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[Xmca-l] Re: Article on Positioning Theory
Thanks Donna, this helps clarify things a lot!
Yes, I have had the experiences that you describe, and this gets me
thinking a bit about the work of Jurgen Habermas, particularly his theory
of communicative action which was been soundly criticized, imho, on grounds
very similar to the ones that you point to.
I agree with your fundamental point that collaboration is not a panacea.
And I'd even agree that collaboration can become oppressive in some or even
most cases. (the old saw about democracy perhaps could also be said of
collaboration: "democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what's for
dinner." One would hope that in middle school classrooms nobody is eating
anyone else, but in middle school one can never be sure!).
But I am curious about the role of cultural processes in making
collaborations oppressive. And similarly, I think that we need to better
developed understanding of the nature of the interactional frame that we
know of as "collaboration." This is something that is increasingly
recognizable as a form of interaction, but we seem to know fairly little
about how it works or what it is. Thus, how do we know when we are "in" a
collaborative group? And further, what does it "mean" (to us and to others)
to be in a collaborative group? These questions vary greatly from one
culture to the next and I think that developing this kind of understanding
would help to tell us a lot about how collaboration becomes oppressive. And
it would also expand our understanding of what "counts" as collaboration. I
agree with what I take to be an implicit point of yours, namely that we
have a very small notion of what collaboration is or can be (a notion that
is highly inflected by WASP-y American culture - just to mention another
bee buzzing in my bonnet!).
Anyway, thanks for the lovely and engaging paper - I was particularly
excited about the opportunity to re-engage with positioning theory.
On Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 2:40 PM, Donna Kotsopoulos <email@example.com> wrote:
> Thanks for the probes, Greg!
> I think that to answer your question, I may need to ask a series of
> rhetorical questions.
> Have you ever worked collaboratively with others where:
> (a) someone had to agree to disagree?
> (b) there was a slacker in the group?
> (c) someone did all the work and all the talking?
> (d) there was consensus but you wouldn't have called it collaboration?
> (e) what you hoped to gain from the experience was not up to what you
> I believe most people, including children, would answer yes to some or all
> of those questions. This is because there is an endemic deficit to
> collaboration that has been ignored in the literature in my view. It's been
> a cup overflowing discourse despite the realities of many people.
> I still have students collaborate - pretty extensively. My goals and
> expectations are different now. My approach in sharing the expectations is
> different now. I address those rhetorical questions head-on and encourage
> the students to own their own responsibility and to keep others accountable.
> To some extent collaboration is merely an illusion. While we hope that
> shared discourse leads to learning, this can't be assumed and what is
> learned, intended or otherwise, can't be assumed. Similar to teacher
> directed learning, collaborative learning doesn't work for everyone. If an
> artifact or a decision is the outcome of collaborations, it is probable
> that someone in the group perhaps didn't agree or had alternative ideas.
> Collaboration and consensus are different. Collaboration is incredible
> complex and hard to achieve. Even as adults, the challenge is formidable -
> its because there is an illusion that must be perpetuated in order to
> achieve an end. Ultimately, a united front is presented - despite the fact
> that there may have been problems.
> Donna Kotsopoulos, Ph.D.
> Associate Professor
> Faculty of Education & Faculty of Science, Department of Mathematics
> Wilfrid Laurier University
> 75 University Avenue West, BA313K
> Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3C5
> (519) 884-0710 x 3953
> DISCLAIMER: This e-mail and any file(s) transmitted with it, is intended
> for the exclusive use by the person(s) mentioned above as recipient(s). Any
> unauthorized distribution, copying or other use is strictly prohibited.
> >>> On 3/27/2014 at 3:47 PM, in message <
> CAHH++Pn57e7juVzXvm2TK5dhXDp8bG6MNxzAgUqSaFoAfjc4-Q@mail.gmail.com>, Greg
> Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> I wonder if you could speak more about the endemic nature of failure in
> collaboration? (and/or the inherent deficit of ANY collaboration?)
> Perhaps some more examples of the kind of thing that you are seeing as
> being systematic and consistent across all (nearly all?) instances of
> If I'm following you, your key point is that there may be (always will be?)
> people for whom collaboration will not work and for whom there is no such
> thing as a good collaboration (e.g., p. 50 - "for some students...
> collaboration may not be in their best interests").
> Do you feel that there is no way to help students (both the alienated and
> the alienating) to be better collaborators? And do you feel that these are
> inherent characteristics of these students or does it matter what types of
> groups they are being asked to collaborate with? Am I missing your point
> (and I can't help but wonder about the larger cultural contexts in which
> these social contexts are built and the degree to which the failure of
> collaboration might actually be pointing us to a larger failure - a
> system(at)ic social/cultural failure in which social exclusion is demanded
> by our dominant social system and the exclusions observed in classroom
> collaborations are just children doing what they have learned is "normal";
> but maybe things are different in Canada?).
> My rose colored collaboration glasses seem to be stuck to my head and, much
> as I try, I can't get them off. Perhaps you can help me remove them?
> On Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 12:52 PM, Donna Kotsopoulos <email@example.com>
> > I'll have to think about some more about your ideas. My immediate thought
> > when I read "essentialize the student, as well as view them as having a
> > deficit," was, no. More inline with my thinking is that it may be more
> > my assertions essentialize humans working together more generally (in the
> > plural) rather than one student or any one person. It is a deficit of
> > dynamics rather than of an individual.
> > It might be worth turning our attention to another student in the
> > Will. Will's participation in the group was unchallenged despite his
> > of engagement. In early drafts of the paper, I talked about his
> > privileging - also using productive in a dystopic sense. This didn't make
> > it into the paper - which is an altogether different discussion about
> > attempts to theorize; however, Will also illustrates a different type of
> > deficit that is privilege by the group. It isn't Will or Mitchell that
> is a
> > deficit. The deficit exists inherently in any collaborative endeavor.
> > I should make clear that I started out as collaborative learning
> > enthusiast. Indeed, my view is that much of individual's success in life
> > situated in their ability to work with others. That being said, my
> > illustrates that the learning that is intended and the learning that
> > actually materializes is often quite different. So approaching
> > collaborative learning form this lense is now different for me.
> > Collaborative learning has pretty much been seen from pretty rosy
> > It's been the slayer of teacher directed learning. My research suggests a
> > more critical perspective is warranted.
> > d.
> > Donna Kotsopoulos, Ph.D.
> > Associate Professor
> > Faculty of Education & Faculty of Science, Department of Mathematics
> > Wilfrid Laurier University
> > 75 University Avenue West, BA313K
> > Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3C5
> > (519) 884-0710 x 3953
> > www.wlu.ca/education/dkotsopoulos
> > www.wlu.ca/mathbrains
> > DISCLAIMER: This e-mail and any file(s) transmitted with it, is intended
> > for the exclusive use by the person(s) mentioned above as recipient(s).
> > unauthorized distribution, copying or other use is strictly prohibited.
> > >>> On 3/27/2014 at 2:30 PM, in message
> > <E23E629A42F087498471D39762DF7EB2DCA4221EC2@ESTES.ucdenver.pvt>, "White,
> > Phillip" <Phillip.White@ucdenver.edu> wrote:
> > greetings, again Donna -
> > i do agree with Huw here, that the difficulties you've uncovered in your
> > ethnography reflects what i was initially attempting to get across to you
> > in my first posting.
> > which is why i'm uncertain in accepting your conclusion that "for some
> > students, like Mitchell, working collaboratively may not be in their best
> > interests." you have asserted that the classroom teacher is exemplary,
> > there is no evidence to support this description within your ethnography.
> > as a clinical teacher coach and classroom teacher for more than forty
> > years, i'd be prone to wonder, based on the described behavior of the
> > girls, exactly what conditions for learning (Cambourne) were actually in
> > place.
> > i have found the ethnography highly thought provoking and strongly
> > connected with your deep sympathy for students who are marginalized ...
> > the same time, positioning is an endemic tension not only in classrooms
> > throughout all of society's points of collaboration - certainly the
> > inherent political and social injustices of position was first brought to
> > my attention reading the works of Gloria Steinem, for example.
> > what i fear is that by following your suggestion that for students who
> > experience difficulties in collaboration, by understanding the activity
> > itself of collaboration as not in their best interests, is to both
> > essentialize the student, as well as view them as having a deficit.
> > phillip
> > Phillip White, PhD
> > Urban Community Teacher Education Program
> > Site Coordinator
> > Montview Elementary, Aurora, CO
> > firstname.lastname@example.org
> > or
> > email@example.com
> > ________________________________________
> > From: firstname.lastname@example.org [email@example.com]
> > On Behalf Of Huw Lloyd [firstname.lastname@example.org]
> > Sent: Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:33 AM
> > To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> > Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Article on Positioning Theory
> > Dear Donna,
> > The impressions I thought about were:
> > 1. The difficult task of establishing a collaboration so that everyone is
> > committed voluntarily and that allows for re-appraisal of the
> > That is, to establish a task in which "positions" are not a big deal.
> > 2. Problematic aspects of the activity: the priming of a competitive
> > in the positioning questionaire and the operational nature of much of the
> > work. It seems to me that the collaborative conjuction of the various
> > operations (cutting shapes etc) is in the ongoing planning and
> > but that the emphasis is on the making.
> > 3. The relations of "posiitioning" to inferential perspectives (Brandom)
> > and methods to show its "genesis".
> > So this seems, to me, to be all about the difficulty children have with
> > planning and thinking about their tasks: how they need to be doing them
> > order to help them think about the planning but also the potential
> > amplification of the problem if they are doing it in a "scrum".
> > I think what you are reporting serves to elucidate the complexity (for
> > children) in this task and how the difficulties in coming up against this
> > complexity may obscure the intended mathematical content (i.e. reduce the
> > salience of the mathematical concepts).
> > Perhaps, one basic activity theoretic contribution would be to seek to
> > calibrate the complexity of the collaboration to the point whereby the
> > mathematical concepts themselves become the issues that dominate the
> > planning.
> > Thank you for presenting the paper!
> > Best,
> > Huw
> Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor
> Department of Anthropology
> 883 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
> Brigham Young University
> Provo, UT 84602
Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology
883 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602