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Re: [xmca] Scribner on creativity

Reminds me of Adam Smith's tale of the boy who wanted to play (and what it
implies about the importance of the "common workmen [sic]" - an insight
long lost today):

"A great part of the machines made use of in those manufactures in which
labour is most subdivided, were originally the inventions of common
workmen, who, being each of them employed in some very simple operation,
naturally turned their thoughts towards finding out easier and readier
methods of performing it. Whoever has been much accustomed to visit such
manufactures, must frequently have been shewn very pretty machines, which
were the inventions of such workmen, in order to facilitate and quicken
their own particular part of the work. In the first
boy was constantly employed to open and shut alternately the communication
between the boiler and the cylinder, according as the piston either
ascended or descended. One of those boys, who loved to play with his
companions, observed that, by tying a string from the handle of the valve
which opened this communication, to another part of the machine, the valve
would open and shut without his assistance, and leave him at liberty to
divert himself with his play-fellows. One of the greatest improvements that
has been made upon this machine, since it was first invented, was in this
manner the discovery of a boy who wanted to save his own labour."

[pasted from: http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN1.html]


On Tue, May 29, 2012 at 12:59 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.
> Peter Smagorinsky<http://www.coe.uga.edu/~smago/vita/vitaweb.htm>
> Distinguished Research Professor<
> http://www.ovpr.uga.edu/docs/policies/iga/DRP-Guidelines.pdf> of<
> http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/of> English Education<
> http://www.coe.uga.edu/lle/english/secondary/index.html>
> Department of Language and Literacy Education<
> http://www.coe.uga.edu/lle/english/secondary/index.html>
> The University of Georgia<http://www.uga.edu/>
> 315 Aderhold Hall<http://www.coe.uga.edu/about/directions.html>
> Athens<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athens,_Georgia>,<
> http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/02/> GA<
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_(U.S._state)> 30602<
> http://www.city-data.com/zips/30602.html>
> Advisor, Journal of Language and Literacy Education<
> http://jolle.coe.uga.edu/>
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Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Sanford I. Berman Post-Doctoral Scholar
Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition
Department of Communication
University of California, San Diego
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