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[xmca] Re: Vygotsky and Saussure and Whorf and language, and culture

Yes Mike, that last post was still a bit long, so a special 
thanks for your engagement and comments. They helped me to 
distill out two central questions (and following these pithy 
questions I'll elaborate -- once again in too many words):

1. Does the outer/inner distinction necessarily involve a 
dualism that we might find problematic?

2. Does Vygotsky have a way of capturing signs which 
function "indexically".

I engage the first question with the example of emotion as 
an example of a "mental state" (and I would extend the 
argument about "emotions" to "mental states"). Emotion is 
commonly seen as originating "on the inside" and then 
expressed to others "on the outside" through 
various "affectations" (including language). Here I am 
arguing against this notion that emotions are spontaneous 
productions of the "insides" of a person. Rather, I am 
suggesting that emotions (as with "mental states" more 
generally) exist somewhere between self and other. I agree 
with David that there are some basic emotions that aren't so 
strongly culturally or social contextually mediated, but 
which are an endowment of the species. But this doesn't 
necessarily mean that they are "internal" since they then 
would be a part of a reflex arc - a stimulus-response 
relationship with the world - and thus not 
exactly "internal" in the sense in which we like to think of 
our "internal" psychological lives in which things have 
an "origin" in our heads.

As to the Goffman reference, it is worth mentioning a bit 
more (especially when I took a look back at it and was 
reminded that this is the article that Goffman directly 
references the Vygotsky/Piaget debate about "eelf-talk" 
vs. "egocentric speech").  in Response Cries Goffman 
argues that utterances like "ouch!", "oops!", "shit!" all 
involve "recipient design". That is, they are not simply 
transparent representations of internal emotions or mental 
states (as with Bloomfield or Wierzbicka), but are 
designed so as to be appropriate to the contexts in which 
they are uttered. (there is also a line of argument that 
dovetails nicely with an article recently referenced about 
self-talk in adults, in which Goffman presents some of the 
taboos against self-talk in public - one of his 
more "obvious" arguments).

With regard to the second question (I'll hold off on going 
into Silverstein's usage of Peirce since I think enough can 
be said just using Peirce and the notion of indexicality), 
one concern that stays with me and which seems 
to appear from time to time on this list (most 
notably by Andy Blunden and Jay Lemke, but also by many 
others) is the way in which language connotes (indexes) an 
identity. Thus, to speak a certain way (e.g., a dialect, 
genre, etc.) is to suggest that one is a certain sort of 
person. For example, the use of third person singular gender 
neutral "one" points to an "academic" register and an 
academic identity (and whether or not this particular 
identity sticks to a particular person will depend on the 
congeries of imbricated (or not) indexicalities constituting 
that person's projected subject-hood - n.b. words 
like "congeries" and "imbricated" are also good ways of 
indexing the academic personae - as is knowing proper 
pluralizing rules for Latinate constructions - but these are 
by no means determinative that one isn't talking with / 
reading the email of a complete fool). 

This indexing of identity becomes quite important as a 
motivator/determiner for human action (in a sort of 
hermeneutic circle of "one is what one does" and "one does 
what one is"). In human interaction, people are constantly 
engaged, intentionally and non-intentionally, in projects of 
self-construction in whic we seek to demonstrate a 
certain "worth" to our Self. These projects are engaged in 
largely through the semiotic form of indexicality.

For example, one could interpret Luria's study with the 
peasants and their different ways of categorizing objects as 
a moment of struggle over what is indexed by each type of 
categorization (the "practical" vs. the "academic"). This 
may be taking things too far again, but 
one can imagine a sort of clash of identities when the big-
city university researcher encounters the quaint country 
peasant by "quizzing" ("examining"? "testing"?) the 
peasants. As a peasant, one can imagine an experience of the 
impropriety of the situation and a sense in which one would 
want to challenge the "holier than thou" attitude of the 
researcher by refusing to engage with the world in the way 
that they might want you to. This is an old argument that 
has happened so many times in so many different ways between 
working class persons and "educated" upper-class persons 
(and there's a lovely ethnography of a recent realization of 
this debate enacted in a bar on the south side of Chicago. 
The ethnography is by Julie Lindquist - the book is called A 
Place to Stand: Politics and Persuasion in a Working Class 
Bar and although I don't think she gets to my point about 
how identities are indexed by different argument genres, it 
is nonetheless a very rich and detailed and well-presented 
participant ethnography making an argument about 
consciousness/thinking in a very Marxian mode).

I use the Luria example simply as an example of how indexes 
of identity might become relevant to interactional moments 
(including psychological "tests"). The big question that 
remains is:
Does Vygotsky's ideology of language (whether expressed by 
LSV or those to follow) have some way to account for this 
critical feature of semiosis (i.e, indexicality)? And if 
not, then is it compatible with such a theory?
(and, of course, a failing here is not a serious blow to 
Cultural Historical Activity Theory, it simply points to a 
blind spot that suggests adding a compatible theory).

I suspect that some of this has been hashed out on XMCA, and 
appreciate responses that simply point me to previous 
discussions on these topics. But, in the event that your 
thinking might have changed, I do also enjoy hearing other's 
current thinking on these issues.


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