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[Xmca-l] Re: MCA Issue 3 article for discussion

I was turning Mike's request--for a short explanation of the
Halliday/Vygotsky interface--over in my mind for a few days, unsure where
to start. I usually decide these difficult "where to start" questions in
the easiest possible way, with whatever I happen to be working on. In this
case it's the origins of language in a one year old, a moment which is
almost as mysterious to me as the origins of life or the Big Bang. But
perhaps for that very reason it's not a good place to start (the Big Bang
always seemed to me to jump the gun a bit, not to mention the origins of

Let me start with the "Hollowed Out" paper Alfredo just thoughtfully sent
around instead. My first impression is that this paper leaves a really big
gap between the data and the conclusions, and that this gap is largely
filled by theory. Here are some examples of what I mean:

a)    "Whereas 'subject position' is given by society, 'identity' is
self-authored, although it must be recognized by others to be sustained."
(p. 189)

b)  "It is notable that this construction of a good student, though
familiar, does not make any reference to personal interest, excitement, or
engagement in the topics or content-related activities." (193)

c)  "When students' statements such as 'I get it', 'I'm confident', 'I'm
good at this', and  'I can pull this off' are interpreted in the context of
the figured world of math or science at the two schools, their statements
index more than a grade. They reference a meaning system for being good in
math or science that includes the actor identity characteristics of being
able to grasp the subject matter easily, do the work quickly, do it without
help from others, do it faster than others, and get an A." (193)

In each case, we are told to believe in a theory: "given by society",
"self-authored", "does not make any reference", "the context of the figured
world". It's not just that in each case the theory seems to go against the
data (although it certainly does in places, such as Lowena's views as a
tenth grader). I can always live with a theory that contradicts my data:
that's what being a rationalist is all about. It's that the theory
contradicts my own personal theories.

I don't believe that identity is self authored, and I also don't believe
that subject position is given by society as a whole, I think the word
"good" does include personal interest, excitement, and engagement as much
as it includes being able to grasp the subject matter easily, do the work
quickly, do it without help from others, do it faster than others and get
an A. To me anyway, the key word in the data given in c) is actually "I"
and not "it" or "this": the students think they are talking about, and
therefore probably are actually talking about, a relation between their
inner states and the activity at hand  or between the activity at hand and
the result they get; they are not invoking the figured world of neoliberal
results and prospects.

But never mind my own theories. Any gap is, after all, a good opportunity
for theory building. The authors are raising a key issue in both Vygotsky
and Halliday: when does an interpersonal relation become a
historico-cultural one? That is, when does that 'me" and "you" relationship
in which I really do have the power to author my identity (I can make up
any name I want and, within limits, invent my own history, particularly if
I am a backpacker) give way to a job, an address, a number and a class over
which I have very little power at all? When does the interpersonal somehow
become an alien ideational "identity" that confronts me like a strange
ghost when I look in the mirror?

The authors find this point (in the case of Lorena) somewhere between the
beginning of the tenth and the end of the eleventh grade, but I think
that's just because it's where they are looking. We can probably find the
roots of this distinction (between the interpersonal and the
historico-cultural) as far back as we like, right back to (Vygotsky) the
moment when the child gives up the "self-authored" language at one and
takes on the language recognized by others and (Halliday) the moment when
the child distinguishes between Attributive identifying clauses ("I'm
confident", "I'm good at this"), material processes ("I can pull this off")
and mental ones ("I get it").

(To be continued...but not necessarily by me!)

David Kellogg
Macquarie University

On Mon, Oct 31, 2016 at 4:50 PM, Alfredo Jornet Gil <a.j.gil@iped.uio.no>

> Dear xmca'ers,
> I am excited to announce the next article for discussion, which is now
> available open access at the T&F MCA pages<http://www.tandfonline.
> com/doi/full/10.1080/10749039.2016.1188962>.
> After a really interesting discussion on Zaza's colourful paper (which
> still goes on developed into a discussion on micro- and ontogenesis), we
> will from next week be looking at an article by Margaret Eisenhart and
> Carrie Allen from the special issue on "Reimagining Science Education in
> the Neoliberal Global Context". I think the article, as the whole issue,
> offers a very neat example of research trying to tie together
> cultural/economical? and developmental aspects (of identity in this case).
> Margaret has kindly accepted to join the discussion ?after US elections
> (which will surely keep the attention of many of us busy). Meanwhile, I
> share the link<http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10749039.
> 2016.1188962>  to the article (see above), and also attach it as PDF.
> ??Good read!
> Alfredo