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[Xmca-l] Re: The Social and the Semiotic

I'm not sure I completely understand your response, James. My point about the difference between the CHAT and S-C labels is not a personal view, it is thoroughly embedded in the respective research communities. My point about "progress" is also not really my own either, but my particular take on the problem I owe directly to Sylvia Scribner. *Totalities* cannot be ordered, hierarchically, chronologically or otherwise. But any feature abstracted from a totality which can be quantified self-evidently *can* be ordered. For example, I may not think that US society is *better* than Puerto Rican society (totalities) but I may well think that the US is a better place for me to earn a living, or vice versa. I might not think that Australia is altogether a better country than it was in my parents' day, but I can say that it is more tolerant and more diverse and has a larger population. We practically compare, and therefore order, in this way every moment of our lives. The problem with "progress" is that it compares totalities, which are always mutlifaceted and problematic.

Do those clarifications help, James?


Andy Blunden
On 28/06/2017 3:28 AM, James Ma wrote:

Thanks Andy, your personal take on is very interesting - perhaps you could enlighten me on your point?

Larry, such strangeness has much to do with the vagueness of "sociocultural" reflected in sociocultural theory itself. Although my current work focuses on Peirce and Vygotsky, the Hallidayan imagery is always saliently present in my mind. Halliday is explicitly sociocultural. Vygotsky used this term to refer to the higher psychological functions as "sociocultural" in origin (e.g. p. 46 in Mind in Society), but he defined his own paradigm using the term "cultural-historical". To me, "sociocultural" is somehow still in wholesale fashion - maybe it should move out and become something which would epitomise "cultural-historical"?

For years I've been taking"sociocultural" and "cultural-historical" to be customary terms. However, this doesn't stop me being "ruminant" (here I borrow David's word portraying the SFL mindset) about the essence of these terms, albeit seldom reaching anything with satisfaction. At times I find myself concluding that three entities - social, cultural and historical - form an indispensable core of human existence. I know this is no more than stating the obvious!

More to the point, the way I see it is that "social" is enmeshed with "cultural" and "sociocultural" as a whole is entangled with itself in itself - this entanglement is perhaps the essence of the term. But the problem is that these two entities intertwine in a complex whole that appears to be simultaneously "social" and "cultural" in an ambiguous way. Anyway, on a positive note, this is perhaps ambiguity par excellence, as Emmanuel Levinas would say! Or perhaps Umberto Eco's "unlimited semiosis"!



*/James Ma/*///https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa/

On 26 June 2017 at 16:53, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:

    The inclusion of "historical" is quite loaded, James,
    marking the Soviet heritage of CHAT, and rejected by
    those who regard the inclusion of "historical" as a
    modern arrogance based on notions of social progress.
    Personally, I like "historical" while I reject the
    notion of cultural totalities which can be ordered
    unproblematically, whether chronologically or otherwise.


    Andy Blunden
    http://home.mira.net/~andy <http://home.mira.net/%7Eandy>

    On 26/06/2017 6:19 PM, James Ma wrote:

        Hello David, I have an applied linguistics
        background too. My first
        acquaintance with the term "sociocultural" was in
        the work of H Stern who
        described sociocultural factors in language
        learning and teaching. I do
        feel a bit strange that "sociocultural" appears to
        be interchangeable
        with "cultural-historical" when people talk about
        Vygotsky and his



        *James Ma*  *https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa

        On 25 June 2017 at 23:09, David Kellogg
        <mailto:dkellogg60@gmail.com>> wrote:

            A few years ago there was a minor theoretical
            kerfuffle at the
            International Congress of Systemic Functional
            Linguistics in Vancouver.
            Systemic Functional Linguists tend to be
            gentle, ruminant creatures, who
            frown on intellectual prize fighting (building
            "vertical" intellectual
            structures, like building chemistry on physics
            and biology on chemistry, is
            the goal rather than building "horizontal"
            knowledge structures like
            competing fields of sociology, psychology,
            cognitive science). But they
            also prize delicacy and like to make fine
            distinctions that account
            exhaustively for data (e.g. vocabulary is
            treated as nothing but most
            delicate grammar, and grammar as most general
            forms of vocabulary, hence
            the use of "words" for the latter and
            "wording" for the former).

            Accounting exhaustively for language as a
            social-semiotic phenomenon
            usually involves a delicate distinction
            between the social and the
            semiotic, something like the distinction
            between physics and chemistry on
            the one hand and biology on the other. But Jim
            Martin argued that semiotic
            activity does not occur independent of social
            activity and vice versa, so,
            by Occam's razor, the terms are redundant and
            the hyphen superfluous.
            Surely the distinction between social behavior
            and meaningful behavior is
            nothing like the distinction between animate
            and inanimate, sentient and
            non-sentient, carbon-based self-replicating
            matter and inorganic compounds.

            Yesterday, we went whale watching out of
            Sydney Harbour. The Southwest
            Pacitic humpback community, which numbers
            between thirty and forty
            thousand, spends the summer (that is, your
            winter) months in Antarctica
            feeding on krill and small fish; they have an
            ingenious method of feeding
            called bubble-netting which takes about 27
            years for a whale to learn. It's
            a lot like Leontiev's description of a
            primitive hunt: twelve whales work
            together to emit a circle of small bubbles
            encircling the prey, and
            gradually shaping it into a tall cylinder
            about thirty metres in diameter.
            When the krill kill is shaped in this way, the
            dinner table is set. The
            whales just sluice up and down through the
            cylinder with their baleen
            plates agape, raking in thousands of fish
            and/or tiny crustaceans with each

            But then they embark on the road trip which
            brings them past Sydney Harbour
            and to points further north. The migration
            lasts many months, during which
            the whales do not eat at all. Even mothers,
            who have to produce about 40
            litres of whale milk daily, fast the whole six
            months. I noticed that the
            whales we saw were always in groups of two or
            three and I wondered to the
            marine biologist on board if whales worked in
            small communities in
            Antarctica but then went on holidays in
            nuclear families. She pointed out
            that these dyads and triads were all the same
            size and gender. "They're
            just mates," she said.

            She also said that the study of whale songs is
            being "de-anthropmorphized":
            it was previously believed that since they
            vary much like languages, with
            regional dialects and some "multilingualism",
            they must have an economic
            function in feeding, a sexual function in
            mating, or a political function
            in establishing male dominance (no easy feat,
            because females are
            polyandrous and rather larger than males).
            None of this is the case: whales
            sing when they aren't feeding, when they
            aren't mating, and when they
            aren't fighting: they just like to sing. And
            in fact the four-tone songs
            vary more like pop-tunes than like regional
            dialects or functional

            Now, when the kerfuffle broke out between
            Halliday and Martin in Vancouver,
            Halliday pointed to ants as a species who were
            social but not semiotic
            (there is no reason to believe that "meaning"
            as distinct from molecular
            biology is at stake). You might think the
            Southwest Pacific humpback
            community is a good counter example, since
            they clearly have both social
            and semiotic activity. But it seems to me
            exactly the opposite: they are a
            clear example that social activity is goal
            oriented in one way, and
            semiotic activity is goal oriented in quite a
            different way. I have never
            liked using the term socio-cultural to
            describe Vygotsky's theory (it is
            the term generally used in my own field of
            applied linguistics) because I
            thought it was redundant; now I am not so sure.

            David Kellogg
            Macquarie University

            "The Great Globe and All Who It Inherit:
            Narrative and Dialogue in Story-telling with
            Vygotsky, Halliday, and Shakespeare"

            Free Chapters Downloadable at:


            Recent Article: Thinking of feeling: Hasan,
            Vygotsky, and Some Ruminations
            on the Development of Narrative in Korean Children

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