Re: [xmca] Listen, Foreigner/ Development as semiotic-material ordering

From: Michalis Kontopodis <michalis.kontopodis who-is-at>
Date: Thu Apr 17 2008 - 12:34:38 PDT

By accident a former version of my email has been sent (see bellow)
with the sentence 'in order not to enable some dialogue'-- I hope that
it is clear that 'not' should be deleted,

the right version has also been sent (see my second email of yesterday),

I apologise for it,

Michalis Kontopodis

research associate
humboldt university berlin
tel.: +49 (0) 30 2093 3716
fax.: +49 (0) 30 2093 3739

On Apr 16, 2008, at 12:05 PM, Michalis Kontopodis wrote:

> Dear all,
> it has been a nice surprise for me when Mike considered my paper as
> the best present for his birthday last Sunday and I will be glad to
> receive more feedback from the XMCA community in regard to the ideas
> of 'development towards the unknown' and 'development as semiotic-
> material orderING'.
> The context of these ideas (and here begins my response to David) is
> not constructivism or post-modernism--this would be an unfair
> simplification--but rather process philosophy and pragmatism. In
> this sense, I would agree with David that reality is not semantic or
> syntactic but pragmatic. But...,
> Now I would turn to his first comment about 'order'. Monotheist
> religions and ancient greek philosophies (like this of Plato) but
> also power regimes (such as the Roman Empire) had privileged the
> idea of 'order' more than the idea of 'orderING'--and this far
> before modernity.
> However first in modernity this idea has gained a temporal dimension
> that of linear time or of the arrow of time that leads more and more
> balance: “Modernist sciences tended to share a few general patterns:
> they developed theories that conceptualised their objects in terms
> of closed system dynamics, often with equilibrium principles…”. This
> “modernist style in science was consistent with the modernist
> culture of the surrounding societies” (Hess, 1997, pp. 131-2). Hess,
> David J. 1997. Science Studies: An Advanced Introduction. New York:
> New York University Press.
> For sure some of these elements are also found in Historical
> Materialism. There are however scholars like Foucault or -yes!-
> Vygotsky who have been influenced by Histor. Materialism, and do not
> however fully accept this modern idea of order (think of the concept
> of drama or of crisis by Vygotsky).
> On the second extract from my text (see bellow, Email of David):
> I think that this is because of me, but my position here is quite
> misunderstood: I would not claim that there are multiple realities
> that are possible and unconnected, but exactly the opposite, that
> when different realities become connected or opposed or even taken
> apart (and this is a PROCESS in the sense of process philosophy, or
> in the sense of 'crisis' by Vygotsky), then new realities or
> 'orderings' are generated, i.e. new mediated relations between
> subjectivities and objectivities. Mediation (and here is the
> difference to postmodernism) creates realities, does not only
> represent them.
> David, I am thankful for your questions and would like to stop
> here-- in order not to enable some dialogue. Please tell me if more
> clarification is needed.
> One more remark in regard to my article:
> Referring only to Cole et. al's textbook at the beginning is indeed
> misleading, and non-representative of the whole work of Mike. There
> has already been a discussion about this, so I would like to mention
> here the following methodological articles of Mike with Engeström,
> that develop a very different argumentation as this presented in the
> textbook: (1993) 'A cultural-historical approach to distributed
> cognition' in G. Salomon (Ed.) 'Distributed Cognitions' or 'Auf der
> Suche nach einer Methodologie: eine kultur-historische Annäherung an
> Individualität (also with Engeström, Dialektik, 1991). Or: Cole: Can
> Cultural Psychology Help Us Think About Diversity? Mind, Culture,
> and Activity, Volume 5, Issue 4, 1998, Pages 291 – 304.
> Michalis Kontopodis
> research associate
> humboldt university berlin
> tel.: +49 (0) 30 2093 3716
> fax.: +49 (0) 30 2093 3739
> On Apr 16, 2008, at 7:18 AM, David Kellogg wrote:
>> I just read Michalis' article, and I have TWO rather sophomoric
>> questions:
>> a) "The practice of viewing the world as a single order which
>> exists prior to and independently of science is deeply (?) rooted
>> in modernity, where also (sic) developmental psychology
>> originated." (p. 2) Michalis then goes on to talk about how this
>> idea of a universal order is really a cover for the white European
>> adult male or a god made in his image. Doesn't this really suggest
>> that the idea of order existing prior to and independently of human
>> knowing is indeed deeply rooted, but in history rather than
>> modernity (and of course in historical materialism as well)?
>> b) "In relational terms, one could claim that multiple realities
>> are possible: different semiotic material practices would not only
>> concern the child's or student's development but would even create
>> new or different relations between subjectivities and
>> objectivities." (p. 17) Doesn't this suggest a spurious "equality"
>> and also unconnectedness between different discursive constructions
>> of reality? (In the study Michalis does, it is quite clear that he
>> considers the interview data to be more realistic than the "graph"
>> data.)
>> And now two practical problems, both of which I think suggest that
>> one reality rules, and that is actually more than enough for most
>> people.
>> a) On Thursday we had a lecturer from Leeds University, Melinda
>> Whong, on one of Jackendoff's latest attempts to provide parallel
>> architecture for phonology, syntax and semantics. He concluded that
>> WORD MEANING was relational, and that it in fact was the
>> relationship between these three architectures; it has no
>> independent existence.
>> During the discussion, I asked how Jackendoff's very non-functional
>> (i.e. structuralist) account could explain what happens to the
>> article ("a"/"the") in the following three sentences, from an
>> elementary school teacher presenting a dialogue about a Korean girl
>> and a foreign tourist.
>> i) T (holding up a picture): This is a foreigner.
>> ii) T (dividing the class into halves): Now, over here, you are the
>> foreigner.
>> iii) T (teaching the lines of the dialogue): Listen, Foreigner!
>> "Excuse me!" Repeat, Foreigner!
>> Professor Whong tried bravely, discussing how definiteness
>> (semantics) interfaced with determiner phrase structure (syntax)
>> and cliticization (phonology). But she couldn't account for the
>> disappearance of the article in example iii).
>> Thinking it over, it seems to me that the missing element is really
>> TIME. Example i) simply says that the foreigner is a NEW foreigner.
>> Example ii) says that it is that same OLD foreigner (which is why
>> "the" is connected to words like "this" and "that" and "there" and
>> "then" and "these" and "those") and not some new one (which would
>> be "another" foreigner). It's like tense or aspect rather than like
>> definiteness or determinacy, only it's attached to NOUNS instead of
>> So what happens in example iii)? Easy! It's an imperative, and it's
>> addressed directly to the imaginary persona. When you address
>> someone, you use a NAME, not a noun. That explains why it's
>> capitalized, and why "Mr. Foreigner" would work just as well (or
>> better, because "Listen, Foreigner" is socioculturally RUDE) and
>> why the article disappears. The underlying reality is not
>> "phonological" OR "syntactic" OR even semantic, but pragmatic;
>> language is the self-consciousness of culture rather than oracle of
>> structure.
>> b) There's a new book out edited by Sinfroni Makoni and Alistair
>> Pennycook that argues that language death is really an illusion,
>> because there really isn't any such thing as a language, there are
>> only dialects and idiolects, and "language" is merely an
>> abstraction from these deeply rooted in modernity and in much need
>> of "disinvention". A language is simply a dialect with a nation, a
>> bourgeois government, and a standing army. Ways of speaking are
>> metastable; they change and remain by changing, and therefore are
>> neither created nor destroyed.
>> The problem with this book is that most language death does not
>> happen because people voluntary give up a language and pick up
>> another. Most language death, historically, takes place through
>> genocide. To really deny language death it is not enough to deny
>> the homogeneity of national languages and affirm the polyglossia of
>> ordinary people. To really deny language death, you have to
>> "disinvent" holocausts.
>> David Kellogg
>> Seoul National University of Education
>> Makoni, S and Pennycook A (2007) Disinventing Language. Clevedon:
>> Multilingual Matters.
>> ---------------------------------
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