Re: [xmca] mediational theories of mind

From: Tony Whitson <twhitson who-is-at UDel.Edu>
Date: Mon Sep 03 2007 - 19:51:14 PDT

This is a long post. There's a formatted (easier to read) version, which
includes more context and a bibliography of articles on "genre" referred
to below, at

So, here it is, shortened and less formatted:

XMCA list members have volunteered a panoply of suggestions in response to
Mike's request. I want to add "genres" to the list. Obviously Mike has a
lot of sorting, ordering, and selecting to do, lest his undergrads get
buried in the bewildering array of mediations and approaches to mediation.
But the addition of "genre" complicates matters not only by piling on, but
also I think by perhaps raising questions about the diverse matters
already on the pile.

First, as to genre. By this, I mean the idea of genre derived from Bakhtin
and developed in the North American genre school discussed by Spinuzzi in

         * Spinuzzi, Clay. Tracing Genres through Organizations: A
Sociocultural Approach to Information Design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press,
         * --. "Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication:
Cognition/Culture/Power (Book)." Mind, Culture, and Activity 4, no. 3
(1997): 210-13.

There are some other articles (including from MCA) dealing with genre
(there's also an article dealing with genre in MCA by Ritva Engestrom from
before the online archives, which I haven't seen). (see link above)

In his book (one of three by MIT Press that I have reviewed for MCA [too
long review MS submitted last month]), Spinuzzi proposes a methodology of
"genre tracing," in which genres, operating within "genre ecologies," are
seen to operate across the levels of operations, actions, and activities
within activity systems.

Do "genres" fit in with the list alongside "film, music, tv, rituals"?
Genre would seem to fit with "language," but it would seem that speech,
rather than language, would belong with film, music, tv, and rituals.
Speech (like TV) would seem to be a medium of communication, whereas
language (like genre) would seem to be like form in which mediation is
ordered. Of course, film, music, tv, and rituals can also be analyzed as
matters of ordering form (i.e., as genres); but once chronotopes,
dialogism, and dramatism are thrown into the mix (as well as the diverse
and valuable suggestions from several other members of the list), it seems
to me that we are surveying different sorts of things.

I think Mike's reference to Shotter is suggestive: Tools, signs, and
artifacts are often referred to as things that people use, and people
make, and people make for use -- including their use in mediating
interaction. Shotter's point is that the Wittgensteinian rules, language
games, and forms of life, etc. are not artifacts (pace Clark) in the sense
that people construct or make them for their use in interaction. Rather,
it is in our participation in the forms of interaction (the forms that
mediate our interaction) that we ourselves come to form, as human beings.
As Peirce wrote, instead of saying that "thought is in us," we should
rather say that "we are in thought."

This makes a big difference for mediational theories of mind. An affinity
with CHAT can be seen in the idea that Activity Systems come to form
through emergence from goal-oriented action within the social function of
the activity system -- i.e., it is not the case as a rule that the goal of
action is construction of the activity system (which would be more in line
with Clark's theory).

I don't think Shotter would say that people never "deliberately contrive"
their coordinations (at any rate I wouldn't say that, or that people never
"deliberately contrive" the design of an activity system) -- just that
this is not the normal case.

A quick way to think about these things: We can think of speech or film as
a medium that we can use; and we can think of genres, practices,
activities as things that we participate in. Our interaction (and our
"minding") is mediated by things we use, as well as the forms of practice,
interaction, etc. in which we participate. It seems there is a difference.
We can "use" a genre, but we act intelligibly within genres whether we are
"using" them deliberately or not; and even if we are still "using" a genre
even if unconsciously, a genre is not, in general, something that was
consciously devised for use in the same way as, say, a telephone.

Lurking beneath all this is the difference between info*mation, in the
cybernetic sense, and in*formation, in the older sense of "information" as
the noun form of a verb, referrring to the action in which someone or
something (someone's character, consciousness, a concept, etc.) is formed
in part by being in-formed by something or somebody else.

On Mon, 3 Sep 2007, Mike Cole wrote:

> A few quiet moments before the next tumult, Tony. I'll try to articulate my
> thoughts re Shotter's review
> of Clark.
> First, I am STILL glad, as Shotter also celebrates, that Clark is examining
> joint action as the locus of language acquisition/use. (I should add here
> that, havng reluctantly finished David Copperfield, I am reading Putnam's
> Pragmaticism, and am on the chapter about Wittgenstein as pragmaticist, a
> felicitous coincidence, although I prefer the luxury of Dickens, who has
> somehow captivated me in "late middle age.").
> My thought when reading the first couple of chapters of Clark and now
> reading Shotter's review, is that the term, ACTIVITY is missing. It is
> missing
> both from Clark and Shotter. I like joint mediated ACTIVITY as a unit of
> analysis for lots of reasons and from this discussion I come away kind of
> reinforced in that proclivity. It relates to terms like "spontaneous" and
> that "spontaneous reactions between us are "the prototype of a way of
> thinking and not the result of thought." After writing this, John uses the
> term activity(top p. 3).
> I am pretty certain we have to stick with the retrospective construction of
> meaning (contra herb c/descartes etc) but we have to have a place to be when
> retro-specting" and that heterochrony is afforded by activity.
> So my next step would be, given the time (I hear the car in the driveway)
> would be to look for the conditions that make the use of the term,.
> spontaneous, reasonable.
> quickly
> mike
> On 9/3/07, Tony Whitson <> wrote:
>> Mike,
>> Thank you for referring us to Shotter's review. It is remarkable in
>> several respects, not least the clarity of thought and expression.
>> (htm version of the review is at
>> )
>> While I can see how Clark would have appeared interesting in terms of
>> "unit of analysis," it seems that viewing Shotter as differing with him on
>> THAT would be to suggest that the difference is methodological, when it
>> seems to me there's a more profound ontological difference between them.
>> Shotter is challenging the idea that this "unit of analysis" is even real,
>> not just its value for methodology.
>> From a CHAT perspective, the relationship between Shotter's "spontaneous
>> interaction" and Wittgensteinian "rules" bears analysis in relation to
>> that between "operations" and aspects of "actions" and/or "activities."
>> The idea of "spontaneity" needs interrogation, it seems to me.
>> What do you think?
>> On Sun, 2 Sep 2007, Mike Cole wrote:
>>> I prefer to think of it as early in the month, Jay.
>>> Lots of good sugggestions there, some of which I am already considering
>> or
>>> have decided upon.(olson, where is your review?)
>>> My mind this morning is going to burke and dramatism, ritual, etc.
>>> On a slightly different topic I attach John Shotter's interesting review
>> of
>>> herb clark on joint, mediated, activity, as the unity of analaysis in
>> the
>>> study
>>> of language/communication. The review lays out a really principled
>>> difference in the directions used for adopting this unit of analysis.
>>> I am undecided between raw bakhtin and a mixture of short originals and
>>> explications by clark and holquist on chronotopes and dialogism.
>>> Remember, I am teaching in a comm dept, not an ed department: both
>> easier
>>> and harder.
>>> mike
>>> On 9/1/07, Jay Lemke <> wrote:
>>>> Mike,
>>>> Maybe getting a bit late in the week for these suggestions, but I
>>>> certainly find computer games, and much of the related new-media
>> culture to
>>>> have interesting implications for how different media afford us
>> different
>>>> "minds".
>>>> Very interesting to me is the work of Henry Jenkins, see essays in his
>> (1)
>>>> Convergence Culture, and (2) Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers. Also useful of
>>>> course is Jim Gee's _What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning &
>>>> Literacy_. There are interesting pieces by Constance Steinkuehler (now
>>>> faculty at Wisconsin, former student of Gee's) on games and learning,
>> and by
>>>> Mimi (Mizuko) Ito (Annenberg School, USC) on mobile phone culture in
>> the US
>>>> and Japan. These are all more 'communication & society' oriented than
>>>> education oriented, though of course "learning" is a pivot term twixt
>> the
>>>> two.
>>>> Ricki Goldman (NYU, ex MIT Media Lab) has been thinking and writing
>> about
>>>> how video, particularly the making of amateur video, is a
>> tool-for-thought.
>>>> She has an essay on this, and I have something related, in the new
>> _Handbook
>>>> of Video Research in the Learning Sciences_, edited by Goldman, Roy
>> Pea, et
>>>> al., just published.
>>>> The new McLuhan, in some respects, is Lev Manovich, and he does have
>>>> interesting things to say along these lines about new media in _The
>> Language
>>>> of New Media_. I think he even pays homage to Marshall.
>>>> There are some useful citations at:
>>>> and
>> <>
>>>> though these do not have the more complete bibliographies which are on
>>>> intranet sites on our campus. If you like, I can send or post them.
>>>> JAY.
>>>> PS. your idea of using Turkle and Wisdom of Crowds is creative, though
>> the
>>>> latter disappointed a bit. And then there's always David Olson's _The
>> World
>>>> on Paper_ (and my review of it!), if you want to really get your
>> students
>>>> embroiled in the debates about writing as tool-for-thought!
>>>> BTW, Michael Halliday has written an extremely sophisticated essay
>>>> critiquing the narrowness of traditional cognitive science views of
>> mind,
>>>> based on his general theory of meaning, which largely says that mind
>> _is_
>>>> the process of construing/constructing meaning with symbolic resources,
>>>> particularly those of language and its implicit categories/relations.
>> The
>>>> critique mainly says that cogsci does not understand the linguistic
>> basis of
>>>> our culture's own folk theories of mind well enough to achieve its aim
>> of
>>>> getting beyond them to something more "scientific". It can also be read
>> as a
>>>> meta-theory of language as a tool-for-thought, and as an analysis of
>> how
>>>> language is used differently to think 'scientifically' vs. in other
>> ways. I
>>>> think it is beyond most grad students, however, and it requires a
>> reasonable
>>>> background in the concepts of functional semantics and grammar. It's
>>>> published as chapter 14 in _Construing Experience through Meaning_,
>> Halliday
>>>> & Matthiessen, 2000.
>>>> At 06:12 PM 8/29/2007, you wrote:
>>>> Dear Xmca-ites---
>>>> Toward the end of the month I will begin teaching a grad course on
>>>> mediational theories of mind.
>>>> I would love suggestions for interesting readings.
>>>> We will be looking in a sort of "mcLuhanesque" way at the affordances
>> of
>>>> different kinds of mediators
>>>> in human action/activity/mind.
>>>> So, language and thought
>>>> writing
>>>> film
>>>> music
>>>> tv
>>>> rituals
>>>> games
>>>> .........
>>>> Starting with early 20th century writers of general familiarity to
>> members
>>>> of this list, I have been thinking about including
>>>> such works as Cszikentmihalyi, "meaning of things," Turkle's recent
>>>> "evocative objects," and perhaps something on mediated
>>>> behavior in large groups such as "the wisdom of crowds."
>>>> Any and all suggestions warmly welcomed. So much going on its hard to
>> even
>>>> think about how to begin to think about this
>>>> upcoming fall!!
>>>> mike
>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>> Jay Lemke
>>>> Professor
>>>> University of Michigan
>>>> School of Education
>>>> 610 East University
>>>> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>>>> Tel. 734-763-9276
>>>> Email.
>>>> Website.
>>>> <>
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> xmca mailing list
>> Tony Whitson
>> UD School of Education
>> NEWARK DE 19716
>> _______________________________
>> "those who fail to reread
>> are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
>> -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)

Tony Whitson
UD School of Education

"those who fail to reread
  are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
                   -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
xmca mailing list
Received on Mon Sep 3 20:00 PDT 2007

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