Re: [xmca] Some comments on Gordon's article

From: ruqaiya hasan <Ruqaiya.Hasan who-is-at>
Date: Mon Oct 01 2007 - 20:25:25 PDT

first, thanks again to Elinami and Gordon for making Gordon's paper
accessible to me. Having read it I realize how much I would have missed
without thisa kindness.

My overall reaction is 'bravo! here is a constructive and valuable effort to
benefit from the combined thinking of Leontiev, Vygotsky, Bakhtin and
Halliday' -- the
kind of project I like a lot -- this is what is needed for pushing the
borders of human and social sciences. The paper is rich and there is so
much to say that I don't really know where to begin. So I too will begin
with a word on 'discoursing'. The neologism did not remind me of Vygotsky
because 'thinking' and 'speaking' are so often used as 'active' noun, but of
Peter, a colleague in the late 1960's working on Halliday's Language in
Education project at University College London: he coined the word
'languageing'. Both with Gordon and with Peter Doughty, as I interpret it,
the impetus is to move away from language/ dicourse as 'object' to language
/ discourse as 'action'.

I suppose one is forced to take this step mainly because there has been such
a long established tradition of making a strong classification between
process and product. The distinction does need to be made, but I doubt if
its terribly wise to foget the one in analysing the other.

A word about 'genre'. I would have said that following Halliday's usage,
most of us in SFL have used 'genre' as almost equivalent to 'register', or
'text type' if that term is preferred. The way I look at it is this: there
are two critical attributes of text/discourse: texture (continuity) and
structure (staged sequencing of what Gordon called sub-action in some
action). Genre theory as it has developed in the analysis of activities
refers only to the structure aspect of the text, which is a realization of
some activity. by contrast, Bakhtin who extended the term 'genre' to
include 'speech genre' was concerned with texture as well though the term he
used was 'style'.

oh by the way, can I plead 'not guilty' of claiming any universality for the
generic structure potential (GSP) of shopping activity (cf foot note 1 p
Hasan 1985 p 99 explicitly states "specific contextual configurations
themselves derive their significance ultimately from their relation to the
culture to which they belong." I would have to forget my past completely to
claim that either the context for activities or the structure of activities
can be universal. The point about bringing in context is that from the very
first paper I wrote about GSP (Hasan 1978) I have tried to show that in
speech genres as opposed to in verbal art (literature) the generic structure
realized by a text is activated by the features of the context that
underlies the activity in the sense that the activity occurs in context and
gives it the identity as that specific context. This is part of my argument
for claiming co-genetic relationship between language and society, which in
my reading of Vygotseky, is consistent with the implications of his theory
of the priority of the intermental, and the role of semiosis in the shaping
of the mental functions.

I would not use 'ancillary' and 'constitutive' as properties suitable for
the classification of genre types. So for me there is no such thing as a
'constitutive/ancillary genre'. In SFL these terms were used and are still
used to refer to mode of discourse; however, I have departed from this usage
(Hasan 1999 Speaking with Reference to Context). I consider 'ancillary' and
'constitutive' as properties of verbal 'action'. This in turn needs
clarification. All semiotic activities are fundamentally interactive (recall
Vygotsky's rejection of Piaget's account of child language development and
his own account in Thinking and Speaking which is entirely consistent with
the SFL approach). At the highest level of abstraction the fundmental
components underlying a semiotic activity are human Action, Relation and
Contact -- the nature of the activity is known by the values of these three
vectors which constitute the activity's context. This I would claim is a
universal principle. So action is only one component relevant to the
activity. There is some overlap between the SFL view and the one being
suggested by Gordon's Figure 4 which shows 'subject-subject' in my terms
'Relation' between them since this is what matters to the structuring of the
semiotic act, and mediational means, in my terms part of contact both
material mode of contact eg face to face, telephoning etc and semiotic
contact dialogue, monologue, the one thing I do not find is action unless it
is subsumed under 'rules of games' and 'division of labour'. It is the
total value of 'doing what', 'who is doing' and 'how the doing is done' that
offers the explanation of the generic shape of the discourse.

So in one sense discoursing is not the activity: discoursing is the action
ie only part of the activity, the activity details also relevant are who and
how. So this is where the curly question comes in: so is languaging a mode
of action a means of mediation) or is it the whole of the action. My way out
has been to say that semiotic action is never constitutes its own point --
the point of the semiotic action is language external; we language to live:
in other words by its nature language is exocentric, and calls for an
exotropic theory. Everything in language supports this view; the only thing
internal to language as a semiotic sustem is what is implied by the nature
of its sign and therefore its relationsdal nature. By the same token, I will
have to maintain that action does not equal activity: we cannot have it both

The most valuable thing Gordon's paper has done for me is to make it much
clearer how AT differs from register theory of which the postulate of GSP is
an important part but by no means the only important part. The base of the
whole theory is in the social, constext being an instantiation of the social
context repertoire.

Many apologies for such a lengthy comment -- But the paper has a lot to talk
about; this seemed to me the best I could do on the first occasion

Ruqaiya Hasan

----- Original Message -----
From: "Andy Blunden" <>
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
Sent: Saturday, September 29, 2007 10:02 PM
Subject: [xmca] Some comments on Gordon's article

> I very much appreciate Gordon Wells' study; it goes to problems with which
> I share a concern. But I am uncomfortable with some of the formulations.
> The title is interesting. So far as I know, 'discoursing' is a neolog. I
> guess it echoes the translation of the title of Vygotsky's famous book as
> 'Thinking and Speaking' rather than 'Thought and Speech'. What really is
> the difference between 'work' / 'working', 'play' / 'playing', 'discourse'
> / 'discoursing'? It seems to me that the gerund form means performing the
> activity, as opposed to the activity in a grammatical form which could be
> taken to imply that it had some existence or substance outside of its
> performance.
> I gather from the use of the word in context, that 'discoursing' is
> restricted to 'using linguistic resources', i.e., engaging in linguistic
> interactions (talking, gesturing, writing) with other people while
> participating in some common project (whether that common project is
> getting to know each other, planning a research program or steering a
> ship). So 'discoursing', for Gordon, does not include using other aspects
> of material culture which are not normally considered 'linguistic
> resources' (= reified discoursing), such as weapons, buildings, machines,
> images, clothing, animals, human bodies, land, context and so on.
> 'Discoursing' is also distinct from the _activity_ within which the
> elements of material culture are used and interpreted, otherwise it would
> be meaningless to counterpose 'discoursing' to activity.
> Gordon concludes:
> "that discoursing should not be considered as an activity in
> its own right but as an operation using linguistic resources
> that are variously drawn on to coconstruct the appropriate
> genre for the action that the discoursing mediates."
> Gordon claims that:
> "discoursing always functions as a mediational means in
> achieving the goals of the action in which it occurs. Depending
> on the nature of the action and the object involved, the goal
> may be partly or wholly of an intermental kind, but the
> operations by which it is achieved always have a material
> embodiment, in speech and/or in acts that utilize material
> artifacts."
> (p. 16)
> So Gordon's point is that 'discoursing' is always a means not an end,
> 'discoursing' mediates between conditions and ends which are outside the
> 'discoursing'. Gordon says that operations may be construed as
> this or that activity through the 'discoursing' and selecting a 'genre'
> however, so 'discoursing' _constitutes_ ends as well as being means to
> 'Discourse' on the other hand, has a philosophical usage, surely the usage
> implied here, with a meaning similar to that of 'institution', except that
> 'institution' is even more reified than 'discourse'. For example, by
> performing a certain discourse (genre) the same series of operations could
> be constituted as part of a university or a business or a militant
> camp or a game.
> However, the domain of material culture which is deployed to constitute a
> discourse is wider than linguistic elements, and no element of material
> culture is meaningful outside of the system of activity within which it is
> used / interpreted.
> My uneasiness with Gordon's claim is connected to an apparently secondary
> concern about Gordon's division of artefacts into tools and signs. So a
> moment's digression on this sore point is not unwarranted. I would say
> a tool and a sign are just two paradigmatic instantiations of material
> culture. Hegel expanded 'tool' to include all useful products, and words,
> the 'tools of reason', he expanded to include all communicative
> productions, and he added a third paradigmatic artefact, the child! C S
> Peirce, went beyond these paradigmatic instances to categorise signs as
> index, symbol and icon, thus subsuming 'tool' under one category of sign
> and 'symbols' another. For my part, I would add to Gordon's two
> paradigmatic instances a third - the human body, using the term 'material
> culture' to cover all three paradigmatic instances.
> _Contra_ Gordon, what distinguishes the 1st from the 2nd category (tools
> signs) is not the material / ideal distinction - Peirce for example, was
> pains to point out that _all_ signs are material things. It is simply the
> means by which the sign (symbol or tool or icon) indicates its object. I
> think the introduction of a intermental / linguistic vs. material
> distinction in the context of understanding what "discoursing" means, is
> problematic. For example, the room in which an activity takes place
> participates in the communication; is the room a 'linguistic resource'?
> This relates to how 'discourse' is understood in other currents of
> contemporary philosophy. It is certainly a weakness of poststructuralism
> that CHAT ought to respond to, that the materiality of discourse is
> routinely overlooked. So for example, if a poststructuralist points out
> that some institution, for example, 'the academy', is constructed as
> discourse, then they tend to overlook the important fact that the
> _material_ culture deployed in that 'discourse', includes not just
> _symbolic_ culture, but also: buildings, guns, books, land, communication
> devices, money and human bodies, and that the large number of people who
> act in step with that discourse is also a material fact.
> To the poststructuralist, it is all discourse; in postmodern architectural
> literature, buildings can be referred to as 'texts'. But there is a danger
> in this literature of seeing 'discourse' as only symbolic, whereas
> discourse is also connected to its object by its material properties or
> connections (i.e., indexical) as well as by the dispositions of human
> participants (i.e., iconic); further that discourse utilises the symbolic
> and indexical elements of material culture only in and through activities
> being performed by masses of people.
> The idea of viewing the institutions as 'discourses' has allowed a range
> insights into how society works. CHAT is well-placed to deepen those
> insights because we understand precisely that the resources mobilised to
> construct discourses are material resources, whether symbolic or not. In
> that context it is important that CHAT theorists maintain that broad
> understanding of the material culture deployed in activity. To restrict
> material culture to linguistic resources would be a mistake. It would
> be a mistake to corral communicative action and the deployment of
> communicative elements of material culture generally to a mediating role,
> to be solely a means, when it is also surely an end. The construction of
> material culture as means to ends outside of material culture would also
> untenable. Just as easily, mundane physical actions could constitute the
> means towards communicative ends.
> It seems to me that Gordon's recommendation of genre theory as a resource
> for understanding activity is a valuable insight and worth taking up. I am
> also in agreement with Gordon that talking cannot normally be taken as an
> activity in itself, and I agree with Gordon that the dichotomy between
> ancillary and constitutive discourse cannot be maintained. But I do have
> some concerns. I am not sure what implication these concerns would have
> Gordon's wider research project.
> comradely,
> Andy Blunden
> At 10:47 AM 28/09/2007 -0700, you wrote:
> >The article is now available in pdf file free from
> >
> >
> >It will be there for a month.
> >(This relieves you of reliability, Gordon)
> >mike
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

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