Re: [xmca] belatedly on Wells' article

From: Jay Lemke <jaylemke who-is-at>
Date: Sun Oct 14 2007 - 16:05:23 PDT

I agree with Mike that mediation, in some sense(s), occurs not just
through tools, but also via more community level "culture". The
problem, I think, is to not simply reify abstractions like rules,
norms, division of labor, etc., but, again as Mike recommends, to see
how they play out in concrete cases. From such cases we can try to
build a repertoire of different ways in which these community-level
mediations occur.

In the genre/SFL/register approach that Gordon recommends, and that
Ruqaiya Hasan also commented on, one way to see such mediations is
through the ways in which different "social voices" (ala Bakhtin) or
textual genres, which have their manifestations in talk and texts at
the apex of the top triangle, themselves translate divisions of labor
and opinion, or social norms, in the community (or communities) into
concrete practices ... such as in Bakhtin's notion of heteroglossia,
which has both a sociology of social divisions aspect and also an
"axiological" one, which manifests social norms, attitudes, values,
etc. According to SFL discourse theory, we ought then to expect to
see these lower-triangle mediations show up in genre and register
differences, right down to the level of linguistic choices and
frequency distributions.

If there is, among the waiting queue of papers-seeking-comment on
xmca, any which offer us concrete cases where we might pursue these
possibilities, I'd be very interested to see them. Especially if they
contain any specific data on language-using or other sign-using
practices in concrete joint-action activities where the norms and
practices of one or more communities are being brought together
(uneasily? or too easily?).

Heracleitus wrote that 'the road up and the road down are the same
road', and maybe in triangle-land the way across runs through such
up-and-down roads. I sure know that my own research does!


At 12:36 PM 10/14/2007, you wrote:
>In a discussion with Gordon that was mostly about other matters I raised the
>issue of the extent to which it is appropriate to think of the mediations in
>Yrjo's expanded triangle as only occuring through the apex, and where
>subject-subject mediated interaction (including discourse) was not also
>represented there. Don't social rules mediate the activity and person-person
>interactions. Are there not pathways of mediations from subject to community
>AND to mediators at the top?
>I have been thinking how important it is when using these highly abstract
>representations to rise to concrete examples and, having done so, to compare
>the ways in which different representation highlight different features of
>the overall system in a way that is more complentary than contradictory.
>Are people about done with a focus on Gordon's article? There are a couple
>of people who might benefit from having their work read and discussed on
>XMCA and want advice.
>I am happy to stay with Gordon's piece which has been a rich source of
>discussion, but if people want to put it into the store of
>to-be-returned-to-when-needed contributions, we might put up something new
>where junior folks are seeking critique and advice.
>On 10/13/07, Jay Lemke <> wrote:
> >
> >
> > After a way-too-busy last several weeks, I've finally caught up with
> > reading a lot of xmca posts, and especially those about Gordon Wells'
> > article on discoursing as an operational mediation of activities.
> >
> > I generally agree with Gordon's point of view, but with some
> > exceptions and a few shifts in conceptual framework. As this was
> > obviously a very complex topic, I'm just going to make a few points
> > here and attach the notes I wrote to myself to articulate my own
> > position in more detail.
> >
> > We surely do need better ways to talk about both the similarities and
> > the differences in how activity is mediated by talk vs. artifactual
> > tools. Both are indeed material, and both are, I believe, also
> > potentially (though tools not always so in practice) semiotic. The
> > ways in which they are mediational for an activity may be more
> > constitutive (the activity unthinkable apart from them) or more
> > optionally instrumental (the activity may be clumsy or fail without
> > them, but can be imagined without them). Signs are one kind of tool.
> > Or better said, I think, material objects or material processes (like
> > phonation) can be used-as-tools-in-activity, and are not
> > tools-as-such except when used-as-tools-in-activity, and likewise for
> > tools that are (or are also) used-as-signs-in-activity. The special
> > character of sign-use distinguishing it from non-semiotic tool-use
> > has to do with the difference between the material
> > affordances-for-use of tool-qualities as such and the possible social
> > meanings of those qualities and ways-of-using. This is key and
> > complex, and it's the main subject of the attached notes.
> >
> > I am not so clear about Gordon's proposal to take talk-in-activity as
> > operation-level in Leontiev's sense. I've always thought that there
> > have to be more than just three levels in the analysis of an
> > activity, even if the relations between operations and actions, vs.
> > the different kinds of relations between actions and activities, are
> > key to understanding the possible types of relations among the many
> > levels. Within talk, there are already many levels, articulating
> > among themselves in both the sound-to-word way and in the
> > sentence-to-paragraph way (cf. 'double articulation' in classic
> > linguistic theory). And between talk and larger activities in which
> > it is embedded and for which it is constitutive or instrumental to
> > some degree, there are also multiple levels of (or links in a chain
> > of) interpretance, ala Peirce. More on this in the notes.
> >
> > I've always appreciated Gordon's dialogical version of Engestrom's
> > triangles, based on his reading of Bakhtin (with which I mainly
> > agree). But I wonder if in this formulation we don't somewhat
> > background a key element of the top triangle -- that the use of
> > mediational means is a digression, or displacement, from direct
> > subject-on-object or here subject-on-subject action? It's a different
> > activity with the mediation of tool or sign than without it, even if
> > the same goal is reached. In the subject-on-subject version, while we
> > can and should pay attention to the emergence of joint goals and
> > outcomes, or on the conflict of goals, etc., I think the core issue
> > is linguistic manipulation and control as a displacement from direct
> > physical manipulation and control (though clearly we often do both,
> > and this may be especially important in early development, as it is
> > in learning/teaching bike riding, etc.). But we also need to think
> > about how language, or sign-use in general, serves to directly
> > influence the Other, and how it differs from, say, pushing them
> > bodily or hitting them with a stick (tool). Differs both for the
> > better, and for the worse, in terms of power and control, or
> > resistance. My sense is that there is a lot in this more
> > uncomfortable aspect of linguistic mediation to help us understand
> > how and why signs are used in joint activity. Historically, not all
> > joint activity has been voluntary.
> >
> > I apologize for the occasional opacity of the attached notes where
> > they reflect my inner-speech.
> >
> > JAY.
> >
> >
> > Jay Lemke
> > Professor
> > University of Michigan
> > School of Education
> > 610 East University
> > Ann Arbor, MI 48109
> >
> > Tel. 734-763-9276
> > Email.
> > 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
Received on Sun Oct 14 16:09 PDT 2007

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