Re: [xmca] Re: Questions

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Tue Oct 18 2005 - 20:12:25 PDT

Mabel and Elaine

On the one hand, it is very symptomatic that two people form Brazil must
communicate in
English, But that is the way of the world -- Dying cultures become "lingua

Elaine wrote, in response to your note, Mabel, that

The focus on language as the most
relevant artifact was useful when looking at the way(s) the object of
learning activity was expanded.

Language, the tool of tools, What other artifact could be more useful when,
we seek to understand, conjointlyk the object of activity and how it is

On 10/17/05, Elaine Mateus <> wrote:
> Mabel,
> your message was so provocative that here comes another lurker trying to
> voice a few thoughts!
> It seems to me that your concerns regarding the way those two teachers
> interact with their pupils are deeply related to the sense/meaning issue.
> Although, as Yrjo says, the object of teachers' work is the relationship
> between students and the knowledge they are supposed to (re)create, the
> sense each teacher has of "students". "knowledge" and the ways it can be
> "(re)created" are so diverse that there is no way teachers could interact
> similarly with their pupils.
> At the same time, my research with EFL teachers in a suburban school in
> Brazil has shown that the use and exchange values of knowlegde (object of
> learning activity, as I take it) has lost its way not only for children,
> but
> most sadly for teachers as well. Some trends of the postmodern
> epistemology,
> plus the search for cheap labor in a Neoliberalist world where the
> rhetoric
> of better qualified workers means better payed ones make teachers and
> students wonder why teach/learn not only English, but other subjects as
> well. It seems to me that the most evident motive for most of them, that
> is,
> what apparently engages them in the same network of activity systems is
> the
> need to survive school: teachers need a job and will do anything to please
> children and in some really violent schools not to be threatened by them;
> children must be in schools and won't do much as they know that "no child
> must be left behind" (which in Brazil means no school failure at all).
> What helped me was to concentrate on the contradictions teachers faced
> while
> trying to add more vivid colors to this sad picture (i.e., pleasing
> students
> versus sharing responsibility for learning; following rules of bahavior
> and
> patterns of (non)interaction versus discussing possible rules of
> participation, agency and ownership). The focus on language as the most
> relevant artifact was useful when looking at the way(s) the object of
> learning activity was expanded.
> Elaine Mateus
> Universidade Estadual de Londrina
> Letras Estrangeiras Modernas
> (43) 3371-4468
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Mike Cole" <>
> To: "Mabel Encinas" <>
> Cc: "eXtended Media, Culture, Activity" <>
> Sent: Sunday, October 16, 2005 4:16 PM
> Subject: [xmca] Re: Questions
> Hi Mabel--
> Your message is difficult to answer because it raises so many inter-twined
> issues at one time. I am certain I can not
> answer them all without printing the message and parsing each of the
> questions and answering them systematically,
> but I cannot do that at present. Perhaps others can help by noting what I
> leave out as well as where I may be wrong
> and commenting on parts that are near their fingertips.
> Long ago, Leontiev wrote: With all its varied forms, the human
> individual's
> activity is a system in the system of social relations. It does not exist
> without these relations.
> many people, myself included at an earlier time, believed that Leontiev
> did
> not pay suffient attention to social relations and in terms of the way
> activity theory was actually implemented in the USSR I think this is true.
> The emphasis was on production, modes of production, rather than relations
> of production. But "theoretically", I have come to believe, that he and
> his
> colleagues understood perfectly well that mediated JOINT activity implies
> always a double articulation of subject-non human world with subject-human
> world. It is unfortunate that this gets reduced to subject-subject and
> subject-object relationships. One affordance of Yrjo's expansion of the
> mediational triangle is to represent this double articulation, and
> multiple
> forms of mediation, in the basic
> abstraction.
> Your interactions with your sister were culturally mediated just as your
> production of the food. That the term, tool, is used
> by the soviets is, in my opinion, unfortunate; I prefer the term artifact
> for many reasons, as discussed elsewhere.
> I, too, worry about the question of multiple objects always being present
> in
> activity. I wonder often, are children and adults
> in the 5th Dimension engaged in the same activity? Do they have the same
> objects? I have no fully articulated answer. I think
> that just as no word has a single meaning, that polysemy is an essential
> design feature of human language, so no two peoplecan have EXACTLY the
> same
> object, not even, strictly speaking, the same goal. However, we can and
> must
> engage in collusion to
> behave as if there were a single goal, and often a single motive. It may
> be
> something like the tension between sense and
> meaning. We all have our own sense of what we mean but we strive to create
> enough coordination so that we can say that we
> share meanings. You and your sister might have said, "Its time to take the
> cake out of the oven" and for purposes of joint
> action, you mean't the same thing. But if we dug deeply enough, we would
> find that each of you had a slightly different
> sense of "cake" and "oven."
> These same issues come in another way when you are uneasy about talking of
> other people as tools. It seems inhumane. But
> when a mother helps her newborn to reach a teddy bear, or a father helps
> his
> daughter learn to ride a bike, they are mediators
> of their children's experience and their children are active subjects,
> seeking that mediation, seeking to use their parents as "tools."
> So, yes, I think we are narrowing the meaning of other people when we
> speak
> of them as tools in the everyday sense of tools, but I think we do
> ourselves
> a big disservice by using the term tools in this way. Luria spoke of
> "mediational means" as well as tools. Perhaps that would help us avoid
> dehumanizing each other and forgetting the duality of human action and
> experience.
> mike
> On 10/10/05, Mabel Encinas <> wrote:
> >
> > Hi, Mike and all.
> > You asked a long time ago (three months):
> > What would the tool be for if not for implementation of object oriented
> > action? How could the object be acted upon in the absence of a mediating
> > tool?
> > I dare to ask then:
> > Has the activity system only one object? Can we humans have kind of
> > communicative objects simultaneously or as a priority? I think for
> > example:
> > I have made cakes for the sake of baking with my sister (or with others:
> > clean a storeroom, or draw, or do exercise, or write a paper, or
> organise
> > a
> > workshop or a reading seminar... maybe this is a personal deviation :)
> ).
> > Yes, we do eat the cakes afterwards (my sister, and I, and others), but
> it
> > is the relationship an important "object" for my sister and me when we
> > bake
> > cakes. At the same time, while in an argument or angry, I have folded
> > sheets
> > with my partner, and one of us sometimes pulls too much or we cannot
> agree
> > what is the next step at folding at a certain stage. I wonder then if
> > apart
> > from the explicit "object", we do not have other "objects", not
> explicit.
> > And I honestly do not want to be esoteric.
> > In my PhD research (I am writing my thesis at the moment), a teacher,
> > Sofia, who gets along very well with adolescents uses computers in a way
> > in
> > which her relationship with them is even better. Students then write and
> > discuss about what they write, for example. When she gives notes in the
> > Spanish classroom, they construct the texts together and even her
> > "monologues" are feed by students interventions. A different situation
> > happens with Ricardo. Sometimes he fights with the students a lot and
> > other
> > times he is very permissive. In the Spanish classroom, he dictates notes
> > and
> > students do not feel like collaborating. When he speaks, students
> > interventions "disrupt" his fluency. In the computer classroom he asks
> the
> > students to read long texts on the screen, to copy in their notebooks or
> > to
> > do grammar exercises with drill and practice software. When they write
> > text,
> > only in the Spanish classroom, his main worry is to register the work of
> > each student (yes, the institution is there all the time and I do not
> take
> > it for granted). I have inferred then that computers are tools not only
> > for
> > teaching, but for relating with the students. Apparently Sofia
> integrates
> > computers for increasing her bonds with them; Ricardo integrates them in
> > his
> > attempts to control them. Though when they speak with me, Ricardo's
> > conceptions
> > of teaching Spanish are very well informed. He talks with clarity for
> > example about the need of working communicatively in his classes. I
> could
> > say than he speaks even with better clarity than Sophia. He is a very
> > skilful computer user as well. Many have studied the relationships
> between
> > believes and practices in teaching.
> > I wonder if all these things I have been finding/wondering about could
> be
> > labelled as "operations" (kind of "unconscious" or "implicit" actions)
> in
> > the teachers' relationships with the students? Or...?
> > Other point is that in the classroom, the students "object" is quite a
> > different one. Is it then that classroom is not an activity system? Is
> the
> > school the activity system? If so, what is the classroom? Can we study
> the
> > classroom in AT?
> > Yesterday, Mike, you said something that is very meaningful for me:
> > I am uncertain whether or not human beings are capable of creating the
> > conditions for a just society. But the commitment to believing it is
> > possible, illusion or not, and acting on that commitment, appears to be
> a
> > precondition for living humanely, and perhaps for achieving that
> > illusional,
> > delusional, state..
> > I have been wondering if, when in the activity system we look at others
> as
> > tools, could this view of others help us thinking/acting towards a more
> > just
> > society?? Or the relationship between the subjects involved in an
> activity
> > system, would be better be considered in other status? I think that it
> is
> > important not to consider people as tools, but as active others that
> > negotiate with the subjects we study. Do I narrow too much the meaning
> of
> > tools? But aren't we narrowing too much the meaning of other people when
> > we
> > think about them in an instrumental way?
> > Does any of you have similar questions and possibly some answers,
> advices
> > or readings to suggest? It sounds that some of the articles for which we
> > are voting can give some light to the questions I have.
> > Daring to ask so much questions in every direction, from
> thelurkers'space,
> > Mabel
> >
> >
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