Re: [xmca] Wartofsky's artifacts recast

From: Leif Strandberg (
Date: Wed Jan 25 2006 - 04:52:30 PST


I am Leif - a new member on the XMCA-list. I am a Swedish psychologist
and I have followed the ongoing discussion about tools, signs,
artefacts, affordances, meaning making etcetera. for some days. Very
interesting! And fun to read. I loved what Donna wrote about the Meter
stick which suddenly appeared in the forrest. It reminded of the film
about the Bush people (there has also been some talking about being in
the bush in our conversation) who one day finds a Coca Cola bottle on
the ground. I think the name of the film is something like "The Gods
must think we are crazy". That Coca bottle takes this man into a
journey - where he discovers a lot of new (and crazy) things about the
(White man's) world. Yes, I know that the film balances on an edge -
where racism can lie in wait - but it has something to say in our

To me, artifacts are filled with information - the Meter stick is one
good example of that -so much knowledge is embedded in that stick from
1795 - and when you grasp them - something happens. What is happening
is not possible to forsee - because a human being (i.e. a meaning
maker) has grasped it. There is a dialectical relation between the
artifact and the Subject. And - to me - Activity - is what everything
is about.

To me Vygotsky's wellknown sentence about "not expressed but completed"
(1978, p 251) is important. Completion and acitivity are key words. (to
me). One artficat helps me to complete in one way. My Meindl shoes take
me to the mountains. My dancing shoes take me to the dance floor. I am
an eager sea kayak paddler and when I get into my kajak I feel how my
body-and-soul can borrow competence and knowledge from the boat - which
takes me to the hostory of the Technic made by Inuits many hubndred
years ago.

Another inportant key for me is what Hegel (and Marx) said about "in
itself" and "for itself".


this was my way to partcipate and complete

Thanks for inspiring conversation let's go on.

2006-01-25 kl. 05.06 skrev Mike Cole:

> And then there is ancient wisdom, manifest in Catholic doctrine as well
> as good developmental science that the end is in the beginning.
> (or is that bad developmental science?) (or incorrect doctrine?).
> Working too hard on lectures on tangentially related topics to get
> back to
> the tertiary artifact discussion, bb et al, the mind is weak but the
> flesh
> is weaker.
> mike
> On 1/24/06, Ed Wall <> wrote:
>> Interestingly enough (at least, I think so -
>> smile) while reading this email as regards
>> prolepsis and the nicely sketched example, I was
>> reading Gadamer reading Hegel and came across the
>> following:
>> "Now it is clear, and Hegel makes use of the fact
>> in his commentary, that it lies in the nature of
>> any beginning to be dialectical. Nothing can be
>> presupposed in it and it clearly reveals itself
>> as primary and immediate. But it is still a
>> beginning only if it begins a development, which
>> is to say that it is "mediated" by the
>> latter....All becoming is a becoming of something
>> which exists as a result of having become. That
>> is an ancient truth, one already formulated by
>> Plato in the Philebus ..."
>> Also, of course, there is Heidegger's
>> "By this understanding, the possibilities of its
>> Being are disclosed and regulated. Its own past -
>> and this always means the past of its
>> 'generation' - is not something that *follows
>> along after Dasien*, but something which already
>> goes ahead of it."
>> Ed Wall
>>> Mike wrote:
>>> "So maybe the whole Wartofsky set of distinctions are irrelevant. Or
>>> need
>> to
>>> be bracket/specified more?"
>>> I prefer the latter, at least. Re-reading what
>>> Wartofsky wrote (Thanks Phil), I see the
>>> descriptions of primary through tertiary
>>> artifacts occurring in a manner which is not
>>> located in a particular situation, but
>>> generalized, and so I have the same reservation
>>> about use of these categories as I do tool and
>>> sign. That is to say, in instantiation,
>>> something could be a tool in one circumstance
>>> and a sign in another. For example, in forensic
>>> analysis, a knife that was once a tool, an
>>> instrument of someone's death, is matched in its
>>> shape and length to the wound, to become a sign
>>> in constructing the narrative of how the crime
>>> was committed. Similarly, if analyzed with
>>> Wartofsky's categories, the primary artifact has
>>> become a secondary one.
>>> Recasting the definitions of primary -> tertiary
>>> in functional terms has some advantage in
>>> specifying further how these categories can
>>> themselves function in theoretical analysis:
>>> Primary artifacts function directly in the
>>> production of the means of existence and in the
>>> reproduction of the species.
>>> Secondary artifacts function in the preservation
>>> and transmission of the acquired skills or modes
>>> of action or praxis by which this production is
>>> carried out.
>>> Secondary artifacts function in preserving and
>>> transmitting skills, and in the production and
>>> use of 'primary' artifacts (e.g. tools, modes of
>>> social organization, bodily skills and technical
>>> skills in the use of tools).
>>> Recasting this way facilitates a functional view
>>> of artifacts, aligning better Wartofsky's
>>> categories with analysis by Halliday, Lemke,
>>> Wells, and others, examining how language
>>> functions in activity. Then, it is easier to
>>> see, how, in instantiation, artifacts can be
>>> multi-functional.
>>> The first example is drawn from Gordon's
>>> "Dialogic Inquiry", (p 200) in which he shows
>>> how the third move in triadic dialogue, the E in
>>> IRE, is multifunctional: (1) in the teacher
>>> checking the students knowledge and (2) in
>>> extending the student's answer.
>>> The second example comes from Jeanne, my
>>> coauthor, expressing how she was reconfiguring
>>> her classroom during the summer of 2004, in
>>> anticipation of a new cohort of students. To
>>> locate this exchange theoretically, I'd like to
>>> quote Mike's description of prolepsis, which is
>>> essentially what Jeanne engages in when
>>> redesigning the classroom to the form I have
>>> posted on the web:
>>> "Only a culture-using human being can "reach
>>> into" the cultural past, project it into the
>>> future, and then "carry" that conceptual future
>>> "back" into the present to create the
>>> sociocultural environment of the newcomer."
>>> Cole, cultural psychology, p 186
>>> Our exchange follows:
>>> J:" I moved the circle table over mostly because
>>> I wanted to make a separate meeting area too. So
>>> there are two meeting areas now. There will be
>>> another easel, right by the black board. There's
>>> a yellow rug, and I've got two red rugs."
>>> B: "Why two meeting areas?"
>>> J: "Well, because I have the [collaborative
>>> model] now, this year. So I'm going to have two
>>> teachers in here. There will be two teachers, me
>>> and Gina. And, um, so I have a higher
>>> population of special ed. children, so this way
>>> I have more leverage. I can break kids up. Gina
>>> and I can say OK you take the same lesson,
>>> differentiate it, but we can actually do it at
>>> the same time. Two places to work. I can meet
>>> with reading groups over there….
>>> What's also going to happen is that this new
>>> meeting area is going to have more math stuff
>>> over here. So we'll do more math things because
>>> the screen is right there. So I can pull the
>>> screen down and most of the kids should be able
>>> to sit there or at a table. All the kids will
>>> be able to stay right there and see the screen.
>>> Maybe grab a clipboard and that's easy. And then
>>> the other one am going to keep more for
>>> literacy, read alouds, I put the big book
>>> holder, the chart thing, the schedule.
>>> Morning meeting will be in the same place. But
>>> I'll have more leverage. I finally have a place
>>> for that chart thing, right there next to you. I
>>> won't have to move it, I'll just have to move
>>> the children. The pocket chart. The big pocket
>>> chart, which also has poems on it. So when we
>>> are doing nursery rhyme study, I'll be able to
>>> have that in a much better place than it was
>>> last year. "
>>> Jeanne's use of future tense, in Halliday and
>>> Hasan's terms: cataphora, e.g. "will be", "going
>>> to happen", "going to have" indicates her
>>> projecting into the future, and her making both
>>> cataphoric and anaphoric reference "Morning
>>> meeting will be in the same place", with "same
>>> place" referencing back into "the same place as
>>> last year" and which I understood in context.
>>> The exophoric references Jeanne makes to the
>>> artifacts in her classroom, "right there", "over
>>> here", indicate how these artifacts contribute
>>> to the narrative in which Jeanne tells me of the
>>> processes of her planning.
>>> Whether this future world in which Jeanne
>>> anticipates what will be happening with her
>>> children qualifies as a tertiary artifact, I'm
>>> still not convinced. But if it does, it has the
>>> following implications. The tables, the screens,
>>> the yellow rug, the red rug, the easel, the
>>> circle table, are all secondary artifacts for
>>> the children, who are learning to read, write,
>>> do math, etc.. They function in the children's
>>> learning activities during the day, qualifying
>>> as secondary artifacts. But for Jeanne, the
>>> physical locations and orientations of these
>>> materials function in her planning for the
>>> entire school year, anticipating the diversity
>>> in children's learning, the role of other
>>> adults, the curriculum that the children are
>>> about to learn, supporting her imagining what
>>> will happen in her classroom.. The spatial
>>> location of these artifacts mediate Jeanne's
>>> thinking about what is to happen in the
>>> classroom. As in Mike's description of
>>> prolepsis, Jeanne has not yet met the childre!
>>> n, but is configuring her room in expectation
>>> of their future activity. In her planning, in
>>> this instantiation, the very same artifacts that
>>> function secondarily in the children's learning,
>>> function in a tertiary manner in Jeanne's
>>> planning.
>>> Does this make sense?
>>> bb
>>> From: (bb)
>>> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
>>> Subject: Gordon Wells on Halliday
>>> Date: Sat, 21 Jan 2006 21:59:12 +0000
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>>> From: Mike Cole <>
>>> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
>>> Subject: Re: [xmca] constraints, affordances and semiotic potentials
>>> Date: Sat, 21 Jan 2006 19:42:27 +0000
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