[xmca] Subjectivity, agency, free will and Rosa Parks

From: Stetsenko, Anna (AStetsenko@gc.cuny.edu)
Date: Sat Nov 12 2005 - 11:21:07 PST

Speaking of free will... and perhaps also to infuse a dose of optimism into our conversation (something important at least for me, especially today in our political context). Please forgive me for making some general points and disregard if you are not interested.


Our discussion for this month started with the message (on Nov 1st) from Mary van der Riet with the following title:

Re: [xmca] A woman sat down, the world turned around.


((by the way, going to the 'xmca mail by date' and looking at the dynamics and play of message titles is quite interesting - could be used in discourse analysis too perhaps?)).


This message was, as I am sure many remember, about Rosa Parks and her courage and how her action helped change the world. Of course, it would be na´ve to think that this one act per se and one person changed everything - there is much powerful social dynamic behind what Rosa Parks did before and after she did what she did, as Mike had wisely hinted at when he wrote about Rosa Parks. And yet we celebrated her just couple of weeks ago and I think did so for a good reason.


Which brings me to a general point (if this sounds as educational effort, I apologize... and assure that this is not my intent). For me our conversation about agency and subjectivity and bringing it more to the fore has a direct connection to something very practical that I care about more (certainly not less) than any purely theoretical debate. It is the view that each person matters in the 'scheme' of things - as Rosa Parks did. That each individual person can make some difference and already makes some (contributing to the world - even when ostensibly doing nothing, because doing nothing contributes to something too, albeit negatively, ...to helping preserve the status quo and to stifle changes). And thus that each also bears responsibility for what is going on. This is the bigger rationale behind what I addressed as issues of subjectivity.


So, my take on free will is that I would think that addressing it (and agency and subjectivity) should not be impossible within a dialectical materialist view of human development (and there are certainly things to read as others suggested). To do this in a way that would not lead into all the traps of individualism and mentalism requires a difficult work of first UNHINGING this concept from exactly these faulty premises and from the whole worldview behind these premises (and from ideology and politics behind this worldview -- at a deeper level). Just as the same work is required if we are to address psychological processes and not leave them to those who biologize and mentalize (and medicalize) them, for their own great gain, - because this is practically important and even urgent. I think this is what Vygotsky actually tried to do and so did his followers - and the analysis of how, where and why they failed versus what they achieved is still quite some topic to explore.


Interesting article (link below) -- not that I agree with all its points (too 'feel-good' and past- rather than forward-looking perhaps) but for some interesting links to Rosa Parks as well as context of what is going on today and agency:


A Stetsenko


PS. I will write later to acknowledge Victor's illuminating and generous posting which I appreciate very much.


From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of Gordon Wells
Sent: Fri 11/11/2005 11:57 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [xmca] Subjectivity,m agency and free will

Concurrently with this discussion on xmca, I am involved in a
doctoral seminar on CHAT. Recently we have been struggling with the
relationships among subjectivity, agency and free will. Is there some
sort of implicational relationship such that the later each assumes
the preceding? Or is 'free will' a misfit here? We should be grateful
for thoughts on this question.


Gordon Wells
Dept of Education,              http://education.ucsc.edu/faculty/gwells
UC Santa Cruz.
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