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[Xmca-l] Re: The Social and the Semiotic



Last year at this time, Greg Thompson and I were teaching a bunch of
Brigham Young University undergraduates how to do classroom observation.
This was part of a "field school" which usually focuses on the usual meat
and potatoes of anthropology (i.e. subsistence agriculture or hunting and
gathering) but which under Greg's inspired leadership has become relocated
and re-situated: re-oriented towards societies like South Korea which can,
in important ways, appear to corn-fed American girls and boys as more
urbanized, more complex, and more sophisticated than their own. I thought,
and I still think, that this was a brilliant move; trying to create a
generation of anthropologists who really do not subscribe to the "progress
hypothesis" that Andy is talking about, not even in their selection of a
site for research.

But there was a real problem, and it is related to the issue that James
brought in. Language. Only about half of the BYU undergraduates had any
Korean at all. This meant that observation tended to focus on activities
where language was (to use Halliday's term) "ancillary" rather than
"constitutive". For example, when children get into scuffles, or a teacher
administers corporal punishment, or a group of hunter gatherers launches a
surprise attack on another in order to wipe it out, language accompanies
the activity as it must all human activity, but it only helps out; it never
constitutes the whole of the activity, and one could make sense of the
activity simply by taking in iconic and indexical forms of semiosis. But if
a teacher explains rules for long division, or children present a report on
how a market works, or a group of hunter-gatherers pass on creation
stories, language does not simply go along with the activity: it makes up
the activity as its sine qua non.

Underneath the practical problem of trying to get our undergraduates to see
beyond language-ancillary activities, there was a theoretical problem. I
had a hard time understanding the foundational difference between sociology
and anthropology, once we take away the idea of a historical distinction
between primitive and complex societies. For Greg the distinction really
didn't matter: sociology and anthropology were simply two approaches to one
and the same "science of a unitary whole", namely the study of (Korean
classroom) culture. But I tried (and am still trying) to replace the
historical distinction between sociology and anthropology with sociological
approaches that focus on quantifiable behaviors in which language is
ancillary and cultural approaches in which language is constitutive.

In Halliday, meaning and matter are always two ways of looking at the same
thing: even a physical phenomenon such as entropy can be studied as
information as well as studied as substance. This is because for Halliday,
meaning is simply a property of organized matter. But there's a tradeoff,
just as there is in language: some linguistic phenomena (e.g. tense) are
better treated as grammar  and some (e.g. hyphenation) as vocabulary,
although it is always possible to do things the other way around, since
"grammar words" like "~ed" and "wordy words" like "egg" are on a continuum
we systemicists call "wording" or "lexicogrammar". In the same way, some
phenomena, like physics, are better treated as matter-first and other
phenomena like language are better treated as meaning-first.

A while ago, Andy made the exquisite point that no matter what activity we
seize upon as being specific to humans, we will always find rudiments of
that activity in non-human animals, because if we have selected the exact
activity that historically resulted in anthropogenesis, it must have had
pre-human roots. Vygotsky sought and found those pre-human roots in
chimpanzees, for obvious reasons: they are morphologically similar to us,
and live in a similar environment.

But for precisely that reason, researchers focused on the social activities
chimps use to produce their conditions of existence and assimilated the
cultural, semiotic activities to these--this tendency is, I think, the
source of what Andy has pinpointed as the "objectivist" fallacy in
Leontiev's work. Yet right outside the station at Tenerife where Kohler was
providing the raw material for Vygotsky's studies, there were humpback
whales on long road trips where semiosis was constitutive rather than
ancillary, the genetic roots of semiotic culture rather than simply
directed towards the social reproduction of the conditions of existence.


David Kellogg
Macquarie University

"The Great Globe and All Who It Inherit:
Narrative and Dialogue in Story-telling with
Vygotsky, Halliday, and Shakespeare"

Free Chapters Downloadable at:

https://www.sensepublishers.com/media/2096-the-great-globe-and-all-who-it-inherit.pdf

Recent Article: Thinking of feeling: Hasan, Vygotsky, and Some Ruminations
on the Development of Narrative in Korean Children

Free E-print Downloadable at:



On Wed, Jun 28, 2017 at 2:56 AM, mike cole <mcole@ucsd.edu> wrote:

> Could someone in this discussion explain to me the relationship between
> social-semiotics and the sounds of whales which David used as the
> springboard to the comments about socio ? cultural.
>
> It appears to be clear to all of you, but it is not at all clear to me! The
> question of the ways that different people have referred to the Vygotsky-
> inspired theorizing has been discussed a fair number of times here on
> xmca and I would be happy to re-visit it. But David was (I thought)
> seriously linking the early and late parts of his note and I could not
> follow
> it into the recent notes.
>
> Guidance much appreciated.
> mike
>
> On Tue, Jun 27, 2017 at 10:28 AM, James Ma <jamesma320@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> > Thanks Andy, your personal take on is very interesting - perhaps you
> could
> > enlighten me on your point?
> >
> > Larry, such strangeness has much to do with the vagueness of
> > "sociocultural" reflected in sociocultural theory itself.  Although my
> > current work focuses on Peirce and Vygotsky, the Hallidayan imagery is
> > always saliently present in my mind.  Halliday is explicitly
> > sociocultural.  Vygotsky used this term to refer to the higher
> > psychological functions as "sociocultural" in origin (e.g. p. 46 in Mind
> in
> > Society), but he defined his own paradigm using the term
> > "cultural-historical".  To me, "sociocultural" is somehow still in
> > wholesale fashion - maybe it should move out and become something which
> > would epitomise "cultural-historical"?
> >
> > For years I've been taking "sociocultural" and "cultural-historical" to
> be
> > customary terms.  However, this doesn't stop me being "ruminant" (here I
> > borrow David's word portraying the SFL mindset) about the essence of
> these
> > terms, albeit seldom reaching anything with satisfaction.  At times I
> find
> > myself concluding that three entities - social, cultural and historical -
> > form an indispensable core of human existence.  I know this is no more
> than
> > stating the obvious!
> >
> > More to the point, the way I see it is that "social" is enmeshed with
> > "cultural" and "sociocultural" as a whole is entangled with itself in
> > itself - this entanglement is perhaps the essence of the term.  But the
> > problem is that these two entities intertwine in a complex whole that
> > appears to be simultaneously "social" and "cultural" in an ambiguous
> > way.  Anyway,
> > on a positive note, this is perhaps ambiguity par excellence, as Emmanuel
> > Levinas would say! Or perhaps Umberto Eco's "unlimited semiosis"!
> >
> >
> > James
> >
> > *_____________________________________*
> >
> > *James Ma*  *https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa
> > <https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa>*
> >
> >
> >
> > On 26 June 2017 at 16:53, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
> >
> > > The inclusion of "historical" is quite loaded, James, marking the
> Soviet
> > > heritage of CHAT, and rejected by those who regard the inclusion of
> > > "historical" as a modern arrogance based on notions of social progress.
> > > Personally, I like "historical" while I reject the notion of cultural
> > > totalities which can be ordered unproblematically, whether
> > chronologically
> > > or otherwise.
> > >
> > > Andy
> > >
> > > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > > Andy Blunden
> > > http://home.mira.net/~andy
> > > http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-decision-making
> > > On 26/06/2017 6:19 PM, James Ma wrote:
> > >
> > >> Hello David, I have an applied linguistics background too. My first
> > >> acquaintance with the term "sociocultural" was in the work of H Stern
> > who
> > >> described sociocultural factors in language learning and teaching. I
> do
> > >> feel a bit strange that "sociocultural" appears to be interchangeable
> > >> with "cultural-historical" when people talk about Vygotsky and his
> > >> followers.
> > >>
> > >> James
> > >>
> > >>
> > >> *_________________________________________________________*
> > >>
> > >> *James Ma*  *https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa
> > >> <https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa>*
> > >>
> > >>
> > >>
> > >> On 25 June 2017 at 23:09, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com> wrote:
> > >>
> > >> A few years ago there was a minor theoretical kerfuffle at the
> > >>> International Congress of Systemic Functional Linguistics in
> Vancouver.
> > >>> Systemic Functional Linguists tend to be gentle, ruminant creatures,
> > who
> > >>> frown on intellectual prize fighting (building "vertical"
> intellectual
> > >>> structures, like building chemistry on physics and biology on
> > chemistry,
> > >>> is
> > >>> the goal rather than building "horizontal" knowledge structures like
> > >>> competing fields of sociology, psychology, cognitive science). But
> they
> > >>> also prize delicacy and like to make fine distinctions that account
> > >>> exhaustively for data (e.g. vocabulary is treated as nothing but most
> > >>> delicate grammar, and grammar as most general forms of vocabulary,
> > hence
> > >>> the use of "words" for the latter and "wording" for the former).
> > >>>
> > >>> Accounting exhaustively for language as a social-semiotic phenomenon
> > >>> usually involves a delicate distinction between the social and the
> > >>> semiotic, something like the distinction between physics and
> chemistry
> > on
> > >>> the one hand and biology on the other. But Jim Martin argued that
> > >>> semiotic
> > >>> activity does not occur independent of social activity and vice
> versa,
> > >>> so,
> > >>> by Occam's razor, the terms are redundant and the hyphen superfluous.
> > >>> Surely the distinction between social behavior and meaningful
> behavior
> > is
> > >>> nothing like the distinction between animate and inanimate, sentient
> > and
> > >>> non-sentient, carbon-based self-replicating matter and inorganic
> > >>> compounds.
> > >>>
> > >>> Yesterday, we went whale watching out of Sydney Harbour. The
> Southwest
> > >>> Pacitic humpback community, which numbers between thirty and forty
> > >>> thousand, spends the summer (that is, your winter) months in
> Antarctica
> > >>> feeding on krill and small fish; they have an ingenious method of
> > feeding
> > >>> called bubble-netting which takes about 27 years for a whale to
> learn.
> > >>> It's
> > >>> a lot like Leontiev's description of a primitive hunt: twelve whales
> > work
> > >>> together to emit a circle of small bubbles encircling the prey, and
> > >>> gradually shaping it into a tall cylinder about thirty metres in
> > >>> diameter.
> > >>> When the krill kill is shaped in this way, the dinner table is set.
> The
> > >>> whales just sluice up and down through the cylinder with their baleen
> > >>> plates agape, raking in thousands of fish and/or tiny crustaceans
> with
> > >>> each
> > >>> pass.
> > >>>
> > >>> But then they embark on the road trip which brings them past Sydney
> > >>> Harbour
> > >>> and to points further north. The migration lasts many months, during
> > >>> which
> > >>> the whales do not eat at all. Even mothers, who have to produce about
> > 40
> > >>> litres of whale milk daily, fast the whole six months. I noticed that
> > the
> > >>> whales we saw were always in groups of two or three and I wondered to
> > the
> > >>> marine biologist on board if whales worked in small communities in
> > >>> Antarctica but then went on holidays in nuclear families. She pointed
> > out
> > >>> that these dyads and triads were all the same size and gender.
> "They're
> > >>> just mates," she said.
> > >>>
> > >>> She also said that the study of whale songs is being
> > >>> "de-anthropmorphized":
> > >>> it was previously believed that since they vary much like languages,
> > with
> > >>> regional dialects and some "multilingualism", they must have an
> > economic
> > >>> function in feeding, a sexual function in mating, or a political
> > function
> > >>> in establishing male dominance (no easy feat, because females are
> > >>> polyandrous and rather larger than males). None of this is the case:
> > >>> whales
> > >>> sing when they aren't feeding, when they aren't mating, and when they
> > >>> aren't fighting: they just like to sing. And in fact the four-tone
> > songs
> > >>> vary more like pop-tunes than like regional dialects or functional
> > >>> registers.
> > >>>
> > >>> Now, when the kerfuffle broke out between Halliday and Martin in
> > >>> Vancouver,
> > >>> Halliday pointed to ants as a species who were social but not
> semiotic
> > >>> (there is no reason to believe that "meaning" as distinct from
> > molecular
> > >>> biology is at stake). You might think the Southwest Pacific humpback
> > >>> community is a good counter example, since they clearly have both
> > social
> > >>> and semiotic activity. But it seems to me exactly the opposite: they
> > are
> > >>> a
> > >>> clear example that social activity is goal oriented in one way, and
> > >>> semiotic activity is goal oriented in quite a different way. I have
> > never
> > >>> liked using the term socio-cultural to describe Vygotsky's theory (it
> > is
> > >>> the term generally used in my own field of applied linguistics)
> > because I
> > >>> thought it was redundant; now I am not so sure.
> > >>>
> > >>> --
> > >>> David Kellogg
> > >>> Macquarie University
> > >>>
> > >>> "The Great Globe and All Who It Inherit:
> > >>> Narrative and Dialogue in Story-telling with
> > >>> Vygotsky, Halliday, and Shakespeare"
> > >>>
> > >>> Free Chapters Downloadable at:
> > >>>
> > >>> https://www.sensepublishers.com/media/2096-the-great-
> > >>> globe-and-all-who-it-inherit.pdf
> > >>>
> > >>> Recent Article: Thinking of feeling: Hasan, Vygotsky, and Some
> > >>> Ruminations
> > >>> on the Development of Narrative in Korean Children
> > >>>
> > >>> Free E-print Downloadable at:
> > >>>
> > >>> http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/8Vaq4HpJMi55DzsAyFCf/full
> > >>>
> > >>>
> > >>
> > >
> >
>



http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/8Vaq4HpJMi55DzsAyFCf/full