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RE: [xmca] Re: Imitation and Creativity

Apologies for coming in to this conversation without having read all previous posts but I wanted to pick up on Ana's point about soaking up another person's idiosyncrasies. I think imitation plays a very important role in the way we come to know other people - one of the ways in which we engage with others is by adjusting our own dynamics of action to theirs; you can see this particularly clearly in interactions between toddlers, where recognition of being imitated often leads to a beaming smile of complicity but it is also familiar in the shift of one's speech towards the accent or dialect of the people one is talking with. This, largely unconscious, process of attunement means that we are able to 'remember' the experience of interacting with a familiar person not only in terms of sensory perceptions but also in terms of our own physiological responses (people make an impression on us).

I think the fun of playful imitation comes in part from an intuitive recognition that this allows us to get to know each other - not in a simple, transitive way but in a richly reciprocal way. Picking up a teacher's mannerisms is one thing but noticing the mannerisms which one's pupils pick up (if they are willing to perform their imitations in plain sight!) provides insights into how one is seen. I think this is also evident in the way in which people who are exposed to public scrutiny (politicians, celebrities etc.) tend to become more and more like the image their public has of them until, in some cases, they become caricatures of themselves. In more 'normal' interactions we pick up on what others pick up about us and this information about how we are perceived becomes part of our own perception of ourselves. So one of the 'purposes' for creative imitation may be just to enjoy relationships which help all participants to develop a sense of shared understanding of who they each are.

Happy New Year!


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Ana Marjanovic-Shane
Sent: 30 December 2010 05:58
To: lchcmike@gmail.com; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Re: Imitation and Creativity

Dear all,

How can I resist answering when Mike calls with a particular question?

OK -- Lois wrote:
> "Children do not imitate anything and everything as a parrot does,  rather
> what is beyond them developmentally speaking and yet present in their
> environment and their relationships."

I would say that we have many different forms and purposes of imitation. Some of them are not conscious: tone of voice you use may resemble your parent's and siblings. I know whole families where it is hard to tell who answered a phone for quite a while in conversation -- even though there is quite a difference in age. People also imitate gestures -- I would say not consciously or purposefully. When my younger son started school, he would come home and talk with gestures of his teacher -- it was absolutely hysterical. But he did not "imitate" her -- he just soaked her idiosyncrasies.
So there is a kind of "mimicry" in the way we "get" important communicational tools - on the quite sensory-motor level. Not even to mention accents -- that immediately identify you with a certain group (even when you yourself cannot hear them).
This alone is a very interesting aspect of development, especially in the light of the relatively new discoveries coming from Diana Deutsch about the connection between speech and music (http://www.radiolab.org/2007/sep/24/): with the fascinating discovery that almost 75% of people who peak tonal languages (like Mandarin) possess an absolute pitch, something considered to be a rare talent among us, speakers of non-tonal English (Russian, Serbian, French, Greek or other Indo-European languages)

But I think we were more interested in another type of imitation -- something that goes on with consciousness, maybe even reflection? Imitation that Peter was describing, and that Mike summarized as:

"So imitation is actually a constructive process, and so, I think, is
relevant in discussions of the ZPD in that it is relational, involves
adjustment, is reciprocal, involves new constructions, relies on
intersubjectivity, and so on. Just as the ZPD is often characterized as a
flat, one-way instructional process moving easily from here to there,
imitation can be pretty static. But not if the act of imitation is part of a
more complex process of appropriation."

It seems like a waist to imitate if it still entails constructing a novel behavior for yourself anyway! -- Why not just go ahead and do it your own way instead of imitating? 
When we were kids, my brother and our friends, we used to imitate each other in order to laugh, and then we would end up imitating each other's laughters, and laugh even more. We would  laugh until we could not breathe any more and end up on the floor! That is what we though of imitation.

Ana: That is what we though of imitation!
Ana's brother: "That is what we thought of imitation!"
Ana: Stop it! Don't imitate me!
Ana's brother: "Stop it! Don't imitate me!"
Ana: Stop!
Ana's brother: "Stop!" 
Ana: Zzzzzzz!
Ana's brother: "Zzzzzzz!"
Ana's brother: ""I AM AN IDIOT""
Ana: Hah! You said it right!!
Ana's brother: "Hah! YOU said it right!!"
Ana: - - - - - - - - - 
Ana's brother: - - - - - - - - 
(and so on) -- we leave this scene now -- back to our laboratry.

I want to say that play is too often seen as "imitation" -- when in fact it is a commentary on someone's behavior -- ways of saying something about that behavior, making an opinion, and provoking someone's reaction. But to make that opinion, to be absolutely sure what you are actually saying about it, you have to "do it for yourself", to live into it, to see it from inside. Kind of "see how it feels".

I will never forget a friend of mine who was actually much younger than me. She used to play being a teacher to all her dolls and stuffed animals. She would put them all on a couch, and then stand in front of them and talk to them exactly the way her (and much earlier mine) teacher used to talk to students. The gestures, the tone of voice, and what she would say to the bears and Barbies, was almost exact! -- but at the same time it was a presentation with a critique -- like a good caricature that uncovers more about the person or a situation, that the original.

I think that, imitation as explicit copying to learn happens only in situation of direct coaching -- of skills that can be learned like that: how to throw a ball, or how to knit or something very visible that can be dissected in parts and shown. Even then, it is never a direct copy. 
I don't think that we develop by such kind of learning. Although we can develop some rather defined skills. That may be useful for development, but needs to be somehow put to work.

Creative imitation, as Lois called it, and as I tried to describe it a little bit above, is imitation with a purpose other than copying. And that other purpose -- whatever it is (I have several candidates) -- is something developmental. 

What do you think?


Dr. Ana Marjanovic-Shane
Assistant Professor of Education
Chestnut Hill College
St. Joseph Hall, 4th Floor, Room #172
e-mails:  Marjanovic-ShaneA@chc.edu
Phone:    215-995-3207

On Dec 29, 2010, at 11:34 PM, mike cole wrote:

> Hi Cathrene and Lois--
> My copy of the book went to the person who is writing a review for MCA, so I
> do not have it to hand.
> But it is clearly a good source to turn to as a way of mapping out ways of
> talking about imitation and zoped. For those who have not yet ordered the
> book, its possible to get a good sample of what
> Cathrene was referring to by checking Amazon.com, and searching the contents
> for, say, imitation.
> To much there for me to type out each example, but here is a passage from
> Lois's chapter that I found thought provoking.
> "Children do not imitate anything and everything as a parrot does,  rather
> what is beyond them developmentally speaking and yet present in their
> environment and their relationships."
> So, there are several relevant distinctions implied in just this one
> passage, including:
> Children and parrots imitate differently
> Parrots imitate everything (I am assuming that we are talking about language
> spoken by humans?, not sure).
> Children imitate only what is going to develop at some proximal time.
> In this context, the use of the term "creative imitation" which I have been
> trying to think about for the past several months, brings to mind the notion
> that there must be something called "non-creative imitation" but
> I am not sure what a synonym would be that could be substituted for
> "non-creative" as a positive characterization.
> So, Cathrene, Lois, and Ana, what "kinds of imitation" do you think it worth
> considering for our purposes?
> Harking back to Michael Glassman's earlier note in this thread, I do not
> think that it is helpful to contrast imitation with mimicry without further
> specification. The first three primary definitions of mimicry used by the
> Oxford English Dictionary all involve the term, imitation, as a part of
> their defining characteristics. If they are not simply synonyms according to
> the OED, the variations are very underspecified.
> Clearly Lois sees an intimate relation between imitation as she interprets
> that process and zopeds and adds another important term, creativity.
> We now have three core theoretical terms imbricated in the discussion of a
> cultural historical approach to development. If there are three core terms
> and, say, 3 interpretions of each term (imitation, zoped, creativity) seems
> like a pretty large matrix of possible interconnections as part of the
> system of development. My guess is that kinds of specifications cluster, but
> I have only a vague sense of how, so far.
> Is creative/non-creative the place to start, and then see what kinds of
> additional distinctions are warrantable?
> mike
> mike
> On Wed, Dec 29, 2010 at 5:44 PM, Lois Holzman <
> lholzman@eastsideinstitute.org> wrote:
>> Thanks, Cathrene, for the plug! I've wanted to get into this conversation
>> but just can't right now, so that article will have to suffice for anyone
>> interested.
>> Warm wishes to all for 2011 and new world creating,
>> Lois
>> Don't forget to check out the latest at http://loisholzman.org
>> Lois Holzman, Ph.D.
>> Director, East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy
>> 920 Broadway, 14th floor
>> New York NY 10010
>> Chair, Global Outreach for UX (www.allstars.org/ux)
>> tel. 212.941.8906 ext. 324
>> fax 718.797.3966
>> lholzman@eastsideinstitute.org
>> www.eastsideinstitute.org
>> www.performingtheworld.org
>> loisholzman.org
>> www.allstars.org
>> On Dec 29, 2010, at 2:20 PM, <cconnery@ithaca.edu> <cconnery@ithaca.edu>
>> wrote:
>>> Hi there,
>>> Lois Holzman has some excellent observations about creativity, learning
>> and imitation in her chapter in Vygotsky and Creativity. So do Oreck &
>> Nicholls in the same text, although their statments are less direct and more
>> implied.
>>> Happy New Year to all,
>>> Cathrene
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