Re: [xmca] Artifacts, Tools, Classroom and AERA

From: Lara Beaty (
Date: Fri Jan 20 2006 - 11:51:50 PST

I also really appreciated the photo and map, having tried some similar
ways of looking at classrooms. And because these things have been a
central part of my thoughts, I'd like to respond to a couple of things
you wrote, though they may be a little off the topic.

First, I agree completely that "channeling" is better than
"controlling" for the effect of artifacts, though I prefer Latour's
notion that they participate. (I'm working on that paper).

But this is what I really want to respond to:
> These sight lines allow her to see into every corner of the room
> while cooperative or independent lessons are occuring. Foucault has
> described the "eye of power" where a gaze can serve to regulate
> behavior, and this is why sight lines are important. They make
> surveillance possible -- to see when behavior is acting out of the
> synomorph (the actions appropriate to the context). The eye of power
> is a form of social regulation that is nessessary for the effective
> functioning of schools. While the teachers gaze can also be
> supportive, it can serve to help a child act in. The eye of power is
> silent and can be gentle. Most of the time it is only noticed by those
> directly involved. Children who are engaged in quiet conversations
> are not distracted when one of them falls under the gaze of the
> teacher for talking too loud. But here the eye is not a machavellian
> control. The gaze, just as the artifacts, can be ignored, or the
> child can have her back turned from the teacher and not notice.

Doesn't the surveillance have the same effect regardless of whether it
has a machavellion intent? It may be necessary, but isn't Foucault's
point that it becomes internalized and is no longer necessary? It leads
to self-control because the children never know for sure if they are
being watched or not. It doesn't mean the have be aware of it for the
effect to be the same. This can be viewed as both a good thing and a
bad thing, but a constraint is still imposed, just less materially.
This leads into your next point:

> I would prefer to bring in Halliday's notion of meaning potential,
> thereby bringing in a very powerful framework for analyzing texts,
> rather than affordances, not because affordances have been taken by
> Don Norman to be his own, but because in doing so they have been
> turned into properties of the artifact, independent of activity.
> Basically, vacation and the laws in Britain were outside of the
> childrens' meaning potentials. To quote Halliday:
> "Children will attend to text that is ahead of their current semiotic
> potential, provided it is not too far ahead. They will tackle
> something that is far enough
> beyond their reach to be recognized as a challenge, if they have a
> reasonable chance of succeeding (cf. Vygotsky's zone of proximal
> development). What-
> ever is too far beyond their powers of meaning they will simply filter
> out. "(Towards a Language-Based Theory of Learning p. 105)
> Drawing from Jay's writing on intertextuality, children make meaning
> of a text with a background of meanings made from other prior texts,
> where "text" here is to include talk, and meaning is something that is
> shared.
The gaze and the unfamiliar texts may or may not be filtered out, and
the meaning that is shared may or may not be shared with a whole group.
I see that particularly for youth and young adults that the lack of
familiarity with travel or an awareness of surveillance may lead to a
dis-identification -- a disconnection -- because a lack of meaning or
an awareness of power differences creates its own meanings. Still, I'm
not comfortable with talking about this as a constraint of the text
because it does not prevent discussion; it simply fails to promote
discussion. I think an important question is what effect do the
artifacts/tools/signs always have on the activity and what do they
simply make possible.

I hope that makes sense.

Lara Beaty

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