Re: dualisms

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Tue Apr 27 2004 - 13:32:25 PDT

My own private hell - I like this method of self-disclosure Don introduces
- is to avoid the pitfalls of mechanical reasoning and stay on track
(sometimes just try to get on track at all) using dialectical
reasoning. This creates just the opposite approach to dualisms and the
"trap of oppositional thinking" than the approach Don and Peter speak
about. I find myself not trying to avoid, but rather, trying to embrace
oppositions and dualisms. This sounds like the point Peter makes referring
to Knoblauch, who I would like to learn more about (along with Jim
Garrison, who Don mentions, Nystrand, etc. All in due time!).

In trying to transcend mechanical thinking, I find myself dealing with the
problem of not thinking in terms of oppositions clearly enough - not
dialectically enough. The problem with mechanical thinking is not that it
does not produce the notion of or does not have a way of processing
oppositions - it most certainly does - it is that it usually picks the
wrong oppositions and then treats their development in a linear, mechanical

What I mean by "wrong" oppositions is that every developmental process -
every system, which is a "unity" (tricky word) of contradictory
developmental processes - is having its own unique war between its elements
and with its wholeness. It is in constant motion, development, evolution
and negation. The trick for me is to understand that system or process
(e.g. a human activity) in terms of its actuality, its concreteness, its
own development. Conceptualizations of *abstract* mechanical oppositions
are often needed to get one started in deciphering some process, but they
need to be shed as the *concrete* oppositions are revealed. This is the
notion of the ascension from the abstract to the concrete. To do so, one
needs to work at "thinking" dialectically because (and this is my
dialectical materialist ontology speaking here), whatever the object of
study is, it is "developing" dialectically. Scientific thinking then
becomes the challenge of trying to reflect actual processes in our
cognitive activities.

Since human consciousness must always lag behind reality, it can never
fully close this gap, (and can sometimes get very, very far away from
it). Therein lies what I see as a core dynamic of what it means to be
human - our continual struggle to rediscover ourselves and how we think,
perpetual features of our species trying to understand and work with reality.

- Steve

At 11:45 AM 4/27/2004 -0400, you wrote:
>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 speech.
>>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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