Re: [xmca] units of analysis,and Kenneth Burke

From: Tony Whitson (twhitson@UDel.Edu)
Date: Wed Feb 14 2007 - 08:12:01 PST

On Unit of Analysis, Eugene has a paper that he might be able to share.

On Burke I have a favorite three-page excerpt posted at

It includes:

Kenneth Burke writes

     In equating "dramatic" with "dialectic," we automatically have also
our perspective for the analysis of history, which is a "dramatic"
process, involving dialectical oppositions. (p. 109)

We might consider how this also applies to the analysis of curriculum.
Burke writes:

     Where does the drama get its materials? From the “unending
conversation” that is going on at the point in history when we are born.
Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others
have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a
discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is
about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them
got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the
steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that
you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar.
Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another
aligns himself against you, to either the embarrass- [111] ment or
gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s
assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late,
you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously
in progress.

     It is from this “unending conversation” (the vision at the basis of
Mead’s work) that the materials of your drama arise.* Nor is this verbal
action all there is to it. For all these words are grounded in what
Malinowski would call “contexts of situation.” And very important among
these “contexts of situation” are the kind of factors considered by
Bentham, Marx, and Veblen, the material interests (of private or class
structure) that you symbolically defend or … [pp. 110-111; * footnote

The text and footnotes on those pages include important points on the
difference between positive and dialectical terms, as illustrated by the
historically contingent meaning of principles embedded in the U.S.

On Tue, 13 Feb 2007, Mike Cole wrote:

> Martin-- for your students-- and all--- for general consideration.
> This week my class is reading Wertsch's book on Mind as Action.
> In reading the book one issue has forcefully struck me that had already been
> gnawing at me. The word, consciousness, which
> is so important at the beginning and end of T&L does not appear in the index
> of the text. And while it may appear somewhere
> (I am now alerted!) it is not obvious so far. Rather, there is a remark on
> p. 12 that comes off of a an interesting discussion
> of Kenneth Burke (I am a big fan of Burke and dramatism approaches
> generall) that reads:
> The starting point of Burke's dramatistic method is that it takes human
> action as the basic phenomenon to be analyzed. This assumption
> provides the groundwork for building links between Burke and those of
> figures such as ..... vygtosky, wertch, zinchenko,, bakhtin, & mead.
> I know that your students have been focusing on the question of units of
> analysis and primal cells, Martin.
> I have been wanting to write something like, "The unit you choose depends
> upon the phenomenon you want to explain."
> Blah blah blah...... etc
> It seems to me that we need a very careful analysis of WHAT different family
> members in the chat/socicultural studies tradition want to explain.
> If they are trying to explain different things, then they need different
> units. But I do not know of a systematic description of what differerent
> members
> of the broad cultural-social-historical-activity approach believe themselves
> to be explaining.
> David--
> I guess I value etymologies more than you do. It is not that I disagree that
> people using a term, say, imagination, at present, do not have their
> own interpretations/meanings/senses. Sure. But rather, knowing the history
> (for me at least) often un-fossilizes the meanings/senses I have been
> making by opening up totally new possibilities for re-considering what
> Ithought I was talk about/through.
> the so-znanie/o-so-znanie contrast is useful in helping me unfossilize my
> understrandings. So is decomposing voobrazhenia (imagination)
> into into-image-making-- especially when it is a blind-deaf psychologist who
> pushes the issue.
> Or maybe I am just focused elsewhere.
> Que penses compadres?
> mike
> (mlk are my initials in russian, which tickles me, oddball that i am)
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

Tony Whitson
UD School of Education

"those who fail to reread
  are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
                   -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)

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