RE: abstract-not-situation or abstract AND situatied

From: Carol Macdonald (
Date: Sun May 08 2005 - 01:30:13 PDT

Subject: abstract-not-situation or abstract AND situatied

Authur quoted:
"Situated theories of cognition emerged in part as a reaction to fundamental
assumptions regarding knowing and learning in mainstream cognitive theory.
The notions of abstraction and decontextualization have been particularly
problematic for situated theorists, and as a result are often rejected from
situated analyses. Rather than dismissing abstraction, a few researchers
have begun to reformulate abstraction so that it is compatible with situated

And I wonder how it is that one cannot be both situated and abstracted
simultaneously, since indeed, physicists (I used to be one) engage in a
practice that is highly situated, while their work is -- to others -- highly
abstracted. My conjectures are that:

1a) a red herring lay in part by seeking abstraction as occuring only

1) the red herring also lay in part by construing "situated" as only meaning

2) when abstraction emerges from difference and heterogeneity in social

3) which includes the particular/unique forms that the mediational
artifacts take in the target social practice,

4) and includes the particular/unique semiotic processes of that practice,

5) both of which are built up over long time scales.

The mediational elements and processes in "abstract thinking" are built up
through many generations of others participating/creating/communicating in
that practice (I'm holding in mind my own participation in Fourier transform
infrared spectroscopy). Consequently, what one has "in mind", i.e. what is
situated, actually spans many here-and-now episodes. In my past practice,
these included Michelson's development of the interferometer, John Strong's
creation of the front-surfaced mirror, Herberg's reformulaton of the
relations between atomic and molecular structure and spectral emisions
(which builds upon Bohr, Heisenberg, Rydberg, Oppenhimer, etc.), and many

Yeah, like try to make sense of what they did without being a physicist!
But it all makes sense to me, I was there, and still am.


BB gave an extended thoughtful analysis here: I think we may be able to get
to "abstract" through "distributed" rather than "situated". However, I am
not entirely sure about this, because right now with my master's students,
we are looking at this and remembering our extended discussing of the zpd.
We have been wondering how learning through the zpd proceeds on this version
of socio-cultural psychology. It may be that its gets shot to pieces on an
individual level, but the group might be able to work toward a "scientific"
concept together.
What do you think?

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