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Re: [xmca] Ethnomethodology and Hedegaard's Article

Martin and others:

I have only read the basics in ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, Sacks) but I know conversation analysis a bit better, because it's been used, notably by Seedhouse, to try to get some of the social situation of development back into the analysis of classroom discourse.

David Kirshner and I recently wrote a piece on Vygotsky, complexity and "dyadic interaction" in which ethnomethodological conversation analysis was one of the ways we can avoid a downwardly reductionist view of interaction, the sort of thing on offer from chaos-complexity theory these days, and an upwardly reductionist one, the sort of thing on offer from critical discourse analysis.


But re-reading what we wrote in the light of Mariane Hedegaard's article, I'm a little unconvinced by the "middle way" that Kirshner and Kellogg put forward. First of all, as Ed Wall points out, it DOES involve coding, of a rather formalistic kind ("adjacency pairs" and "first pair part" and "second pair part" and so on). Secondly, as we all know, conversation analysis eschews any interpretative mechanisms that are not actually visible in the transcripts, arguing that the interactants are not "dopes" but participants, and what they do is not submit to but rather but rather negotiate the terms of the interaction.

The problem is that in a very important sense Jens really is a dope. Two problems come up in the data that suggest this. The first is when he argues that the pedagogue should be worried because his father will not like her behavior. The second is when he suggests that a baby whale doesn't look like a baby. In neither case does his version of events form a significant part of a negotiated solution.

Suppose that what we have here is the kind of complexive thinking that Vygotsky describes in Chapter Five. Jens has a purely concrete, graphic-visual understanding of adult behavior; anything that doesn't go with what Daddy does is somehow non-adult. Ditto his understanding of the word "baby"; if it doesn't look like baby or squawk like a baby, it's not a baby.

Of course, as Vygotsky says, this kind of complexive thinking will EVENTUALLY become functionally equivalent to thinking in concepts. But LSV is a little unclear on exactly how this happens. First of all, his sequence of complexes (associative, collection-complex, chain, diffuse, pseudoconcept) is not obviously sequential; it's not too clear how each one arises on the basis of the last one, as he himself admits on p. 229 (of the Minick version, Vol. One in the Collected Works).

Secondly, on p. 156, he suddenly introduces a SECOND root of thinking in concepts, namely the "potential concepts" that Paula raised at the beginning of our "Strange Situation" discussion. He says this constitutes a "third stage" in the child's thinking, although that means that there will be FOUR stages and on p. 134 he gave three as the number. 

But in the next section, 17, on pp. 157-158 it's not a third stage, or even a stage of child thinking at all, but something we share with animals, even chickens. Although he uses phrases like "completely justified" and "fully justified", by the end of this section (p. 165) he is excoriating poor Buhler for ignoring the role of the word in concept formation (165).

Are there three stages, or four? Are potential concepts shared with animals or not? Paula, Steve, and I have been scratching our heads over this for some months now. 

Perhaps these "potential concepts" and Vygotsky's whole "third stage" are simply a McGuffin...a character with a walk-on role, or one of those scenes in an Alfred Hitchcock movie where a phone rings in a deserted room for no particular reason. That happens quite a bit in discourse. Now, adults are capable of sorting this stuff out and negotiating what is signal and what is noise. But Jens?

There's a lot to figure out in Chapter Five--ideas that are not revisited in any way in Chapter Six, except in the criticism at the end. For example, the distinction between the diffuse complex and the pseudoconcept is that one is bounded and limited--but by what? If it is bounded by the selection of a particular abstract trait, isn't that trait a concept?

The distinction between the pseudoconcept and the concept seems clear, critical, and qualitative to me: even though they are functionally identical, one is a concept for others and the other a concept for myself, so the distinction is really just like the distinction between a random gesture interpreted by Mommy as a pointing movement and a deliberate pointing movement on the part of the child. Perhaps the "limiting" of the pseudoconcept comes from outside the child? So the "baby whale" is the beginning of a pseudoconcept?
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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