RE: dualisms

From: Cunningham, Donald J. (
Date: Wed Apr 28 2004 - 08:37:10 PDT

My name is Don Cunningham and I am a recovering dualist!


Steve, I also use dialectical reasoning as a methodological tool. The
dualisms I worry about are those I uncritically apply in my everyday
thinking (and since I think of myself as a scientist that is also
included in my everyday thinking). One of my favorite Umberto Eco quotes
is "A worldview can conceive of anything except an alternative
worldview", or something to that effect.........djc


Don Cunningham

Indiana University


From: Steve Gabosch []
Sent: Tuesday, April 27, 2004 3:32 PM
Subject: Re: dualisms


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 way.

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

- 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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