Re: [xmca] Billet's paper

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Fri Oct 13 2006 - 16:50:53 PDT

Travel safely and may your server serve you well, Bill.
Many interesting and important points arising here and since you address
some questions to me, I will try to answer. But I need to get my batteries
researched, the neural/gustatory kind, as well as some sleep so that
whatever I have to say might be worthwhile. Michael's formulation in terms
one-sided expression of unity also striked me as interesting, but I come to
the use of this kind of language from a different starting point, so I'll
need some
time to write sensibly.


On 10/13/06, bb <> wrote:
> 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.
> bb
> .
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