Steve, this could easily lead us into a broader and potentially very interesting discussion of categories (beyond dualisms) and the joys/woes of nominalism. But I have hit the end of my semester and a slew of grading. I will have to step back for a while. I hope the topic will not have passed me by when I re-surface.
From: Steve Gabosch [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, April 28, 2004 2:04 PM
Subject: RE: dualisms
Hi Don. Part of the problem for me about discussing dualisms - and trying to recover from them! (LOL) - might be that there seems to be a current tendency for the term "dualism" to become an everyday word, at least in academic discourse - and which, in turn, seems at times to be used as a negative descriptor of something that should be avoided.
As a philosophical term, the term "dualism" describes a world view that sees the world as two "fundamental entities" (dictionary.com), the most famous being the mind/matter dualism of Rene Descartes. People who believe in both a natural and a supernatural reality are employing philosophical dualism. Materialists like Karl Marx, on the other hand, are monists.
As an apparently more and more frequently used "everyday" word in academic circles, the term "dualism" seems to be getting used not as a general ontological statement, but as a label for everyday oppositions. You provided a typical list of such oppositions in an earlier post: "inside/outside; knowledge/knower; subject/object; self/other; subjective/objective". Pluralization of this everyday use (as in "dualisms") helps to distinguish it from its philosophical use.
As a neutral term to discuss ways of making distinctions and classifications - as a term equivalent to the word "oppositions" - identifying "dualisms" seems sensible to me. The challenge from my point of view becomes looking for the appropriate dualisms that can successfully describe a situation or process, and shedding the ones that don't. This is the point you make - striving to avoid uncritically applying dualisms. As you imply, they must be applied with great care to be helpful.
This is the way I am finding myself using the term, since its ubiquitousness seems to make its use unavoidable. To make the process of critically shedding unwanted dualisms clearer, I find myself using terms such as "mechanical dualisms" and "mechanical oppositions" to describe the unsuccessful ones, and "dialectical oppositions" to describe the ones that seem to be successfully capturing the dynamics of a situation or process.
Since dialectical reasoning is always critiquing itself, always questioning and refining its understanding, one never fully arrives at a solution ( a fully successful description and analysis) - one can only (hopefully) keep getting closer. In this way of looking at "dualisms," they are neutral ideas to be kept in toolboxes and applied as needed. Since every situation and process has uniqueness, most dualisms will not work, but some or perhaps just one will. Discovering the appropriate dualisms for description and analysis becomes the task of thinking clearly and using scientific methods.
Now, to my problem. What follows is a perception I am developing and need some help understanding. It seems to me - or it is seeming to me as I think I observe this - that the term "dualism" in some academic uses seems to be evolving - at least in some uses - into something more than neutral. It seems to be evolving into a description of something undesirable, something to be avoided, and this creates a problem for me. In its more radical form, this tendency to use the term in this way seems to be a way of not just discouraging the use of "dualisms," but of also condemning certain lines of reasoning. A more strident use of the dictum "avoid dualisms" seems to suggest that people should reject an argument a priori simply because it employs "dualisms." This dictum implies "After all, we all want to avoid dualisms, don't we?" In effect, it appears to be a way of trying to steer how people talk - away from discourse styles employing "dualisms" - and toward ones that do not.
From my point of view, an odd (and amusing) thing about this dictum ("dualisms are bad") is that it is very difficult (according to my attempt at a "dialectical" world view) to describe the world without using dualisms and oppositions, so I am hearing people who are sensitive to this dictum constantly apologizing when they use them.
The solution may be to rethink this anti-dualism dictum altogether. In my opinion, getting rid of this relatively recent everyday-academic usage of the word "dualism" wouldn't hurt either, but this meaning of the word seems to be sticking, so that is probably not going to happen.
At 10:37 AM 4/28/2004 -0500, you wrote:
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
From: Steve Gabosch [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
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 reality.
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
From: Steve Gabosch [mailto:email@example.com]
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?
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?
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