Mind, Culture, and Activity: An International Journal

Volume 2, Number 3, Summer 1995


Contents:

Introduction

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

Creativity as Mediated Action: A Comparison of Improvisational Performance and Product Creativity
R. Keith Sawyer

Voice as Communicative Action
Ritva Engestrom

Book Review:
Bertram Bruce: Computers and the Collaborative Experience of Learning, by Charles Crook
Raija Leena Punamaki: The Psychological Effects of War and Violence on Children, edited by Lewis A. Leavit & Nathan A. Fox
Honorine Nocon: Context and Culture in Language Teaching , by Claire Kramsch

Introduction

Editors

David Bakhurst opens this issue of MCA by addressing the difficult question of the epistemological foundations of cultural-mediational theories of mind. It has been clear for some time that one of the characteristics shared by a broad range of socio-cultural-historical approaches to human nature is their rejection of Cartesianism. In its place they substitute some version of the idea that human mind is distributed beyond the skin.

After offering strategically different readings of the work of Jerome Bruner, who is taken as a good representative of claims about the cultural constitution of mind, Bakhurst concludes that at present there is no fully adequate cultural-psychological epistemology. Using Evald Ilyenkov's ideas about the nature of artifacts and artifact mediation, he concludes, is one promising step toward"find[ing] a philosophically satisfying account of our nature as social beings which does not make psychology impossible."

Artifact mediation also plays a central role in Keith Sawyer's analysis of improvisation as a form of mediated interaction. Sawyer's distinction between improvisational and product-creating forms of activity brings to the fore the importance of the role of time extent in the morphology of mediated action. His contrast of the properties of synchronic and diachronic dimensions of interaction gives insight into the relations among the material and ideal aspects of artifact mediation that are at the heart of Bakhurst's proposals for elaborating a cultural- historical epistemology.

Ritva Engestrom takes up the difficult task of bridging activity theory and analysis of institutional conversations. Drawing on Bakhtin's ideas, she presents a model for analyzing utterances and voices as object-oriented actions mediated by words. The voices that appear in doctor-patient consultations are shown to be dependent on the historically evolving objects of medical work. Discoordinations in conversation may be read as occasions for innovation and emergence of potentially new voices.

Each of the three book reviews discusses an additional arena of human experience that is an important site for research and practice. Chip Bruce situates his review of Charles Crook's book on computers in education in the larger context of contemporary work in technology studies. His review is also of interest in light of Bakhurst's discussion of artifacts as the starting point of cultural-historical theorizing. Raija Leena Punamaki summarizes an important book on the impact of war and violence on children's development—a grim reminder of an increasingly necessary part of psychologists' everyday practices in several parts of the world. Honorine Nocon introduces us to a form of foreign language pedagogy that takes the creation of hybrid cultural practices as an important means of education. The ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin, prominent in Ritva Engestrom's article, reappear in this new setting.

We are pleased with the resonances among these different articles as well as the international and disciplinary diversity of the authors.

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

David Bakhurst

Queen's University

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 sets out 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 in favour of culturalism. Nevertheless, Ilyenkov's work is a powerful source of metaphors, 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.

Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to:
David Bakhurst, Department of Philosophy, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, K7L 3N6

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Creativity as Mediated Action: A Comparison of Improvisational Performance and Product Creativity

R. Keith Sawyer

University of California, Santa Cruz

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 paralleland simultaneous, communication between performers is mediated by musical or verbal symbolic structures, and is thus synchronic; 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.

Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to
R. Keith Sawyer, University of California, Santa Cruz, Department of Psychology, Santa Cruz, CA 95064

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Voice as Communicative Action

Ritva Engestrom

University of Helsiniki

In microsociological studies of talk as social action, the active subject is 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.

Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to:
Ritva Engestrom, Marjatantie 22A, 00610, Helsinki, Finland

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BOOK REVIEWS

Bertram Bruce:

Computers and the Collaborative Experience of Learning
by Charles Crook

Raija Leena Punamaki:

The Psychological Effects of War and Violence on Children
edited by Lewis A. Leavit & Nathan A. Fox

Honorine Nocon:

Context and Culture in Language Teaching
by Claire Kramsch

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