MCA Abstracts 7(3)

From: Carnegie Corporation (
Date: Wed May 31 2000 - 11:25:52 PDT

MCA Vol. 7, No. 3

Making Music with Cases: Symposium on the Work of Howard S. Becker

Susan Leigh Star, Editor
Department of Communication
University of California, San Diego

This MCA symposium continues our tradition of multidisciplinary
conversations about short contributions from senior scholars. Their
purpose is to broaden our shared base of reference as well as to familiarize
readers with the work of these scholars.

Howard Becker is a sociologist of work and practice, who in a long and
fruitful career has written about the work of schoolteachers, jazz musicians,
medical students, undergraduates, artists and actors, among other groups.
He has also written extensively about social science methodology. A
student of Chicago School sociologist Everett Hughes, he shares the
Chicago School-Pragmatist emphasis on egalitarian analyses, empirical
study, and understanding the ³definition of the situation² as developed by
members of a social group. The titles of his books and articles often indicate
aspects of these commitments. "Doing Things Together" (a selection of
collected papers, 1986) talks about a range of activities from map-making
to jazz playing. "Boys in White" (1961) tells about the socialization and
tribulations of medical students. One of his best-known works, "Outsiders:
Studies in the Sociology of Deviance" (1963) was pivotal in establishing
social theories of deviance that refused to label any community of practice
as ³sick² or ³dysfunctional.² Everyone is an outsider somewhere.

The symposium revolves around a short essay on the nature of
improvisation in jazz, especially drawing on Beckerıs own experience as a
jazz musician in Saturday night pickup bands in Chicago in the 1940s and
50s. Here, as in much of his work, Becker investigates the tensions and
affinities between rules and freedom, between membership and outsider
status, between credibility and rank. The comments are by Debra Cash (an
anthropologist and dance critic), Keith Sawyer (a psychologist studying
creativity and improvisation), and Karen Ruhelder (a computer scientist and
serious amateur choral conductor) and Fred Stolzfus (a teacher of choral
conducting in a prestigious university music department). The conversation
comes to replicate aspects of the discussion about improvisation ­ including
³yes, and² and ³no, but² interchanges. The respondents use Beckerıs jazz
improvisation case to extend the range of examples to other cases,
improvisational theater and dance, conducting, and everyday conversation.

Mathematical Problems and Goals in Childrenıs Play of an Educational

Steven R. Guberman
University of Colorado at Boulder

Geoffrey B. Saxe
University of California at Berkeley

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 paper, we describe emergent ³divisions of labor² that
are common in childrenıs collective problem solving. Parallel to Leontievıs
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.

Imagination and Culture

What is it Like Being in the Cyberspace?

Giuseppe Mantovani and Anna Spagnolli

Department of General Psychology
University of Padova - Italy

New information technologies are constructing living and working
environments which people often find disorienting. This can be seen as a
general effect of the introduction of new artifacts which disrupt pre-existing
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 relationships 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 socio-cultural network which maintains "real"
communities and reconfiguring in imaginative ways the existing socio-
cultural networks.

Self and Other in Bakhtinıs Early Philosophical Essays:

Prelude to a Theory of Prose Consciousness

Deborah Hicks

University of Cincinnati

The self is not a thing, a substrate, but the protagonist of a lifeıs tale. The
conception of selves who can be individuated prior to their moral ends is
incoherent. We could not know if such a being was a human self, an
angel, or the Holy Spirit. [Seyla Benhabib, Situating the Self, p. 162]
"We think we are tracing the nature of the thing, but we are only tracing the
frame through which we view it." So writes Ludwig Wittgenstein in
"Philosophical Investigations," about processes of social scientific inquiry.
We interpretively read social events through various disciplinary lenses;
this is no less true of our readings of theorists. My purpose in this
reflective essay is to read the work of Mikhail Bakhtin through an
interpretive lens that differs somewhat from the norm within contemporary
sociocultural/historical theories of psychology and education. My essay
hinges on the argument that, among sociocultural theorists, Bakhtin's work
has tended to be aligned with frameworks that focus more on social
systems of activity and discourse. Though Bakhtin's writings do address
shared genres of discourse and social action, his work also addresses
another aspect of living and learning. As they draw on mediated systems of
social action and discourse, individuals construct histories that are ethically
particular and attuned to moral ends. Dialogue, as depicted by Bakhtin,
entails a form of answerability that is morally responsive to unique others
and particular relationships. Considered outside of such moral ends, social
actions and discourses lose a crucial part of their concreteness -- their
embeddedness in relationships constituted by thoughts, feelings, and
histories between unique individuals. The complex particulars of morally-
imbued relationships have been oddly missing from theoretical discourses
about learning in social context. Considered in their breadth, Bakhtin's
writings offer a critical alternative: A theory of discourse, selfhood, and
social action that draws heavily from moral philosophy and literature, and
that places high theoretical value on ethical particularity. His early
philosophical essays argue that discourse and action outside of morally
imbued relationships might be true of angels and spirits, but not of persons
engaged in historical moments of living.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jun 01 2000 - 01:01:40 PDT