RE: [xmca] Wells article

From: Worthen, Helena Harlow <hworthen who-is-at>
Date: Mon Oct 01 2007 - 17:00:04 PDT

Andy --

Are you saying you don't see a useful difference between language being
used to coordinate actions directed toward a shared goal, and language
being used to create something that is not the shared goal of the
participants, but something different? I think this is a useful
distinction, because the latter would give us a name for the process we
would expect to see if we could zoom in on and observe in slow motion
(maybe in a transcript) the way words get turned, replaced, defined and
re-defined in the process of negotiating an agree-upon text.

Helena Worthen, Clinical Associate Professor
Labor Education Program, Institute of Labor & Industrial Relations
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
504 E. Armory, Room 227
Champaign, IL 61821
Phone: 217-244-4095

-----Original Message-----
From: []
On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Monday, October 01, 2007 6:15 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Wells article

I took it that Gordon ended up saying that Halliday's distinction cannot
Here is what he says:

"From this work it has becomes apparent that the initial distinction
by Halliday (1978)
between ancillary and constitutive discoursing, although useful
conceptually, is an oversimplification
of actual practice. The first and most obvious complication is that many

involve more than one genre, as when a shopper discusses the weather or
current events in
the course of a purchasing action.
A second issue is that the distinction between ancillary and
discoursing is
not as clear-cut as Halliday suggested. Taking the football example from

earlier, at various
points before and during the game, the coach discusses strategy with the

entire team and perhaps
also with one or more individuals; he will probably also shout from the
sidelines. Although the
latter might fit Halliday's argument that "any instructions or other
interaction among
the players are part of this social action" (p. 144), it is not so clear

that the strategy talk before
the team leaves the dressing room is entirely part of the "social
of the game itself.
However, the most difficult issue is that of determining what goals are
involved in any
action in which discoursing plays a part. The problem is that
rarely announce their
goals, expecting others to be able to deduce them from the situation and

from the genre form
they adopt."

So I didn't follow this issue any further because I wouldn't support
particular dichotomy at any but a superficial level. I think discourse
always, along with other elements of material culture, part of
the project. I see conflict as essentially indistinguishable from
collaboration and the material/ideal distinction between project also
untenable. Anyway, Gordon gave three reasons for not making this
distinction and that was good enough for me.

At 02:41 PM 1/10/2007 -0500, you wrote:

>Hello, xmca:
>I'll take a shot at the Wells article, as usual, from the point of view
>of a labor educator.
>As I read it, he's distinguishing between the use of language as
>"ancillary" to an activity and the use of language that actually
>constitutes what participants are doing. When people use language to
>coordinate activity, that's "ancillary." When the thing that has to
>done" is itself made out of language (he gives the example of a meeting
>with an agenda and agreed-upon decisions to be made - p. 167) then
>that's "constitutive discoursing," the co-construction of "possible
>worlds" (he references Bruner). However, he's saying, this distinction
>has already been made (by Halliday). Wells then says that the
>distinction between the two is not always clear, because people may be
>co-constructing with different goals in mind. He lists some examples of
>different goals in the middle of page 173.
>At this point, I am thinking that Wells is right but I'd like him to
>give an example where people are co-constructing something but have
>strikingly different goals in mind -- goals more different than the
>goals of a trio of researchers observing their own discoursing or even
>than the goals of a teacher and three students in a busy classroom.
>Of course I was reading this article keeping in mind the
>constitutive discoursing that takes place when workers and employers
>bargain a contract. The contract is an example of a "possible world."
>is built up bit by bit over the years, written down and enforced
>yards and yards, miles and miles of talk. In fact, both the contract
>the process by which it is negotiated are negotiated. But most helpful
>of all to me, as I try to understand what is actually happening when
>people negotiate their conditions of work, was Wells' point that(p 174)
>the "the participants are not interchangeable." Constitutive
>discoursing (the co-creation of something through language) is
>characterized by participants in an itneraction who are not
>interchangeable. It is the different perspectives of the parties to the
>negotiation that make the co-construction of something possible.
>I'm not convinced that the word "discoursing" is going to get into
>popular use. It may be that Wells doesn't expect it to go much further
>himself; in fact, he could be putting forth this term ironically, since
>by the end of the article he appears to have pulled the plug on the
>notion that discoursing is an activity in its own right.
>Is there a significant stream of argument that says that the use of
>language for no other purpose (no co-construction, no constitution) is
>in itself an activity? Wouldn't that be like carrying a tape recorder
>down a busy street or drifting from channel to channel on the TV? But
>then we'd be in the realms of art.
>I saw Chris Marker's movie, Les Chats Perches (?) last night. Now
>there's a record of co-construction of an emergent text and possible
>Helena Worthen
>Helena Worthen, Clinical Associate Professor
>Labor Education Program, Institute of Labor & Industrial Relations
>University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
>504 E. Armory, Room 227
>Champaign, IL 61821
>Phone: 217-244-4095
>xmca mailing list

  Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651

xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list
Received on Mon Oct 1 17:03 PDT 2007

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Nov 20 2007 - 14:25:43 PST