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[xmca] Linguistic Walls and Applied Linguistic Bridges

Well, I can think of two other reasons for rejecting "Pratice is the final (ultimate, etc.) criterion of truth".
a) Practice is ONE instantiation of potential. But there are always an infinite number of others.
b) Who says that truth has ANY "final" criterion? What would such a final criterion look like and how would we know it was the final one?
And now for one of my geographical (or maybe ego-graphical) passacaglias, inspired by Mike's question about "applied linguistics" vs. the unapplied variety.
At one stage in the development of Seoul, the city was held apart from the countryside and defined by its walls. Fenced in by mountains to the north, our kings built a great crenellated rampart running from East to West across the south, broken only by large fortresses at the gates. 
We can still see vestiges of this heroic stage in our development in the names of subway stops (“Great South Gate”, “Great East Gate Market”, and “Great West Gate”). Interestingly, all these areas are now nonresidential; the streetwork resembles a grid of longitude and latitude that enables everyone to get to anyplace even if they have never been there before and will never go there again.  

But today most of Seoul is a city of villages rather than a village-city, and it is really held together internally by bridges rather than externally by walls. The bridges simply spring up where the are needed, willy-nilly, like trails between residential areas. 

The neighborhood where I live is not a neat grid of parallels and meridians but a messy magpie’s nest of criss-crossing streets, once functionally trails rather than streets and now paved over, but not yet differentiated into driving lanes and sidewalks, given soft poetical names rather hastily during the 2002 World Cup (“Pear Blossom Street”). We can see that it is a place to live and work and not to visit.
I think that the unity of linguistics was originally a unity of walls, while the unity of applied linguistics is one of bridges. Like any other conqueror, Saussure set out to build himself a capital. He did this by cutting us off from history and trying to create a kind of synchronic “culture” in the form of an arbitrary network of phonemes, words, and even whole utterances. 
But the walls came tumbling down as soon as people moved in to live and work, the city that Saussure founded began to expand, and people began to build bridges connecting the villages that were once well outside the perimeter: language teaching and learning, child development, psychology, and above all history. 
I think it’s in this sense that the term “sociocultural” is not particularly adequate: it somehow implies that culture can exist quite without history, like a moment of Saussure’s great game of chess. I also think that it’s in this sense that the term “applied linguistics” is defensible (although I remember that Michael Halliday really didn't like it; like Vygotsky who insists on "general psychology" he insisted on "general linguistics"). 
My professor Henry Widdowson used to distinguish between “linguistics applied” and “applied linguistics”. Examples of the former included creating dictionaries out of computer corpora and “Critical Discourse Analysis” applied to newspapers, conversations in doctor’s offices, and literary texts. In each case, some demesne that once lay outside the city wall is annexed, and laid out in furrows and hedges, with the help of the linguistics grid.
“Applied linguistics”, on the other hand, is basically an exercise in bridge building. We start with the little village of classroom language teaching-and-learning and we blaze trails to other communities, such as education, developmental psychology, and history. When we come to a river (such as the one that separates us from Saussure’s linguistics) we try to build a bridge.
Sometimes bridges are not very sturdy. Here in Seoul, we have had at least one catastrophic bridge collapse here in recent memory. Sometimes they are brought down by design. There was a notorious incident during the war where the Americans strafed and bombed one of the bridges over the Han river, drowning hundreds of refugees. And sometimes, like the “Olympic Bridge” which daily causes traffic jams here, bridges are simply in the wrong place.
I think there is a real problem with treating “tense” as a concept and seeking to “apply” Vygotsky’s ideas about teaching academic concepts and foreign language concepts. “Tense” is a concept in the minds of linguists, but not in the minds of users of the language, because when we use a language our attention tends to focus on the “what” rather than the “how” of what we are saying. For this reason, the goal of conscious awareness and mastery in the use of tense is not particularly helpful as an ultimate goal for use, unless we are talking about using DA as a set of assessment practices (which we apparently are!). 
As I said, I think that the editors erred in restricting the focus of the current issue of the journal to the TESOL-ACTFL view of language teaching (that is, teaching English to immigrants in the USA or teaching foreign languages at American universities of higher education). 
But if we must have a parochially North American view of the field, let us at least include an article on Canadian immersion teaching, where science concepts and other academic concepts really are formed through the medium of a second language, yet attention is still on the conceptual knot rather than the complex(ive) means of tying it. 
Carol Macdonald sent me this really wonderful set of immersion materials that she worked on with Len Lanham, when South Africa was still a racist dictatorship. Their project is teaching English to village kids who really have no understanding of city life. So there is a story about four friends who climb a mountain to see what birds and mapmakers see. What they see is a completely unfamiliar view of their own familiar village, with all its fences and bridges. And as they descend the mountain this new scientific concept of their hometown turns slowly back into an everyday concept.  
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Fri, 12/10/10, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] By Way of Continuing on Instruction/Assessment
To: ablunden@mira.net, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Friday, December 10, 2010, 7:48 PM

Who me? Insist that YOU answer me at length! Interpelation at XMCA! Argh.

Thanks for all of that background of the ideas concerning "theory" and
"practice" and the contexts of their use, including your own.

Like the concept of activity, which I came to by way of my cross- cultural
research not Leontiev or Marx so I thought it was sort of an empirical term,
a kind of substitute for "what people do a lot."  Ditto the idea of
rejecting the theory/practice opposition; the kind of inquiry I do for a
living moves constantly back and forth between different settings where both
theoretical framework and the "context of use" are in constant dialogue. I
often find myself captured by "theoretical thoughts" while in the midst of
doing stuff like cooking or
or playing shoots and ladders with kids. Conversely, by ideas of
thoughts of how to arrange to get activities to work when daylight savings
time kicks in and the kids have to be home by dark.

For me, this has a lot to do with the two psychologies issue. But enough for
one post. Learning about theory/practice relations theoretically is really
interesting in light of my own dust bowl empiricist origins.


On Fri, Dec 10, 2010 at 7:10 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

> mike cole wrote:
>> I did not understand the exchange on this issue of practice as the
>> criterion
>> of theory. So more on this would be helpful.
> Mike, I did not want to press this issue beyond a certain point, but since
> you ask... It does seem to be splitting hairs to deny that for Marx
> "practice is the criterion of truth" since Marx says "The question whether
> objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of
> theory but is a *practical* question. Man must prove the truth, /i.e./, the
> reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking, in practice. The
> dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from
> practice is a purely scholastic question." But this is not the same thing,
> and in the context of the other 10 theses can be seen to be making a
> different point.
> 1. When examining a claim, we always have to ask what the claim is
> /against/, what does it negates; that is its context. In 1845, Marx was
> writing (1) Against Feuerbach's rejection of Hegel, and (2) Against the
> Young-Hegelians. Without going into what this implies, let us just say that
> it is a totally different context than the pages of MCA in 2010. Absolutely
> no-one amongst the readers of MCA would deny that "the proof of the pudding
> is in the eating," and actually /nor would Feuerbach or Hegel/! Probably
> only the Catholic Church would deny this aphorism. This raises the question
> of (a) why Marx bothered to say what was obvious, and (b) what it means when
> someone not only says it but repeartedly says it in 2010 to an audience of
> cultural psychologists.
> In my expereience over 45 years arguing things with fellow-Marxists, I find
> that anyone who insists upon "practice is criterion of truth," this is to
> belittle philosophy in favour of activism. In the context of science, maybe
> the meaning is a little different. But in politics, it says "Bugger theory!
> This is what happened!" So of course I react against it, even if I don't
> exactly know why it is being insisted upon in the given case. After
> "practice is criterion of truth" what will the writer go on to say? I don't
> know, but am concerned. Truth is its own criterion, so why is it being
> measured against something else?
> 2. So what is in thesis 2 which is more than "proof of the pudding is in
> the eating"? Well, Marx explains this in the other theses. For example,
> contra Feuerbach, it is not enough to show that a religious person is
> deluded; on the contrary, the society which needs religion must be
> revolutionised. Not because "the proof of the pudding is in the eating," but
> rather theory reflects the needs of practice. Tracing the social roots of
> religious consciousness is of course a complex theoretical task which
> remains before us today. Christopher Hitchins, the modern-day Feuerbach,
> might well reflect on this! Theses 1 and 3 for example are directed squarely
> against philosophical materialism, notably taking education as the example.
> The thing is, I think, that for Marx, with his proto-Activity Theory
> presented in the Theses, the truth is itself /in/ Activity. That is not the
> same as activity /proves/ the truth, as if you can have a theory, and then
> wait to see how things turn out, and be proved wrong or right. Marx waited
> till the Paris Commune before he clarified a number of questions which were
> left open in the Communist Manifesto. Marx did not try to reason this out in
> his head. He did not make a proposal and see if it worked, but rather
> followed the movement of the working class and tried to give voice to it.
> The section of "Method of Political Economy" in the /Grundrisse/ most
> clearly explains this difficult point contra Hegel.
> 3. BTW, in the tradition of Marxism that I come from,"practice" is used
> with a dialectical meaning, and I therefore do not use the word "praxis."
> For me, "practice" in its common-or-garden, non-dialectical meaning, is one
> aspect of activity. Activity is purposive action, or a /unity of theory and
> practice/, which are /inseparable/. To separate them and pose one against
> the other, externally, confuses the matter. So the concept of "practice" as
> something isolated from "theory" or vice versa - theory as something
> isolated from practice, is an undialectical concept. This is just to head
> off misunderstandings involved in making a contrast between "praxis" and
> "practice" which belong to a different tradition. It is just words and is
> not the issue here at all in my view.
> 4. For Marx, then, practice is the /substance/. As he says shortly after,
> in /German Ideology/, "The premises from which we begin are ... the real
> individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they
> live." This is in contrast to other philosophical currents which take as
> their substances "clear ideas" or "matter" or "the I," or whatever. To claim
> that "practice is the criterion of truth" begs the question of the substance
> of truth itself. Practice is the *substance* of truth, so how can truth be
> tested against a /criterion/ of practice? This implies that something else
> is meant by "practice". [For the concept of "substance" see my book "An
> Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity" or the /Stanford Encyclopedia of
> Philosophy/]
> 5. The whole content of the problem of truth is just what exactly is
> understood by "practice" and "truth," their content, not whether one is the
> criterion of the other. I suspect when this is done, the real meaning of
> "practice is criterion of truth" will be shown to be "*experience is the
> criterion of practice*."
> 6. A number of Marxists have pointed out that while "practice is criterion
> of truth" has value, practice can never *completely* determine the truth of
> a claim. This relates to the concept of /verifiability/. If you stick
> dogmatically to the claim that "practice is criterion of truth" then all of
> Marx's life was wasted. Socialism was not achieved and no-one observed his
> "perihelion of mercury." This is a complex question. How do we know "truth"?
> Is it really just a question of the eating? What if by the nature of the
> question, we don't have the opportunity to taste the pie? And so we have the
> practice, but how do we evaluate the practice, what theory do we use to
> evaluate practice? It leads to an infinite regress if you separate theory
> and practice and make one the criterion of the other.
> 7. A maxim which is worth paying heed to: "/Always observe moderation in
> philosophy/," especially if you have extreme claims to make of a political
> or practical nature. "Practice is criterion of truth" is OK - /up to a
> point,/ but when absolutely insisted upon, as a one-sided assertion, it
> becomes a falsehood. For example, "applied psychology /is/ psychology." And
> what of the work of others, not engaged in what you call "applied
> psychology"??
> We listen to what people say (eg right-wing politicians) and we presume
> that their theory reflects, not so much their future action, but more
> importantly their /past/ actions. Why? Because theory reflects practice, or
> if you like "theory is the criterion of practice". Isn't that the whole
> point of /Capital/? A certain way of life manifests in a certain way of
> thinking and by studying political economy Marx could reveal  the practice
> of bourgeois society. But a right-wing politician can say "people from poor
> families have a lower IQ" and say that "practice is the criterion of truth"
> and do a survey and prove it. So what!
> 8. True, "some Marxists" say "practice is criterion of truth." But "some
> Marxists" say all sorts of things, and even then, if not insisted upon or if
> qualified, it is not such a bad thing to say. But Marx did not say it and if
> insisted upon or carried too far, it becomes wrong.
> 9. Mike: I am not at all sure that the "two psychologies" is the same
> question. I think that what he meant by that needs separate attention.
> 10. Apologies to the long post. I always try to avoid typing more than one
> screenful, but Mike insisted upon this point being clarified.
> 11. Feel free to consult the Encyclopedia of Marxism entry:
> http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/t/r.htm#truth
> I will try to write this up a bit better and post it on my home page.
> Andy
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