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[Xmca-l] Re: Interdisciplinarity and Transdisciplinarity
Anna & Henry:
When Vygotsky speaks of "meaning", he distinguishes two kinds. In English,
these two kinds are "sense" and "significance", but this is just borrowed
from French (from Paulhan). In Russian the terms he uses are "sense"
and..."meaning"! When Volosinov speaks of "meaning", he also distinguishes
two kinds. In English these are translated as "theme" and "meaning", but in
Russian the terms are "tema" and...once again, meaning
You can see that there's a terminological problem: if you say "meaning" we
don't know if you mean the overall, general, hypernym--the meaning that
includes both kinds of meaning--or the more concrete, specific,
hyponym--the meaning which, alongside "theme" or "sense", is only one kind
of meaning. When we translated Thinking and Speech, we solved the problem
by using "value" for general meaning and then "sense-value" and
"significance-value" for the two types of meaning. This translation problem
is what led one of our members to the insight that what Vygotsky really has
in mind is the difference between value on the one hand and use-value and
exchange-vaule on the other which Marx makes in the first volume of
Now, in the second chapter of Vygotsky's "History of the Development of the
Higher Mental Functions", when Vygotsky speaks of mediating activity, he
distinguishes two kinds: tool-mediation and sign-mediation. He warns that
the precise genetic relationship of these terms has to be worked out--that
is, someone needs to write a Capital or a Thinking and Speech that will
explain how one of them emerges from the other. He says that people who
confuse or collapse the difference between them fall into three types:
psychologists using sloppy metaphors that have no content (e.g.
"Geistestechnik", or "Tools of the Mind"), pragmatists who ignore the
distinction (John Dewey is mentioned), and enthusiasts of technology
making hyperbolic and over-literal claims for the psychological effects of
technology use (Ernst Kapp, Wilhelm Wundt, and William Dwight
Whitney)...see Eng. Collected Works, Vol. 2, p. 60-61).
Obviously, we have the same problem today. The most commonly used
neo-Vygotskyan book in early education is undoubtedly "Tools of the Mind",
by Elena Bodrova and Deborah Leong. The most widely read biography of
Vygotsky is Kozulin's book "Psychological Tools". Any version of the
Engestrom triangle will show that tools/signs are conflated at the apex of
the triangle. In order to write a "Capital" or a "Thinking and Speech" of
mediating activity (that is, in order to determine genetically,
functionally, and then structurally the precise linkedness-but-distinctness
that we find between the two kinds of mediating activity), we need to do
some terminological work. In particular, we need to make sure that we do
not use the term 'activity" to refer to both person-to-environment
interaction (where there is a subject-to-object relationship since our days
as hunter gatherers) and person-to-person interaction (where there is a
subject-to-subject relationship since language was first invented). If we
do this, we fall into the same confusion as if we use "meaning" to refer to
both the hypernym and the hyponym.
The same thing happens if we use the term creativity or performance or
process--if we really care about these things, we'll develop a terminology
that shows that we appreciate the fine distinctions. And in fact in this
case the difference is not that fine at all--it's a difference between
treating your interactional partner as an acorn tree, an berry bush or a
wild auroch and treating them as another human being who can and will in
good time be able to act on you the way you have just acted upon him/her.
a) "I cut down the forest."
b) "The forest grew."
c) "The forest saw/felt/thought/spoke of many changes happening."
The first, transitive, relationship is straight SVO--subject, verb, object.
It's a manly relationship that expresses human action on objects, and it's
the core of grammar for most of what Whorf called the Standard Average
European languages, including English. The second, ergative, one is
actually more common in languages like Urdu, Korean, Chinese. It's (S)V or
sometimes SOV--you introduce the participants and then you describe the
process link between them. English does this too, of course--I just did it
when I said the forest grew. According to N.I. Marr, a Soviet linguist who
apparently attended the seminars that Vygotsky and Luria attended along
with Eisenstien,this is a more ancient way of talking about the world which
corresponds to hunter-gatherer and pastoral societies and it falls away
when people begin to farm and produce commodities in factories. But
Halliday says this is actually a vulgar Marxist simplification--the truth
is that scientific English, if anything, prefers the ergative b) to the
transitive a). Ergative expressions are also common in processes like
cooking ("I boil the water"-->"the water boils"), physical changes of state
("the prism refracts the light"-->the light refracts"), movement ("I shut
the door"-->"The door shut") and, in recent times, motor vehicles ("I fly
the plane"-->"The plane flies"). What both Marr and Halliday agree on is
that very few languages tend to c)--that is, very few languages are willing
to treat the environment as subject, and in particular as a subject that is
capable of projecting (verbs of cognition, verbs of verbal communication).
Halliday, M.A.K. (1990). New Ways of Meaning: The Challenge to Applied
Linguistics. Journal of Applied Linguistics 6, 7-36.
Also anthologized in the Ecolinguistics Reader, Fill and Mulhausler (Eds).
London: Continuum, and in vol. 3 of Halliday's Collected Works, "On
Language and Linguistics", London: Continuum.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
On 26 February 2015 at 15:05, HENRY SHONERD <email@example.com> wrote:
> David and Anna:
> A video of Joseph Beuys performing and explaining his famous work, to
> which Anna was referring.
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HVOCay10m8 <
> I liked it a lot.
> David: I have heard about transitivity vs. ergativity for a long time, but
> don’t get it yet. Does Halliday discuss it in either of the books I have of
> his: Explorations in the Functions of Lg or Learning How to Mean? I am
> convinced I can’t call myself a linguist unless I get this distinction
> I have been wondering if a transactional theory of reading is relevant to
> the thread:
> http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-926/theory.htm <
> And I can’t help thinking about “trannies”. I mean no disrespect here. Nor
> do I see transsexuals simply as a recent stage in the sexual revolution. My
> Navajo extended family is a goldmine of transgendering. I am convinced it
> is as much artistic expression as it is the expression of “sexual
> So this would be another golden thread for me. With some stretchability,
> so expansiveness to it.
> > On Feb 25, 2015, at 3:27 PM, David Kellogg <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> > BBC Radio Three just did a short performance of Beethoven's Fifth.
> > I hear it, I am reminded of E.M. Forster's "Howard's End", where
> > Helen, and Tuppy go to hear it, and meet the working class tragic hero of
> > the novel Leonard Bast (Helen steals his umbrella after the concert).
> > Margaret hears pure structure. Helen hears an elaborate narrative
> > dancing elephants and evil goblins, and Tuppy only has ears for a
> > particular moment when the drum links two themes.
> > The great myth of epoch-changing works is that they always bomb on the
> > first night. Now, in this relatively rare case, the myth is apparently
> > quite true. A lot of the reasons are circumstantial; there was a Handel
> > Oratorio competing for players and audience on opening night, but some of
> > them are not. The critics complained, quite correctly, that the Fifth
> > doesn't really have tunes, and where it does, the tunes don't unify in
> > way. Helen's narrative--and Tuppy's anxiousness to hear the drum--reflect
> > this peculiarity of the sympony. I myself have always felt the Fifth
> > repetitious and over-insistent; I much prefer the Sixth.
> > But Margaret is right. What the Fifth has, and what explains ALL of these
> > reactions, is what Davydov would call a "germ cell". It's a rhythmic unit
> > which appears in every movement and every tune and which makes it
> > to see the music as a Gestalt--a single structure. And of course
> > is a theme. I don't mean that a structure is a theme; I simply mean that
> > the idea that anything can be seen in terms of the "germ cells" that make
> > it up is a theme, and it's actually quite an important theme in CHAT.
> > I think that SOME of the things we are discussing on this thread do
> > constitute themes in this way--that is, they are not aspects of content
> > ways of considering any content. Any content can be considered as
> > and any content can be considered as history. Also, any content can be
> > considered as structure, which is why Margaret does not have to translate
> > the music into a narrative and why she doesn't need to pay attention to
> > particular concrete links to see the unity of the music as a whole.
> > Of course it is POSSIBLE to see any artwork as performance art, but it's
> > little like seeing any utterance as vocabulary: there are diminishing
> > returns. If we consider paintings as performances, we get Jackson Pollock
> > on film (a film which apparently led to a suicide-murder of three
> > Science as mere performance is simply Republican anti-science in
> > fashionable Judith Butler jargon (Ken Hyland's work on academic writing
> > comes to mind here, and not at all in a favorable light). Nevertheless, I
> > think Annalisa's comment is useful: it points to a serious gap in CHAT
> > terminology.
> > As Andy points out, tool use and sign use are both considered, from a
> > purely logical, synoptic point of view, forms of mediating activity. We
> > have good terms for the use of signs (language, verbal thinking,
> > communication). But when we refer to tool use, we say things like "labor"
> > (which necessarily involves sign use) or simply "activity" (which is the
> > hypernym of activity, and so like "meaning" creates confusion, because it
> > is both part and whole).So we need a term for kinds of mediating activity
> > which involve tools but which do not involve any sign use at all. I not
> > only do not know what to call it, I can't even think of a good example.
> > tend to think of the distinction grammatically--as a distinction between
> > transitivity, which involves a subject-object relation, and dialogue,
> > is always subject-to-subject).
> > I think that "sustainability", in the form of "metastability" is an
> > important concept in systemic-functional linguistics. One way to think
> > about it is rather structuralist: things remain what they are by changing
> > all the time (in China I had a bicycle like this, where every part had
> > replaced, some of them many times, and of course Otto Neurath raised the
> > problem of whether a boat which had replaced every part was still the
> > boat). If you think of entities as decomposible into elements, this is
> > workable; if you think of them as "Gestalten" there is no problem at all.
> > Another way to think about sustainability and metastability is as a form
> > development: it is the second phase, after genesis and before decay and
> > death. I think the reason why sustainability has become a major theme in
> > the 21st century has to do with the fact that as a species we are now
> > entering this phase; we have to establish metastable relationships with
> > environment or face immediate decay and death.
> > But a third way to think about metastability is as a form of meaning: a
> > semiotic system like language is what it is not because "tout se tient"
> > every point but because each part is being replaced at every moment. Note
> > that this view of metastability doesn't exclude the structuralist
> > simply sees it as an imaginary "snapshot" in a continuous movement. Nor
> > does it exclude the theme of development: Halliday, in fact, describes
> > change of English from a more transitive grammar of doings ("I hunt
> > aurochs", "I gather berries", "I raise goats", "I make commodities") to a
> > more ergative grammar of happenings ("The animals run", "The berries
> > etc.). N.I. Marr, the big Soviet linguist iin Vygotsky's time, saw
> > grammar as the past; Halliday sees it as our future.
> > David Kellogg
> > Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> > They just played structures, there is no problem; if you think of them
> > matter, the
> > I always think there are I think that in CHAT we think of
> > as a kind of development.
> > On 25 February 2015 at 09:03, Peter <email@example.com> wrote:
> >> Hello,
> >> I was thinking about this recently when writing a grant proposal on
> >> a"sustainability" project. Sustainability has replaced "green", "Eco"
> >> other keywords as a catchall term for socially and environmentally
> >> responsible engagement with the world. Its a concept that can be
> >> into any traditional discipline, but not necessarily emanating from one
> >> them in particular, I think it truly does represent a transdisciplinary
> >> notion. Something like environmental studies is interdisciplinary in
> >> because it pulls from various disciplines and is integrated in a new
> >> Sustainability studies on the other hand can reside within disciplines
> >> as history, geography, philosophy etc.
> >> Sustainability studies would also fit the definition you mention about a
> >> discipline that seeks to eliminate itself.
> >> I suppose globalization studies, which seem to be growing in popularity,
> >> would be another example of this type of transdisciplinary concept
> >> Best,
> >> Peter
> >>> On Feb 25, 2015, at 7:10 AM, Annalisa Aguilar <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> >>> Hello all,
> >>> I would agree with you David Ki, but for Transdisciplinary, I'd say it
> >> is a discipline that doesn't quite fit anywhere because it bisects many
> >> different disciplines.
> >>> For example, in the arts we have painting, sculpture, photography,
> >> printmaking, video, film, then there is multimedia which borrows from
> >> the others, such as with conceptual art, which is attempting to use the
> >> other mediums for a particular purpose alongside the other mediums. I'd
> >> this is analogous to cross-disciplinary.
> >>> However performance art is all and neither of these mediums because
> >> performance art transcends the others as it uses the human body along
> >> the environment and it is time-based and usually temporary. Consider
> >> Beuys, for example, using a dead hare and himself. So this would be
> >> analogous to transdisciplinary.
> >>> I'd not call opera transdisciplinary, but multimedia, because it's more
> >> about the music, most of all, one can enjoy the opera without the stage
> >> knowing who the performers are. The opera is recast and repurposed but
> >> is always interpretive of the original score.
> >>> I'd suggest a discipline whose purpose is to eliminate itself would be
> >> possibly transdisciplinary. Or disciplines that incorporate activism, to
> >> take the knowledge out into the streets, possibly, perhaps peace
> >>> Kind regards,
> >>> Annalisa