Re: [xmca] interweaving and intersubjectivity

From: Jay Lemke (
Date: Mon Oct 23 2006 - 09:03:27 PDT

Hi, Ana! Many questions indeed. As you know I tend to write messages
that are too long, and keeping that one even reasonably short meant I
could not be as clear as I'd like. I also don't totally understand
just how we do manage to appear to share, when I'm sure we don't really share.

The point I was trying to make, too implicitly, on this, is just that
I don't want us to assume that we start out already sharing a common
"culture" and then make this shared culture a causal agent that
explains how we can cooperate and communicate. That is at least too
simple, and mostly upside down. Bruno Latour in his recent book
_Re-Assembling the Social_ makes a very good case (most a
post-Cartesian one that should be very congenial to CHAT folks) that
it's a serious error for social science to reify macro-social
constructs as explanatory means. He gives a much subtler and more
useful alternative.

So I was trying to say that by achieving coordination (or
inter-articulability, as I sometimes say) we wind up doing the things
that makes it look like we share a culture. And because we have been
doing this within a community, it really does look as if we "share"
something with others in that community that differs from one
community to another. But who are our community? Not all Americans or
Russians. Not all speakers of English or French. But the people we
have actually talked to and worked with, and in an extended network,
the people they talk to and work with, the people we read and write
to, etc. It's a bottom-up construction of community, with "culture"
as a sort of dangerous shorthand, a reification that we use to write
shorter sentences, but which threatens to make nonsense of what we say when do.

Nationalism in the 19th century (especially German, but also Russian,
Italian, American, and many others) created an ideology of "shared
culture", "shared language" (forgive me for quoting the latter day
version, but "Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuerher" which also presumed
one race, one blood, one language, and a lot of other nonsense). We
forget today how much this is still with us in our thinking. Insofar
as culture is a useful notion, it is not what members of a community
share in common. It is the fact that the different views and
practices of different members of the community (by gender, age,
class, occupation, roles, personal history, etc.) can be seen (from
the "outside" and if you really want to do this) as forming a
coherent system in which there are significant relationships among
these practices. These relationships CAN insure that some members of
the community can cooperate and communicate with others, but they
also often insure that they CANNOT. "Culture" divides us internally,
just as it binds some of us together and separates us from other
"cultures". But even saying this is really misleading as to what is
actually going on. "Culture" is not doing anything. And even the
system of relationships among practices in a community is a
construction by analysts, either for own own community, or for a
different community -- both of which, as you know, are quite problematic tasks.

The idea of culture is a shorthand for some very real and important
phenomena. But its best, I think, not to appeal to it until AFTER we
have figured out what is really going on. Long explanations are
better than short ones.


At 08:34 PM 10/22/2006, you wrote:
>Hi Jay,
>yes, it is so nice to "hear" your voice again.
>I am intrigued by what you say in the following:
>"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."
>It seems that you are implicitly creating frames: "inside/outside"
>although you say that you doubt the people share a "frame". I am
>trying to imagine how to understand intersubjectivity as being able
>to "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".
>Usually we live under an impression that we can make such sense, but
>what is the basis of that impression? I am quite OK with the
>statement that that we do not share everything -- and that total
>sharing is practically almost impossible (maybe only scientific
>definitions are carefully calibrated for the maximum shareability of
>the totality of their intended meaning??). However, there also must
>be some "basis" for making sense of each other's words and longer
>"chunks" of dialogue. If not "basis", then some coordination of acts
>(which you do mention) -- but then my question is what are the moves
>in such coordination of acts -- i.e. what do we actually do??
>A bit later on you also said "'shared' culture" -- using the term
>SHARED within quotation marks --which I take means you are not quite
>sure that we "share" culture or that culture is shareable?? Can we
>take "culture" to mean something like "common denominator" -- (even
>though it is not a given but a historical construct of a group of
>people). Looking from outside, as you say, we can distinguish
>different groups of people by different languages they use - not in
>Derrida's sense, but much cruder: English, French, Russian, Spanish
>etc. Maybe we can say that the thickest and longest ropes shape
>these "common denominators", or at least delimit the possibilities
>of variation??
>There are so many other questions which I will leave for some other time.
>Jay Lemke wrote:
>>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
>>Website. <>
>>xmca mailing list
>Ana Marjanovic'-Shane,Ph.D.
>151 W. Tulpehocken St.
>Philadelphia, PA 19144
>Home office: (215) 843-2909
>Mobile: (267) 334-2905
> <>
> <>
>xmca mailing list

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

Tel. 734-763-9276
Website. <>
xmca mailing list

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