Re: [xmca] Artifacts, Tools and Classroom

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Sat Jan 14 2006 - 14:00:07 PST

Hi Eric et al--

I actually had difficulty with this article and its literature overview. I
especially find it
disorienting when people refer to my work and make references to "the role
of non-material
cultural artifacts". Or, refer to my writing about artifacts and declare
them to be of two kinds,
material and ideal (the former occurs in this article, the latter is a
frequent reading). In this regard,
in Chapter 5 of Cultural Psychology to which the authors refer in citing my
views, I wrote:

 According to the view presented here, which bears a close affinity to the
ideas of John Dewey and also traces its genealogy back to Hegel and Marx, an
artifact is an aspect of the material world that has been modified over the
history of its incorporation in goal directed human action. By virtue of the
changes wrought in the process of their creation and use, artifacts
are*simultaneously ideal (conceptual) and material
*. They are manufactured in the process of goal directed human actions. They
are ideal in that their material form has been shaped by their participation
in the inter­actions of which they were previously a part and which they
mediate in the present.

Defined in this manner, the properties of artifacts apply with equal force
whether one is con­sidering language/speech or the more usually noted forms
of artifacts such as tables and knives which constitute material
culture.[1]<#_ftn1>What differentiates the word "table" from an actual
table is the relative
prominence of their material and ideal aspects and the kinds of
coordinations they afford. No word exists apart from its material
instantiation (as a configuration of sound waves, hand movements, writing,
or neuronal activity), whereas every table embodies an order imposed by
thinking human beings

<#_ftnref1> [1] For a discussion of language as a system of artifacts
and the homology between words and what we usually think of as material
artifacts, see Rossi-Landi (1983, p. 120ff)

I could, of course, be totally wrong and I believe the Peter Jones, among
others, does not share my views. But a major point of departure for me is
the primal fusion of the ideal and material in mediated human action and
their differentiation only in bracketed ways for specific purposes.

In a similar way, I find it disorienting to have a semiotic triangle
referred to as a tertiary artifact citing Wartofsky.

Perhaps others can help out here.

On 1/11/06, <> wrote:
> Great article! Especially good in its overview of the literature that
> defines tools and artifacts. The authors tend to side with the separation
> of psychological and material artifacts for the purpose of being able to
> study how groups conduct a learning exercise. My understanding of why
> they
> did this was so they could reference how many times the students refered
> to
> the 'flip chart", the puzzle or the textbook. The authors do not dismiss
> spoken language as artifact but rather there intention was to concretely
> determine how many references to the artifact were made per session.
> Big question raised by the authors is even though in all three examples
> there is movement towards a completed lesson: getting the book read,
> completing the puzzle or learning the english language there is no clear
> method of knowing to what extent individual student's in each lesson
> gained
> knowledge or "learned" anything.
> I have always respected Engstrom's approach that the psychological aspect
> of an artifact cannot be separated from the material object but I tend to
> agree with the authors that this approach does not provide much of a
> folcrum for studying how artifacts facilitate the learning process.
> what do you think?
> eric
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Wed Feb 01 2006 - 01:00:09 PST