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[Xmca-l] Which comes first, context or text?
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- Subject: [Xmca-l] Which comes first, context or text?
- From: Rod Parker-Rees <R.Parker-Rees@plymouth.ac.uk>
- Date: Mon, 21 Mar 2016 09:01:44 +0000
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- Thread-topic: Which comes first, context or text?
I have opened a new strand to avoid distracting from the discussion of the Tharp and O'Donnell article.
If we go back to the roots of text in weaving it makes sense that, in the wider sense to which you allude, text is always between people. It is when people connect their interests in some way and share meanings that stuff and events get woven into text. Even if you hadn't said anything when you presented the book to the 9 month old baby, the second presentation would be recognised as a social event - 'Oh yes, this thing that we do' and this feeling of shared experience does seem to play an important part in infants' assisted ability to weave public, cultural meanings into their private, personal experiences.
As Vygotsky noted, infants develop within an already woven context of culture so what happens to and around them is pre-patterned and because humans are oddly interested in what their infants are interested in, interactions serve to model particular weaving patterns and styles. Studies by Tomasello, Moll and colleagues (discussed in Moll, H. and Meltzoff, A. (2011) Joint Attention as the fundamental basis of understanding perspectives. In A. Seemann (ed.) Joint Attention: new developments in psychology, philosophy of mind, and social neuroscience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 393-413) show that 12 month old infants appear to 'remember' their interactions with a researcher and selected toys but only if they have played with the toys together - watching the researcher play with the toys, or playing with them while the researcher watches, does not provide enough embodied, enactive, interactive experience to shape future interactions (and the infant's knowledge is 'context specific' - not extended to other researchers or other toys).
So there is a naming problem here. Is there, as you say, no context without specific, personally experienced and woven text? Or is there a pre-existing context which, as yet unbeknown to the weaver, influences and guides the texts which come to be formed? Infants are surrounded by a cultural context which is richly and densely shaped by the concept systems which have evolved out of the patterns in people's behaviour. What their caregivers do with, to and around them is shaped both by what those caregivers have seen other people do and by a long history of people hearing and reading about what other people do and have done. I would like to be able to use context to refer to the culturally patterned environment in which infants are helped to notice particular kinds of patterns but you want the word (if I have understood correctly - and what are the chances?) to refer to a personal frame of reference. This is helpful for me, highlighting the way the 'same' cultural environment can be woven into different contexts by different weavers, but that leaves me needing another word for the co-woven, negotiated environment which enables infants to join in before they have sorted out or internalised the concept systems which shape it. And which allows someone entering a new job or a new role to sidle in from peripheral participation to feeling they belong at the core of the group.
If you haven't already read Katherine Nelson's 'Young Minds in Social Worlds: experience, meaning and memory' (Harvard 2007) I would strongly recommend this - she develops a strongly Vygotskyan argument that infant development has to be understood in terms of interwoven processes of making sense and making relationships - drawing together a huge amount of research on early communication and meaning sharing.
All the best,
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: 20 March 2016 20:31
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Article for Discussion
Actually, that's just the kind of text I'm working with right now. Here's the plan. Every week, we give a nine month old baby a book. We ask four questions in two languages (because the baby has one Korean speaking parent and one English speaking one):
a) English: What's this?
b) English: Is it a ...?
c) Yigot mueo ya? (What's this?)
d) ... yi ya? (Is it a ...?)
Sometimes we mix up the order. This goes on every week for the next three years, as the child first figures out that a book is not edible. That it contains pictures. That that the pictures are not just colors but meant to be signs. That beneath the pictures there are letters. That the letters are not just drawings but are meant to be symbols. That the symbols encode settings, characters, and problems. That the problems can only be solved by means of dialogue, etc.
Now, the first time I tried this, the child simply could not concentrate on the object for any length of time. But the SECOND time I did it, the child literally could not look away from it! You could see that although the child had no idea what was being said, the child was might just be starting to think some proto-language equivalent of "What's this?" "Is it a...?" "Yi got mu eo ya?" "Chaek yi ya?" And after a minute or so, the child looked up, as if to see whether the large person making so much noise might be thinking something along those lines too.
So maybe THAT's text! And as you can see it doesn't matter at all whether the text realizes concepts or feelings or just perceptions, the underlying semiotic mechanism is pretty much the same. But it seems that there's only text when something has been selected from the material setting by some human consciousness or consciousnesses for semiotic transformation; there's only text when there some kind of "metaphor" (gestural, phonological,
lexicogrammatical) for context. It seems that it's precisely THIS act of selection which transforms a material setting into a context, and it's premature to speak of context before that happens. So for example I wouldn't use the term context for the first week of work, only for the second.
I think it's legitimate to talk about "social context" and "cultural context", because I believe that context, like text, exists on a cline of instantiation. At one end, we have the relationship between a context of situation (Malinowski) and a text (Halliday). That's the end I'm at right now. At the other, we have the relationship between a context of culture (again, Malinowski) and...and a whole language system (again, Halliday). I gather that's the end at which the KEEP and the Community Development projects in Micronesia and the Delinquency Research plans are working. But I don't see how "activity" or "behaviour" can ever realize context, unless it is semiotic activity and semiotic behaviour, in which case we might as well start looking around for text. That's where the garlic and ginger is.
(Rod--I'm new at this stuff: watching infants crack the whole problem of anthropogenesis single-handed, I mean. That's how exciting it is, and that's about how baffling it is too. I know you are an old hand. Can you give me any tips on what to read and advice about what to do next?)
On Sun, Mar 20, 2016 at 10:14 PM, Rod Parker-Rees < R.Parker-Rees@plymouth.ac.uk> wrote:
> I was driven to respond to David's earlier comments about context
> since my own understanding of this term is in the context of trying to
> understand how preverbal children make sense (meanings framed by
> social and physical contexts more than by systems of concepts). Here
> it is difficult to separate a text out of the context, an 'individual'
> thought process apart from the interactions in which it can occur.
> It strikes me that Andy's point about the contexts in which concepts
> have their meanings is particularly relevant here. The
> intersubjectivity available to a caregiver-child dyad or within a
> family is of a different order to that available between otherwise
> unconnected speakers of the 'same' language. Where one is rooted in a
> history of shared experiences in common contexts the other is rooted
> in a history of more or less abstracted ideas (concepts) which refer to experiences but 'from above'
> rather than 'from within'. Knowing what someone else means is never
> completely achievable and I think the positive consequence of this is
> that intersubjectivity has to be understood as a process, a
> conversation rather than an answer. 'Feeling' with other people is not
> an achieved end but a means towards sharing understanding (I like the
> idea that the word understanding is misunderstood - 'under' deriving
> from the same root as 'inter' and meaning 'among' rather than 'below'
> - to understand something is to stand IN it).
> We can know ABOUT other cultures through reading about them or
> watching films but how we know cultures in which we have stood is
> importantly different - I think. Meeting other people, or meeting with
> them, can enrich our personal understanding by exposing us to
> different ways of thinking but I think we have to recognise that
> thinking ABOUT ways of interacting has to be understood as a
> multi-layered thing, ranging from the thickest knowing of our lived
> and co-lived experiences to the ethereal abstractions of philosophical thought-play.
> So sharing concepts out of context is doable but not achievable.
> All the best,
> -----Original Message-----
> From: email@example.com [mailto:
> firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
> Sent: 20 March 2016 10:34
> To: email@example.com
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Article for Discussion
> I don't know if the issue is having common interests, Cliff.
> I think it's very productive, even necessary, that each little bunch
> of us has different concerns and shines light on different aspects of human life.
> But what we really need is shared concepts, through which we can
> understand each other and collaborate. So it is good news that CC has
> appropriated zone of proximal development, activity setting, shared
> activity and the law of genetic development.
> I think we need to be very conscious of the dangers inherent in
> appropriating expressions like these though. You pointed out that in
> the early days of CC, "'cultural psychology' was generally practiced
> as 'cross-cultural', largely as comparison studies", but everything I
> read in your paper tends to suggest "culture" is still understood and
> used in just this sense. Consequently it is very easy to miss the
> meaning attached to "culture" in CHAT, which, after all, originated in
> pretty much a mono-cultural situation. One word can index different
> concepts. Achieving interdisciplinarity is only achieved by means of
> shared concepts. But on the other hand, since the content of a concept
> is ultimately the larger system of practices to which it is
> indigenous, it seems almost as if a concept can only be shared when
> the broader context of its use is already assimilated.
> Along these lines, it was a little while before I realised that you
> were using the word "intersubjectivity" with quite a different meaning
> than I would. It seems to denote empathy. "Intersubjectivity involves
> co-actors feeling the same emotions and values in the same
> situations," and I don't even know it means to "feel values."
> Connected with this the description of joint action, turned out to be
> in sharp contrast to my conception of it. As I see it, collaboration
> (my preferred term, rather than "joint
> action") necessarily entails both moments of conflict as well as
> cooperation. Harmony and bliss are great things, but I think they are
> rather cheaply purchased simply by everyone marching in step.
> I suspect that these two examples of shared words indicating different
> concepts are connected to the hope of mutual appropriation by means of
> having a "center of commonality."
> *Andy Blunden*
> On 20/03/2016 12:28 PM, Cliff O'Donnell wrote:
> > Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Alfredo. Roland and I thought
> > that although CC and CHAT have many common interests, most folks in
> > each appeared to be unaware of the other (judging by the infrequency
> > of common citations). As described in our article, we and several of
> > our colleagues have been influenced by CHAT and have used CHAT
> > concepts in our research and intervention programs.
> > As for influence in the opposite direction, perhaps the KEEP
> > project, Seymour Sarason's work, and some of Maynard's work with Greenfield.
> > Also Kurt Lewin is a source common to both CC and CHAT. I too would
> > be interested to hear of additional influence in the opposite direction.
> > You are correct that Delta Theory builds on psychosocial systems
> > with Vygotsky as an important source. Delta Theory boldly attempts
> > to be a universal theory of how change occurs using Delta as the
> > symbol for change.
> > I'm pleased that you found the discussion of cognitive science,
> > psycho-neurology, and a potential center of commonality in
> > psychology of interest! That is the goal of the article, i.e., to
> > show how the commonality of CC and CHAT have the potential to form
> > that commonality with developmental, educational, cognitive, and neuro-psychology.
> > Hopefully this discussion format will facilitate interest in the
> > process.
> > Cliff
> > On Mar 19, 2016, at 6:17 AM, Alfredo Jornet Gil wrote:
> >> Thanks Cliff and Mike for sharing this interesting article. I was
> >> not familiar to cultural community psychology and this and the
> >> other papers in the symposium do a great job introducing and
> >> concisely describing the field, and how it evolved from community
> >> to cultural community psychology.
> >> As I was reading, I wondered how much the influence of CHAT
> >> literature had influenced the development of community psychology
> >> itself from the start. As I progressed in my reading, I then found
> >> clear references to these influences, which even meant the delay of
> >> the publishing of Roland's work, I assume, due to the important
> >> input that Vygotsky's publications meant for the project. But then
> >> I wondered on what had been other sources. What were other
> >> foundational influences to the field? I'd be interested to know
> >> about them in part because, while the paper discusses many examples
> >> in which CHAT gives input to CC, I would like to know more about
> >> the (possible) inputs in the other direction.
> >> Also, I found interesting the mention of a new center of
> >> commonality in psychology in general. I was glad to see, however
> >> brief, mentions to research in cognitive science and
> >> psycho-neurology. In your paper, Delta theory is mentioned as a
> >> move forward towards integration. In the case of CHAT, this was
> >> pursued by means of developing a scientific discipline based on
> >> dialectical materialism and the sociogenetic method. Delta theory
> >> (I just had a very brief first
> >> contact) seems to build upon the notion of psychosocial systems.
> >> This sounds very much in line with Vygotsky, who surely is a
> >> central source. Again, here I would love to hear what other
> >> insights/sources are involved that may provide new insights to
> >> those more familiar to CHAT but not so much with CC and Delta theory.
> >> Thanks,
> >> Alfredo
> >> ________________________________________
> >> From: firstname.lastname@example.org
> >> <email@example.com> on behalf of mike cole
> >> <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> >> Sent: 18 March 2016 02:39
> >> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> >> Subject: [Xmca-l] Article for Discussion
> >> Dear XCMA-er-o-philes-
> >> We thought it appropriate to put up for discussion the paper by
> >> Roland Tharp and Cliff O'Donnell from the most recent issue of MCA.
> >> Roland wanted to stimulate discussion among what he and Cliff saw
> >> as people with a strong family resemblance. He passed away before
> >> this part of the discussion could take place.
> >> Roland and Cliff argue for the mutual relevance of Cultural
> >> Community Psychology and Vygotskian inspired research in the
> >> approach referred to often in these pages as CHAT, not only because
> >> it is an acronym for cultural-historical activity theory, but
> >> because we have a tradition of chatting here about the ideas in
> >> papers that sample our different interests.
> >> In this case, Cliff is intending to send this message and an
> >> invitation to people from Community Psychology to join in. May it
> >> be celebratory of Roland's long life seeking to promote growth
> >> enhancing communication.
> >> get your copy at
> >> http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/current
> >> Enjoy, and of course, send along to others you think might be
> >> interested.
> >> Its legal, free, above board, and, hopefully, interesting!
> >> mike
> >> --
> >> It is the dilemma of psychology to deal as a natural science with
> >> an object that creates history. Ernst Boesch
> > Clifford R. O'Donnell, Ph.D.
> > Professor Emeritus
> > Past-President, Society for Community Research and Action (APA
> > Division 27)
> > University of Hawai'i
> > Department of Psychology
> > 2530 Dole Street
> > Honolulu, HI 96822
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