Re: [xmca] perhaps. . . sensei

From: Paul Dillon (
Date: Wed Dec 20 2006 - 17:03:52 PST

Hi Eric,
  I've been reading this thread with some interest and I shared Deborah's concern about "scientific concepts" as well as some other terms you used to define the zoped.
  Drawing from a domain where there is absolutely no question of science, in fact it is the anti-science, Zen Buddhism, I think there is a very useful term that could help shed some light on how one might develop an adequate "concept" (Zen militates against these) of what is a zoped. That term is "sensei", which basically means: someone who is farther down the road than someone else, someone that another can follow down the road.
  As should be obvious the concept of "down the road" implies that there is a road and in zen it's almost like Machado's verse: "traveller, there is no road, only markers in the sea, traveller there is no road, one makes the road in travelling". But that is zen and returning to something of a Kantian "island in the sea of the unknown", I think that the idea of a path and people on a path, a path that is always developing into the unknown, might be useful.
  If we think of the idea of boundaries, very much an element of Engestrom's work, or of situation-limits, the concept Freire adopted from Karl Jaspers, we have implicit that notion. Mike mentioned how he and (I believe) Scribner discussed the zoped as a "conversation with a future". I think that's a great description, if not a definition in the strict sense. Now to have a conversation, one needs to be able to talk, and learning to talk is basically at the heart of Vygotsky's work. So one talks, the talk is related to culturally practical domains of activity. Someone farther down the road is someone who has gotten closer to the boundaries where the roads into the unknowns of that specific activity disappear. Someone can show to some people how to get to the point that they have gotten to. The person farther down the road basically creates the zoped by taking care to try to make the road visible, followable. Clearly there are a lot of people farther down the road
 toward the boundaries where the roads disappear who cannot do this but that's another question: the question of the teacher, something St. Augustine wrote about 1600 years ago and of whom bob dylan had a dream. Martin Heidegger said that the best teacher is the one who knows best how to learn.
  For a baby everything is basically unknown and a baby grows up among people who have grown up among people (extending into distant and forgotten pasts) who have worked out various ways of dealing with moving through different levels of the unknown. These are roads, there are lots of roads-lots of ways to move toward specific locations or toward the boundaries where the roads disappear, but I think the key to activity theory is that all of them are related to human practices dealing with specific needs that humans experience as incarnated and mortal beings (Marx's Theses on Feuerbach). I don't think a zoped can be defined abstractly except in an abstract way but I don't find it difficult to identify zopeds within specific domains of human practice. I think your example was great, the lecturer knew how to adjust to the people for whom he was farther down the road than they, in fact, he was on a road that they couldn't previously see as being relevant to their specific
 practical needs and he made it relevant to those needs as a part of creating the zoped.
  Sensei, nothing more nor less than someone farther down the road, what's the practice and what needs does it relate to? Looking for some absolute concept of zoped seems pointless, trying to define it so that one could identify it in any context on the basis of a Carnapian logical matrix, impossible. The key I think is to look at the practice, identify its road and see how far people are along that road and how they make that road relevant to someone who might not even know the road is there. Expanding is moving beyond the known roads into what was previously unknown.
  Paul Dillon wrote:
Hello Deb:

Thank you for your response to my question.

When I use "scientific concept" I am using Vygotsky's term. Kozulin
describes the idea well in his intro to "Thought and Language" Pg xxxiii,
"Scientific concepts originate in the highly structured and specialized
activity of classroom instruction and impose on a child a logically defined
concept. . ." I believe that there can be a zoped whenever any
culturally-historically logically constructed concept is the focus of a
culturally based activity that has an attainable goal as the outcome. Play
can be a culturally based activity with an attainable goal.


downing-wilson" To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"

   .com> Subject: Re: [xmca] perhaps. . .
Sent by:
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12/20/2006 12:44
Please respond
to "eXtended
Mind, Culture,

Okay, now I'm really confused. How do we define "scientific concepts"?
there be no zoped when artistic concepts, painting for example, are in


On 12/20/06, wrote:
> . . .this may be a better definition of a zoped:
> a culturally based activity that provides an opportunity for individuals
> to
> apply scientific concepts to everyday experiences via the assistance of
> somebody more experienced with the scientific concepts related to the
> goals
> of the culturally based activity.
> Unfortunately I implied in the prior post there was assistance of someone
> with experience. I would also like to emphasize that the question posed
> by
> the teacher in the room would be a set up to allow the students to ask
> questions of the speaker, fulfilling the imitation requirement that
> Vygotsky emphasizes in his chapter, "The development of scientific
> concepts
> in childhood" of his "Thought and Language" tome. Page 188 of the 1999
> Kozulin translated edition, "In the child's development. . .imitation and
> instruction play a major role. . .what the child can do in cooperation
> today he can do alone tomorrow." I believe the example I provided
> yesterday would be what Vygotsky is referring to as cooperation.
> eric
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

Deborah Downing-Wilson
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