Re: dualisms

From: Peter Smagorinsky (
Date: Tue Apr 27 2004 - 08:45:30 PDT

For a class I'm teaching we read Nystrand, Greene, & Weimelt (1993), Where
did Composition Studies Come From: An Intellectual History. Written
Communication, 10(3), 267-333. It includes the following:

We recognize a basic irony in our use of such categories to characterize
the evolving schools of thought that have constituted the field, despite
our contention that much is to be lost when we begin to see these as
historically isolated, fixed "entities," rather than as related
tendencies. Yet as Knoblauch (1988) points out, the stipulation of
"difference" among competing classes is the fundamental ground of dialectic
inquiry. In other words, what might be regarded as "the trap of
oppositional thinking" is also the very quality of dialectic that moves us
toward enriched understandings and interpretive resolutions. (pp. 273-4)

I found my reading of this to be propitious because, like (I think) Don, I
try to avoid dichotomies and binaries in my own thinking and writing, yet
find myself parsing ideas categorically. Nystrand's observation regarding
dialectic inquiry helps me see the value of such categorizations when they
are used to promote synthesis rather than to divide the world into
polarities (which perhaps I've just done).

At 10:31 AM 4/27/2004, you wrote:
>Hi Steve. My own private hell is trying to avoid (or at least recognize
>when I am using) dualisms: inside/outside; knowledge/knower;
>subject/object; self/other; subjective/objective. For example, some folk
>talk about the ZPD as being a characteristic of an individual (i.e., we
>work with the student in his ZPD). Our job is to get in there and fix
>things up, a kind of “Cool Hand Luke” approach where we get his mind
>right. Other talk about the ZPD as occurring between individuals,
>dynamically created in interaction, but often retaining the directionality
>of transmission that Victor talks about in his post. These two correspond
>nicely to what self action (acting as individuals) and interaction (acting
>in a causal relation to another). The third possibility is
>transaction. This is a difficult (to me at least) concept. Jim Garrison’s
>paper was extremely helpful to me. My understanding of the transactional
>view is that it alerts us to the chaotic complexity of phenomena and that
>any of the distinctions we make by “fixing” or “detaching” time and space
>are methodological. As such, we are free to reframe, look anew from an
>alternative framework. We recognize that we have a world view, an ideology
>if you will, and then systematically explore alternatives. So, for
>example, a more transactional view of ZPD might look beyond the space and
>transmission metaphors and actively seek others to more richly describe
>the process. I like the metaphor of connection, for example. When I write
>a paper with Gary Shank, I am connected to rich network of connections he
>has to Peirce’s philosophy, alternative models of inquiry, etc. The
>product that we jointly produce is something that neither of us could have
>constructed alone. I suppose I could say that we mutually scaffolded (!)
>but I think the connection metaphor is more powerful. Of course this is
>another dualism: connected/not connected. So I take it for what it is
>worth! Does it help me think about the problems I would like to solve?
>Have to run……..djc
>Don Cunningham
>Indiana University
>From: Steve Gabosch []
>Sent: Tuesday, April 27, 2004 3:09 AM
>Subject: RE: No Dialectical Pumpkins yet please.
>At 06:16 PM 4/26/2004 -0500, you wrote:
>Steve, are there only two possibilities ( i.e., “all inside the head” or
>“in dialogue”)? Is dialogue between people and culture really possible?
>Does the metaphor of “zone” open up our thinking in useful ways? Does it
>constrain our thinking at all?
>Don Cunningham
>Indiana University
>Good thought-provoking questions, Don. I have Kris's recent post about
>space in mind, so I will focus some on space and spatial metaphors. Just
>the question I posed of the "location" of cognition presupposes a spatial
>metaphor as an answer, but as you imply, there are more places that
>cognition can be than just "inside the head" or just "in dialogue," and
>going farther (a space metaphor) there is certainly more to human
>cognition than just where it is and where it isn't. The essential point I
>think Bill was making and I was endorsing is that human cognition is very
>definitely more than just something that happens inside the head. I think
>the concept of distributed cognition may be very important here.
>My writing that you refer to was a little sloppy - it did sort of imply
>the idea of a dialogue between people and culture by the way I wrote a
>phrase, but what I was thinking of (inside my head?) was the dialectic
>(the problematic of development) - between people and culture - and the
>dialogues between people. These arenas (another spatial metaphor) -
>people and their cultures, and people and their dialogues - could be
>considered the general field (still another space metaphor) of events and
>artifacts that distributed cognition - in general, cultural activities -
>are created from.
>As Kris points out, "zone" is a spatial metaphor, which is what got me to
>notice all of mine in this post. The term "zone" certainly does open up
>our imaginations to think of human consciousness in spatial terms - as in,
>for example, the zone of proximal development, a very powerful concept -
>but like any metaphor, it is limited by the features of its image and
>mechanism. Time does not figure directly into the "zone" metaphor, for
>example. Seeing this vacuum, (geez, another space metaphor!) Bakhtin
>created the technical term chronotope, which was also discussed in the
>AERA session about space and CHAT that Kris spoke of. The term chronotope
>covers (I can't believe all the space metaphors I use) both time and space
>- roughly, a particular slice (another one) of human time and space in an
>historical context - but it has the limitation of not only not being a
>metaphor, but only being an unusual technical term unknown in everyday
>All of these words and metaphors are useful in helping us understand human
>consciousness - in space, in time, in development, in history, in an
>individual, in a dialogue, in culture, in learning, etc. etc. At the same
>time all have some limitations, and can certainly constrain our thinking
>if we use them with insufficient care. I think the trick is to have a
>tool box (finally, something other than a space metaphor) of metaphors and
>concepts at hand to help us describe and analyze in a balanced and
>effective way. The concept of "zone" would certainly be one of the
>handiest of such metaphors.
>Thanks for these interesting questions, Don. What are some of your
>thoughts about them?
>~ Steve

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