[xmca] interweaving and intersubjectivity

From: Jay Lemke (jaylemke@umich.edu)
Date: Sun Oct 22 2006 - 15:51:59 PDT

At Mike request, and after too long an absence,
here are some thoughts on a recent thread:

[xmca] Interweaving and intersubjectivity

Went back to have a look at the interweaving
themes. Of course the discourse of xmca is also
just such a rope, each strand lasts a while, but
others pick up bits of its thread and continue
them in slightly different directions, while the
whole bundle, seen over longer timescales,
continues, and is stronger for being built of
many voices, many threads, many principles of continuity.

Discourse theory has long used such principles to
understand the cohesion and coherence of texts
over scales much longer than a single clause or
sentence (which is held together mostly by
grammatical relations, like
actor-action-affected). Texts, too, develop for a
while some semantic relationships among themes,
then shift to others, then resume earlier ones in
new contexts with new connections. I once wrote a
paper about this in which I pointed out how
rarely ALL the threads come together in the same
sentence or even paragraph (or extended utterance
by a teacher), and the importance of those
moments of synthesis … but also how normal
speaking and reading get by without them,
reconstructing the full pattern of connections
from the bits and pieces, the strands and their
transient but recurrent connections, that are
found all through the text or discourse.

The connection to intersubjectivity I think
comes, as others have noted, from the nature of
dialogue. On the short scale, yes, we have
exchange pairs or cross-turn speech acts, where
meaning is made by the whole set (e.g.
question-answer-evaluation). But these units in
turn are the strands or threads out of which
something bigger is being woven. Many somethings,
some much bigger. An episode of thematically
coherent talk, but also a longer conversation,
several personal identities, multiple continuing
agendas and projects of the parties-to-talk, and
some portion of their lives, their
biographies-over-time. And with this, some
portion of the history of their community and its culture.

Bigger ropes are woven of shorter strands of
littler ropes, which are woven of still shorter
strands of still smaller threads, etc. It’s the
ropey view of what I call integration across
timescales (in my MCA article of 2000).

Now let’s see this in terms of the constitution
of intersubjectivity. It happens I just reviewed
a manuscript for a journal (not MCA) dealing with
intersubjectivity, and I wrote that the author/s
really should pay more attention to Rommetveit.
Then here comes Mike, clairvoyant as ever,
telling me I’d been mentioned Tamara in just this connection.

We agree, I think, that intersubjectivity can’t
mean just agreement, or even a process, an
activity of coming to agreement. It has to mean
that we find ourselves able to inter-coordinate
our actions and discourse because, whether we
agree or not, we can inter-calibrate the actional
and semantic relationships between what we
do/say. Maybe that means we share a ‘frame’,
though I doubt it. I don’t think it implies that
we share anything, i.e. that anything is exactly
the same for both, or all, of us. It implies that
we can each make sense of what the others are
doing/saying in a way that makes their
contributions “weavable” into a bigger rope along
with our own. We may each weave that rope
differently, but we find that as we continue to
act, we can continue also to keep the rope going.
And maybe it even gets easier.

Ropes are much easier to keep going because they
depend for their continuity only on having SOME
POSSIBLE bases for linking strands, for
retrospectively construing a piece-wise
continuity of meaningfulness. (‘Piecewise’ is a
nice mathematician’s way of talking about this.)

Of course with all this open-endedness, my rope
and your rope may diverge and we find ourselves
less and less able to continue to co-ordinate our
actions and meanings in ways we find
satisfactory. ‘Communication’ or cooperation
“breaks down”. As in fact it often does.
Sometimes we “repair” it, and sometimes not. IF
we manage to keep our jointly constructed rope
going, then from the outside people can say that
we are sharing its principles of continuity, that
we are participating in and reproducing the categories of our “shared” culture.

And of course we are all always already part of
many larger, longer ropes, into which we embed
this local rope of now-time intersubjective
coordination, and insofar as we are sustaining
the continuities of these bigger ropes (ongoing
‘contexts’), we are NOT allowing ourselves ALL
the possible principles of connection and
continuity, and so we are less likely to diverge,
better able to repair. Unless of course we are
long-term weavers of very different ropes, our
lives and choices conditioned by very different
‘cultural’ assumptions, categories, principles of
meaning and value. Then it’s harder. Then it
takes more time. It’s a matter of degree.

How many of us have ever actually unraveled a
rope, and been amazed to find that it’s made of
so many, much shorter strands? The ropes of our data, the ropes of our lives.


Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
Email. JayLemke@UMich.edu
Website. <http://www.umich.edu/~jaylemke%A0>www.umich.edu/~jaylemke
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