Re: [xmca] subjectivity question

From: Mary K. Bryson (
Date: Thu Nov 10 2005 - 08:32:19 PST

Two short books would, I think, provide an excellent overview of
contemporary thinking about this vexed matter of "self", "subjectivitity",
and the relationality of self and others, and of course, self as Other to

Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself, 2005, Fordham University Press

Adriana Cavarero, (1997), Relating Narratives: Storytelling and selfhood,

But for the sake of completeness, I would have to add, Michel Foucault's
later work, The Hermaneutics of the Subject, 2001, Palgrave -- kind of
fascinating because, published posthumously, these are literally
transcriptions of Foucault lecturing at the University.

A little contemplative reading is, I think, more helpful here than trying to
summarize about 300 years of work in an email -- and actually, if you just
read the Butler text, which is less than 150 pages, you will get it all.

Mary K. Bryson, Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator, ECPS, Faculty
of Education, University of British Columbia
Research Profile

On 11/9/05 8:52 AM, "Mike Cole" <> wrote:

> Mary-- I found the message where I raised questions about the use of the
> term,
> subjectivity. The question I am raising is one that I have brooded about for
> a long
> time without ever seeking to bring the discourses where subjectivity is a
> key term
> and discourses that use terms like psyche, mind, etc. that tend to come from
> different
> places/times.
> This may not be productive for people to discuss if others are clear on it
> but I am not
> so would benefit from such a discussion.
> mike
> ------------
> Second, and on a very different tack. I would really appreciate help
> understanding warrants for claims about another person or group's
> "subjectivity."
> I am a member of modern academic culture, so of course I have a general idea
> of what the term means from its uses, as in Anna's paper, but in cultural
> studies more broadly. But, perhaps because of my training as a behaviorist,
> or perhaps because of my training as a student of Alexander Luria's, many
> uses
> of the term make me nervous, and that extends to Anna's paper and your
> discussion with Martin (for whom the term is more comfortable, I believe --
> Please, Martin, Anna, Andy, Mary, and others join in here).
> Danzinger recounts how it came about that a researcher in a German
> laboratory in the 1880's-1990's came to be called "the subject," the person
> whose
> psychological states/perceptions/elements of consciousness/....... his (it
> was all hims at the time) research-partner was, in collaboration with the
> subject,
> trying to obtain "scientific evidence" about. In simple terms, it was the
> problem of how you could know what someone else was thinking/feeling.
> Luria writes about his disillusion with various attempts to solve this
> problem. He specifed, in The Nature of Human Conflicts, and again in his
> autobiography,
> a method in which the researcher created a situation where s/he and the
> "subject" were coordinated in a cultural medium. The behavior of both was
> voluntary, not reflexive. Once they achieve highly coordinated joint
> actions, the researcher introduces a highly selected change into the
> situation and
> determines if this change results in a change in the coordinated actions of
> the "subject." ONLY when there is selective, predictable, DIS-coordination
> of the coordinated joint activity is there a warrant for a claim about the
> other person's thought/feeling.
> Peg Griffin and I sought to extend this idea into the diagnosis and
> remediation of reading difficulties of children with, I believe, reasonable
> success. Bruner and
> others used it, without acknowledgement or recognition of its general
> importance so far as I know, in studies where, for example, infants are
> first habituated
> to a series of stimuli while their "signature" rhythmic sucking is recorded
> and then a small change of interest (phoeme, visual configuration...) is
> introduced
> to see if the suckig is disrupted.
> I can give other examples from rare, but naturally occuring events I have
> participated in.
> But in general, what are the warrants for claims about another person's or
> another people's subjectivity? Last night on National Public Radio I heard a
> Palastinian and other people writing "in diaspora" speak of the fence as
> huge influence on his feeling of being walled out of his own country. The
> people from various parts
> of Africa rioting in Paris are clearly outraged over their treatment by the
> French and I see their anger in their actions. But what can I claim to know
> about their
> subjectivity (their anger is objectively visible to me)? What can my
> daughter, who has lived in Eastern Madagascar at various periods in her
> life, gotten
> extraordinarily ill from helping grow rice in swamps, participated in cattle
> sacrifice, grieved at the death of her Malagasy ancestors, know about
> Malagasy
> subjectivity? Behind my back,the BBC is showing anyone who will watch the
> subjectivity of Latin Americans outraged at American policies. What can I
> know about their subjectivity other than its external manifestations?
> This is not a known answer question. I would appreciate help in coming to
> terms with the use of this term. I believe it must be used with great care
> and the
> possibility of claims being incorrect. Luria wanted to be able to
> distinguish what people said from what they "felt." In Anna's paper, the
> terms subjectivity
> and intersubjectivity are central. What is being meant by what is being
> written?
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