Re: [xmca] New and improved polls are open

From: Ritva Engeström <ritva.engestrom who-is-at>
Date: Mon Nov 24 2008 - 16:52:13 PST

Thank you Mike,
for pushing more discussion, in the last moment, on A. Sannino’s
article. I am not a voter for it but have a special interest in
reading the article because it includes data excerpts from the Middle
school project in Helsinki. Being a member of the research group which
set up the Change Laboratory, negotiated with the practitioners for
their commitments with the project, conducted the sessions, and
gathered the data, I might read more between the lines.

Because the article wants to contribute to the methodology and further
developments of Change Laboratory method, I focus on this topic. I
have some major concerns related to how the CL context has been taken
into account in the analysis. As far as there is no theory which can
tell what the words mean (Barthes), the analyst has to rely on
contextual factors. Dealing with the CL data, this requirement comes
more to the fore because the participants are interacting in a
polycontextual setting which integrates a special kind of
developmental activity, everyday work of the practitioners, and
learning. For me, it was difficult to recognize this context in the
presented empirical analysis for the reasons as follows:

1) The discussed “Final project” was the outcome of the joint Change
Laboratory work (not only the product of Group 2). Based on
discussions in the CL sessions, the Group 2 was set up. The ideas
brought in by the Group 2 were discussed in four CL sessions,
including this last one. Therefore, the immigrant students’ teachers
and researchers participated in shaping the ideas into the end form of
“Final project”. Immigrant students’ teachers were not reacting on
something that their teacher colleagues had planned beyond their
presence. By taking a more dialogic understanding, the excerpt
describes how a new meaning is generating while people are listening
to and reacting on their own thinking from another position (as
respondents to a new kind of question).
2) The chosen excerpt starts with the question posed by a guest in the
session. She was invited to the session (her formal position not
required her presence, see 245). Having expertise in integration and
previous history with the researches, she had recommended us this
Middle school for CL project due to its immigrant students. To add
voices (diversity in hearing and seeing) by showing videotaped actions
and interviews or inviting persons to the session is a quite common
feature of the CL method. With means of expanding the potentialities
of dialogue, you cannot make plans beforehand what will discursively
happen (this is a demanding but fascinating side of CL method).
3) The participatory role of management has been considered important
in the CL method and discussed in the literature. The obvious reason
is authority that a member of the management has in institutional
division of labor. This authority can provide resources to make
decisions required for re-interpreting or changing rules (in the
rule-based activity) so that experimenting or implementing new ways of
working are possible to carry through in the timescale of the project.

The analysis based on experiencing, in the article, points to two
“restrictive representations” which were found. These are understood
as triggers of conflict between the teachers (between immigrant
students’ teachers and other teachers) and between the teachers and
the principal. The first representation case is the talk of the
teacher who answered on behalf of Group 2. For me, it is difficult to
find any evidence from the transcript for the quite strong claim by
the author that the simple No made clear “the assumed weakness of the
immigrant students.” The answer (“No, this is for ninth-graders and
tenth-graders”) refers rather to the factual history of the Group in
which the original focus was to provide to ninth- and tenth-graders a
chance to improve their grades and motivate them to use this chance.
In the excerpt, there is only one other turn by non-immigrant
students’ teacher (besides the above one). Her turn does not fit
either, rather vice verse, she returns to the idea of Final Project
and views that the motivation concerns all students.

The second restrictive representation in the analysis came from the
principal. The author claims that “the talk was an attempt to contain
the creative process” and that “the participants reacted to this by
purposefully making the issue fuzzy to leave space for action in the
process of innovation” (249). All participants of CL are recognized
and their different duties acknowledged (this is a basic principle of
CL method). From this point of view, it is difficult to find a support
to the claim by the author that the principal was attempting to stifle
creativity while talking openly from his position. The same difficulty
concerns the claim about the teachers “purposefully making the issue
fuzzy.” The alternative could be that the increasing complexity (with
regard to the already approved formal status of Final Project in
writing grades and certificates for the students who are completing
the JSS and administrative rule from above the school concerning
Finnish as a major subject of immigrant students) with diversity of
perspectives made the issue fuzzy or ambiguous. In this context,
re-interpretations of rules have to produce (they are not given) and
require co-construction through negotiations (ontologically multiple
voices/diversity refer more to conflict than harmony in Bakhtinian

In my opinion, the analytical method resembles critical discourse
analysis. The analyst, who is an outsider regarding data production,
is examining data by using institutionally existing critical
understandings of the context (i.e. the others exclude the immigrant
students, the principal has power and authority over the teachers).
CHAT-based intervention method (CL in this case) seems to produce
different kind of data which require respective research methods which
take into account the dialogically based theory of representations and
knowledge (in a collective setting of Expansive Learning), diversity,
the otherness of the other, trust, etc. I am not commenting against
the validity of experiencing but I share David’s earlier comment on
internal relationship between interpretation and experience. Actually,
I have published (2003, in Finnish) an article about experiencing in
CHAT/CL data using Vasilyuk’s insights.

The Change Laboratory is regarded as consisting of co-configuration
processes jointly produced by the practitioners and researchers.
Researchers have usually negotiated a contract admitting academic
writing but they are committed in writing to be knowledgeable about
backgrounds and contexts in order to recognize their associates
(including also students, patients etc.). This side of CL method is
insufficiently reported and empirically studied, including the role of
interventionists and their (CHAT) tools, partly inscribed in the
setting, and implications of these. I like to connect this discussion
to new challenges of doing research as a part of re-thinking of
science. As Nowotny et al., among others, have argued, changes in
society and knowledge production have resulted in closer interaction
of science and society, signaling the emergence of a new kind of
science; not only in its research practices and the institutions, but
also in its epistemological core. CHAT-based research has already a
good tradition in science which is more integrated with its social
context and societal practice. The implications of this perspective
should explore more by us. The attempts to broaden the contextual
representation of scientific knowledge invites to dissolve the
boundaries between formalizations of rationality and new social
standards of relevance in knowledge production. I appreciate Mary’s
initiative to elaborate more our paradigmatic methodology and links
between qualitative research paradigm and activity theory.

Finally, as regards footnote 3 in the discussed article, I would have
preferred an academic practice of a joint article of the author
together with the principle researcher of the project. Are the
referred rules in APA even meant to be applicable as such in CHAT-type
intervention or even qualitative research?

Ritva Engeström
University of Helsinki

Quoting "Mike Cole" <>:

> Vox populi, Andy!!
> Lets give people until Monday, noon Pacific Standard time. That should give
> everyone a chance to vote
> who cares to. I have been expecting a lot more people to comment on the
> current article for discussion
> since so many people voted for it last time, but so far as I can tell, only
> David has commented. Perhaps
> I have missed something (again!)!
> mike

> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

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Received on Mon Nov 24 16:56:27 2008

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