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Re: [xmca] Scribner on creativity

Yes, sometimes nothing helps creativity like limitations do, when the "contours" themselves are sort of co-authors.


Sent from my iPhone

On May 29, 2012, at 3:59 PM, Peter Smagorinsky <smago@uga.edu> wrote:

> I'm working my way through Mind and Social Practice: Selected Writings of Sylvia Scribner. SS died just as I was beginning to shift from information processing to cultural psychology (my shorthand for the various Vygotskian psychological approaches) and so it's interesting to go back in time and see what role she played in helping to produce this shift (apparently, it was considerable, although oldtimers and CUNY people might be able to fill this story out better than I could).
> Anyhow, Chapter 25, "Thinking in action: Some characteristics of practical thought" looks at her workplace study of a milk producing plant to see how practical thinking functions. One thing that she documents is the flexible thinking that takes place within highly routinized, specified practices in the production process. Mostly creativity is considered to be the province of artists or other people working with a blank canvas, but Scribner finds creative thinking at work in the workplace within goal-oriented contours and according to established routines. I think that her closing paragraph (pp. 334-5) might help inform the discussion we're having on creativity:
> Unlike formal problem solving, practical problem solving cannot be understood solely in terms of problem structures and mental representations. Practical problem solving is an open system that includes components lying outside the formal problem--objects and information in the environment and goals and interests of the problem solver. Expertise in practical thinking involves the accomplishment of a fitting relationship among these elements, an accomplishment aptly characterized as functionally adaptive. Beneath the surface of adaptation, however, lie continuing acts of creativity-the invention of new ways of handling old and new problems. Since creativity is a term ordinarily reserved for exceptional individuals and extraordinary accomplishments, recognizing it in the practical problem-solving activities of ordinary people introduces a new perspective from which to grasp the challenge of the ordinary.
> I'm thinking about this observation in terms of my research on people learning how to teach the discipline of English (writing, reading, language) within the limits of the current accountability movement. SS's perspective helps me steer away from fatalistic interpretations of such socially-contoured practice (i.e., that the accountability mandates in current US schooling remove agency from teachers) and recognize the creative adaptions that teachers make within highly specified environments. Good stuff.
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