material components of work. SSTA presents methods for the classification and description of human work activity, identifying activity during task performance as the primary object of study, using action as one of the major units of analysis. We outline some applications of SSTA to the study of human work processes, and define and discuss some basic concepts and principles of activity theory.

Pentti Hakkarainen
BOOK REVIEW: A New Paradigm for the Study of Development?

Giyoo Hatano
BOOK REVIEW: Sociocultural Psychology Is Now in Maturity

Ilias Karasavvidis
BOOK REVIEW: CSCL2: The Evolving Progress Toward a Solid Foundation

Charles W. Tolman
BOOK REVIEW: Making Good on Good and Evil

Bert van Oers
BOOK REVIEW: Teaching as a Collaborative Activity: An Activity Theoretical Contribution to the Innovation of Teaching

MCA Vol. 12, No. 3-4

Michael Cole
Introduction: Combining Longitudinal, Cross-Historical, and Cross-Cultural Methods to Study Culture and Cognition (Special Issue)

Geoffrey B. Saxe & Indigo Esmonde
Articles: Studying Cognition in Flux: A Historical Treatment of Fu in the Shifting Structure of Oksapmin Mathematics

This article extends a framework for the study of culture-cognition relations to problems of historical research and diachronic analysis. As an illustrative case, we focus on mathematics in Oksapmin communities located in a remote highland area in central New Guinea. The Oksapmin, like their neighboring Mountain-Ok groups to the West, traditionally use a 27-body-part counting system for number, and there is no evidence that Oksapmin used arithmetic in prehistory. We present a coordinated analysis of shifts in functions of a word form based on field studies completed in 1978, 1980, and 2001. These shifts are related to changing collective practices of economic exchange in which arithmetical activities are increasingly important. The word form fu has changed from its use as an intensive quantifier that means “a complete group of plenty” to one that means double a numerical value. We show how the analytic framework affords a multilevel inquiry into genetic processes of change in the Oksapmin case and argue that the approach is useful for understanding the interplay between cultural and developmental processes in cognition more generally.

Giyoo Hatano
Commentary: How Are Cultural-Historical Change and Individual Cognition Related?

Anna Sfard
Commentary: Discourse in Flux

Geoffrey B. Saxe & Indigo Esmonde
Response: Genetic Method and Empirical Techniques: Reply to Hatano and Sfard’s Commentaries on Cognition in Flux

Lisa Bauer
BOOK REVIEW: The Need for Members of the Mainstream Culture to Hear Marginalized Voices

Stefanie Chye
BOOK REVIEW: Bridging Subject Matter Knowledge and Thinking With Children’s Everyday Concepts and Personal Cognition: Theoretical and Pedagogical Considerations

Robert B.
BOOK REVIEW: Reductionism: Understanding Versus Knowledge

Tzvetanka Dobreva-Martinova
BOOK REVIEW: Bekhterev’s Theory of Reflex, Energy Transformation and Collective Behavior


MCA Vol. 13, No. 1

The Editors

Eric Laurier, Ramia Maze & Johan Lundin
Putting the Dog Back in the Park: Animal and Human Mind-in-Action

In this article we use actual instances of human conduct with animals to reflect on the debates about animal agency in human activities. Where much of psychology, philosophy, and sociology begin with a fundamental scepticism over animal mind as the grounds for its inquiries, we join with a growing body of work that examines the continuities between animals and humans, and accepts the positive possibilities of anthropomorphising animals. We are interested in the reason and intelligence that animals display in their activities with humans. Inverting the typical approach of explaining canine reason by reference to the behaviour of their wild counterparts, we describe human-canine action as it occurs in the widespread, historically assembled, and spatially situated activity of dog walking in parks. We treat dog walking as a living accomplishment of owner and dog methodically displaying intent and producing social objects.

Julie Cheville
The Bias of Materiality in Sociocultural Research: Reconceiving Embodiment

Although language practices must obviously be an empirical focus in sociocultural research, this article suggests that emphasis on the human body’s material aspect has not revealed how, in particular communicative contexts, its ideational influence surpasses that of language. This article suggests that in the social semiotic, the body’s function is primarily material because its activity does not alter a prevailing audio-temporal sign system. In the spatial semiotic, a context of activity in which a visual-spatial code is the principal means of expression, the mediational influence of the human body on perception and conception is clear. Incorporating qualitative data and drawing on research in biosemiotics, the author notes how spatially coded sign relations appear to guide the neuronal processes responsible for intersubjective understanding. The importance of intersubjectivity to cognitive development underscores the need to expand current conceptions of embodiment to include bodily activity in contexts of social and spatial signification.

Constance A. Steinkuehler
Massively Multiplayer Online Video Gaming as Participation in a Discourse

This article has two primary goals: (a) to illustrate how a closer analysis of language can lead to fruitful insights into the activities that it helps constitute, and (b) to demonstrate the complexity of the practices that make up Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming (MMOGaming) through just such an analysis. The first goal is in response to the way we sometimes treat language in studies of activity, despite calls for more nuanced analyses (e.g., Wells, 2002), as a mere conduit for information in which its other (social, identity) functions are overlooked. The second goal is in response to the diatribes against video games in the media and their frequent dismissal as barren play. In this article, I use functional linguistics to unpack how a seemingly inconsequential turn of talk within the game Lineage reveals important aspects of the activity in which it is situated as well as the broader “forms of life” enacted in the game through which members display their allegiance and identity.

Stephen Billett
Relational Interdependence Between Social and Individual Agency in Work and Working Life

A greater acknowledgment of relational interdependence between individual and social agencies is warranted within conceptions of learning throughout working life. Currently, some accounts of learning tend to overly privilege social agency in the form of situational contributions. This de-emphasises the contributions of the more widely socially sourced, relational, and negotiated contributions of both individual and social agency. As these accounts fail to fully acknowledge the accumulated outcomes of interactions between the individual and social experience that shape human cognition ontogentically and that also act to remake culture, they remain incomplete and unsatisfactory. In response, this article proposes a consideration of the role for individual agency (e.g., intentionality, subjectivity, and identity), the ways in which it is socially shaped over time and serves to be generative of individuals’ cognitive experience, and its role in subsequently construing what is experienced socially. This agency also enacts a relational interdependence with social and historical contributions. Through advancing the conception of relational interdependence, this article aims to balance views that currently privilege particular social influences in conceptions of learning for work and throughout working life.

Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon
Book Reviews: Linking Word to World: A Wittgensteinian Perspective

Mitchell J. Nathan
BOOK REVIEW: Reflecting on the Role of the Hand, Head, and Soul of America: The Mind at Work

MCA Vol. 13, No. 2

The Editors

Paul Cobb & Kay McClain
The Collective Mediation of a High-Stakes Accountability Program: Communities and Networks of Practice

This article describes an analytic approach for situating teachers’ instructional practices within the institutional settings of the schools and school districts in which they work. The approach treats instructional leadership and teaching as distributed activities and involves first delineating the communities of practice within a school or district whose enterprises are concerned with teaching and learning and then analyzing three types of interconnections between them: boundary encounters, brokers, and boundary objects. We illustrate the analytic approach by focusing on one urban school district in which we have conducted an ongoing collaboration with a group of middle school teachers. In doing so, we clarify the critical role that school and district-level leaders can play in mediating state and federal high-stakes accountability policies. We conclude by discussing the implications of the analysis for the process of upscaling and the diffusion of instructional innovations.

Dongseop Park & Yuji
Dynamics of Situation Definition

Situation definition is the process and product of actors’ interpretive activities toward a given situation. By reviewing a number of psychological studies conducted in experimental settings, we found that the studies have only explicated a part of the situation definition process and have neglected its dynamic aspects. We need to focus on the dynamic nature of the situation definition, which is constructed, maintained, and altered interactively. We characterize situation definition in terms of three dimensions. First, a variety of agents and objects shape the situation definition (multiple componentiality of situation definition). Second, various views concerning the situation definition coexist (heterogeneity in situation definitions). Third, the participants have equal responsibilities for defining the situation, usually with asymmetry of roles (co-construction of situation definition). To gain a holistic understanding of situation definition, we introduce the notion of fluctuation, which captures both the plasticity and the development of situation definition. We present observational data collected in a naturalistic setting to demonstrate fluctuations in situation definition. These fluctuations appeared in various forms, including a reversal of one situation definition to another, a deviation from the dominant situation definition, a restoration of the original situation definition, a parallel progression of multiple situation definitions, and a hybridization of multiple situation definitions. Specific shifts in activity, polysemy of objects, and conflicts and negotiations among participants over initiating the activity lead to the fluctuations in the situation definition.

John Matthews
Very Young Children’s Development in Moviemaking

In this study, I gave a group of six to eight very young Chinese Singaporean children (between 2 and 4 years of age) three identical digital video cameras, plus tripods, and tracked their development in moviemaking over a 2-year period. The children were allowed to explore the cameras freely, though the investigators offered advice and support as and when necessary. Before this study, I had made detailed longitudinal studies of British and Asian children’s representational development in pencil- and-paper technologies. I was interested to find out whether insertion of a different, electronic moviemaking medium into development would change developmental histories fundamentally or whether it was possible to discern key patterns of development and developmental principles, despite change in media. Previous studies suggest that, by changing the medium, the new tools of representation would reconfigure development, emphasizing aspects of representational thinking less apparent in other media. For example, physical paint redirects the child’s development of linear shape, but key structures persist despite a new interest in color and texture. Golomb’s (1974, 1992, 1993) work also shows that giving young draftspersons clay, instead of crayons or pencils, also causes interesting developmental variations but that key patterns of action still persist.

Roger Säljö
Dilemmas of Schooling, Dilemmas of Theorizing

MCA Vol. 13, No. 3

Spatializing Sociocultural Research: A Reading of Mediation and Meaning as Third Spaces
Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur, Elizabeth Hirst & Alex Kostogriz

Alex Kostogriz
Putting “Space” on the Agenda of Sociocultural Research

The global rescaling of the world, culture, and education has influenced how people experience their situationality, meaning-making, and learning in relation to the Other. This article explores the implications of spatial analysis for rethinking education in new conditions of cultural complexity. The experience of living and learning with difference is conceptualized as an open journey in which the very act of movement across spatial boundaries unlocks the fixity of meanings and identities and, hence, problematizes the spatial logic of bounded learning places. Explicating the tension between fixity and mobility, boundedness and flows, this article deploys the concepts of cultural-semiotic space, scale, and boundary to theorize locations of learning and meaning-making in new times.

Marilyn Fleer
Troubling Cultural Fault Lines: Some Indigenous Australian Families’ Perspectives on the Landscape of Early Childhood Education

Drawing on Vygotsky’s (1997a) concept of fossilized behavior, this study examines the cultural fault lines between the imagined community (Anderson, 1991) of early childhood education and some Australian Indigenous families. Through creating a social space within which Indigenous families could examine dominant and taken-for-granted discourses within early childhood education, participants could make visible assumptions and beliefs about early childhood education in Australia. Through this study, cultural tools were identified for supporting professionals to re-imagine new landscapes for early childhood education in Australia.

Elizabeth Hirst & Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur
Patrolling the Borders of Otherness: Dis/placed Identity Positions for Teachers and Students in Schooled Spaces

We look across two studies, conducted within the current new managerialist policy context in Australia, which capture the construction of social spaces mediated through the nexus of material, activity, and discursive space. The focus of the first study is the negotiation of identities for a second language (Indonesian) teacher and his Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. The social space of their classroom is carnivalized, parodying traditional teacher/student relationships, and stripping the teacher of his authority. The students position the teacher as Other and, in the process, map the border of “white” space, temporarily allowing Aboriginal students access to dominant discourses. The second study documents strategies for reengaging young people who are not enrolled in mainstream schools. While policy makers have not articulated processes for reengagement, the default or implicit strategy of organizations that fund programs to reconnect young people in learning or earning pathways emphasizes information dissemination, or reengagement as contact. However, some youth workers are remaking the social space of school, enacting a strategy that prioritizes reengagement as commitment. These studies highlight the way processes of schooling dis/place both teachers and students. Our response is to consider ways of dis/placing school.

Barbara Comber, Helen Nixon, Louise Ashmore, Stephen Loo & Jackie Cook
Urban Renewal From the Inside Out: Spatial and Critical Literacies in a Low Socioeconomic School Community

This article focuses on how teachers worked to build a meaningful curriculum around changes to a neighborhood and school grounds in a precinct listed for urban renewal. Drawing on a long-term relationship with the principal and one teacher, the researchers planned and designed a collaborative project to involve children as active participants in the redevelopment process, negotiating and redesigning an area between the preschool and the school. The research investigated spatial literacies, that is, ways of thinking about and representing the production of spaces, and critical literacies, in this instance how young people might have a say in remaking part of their school grounds. Data included videotapes of key events, interviews, and an archive of the elementary students’ artifacts experimenting with spatial literacies. The project builds on the insights of community members and researchers working for social justice in high-poverty areas internationally that indicate the importance of education, local action, family, and youth involvement in building sustainable and equitable communities.

Raymond Brown & Peter Renshaw
Positioning Students as Actors and Authors: A Chronotopic Analysis of Collaborative Learning Activities

Bakhtin’s (1981) concept of chronotope provides a way of viewing student participation in the classroom as a dynamic process constituted through the interaction of past experience, ongoing involvement, and yet-to-be-accomplished goals. Although the actual design and use of classroom space may be important in facilitating a participatory pedagogy, chronotopic analysis directs attention to the grounding of interaction in dynamic and shifting time-space contexts that are emergent within the students’ and teacher’s discursive practices. In our analyses of classroom events and conversations, we focus on the agency of the students in actively shaping the space-time contexts of the classroom, considering how particular groundings for interaction are created as they draw on past, present, and future temporal relations to explain and justify their ideas to one another. Our analyses provide insights into the contested nature of the time-space relationships in the classroom, the hybridization of time-space contexts, and the ways students enter into past, present, and future time-space contexts during collaborative work in the classroom.

Joy Hardy
“In the Neighborhood of”: Dialogic Uncertainties and the Rise of New Subject Positions in Environmental Education

This article proposes that resonances exist between the curriculum vision advanced by the Panel for Education for Sustainable Development (1998) and key Bakhtinian motifs, such as dialogism, polyphony, and heteroglossia. The Panel’s support for postmodern perspectives, however, makes the conjunction with Bakhtin problematic, due to anxieties that inhabit Bakhtinian scholarship concerning the assimilation of Bakhtinian notions into postmodernisms. In response to this concern, I formulate the spatial figuration of the neighborhood of as a theoretical geography that enables the ideas offered by Bakhtin and those of postmodernists to form a strategic alliance, without threatening to subsume Bakhtin or obscure the distinctiveness of his ideas. Working in the neighborhood of Bakhtin and postmodernisms creates a space to theorize dialogic uncertainties, creating both textual spaces for conversations around environmental education and new subject positions, or subjectivities, for students.

MCA Vol. 13, No. 4

Wolff-Michael Roth
Literacies, From a Dialectical Perspective

Inside languages there is a terror, soft, discreet, or glaring; that is our subject. (Derrida, 1998, p. 23)

David Williamson Shaffer & Katherine A. Clinton
Toolforthoughts: Reexamining Thinking in the Digital Age

In this article we argue that new computational tools problematize the concept of thought within current sociocultural theories of technology and cognition by challenging the traditional position of privilege that humans occupy in sociocultural analyses. We draw on work by Shaffer and Kaput (1999) and Latour (1996a, 1996b, 1996c) to extend the analytical reach of “activity theory” (Engestrom, Miettinen, & Punamaki, 1999; Nardi, 1996b), “mediated action” (Wertsch, 1998) and “distributed cognition” (Hutchins, 1995; Pea, 1993; Salomon, 1993) by adopting a stronger form of the concepts of distribution and mediation in the context of cognitive activity. For rhetorical purposes, we posit this stronger form of the distribution of intelligence across persons and objects as a theory of distributed mind. Previous theories of cognition and technology show that persons and artifacts both contribute to meaningful activity. Here we explore how understanding the pedagogical implications of new media may require creating a new analytic category of “toolforthoughts". The result of such a shift in thinking provides a view of the relationship between technology and cognitive activity appropriate to the emerging virtual culture of the digital age. We suggest that this may provide a useful perspective from which to analyze pedagogical choices in the context of rapid expansion of powerful cognitive technologies. Theorizing the cognitive agency of tools provides a means to evaluate (in the fullest sense of the word) the educational consequences of new technologies.

Alessandro Duranti
Transcripts, Like Shadows on a Wall

Over the last 50 years the process of producing transcripts of all kinds of interactions has become an important practice for researchers in a wide range of disciplines. Only rarely, however, has transcription been analyzed as a cultural practice. It is here argued that it is precisely the lack of understanding of what is involved in transcribing that has produced a number of epistemological problems, including the tendency to become either virtual-realists or hypercontextualists. By proposing a new interpretation of Plato’s famous story of the prisoners in the cave who could only see the shadows of what was happening outside, this article examines the advantages of the selective nature of transcription, unveils some of the cognitive and affective implications of engaging in transcription, and proposes a complementary approach to transcription, in which transcripts are evaluated with respect to what they can (or cannot) reveal within a particular domain of inquiry.

Katherine Brown & Jule Gomez de Garcia
Linguistic Research Meets Cultural-Historical Theory

In this article, we apply tools from cultural historical theory to an analysis of a series of meetings between a group of linguists and one of Mayan women. The article describes a journey from the two groups’ initial acquaintance to the formation of a shared object–a literacy project–thereby providing an analysis of six visits to Nebaj, Guatemala, between 2002 and 2004. Field notes and video data reveal that the joint work of a single member, or liaison, from each group modeled a form of interaction that supported an expansive transformation. We introduce the notion of “boundary agents” into activity theoretical discussions of subjectivity to explain how, through the liaisons, two groups became one community of practice focused on using linguistic fieldwork to amplify, rather than compete with, the demands of cultural survival.

Audrey Smedley
BOOK REVIEW: Measuring Intelligence: Facts and Fallacies by David J. Bartholomew and Cognition & Intelligence: Identifying the Mechanisms of the Mind edited by Robert J. Sternberg and Jean E. Pretz

David D. Preiss
Drawing a Map of a New Sovereignty: Narratives From El Salvador - A Book Review of Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador by Elisabeth Jean Wood

Matthew Brown
On What Quine Is - A Book Review of The Cambridge Companion to Quine edited by Roger F. Gibson Jr.


MCA Vol. 14, No. 1-2

Special Issue: Learning and Technology at Work

Phillip Kent, Celia Hoyles, Richard Noss, David Guile & Arthur Bakker
Introduction. Learning and Technology at Work

Bonnie A. Nardi
Placeless Organizations: Collaborating for Transformation

This article defines and discusses placeless organizations as sites and generators of learning on a large scale. The emphasis is on how placeless organizations structure themselves to carry out social transformation–necessarily involving intensive learning–on a national or global scale. The argument is made that place is not a necessary component of such activity and that lack of a sense of place may be beneficial to the work. The article is intended to contribute to elaborating the cultural-historical dimensions of activity theory by examining a social framework within which significant learning activity occurs.

Yrjö Engeström
Enriching the Theory of Expansive Learning: Lessons From Journeys Toward Coconfiguration

An intervention study aimed at analyzing and transforming work and learning in three organizations (a bank, a primary health care center, and a hi-tech company) allowed us to investigate forms of coconfiguration work in which there is a focus on the development of products and services that adapt to the changing needs of users. The working hypothesis of our study was that the forms of expansive learning (that is, the processes by which a work organization resolves its internal contradictions in order to construct qualitatively new ways of working) required for coconfiguration work have transformative, horizontal, and subterranean features. Based on our three organization case studies, this article argues tentatively (as a stimulus to further theoretical and empirical research) that our working hypothesis has to be enriched by the notion of experiencing, which serves to bridge the design and implementation of organizational transformation. In terms of the role played by tools and technologies in work and learning, the notion of instrumentality is introduced to further enrich our working hypothesis, emphasizing that expansive learning for coconfiguration work involves tools and novel mediational concepts in the form of multilayered, integrated toolkits.

Wolff-Michael Roth
Emotion at Work: A Contribution to Third-Generation Cultural-Historical Activity Theory

Second-generation cultural-historical activity theory, which drew its inspiration from Leont’ev’s work, constituted an advance over Vygotsky’s first-generation theory by explicitly articulating the dialectical relation between individual and collective. As part of an effort to develop third-generation-historical activity theory, I propose in this article a way in which emotion, motivation, and identity can be incorporated into the theory. I provide case materials from a 5-year ethnographic research project in a salmon hatchery that underscores the important role emotion and the derivative phenomena of motivation and identity play in the workplace generally, and in mathematical knowledgeability particularly.

Phillip Kent, Richard Noss, David Guile, Celia Hoyles & Arthur Bakker
Characterizing the Use of Mathematical Knowledge in Boundary-Crossing Situations at Work

The first aim of this article is to present a characterization of the techno-mathematical literacies needed for effective practice in modern, technology-rich workplaces that are both highly automated and increasingly focused on flexible response to customer needs. The second aim is to introduce an epistemological dimension to activity theory, specifically to the notions of boundary object and boundary crossing. We draw on ethnographic research in a pensions company and focus on data derived from detailed analysis of the diverse perspectives that exist with respect to one symbolic artifact, the annual pension statement. This statement is designed to facilitate boundary crossing between company and customers. Our study shows that the statement routinely failed in this communicative role, largely due to the invisible factors of the mathematical-financial models underlying the statement that are not made visible to customers or to the customer Enquiry Team whose task is to communicate with customers. By focusing on this artifact in boundary-crossing situations, we identify and elaborate the nature of the techno-mathematical knowledge required for effective communication between different communities in the pensions company, and suggest the implications of our findings for workplaces more generally.

Attila Bruni, Silvia Gherardi & Laura Lucia Parolin
Knowing in a System of Fragmented Knowledge

Knowing is a situated activity. Adopting a practice-based approach, this article describes a workplace characterized by technologically dense practices as a setting in which human actors and technological objects work “together.” The case of remote cardiological consultation is paradigmatic of how information and communication technologies (ICT) enter workplaces and reshape them as “systems of fragmented knowledge:” that is, learning settings in which people, symbols, and technologies work jointly to construct and reconstruct understanding of social and organizational action. Working at a distance, therefore, requires the acquisition of skills relative to the mobilization of fragmented knowledge, and the latter’s alignment into a fully-fledged work practice. Knowing-in-practice is accomplished by discursive practices: Framing and postscripting, as practices that generate a “space” of signification for the subsequent action; footing, as the dialectic that enables people to align themselves within a predetermined frame and disrupt its coordinates; and delegation to the nonhuman, as the ability of humans to delegate the performance of clinical practice to nonhuman systems, which come to be regarded as active subjects within the remote consultation.

Rogers Hall, Ken Wright & Kären Wieckert
Interactive and Historical Processes of Distributing Statistical Concepts Through Work Organization

In this article, we analyze interactive processes through which research groups and their statistical advisors insert new (for researchers) statistical concepts into existing research practice. Through processes of talk-in-interaction (speaking, gesture, and inscription), they assemble specimens, research workers, devices, algorithms, and texts, in alternative representations of future work. Alternate assemblies are compared, edited, and projected into future activity, in clients’ projects and in publications, where they are viewed over a longer project history. As achievements of local interaction, assemblies have an interactive structure that builds from, and contrasts with, accounts of historically prior practice, involves joint imagination of new combinations of human judgment, with technology (e.g., statistical algorithms), and includes deliberate efforts to evaluate and edit future work activity. Speakers animate orders of work as laminar, narrative structures that deploy time, place, and human/technical agency in consequentially different ways. These alternative assemblies are produced during conversations in which client research projects have been disrupted or suspended in the hope of finding a better way to work in the future. In this sense, learning about new technical concepts that will be realized at a collective level of analysis is anticipated and given structure in local processes of interaction. We conclude with a discussion of how technical concepts are extended in scope and meaning as they are distributed through work organization.

Harry Daniels, Nicholas James, Rubina Rahman, Annie Young, Jan Derry & Christopher McConkey
Learning About Cancer

In this article, we discuss the findings of a study about how patients who have been diagnosed with cancer learn about their disease. This is a form of learning that is not often thought of as learning, within the practices in which it takes place. It involves learners who neither possess specific forms of knowledge, nor are sure about what knowledge there is to possess. In medical practice, this form of learning is often referred to in terms such as “information seeking,” and the implemented practices of providing information do not always seem to take account of current understandings of teaching and learning amongst educational and psychological researchers. Here we report the findings of a U.K. Department of Health project concerned with the acceptability and usefulness of the Internet as a cancer information source. Post-Vygotskian theory is deployed in the interpretation of the data and the development of a model of the learning.

MCA Vol. 14, No. 3

Wolff-Michael Roth
Introduction. Heeding the Unit of Analysis

Julia Gillen
Derwent’s Doors: Creative Acts

Children’s early word learning is not usually considered creative in the same sense as artistic productions of later life. Yet early word learning is a creative response to the intrinsic instability of word meaning. As the child acts to participate in her community, she strives for intersubjectivity, manifest in neologisms and under- and overextensions, commonly characterized as errors. Young children’s innovative productions, as those of second-language learners, may raise new possibilities for rich understandings of linguistic creativity, if from dialogical approaches to linguistics the local quality of interpretations is properly incorporated into theory. Language use into adulthood, including for literary functions, continues to interplay routines and innovations; semiotic transformation is a central process of human creativity.
Derwent extends the idea of Door so far that he not only [calls] the Lids of Boxes Doors, but even the Covers of Books/a year & 8 months. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, [1802] as cited in Perry, 2002, p. 25)

Gordon Wells
The Mediating Role of Discoursing in Activity

Discoursing, the use of language in interaction with others, plays a part in almost every human activity. Indeed, some have argued that it is discoursing that has made possible the cumulative development of culture over the course of our species’ history. Whether or not that is correct, there can be no question that the ability, with the aid of linguistic discourse, to coordinate action, and to reflect together on the relationship between actions and their intended and achieved results, has been an essential contributor. The question is, How should we theorize the relationship between discoursing and the forms of joint activity in which it occurs? At the present time, not only do we not have an answer to this question but the question has hardly been addressed within activity theory. My aim in this article is to offer some suggestions that may help to advance this project. To this end, I put forward and attempt to justify the argument that discourse always functions to mediate the action in which it serves as an operational means and that the distinctions that need to be made between different kinds of discourse can best be handled with the conceptual tools of genre theory.

Dana Walker & Honorine Nocon

Sarah S. Meacham
The Educational Soundscape: Participation and Perception in Japanese High School English Lessons

In this article I discuss the emergence of practices of hearing in the midst of English language learning activities. I focus on listening activities during oral English lessons at two public high schools in Tokyo, Japan. One setting is a liberal arts high school. The other is a technical high school where students are trained in specializations such as industrial chemistry and electrical engineering. The different organization of listening activities in each of the schools has consequences for the different shape, texture, and categorization of what is heard. I show how hearing, therefore, is an act not solely located the moment sound meets the ear of an individual. Rather, it is socially rationed, controlled, and imagined through the joint actions of participants before, during, and after such physiological hearing takes place. This constitutes hearing as a social act, cognitively distributed among participants and over space and time in the classroom.

Robert Rueda
Book Review: A Cultural-Historical Approach to Closing the Achievement Gap

Donald J. Cunningham
Book Review: You’re Asking Me to Believe in Sentient Meat

Elizabeth Dutro
Book Review: Reading in Contested Terrain

MCA Vol. 14, No. 4

Wolff-Michael Roth
Introduction. On the Subject, Self, and Individual or Monolingualism of the Other and the Possible Impossibility of Babel Fish

Paul Sullivan & John McCarthy
The Relationship Between Self and Activity in the Context of Artists Making Art

Art is an activity that has historically invited self-reflection, self-immersion, and self-exploration–for example, in self-portraits, exhibitions, experimentation with media–and that as such may open a window onto the relationship between self and activity. In this article, we describe two cases studies involving observation of and interviews with two artists to explore what it feels like to invest oneself in an activity emotionally, cognitively, sensuously, and reciprocally to “make oneself” through this activity. These case studies highlight the importance of authenticity in both the activity of making art and the making of self through making art. The implications for agency, emotion, and ethical activity are analysed and some of the implications for a sociocultural approach to activity discussed.

Andy Blunden
Modernity, the Individual, and the Foundations of Cultural-Historical Activity Theory

It is argued that the problem of individual agency in relation to social institutions can be resolved within Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) by the use of the “subject” as a unit of analysis. Such an approach implies a reaffirmation of the fundamental tenets of CHAT but also a critique of the concepts of society and culture, which are appropriated by psychology. A successful critique of objectivist conceptions of society and culture requires an appropriate framing of the concept of subject.

Laurence Habib & Line Wittek
The Portfolio as Artifact and Actor

This article proposes a tentative framework to support empirical analysis of portfolios as pedagogical tools for formative and summative assessment in higher education. It aims to get a deeper understanding of the role of the portfolio in student learning both as a tool and as representations of this tool. To that end, we use three sets of theoretical ideas: Wartofsky’s conceptualization of perception through the creation of artifacts, actor-network theory, and Wertch’s notions of internalization, appropriation and mastery. This article is meant to complement current portfolio research with an original approach that addresses explicitly epistemological questions and concepts like learning and knowledge and explores possible avenues for analyzing and understanding portfolios as artifacts and tools in learning activities.

Ignacio Dalton
Book Review: Face-to-Face to the Study of the Language-as-Product and Language-as-Action Traditions

Linda Bausch
Book Review: Exploring Intimate Cultures, Societal Addresses, and Public Literacies

Patricia A. St. John
Book Review: Interactive and Emergent Processes: Possibilities and Problems in Group Creativity


MCA Vol. 15, No. 1

Wolff-Michael Roth

Wolff-Michael Roth
Knowing, Participative Thinking, Emoting

Martin J. Packer
Is Vygotsky Relevant? Vygotsky’s Marxist Psychology

This article explores the connections between Vygotsky’s psychology and Marxism, arguing that his was a “Marxist psychology” in its “historical foundation”: a specific conception of history. This conception of history is evident in Vygotsky’s analysis and diagnosis of the crisis in psychology. The creation of a Marxist, general psychology was the historical task that was defined by this crisis, and his developmental psychology was the historical project of such a psychology. In his practice of the methodology of this general psychology, Vygotsky recounted “child history”: the history of the genesis of mind. The conception of history evident in Crisis throws new light on Vygotsky’s texts on child development: They tell a history of the objective tendencies of consciousness, of the dialectical processes of sublation, and of self-mastery. As Vygotsky interpreted the higher mental functions, they are manifestations of the child’s ability to master himself or herself as a consequence of the “social moment” of consciousness. In fostering these functions, one shaped a human consciousness capable of free and deliberate choice.

Andreas Lund
Assessment Made Visible: Individual and Collective Practices

In this article I argue that by connecting assessment to learning and instruction and by enacting assessment as a collective practice we can see new opportunities for learning. The concept of mediated action and the notion of a collective zone of proximal development are used to theorize assessment. Two cases are included to support and make empirically visible the conceptual argument. The first case involves student teachers who assess exam papers in an online environment. The second case involves peer-group assessment among learners in an upper secondary school. Through the conceptual argument and the supporting cases assessment emerges as a practice involving process as well as product and a practice in which learning, teaching, and assessment are mutually constitutive of learners’ development. Finally, some implications for practice are discussed, including some challenges related to the tension between individual and collective approaches.

Robin Holt
Using Activity Theory to Understand Entrepreneurial Opportunity

Entrepreneurship is often described as the ability to recognize and exploit opportunities. Identifying opportunities is intentional and idiosyncratic insofar as they are recognized as opportunities is a novel and conscious event (otherwise the entrepreneur would be doing nothing new). Yet opportunities also have to be recognized by others as ones that are worthy of being recognized and pursued; the opportunity is a socially embedded construct. Thus opportunity recognition and pursuit can be understood as the skillful integration of prevailing and emerging objects and relations of business activity typically articulated through collaborative enterprise. To expand on this view I use an activity theory perspective that shows how the potentially transformative character of entrepreneurial opportunities unfurls from within the historical and cultural reproduction of collective activities. I note, however, different emphases within current takes on activity theory, notably between subjective perspectives and open-design perspectives. In discussing these theoretical differences using existing entrepreneurial studies, as well as selected data from a study of 90 entrepreneurs in the United Kingdom, I suggest a possible reconciliation. I conclude by suggesting that where activity theory promotes a rich and nuanced understanding of the socially embedded nature of entrepreneurial opportunities, entrepreneurial studies can also contribute to a nuanced development of activity theory insofar as the entrepreneurial object of activity (opportunity recognition and its pursuit through creating a business) has what I identify as an aesthetic as well as pragmatic logic.

David Preiss
Book Review: Second Psychology as First Psychology

Clifford Morris
Book Review: Brains and Human Intelligences and Many Minds

Donna DeGennaro
Book Review: Learning Sciences Research: Shaping Schools of the Future

Meredith I. Honig
Book Review: Learning From Reform as Learning: Lessons at the Intersection of Implementation Research and Learning Theories

MCA Vol. 15, No. 2

Wolff-Michael Roth
Editorial. Realizing Marx’s Ontology of Difference

Ana Marjanovic-Shane & Ljubica Beljanski-Ristić
From Play to Art—From Experience to Insight

This article investigates the role of play and playlike activities (imagination, art) in developing and using symbolic tools. We understand processes of development of symbolic tools as coordination between two types of relationships: the subject-object relationships and the subject-subject relationships. This coordination begins when a new, playlike frame of activity is introduced in the interaction. The imaginary frame of activity changes relationships between the participants. Furthermore, the imaginary activity frame may enter into interaction with the out-of-play activity frames (“reality” frames). Structures and relationships built within the imaginary frames are then used to shape the actual understanding of the world (subject-object relationship) as well as the interpersonal relationships and identities of the participants.
Introduction and further development of imaginary frames is a recursive process that takes place on different but related time scales: from microdevelopment through ontogenetic development to cultural development. Our project was designed to demonstrate some of the key moments that occur in the symbolic construction, in an “untangled” manner. To that effect, we designed a drama workshop to outline and illustrate processes that take place at the point of introduction of a new, imaginary frame and at the point when this imaginary frame begins to interact with the out-of-play frames. The aim of the workshop was to magnify each stage in construction of semiotic tools by “walking” professional researchers through a series of playlike activities.

Anna Pauliina Rainio
From Resistance to Involvement: Examining Agency and Control in a Playworld Activity

In the recent sociocultural literature, it is possible to identify at least three ways of understanding the development of individual agency in social practices: (a) through transforming the object of activity and through self-change, (b) through responsible and intentional membership, and (c) through resistance and transformation of the dominant power relations. This article puts these different perspectives in a dialogical relation to each other and examines the development of individual agency in the context of schooling. The problem of promoting student agency is that, although personal sense and motivation are crucial for learning and development, the need for control and order in classrooms often makes it hard for teachers to give space to them. To develop more meaningful educational practices, there is a need for a thorough understanding of the ways through which teachers and students deal with and momentarily overcome this contradiction in their classrooms and are able to enact or promote agency. The article introduces an empirical case study of Anton, a 7-year-old boy’s participation in a joint narrative classroom practice. Anton’s orientation and interest toward the narrative activity alters drastically during the spring, as does the teachers’ understanding and attitude toward him. Moreover, in Anton’s participation, all the three different formulations of agency just presented are visible and concurrently “in action.” The article creates conceptual and analytical tools for examining the potential that narrative learning settings provide for supporting children’s engagement and development in classrooms.

Renee DePalma
When Success Makes Me Fail: (De)constructing Failure and Success in a Conventional American Classroom

This article examines the case of Laura, a 9-year-old Mexican immigrant who officially “failed to learn English” in an American school. It may be more accurate to say that schooling failed Laura, and in ways that went beyond language learning. This diagnosis of failure is criticized, along with the individualistic and essentialist assumptions about success and failure that support it. My analysis, based on a sociocultural notion of agency, suggests that Laura and her teachers uncritically shared an institutionally mediated agenda for school success, rooted in contradictory institutional demands and lack of access to each others’ subjectivities. As a result, Laura unintentionally and ironically participated in her own failure construction.

Ashley E. Maynard & Patricia M. Greenfield
Women’s Schooling and Other Ecocultural Shifts: A Longitudinal Study of Historical Change Among the Zinacantec Maya

Women’s schooling has been lauded as having a large, important impact on child socialization. Although there may be positive effects of schooling, there may also be effects from concomitant cultural changes that come with modernization. In this article we examine the findings that changes in textile production among the Zinacantec Maya over the past several decades have been coordinated with several cultural changes, including increased schooling for women, involvement in a growing commercial economy, and television. Understanding these various changes leads to a more nuanced picture of the effects of cultural change on women’s activities. Our findings indicate that research on globalization and social change should consider multiple possible effects on cultural practices.

MCA Vol. 15, No. 3

Wolff-Michael Roth
Editorial. On Theorizing and Clarifying

Nicolas Veyrat, Eric Blanco & Pascale Trompette
Social Embodiment of Technical Devices: Eyeglasses Over the Centuries and According to their Uses

This article is an attempt to prepare the ground for the analysis and theorization of the connection between the body and technical devices emerging from miniaturized wearable technologies. The research object is a secular and common “body object,” namely, eyeglasses. The article reviews the social history of this artifact and analyzes its patterns of use, showing how the distributed sociotechnical networks of action containing these simple optical systems are constantly deconfigured and reconfigured. In other words, the device is not simply subject to physical incorporation. The unstable balance between the artifact’s projection onto the surrounding space and its attachment to the physical body is analyzed through the heterogeneousness of bodies coming into play as the device is socially embodied. As the corporal frame and physical, distributed, and social bodies overlap, the notion of “bodies object” emerges. This covers the artifact-related and social environment, the plural nature of which could be of great value to research and development teams, helping them to diversify their representations of the user, as an agent acting in a variety of networks with a variety of bodies.

Christian Brassac, Pierre Fixmer, Lorenza Mondada & Dominique Vinck
Interweaving Objects, Gestures, and Talk in Context

In a large French hospital, a group of professional experts (including physicians and software engineers) are working on the computerization of a blood-transfusion traceability device. By focusing on a particular moment in this slow process of design, we analyze their collaborative practices during a work session. The analysis takes a praxeological and interactionist approach and is inspired by discussions on the role of artifacts in social practices currently developed within various research frameworks in this field: activity theory, distributed cognition, conversation analysis, and actor network theory. After a brief presentation of the place of objects and artifacts in these ways of approaching action and human cognition, we show how the collective activity analyzed here is generated by the interweaving of discursive, gestural, and artifactual resources.

Annalisa Sannino
From Talk to Action: Experiencing Interlocution in Developmental Interventions

This article explores how to analyze and conceptualize the dynamics through which conversations in Change Laboratory research interventions lead to envisioning and implementing material changes in activities. Leont’ev’s concept of personal sense is used as a theoretical lens for tracing these dynamics and to provide a means to relate local conversations to overall transformation of professional practices. In addition, the article tests the potential of Vasilyuk’s theory of experiencing and Trognon’s interlocutionary logic for analyzing Change Laboratory conversations from the point of view of how talk is experienced by the interlocutors. Experiencing is seen as a dialogical process that connects ongoing conversations and future-oriented actions, and through which interlocutors overcome critical situations. The analysis of Change Laboratory discussions in a Finnish middle school provides ground for looking at Change Laboratory as a research setting and a practice of intervention which can enrich our understanding of how change unfolds through discourse. The article concludes that interventions such as Change Laboratory could benefit from identifying systematic procedures for facilitating experiencing and interlocution. Within the perspective of seeking such methodological procedures, the article opens up a discussion on complementarities and possibilities of integration between the Change Laboratory and another interventionist approach called the Clinic of Activity.

Thomas S. Weisner
Book Review: The Urie Bronfenbrenner Top 19: Looking Back at His Bioecological Perspective

R. Keith Sawyer
Book Review: How Creative Contributions Emerge Over the Lifespan

Gerald LeTendre
Book Review: Japanese Contributions to Theory and Practice in Developmental Psychology

MCA Vol. 15, No. 4

Wolff-Michael Roth
Editorial. Where are the Cultural-Historical Critiques of “Back to the Basics”?

Steven P. Black
Creativity and Learning Jazz: The Practice of “Listening”

This article is about interaction, culture, and creativity. The ethnographic setting is a set of jazz performance classes at a California university. Although I write about jazz music, the reader need not have a background in studying or performing jazz (or music in general) to understand this article. In the title of the article, the term “practice” refers to (1) “listening” as a culturally specific communicative practice, and (2) the practice (a.k.a. rehearsal) of that culturally specific version of “listening”. I document and analyze how jazz instructors communicate with students about group interplay during musical performance. Extrapolating from this focus, I suggest some ways that contemporary linguistic anthropology can contribute to theories of creativity, focusing on the role that cultural norms of interaction defined by a particular activity play in constraining or shaping creative processes.

Yew-Jin Lee & Wolff-Michael Roth
How Activity Systems Evolve: Making ¦ Saving Salmon in British Columbia

The purpose of this article is to describe the history of a state-sponsored salmon enhancement project in British Columbia and to explicate the development of the former using cultural historical activity theory. We make thematic the notion of inner contradictions, which express themselves outwardly as a function of both quantitative and qualitative changes. We propose also that the Marxian notion of change of quality from quantity can fruitfully unpack how these dialectical units push activity systems forward.

Helena Worthen
Using Activity Theory to Understand How People Learn to Negotiate the Conditions of Work

In a typical workplace in the United States, two knowledge-producing activity systems are in motion. Each produces knowledge about how to do the work of that workplace, but they are differently motivated: one toward productivity, and the other toward earning a living. The conflict between these two systems is addressed through the process of negotiation. A.N. Leont’ev’s insight on the power of motive to shape an activity system through which consciousness is constructed provides direction for exploring how people learn to negotiate their conditions of work. Observations and interviews conducted in the course of my work as a union-based and then a university-based labor educator suggest that negotiating knowledge (NK) is similar to work process knowledge in that it is useful for the work that is being done, has a theoretical dimension, and is generated by problem solving. However, because it is generated through the second activity system, it differs from work process knowledge in its perspective. Characterizing NK makes it easier to recognize and enables research into its creation, which in turn can inform the practice of labor education. Examples considered in this article include a grocery warehouse, steel mill, cleaning company, federal office, an apartment building, public school, and musical instrument factory.

Peter H. Sawchuk & Anna Stetsenko
Sociological Understandings of Conduct for a Noncanonical Activity Theory: Exploring Intersections and Complementarities

Following a discussion of activity theory as an approach to human development originally rooted in transformational change, we review the historical context and diverse conceptualizations of social conduct from the field of sociology. The discussion of social conduct is broken into theories of social action, theories of enactment, and contemporary sociological attempts at critical integration of the two across local and extralocal social processes. We conclude with an assessment of these sociological contributions in relation to what we term the threefold dialectic of material production, local and extralocal dimensions of intersubjective exchanges, and subjectivity that is fundamental to noncanonical understandings of activity theory.

Timothy Koschmann
Book Review: CHAT, Ethnomethodology, Distributed Cognition, Actor-Network Theory: Pick One

Gordon Wells
Book Review: The Interdependence of Experience, Meaning and Memory in Development

Damian Corbin Jenkins
Book Review: Discourse, Conversation, and Character Education


MCA Vol. 16, No. 1

Wolff-Michael Roth
Editorial. From First Principles: Toward a More Reflexive Social Science

Lia DiBello, Whit Missildine & Marie Struttman
Intuitive Expertise and Empowerment: The Long-Term Impact of Simulation Training on Changing Accountabilities in a Biotech Firm

This paper describes a two-year study in which high levels of performance were achieved and sustained among so-called low-level workers in a biotech company. The purpose of the study—funded by National Science Foundation and lnvitrogen Corporation—were to explore the effectiveness of an accelerated learning Operational Simulation (OpSim) training on workers in biological manufacturing. While greater responsibility is demanded of “front-line” workers in biotech, efforts at “empowerment” have not worked well in this context. In this particular OpSim, workers were facing a large and expensive backorder problem. The OpSim did not target or specify the skills or means for greater responsiveness; rather we emphasized only goals and challenged the groups to develop a solution. All groups failed on the first try, but exceeded desired outcomes on the second try and subsequently sustained these performance objectives. Implications for Naturalistic Decision Making, training, and empowerment are discussed.

Stephen Billett
Conceptualizing Learning Experiences: Contributions and Mediations of the Social, Personal, and Brute

This article conceptualizes and elaborates what constitutes learning experiences. It does so from a perspective that centres on experiences as arising through relations between social and personal worldsyet also acknowledges the mediation of brute facts (i.e., nature). The social contributions are twofold, yet quite distinct. First, there are immediate social experiences that are projected by the particular socially and culturally derived events (i.e., activities and interactions) that individuals encounter, often in circumstances shaped by socially situational and physical factors. Second, there are socio-personal legacies, comprising individuals’ cognitive experience, that arise through their ongoing engagements with social experiences throughout life histories. Although socially derived, these legacies are person dependent and may be personally idiosyncratic. Of importance, they shape how individuals construe and construct what they experience during, engage with, and learn from these events. Learning experiences, therefore, comprise a negotiation between the suggestions of social and physical world and individuals’ construal of what the world projects. These negotiations are also shaped and mediated by brute facts, such as maturation. Underpinning this conception of learning experiences are interdependencies between the social and personal contributions, which are negotiated in ways that are necessarily relational in terms of the exercise of personal agency and the suggestion of social and physical forms. It is through these negotiations that individuals’ change or learn and society’s norms and practices are remade and transformed. Given this duality, the activities and interactions that comprise learning experiences stand as important bases for understanding (a) individual change or learning and (b) the ongoing process of remaking cultural practices. It also extends the concept of interpsychological processes as being relational and needing to include the contributions and mediations of brute facts.

Andrew Jocuns
Participation Structures as a Mediational Means: Learning Balinese Gamelan in the United States Through Intent Participation, Mediated Discourse, and Distributed Cognition

Participation has presented a complex unit of analysis for interactional sociolinguistics. In this study I add another dimension to participation by considering recent theories related to sociocultural activity theory-mediated discourse analysis and distributed cognition. Drawing on examples from maguru panggul, the traditional pedagogy of Balinese Gamelan music, I argue that participation structures are a mediational means that enable students to augment their learning. Focusing on two participation structures that involve keen observation and listening-in, I also consider how intent participation is a part of these participation structures and maguru panggul pedagogy. What emerges is an understanding of how participation structures used as mediational means can have an effect on the division of cognitive labor within a classroom.

Mariane Hedegaard
Children’s Development from a Cultural-Historical Approach: Children’s Activity in Everyday Local Settings as Foundation for Their Development

A central dilemma in developmental psychology has been to combine general concepts with research of the individual child in all her complexity in everyday life activities. Psychologists such as Riegel, Bronfenbrenner, Burman, Morss, Hedegaard, and Walkerdine have criticized research approaches that study child development from a functional view. Sociologists and anthropologists, such as Corsaro, James, Jenks, Prout, and Qvotrup have instead argued for childhood studies as the alternative to developmental psychology. None of these approaches is alone sufficient; instead, it is important to formulate a theoretical approach of child and youth development that combines general psychological concepts with research of children and youth in concrete settings, such as home or school. The aim of this article is to argue that this will be possible by building on Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theories of the zone of proximal development and developmental crises. A theory of children’s development should include more directly than it has in the past the practice in children’s everyday institutions and the conditions the society give children for development and at the same time attempt to grasp the child’s perspective. A theory of children’s development has to be anchored in societal values, that is, what different institutions value as a good life. Examples from my research on children in Danish kindergartens and immigrant children in Danish schools are used to exemplify the arguments.

Ingvill Rasmussen & Sten Ludvigsen
The Hedgehog and the Fox: A Discussion of the Approaches to the Analysis of ICT Reforms in Teacher Education of Larry Cuban and Yrjö Engeström

This article discusses how to analyze educational reforms in which information and communications technology (ICT) is used as a central catalyst to change practises. We explore the relationship between theoretical conceptualizations and empirical findings drawing on the work of Larry Cuban and Yrjö Engeström. We claim that reform research has traditionally been too preoccupied with looking for the intended changes. One problem with this “top-down” approach is that it conceals changes that happen at the microlevel. As a result, we are left with little understanding of how educational practises change in relation to ICT reform interventions at the interactional level. As an illustrative case, we draw on the analysis of a reform program that focused on the use of ICT in teacher education and show how this reform took place and examine what was interactionally accomplished across the institutions that took part.

MCA Vol. 16, No. 2

Wolff-Michael Roth
Editorial. Solidarity and Responsibility, Ontologically (Categorically)

Alex Kozulin
Cognitive Modifiability of New Immigrant Adults

The first research question of this study concerns the plasticity of cognitive processes of adult learners confronted with the task of adapting to a new language and an unfamiliar system of formal education. The second question inquires into the relative contribution of two different forms of cognitive intervention—the Learning Potential Assessment Device (LPAD) procedure and the cognitive education program—to the cognitive modifiability of immigrant adults. Both forms of intervention were studied in the past but never in comparison. It seemed, therefore, important to compare the performance of immigrant adult students who received only the LPAD procedure with that of the students who received both LPAD and a prolonged cognitive intervention. The results indicate that the cognitive processes of adult immigrants are modifiable, often no less than those of school-age children and that the participation in cognitive education program has an added value for students with relatively high preprogram performance as compared to LPAD alone.

Norm Friesen
Discursive Psychology and Educational Technology: Beyond the Cognitive Revolution

As an alternative to dominant cognitive-constructivist approaches to educational technology, this article makes the case for what has been termed a discursive, or postcognitive, psychological research paradigm. It does so by adapting discursive psychological analyses of conversational activity to the study of educational technology use. It applies these modified techniques specifically to discursive interactions with chatbots or intelligent agents, and to the theories commonly associated with them. In doing so, it presents a critique of notions of human-computer “indistinguishability” or equality as they have been articulated from Alan Turing to Reeves and Nass, and it sketches an alternative account of the potential and limitations of this technology. In divergence from Turing and Reeves and Nass, human discourse generated through encounters with natural language interfaces is seen as emphasizing the issue of conversation itself, foregrounding the achievement of common discursive aims and projects, rather than illuminating the internal states of either interlocutor. Mind and cognition, correspondingly, are revealed as phenomena “accomplished” through contingent social activity, rather than as computational processes concealed within or distributed between mind and machine.

Gustav Lymer
Demonstrating Professional Vision: The Work of Critique in Architectural Education

This study provides an account of how architectural competencies are made visible in the work of critique in architectural education. It shows how critics enact a set of disciplined visual practices through which architectural qualities of proposed buildings become available for competent remark. Particularly prominent among these practices is the seamless fusion of gestural elaborations of architecture’s designed objects with the envisaged spaces of a hypothetically perceived built environment. Furthermore, critics topicalize the communicative and rhetorical organization of the presentation as a designed object in itself. In shifts between topicalizations of proposed buildings and the designed representations of those buildings, critics construe qualities of the buildings as simultaneously visible and invisible: visible to the critic, but invisible to potential other viewers. This practice subjects students’ work to a variety of pedagogically configured gazes. The student’s socialization into a specialized field of practice, in which objects are designed according to professional rationalities that go beyond what is readily visible or accessible to the nonarchitect, is thereby made accountable for the communicative demands of professional practice.

David Kellogg
Commentary: Taking Uptaking Up, or, A Deconstructionist “Ontology of Difference” and a Developmental One

Katherine Richardson Bruna
Commentary: Materializing Multiculturalism: Deconstruction and Cumulation in Teaching Language, Culture, and (Non) Identity Reflections on Roth and Kellogg

SungWon Hwang
A Vygotskian Approach to Heterogeneous Communication and Multi/cultural Literacy: Commentary on David Kellogg’s “Taking Uptaking Up, or, a Deconstructionist ‘Ontology of Difference’ and a Developmental One”

In this commentary, I review Kellogg’s comments on a recent editorial in the journal Mind, Culture, and Activity (Roth, 2008). Concerning Kellogg’s code-switching model for learning language, I present and exemplify a dialectic problem of multi/cultural literacy: the first articulation that crosses the boundaries of cultures and languages presupposes the heterogeneous Self and culture/ language in which the boundaries are already problematized. I take a Vygotskian approach and articulate that the heterogeneous nature of communicative performances constitutes the central aspect for this dialectic constitution of multi/cultural literacy. Therefore, I comment that ontology of difference constitutes the theoretical framework that explains development.

Luca Tateo
Book Review: The Possibility of Perfect Intersubjectivity

Call for Papers: Special Issue on “Cultural-Historical Activity Theory and Action Research”

MCA Vol. 16, No. 3

Ray McDermott & Meghan McDermott
Guest Editorial. Quantentative and Squalortative

Faraja Igira & Margunn Aanestad
Living with Contradictions: Complementing Activity Theory with the Notion of “Installed Base” to Address the Historical Dimension of Transformation

This article addresses the historical dimension of the relation between information systems innovation and organizational transformation. We analyse findings from a study of ongoing transformations in the healthcare sector in Zanzibar, Tanzania. The process is described with a particular focus on instances where some contradictions in the old activity system were not resolved but inherited by the new activity system. To address this we complement the activity theory framework with the notion of “installed base” from studies of information infrastructures. This helps to illuminate the theme of unresolved and continuing contradictions, and thus contribute to the concept of historicity in CHAT-informed studies.

Paula M. Towsey & Carol A. Macdonald
Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing and Other Vygotskian Constructs

In 2007 a South African study examined new concept formation from early childhood to adulthood (N = 60, 3 to 76 years old) using the Vygotsky/Sakharov Blocks procedure (also known as the functional method of double stimulation for the study of concept formation) to establish whether contemporary adults and children produced the same or similar patterns as those described by Lev Vygotsky. The study found correspondence with the processes of concept formation identified by Vygotsky and his colleagues in the 1920s and 1930s. A developmental trend consistent with Vygotsky’s writings on the ontogenesis of concept formation was reflected in a positive correlation between the age of the participants and their modes of thinking. The greatest increase in this developmental trend occurred between the 11-year-old and 15-year-old participants: This finding verified Vygotsky’s assertion that true conceptual thinking only becomes possible in adolescence. The functional equivalence of pseudoconcepts in role and structure led Vygotsky to call them wolves in sheep’s clothing, and it would appear that many a shepherd of today is unsuspecting of such lupine behaviour. Findings on pseudoconcepts are presented in detail and illustrated with photographs depicting selected elements from the study’s microgenetic analyses of these elusive yet important Vygotskian constructs.

José Luis Lalueza & Isabel Crespo
José Luis Lalueza & Isabel Crespo

The starting point for this article is, What are the hegemonic models of man and woman that educational practices are orientated toward in gypsy communities (models that are often in conflict with mainstream schooling institution’s models of socialization)? We do not find the collectivism/individualism approach for explaining socialization in minority cultures helpful, for it can lead us to misunderstand the continuous process of change through which communities challenge existing power relations and thereby change society. The alternative proposed here is the analysis of the role of multivoicedness in the process of cultural change, hybridation, and resistance. A set of conversations with members of a Spanish gypsy community give us a “text” where multiple voices contribute, showing a mixed culture where “traditional” voices are in a constant dialogue with “modern” voices. Minority culture cannot be interpreted as a “traditional” culture, for minority culture includes voices of the hegemonic culture in various different forms and provokes hybridation as differentiation, creating a complex framework for children’s socialization.

Jay L. Lemke
Book Review: Learning to Mean Mathematically

Mariëtte de Haan
Book Review: Dynamics in Teaching and Learning and Societal Change

Call for Papers. Special issue on “The Linguistic Socialization of Scientific Ideologies”

MCA Vol. 16, No. 4

Michael Cole
Editorial. The Perils of Translation: A First Step in Reconsidering Vygotsky’s Theory of Development in Relation to Formal Education

Maya Gratier, Patricia M. Greenfield & Adrienne Isaac
Maya Gratier, Patricia M. Greenfield & Adrienne Isaac

This article examines the effect of a teacher’s cultural representations and tacit communicative style on interactive practices in the classroom. We compare two second-grade classrooms constituted predominantly by Latino immigrant children and teachers with differing cultural representations of education. Through video and acoustic analyses of matched samples of classroom activities we document a discourse style that is more group oriented in one of the classrooms and more individual oriented in the other classroom. Our analyses show that the group-oriented communicative style is characterized by greater cooperative overlap and chorusing, more student self-selection, less teacher selection and less arm raising, less confirmatory repetition by the teacher, more frequent collaborative completion and more criticism, and less praise. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods, we go on to describe evidence of greater cultural attunement between teacher and students when they share a common tacit communicative style. The principal index of attunement highlighted by our results is student participation. We also suggest that patterns of interactive timing in classroom discourse provide insight into processes of cultural attunement and conflict.

Paula M. Towsey
More Than a Footnote to History in Cultural-Historical Theory: The Zalkind Summary, Experimental Study of Higher Behavioural Processes, and “Vygotsky’s Blocks”

This article presents what is possibly the first English translation of a 1930 manuscript related to Vygotsky’s work (probably written by Vygotsky himself). This manuscript, the Zalkind Summary, is a five-point summary of his presentation to the First All-Union Congress on the Study of Human Behaviour in Leningrad in January 1930. This article provides an account of the circumstances leading to the Zalkind Summary’s discovery and explores several aspects of it in relation to contemporary appreciations of Vygotsky’s psychology, most notably the functional method of double stimulation and the precise experimental data used by Vygotsky to document key theoretical constructs in concept formation processes. The method of double stimulation for the study of concept formation, as developed by Sakharov under Vygotsky’s leadership and handed down to scholars in the West by Hanfmann and Kasanin, is compared to the works of various scholars, past and present. This article concludes that the Zalkind Summary is more than a footnote to history: It is a stand-alone theoretical and empirical statement of central and intriguing import to Vygotskian psychology.

Lee Martin, Shelley Goldman & Osvaldo Jiménez
Lee Martin, Shelley Goldman & Osvaldo Jiménez

We present an analysis and discussion of the tanda, a multiperson pooled credit and savings scheme (a rotating credit association or RCA), as described by two informants from Mexican immigrant communities in California. In the tanda, participants contribute regularly to a common fund which is distributed to participants on a rotating basis. We analyze the tanda at multiple levels (as a mathematical, cultural, and distributed practice) and identify points of intersection and conflict. Contrary to many formal or school-based conceptions of mathematics, mathematical work in the context of the tanda is in service of, and intimately tied up with, cultural goals and values. Likewise, cultural means and mathematics are employed to personal ends. We argue that the tanda should be of enduring interest, particularly among educators interested in bringing more authentic, culturally-relevant mathematics into classroom settings, because it so clearly illustrates how mathematical and cultural processes can interact in the context of personal goals, and provides a potentially valuable template for engaging, consequential, and successful mathematics.

Renée DePalma
Leaving Alinsu: Towards a Transformative Community of Practice

Wenger’s portrait of Alinsu insurance claims processors as elaborated in Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity remains closely associated with the community of practice model. The enduring metaphor of Alinsu has limited the scope of Wenger’s theory to relatively simplistic, closed, and reproductive systems. The model has both reproductive and transformative potential, and it is the latter that has been less widely taken up and developed. In this article I consider ways in which analyzing a different instantiation, the No Outsiders participatory action research project, can reinvigorate and broaden our understandings of the community of practice model and point the way toward the possibility of learning and practice communities that are more transformative and less reproductive.


MCA Vol. 17, No. 1

Special Issue: Playworlds of Children and Adults: Cultural Perspectives on Play Pedagogy

Wolff-Michael Roth
Editorial. Martin Heidegger Comes to the Support of CHAT Researchers

Sonja Baumer & Kristen Radsliff
Introduction. Playworlds of Children and Adults: Cultural Perspectives on Play Pedagogy

Monica E. Nilsson
Creative Pedagogy of Play—The Work of Gunilla Lindqvist

This article presents the work by the Swedish play scholar Gunilla Lindqvist, particularly what she calls creative pedagogy of play and playworlds. Creative pedagogy of play is an educational approach, which advocates the joint participation of children and adults in a collectively created and shared world of fiction—a playworld. Gunilla Lindqvist’s pedagogy was designed to investigate how aesthetic activities can influence children’s play as well as the nature of the connections between play and the aesthetic forms of drama and literature. Lindqvist based her theory on Vygotsky’s theories of art, play, semiotics, imagination, and creativity. Her main idea is that children develop consciousness in dialogical interactions with adults and peers when encouraged and invited to play in a fictitious world where reality and imagination are dialectically related. This article is a homage to her work—it attempts to present her writings through an appreciative and expository fashion.

Alessandra Talamo, Simone Pozzi & Barbara Mellini
Playing Is Not Just for Fun

Social interactions within virtual communities are often described solely as being online experiences. Such descriptions are limited, for they fail to reference life external to the screen. The terms virtual and real have a negative connotation for many people and can even be interpreted to mean that something is “false” or “inauthentic.” Research on postmodern lifestyles has questioned the relation between different dimensions of experience. This article seeks to describe how, in an online role-playing games community, the two dimensions—the real and the virtual—are interrelated and contribute to the construction of a unique, integrated personal experience that exists in the tension between everyday life and the computer world.

Ageliki Nicolopoulou, Aline Barbosa de Sá, Hande Ilgaz & Carolyn Brockmeyer
Using the Transformative Power of Play to Educate Hearts and Minds: From Vygotsky to Vivian Paley and Beyond

This article argues that Vygotsky’s analysis of children’s play and of the ways it can serve as a powerful matrix for learning and development has two important implications that are not always fully appreciated. First, children’s social pretend play can promote development both in the domains of cognition and language and in dimensions of social competence, such as self-regulation and cooperation. Second, tapping play’s value in the education of young children is not purely a matter of alternating didactic/academic instruction with unstructured free-play periods. We also need to devise educational practices that systematically integrate the play element into the curriculum in carefully structured ways that simultaneously engage children’s enthusiasm and provide scope for their own initiative and creativity. One concrete example of a play-based activity that can do this successfully is the storytelling/story-acting practice developed by Vivian Paley. Drawing on a recently completed 2-year study of this practice in several preschool classrooms serving low-income 3- to 5-year-olds from diverse ethnic backgrounds, we focus on an individual case study to illustrate how participation in this practice can generate mutually reinforcing benefits in language and social competence for the children involved. In the process, we consider the significance of both peer-group relations and socio-emotional relations with adults and their complementary roles in helping promote these competencies.

Beth Ferholt & Robert Lecusay
Adult and Child Development in the Zone of Proximal Development: Socratic Dialogue in a Playworld

This article analyses adult and child development in the zone of proximal development in an educational practice based in Vygotsky’s theories of play: the playworld educational practice. The playworld educational practice is a central component of a Scandinavian play pedagogy that promotes shared responsibility amongst adults and children for engaging in adult-child joint play. The playworld practice, which is based on a work of children’s literature, includes joint adult-child scripted and improvisational acting and set design. We explore conditions under which playworld activities create a zone of proximal development that fosters development in both adult and child. Our analysis, based on data from a K-1 classroom, expands Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development so that we see not only the unidirectional development of a child toward an adult stage of development but also the simultaneous development experienced by adults participating in the zone with the child.

Susan Naomi Nordstrom
Book Review: Dynamic Literacy Practices of Appalachian Women

A. Susan Jurow
Book Review: How People Live and Learn Across Contexts


MCA Vol. 17, No. 2

Wolff-Michael Roth & Michael Cole
Editorial. The Referencing Practices of Mind, Culture, and Activity: On Citing (Sighting?) and Being Cited (Sighted?)

Sarah Crafter & Guida de Abreu
Constructing Identities in Multicultural Learning Contexts

In this article we examine two concepts that aid our understanding of processes of identification in multiethnic schools. The first concept focuses on the complementarity of “three processes of identity” (identifying the other, being identified, and self-identification). This is brought together with the concept of sociocultural coupling introduced to examine the co-constructions of changes in practices (across places and times) and changes in identification. The analysis draws on an interview with a pupil, Monifa, a Black African (Nigerian) girl (aged 10 years), and on an interview with a Pakistani teacher, Shazia. Although Shazia and Monifa belonged to different generations (i.e., a pupil/daughter and a teacher/mother) and different cultural groups (British-born Black African and Pakistani Kashmiri), the same identity processes could be applied to the data. They both articulated accounts of “identifying the other,” “being identified,” and “self-identification,” which emphasized their transitions between cultural practices and multiple communities. Furthermore, we propose that sociocultural coupling has enabled us to understand the means by which aspects of cultural practices borrowed from home and school allows them to reproduce aspects of their home cultural identity and at other times to transform these identities.

Amaya Becvar Weddle & James D. Hollan
Professional Perception and Expert Action: Scaffolding Embodied Practices in Professional Education

From vocational education to neurosurgery residencies, apprenticeship training is characteristic of how people are acculturated to a profession. One of the primary goals of professional education is to develop skillful performance. Expert skill includes an integrated set of perceptual and motor abilities. During practical teaching, instructors deploy a set of discursive practices that nurture skilled performance in trainees. These practices scaffold particular patterns of movement, patterns that students can assimilate and subsequently use to guide or govern tool-based actions. We conducted in-depth ethnographic research in a dental hygiene program to gain a deeper understanding of the hands-on training environment: the activities in which participants engage, the circumstances they typically encounter, and the tools and technologies they rely upon in accomplishing their work. The primary data are video recordings of naturally occurring instructional interactions, chosen to be representative of broad classes of interactions observed. This article documents three practices used to entrain students with professional perception and scaffold expert action: guidance, demonstration and modeling, and embodied conceptual metaphor.

Marilyn Fleer & Mariane Hedegaard
Children’s Development as Participation in Everyday Practices across Different Institutions

Children participate in different institutional collectives in their everyday life. Home, school, and kindergarten are the institutional contexts that most children share. Although there are variations between home practices and school practices, they collectively share a common core framed by societal conditions. In drawing upon Vygotsky’s (1998) theory of the social situation of development and Hedegaard’s (2009) theory of development conceptualised as the child’s participation within and across several institutions at the same time, it has been possible to examine how school practices influence home practice and the child’s social situation of development. A case study of an Australian child’s participation across different institutions (family and school) was undertaken to capture and analyse the dynamic processes through which development was afforded. In the case study there was a large disjunction between institutional practices of the home and school that the child had to negotiate. Due to teacher knowledge of only the child’s relation to the school institution, and not the home institution, the affordances for development and the child’s changing relations to his environment, were invisible to the educators in this study. The findings suggest foregrounding an understanding of children’s development as changes in children’s activities and thereby changing their relations to reality across institutional practices in order to support a broader view of development in early childhood education.

Surita Jassal Jhangiani & Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur
Health Care “As Usual”: The Insertion of Positive Psychology in Canadian Mental Health Discourse

The recent shift to a “positive psychological” approach that emphasizes a “health model,” rather than a “disease model,” in mental health discourses is intended both to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and to enable people to play a role in monitoring their own mental health. As a component of a larger study on access to and utilization of mental health services by immigrant women, and a partial reflection of the current ideological context of mental health policy and practice in Canada, this shift was examined by analyzing the Canadian Mental Health Association’s mental health discourse as posted in Web-based text using features of critical discourse analysis. Although considered an improvement over previous approaches by some, the current mental health discourse continues to reflect ideologies that assume a universal psychology of individual mental health. Framing this research with aspects of sociocultural and postcolonial theories, this article seeks to identify the possibilities of this new discourse and expose its limitations in relation to immigrants to Canada.

Jessica Van Cleave
Book Review: Disciplining the American Dream in “Reality”

Jie Zhang
Book Review: Vygotsky’s Thinking: Its Relevance to Learning and Education

Ana Christina DaSilva Iddings
Book Review: Bilingual Development: The Locus of Complexity

Don Bysouth
Book Review: Conversations on the Talking Cure

Elinami Swai
Book Review: A Biographical Account to Culture and History

MCA Vol. 17, No. 3

Wolff-Michael Roth
Editorial. Toward a Dynamic Understanding of Mind, Culture, Activity, and Life: Difference-in-Itself as the Source of Change

Cecilie Flo Jahreie & Eli Ottesen
Construction of Boundaries in Teacher Education: Analyzing Student Teachers’ Accounts

This article analyzes student teachers’ interactions in different practices over a period of one semester. We use Cultural-Historical Activity theory as a theoretical framework to address how interactions at the boundaries in teacher education are constructed and made relevant to the participants when they are working on object constructions. In the analysis, we show how an object, conceptualization of goals in education, emerges and develop in interactions, and how the object’s trajectory differs as the students move between practices. In the analysis we call these practices learning spheres. Our findings indicate that the participants’ positions are of importance. In teacher-led situations, such as supervision and mentoring, the teachers influenced the construction of the object, whereas in group work, the student teachers pursued and explored a variety of object constructions. Meaning emerges in the dialectical relationship between activity and action, and is regulated by the enactment of rules and norms, and the division of labor. An important finding is that the student teachers’ learning trajectories vary across the different parts of the teacher education program.

Sasha A. Barab, Tyler Dodge, Adam Ingram-Goble, Patrick Pettyjohn, Kylie Peppler, Charlene Volk & Maria Solomou
Pedagogical Dramas and Transformational Play: Narratively Rich Games for Learning

Although every era is met with the introduction of powerful technologies for entertainment and learning, videogames represent a new contribution binding the two and bearing the potential to create sustained engagement in a curricular drama where the player’s knowledgeable actions shape an unfolding fiction within a designed world. Although traditionally, stories involve an author, a performer, and an audience, much of the power of videogames as media for advancing narrative springs from their affordance for the player to occupy more than one role—and sometimes all three—simultaneously. In the narratively rich videogames that we design, players have the opportunity to perform actions, experience consequences, and reflect on the underlying social values that these situations were designed to engage, affording a type of narrative transactivity. Elsewhere we have discussed designing these media as contexts for engaging academic content; here we illuminate the power of videogames to engage children in ideological struggles as they are experienced in game-based adaptations of classic literature. Toward this end, we present our theoretical argument for the power of games as a contemporary story medium, grounding this discussion in the context of two game design projects and their implementations. Implications are discussed in terms of the potential of immersive, interactive media—videogame technology, in short—for achieving wide-ranging educational ends.

William Zahner & Judit Moschkovich
Talking while Computing in Groups: The Not-So-Private Functions of Computational Private Speech in Mathematical Discussions

Students often voice computations during group discussions of mathematics problems. Yet, this type of private speech has received little attention from mathematics educators or researchers. In this article use excerpts from middle school students’ group mathematical discussions to illustrate and describe “computational private speech.” We analyze four examples of computational private speech using lenses from neo-Vygotskian psychology, sociolinguistics, and distributed cognition. Our analyses of computational private speech challenge the individualistic developmental assumptions of some neo-Vygotskian theories of private speech, and we show how this form of private speech can serve socio-cognitive functions during group mathematical discussions.

Andy Blunden
Commentary on Editorial in Mind, Culture, and Activity, Volume 17, Issue 1

David Kellogg
Book Review: Is Microgenesis a Kind of Learning or Learning a Kind of Microgenesis?

Matthew J. Brown
Book Review: Good News from Analytic Philosophy!

Wellington de Oliveira
Book Review: Discussing Reasoning, Creating, Interaction and Social Reasoning

MCA Vol. 17, No. 4

Special Issue: Second and Foreign Language Learning and Teaching

Wolff-Michael Roth & Luis Radford
Re/thinking the Zone of Proximal Development (Symmetrically)

Ana Christina DaSilva Iddings & Luis C. Moll
Special Issue on Second and Foreign Language Learning and Teaching: An Introduction

Matthew E. Poehner & James P. Lantolf
Vygotsky’s Teaching-Assessment Dialectic and L2 Education: The Case for Dynamic Assessment

This article concerns a particular application of Vygotsky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) wherein conventional assessment situations are reorganized to allow for cooperation between assessor and learner as they jointly complete assessment tasks and work through difficulties that arise. This approach, known as Dynamic Assessment (DA), a term coined by Luria (1961), derives from Vygotsky’s own work in the area of “defectology” and aims to reveal abilities that have fully developed as well as those that are still forming. Several models of DA have been developed and pursued in countries around the world, primarily in contexts of intelligence and abilities testing and in work with learners with special needs (Haywood & Lidz, 2007). We argue that DA in fact has profound implications not only for formal testing but for educational practice more generally, and for language education in particular, given that it posits a dialectical relation between instruction and assessment. Specifically, joint activity intended to reveal a learner’s ZPD and the provision of mediation to support continued development are fully integrated in DA. Examples of this dialectical activity are presented involving classroom learners of French as a second language.

Matthew E. Poehner & James P. Lantolf
Vygotsky’s Teaching-Assessment Dialectic and L2 Education: The Case for Dynamic Assessment

This article concerns a particular application of Vygotsky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) wherein conventional assessment situations are reorganized to allow for cooperation between assessor and learner as they jointly complete assessment tasks and work through difficulties that arise. This approach, known as Dynamic Assessment (DA), a term coined by Luria (1961), derives from Vygotsky’s own work in the area of “defectology” and aims to reveal abilities that have fully developed as well as those that are still forming. Several models of DA have been developed and pursued in countries around the world, primarily in contexts of intelligence and abilities testing and in work with learners with special needs (Haywood & Lidz, 2007). We argue that DA in fact has profound implications not only for formal testing but for educational practice more generally, and for language education in particular, given that it posits a dialectical relation between instruction and assessment. Specifically, joint activity intended to reveal a learner’s ZPD and the provision of mediation to support continued development are fully integrated in DA. Examples of this dialectical activity are presented involving classroom learners of French as a second language.

Ilaria Nardotto Peltier & Steven G. McCafferty
Gesture and Identity in the Teaching and Learning of Italian

This study investigated the use of mimetic gestures of identity by foreign language teachers of Italian and their students in college classes as a form of meaning-making. All four of the teachers were found to use a variety of Italian gestures as a regular aspect of their teaching and presentation of self. Students and teachers also were found to mirror each other’s gestures. None of the teachers had been video-recorded before the study and all were surprised to see the degree to which they appeared to be Italian, although at the same time all believed this to be an important and positive aspect of their teaching. In offering an explanation for these findings we consider the role of gesture as a social semiotic in learning another language, how teachers use gesture to prolept students into a possible future as embodied communicators of the language (identity within a figured world), the process of communicative actuation as it relates to learning a language across different timescales and environments, and how all of the above relates to the zone of proximal development and its application to frontier regions of development.

Eun-Young Jang & Ana Christina DaSilva Iddings
The Social Genesis of Self-Regulation: The Case of Two Korean Adolescents Learning English as a Second Language

From a sociocultural perspective the concept of self-regulation is associated to voluntary control over higher and culturally organized mental functions such as, for example, focusing attention, planning a course of action, solving a problem, or deliberately remembering something. Thus, the ability to self-regulate is highly related to school success. The present article examines the ways by which two newly arrived immigrant Korean students, learning English as a second language while enrolled in a middle school in the United States, made use of old and new systems of signs (i.e., native and target languages) to (re)gain and maintain self-regulation in a new cultural and linguistic context. We conducted a microgenetic analysis of student-teacher and student-student interactions during two specific classroom writing practices that occurred regularly in the classroom. We found that the development (or activation) of self-regulation for the students was tightly intertwined with social and cultural contextual factors of the English-dominant classroom environment, which in turn afforded or constrained the use and acquisition of newly formed semiotic resources (e.g., hybrid sign systems) for the creation and expression of meaning.

Yu Liu & Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur
Bilingual Intertextuality: The Joint Construction of Bi-Literacy Practices between Parent and Child

Based on sociocultural theory, this article examines two activities constituted by a parent and child as jointly constructed bi-literacy practices. Bi-literacy practices enable the parent and child to co-construct conceptual meanings and sense across two languages. Concept development in young children begins with meaning in one language and over time develops into multiple nuanced sense in two languages; a process that reflects a developing system of thinking that ultimately enables proficiency in two languages. Using a discourse analytic approach to intertextuality, we elaborate the definition of intertextuality at the level of interaction and the level of utterance and analyze two transcripts for language form and function. Social practices that engage parent and child in bilingual interactions can be mapped for bilingual intertextuality to highlight the facilitation of concept development, which begins, rather than ends, with the construction of word meaning.

Naomi Kurata
Opportunities for Foreign Language Learning and Use within a Learner’s Informal Social Networks

Despite widespread acknowledgement of the importance of the social dimensions of second language acquisition, there has been little research on second language (L2) use and learning in the social networks of foreign language learners. This study examines the language use of a student of Japanese in Australia in two informal conversations he had with native speakers of Japanese who were part of his social network. Utilising activity theory and a conversation analytic approach to language alternation, the analysis reveals that it is not always easy for this learner to create opportunities to use Japanese due to diverse social factors. One of the major factors is a contradiction that emerges between the socialising activity and the language learning activity in which this learner and his Japanese friends are engaged in their conversations. However, this study demonstrates that the same learner sometimes succeeds in gaining access to exposure to L2 as a speaker as well as a listener and, as a consequence, access to L2 learning opportunities. This access seems to be enabled by, amongst other things, an indication of his own strong preference for L2 and his proactive move to introduce appropriate subtopics.


MCA Vol. 18, No. 1

Martin Packer, Jorge Larreamendy-Joerns & Andy Blunden

Anders B. Jansson
Becoming a Narrator: A Case Study in the Dynamics of Learning Based on the Theories/Methods of Vygotsky

This article focuses on the learning that is enabled while a primary school child makes a story using multimodal software. This child is diagnosed with autism. The aim is to use a cultural-historical framework to carry out an in-depth analysis of a process of learning with action as a unit of analysis. The article is based on a collaborative research project in which assignments on narration concurrently served as experiments with cultural tools. The child’s learning process in one assignment is analyzed sequentially, highlighting changes in the action, based on data from videotape. The child’s decision to record audio was a turning point that expanded the formal learning and animated the idea of making the story in a desired multimodal format. The multifaceted quality and the dialectics revealed in the process are vital to achieve expansive action and learning. The combination of a generative narrative model and the multimodal affordances is crucial for actualizing the potential in the research approach to accomplish an analysis of the learner’s changes in action. Thus, the study indicates the relevance of using a cultural-historical framework in research and practice that focuses on processes of learning and processes of becoming among diverse learners.

A. Susan Jurow & Daisy
Exploring the Relations between “Soul” and “Role”: Learning from the Courage to Lead

In this article, the authors consider how participants in a year-long, transformative professional development program for public school leaders took up and/or ignored insights when they left the sanctity of the retreats and returned to work. The program, called the Courage to Lead, aims to help school leaders to reconnect their “soul” (an essential, inner self) with their “role” so that they can live and work with integrity. Drawing on insights from social practice theory and critical psychology, the authors present two case studies that show why ideas from the retreats were held tentatively in one case and embraced more fully in another. Based on the analysis of interviews with focal participants and participant observation during the professional development program, the authors found that to transfer core principles from the retreat to work, the participants needed their own personal motivations to do so as well as institutional roles that lent themselves to acting on their insights. This research contributes to our growing appreciation for the complex relations between the self and learning in social and cultural contexts.

André Vågan
Towards a Sociocultural Perspective on Identity Formation in Education

This article discusses a sociocultural approach to processes of identity that has implications for how we understand learning and identity formation in education. Focusing on the socially constructed and culturally figured nature of language, tools, and interactions in learning contexts, this approach assists in the appreciation of how students navigate through and develop an understanding of themselves in different educational contexts. To this end, reference is made to Wortham’s work on interactional positioning in narratives and the work of Holland and colleagues on figured worlds. Wortham provides the tools for a systematic analysis of how individuals construct their identities by positioning themselves in discursive interaction. Holland and colleagues alert us to the cultural shaping of such positioning in cultural worlds and the artifacts mediating identity formation. To explore the potential of combining these lenses, a case study is described involving a series of interviews with medical students about their self-perceptions in two contexts of clinical training. The case study highlights how different worlds and identities are formed in these educational contexts.

Eugene Matusov
Commentary. Too Many References, Just Cut a Few and It Will Be Perfect: APA vs. Chicago

David Kellogg
Book Review: Earlymarch: Class Differences and Cultural Similarities in Lives where Daily Routines Are Still Young and New

Edward Wall
Book Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Michael Arfken
Book Review: The Boundaries of Embodiment

Diane R. Collier
Book Review: “Who Do You Think You Are?”: Growing Up in the GirlZone

Bert van Oers
Book Review: Where Is the Child? Controversy in the Neo-Vygotskian Approach to Child Development

George L. Boggs
Book Review: The Reordering of Knowledge

MCA Vol. 18, No. 2

Special Issue: Cultural-Historical Activity Theory and Action Research

Bridget Somekh & Morten Nissen
Cultural-Historical Activity Theory and Action Research

Chik Collins
Reflections on CHAT and Freire’s Participatory Action Research From the West of Scotland: Praxis, Politics, and the “Struggle For Meaningful Life”

This article offers a perspective on the relationship between cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) and one particular strand of action research—Freirean participatory action research (PAR). It reflects on a research collaboration conducted two decades ago with a community organisation and seeks to “show” the interaction of CHAT and Freirean PAR in ongoing reflection on that collaboration. It argues that the two are strongly compatible and complementary and suggests that Freirean PAR offers an orientation toward politics, ideology, and social justice that can help in connecting CHAT’s underlying emancipatory intent more fully to the problems confronting people in today’s troubled world.

Lily Orland-Barak & Ayelet Becher
Cycles of Action through Systems of Activity: Examining an Action Research Model through the Lens of Activity Theory

In this article we offer an extended reading of an action research model in the context of mentored learning in preservice education in Israel. Our reading attends both to how a particular form of action research plays out in participants’ constructions of the practice of mentoring and mentored learning and how such constructions can be understood in the wider context of interrelations between activity systems, as offered through the lens of activity theory. Such an embedded reading can illuminate on the gaps and contradictions between different educational practices, directing participants’ processes and outcomes of learning, as they actively transform their practice while trying to mediate between these contradictions.

Seth Chaiklin
Social Scientific Research and Societal Practice: Action Research and Cultural-Historical Research in Methodological Light from Kurt Lewin and Lev S. Vygotsky

The main interest is the relationship between social scientific research and societal practice, with specific attention on action research and cultural-historical research. To provide a productive way to engage with these research traditions, a historically-grounded, superordinate perspective is formulated that places practice in the centre. This perspective, which is more general than and historically prior to action research and cultural-historical research, provides a principled way to consider these traditions, without trying to delimit them precisely. To make the discussion concrete, central aspects in Lewin and Vygotsky’s methodological thinking about the relations between social scientific research and societal practice are explicated, providing a useful way to engage critically with the relation between social scientific research and societal practice. Lewin focused primarily on developing an idea of social research aimed at developing laws about significant societal practices. Vygotsky advocated the need to reconstruct the methodology of psychology in relation to societal practices. The concluding discussion highlights some important ideas from Lewin and Vygotsky, which have not been recognised sufficiently in contemporary reception of their ideas but deserve consideration, identifies some limitations in their views, and raises some challenges for contemporary perspectives about action research and cultural-historical research.

Ines Langemeyer
Science and Social Practice: Action Research and Activity Theory as Socio-Critical Approaches

Action research and activity theory are considered by a number of followers as socio-critical approaches, whereas others do not relate them to social-criticism and use them merely as methods to improve practice. This article searches for general insights in Kurt Lewin’s and Lev S. Vygotsky’s work into how one proceeds and acts critically. In their methodological writings, different levels of critique can be determined: First, there is a critique of psychology’s scientific state of the art compared to modern natural sciences. This critique includes the demand not to divide issues of method from methodological ones. Second, both thinkers relate knowing to the power to intervene; they both perceive a close connection between scientific progress and the improvement of social practice. However, their standpoints diverge here. Lewin favors a mutual inspiration between science and social practice in terms of “art” and “revolutionary progress” but does not theorize a more fundamental connection between these domains. By contrast, Vygotsky assumes interdependence between scientific progress and the liberation of the entire societal basis of human development. This assumption was encouraged by his historical experience of the Russian Revolution, yet needs to be rethought in light of subsequent historical developments.

Gordon Wells
Integrating CHAT and Action Research

The aim of this paper is to show how action research, conducted collaboratively, can enact principles for learning-and-teaching derived from cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) and how, at the same time, action research (AR) can contribute to the development of CHAT. I have tried to support these claims by providing an account of my own development as a researcher, learner and teacher.

Viv Ellis
Reenergising Professional Creativity from a CHAT Perspective: Seeing Knowledge and History in Practice

This article offers a critical examination of aspects of a practice- and theory-developing intervention in the teacher education setting in England designed as a variation of Developmental Work Research. A positive case is argued for the distinctiveness of such cultural-historical activity theory [CHAT-] informed interventions and some points of contrast are drawn with the British tradition of educational action research. In describing the practice-developing intervention, the twin focus on seeing knowledge and history in human activity systems is advanced as two dimensions of CHAT’s distinctive approach, with the goal of stimulating and studying the emergence of professional creativity. Creativity under this interpretation is defined as the perception and analysis of opportunities for learning within the social situation of development and the production of new conceptual tools and approaches to the social organisation of work. Professional creativity is advanced as a much needed capacity among teachers in industrial workplaces influenced by the techniques of New Public Management. Common ground between CHAT and action research approaches is seen in their optimistic and modernist commitments to progress, and CHAT-framed interventions, like action research approaches, are presented as part of an evolving intellectual project.

MCA Vol. 18, No. 3

Aria Razfar, Lena Licón Khisty & Kathryn Chval
Re-Mediating Second Language Acquisition: A Sociocultural Perspective for Language Development

This article provides a cultural-historical (CHAT) analysis of the practices used by an effective teacher of Latino/a children previously classified as “underachieving” and “beginning/novice” English Language Learners. Although the teacher would not describe her practices in strict CHAT, or sociocultural theory (SCT) terms, our analysis shows that teaching practices in this classroom are better understood using a SCT model rather than more prevalent second language acquisition (SLA) models that dominate the field of bilingual/English as a Second Language education. We describe the fundamental limitations of SLA assumptions about learners vis-à-vis a SCT perspective and use classroom and case study data to illustrate how a CHAT perspective illuminates this teacher’s practices. From a CHAT perspective, teaching and learning are socially reorganized around the mediation of dynamic learner identities and include shifts in expert-novice status, dialogic interactions, and the use of innovative mediational tools (e.g., keystrokes on a calculator) to promote academic writing and oral communication. The mediational reorganization described in the classroom opened up access to students who might have been dismissed by a SLA model as “incapable” of engaging in such tasks. We draw on classroom-level data (i.e., standardized scores in reading and math) as well as the work of selected focal students to illustrate our case.

Deborah Poole
“Mao Might Cheat”: The Interactional Construction of the Imaginary Situation in a Fifth Dimension After-School Setting

This article explores Vygtosky’s (1978) notion of the imaginary situation through analysis of interaction and activity in a Fifth Dimension after-school setting, one of a network of programs designed with an aim to realize developmental concepts proposed by Vygotsky and others in the cultural-historical tradition (see, e.g., Cole & the Distributed Literacy Consortium, 2006). The discussion centers on intergenerational interaction between a child and undergraduate as they engage in activities that represent two varieties of the imaginary situation proposed by Vygotsky: Playing a game and orienting to the “mythical figurehead,” a fantasy figure common to all Fifth Dimension sites. Analysis focuses on the interplay of spoken interaction with literacy-based artifacts that mediate the participants’ activity and serve as points of departure for imagination-related talk. As the interaction unfolds, child and undergraduate are seen to engage creatively with both game and site rules as they create a collaborative and increasingly complex representation of the mythical figurehead. The participants’ engagement with rules, a crucial element in Vygotsky’s notion of the imaginary situation, provides the child with multiple opportunities, together with those prompted by the site artifacts, to affect and negotiate the Fifth Dimension experience.

Indigo Esmonde, Miwa Takeuchi & Nenad Radakovic
Getting Unstuck: Learning and Histories of Engagement in Classrooms

This article focuses on the role of history in shaping learning interactions in a high school mathematics class, in which we argue that students participate in two key activity systems: Learning mathematics and doing school. Within the context of these two activity systems, we highlight the nature of sociogenesis, the patterns of shift in communities as people build on one another’s accomplishments, jointly solve problems, and disseminate new and old ways of solving problems. Drawing on a yearlong study of group work in a high school mathematics classroom in California, we discuss how mathematical inscriptions in the classroom and the group’s mathematical interactions were influenced by and also influenced the group’s shared history. With this article we contribute to cultural-historical activity theory by providing insights into the study of history in classroom interactions.

Fernando González Rey
A Re-examination of Defining Moments in Vygotsky’s Work and Their Implications for His Continuing Legacy

This article argues for the idea of different moments in Vygotsky’s work while highlighting combinations of ideas and concepts that were particularly emphasized in distinct moments of his work. After Vygotsky’s death, these moments were not considered a theoretical system in development, either in former Soviet psychology or in Western interpretations of his work. Vygotsky’s legacy seems to have been mostly reduced to one concrete focus of his work, mistakenly identified as cultural-historical theory. The overemphasis of selected aspects of Vygotsky’s work resulted in an overshadowing of other ideas that have remained relatively “unknown” until fairly recently. In this article, previously underemphasized elements in Vygotsky’s psychology, such as emotions, fantasy, imagination, personality, and the generative character of human psyche, are emphasized. A consideration of these elements offers new and refreshing alternatives to Vygotsky’s legacy. These previously underemphasized elements are markedly represented in Vygotsky’s first and third moments. Furthermore, in the third and final moment of his work, the category of sense opened up a completely new perspective for a systemic and complex approach to understanding the human mind.

Julian Williams
Toward a Political Economic Theory of Education: Use and Exchange Values of Enhanced Labor Power

I explore theoretical conceptions of the use and exchange values of mathematics education within cultural-historical activity theory perspectives. The case of education in England is compared with that of health care (due to Engestrom). Then I draw on Lave and McDermott’s study of estranged learning from the early Marx, and from Marx’s later analyses in Capital. They deduced the source of learners’ alienation from learning in the enforced conditions of education, run by the educational establishment. However, I find their analogy limiting and hence erroneous. I turn to Capital to find the Marxian analysis of the “peculiar” commodity: Enhanced labor power. I conclude that the use-value of mathematics education derives from (a) learners’ immediate consumption, and (b) their enhanced (mental) labor power. Although this explains the root, economic contradictions, cultural systems of exchange explain how these are symbolised in cultural forms of use and exchange value.

Beth Ferholt
Book Review: Performing Vygotsky to Change the World

Mark Philip Smith & Eugene Matusov
Book Review: A Proposal for a New Schooling: Reciprocity and Authentic Dialogue

Ola Erstad
Book Review: Diversity and Prospects of the Vygotskian Legacy

MCA Vol. 18, No. 4

David G. Leitch
Vygotsky, Consciousness, and the German Psycholinguistic Tradition

This article argues that Vygotsky’s choice of word meaning as the basic unit of analysis for cultural psychology connects him to a German psycholinguistic tradition—exemplified in the work of G. W. F. Hegel and J. G. Herder—distinct from the Marxist tradition. While later commentators criticize Vygotsky’s reliance on word meaning, arguing that it cannot explain the formation of consciousness, this German psycholinguistic tradition provides intellectual resources for rethinking the relationship between language and consciousness. Consciousness, through this model, arises from linguistic interactions, and is therefore not separable from language. Thus, word meaning encapsulates consciousness itself, not just its mediation in the world.

Peter Smagorinsky
Vygotsky’s Stage Theory: The Psychology of Art and the Actor under the Direction of Perezhivanie

This article reviews Vygotsky’s writings on arts (particularly logocentric art including the theater) and emotions, drawing on his initial exploration in The Psychology of Art and his final considerations set forth in a set of essays, treatises, and lectures produced in the last years of his life. The review of The Psychology of Art includes attention to the limits of his analysis, the mixed Marxist legacy that is evident in the book, the cultural blinders that affect his vision of the relative value of different artistic productions, the content of what he elsewhere refers to his “tedious investigations” into extant views, and the gist of what he considers to be the essence of art. Attention to his late work falls into two areas: Emotion in formal drama and emotion in everyday drama, each of which involves perezhivanie, roughly but incompletely characterized as emotional experience. The article concludes with an effort to situate Vygotsky’s writing on art and emotion both within his broader effort to articulate a comprehensive developmental psychology of socially, culturally, and historically grounded individuals and social groups, and within scholarship that has extended and questioned his work as his influence has expanded beyond the clinics of Soviet Moscow.

David Guile
Interprofessional Learning: Reasons, Judgement, and Action

This article makes a number of interconnected arguments. First, spatially and temporally distributed project teams constitute a new form of interprofessional work and, as a corollary, a new site for interprofessional learning. Second, researchers in cultural-historical activity theory have generated some concepts and methods, for example, “placeless organisations” (Nardi); “object of activity” (Leont’ev); “knotworking” (Engeström) and “relational agency” (Edwards) that can be used to analyse this new form of working and learning. Third, that when these concepts and methods are supplemented by Guile’s (2010) “mediated expressions of learning,” it is possible to provide a new conceptual framework to analyse the interplay between interprofessional working and learning. Finally, that this new framework enables researchers to shed light on the mediated relation between reasons, judgement, and action in interprofessional activity. This article explores this claim through an analysis of a critical incident that occurred in an interprofessional team working in the Creative and Cultural Sector in the United Kingdom.

Peter E. Jones
The Living and the Dead in Education: Commentary on Julian Williams

Morten Nissen
Book Review: Activity Theory: Legacies, Standpoints, and Hopes: A discussion of Andy Blunden’s An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity

James Anthony Whitson
Book Review: Beyond Cybernetics, Info-mation, and Cognitivism

Jenna McWilliams
Book Review: The Kids Are Alright


MCA Vol. 19, No. 1

Mike Rose
Featured Article: Rethinking Remedial Education and the Academic-Vocational Divide

In the United States and in other countries as well there are a number of government and philanthropic initiatives to help more people, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, enter and succeed in postsecondary education. These initiatives typically involve remedial education (because a significant number of students are academically underprepared) and vocational or occupational education (called Career and Technical Education in the United States) because many students elect an occupational pathway. On the remedial front, policy makers are calling for reform of remedial education, for it has proven to present various barriers to degree completion. On the CTE front, policy makers want more academic work integrated into career courses believed to better prepare students for the demands of the new economy. But both remediation and CTE emerge from and carry with them assumptions about knowledge and learning that limit their effectiveness, and these assumptions are reinforced by institutional structures and status dynamics and by the forces of social class. This article (based on a talk given at the American Educational Research Association) examines these assumptions with the goal of moving beyond them. It also offers some reflection on the research methodology best suited to explore such complex social topics as remediation and occupational education.

Kris D. Gutiérrez
Commentary. Re-Mediating Current Activity for the Future

W. Norton Grubb
Commentary. Rethinking Remedial Education and the Academic-Vocational Divide: Complementary Perspectives

Sara Goldrick-Rab
Comments on Mike Rose’s Essay “Rethinking Remedial Education and the Academic-Vocational Divide”

Daniel Persson Thunqvist & Bodil Axelsson
“Now It’s Not School, It’s For Real!”: Negotiated Participation in Media Vocational Training

By taking up the strand in Lave and Wenger’s writing on situated learning that directs attention to social dynamics and issues of power and positioning, the present article argues for the fruitfulness of including the concept of negotiated participation in approaches to teaching and learning. Based on a fieldwork in vocational media production projects, this study demonstrates the tensions and contradictions that came out of the hybrid nature of these vocational practices in high school. Establishing the professionally relevant modes of participation in the projects was fraught with struggles in which the project members had to bracket institutionalized school routines as well as handle and negotiate particular work life conditions (including cooperation with old timers in the target professions). It is argued that the way institutional contradictions are manifested and negotiated in everyday teaching and interaction can inform our understanding of the premises for multifunctional educational praxis.

Cathrin Martin & Ann-Carita Evaldsson
Affordances for Participation: Children’s Appropriation of Rules in a Reggio Emilia School

This study explores how young children appropriate school rules and what opportunities for active participation are afforded in a Reggio Emilia elementary classroom with particular interest in the interactional and communicative competences children display in situated practice. An ethnographic and microanalytic approach is used to study how the material environment and multimodal resources are mobilized in the activity. The analysis is based on video-recorded sequences in which 6- to 7-year-old children participate in a school project about rules for the schoolyard. The detailed analysis demonstrates how the children plan, reflect, enact, and discuss how to apply their own co-constructed rules in locally relevant ways in the playground. Overall, the findings shed light on how opportunities for children’s active participation are situated within and also afforded by the particular Reggio Emilia educational practice that is also shaped by the learning process itself.

Clifford Morris
Book Review. No Gifted Child Left Behind

Ellen H. Robinson
Book Review. Sociocultural Researchers Can Shape the Future of Education

Etienne Pelaprat
Book Review. Can Creativity, Imagination, and Play Become Central Pedagogical Principles in Education?

Elina Lampert-Shepel
Book Review. Theory and Practice of Dialogic Pedagogy

MCA Vol. 19, No. 2

Louise Bøttcher
Culture and the Learning and Cognitive Development of Children with Severe Disabilities—Continuities and Discontinuities with Children without Disabilities

The dominant approach to children with disabilities is grounded in a biomedical model that assumes a direct relationship between the biological defect and the disability. From a cultural-historical point of view, this approach fails to notice how a child with a biological defect has to act in social institutions adapted to typical children. The aim of this article is to show how impairments arise from a developmental dynamic that includes both neurobiological and social conditions. Through empirical examples, the participation of children with severe disabilities is analyzed in relation to different practices and how they afford and develop particular cognitive activities, creating developmental possibilities or constraints that feed back on the child’s learning. Distinguishing the different perspectives of children and professional adults increases our awareness of how conflicts between the participants’ motives affect both participation and developmental conditions in practice. It is concluded that the learning problems of children with severe neurobiological impairments must be understood in terms of their social moderation and mediation.

Pui Ling (Pauline) Wong & Marilyn Fleer
A Cultural-Historical Study of How Children from Hong Kong Immigrant Families Develop a Learning Motive within Everyday Family Practices in Australia

This article draws on a cultural-historical theorization of child development alongside the Chinese concept of learning in order to study children’s development in the Hong Kong Australian community. In particular, it aims to understand in detail how a 9-year-old child develops a learning motive under highly structured family practices. The data analysed were selected from a larger set of data involving 80 hr of video observations generated from the recording of everyday practices in three Hong Kong immigrant families. The findings indicate that encouragement plays an important role in bridging the gap between parental demands and the child’s wishes, which assists the child to appropriate family values, thus facilitating the development of a learning motive and learning itself.

Mariane Hedegaard
Analyzing Children’s Learning and Development in Everyday Settings from a Cultural-Historical Wholeness Approach

The main point in this article is to conceptualise how demands connected to children’s life conditions influence both children and caregivers. To pursue this aim I advocate an extension of Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory of children’s learning and development. Vygotsky pursued a wholeness approach to children’s development with his concept of “the child’s social situation of development” as the child’s dialectic experiential and motivational relation with his or her surrounding. This conception I extend with the concepts of institutional practice and activity setting. The conditions for children’s activities are the institutional practice and its activity settings. But a child’s activities in these settings also has to be seen from the child’s perspective, that is, his or her motive orientation. To focus on the child’s motive within an activity setting—requires the researcher to focus on the child’s social situation of development to discern how the dialectic between the child’s orientation within an activity setting and the demands from the setting and other persons influence the child’s activities within the child’s zone of proximal development.

Brecht De Smet
Egyptian Workers and “Their” Intellectuals: The Dialectical Pedagogy of the Mahalla Strike Movement

This article analyzes the development of the Egyptian workers’ movement in the face of the 25 January Revolution through the notion of dialectical pedagogy. This Gramscian concept is extended by a Vygotskyan analysis of the reciprocal learning processes, which stimulate a proletarian activity system to overcome its economic-corporate predicament. The concrete case study of the Mahalla strike movement (2006-2008) elucidates the transformative-instructive dynamics of autoprolepsis and heterolepsis and the importance of solidarity in developing the worker Subject. The 25 January Revolution expanded the proletarian Zone of Proximal Development and created new possibilities and constraints for the development of the workers’ movement.

Jean Lave
Essay. Changing Practice

This article is based on a keynote address given on the last day of the 2011 International Society for Culture & Activity Research (ISCAR) Congress in Rome. The first part reflects on the kind of work being presented at the conference. It was exciting and stimulating to learn about a rich range of new research in many different venues during the week. It also seemed important to reflect on what seemed to be missing, omissions that were common across the many themes and discussions. The second part of the article explores concrete examples of research, both in theory and in practice, which I hope may suggest to ISCAR participants some unusual possibilities for changing their own research practices between now and the next ISCAR congress in three years.

David Bakhurst
Freedom and Second Nature in The Formation of Reason

This article elaborates and defends a thesis prominent in my recent book, The Formation of Reason; namely, that a human being gets to be free in the distinctive way that human beings are free through the acquisition of second nature. My treatment of this thesis in The Formation of Reason is much influenced by the philosophy of John McDowell. McDowell himself, however, is notoriously reluctant to offer a theory of second nature. In this article, I explain his reasons for taking this stance and show how, for all that, his work contains much that illuminates the idea of second nature and its relation to freedom. I make this argument by focusing on a number of McDowell’s papers on Aristotle and Wittgenstein that I do not discuss in detail in my book. Finally, I consider the objection that although McDowell recognizes second nature as a property of individuals, he mistakenly rejects the idea of second nature in external form. I argue that his works do in fact contain resources to countenance second nature externalized, so long as we keep that idea insulated from the constructivist theories of normativity that McDowell rightly rejects. Understanding our thesis aright is, I maintain, a necessary condition of a compelling conception of the social dimensions of mind and of the end of education.

Helena Harlow Worthen
A Different Curriculum of Preparation for Work: Commentary on Mike Rose, Sara Goldrick-Rab, Kris Gutiérrez and Norton Grubb

Peg Griffin
Book Review. Motives Are Relations in Cultural-Historical Work

MCA Vol. 19, No. 3

Special Issue: Concept Formation in the Wild

Yrjö Engeström & Annalisa Sannino
Introduction. Concept Formation in the Wild

Ivana Marková
Objectification in Common Sense Thinking

In epistemologies of both scientific and common sense thinking “objectification” characterizes the formation of knowledge and concepts, yet in each case its meaning is different. In the former, objectification in acquiring knowledge refers to the individual’s rationalistic reification of an object or of another person and to disengagement or alienation. Formation of concepts refers to the attainment of common features of persons, objects, or events. In the latter case, objectification is a dialogical process that takes place in daily activities and in communication. It rarely, if ever, pursues dispassionate ways but is judgmental and ethical. In this process, old myths, collective images, and historical narratives as well as habits of the mind, consciously and unconsciously present, refer to previous forms of knowledge and generate new ones.
In this article, objectification in common sense thinking is discussed using an example of haemophilia in relation to HIV/AIDS. Haemophilia is a genetically transmitted disorder of blood clotting that has already been known as a family disease in Talmudic rulings in the second century. It seems that social representations of this disorder, which in its most common form affects male individuals because they inherit the defective gene from their mothers, evoke beliefs prevalent in various religions and mythologies. These beliefs and the lack of scientific knowledge about haemophilia have led, throughout history, to a wide spectrum of psychological and behavioural challenges with respect to patients, carriers, their relatives, and the general public. The nature of these challenges is not stable: They undergo alterations with technological advances in diagnosis and treatment as well as with changes in the understanding of medical complications including HIV/AIDS.

Nancy J. Nersessian
Engineering Concepts: The Interplay between Concept Formation and Modeling Practices in Bioengineering Sciences

This article addresses “concept formation in the wild” through examining the relations between concept formation and physical and computational simulation modeling practices in two research laboratories in the bioengineering sciences. It argues that processes of concept formation and of building distributed cognitive systems are deeply entwined.

Rogers Hall & Ilana Seidel Horn
Talk and Conceptual Change at Work: Adequate Representation and Epistemic Stance in a Comparative Analysis of Statistical Consulting and Teacher Workgroups

In this article we ask how concepts that organize work in two professional disciplines change during moments of consultation, which represent concerted efforts by participants to work differently now and in the future. Our analysis compares structures of talk, the adequacy of representations of practice, and epistemic and moral stances deployed when workgroups in clinical health sciences and secondary mathematics teaching seek to improve their work in discussions with colleagues and experts. Our comparative analysis highlights interactional supports for identifying, elaborating, and stabilizing relatively small-scale innovations in joint work that contribute to development at multiple timescales. These supports include comparisons over accounts of practice that borrow and extend method or technique, negotiating adequate representations of practice, use and uptake of epistemic stance toward what can be known about shared work, and surrounding organizational structures that provide for (or inhibit) the circulation of new concepts across workgroups.

Charles Bazerman
Writing with Concepts: Communal, Internalized, and Externalized

From the perspective of writing concepts are most readily identified through conceptual words deployed by writers to evoke conceptual meanings in readers. Although every word has some conceptual weight, this article focuses on words associated with core ideas or classifications or connections of domains of thought—the kinds of terms attended to in the history of ideas that are at the forefront of discussions in disciplines and that undergraduates grapple with. Such concepts are fluid within historically evolving and socially varying situations, and specific conceptual terms circulate within specific epistemic communities as part of specific intellectual practices, associated with specific genres. These domain-specific conceptual terms create challenges of internalization for novices, and become the basis for thought gists of those enculturated into disciplinary ways of thought. In each new communicative situation calling for new statements, however, internal gists must be externalized to create publically shareable articulations of thoughts, undergoing the disciplines gaining the understanding and engagement of readers within the epistemic activity system.

Jaakko Virkkunen & Päivi Ristimäki
Double Stimulation in Strategic Concept Formation: An Activity-Theoretical Analysis of Business Planning in a Small Technology Firm

In this article, we study the relationships between culturally existing general strategy concepts and a small information and communication technology firm’s specific strategic challenge in its management team’s search for a new strategy concept. We apply three theoretical ideas of cultural historical activity theory: (a) the idea of double stimulation, which we relate to the relationship of culturally evolved artifacts and the problem situation at hand in the processes of problem solving and agency building; (b) the dialectical interplay between the process and the product of generalizing; and (c) the difference between empirical and theoretical generalizations, which is related to the quality and explanatory power of concepts. The analysis shows that the use of empirical generalizations as intellectual tools in strategic planning and the lack of firsthand observational and experiential data about the clients’ problems hampered the management team’s attempt to find a new strategy to avoid a future crisis for the business.

Yrjö Engeström, Jaana Nummijoki & Annalisa Sannino
Embodied Germ Cell at Work: Building an Expansive Concept of Physical Mobility in Home Care

This article presents a process of collective formation of a new concept of mobility between home care workers and their elderly clients, who are at risk of losing physical mobility and functional capacity. A new tool called mobility agreement was introduced to facilitate the inclusion of regular mobility exercises in home care visits and in the daily lives of the clients. Our analysis starts with an overview of those visits in 2008 and 2009. We then analyze in detail one visit conducted in 2011, after two years of implementation of the mobility agreement. The analysis brings together the dialectical principle of ascending from the abstract to the concrete with the help of a germ cell, and key ideas from embodied and enactive cognition. During the visits a new concept of mobility began to emerge in the simple movement of standing up from the chair. This new concept transcends and overcomes the contradiction between safety and autonomy. Also it embeds and integrates mobility into necessary everyday actions of the old person. It is accomplished jointly with the nurse and relying on often innovative uses of everyday household artifacts. Finally, the new concept frames physical mobility in terms of sustainability.

James G. Greeno
Commentary. Concepts in Activities and Discourses

The articles in this special issue make valuable contributions toward a scientific understanding of concepts that is broader than the traditional view that has focused on categorizing by individuals. I propose considering concepts for categorization as a special case of concepts. At their clearest, they can be referred to as formal concepts, or concepts used formally, which have explicit definitions and are used in formal deductive reasoning and argumentation. A label for broader aggregations of concepts is functional concepts, or concepts used functionally. This distinction is nearly parallel to Vygotsky’s (1934/1987) distinction between scientific concepts and everyday concepts. Formal (uses of) concepts are important products and resources in subject matter disciplines, especially in science and mathematics. I suggest that the distinction between formal and functional (uses of) concepts can support a useful interpretation and organizing frame for efforts to provide meaningful instruction in disciplinary domains.

Edwin Hutchins
Commentary. Concepts in Practice as Sources of Order

The framework for the study of concept formation embraced by the articles in this special issue makes it possible to observe and catalog the mechanisms by which conceptual structures in the wild achieve and maintain organization. I propose a provisional inventory of such mechanisms that includes the primitive mechanisms of dimensionality reduction, filtering, and constraint satisfaction, as well as the composite mechanisms of modulated positive feedback, superposition of structure, mapping across conceptual spaces, and design. I also explore a list of mechanisms that decrease order and reflect on the balance between the creation and destruction of order in human cognition. Finally, I introduce a simple formalism, conceptual entropy, which may provide a means to measure and quantify changes in the degree of order in distributed conceptual systems.

MCA Vol. 19, No. 4

Camilla Rindstedt & Karin Aronsson
Children’s Intent Participation in a Pediatric Community of Practice

This study analyzes informal learning, drawing on video recordings of staff-child interaction in a pediatric unit. It is shown that even very young patients engage in intent community participation, carefully noting fine variations in examination and treatment practices. They orient to everyday routines in successively more complex ways, gradually acquiring novel repertoires of practices; advancing from nonverbal uptake to an active use of medical terminology, and to actively assisting staff members. Ultimately, the children themselves assume almost full responsibility for routine procedures. The unit had adopted partnership-oriented routines, and the doctors and nurses spent much time in securing the children’s consent and participation in their own treatment. In contrast to much earlier work in pediatric settings which has shown children to be marginal participants; even the youngest patients were engaged, and they successively acquired a set of novel practices related to treatment procedures. Together with doctors and nurses, the children could be seen to form a community of practice. But community is not something fixed; instead it is seen as an emergent phenomenon, dependent on staff members’ and children’s mutual alignments and collaborative action. Learning is thus analyzed as a social and relational phenomenon.

Mutizwa Mukute & Heila Lotz-Sisitka
Working With Cultural-Historical Activity Theory and Critical Realism to Investigate and Expand Farmer Learning in Southern Africa

This article uses the theoretical and methodological tools of cultural historical activity theory and critical realism to examine three case studies of the introduction and expansion of sustainable agricultural practices in southern Africa. The article addresses relevant issues in the field of agricultural extension, which lacks a theoretical “bridge” between top-down knowledge transfer and bottom-up participatory approaches to learning. Further, the article considers the learning environments necessary for sustainable agriculture. Such environments provided research participants with encounters with “postnormal” scientific practices that recognise and engage plural ways of knowing. Our research explored why farmers learn and practise sustainable agriculture, how they learn and practise it, the contradictions they are facing, and how these contradictions can be overcome in a context of change-oriented learning.

Tom Martin
Commentary. Femi, Brake Mechanic: Kinesthetic Learning and Mike Rose’s “Remedial” Education

Rita Tracy
Book Review: The Dynamic Role of Symbols in Human Meaning Making

Artin Göncü
Book Review: Voices from the Majority World: Cultural Inquiry into the World of Families and Children

Gustav Jahoda
Book Review: Quantitative Cross-Cultural Research: An Innovative Text

Cathrine Hasse
Book Review: Psychological Anthropology

Deanya Lattimore
Book Review: Transcending Culture by Playing With Formalism

David Kellogg
Book Review: Bakhtin the Liar


MCA Vol. 20, No. 1

Manfred Holodynski
The Internalization Theory of Emotions: A Cultural Historical Approach to the Development of Emotions

Starting with an overview of theoretical approaches to emotion from an activity-oriented stance, this article applies Vygotsky's three general principles of development, sign mediation, and internalization to the development of emotional expressions as a culturally evolved sign system. The possible twofold function of expression signs as a means of interpersonal regulation and intrapersonal regulation predestines them to be a mediator between sociocultural and psychological processes in the domain of emotions. The proposed internalization theory of emotional development transfers Vygotsky's theory of the development of speech and thinking to the development of expression and feeling. Three stages of emotional development are described and underpinned by empirical studies: (a) the emergence of enculturated expression signs and related emotions from precursor emotions of newborns in the interpersonal regulation between caregivers and children during early childhood, (b) the emergence of intrapersonal regulation of emotions out of their interpersonal regulation by using expression signs as internal mediators that starts from preschool age onward, and (c) the internalization of emotional expression signs and the emergence of a mental plane of emotional processing.

Carolin Demuth
Socializing Infants Toward a Cultural Understanding of Expressing Negative Affect: A Bakhtinian Informed Discursive Psychology Approach

This article addresses the socialization of emotion expression in infancy. It argues that in order to adequately understand emotion development we need to consider the appraisal of emotion expression through caregivers in mundane, everyday interactions. Drawing on sociocultural and Bakhtinian theorizing, it claims that caregivers' appraisals of infants' emotion expression are dialogically intertwined with broader speech genres or “communicative genres” of a community and the emotional-volitional tone and normative orientations embedded in them. It aims to investigate how communicative genres become visible in early caregiver–infant interactions. In a comparative study with 20 farming Cameroonian Nso mothers from Kikaikelaki and 20 German middle-class mothers from Muenster and their 3-month-old infants, we investigated discursive practices used by the mothers in reaction to the infants' expression of negative affect. We found distinct patterns of coconstructing the interaction that point to different normative orientations and communicative genres that can be considered to be specific to the two sociocultural contexts. These communicative genres were found to be in line with broader cultural ethnotheories on good child care in these two communities found in previous studies and by other researchers.

E. Jayne White
Cry, Baby, Cry: A Dialogic Response to Emotion

This article challenges traditional approaches to emotion as a discreet biological or dialectic process in the early years. In doing so the proposition is made that emotion is an answerable social act of meaning-making and self-hood. Inspired by Bakhtinian philosophy, which resists separating emotion from cognition or the individual from their social milieu, the dialogic interplay that takes place between an 18-month-old infant, adults, and peers in a New Zealand Education and Care setting is explored from an emotional volitional standpoint. Drawing on eleven hours of polyphonic split-screen video footage taken from the visual perspective of the infant and those around her, language acts and their interpretive aftermath are presented as intersubjective and alteric (i.e., altering) communicative acts. Taken together they recaste infant emotionality as a highly strategic socially oriented process of embodied performance through selective employment of genres that “speak” to the adult. The article argues that such a renewed appreciation of infant emotion has potential for understanding very young children as strategically acting upon as well as responding to the environment that surrounds them. As such there is potential to view emotional acts as answerable performance, with revealing implications for those who share in infant experience.

Joscha Kärtner, Manfred Holodynski and Viktoriya Wörmann
Parental Ethnotheories, Social Practice and the Culture-Specific Development of Social Smiling in Infants

In this article we argue that current theories on socioemotional development during infancy need to be reconceptualized in order to account for cross-cultural variation in caregiver–infant interaction. In line with the cultural-historical internalization theory of emotional development (Holodynski & Friedlmeier, 200622. Holodynski , M. and Friedlmeier , W. 2006 . Emotions—Development and regulation , New York : Springer . View all references) and the ecocultural model of development (Keller & Kärtner, 201331. Keller , H. and Kärtner , J. 2013 . “ Development—The cultural solution of universal developmental tasks ” . In Advances in culture and psychology , Edited by: Gelfand , M. , Chiu , C.-Y. and Hong , Y.-Y. Vol. 3, pp. 63–116 , New York : Oxford University Press . View all references), we argue that socioemotional development can be understood only in the context of social practice and underlying ethnotheories that give significance to infants' emotional expressions. Thus, culture-specific interpretations of and expectations concerning infants' expressive cues lead to culture-specific interactional routines. These, in turn, lead to culture-specific usage of these expressions by the developing child. To develop our argument, we focus on a specific aspect of early socioemotional development, namely, the emergence of social smiling during infancy. Interactional dynamics in autonomous cultural milieus are based on specific ethnotheories, most prominently that positive emotional exchange during face-to-face interaction is one of the most desirable ways of interacting with infants. However, the dominant ethnotheories concerning emotional development and their associated behavioral routines vary systematically across cultural milieus and are markedly different in prototypically relational cultural milieus, in which they center on infants' contentment. This has implications for infants' emotional expressivity and, possibly, experience.

Lavinia Lopes Salomäo Magiolino and Ana Luiza Bustamante Smolka
How Do Emotions Signify? Social Relations and Psychological Functions in the Dramatic Constitution of Subjects

In this article, we discuss contributions from contemporary authors toward understanding a complex topic: human emotions. We comment on these authors' ideas and describe their ways of talking about emotions in relation to language, consciousness, meaning, and psychological instruments. After considering the distinct contributions of these authors, we inquire how Vygotsky's ideas deepen our understanding of human emotions and we argue the need for further exploration into the interrelations between emotions and signification. In his search to explain how social relations become internalized psychological functions, Vygotsky utilized the notions of sign and semiotic mediation to highlight the role of verbal language and meaning in making specific forms of communication and generalization possible, such as planning and self-regulation. Vygotsky claimed that human emotions develop, but he did not explicitly state how this happens. Assuming that emotions are also affected by sign production and (trans)formed by signification and language, we argue that the ways of conceiving of signification, sign, and sense production make a difference for how we explain historical-cultural development, psychicological functioning, personality formation, and the dramatic constitution of subjects. We offer two empirical excerpts to make particular aspects of signifying emotions visible.

MCA Vol. 20, No. 2

Deborah Fields & Noel Enyedy
Picking Up the Mantle of “Expert”: Assigned Roles, Assertion of Identity, and Peer Recognition Within a Programming Class

Changing an established role in a classroom is difficult. It involves constructing a new set of relations within a community. In this article we investigate how students with newly developed interest and experience in programming developed outside the classroom pick up and establish their roles as experts in programming within the classroom community. More specifically, we focus on how two 11-year-old software designers shifted their established roles in their classroom to gain status as expert programmers. We use an identity lens to understand how peer expertise was established in the context of a classroom community, adopting a multifaceted perspective of identity by focusing on an individual's narrativization of self, full, or peripheral participation among a group of people, and individuals' social recognition by others. Our findings point to the importance of both positive positioning by authority figures in the classroom and activities and roles that provide opportunities to establish intersubjectivity among peers in facilitating students' identities as experts in the classroom. Students' willingness to take up a new position in the established activity system also played a role. We consider implications of how making roles flexible within classroom stratification may provide opportunities for more students see themselves as experts.

Edd V. Taylor
The Mathematics of Tithing: A Study of Religious Giving and Mathematical Development

The purpose of this study was to examine children's mathematical understandings related to participation in tithing (giving 10% of earnings to the church). Observations of church services and events, as well as interviews with parents, children, and church leaders, were analyzed in an effort to capture the ways in which mathematical problem solving was related to the social context of tithing. I introduce the direct influence model to describe components of the practice itself and to identify supports and constraints that exist related to children's opportunities to engage in problem solving that varied by participation frequency and mathematical complexity.

David H. Eddy Spicer
“Soft Power” and the Negotiation of Legitimacy: Collective Meaning Making in a Teacher Team

This article interrogates the “soft power” of teacher teamwork by probing the ways in which authority conditions the appropriation of institutional motives through collective meaning making. The study analyzes the interaction of a teacher-leader and a science teacher team across two settings of professional development organized to promote curricular reform in their U.S. secondary school. The premise of the analysis draws on frameworks from cultural-historical theories, sociological perspectives, and social semiotics to view authority as the outcome of relations of power and control. The analysis reveals how the negotiation of legitimacy in interaction functions to open up or close down possibilities for acquiring motives appropriate to subject matter, teaching, and student learning in teachers' professional practice. The article makes a novel contribution to post-Vygotskian theoretical development in its presentation of authority as an attribute of the dialectical relationship of person and society in the production of institutionalized objects.

Vaike Fors, Åsa Bäckström & Sarah Pink
Multisensory Emplaced Learning: Resituating Situated Learning in a Moving World

This article outlines the implications of a theory of “sensory-emplaced learning” for understanding the interrelationships between the embodied and environmental in learning processes. Understanding learning as multisensory and contingent within everyday place-events, this framework analytically describes how people establish themselves as “situated learners.” This approach is demonstrated through three examples of how culturally constructed sensory categories offer routes to knowing about the multisensoriality of learning experiences. This approach, we suggest, offers new routes within practice-oriented educational theories for understanding how human bodies become situated and embedded in cultural, social, and material practices within constantly shifting place-events.

Lucas Bietti
Book Review: Memory and Culture in the Mind

Jay Lemke
Book Review: Seeing Ourselves in a Mirror Made for Children

Kimberly Fayette Regier
Book Review: Technology Transforming Higher Education

Andy Blunden
Book Review: The Socio-historical Project and the Philosophy of Education

MCA Vol. 20, No. 3

Guest Editors: Manfred Holodynski and Falk Seeger
Introduction: The Psychology of Emotions and Cultural Historical Activity Theory, Part 2

Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur and Robecca J. Collie
Locating Social and Emotional Learning in Schooled Environments: A Vygotskian Perspective on Learning as Unified

This article contributes to the emerging literature on social and emotional learning (SEL) from a Vygotskian perspective. A critical perspective on SEL in the context of U.S. schooling situates current interest in SEL programs. Vygotsky’s foundational work from the 1920s and 1930s is used to clarify learning as unified, and the concept of feeling is elaborated with literature relevant to learning in school environments and across the life course. Potential next steps for research are noted, in particular given the unity of speech, thinking, and feeling and the literature on the role of social speech and dialogue in learning and development.

Enrique Riquelme and Ignacio Montero
Improving Emotional Competence Through Mediated Reading: Short Term Effects of an Infantile Literature Program

In this article we aim to synthesize three theoretical strands relevant to the study and practice of early childhood education: Vygotsky’s ideas on development, the theoretical construct of emotional competence in Western psychological research, and the tradition of adult-mediated reading. We designed and implemented an early intervention program to encourage children’s emotional competence through adult-mediated reading of children’s literature. Ninety-two children between the ages of 6 and 8 participated in the study and were divided into three groups. To assess the impact of the program we implemented a pre – post quasi-experimental design with two quasi-control groups. We used measures of facial emotion recognition, empathy, and emotional lability to compare the groups, which we refer to as the mediated reading, traditional reading, and silent reading groups. Our results indicate that the mediated reading group scored the best in all of the evaluated dimensions; the mediated reading group was significantly different from the silent reading group in all dimensions, and significantly different from the traditional reading group in empathy and emotional lability. Our study concludes with an analysis of the outcomes and limitations of the implemented program for encouraging children’s development of emotional competence through formal educational processes

Marilyn Fleer and Marie Hammer
Emotions in Imaginative Situations: The Valued Place of Fairytales for Supporting Emotion Regulation

Fairytales represent a long-standing cultural practice used by early childhood teachers for supporting children’s social and emotional development. Yet contemporary practices see governments demanding a more academic curriculum. In drawing upon cultural-historical research, we theorise how fairytales help children to collectively develop emotion regulation, where the unity of emotions and cognition are foregrounded during the telling, retelling, and role-playing of fairytales, allowing for a dynamic interplay between interpsychological and intrapsychological functioning. We suggest that fairytales have a valuable place within early childhood programs because they introduce emotionally charged imaginative situations which we believe support children’s emotion regulation in group care situations

Birgitt Röttger-Rössler, Gabriel Scheidecker, Susanne Jung, and Manfred Holodynski
Socializing Emotions in Childhood: A Cross-Cultural Comparison Between the Bara in Madagascar and the Minangkabau in Indonesia

This article addresses the interdependency between child-rearing goals and values, emotionally arousing child-rearing practices, and the socialization and development of so-called socializing emotions. The latter are assigned a general psychological control function that enables children to adjust their behavior and emotions to the normative prescriptions of their culture. It is assumed that they are inculcated by means of emotionally arousing strategies such as frightening, corporal punishment, mocking, shaming but also praising, encouraging, or cherishing (Quinn), and that – in line with Vygotsky’s genetic law of development – they become internalized so effectively that they eventually exert their control function without prior disciplining.

Manfred Holodynski and Falk Seeger

Final Discussion: The Psychology of Emotions and Cultural Historical Activity Theory

Peter Smagorinsky
Book Review: Daiute’s Dynamics

Aria Razfar
Book Review: Beyond Feeling: Social Identification, Language Ideologies, and the Cultural Historical Foundations of Affect

Jessica VanCleave
Book Review: Troubling Suicide

Nancy Owens Renner
Book Review: Embracing the Physical in Museums

Andy Blunden
Book Review: Hegel’s Psychology

MCA Vol. 20, No. 4

Michael Cole, Artin Göncü, and Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur
Editorial: Moving On, Moving Forward

Laure Kloetzer
Development of Professional Concepts Through Work Analysis: Tech Diving Under the Loop of Activity Clinic

This article deals with conceptual development in an emerging activity, Technical diving. Tech divers are equipped with innovative, complex machines (the "rebreathers") to perform deep dives. The developmental methodology of cross self-confrontation was used to investigate the psychological dimensions of safety in diving with a group of volunteers (divers and instructors). One sequence of these data helps us analyze carefully the development of one concept in use in this milieu, the "confidence in the machine." Building on 30 years of French-speaking research in work analysis on conceptualization in the work activity, we highlight the conflicting nature of the professional concepts as well as their multifunctionality. In the sequence analyzed in this article, the conceptual development takes the form of the discursive discovery of this complexity, which may open new possibilities for action (here, through the transmission of renewed concepts to other practitioners). The argumentative logics of the dialogical framework requires from the participants that they go beyond well-established knowledge to be able to convince both the researcher and their colleague. However, the stabilization of the concept emerging in this debate is related to its double anchoring: anchoring both in the emotions of the participants and in the professional genre of the milieu. This article shows the potential of the developmental methodology of cross self-confrontations in conceptual development: combining careful observation of routine behaviors, comparisons of personal habits, and thorough discussion of convergences and discrepancies, the methodology encourages reflexive practice and conceptual renewal.

Courtney Hanny and Kevin O'Connor
A Dialogical Approach to Conceptualizing Resident Participation in Community Organizing

This article considers "concept formation in the wild" among community organizers aiming to initiate change through processes involving resident participation and dialogue with community members. While this approach is thought to be more effective than "top down" processes, there is little clear understanding of how conceptualizations of resident participation translate into authentic dialogue or substantive change. Our dialogical approach examines how a planning committee worked through differing interpretations of resident participation, as a concept and a way of being, and suggests that genuine dialogicality can point toward experimental forms of relating and increase possibilities for conceptualizing and organizing social futures.

Carol Tomlin, Paul C. Mocombe, and Cecile Wright
Postindustrial Capitalism, Social Class Language Games, and Black Underachievement in the United States and United Kingdom

Against Ogbu's oppositional culture hypothesis, this article offers a class or structural/relational framework to contextualizing and understanding why it is that Blacks have more limited skills in processing information from articles, books, tables, charts, and graphs compared with their White counterparts in the United States and United Kingdom. We synthesize Marxian conceptions of identity construction within capitalist relations of production with the Wittgensteinian notion of "language games" to offer a more appropriate relational framework within which scholars ought to understand this Black-White academic achievement gap in America and the United Kingdom.

Lynda D. Stone, Madeleine R. Kerrick, and Rita F. Stoeckl
Practical-Moral Knowledge: The Social Organization of Regulatory Processes in Academic Contexts

In this article, we developed a theoretical frame to analyze how practical-moral knowledge structures the regulatory processes of learning to control and direct behavior during literacy lessons in two elementary classrooms. We describe how regulatory behaviors were congruent with the local social and moral order, constituents of practical-moral knowledge. Variance in the practical-moral knowledge of each classroom revealed two different patterns of regulation: (a) a toggle or shift from other-regulation to self-regulation, with an emphasis on other-regulation and (b) a dynamic pattern of fluid shifts between other-regulation, coregulation, and self-regulation, with an emphasis on coregulation. We argue that regulatory processes do not originate within the individual but rather in and through learning practices.

Editorial Board EOV

MCA Vol. 21, No. 1

Michael Cole, Artin Göncü, and Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur
Editorial: Structuring Social Futures: The Possibilities, the Challenges

Wolff-Michael Roth
Reading Activity, Consciousness, Personality Dialectically: Cultural-Historical Activity Theory and the Centrality of Society

Whereas cultural-historical activity theory has proven to be fruitful, providing a framework to those scholars interested in understanding human knowing and learning from a more holistic perspective, essential aspects of the original theory either have not been taken up or have been transformed in the take up. In part, the problems arise from the difficulties of translating Leont'ev-as the work of Marx on which the theory is built-into English, where several originally distinct pairs of (Russian, German) categories and concepts are conflated into one (English). The purpose of this article is to bring into the foreground some of the fundamental aspects of cultural-historical activity theory that have disappeared during translation and uptake into Anglo-Saxon scholarship.

Cristina Zucchermaglio and Francesca Alby
"It Seems That Things Take Care of Themselves": Routines in Busy Family Lives

In this study we analyze how 15 working mothers talk about the ways in which routines contribute to sustaining the accomplishment of their domestic work. In particular, we analyze the routines' function of coordinating multiple lines of activity, their property of anticipating the unexpected and incorporating alternative responses, and their character of being a local resource for practical thinking and action. We then discuss the role that moral personal positioning and ideologies of parenthood, time management, and efficiency might have in accounting for the variety and diversification of routines among families.

Donna Kotsopoulos
The Case of Mitchell's Cube: Interactive and Reflexive Positioning During Collaborative Learning in Mathematics

Using positioning theory as a guiding framework, this qualitative research examined the experiences of students who appeared to be marginalized from collaborative learning in mathematics in a middle school setting. Positioning theory describes the discursive process whereby people are located in conversations as observably and subjectively coherent participants in jointly produced story lines. Interactive positioning describes when one or more persons position another individual. Reflexive positioning describes the positioning of oneself. In this research, I examined instances of (mis)alignment between interactive and reflexive positioning during collaborative learning. Factors potentially contributing to (mis)alignment are considered as well as implications for students, learning, and instruction.

Federico R. Waitoller
Becoming a Culturally Responsive Special Educator Amidst School/University Partnerships: Teaching and Learning in Boundary-Zone Activity

This study presents an activity theory analysis of how special educators learn about culturally responsive practices amidst school-university partnerships. Particular attention was paid to how culturally responsive pedagogy was privileged and appropriated by an in-service and a pre-service teacher in a boundary-zone activity. Findings demonstrate how culturally responsive pedagogy was appropriated in light of previous pedagogical artifacts that preexisted in the activity system of the classroom and as a result it became a covert form of instructionism

Jean Schmittau
Book Review: The Challenge of Developmental Instruction

Moises Esteban-Guitart
Book Review: Macro Culture in Mind: Linking Culture, Policy, and Psychological Functioning

Ana Marjanovic-Shane
Book Review: Developing Destinies, Weaving Whispers Into the Fabric of Life

Brian Greer and Swapna Mukhopadhyay
Book Review: A Sociocultural Approach to Mathematics Education

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