[xmca] Kenneth Burke, Identity/Identification, CHAT

From: Tony Whitson (twhitson@UDel.Edu)
Date: Wed Feb 14 2007 - 11:11:21 PST

Reviewing some favorite passages from Burke, I find this one that I think
is astonishing in its independently corroborative insights re: CHAT:


It includes an illustrative classroom scenario that is a bit disturbing,
in context.

Here's the text of my post, but a cleaner format is available through the
link above:

Kenneth Burke, identity / identification, Activity Theory

While I’m at it with Kenneth Burke, here’s another favorite passage , on
“identification,” illustrated with a provocative, if not downright
disturbing, classroom scenario.

Included in the two pages linked above, Burke writes:

     The human agent, qua human agent, is not motivated solely by the
principles of a specialized activity, however strongly this specialized
power, in its suggestive role as imagery, may affect his character. Any
specialized activity participates in a larger unit of action.
“Identification” is a word for the autonomous activity’s place in this
wider context, a place with which the agent may be unconcerned. The
shepherd, qua shepherd, acts for the good of the sheep, to protect them
from discomfiture and harm. But he may be “identified” with a project that
is raising the sheep for market.

     Of course, the principles of the autonomous activity can be considered
irrespective of such identifications. Indeed, two students, sitting side
by side in a classroom where the principles of a specialized subject are
being taught, can be expected to “identify” the subject differently, so
far as its place in a total context is concerned. Many of the most
important identifications for the specialty will not be established at
all, until later in life, when the specialty has become integrally
interwoven with the particulars of one’s livelihood . The specialized
activity itself becomes a different thing for one person, with whom it is
a means of surrounding himself with family and amenities, than it would be
for another who, unmarried, childless, loveless, might find in the
specialty not so much a means to gratification as a substitute for lack of

I don’t know how deliberate was the contiguity of the shepherd/sheep
example with the classroom scenario; but I am struck by the independently
corroborative insights.

What do you think?

On Wed, 14 Feb 2007, Tony Whitson wrote:

> When I posted this, I forgot to mention what might be obvious to everyone:
> the aptness of the "unending conversation" vignette to xmca, itself!
> On Wed, 14 Feb 2007, Tony Whitson wrote:
>> On Unit of Analysis, Eugene has a paper that he might be able to share.
>> Eugene?
>> On Burke I have a favorite three-page excerpt posted at
>> http://curricublog.org/2007/02/14/burke-conversation/
>> 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
>> omitted]
>> =======
>> 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.
>> Constitution.
>> 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
>>> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
>>> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
>> Tony Whitson
>> UD School of Education
>> NEWARK DE 19716
>> twhitson@udel.edu
>> _______________________________
>> "those who fail to reread
>> are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
>> -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
> Tony Whitson
> UD School of Education
> NEWARK DE 19716
> twhitson@udel.edu
> _______________________________
> "those who fail to reread
> are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
> -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)

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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