Re: [xmca] a return to Kevin's paper

From: O'Connor, Kevin (
Date: Mon Jul 24 2006 - 13:40:14 PDT

mike, bb-
Interesting issues raised here, and I find myself agreeing in general with
what both of you have to say. I wanted to respond to respond to a couple of
points, and raise a question of my own.
bb mentions the quote I used from Lave at the end of the article about
adopting ³an inclusive focus on all participants equally, as each
contributes to the making of differences of power, salience, influence, and
value of themselves and other.² I agree of course that each participant
might not contribute equally to the differences that are realized in the
interaction, and that this warrants attention in its own right. I think
that my main point in bringing this up, though, had to do with my
dissatisfation with the relative absence of discussions of important
differences of these sorts in much of the ³learning sciences,² including
approaches that draw on CoP work. This was related in a couple of ways to
my point about the need to take what I called (loosely borrowing a term from
science and technology studies) a ³symmetrical² stance on the analysis of
learning contexts.
First, both ³success² and various forms of ³lack of success² have to be
considered, as opposed to the tendency of ³cognitive apprenticeship²
research to focus only on successful learning (which btw seems to me to be
the result of a somewhat inappropriate use in studies of human learning of
criteria developed for evaluating AI systems). In the context of this
field, then, just bringing differences into the conversation seems
essential. Second, just as STS work insists on symmetry in accounts of
knowledge and technology - i.e., that we need similar forms of explanation
for both claims that become accepted as true as well as those that donıt,
and similar forms of explanation for technologies that are successful and
those that arenıt ­ I was saying that success and lack of success in
learning have to be considered as outcomes of the same sorts of processes.
I used the term ³cultural production² to describe these processes, and I
think this term can be interpreted rather broadly to include the 3rd
generation chat approaches that bb mentions ­ or at least, I find that chat
work thatıs been done on boundary work, polycontextuality, etc., resonates
in many ways w/ where Iım coming from, even if I havenıt used that specific
I do have a question for bb, following on this. Youıre right in saying that
I find ³community of practice² too much of a gloss in making sense of the
student project I studied. I think the CoP notion can be useful
heuristically, but issues of internal tension and conflict will always arise
in some form if weıre alert to them. Itıs not clear to me though just how
³activity systems² avoid this problem ­ what does alertness to the potential
relevance in specific instances of interaction of multiple activity systems
get us that we donıt get from alertness to the potential relevance of
multiple communities of practice, or discourses, or social worlds, or
ecosocial systems, etc.? And how do we know which ones are relevant? My
inclination is to start from interaction and trace out the threads that take
me to institutions, to history, etc., based on what ³metadiscourses² seem to
be in play in the interaction. (In this sense I guess Iım closer to a
mediated action perspective, with Latourıs instructions to ³follow the
actors² guiding the analysis.) Iıd be interested in hearing what you (or
others) see as the important differences between 3rd generation chat and
recent, as opposed to initial, formulations of CoP.


On 7/20/06 10:42 PM, "bb" <xmca-whoever@Comcast.Net> wrote:

> Yup, IMHO historical analysis is essential to illuminate 'downward causation'
> and its many forms of embedded asymmetries. I've drawn upon my trivial own,
> but there are copious others far more compelling, e.g. the stories of Phillis
> Wheatley and Hellen Keller appearing in the latest AERJ are well worth
> reading.
> bb
> -------------- Original message ----------------------
> From: "Mike Cole" <>
>> I like your highlighting of "acting into a context" bb. I am still fumbling
>> around with the ideas in Kevin's paper, the use of context being one of
>> them.
>> If we consider context to be a relational term that is never static, always
>> in-production, we are always helping to create the contexts we are "acting
>> in
>> to." In a parallel way, we are always creating the subject positionings
>> that position us. When I get to that thought I start to worry about the
>> issue of
>> symmetry. Sure, we make history, BUT not under conditions of our own
>> choosing. And, from the perspective of an individual as part of a social
>> group (in assymetrical relations such as your describe from your history) it
>> sure does not feel symmetrical.
>> As you say, lots of thoughts generated by Kevin's article.
>> mike
>> On 7/20/06, bb <> wrote:
>>> I've finally had a chance to read Kevin's paper and fully appreciate his
>>> bringing together cultural production and language. It's a big challenge to
>>> bridge theoretical frameworks and I think it takes a great deal of care to
>>> weave them together. It's clear that I need to read more of Silverstein to
>>> understand that approach to contextualization and language. Kevin's
>>> observations and analysis are densely written. I agree that cognitive
>>> apprenticeships, which place emphasis on the 'official view', fail to
>>> capture the abundance of what happens in complex situations. But then I
>>> also think that Kevin shows that 'community of practice' is too much of a
>>> gloss with the micro-truck project, which itself involves several
>>> institutions as sites of identity construction and a larger scale of
>>> organization which is the micro-truck project itself. Kevin's analysis
>>> pulls me toward wanting to parse these organizational structures more fully
>>> and integrate them more completely into the ana!
>>> lysis o
>>> f language and identity.
>>> When I was a grad student at UMass I took a course at an institute in
>>> Cambridge ma, and felt the differences in identity-related-to-institution
>>> constantly, and although in the end I did as well as any of the others,
>>> there was still something in the air that I, being from UMass, the state
>>> school, was just not at the same level. This was especially apparent to me,
>>> having temporarily made the ecological transition to the institute, and I
>>> only wish now that I had transcripts of what was said to bring to bear an
>>> analysis like Kevin's and find out whether there was any basis to my
>>> impressions. Quelle dommage. Nevertheless, I would prefer to use
>>> Engestrom's multiple activity systems model rather than put it into relation
>>> to a CoP framework. Third gen chat would facilitate the differentiation of
>>> institutions, and bring to bear the mediational nature of technology, as
>>> well as traditional institutional roles (div of labor).
>>> Kevin writes "A central point here is that when we do not privilege
>>> official under-standings of context, it becomes possible to examine how
>>> participants not only act into an official context, but also orient to it
>>> from the perspective of other, unofficial and sometimes competing
>>> contexts." which raises the issue of how participants privilege some
>>> 'perspectives' over others, but in indexing the language of privilege to
>>> context, it seems that context must be much better defined than in the CoP
>>> approach to cultural production. Putting "an inclusive focus on all
>>> participants equally, as each contributes to the making of differences of
>>> power, salience, influence, and value of themselves and other" might not
>>> produce the most comprehensive analysis as each participant does not
>>> contribute equally in making the differences of power -- once a power
>>> differential is established, such as what foreshadows the interactions
>>> between one enrolled in a prestigious institute and one who is!
>>> not, t
>>> here are serious inequalities that persist with the cultural production of
>>> (1) institutions over long time scales and (2) people over ontogenetic
>>> timescales. I've felt this personally, as I presume we all have through
>>> institutions of higher education.
>>> I really enjoyed this paper and the thoughts it has stimulated about these
>>> issues.
>>> bb
>>> _______________________________________________
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