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Re: [xmca] Re: xmca Digest, Vol 53, Issue 8

Thanks, Greg.

I appreciate the multi-layered sampling of the discourse, as well as the turn to reflection on purposes.

I'm working on a longer response to the earlier post; but in the meantime, folks might enjoy one of the examples that I'll use there, since I think it's a good example of what Greg's talking about here.

The example is W's statement that the Iraq war would "look just like a comma" to future historians, and the question is whether that was a "dog whistle" signal to the Christian right. See


Oh, and please don't call me "James Anthony" (I've been Tony all my life, but I decided when I was a grad student research assistant that I would use "James Anthony" when I publish, b/c library catalogues would use that anyway, so it's the only way to be consistent. Now my passport, plane ticket, and credit card all need to be consistent or they won't let me cross the border.)

On Thu, 8 Oct 2009, Gregory Allan Thompson wrote:

Ha! (to Mike)

Now the question, of course, with any instance of chaining
complexes is: What precisely is it that is being chained i.e.,
does Mike's "academic bullshit" refer to Bush/Palin or
Silverstein? or even, and this is a stretch, to me?. The
question being asked here is a question of the
entextualization of talk-as-text - i.e., how does an instance
of talk (as text) become entextualized such that it is
decodable as an instance of "talking about X" (or, for that
matter, "arguing about X").

As participants in conversation, we build a coherent
understanding of our interlocutor's utterance via a complex
ethnometapragmatics of indexicalities (aka "contextualization
cues"). It is through the congeries of indexicalities present
in a stretch of talk that individuals can then begin to
constitute an "X" that was being discussed. The catch is that
the meaning of individual indexicalities will depend on other
elements of the context of talk (which themselves are also
invoked through various layers of indexicality, some via
language, some via things like insittutional roles). In
particular, the frame of the interaction (what is going on
here? - i.e. what are we "doing" here - collegially chatting?
arguing? berating? joking?) becomes essential for decoding
what is being indexically conjured up as the entexutalized
"chain complex". In addition, it is further helpful to have
knowledge of the identities of participants (who is this
person that has suggested this?), along with our own
ethnopsychologies of speakers' intentionalities and things
like this (what might such a person have "intended" by this
utterance?). (as a footnote, I liken the complexity of
interactions to the three body problem in Physics, each layer
of determining context is affecting the other such that, just
as it is impossible to predict the movement of three bodies in
orbit around one another in three dimenasions, it is
impossible to predict the precise outcome of a given stretch
of talk.). And after all that, there is always the possibility
that as a participant A) you could be wrong or B) something
new is introduced into the conversation that flips the meaning
of what came before (what Silverstein calls the defeasibility
of contexts).

[Did someone say something about academic bullshit? (but this
does indeed point to an interesting way in which chaining of
complexes in the denotata of discourse can cross over into the
interactional plane such that the suggestion of "academic
bullshit" by another can provoke me to inhabit the identity of
"academic bullshitter" or alternatively, an identity of
plain(s)speaker (whether one speaks 'plainly' or as one from
the 'plains' - i.e. Midwest, "accentless", down-to-earth
English), a tell it like it is sort of person who uses words
like "bullshit" to cut to the core of all that high falutin'

The above is just an idea of what the world of Silverstein can
"do" in the pursuit of understanding language and social
interaction (and I certainly haven't done justice to his
ideas). I think it is an immensely powerful way of seeing
language and yields great insights into how language and
social interaction work. I'd also note that I'm comfortable
with the argument that the obtuseness of the language is
necessary precisely because we have emic ways of understanding
language that hide many of its properties from view.

At the same time, I think that it is often the case that
employing Silverstein's framework for understanding something
like activity or classroom learning is much like trying to use
quantum mechanics to fix a car. An engineer can do better. A
car mechanic could do still better. But that then raises
questions about whether or not CHAT/MCA folk see their project
as one that is more equivalent to engineering or to
theoretical physics or to car mechanics.

And btw, for an interesting syllabus on teaching bullshit,
check out:

Oh, and please call me "Greg", or even "greg", I use "Gregory"
on my email "handle" in order to project the identity of
someone who can competently inhabit the identity of an
academic bullshitter, but it takes some work...


Message: 3
Date: Thu, 8 Oct 2009 06:29:42 -0700
From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Leontiev and Sign (Silverstein and complexes)
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8

Perfect timing, Gregory. This morning my senior seminarian
will be
discussing Peter et al's paper on academic bullshit......

(just chaining)

Greg Thompson
Ph.D. Candidate
The Department of Comparative Human Development
The University of Chicago
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)
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