Re: [xmca] signs and scientific activity

From: David Shaenfield (
Date: Wed Oct 18 2006 - 13:57:04 PDT

this link works (take out "faculty/") take care, david ----- Original Message ---- From: Wolff-Michael Roth <> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <> Sent: Wednesday, October 18, 2006 8:33:49 AM Subject: [xmca] signs and scientific activity Hi all, Tony Whitson had asked me to make this paper available, which will appear some time next year in the special issue of SEMIOTICA edited by Don Cunningham. Michael Hoffmann is a philosopher who did his PhD in philosophy on Plato but then specialized on Peirce. I paste the abstract and the link below. Cheers, Michael Hoffmann_Roth_complementarity203.pdf The complementarity of a representational and an epistemological function of signs in scientific activity MICHAEL H. G. HOFFMANN and WOLFF-MICHAEL ROTH Abstract This contribution essentially is about the role of signs and sign systems in the construction of knowledge and understanding by social scientists (e.g., educational researchers, psychologists) interpreting educational data and the constraints of relationship between the knowledge these scientists bring to the interpretation and the knowledge displayed in the data on the interpretative results. Signs do not only “represent” something for somebody, as Peirce’s definition goes, but they also “mediate” relations between us and our world, including ourselves, as has been elaborated by Vygotsky. By using signs we (a) make distinctions, (b) specify objects and relations we refer to in thinking and communication, (c) structure our observations and experiences, and (d) organize societal and cognitive activity. Based on the demand that a “semiotically inspired theory of teaching and learning” should conceptualize the relation between the semiotic approaches of Peirce and Vygotsky by the notion of “complementarity” (Seeger 2005), this paper attempts to achieve this goal in two steps. First, we show that the same model can describe the representational and the epistemological function of signs—by interpreting it in two different ways. This model emphasizes that both functions of signs can only be fulfilled if we presuppose what Peirce called “collateral knowledge,” that is, a network of different, mediating knowledge forms. The central problem becoming visible in this way is that the interpretation of signs as well as the knowledge generating organization of our world by means of signs can be radically different depending on different collateral knowledge. This problem is the starting point for our second step. By reflecting on examples of our own scientific activity we will show (a) that this problem causes the very dynamics of scientific activity, and (b) that this dynamics can best be described by a dialectical process resulting from the complementary of the two sign functions. Keywords: epistemology; activity theory; collateral knowledge; dialectic; Peirce; Vygotsky _______________________________________________ xmca mailing list
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