goals, agency, and interplay of forces

From: IRAJ IMAM (iimam@cal-research.org)
Date: Mon Mar 22 2004 - 16:32:27 PST

Renee wrote:

"Eugene's response to David really gets at something that I am struggling
with in CHAT: "I think a sociocultural notion of agency - who-what is
responsible for an activity - has to be inherently distributed across
people, tools, time, and space"

OK. I understand that CHAT notion of distribution across individuals should
be viewed as a reaction to individualistic psychology... But how does CHAT
address conflicts of interest, and contradictory agendas within a single
(shared?) activity? It seems to me that shared implies accord. Which I'm
not comfortable with. For example, in a class where a racist history
textbook view is contested and resisted by minority students ... how can we
say that agency is distributed across these students, the texts they resist,
and the teachers complicit in reproducing oppression?"

I am still new to CHAT and could be off completely, but am quite interested
in this discussion. I share with you a sense of discomfort with apparently a
Durkeimian condition for agency to be 'inherently distributed across people,
tools, time, and space.' As your example shows, a social space of activity
is fluid, filled with conflicts (eg, in purpose and in motivation), and
contains emergent properties. It seems to me that all activities, shared or
not, have boundary making forces--physical and/or virtual--in time and in

In your example of the class, you point to the social racist discourse, or
activity (regime) of schooling, that tends to deny the self-determined
agency for minority students. This particular activity produces a racist
social space--physical and virtual-- (eg, by its text, its legitimacy to be
presented and read in the classroom, and its version of ideology in defining
different peoples from the view of the racist). I can imagine this space to
be 'distributed across people, tools, time, and space' as dominant social
space, but not the only one! To the extent that the minority students buy
that racist story and do not engage with its inherent contradictions, they
remain dominated and trapped into that social space ( of activity). This
seems to parallel Fanon's 'black skin white mask' in the struggle against
colonialism in Algeria.

The moment that those minority students doubt and question the racist
version of that reality, their agency (individual and group) is activated in
their production of new social space in the same (or other) activity. What
was once shared, not any more. This emergent social space of activity (third
space) includes virtual space of self-determined ideas, their projection
into the physical and social world, and their interplay and struggle with
the racist social space (this is my reading from my background in spatial

Is this process any similar to that of 'expansive learning' where a new
space of learning has to be produced for the learner?

iraj imam
The Center for Applied Local research

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