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

From: Gordon Wells <gwells who-is-at>
Date: Wed Oct 03 2007 - 14:23:49 PDT

At the beginning of this discussion, Eric suggested that it might be
helpful to discuss the paper "in small pieces." Following this
suggestion, below I put forward what I consider to be some of the
more important pieces.

A few days ago, Ruqaiya aptly described the point I was trying to
make by using the term "discoursing," which is that, in most types of
activity, language/ discourse is a form of action. At the same time,
since it is mediating the achievement of some object/goal, it
functions as what Leontiev's calls an operation, in which two or more
participants collaborate according to the situational context
constituted by the object/goal and the participants involved.

One of Leontiev's criteria was that operations typically do not
require conscious attention. This seems to be true of discoursing in
the sense that, while the speaker/listener may consciously attend to
the purpose of any particular move, the realisation of the move seems
to happen "by itself". Hence, perhaps, the apparent paradox of "how
do I know what I think until I hear what I say?"

Since discoursing involves negotiating among the participants, both
about the goal of their joint action and about the
sequential/temporal organization of the moves that co-construct the
outcome, members of activity systems or communities of practice draw
upon (and transform) a genre appropriate to the situation, which
faciltates the sequential organization of the discoursing because
they are aware of and, for the most part, make moves that are
appropriate to, the stage reached in the genre.

This seems to be true of all instances of discoursing, whether the
intended outcome is the transformation of some aspect of the material
world, the co-construction of understanding, or the negotiation of
interpersonal relationships - or some combination of these.

If this is indeed the case, a reconceptualization of the role of
discoursing in activity seems called for. Treating it as the same
sort of mediational means as a material tool, which is used to act on
the object, is misleading; discoursing is a transaction, negotiated
among participants, in which all are subjects acting together to
achieve their (negotiated) goal.

I hope this will help the discussion.


Gordon Wells
Department of Education
University of California, Santa Cruz
xmca mailing list
Received on Wed Oct 3 14:29 PDT 2007

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