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Re: [xmca] Bahktin question

Those of you interested in Bakhtin, language, and learning may want to look at this:

Wolff-Michael ROTH, Dialogism: A Bakhtinian Perspective on Science Language and Learning (Rotterdam: SensePublishers, 2009). Using concrete data from concept mapping in high school science classrooms, the author articulates a Bakhtinian approach to understanding language, learning, and the learning paradox. Particular attention is paid to the carnival nature of the vernacular and the monological nature of the natural sciences.

I analyze, among others, the swearing, cursing, sweating, teasing and so on that occurs in many lessons and that those doing learning research NEVER attend to, likely because, as I, they are embarrassed that students talk about other things than science concepts.


PS: Sorry, this is fyi not as promo

On 5-May-09, at 6:49 AM, ERIC.RAMBERG@spps.org wrote:

thank you David:

Here is my thinking. It germinated as a result of your post pertaining to
the word 'free' and the question about conceptualizing math.

First off, let me ask you to enter an imagination of waking one day and
losing the memory of your role, the names and roles those you associate
with but you retain knowledge of language and the function of language.
Disorienting? Yes, indeed! Of course literature uses this juxtaposition
numerous times to the benefit of the audience learning to look at the
world through naive (perhaps not the right word) eyes.  But due to
chronotopes the naive person can navigate social settings somewhat
competently.  However, free of prejudices and emotional baggage that
people carry about, this naive individual has the freedom to impact what
is essentially preconceived notions. In essence I am trying to say that a
chronotope can expand or constrict a person's conceptual understanding.

This is not a chronotope but when David Kirshner used the explanation of
N=-1 and an odd number of Ns results in a negative and an even number of
Ns results in an even, I need no further explanation, that rule applies to
my conceptual understanding.  Much is the same for dialogues that happen
in time and space, for most adults few words are needed when understanding our roles and the duties (wrong word?) expected of us in those particular

Yes, Vygotsky does not define development but I believe that is on purpose because it is an undefinable concept. It means different things depending
on the time and place.  I like your pumpkin analogy : )  I agree David
that Wittgenstein is probably the closest in providing a glimpse into how
people conceptualize and socialize.

Perhaps this is too rambling and disorienting to make sense but I am
always one to dangle my participle.

what do others think?

David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>
Sent by: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
05/04/2009 06:50 PM
Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"

        To:     Culture ActivityeXtended Mind <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
        Subject:        Re: [xmca] Bahktin question


Yes, powerhouse is the word! I never know what to make of Bakhtin. The
devil and Christ are THIS close--except that Vygotsky, with his belief in
conceptual hierarchy, development, and the power of abstraction, is the
son of Man and the angel of God, and Bakhtin, with his Chagall-like power
to turn the whole house on its roof, is really old Nick.

About a year ago, Mike and Andy and I were struggling with Chapter Six of
"Mind in Society", and Mike expressed some annoyance with the fact that
Vygotsky doesn't ever really give a definition of "development". The
"definition" of development turns up again in the part of Chapter Six of
"Thinking and Speech" which we are translating into Korean this morning.

Here (6.4 in the 1956/1982 version, although it's part of 6.3 in the
original 1934 version) Vygotsky clearly says that learning is simply the
exercise of a given function and development is conscious awareness and
mastery of that function. But that's only true with this particular
developmental stage. It's a definition that really doesn't make sense at
earlier stages (e.g. infancy where there is essentially no practical
consciousness to speak of) or at later ones (e.g. adolescence where
conscious awareness actually becomes part of the dilemma rather than part
of the solution).

I think that with Vygotsky, and also with Bakhtin and Volosinov, the usual
Aristotelian rules of exposition are somewhat turned on their heads. I
think our Russian friends recognized that a definition is really just a
very short kind of story about a particular word and that VERY often it is SO short that it is really circular (e.g."Once upon a time in space there
was a kind of time-space called a chronotope").

So to break the circle, they set off with a bunch of words that other
people have used in this particular situation. In the course of their
adventures, they often find that these words become hollowed out; they
lose the specific content they originally had and they become filled with
a very different content. Andy calls this "critical appropriation", and
sometimes he refers to "immanent critique"; it seems to me that they are
two moments of the same adventure.

You can see Vygotsky doing this with "development", and also with
"spontaneous concepts", and with the whole slew of terms for preconceptual
formations we find in Chapter Five (heaps, complexes, pseudoconcepts,
etc.) By the time Vygotsky is done with them, they are unrecognizeable; he
has hollowed them out like a pumpkin and placed his own candle inside,
grinning at us in the darkness.

I think Bakhtin is really setting out with two different sets of baggage.
On the on hand, he's got the formalists' distinction between "plot" and
"skaz" (roughly, the story, and the way the story is told, but as you will
see in Bakhtin's hands they are merged into a kind of plotskaz, maybe a

On the other he's got Einstein's notion of "space time" as a continuous
set of four dimensions, and in fact they ARE completely continuous,
because as Mandelbrot points out there are fractional dimensions (1.2
dimensions, 1.3 dimensions etc.) in between.

It's also relativistic in another way (that is, a NON-Einsteinian way,
although of course Holquist doesn't recognize this). It's something that
does not pre-exist words but gets talked into being in the course of a
particular narrative. In this way it's more to do with skaz than plot, but
it has to do with the abstract geometry of skaz rather than merely the
narrator's intonation and affective attitude.

Consider the way that action movies are strctured. Because they rely a lot
on lower psychological functions (especially involuntary attention) they
have a camera change every three seconds or so. The plot, therefore, has
to be sequenced (skazzed) like a TV commercial or a piece of hardcore
pornography: one damned thing after another followed by the premature
ejaculation of money by the consumer.

This is the "chronotope" that Bakhtin calls "adventure time". There is
essentially no time between adventures, and as a result no reflection and no development. For all the pretentious talk about "I must destroy you in order to make you indestructible", Wolverine is the same adamantine figure
at the beginning as he was, er, well, before the beginning.

Fortunately, there are other kinds of chronotope that privelege
reflection, critical awareness, and conscious mastery, and for Bakhtin the Dostoevskian novel is supreme amongst these. Because the author ABDICATES control of his main character, it becomes possible for the author and the reader alike to fully contemplate and contest his every move and even his
inability to move; his thoughts and his inability to think them. Above
all, it becomes possible for the character to develop, as if in real time.

The problem is that Vygotsky, Bakhtin, and their friends recognize that
the good old Aristotelian definition is a lot closer to adventure
time-space than it is to Dostoevskian time-space. Definitions are not the
place to begin; they are something that has to emerge in a rather
Wittgensteinian way, when you go up to somebody on the street and tap them
on the shoulder.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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