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Re: [xmca] Friesen Article

Since CHAT is an open house, I'm going to offer an extended cautionary tale for discursive psychology from my own bailliwick, applied linguistics. H.G. Widdowson, who practically founded our field, pointed out that there is a basic contradiction in the claim that applied linguistics (or cognitive science or chat) is "interdisciplinary". 
The contradiction is this: on the one hand, we claim to be a discipilne in our own right, with our own mediating relations between theory on the one hand and praxis on the other. On the other hand, we claim to exist "interdisciplinarily", in the interstices between disciplines, by virtue of THEIR mediating relations between theory on the one hand and a praxis which is actually alien to our own.
I think matters are not helped when we replace the word "interdisciplinary" with "transdisciplinary". That involves a claim to some kind of metadiscipline; terribly good for our sense of self-importance, but disastrous for our relationship with our own praxis. In applied linguistics, this inflation of the discipline from a technological bull frog to an interdisciplinary ox meant that we ended up replacing applied linguistics (that is, the solution of real problems in the real world where language, if not linguistics, is a real and central concern) with something that looked a little more like linguistics applied (that is, now that we've got this keen body of theory let's figure out what it's good for). 
At conferences it became very easy to tell the dwindling groups bullfrogs from the exploding groups of oxen. Bullfrogs were always reading, and oxen were always writing. Bullfrogs tended to hang out with teachers and even students, while oxen travelled in herds, mooing to each other in various incomprehensible postmodern dialects.
Concretely, it was even easier. The bullfrogs were STILL interested in language teaching, even though a lot of our student base was taken over by something called TESOL and enrollments were plunging. The oxen became interested in a kind of literary critical discourse applied to the ordinary language of (notably prestigious) fields like medicine and law and advertising. After all, if texts are texts and discourses are discourses (and maybe texts are discourses too) then there is no reason we can't apply the lit crit techniques of Kristeva and Barthes and why not Bakhtin to the discourses overheard in surgeries, courtrooms, and the texts in glossy magazines.
It was sexy, but ultimately sterile as far as practical discoveries of new modes of problem solving went; a lot of the systemic functional analyses (and also the discursive psychological analyses) pretty much discovered what we already knew was there (e.g. that South African newspapers under apartheid tended to cover events in the townships from the white point of view rather than the black one) and it even ignored stuff that we didn't know was there (e.g. that the same newspapers had some clear indications that white jounalists were getting fed up with the crap they were writing). 
There were also groups of oxen which went into computers and corpus linguistics. But here the "linguistics applied" problem was even worse, because computer corpora were full of native speakers and finished linguistic products, and this tended to neglect exactly the kinds of problems we should have been attending (the kinds of problems that Alex Kozulin's article in the latest MCA tackles). Having cut their ties with praxis by becoming "interdisciplinary" the oxen invariably tended towards what was easy to study, uninteresting, and irrelevant.
That's why I worry a little about little words like "resource" as opposed to "tool". I know that "tool" has a distinctly early twentieth century sound; it belongs to a better time, when the future seemed somehow malleable, if only we had the right implements. I know that "resource" sounds a lot more twenty-first century; it sounds more suited to a time when things are scarce and precious and need to be valued without being used, and it seems more important to remind ourselves of the "embodiment" of communication than its instrumentality, its sign and tool using quality. These are evil times, and it is hard to trust in the artifacts of sociocultural progress; at times like these, as Volosinov says, academics shake their heads and repeat that man is only an animal. 
But the students I will teach in about half an hour will graduate next year, and then they will teach eight and nine year old children. Some of them, perhaps most of them, will live to see the twenty-second century. So I still think, rather stubbornly and sometimes even stupidly, that we had it right the first time; in the long run, the future must be malleable if only we have the right tools and if only we stick to the right problems! After all, that's how we got this far.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Sun, 5/10/09, Mike Cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Friesen Article
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Cc: "David Middleton" <D.J.Middleton@lboro.ac.uk>
Date: Sunday, May 10, 2009, 6:27 PM


Thanks for getting us directly connected with this article.
I have a question, the answer to which is presupposed in your term,
technology. One of the aspects of the study of communication as I experience
from a department so named is that technology is a term that applies almost
exclusively to electronically powered digital devices.... by my *colleagues*,
who also treat "media" as a singular noun and a "cause" in the positive
sense of "the media are responsible for the degeneration of our moral

Put aside my parochial question about media and focus on technology. What is
a technology? I trace my own, vague understandings to the idea
of technea in ancient Greece where teoria referred to the audience at a
dramatic performance. I am guessing you have thought about this a lot.
Can you help me out here? I think it is relevant to the article because of
the everyday interpretation of "educational technology" .

I hope that someone knows how to reach Norm Friesen so that he can join the
discussion. I think that discursive psychology is an important intellectual
enterprise and would like to understand its relationship to the issues we
are used to discussing.

On Sun, May 10, 2009 at 4:37 PM, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>wrote:

> Yes, xmca is a bit of a three ring circus: when there isn't a tiger loose
> on the other thread, then he's either backstage--or prowling the audience.
> I've got some non-rhetorical and non-display questions about the Friesen
> article:
> a) My first question has to do with "interdisciplinarity", a recent thread
> that snapped befoer it could get as far as "Discursive Psychology and
> Educational Technology". In applied linguistics we used to think we were
> inter-trans-disciplinary: we thought we were language teaching plus any
> discipline you need to make language teaching more fun, effective,
> affordable, useful. Then we discovered that we were really just a
> TECHNOLOGY. It's not the same thing. For one thing, being a technology is
> more fun, effective, affordable, and useful. For another, it's not nearly as
> prestigious, which means good riddance to an enormous amount of careerist
> baggage. Isn't "cognitive science" (and even CHAT) just in the process of
> discovering the same thing?
> b) My second question concerns p. 133, where Friesen has this to say:
> "Discursive psychology does not understand (?) discourse or conversation in
> terms of communication in its conventional technologized (??) meaning as the
> transmission of information; instead, it understands discourse above all
> (as?) a kind of activity--a type of action or work through which the social
> field of interaction itself is constituted". I can think of a lot of ways in
> which you could transmit information without "action" or "work" or even a
> social field of interaction (involuntary signals). I can't think of a single
> way in which you could constitute a social field of interaction without
> transmitting information. So am I to conclude that discursive psychology is
> a narrower notion than the convental technologized one?
> c) My third question has to do with a sentence later in teh same paragraph
> that goes like this: (...Mind, computer, and other terms and categories
> woudl emerge from this type of analysis not so much as causes or tools to
> produce certain results but as rhetorical and interactional resources
> for discursive, social action." To me this suggests that they are not tools
> but only potential tools. Given that I am a proud technologist with no
> pretensions to interdisciplinarity, why is that a step forward? It looks
> like a giant leap backwards from where I am standing.
> d) Finally, I wonder about the whole exercise of analyzing a tidbit of
> interaction between a human and a chatbot for evidence that the human is
> responding to the chatbot as we humans are supposed to, that is, as a more
> or less successful performance of a perverse kind of role play. The
> particular role play that chatbots are supposed to enact is NOT, however,
> a machine pretending to be human, but rather a human pretending to treat a
> machine as a human. Isn't the missing precondition for real (as opposed to
> potential) social action the ASSUMPTION that the other person has a genuine
> intention to interact?
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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