Re: Michael Glassman's response: [FROM Michael Glassman]

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Wed Apr 28 2004 - 09:55:39 PDT

Michael is still having trouble getting through to xmca, so he wrote asking
me to post his latest response,

By Michael Glassman:

-----Original Message-----
From: Michael Glassman
Sent: Wednesday, April 28, 2004 10:33 AM
To: ''
Subject: RE: Michael Glassman's response


Steve and others,

Your question is what do I see as the relationship between Dewey and
CHAT. There are a lot of similarities and a lot of differences, but I
will restrict myself to what I see (right now) as the most important
similarity and the most important difference.

The most important similarity is what I see as the interconnections of
context in understanding and meaning. In their critique Gredler and
Shields made the claim that it was simply wrong headed to claim that
Activity Theory was from Vygotsky. I actually wrote an article on this
a few years back that appeared in Human Development in which I try and
make the case that Activity Theory is actually directly descended from
Dewey (I wish they had read - possibly an example of Gredler and Shields
not recognizing the interconnectedness of ideas.) In that article one
of the points I try to make is that Activity Theory as I see it being
developed by Vygotsky may be based on at least two seminal ideas (other
ideas as well, I am sure). The first is the work of Engels
(particularly the Dialectics of Nature) and the second is the work of
Stanislavsky. It is brining Stanislavsky and his theory of method
acting into the mix that I see as one of Vygotsky's great (and
underappreciated) contributions, and actually allows him to surpass
Dewey in his exposition of transaction analysis. In particular
Stanislavsky concentrates on the "scoring" of dialogue. I knew this
because I spent a lot of time around theater in my younger days and took
a number of method workshops, but when I was writing the above article I
actually went and read "On Being an Actor" and a couple of other books.
What scoring offers is a way to recontextualize what is supposedly
decontextualized. When you see dialogue in a script it seems
decontextualized (of course if you ask any playwright they will tell you
that it is not). What Stanislavsky says is if you take the words just
as they are they are meaningless of you and therefore they will be
meaningless to the audience. What you need to do is explore all the
possible emotional, social, physical and historical motivations for that
particular moment in time, and you need to do it by actually living it
so it is not history but a living part of the dialogue. In other words
Stanislavsky is saying there really is no such thing as dialogue unless
you understand the transactional aspects behind that moment in time (of
course Stanislavsky never used the term transactional, just a little bit
of poetic license.) I see Vygotsky, in his original conception of
Activity Theory as trying to take this process and apply it to human
activity. That if what we really want to understand what is happening
we must score it, and this is where the idea of trying to recognize the
motivation behind the act comes from. Leontiev seemed to drop this
aspect of Activity Theory in importance, I see Engestrom re-emphasizing
the importance of the idea with his triangle in second generation
Activity Theory.

What I see as the major difference is something that Carol just wrote.
I think one of the pre-suppositions of CHAT is that you can
decontextualize mediation (and therefore treat culture as an object).
Perhaps the most radical idea in KNOWING AND THE KNOWN is that you
cannot decontextualize mediation, and therefore it is questionable how
useful mediation is in the analysis of activity (they suggest that we
pretty much jettison the concept of mediation). Now I know a lot of
people are going to be really upset by this, and it is so controversial
I even hesitate to bring it up. But they also make a pretty brilliant
argument. As Carol suggests, mediation is a means, the it is a part of
a process, a tool, or in Deweyan terms an instrument that allows the
person using it to solve a problem at the moment. But if it is an
instrument then don't you really only understand its meaning within the
transactional context of the moment? It is a tool, but how much do we
really need to know about the tool itself to understand the activity,
and the problem, for which the tool is being used? And isn't it true
that if we are simply using mediation as a means, once the problem
changes (which it invariably will, because all problems happen in the
future and are therefore unique), doesn't the meaning of the mediated
object change? So what do we really buy from decontextualizing
mediation and discussing it (what would we buy from decontextualizing a
hammer and discussing it)? Then we need to figure out what we lose when
we decontextualize mediation. Are we claiming that certain symbols have
certain meaning no matter what the situation, no matter what the
problem? Doesn't this open the possibility for people to lay claim to
mediating objects, use them for the own purposes (see George W. Bush)
and claim that those who don't accept the meaning of that object (e.g.
flag) are a lesser part of the community. This gets back to the point
that there should not be mentoring but facilitating in the development
of meaning and the use of tools. But that's another post.


-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Gabosch []
Sent: Tuesday, April 27, 2004 2:45 PM
Subject: Re: Michael Glassman's response

Michael, your writing has certainly been generating much intellectual
stimulation! I am so very happy you are participating here on xmca.

I read the "A Letter From Dewey" last night from the Dewey-Bentley book
Knowing and the Known that you suggest, and which is happily on on line
(thanks Don, Adam). I found this piece by Dewey quite helpful in
understanding his radical approach to inquiry, while at the same time
helpful in revealing his ambivalent and circular approach toward
(this is the dialectical materialist in me speaking critically but also
appreciatively of Dewey).

And your 2001 article has certainly stimulated a deeper appreciation in
and others of the importance and complexity of studying and comparing
educational philosophies of Dewey and Vygotsky. Again, my hat is off to

you for initiating and tackling this in Educational Researcher. I look
forward to your response to Gredler and Shields.

I want to ask you about a major point you bring up - what you call the
"transactive approach to activity".

Michael posted:
"I offer this thought experiment. For anybody who wants to play here are

the rules. I will offer a simple communication. You need to try and
determine what the meaning of the communication is. I will then offer
another step in understanding of the communication, and again you need
determine the meaning, another step, and again you need to determine the

meaning and so on. Track the way your meaning changes with each step and

you have an idea of what the transactive approach to activity is. I want
stress that this is not a new idea. I take the approach, if not the
experiment almost wholly from (my interpretation of) Dewey's article on
Reflex Arc Concept published in 1896. This is an idea that has been
a very long time and should have been one of the pillars to all
psychological research."

Linguistics considers one of its objects of study to be how meaning is
accumulated in speech and text - in words (phonemes, morphemes, etc.),
phrases (lexemes, etc.), sentences (syntax, etc.), and so forth. Your
suggestion of looking for ways to track meaning in dialogue as an
part of understanding an activity is stimulating, as are so many of your

I am interested in how you see a transactive approach to activity
in (or not) to cultural-historical activity theory and the ideas of the
Vygotsky school in general.

- Steve

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sat May 01 2004 - 01:00:07 PDT