Re: abstract-not-situation or abstract AND situatied

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Sun May 08 2005 - 08:50:31 PDT

I do not know about others, but I am having some difficulty following this
My sense of the situation is that people are using several key terms,
including generalization
and abstraction, within (not-fully-articulated) theoretical frames. I am
uncertain how to
achieve intersubjectivity here (not agreement-- people may prefer different
approaches but perhaps
would benefit from knowing when they are operating in different frames using
the same terms or
disagree about the meaning of terms within a single framework).

It seems that being clear about the terminolgy and conceptual framework that
Susan Jurow is
using and a (possibly?) constrating framework that Michael Roth has referred
to would be useful.
I am not sure that these distinctions are known or shared by people in the
discussion. As a contribution
to at least making available an explication of an author who is well known
for a dialectical approach to
understanding the idea of abstraction as involving "rising to the concrete"
I append a web page with an
article by Marianne Hedegaard in appreciation of the life and work of V.V.
Davydov. Perhaps it will

On 5/8/05, Carol Macdonald <> wrote:
> 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
> theories."
> 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
> in-the-head,
> 1) the red herring also lay in part by construing "situated" as only
> meaning
> "here-and-now",
> 2) when abstraction emerges from difference and heterogeneity in social
> practice,
> 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
> others.
> 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
> 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?
> Carol

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