[xmca] Billet's paper

From: bb (xmca-whoever@comcast.net)
Date: Fri Oct 13 2006 - 08:54:54 PDT

First, I'm surprised, given the general thrust of Billet's paper, that there is no mention of Dorothy Hollands work. Now, I've seen lots of other papers that fail to address others' relevant works, and mea culpa, I wrote one for aera last year that failed to properly address one of Gordon Well's papers, that just having reread, I'm finding particularly relevant. So I realize how it is possible to miss making these relations in the complex activity of conducting research that builds cumulatively upon others, but the omission of reference to Hollands work just seems such a big one.

Related to what's been posted here on the X before, Billet writes: "This evidence suggests that rather than being subjugated, or the relations between the individual and the social being mutual or reciprocal, there is a need to view them as being relational, and, to different degrees, entwined and interwoven." (bottom, p. 60)

It's not clear how to make sense of this sentence. When I reparse part of the sentence to "here is a need to view [the relations between the individual and the social] as being relational", filling out the pronoun's reference, the sentence is tautological. But what is important about this sentence is the need for us to share a better understanding of 'relational' 'mutual', 'reciprocal', 'entwined', and 'interwoven'. I, personally, do not view these as jargon, ethereal and fleeting, but rather specifying particular kinds of relations, projected by particular theoretical orientations. For example, I cannot claim to know a lot about Mike Cole's deep assumptions , although I've met him at least once, and I've read his his most recent book in which he does use the term "interwoven". I think Mike can best speak to what this means. But, having read a bunch more of his work leading up to "Cultural Psychology" I think I can grok his most recent work (i.e. accurately) and I thin
 k he i
s referring to the need to think about actions, artifacts, and much more, not in isolation, but in relation to each other. This is an important starting point, and when we begin to think about qualitative causation, we confront the matter of determining what affects what. I think qualitative causation is a major issue for us to achieve theoretical clarity, especially in education. For example, Terttu Tuomi-Grohn and Yrjo Engestrom (King Beach too) confront causality in the issue of 'transfer" in the book "Between School and Work".

Terttu Tuomi-Grohn and Yrjo Engestrom write:

"The conceptualization of transfer based on socio-cultural views takes into account the changing social situations and individual's multidirectional movement from one organization to another, from home to school or from workplace to school and back. Based on activity theory, this conceptualization expands the basis of transfer from the actions of individuals to the collective organizations. It is not a matter of individual moves between school and workplace but of the efforts of school and workplace to create together new practices. Novel is also that new knowledge and practices are consciously created, instead of focusing on the transition of knowledge from one organization or community of practice to another. In developmental transfer, new practices expand also to the other collaborating activity systems, not only to the original ones." (p. 34)

[Aside: It is in passages such as the above and in Engestreoms LBE that I perceive a basis for the notion of "inter-institutional zone of proximal development"]

I use the words "mutual" and "reciprocal" (and I also use "codevelopment") to express two-way qualitative causation.
When I wrote in MCA about the "mutual development of a school system ... with one of its teachers" it was exactly this bidirectionality that I had in mind. And it was necessary to think in terms of codevelopment between the units of analysis I had chosen because of what I had chosen for units of analysis: These units have meaning in the day to day practices for the people who participate in them and make them, and although my reasons for choosing these units are peripherally related to this discussion at the moment, the important point is that they come with my particular theoretical orientation. These units were:

1) The school system is the system of activity of which not only individuals contribute to make a collective whole that is more than the sum of it parts, but also of which the actions of all others from the past (and that present) had shaped that present through all forms of artifacts (as defined by Wartofsky and certainly including language), forms and scales of social organizations, relations to systems beyond the school system, etc.

2) The educational service district, similar to (1).

3) My coauthor, whose ontogenesis I had investigated in relation to the above (1) and (2).

Having made these delineations, the [historical] data spoke to me of changes in both organizations being related to changes with my coauthor, and I found instances that exemplified these bidirectional relations. But there were also influences from the past and from outside these units, i.e. the unsustainable fishing and logging that lead to the community's economic decline and the appearance of TLCF grant money. The former influence (the town's economic past) was purely unidirectional and the latter may well have been also.

So, I think the recent more-widespread emergence of relational terms is not purely fad and jargon, but actually reflect a developing understanding of the human condition. I find that it's important to be clear (as possible) about what we mean, and what others mean, in our communications, especially when making strong claims. Mike Cole suggested something at aera 2006 like "reading more and writing less" -- and the former I agree with, but the latter I take to be an important part of making collective meaning, especially in fora such as xmca. But I bet dollars to donuts that if Mike actually said "writing less" and not "publishing less" the latter is what he meant. And I only wish my memory could serve me better.


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