RE: [xmca] Action Research and its relationship to SCHAT - Whiggism?

From: Jay Lemke (
Date: Sat Mar 31 2007 - 13:46:18 PST

After a long absence, a short reply.

One issue is whether Christianity, some people's ideas about family,
and some ideals of democracy are actually worth defending. Frankly, I
don't think that any of the ones you listed are worth defending or
are even very thoughtfully 'moral'. When I say this, or attack them
(rarely in public), I mean the institutionalized ideologies they are
cover terms for. I think that love within a family, or the principle
of the Golden Rule, or Jesus' stance on the accumulation of wealth,
or the notion that rulers should be accountable to the ruled are all
great ideas and worth promoting and even defending. The problem is
that what social conservatives support are the bigger ideologies, and
those are riddled with horrors. What bothers me is that people don't
THINK about moral values. Just a little critical thought and you have
to rip the big pictures apart and salvage what's worth defending, but
too many people are afraid that if you rip apart the package, the
universe fails.

So all critical thinking about what is really moral is labeled moral
relativism, or egoism. The notion that people can think intelligently
and make decisions about what is and is not moral is seen as
dangerous. And it is dangerous. But it's a risk I think needs to be
taken in the name of a higher standard of justice and morality than
the one we currently have. It is also a risk that is at the
foundation of Christian theology (moral free will), but which somehow
gets short-circuited.

There is no such thing as moral relativism, nor any thoughtful person
who has ever espoused it. Not if it means what those who hate it or
fear it mean by it. No one believes that all possible views of what
is moral and what is not are equally valid. That's crazy. One can
reasonably believe that you should not dismiss a different view out
of hand, especially if it has had a long history in a different
cultural community. But on the evidence of our own community, not all
that we believe to be moral really is moral, and so not all that
other cultures believe to be moral will be, either. It is also
reasonable to believe that there are no universal moral principles,
like Euclidean axioms, from which correct choices can be derived in
all times and places across the universe and aeons. I don't believe
there are any such principles for physics, or for mathematics for
that matter. Why would I believe in them for morality? They are a
misleading temptation of our wish-fulfillment fantasies. Life would
seem to be so much simpler if we had them. Why? because then we would
be absolved of the awful responsibility of ultimate moral judgments.
We could just pass the buck to God. And go quietly to hell.


At 04:04 AM 1/29/2007, you wrote:
>But Jay, the kind of rant against historical ladders which I think
>you are fond of, signal to me and to social conservatives, a kind of
>moral relativism which is a real life-on-earth-threatening problem
>at the moment, a view which sustains a kind of egotism which is
>eroding the very foundations of social life. Is modernism of the
>Fordist variety the main enemy today? Jay, I am sure that you are
>not such an egotist (you wouldn't be on xmca if you were), but that
>is exactly how this rant against democracy and progress sounds to
>those think that Christianity, family and democracy are things worth
>defending, or those that think that unionism, social solidarity,
>education, universal rights and public utilities are worth defending.
>At 10:17 PM 28/01/2007 -0500, you wrote:
>>I think you've read me a little too literally. I hardly think that
>>US conservatives are either homogeneous on these matters or that
>>they take a genuinely historical view of things. I wish they did! I
>>was using the notion of Whiggish history to exemplify a tendency to
>>naturalize those aspects of how things are that are also in our
>>own, or our class interest.
>>There are a lot of things that US conservatives think are quite
>>natural and necessary and part of God's natural order, to which
>>civilization has risen through long experience -- like abominating
>>sex of any kind they don't like, or insisting that marriage can
>>only be between a man and a woman. It's the "basics" about which
>>they are Whiggish. Or consider their absolute certainty that the
>>USA is the natural leader of the free world, the freeest and most
>>liberal country, and has the best system of government evolved by
>>history. Or indeed that democracy is the last and highest step on
>>the ladder of political thought and that in all the millennia that
>>humans may have left, nothing better will ever come along. Etc. And
>>that goes double for born-again christianity.
>>Of course they are also out to advance their interests beyond the
>>present state of things, which in many respects is not ideal for
>>them. And that is where the political magic of coalition building
>>comes in. The Bushes, and a lot of other western political leaders,
>>are heavily "invested" in Saudi oil, and a little gay-bashing was a
>>small price to pay for the votes to enable them to defend their
>>interests against Saddam's perceived threat. On the other side,
>>quasi-christian fundamentalists recruit more good ol' boys by being
>>gung-ho adventurist 'patriots' (i.e. nuke the muslims) than by
>>paying any attention to Jesus' views on such matters. Of course,
>>there has always been a minority ahistorical strain in christianity
>>... it spawns wacko cults by the dozen every century and always has.
>>The problem with trying to understand how other people think
>>politically is that it is often a total mashup of reasonable
>>principles, disguised self-interest, and totally schizoid blindness
>>to blazing contradiction. By contrast, a Whig is an ideal type
>>rarely met with, as you note.
>>Our major problem in the US is that we have, except here and there
>>online, no public forums where alternative views are really
>>discussed in ways that might bring out some of these problems. When
>>I watch the BBC, centrist as it seems to me, I weep because at
>>least they always present two points of view on every political
>>issue that actually sound like they're different. Every night. In
>>the US, when that happens, it means we are in a dangerous political crisis.
>>At 02:35 AM 1/24/2007, you wrote:
>>>Jay, I certainly take seriously your injunction for us to try
>>>harder to understand how other people think politically, but I am
>>>not sure that I agree with your observations.
>>>Firstly, you refer to a "Whiggish" view of history as being
>>>dominant. But I just don't see it (in far away Melbourne). The
>>>view of history that I see in people who claim the mantle of
>>>conservatism who are calling the political tune at the moment, is
>>>a very belittling and dismissive one. These people seem willing to
>>>invent new Churches from scratch with no regard whatsoever for the
>>>experience of millennia of Christianity, invent new labour laws
>>>from the top of their head, without regard for how the current
>>>systems are the way they are, set off on new Crusades without ever
>>>having experienced war or thought about the lessons of past wars,
>>>abolish age-old institutions willy nilly, and so on. It is more
>>>likely progressives like most of us on xmca who argue that
>>>institutions are like they are for very good reasons. Honest
>>>conservatives, Whigs if you like, are scarce as hen's teeth these days.
>>>Secondly, who thinks we are in the best of all possible worlds,
>>>"the crown of creation" because that's the way it *has* to be? I
>>>think people (especially maybe young people) who have actually
>>>never ever thought about the way things are at all, never
>>>reflected on history at all, could be imputed with this kind of
>>>view, if you believe in imputing views based on things other than
>>>holding them. Of those who have a view about history and the way
>>>things are, almost everyone seems to think things are in a bad way
>>>and getting worse. In fact the very impossibility of even
>>>imagining that things could ever improve and the ease of imagining
>>>a global disaster is one of the biggest problems we have. It is, I
>>>think, people who claim that "all the grand narratives have ended"
>>>and "people no longer believe in progress" etc who are the most
>>>likely to believe that we now live in the only grown-up stage of history.
>>>Thirdly, how adequate is the dichotomy between "political radicals
>>>and political conservatives"? There is little "conservative" about
>>>people like George Bush and Tony Blair. The people who advise
>>>them? Come on! These are the people who make up history as they go
>>>along. The religious right? I don't think so, these people are
>>>prepared to bring on a holocaust in the hope that they will be saved.
>>>I accept that things are very different in different countries,
>>>and it's hard to get an overview. What do you think?
>>>At 07:47 PM 23/01/2007 -0500, you wrote:
>>>>Just to note that Peirce said a LOT about semiosis, using his
>>>>many variations of the word (he liked Greek spelling), and it did
>>>>make a big change, but a long time after he passed on.
>>>>As to history, I've always started with the idea that if we know
>>>>how we got where we are, we'd be rather likely to disagree with
>>>>the choices (or necessities, or ideologies) of the past that got
>>>>us here (since they don't tend to stay constant all that long),
>>>>and so we'd both want to change things and realize that there's
>>>>no good reason (from our point of view today), why they had to
>>>>turn out the way they now are.
>>>>This historical subversiveness contrasts with a more dominant,
>>>>often called "Whiggish", view of history, which tends, like
>>>>old-fashioned apologist social functionalism, to claim that the
>>>>way things are is the way they have to be, and that history
>>>>teaches us the lessons we learned about why this is so. This is a
>>>>variant of progressionist evolutionary theory, and the 19th
>>>>century view, still quite alive if not among many evolutionary
>>>>biologists, that all of evolution and all of history is one grand
>>>>upward march to ... ME! Here we sit, at the crown of creation,
>>>>in, if not the best of all possible worlds, at least a world that
>>>>is as it is because by and large that's how it has to be. To
>>>>which I say, most heartily ... bullshit!
>>>>More kindly, these different perspectives on history (and their
>>>>is a LITTLE truth in Whiggism ... a very little) are central to
>>>>the divide between political radicals and political
>>>>conservatives, left and right, which may change its colors and
>>>>fashions, and programs, but has remained remarkably constant for
>>>>an awfully long time. And it behooves us on the one side, I
>>>>think, to have some understanding and appreciation for WHY some
>>>>people are on the other side.
>>>>We tend most often to say that they just follow their interests,
>>>>even unconsciously, and no doubt in the large and the long term
>>>>that's true enough (e.g. statistically, or ala Bourdieu's
>>>>neo-Durkheimian survey research). But it's a mistake I think, and
>>>>far too dangerously easy, to leave it at that. We need much
>>>>deeper and better accounts of why conservatives believe the crazy
>>>>things they do! because to them they are not crazy, but follow
>>>>from a long tradition of well-developed arguments and what
>>>>appears to them to be mountains of evidence.
>>>>Conservatives attract many voters with their arguments, including
>>>>many whose objective interests should not dispose them that way.
>>>>A key reason why CHAT needs to re-invigorate its emphasis on the
>>>>historical is just because we are contending against another view
>>>>of history, one that is dangerous to everything we are working
>>>>for, and which needs to be faced with a vigorous and
>>>>well-developed alternative view ... hopefully one that can prove
>>>>its worth with contributions to practical problem solving and
>>>>making the world others would just accept, different and better for more of us.
>>>>At 08:51 AM 1/22/2007, you wrote:
>>>>>This is one of the issues I find really interesting in action
>>>>>research - how do you understand this redefintion. You change
>>>>>the understanding of the relationship between espoused theory
>>>>>and theory in use (I'm using Argyris' terminology here) through
>>>>>discussion and change in the way individuals talk about their
>>>>>projects (is it an attempt to come to a better match between
>>>>>theory in use and the way we talk about what we do) - and I
>>>>>guess in the best of all possible worlds this will loop back and
>>>>>change the way we talk about activity - so espoused theory
>>>>>becomes closer to theory in use. But when this change occurs,
>>>>>is it a move from objectification and basis in history (and how
>>>>>the organization was developed through history) to a more
>>>>>process oriented overall understanding of activity. For those
>>>>>who believe the Peirce made a qualitative change when he
>>>>>introduced the concept of semiosis (and let's face it, it wasn't
>>>>>the most overwhelming introduction, maybe he only used the word
>>>>>a few times) - is it a movement towards a more Pragmaticist based semiosis?
>>>>>Do we need to recognize history in an attempt to understand the
>>>>>problem better. Jay makes a great point, why do we have forty
>>>>>minute periods, why do we have nine month school schedules? It
>>>>>is because of history, and we sort of know that history, or
>>>>>interpretations of that history - but then how does it help us
>>>>>get closer to solving our problem. And if we give primacy to
>>>>>history, doesn't this open the door to the argument that the
>>>>>reason we do it this way is because of our history, and our
>>>>>history got us here, so our history should play an important
>>>>>part in our problem solving?
>>>>>Just some questions on a snowy Monday morning.
>>>>>From: on behalf of Jay Lemke
>>>>>Sent: Sun 1/21/2007 2:40 PM
>>>>>To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>>>>Subject: RE: [xmca] Action Research and its relationship to SCHAT
>>>>>Action Research is about solving immediate problems, but one of its
>>>>>strategies is to get people talking about what those problems really
>>>>>are. In the course of which they often re-define the key problems as
>>>>>being larger than their immediate symptoms. When you then start to
>>>>>collaboratively investigate these bigger issues, you almost always
>>>>>find that history has played a role in getting us into the mess we're
>>>>>in. And that understanding how to get out of it often depends on
>>>>>figuring out a way around the path that historically got us where we are.
>>>>>Why are school classes only 40 minutes long? why are students
>>>>>segregated by age in schools? why don't teacher-student relationships
>>>>>in schools last more than a few months to less than one year? why are
>>>>>curriculum subjects separated? why is curriculum content dictated to
>>>>>be uniform? why do we use pencil-and-paper testing? why don't
>>>>>students get to learn from non-teacher mentors? why can't I take my
>>>>>students on a field trip outside the school? why can't they learn by
>>>>>participating/observing in other institutions?
>>>>>Why can't we talk about the topics we're really interested in? why
>>>>>can't we spend more than 2 weeks on this? why can't I learn basic
>>>>>biology over 2 years instead of one? why can't we talk about human
>>>>>sexuality? or famous gay figures in history? why can't we learn about
>>>>>law, religion, economics, politics? why can't we discuss the causes
>>>>>of violence in my neighborhood? Why don't I get paid for all the work
>>>>>the school requires me to do?
>>>>>The causes of most social headaches are institutional and structural,
>>>>>and the timescales across which we need to look to understand how
>>>>>they came to cause our headaches expand in historical time as we
>>>>>probe these networks of causes.
>>>>>Remember: give a man a fish, he eats today; teach him to fish, he
>>>>>eats tomorrow too? Action research, and the CHAT perspective, is
>>>>>about learning new ways to eat, about looking across longer relevant
>>>>>timescales for alternatives and solutions, not about eating the first
>>>>>fish to come our way (though if you're really hungry, why not?).
>>>>>PS. Short-term solutions can give us the breathing space to seek
>>>>>longer-term ones. But they can also exacerbate longer-term problems,
>>>>>or disguise them until they get even worse.
>>>>>At 01:30 PM 1/21/2007, you wrote:
>>>>> >Hello Michael,
>>>>> >
>>>>> >It seems to me the example you give about a headache has more to do
>>>>> >with a definition of the problem than it does to do with the role of
>>>>> >history. Do I define the problem as a need to remove the pain right
>>>>> >now, or do I define the problem as the need to make sure I don't get
>>>>> >headaches again. If I define the problem as the former then I take
>>>>> >an aspirin, and because the consequences of the action are that I no
>>>>> >longer have a headache, I am able to assert that the aspirin helped
>>>>> >in getting rid of the headache, and I have a relatively high level
>>>>> >of warranted assertability, and the aspirin becomes the first
>>>>> >instrument I reach for when wanting to solve a similar problem. If
>>>>> >I want to get rid of my headaches completely, I don't determine the
>>>>> >cause beforehand, because that is going to guide my problem solving
>>>>> >activity, but not necessarily in the right direction (let's say I
>>>>> >think that my dog's barking is causing my headaches - I get rid of
>>>>> >my dog, and that is my solution. But my headaches continue, and now
>>>>> >I am without a dog). Instead I approach the problem as an
>>>>> >experiment, setting up careful activities with measurable
>>>>> >consequences. This is not to say that ideas that have gone before
>>>>> >are not important, but only as part of an array of instruments I can
>>>>> >use in my experiment.
>>>>> >
>>>>> >But history often times plays a more important, defining role, that
>>>>> >has implications for our problem solving. History takes a dominant
>>>>> >position in our thinking and then we focus on maintenance of history
>>>>> >rather than the solving of the problem. This, it seems to me, is at
>>>>> >least part of the problem that action research is attempting to deal
>>>>> >with, at least in some of its incarnations. It is interesting
>>>>> >because Santayana makes the point very early that Americans have two
>>>>> >ways of dealing with issues - the way they say they are going to
>>>>> >deal with issues and the way that they actually do deal with
>>>>> >issues. Even back in in early part of the nineteenth century
>>>>> >American's were saying that they deal with issues through
>>>>> >religion/ideology such as being Catholics, or Protestants, or
>>>>> >Conservatives or such. But in actual problem solving Americans are
>>>>> >almost always Naturalists, dealing with problems as they occur
>>>>> >within the confines of nature. The difficulty is sometimes that
>>>>> >ideology overwhelms Naturalism, and it does so through history -
>>>>> >meaning it causes people to confuse who they say they are with what
>>>>> >they do. Here in the United States we are going through an
>>>>> >interesting political period in which individuals actually act
>>>>> >(vote) against their own best interests. The question is why. Is
>>>>> >it the manipulation of activity through the implications of
>>>>> >history? Again, it seems to me that this was one of the issues
>>>>> >Action Research is meant to solve (I have some ideas of why it might
>>>>> >not be that successful related to the dynamic nature of
>>>>> >information). This is why I wonder if the introduction of history
>>>>> >from the CHAT perspective is necessarily a positive for Action
>>>>> >Research. I don't have any answer for this, and I'm not drawing any
>>>>> >conclusions. Just something this discussion on Action Research has
>>>>> >spurred in my thinking.
>>>>> >
>>>>> >Michael
>>>>> >
>>>>> >________________________________
>>>>> >
>>>>> >From: on behalf of Wolff-Michael Roth
>>>>> >Sent: Sun 1/21/2007 12:52 PM
>>>>> >To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>>>> >Subject: Re: [xmca] Action Research and its relationship to
>>>>> >XMCAtheoreticaland methodological interests
>>>>> >
>>>>> >
>>>>> >
>>>>> >Hi Michael,
>>>>> >the problem with "immediate problems" is that these are concrete
>>>>> >expressions of issues at a very different level. Addressing the
>>>>> >immediate problem is like taking aspirin when you hurt somewhere.
>>>>> >What this solution to your immediate problem does not provide you
>>>>> >with is an understanding of the causes of headache, so that taking
>>>>> >aspirin is only patching some deeper problem---the causes, which are
>>>>> >of a very different nature, could be psychological, psychosomatic,
>>>>> >physiological, etc.
>>>>> >Historical analysis of the system as a whole is one way of getting at
>>>>> >the determinants---causes---of the immediate problems and how these
>>>>> >are mediated by the system as a whole. There are neat analyses by
>>>>> >Klaus Holzkamp or Ole Dreier that show why in counseling, for
>>>>> >example, you need to do more than treat immediate causes.
>>>>> >Cheers,
>>>>> >Michael
>>>>> >
>>>>> >On 21-Jan-07, at 9:15 AM, Michael Glassman wrote:
>>>>> >
>>>>> >Had a chance to take a look at both Cathrene's chapters and the paper
>>>>> >by Anne Edwards. It is really interesting, good work. I am left
>>>>> >with an initial question. In both cases (and I might be wrong here),
>>>>> >what the authors were saying that CHAT (or SCRAT) have to offer
>>>>> >action research is a historical perspective, which, from what I am
>>>>> >reading, is not really part of Action research. The question this
>>>>> >brings to mind is, "Is this a good thing?" Do we naturally take
>>>>> >historical analysis as a good when we are attempting to deal with
>>>>> >immediate problems, and to sort of break the yoke the the larger
>>>>> >cultural foregrounding when attempting to deal with immediate
>>>>> >problems, or does it in some way "stack the deck" and force a more
>>>>> >culturally historical acceptable solution to the problem. It's a
>>>>> >problem I really struggle with. One thing that Cathrene's chapters
>>>>> >really did for me is make me recognize the relationship between micro-
>>>>> >genetic research and action research - because I suppose in the best
>>>>> >of all possible worlds micro-genetic research is action research (or
>>>>> >is it the other way around?)
>>>>> >
>>>>> >Michael
>>>>> >
>>>>> >________________________________
>>>>> >
>>>>> >From: on behalf of Wolff-Michael Roth
>>>>> >Sent: Sun 1/21/2007 11:32 AM
>>>>> >To:; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>>>> >Subject: Re: [xmca] Action Research and its relationship to XMCA
>>>>> >theoreticaland methodological interests
>>>>> >
>>>>> >
>>>>> >
>>>>> >Hi all, regarding the question of action research in schools and
>>>>> >CHAT---i.e., the points Anne Edwards article is about---we also had
>>>>> >written many years ago a conceptualization of this form of research
>>>>> >and some variants in an online article that some might find
>>>>> >interesting in this context:
>>>>> >
>>>>> >Roth, Wolff-Michael, Lawless, Daniel V. & Tobin, Kenneth (2000,
>>>>> >December). {Coteaching | Cogenerative Dialoguing} as Praxis of
>>>>> >Dialectic Method [47 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung /
>>>>> >Forum: Qualitative Social Research [On-line Journal], 1(3). Available
>>>>> >at:
>>>>> >e.htm [Date of Access: Month Day, Year]
>>>>> >
>>>>> >Cheers, Michael
>>>>> >
>>>>> >
>>>>> >On 19-Jan-07, at 5:37 PM, Mike Cole wrote:
>>>>> >
>>>>> >Two papers have been posted and can now be found at the xmca website:
>>>>> >
>>>>> >Catherene's chapters and the article by Anne Edwards.
>>>>> >
>>>>> >
>>>>> >We will be posting an article from the most recent, exciting, issue
>>>>> >of MCA
>>>>> >shortly. More about
>>>>> >that later since there is slippage in the process.
>>>>> >
>>>>> >But the papers for discussion are there. Perhaps
>>>>> >Time for doing some research by taking action and finding them so you
>>>>> >can
>>>>> >comment, ask questions,
>>>>> >or provide an excuse not to do the dishes!!
>>>>> >
>>>>> >Have a nice weekend all.
>>>>> >mike
>>>>> >_______________________________________________
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>>>>> >
>>>>> >
>>>>> >
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>>>>> >
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>>>>> >
>>>>>Jay Lemke
>>>>>University of Michigan
>>>>>School of Education
>>>>>610 East University
>>>>>Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>>>>>Tel. 734-763-9276
>>>>>Website. <>
>>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>>Jay Lemke
>>>>University of Michigan
>>>>School of Education
>>>>610 East University
>>>>Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>>>>Tel. 734-763-9276
>>>>Website. <>
>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>Hegel Summer School 16/17th February 2007. The Roots of Critical
>>>Theory - Resisting Neoconservatism Today
>>>xmca mailing list
>>Jay Lemke
>>University of Michigan
>>School of Education
>>610 East University
>>Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>>Tel. 734-763-9276
>>Website. <>
>>xmca mailing list
>Hegel Summer School 16/17th February 2007. The Roots of Critical
>Theory - Resisting Neoconservatism Today
>xmca mailing list

Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
Website. <>
xmca mailing list

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