Re: [xmca] Vygotsky vs. Derrida

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Mon Oct 23 2006 - 13:05:14 PDT

Yes, its an always-fascinating topic. But to just blunder in at this point
would simply
clog xmca's narrow arteries. Maybe a 3-4 article reading list? A joint grad

David-- Would your Korean students benefit from a discussion in English of
the sort
we stumble around doing here?

On 10/23/06, Jay Lemke <> wrote:
> Mike,
> I'd be very interested in a discussion about context and
> contextualization. My special interest is in "selective contextualization",
> since we make sense of things by putting them in some contexts and not in
> either all possible contexts or in just any old context. Which context, for
> what? when and why? how do we know which contexts? how do learn which
> contexts?
> JAY.
> At 08:51 PM 10/22/2006, you wrote:
> Very interesting, David, and helpful in understanding ways in which
> theoretical forbearers (e.g., those whom we forbear!) are relevant to
> understanding current issues of getting on
> with our work.
> There are SO many ideas on the virtual table at present, that I hesitate
> to
> introduce another one. But lets mark it. It is the idea of
> decontextualization. I believe that your use of this
> term is perhaps a pithier way of raising the issue of synchronic
> heterogeneity of behavior that I raised in my response to Katarina's
> (whose
> contextualized response we are all awating!). Jim Wertsch speaks of "the
> decontextualization of mediational means" but you may prefer LSV's own
> terms. For me there is no such thing as "decontextualized psychological
> processes" of any kind. But we need to get beyond the bromide that
> "everything depends upon contrext."
> Since I am supposed to be writing about the idea of "Vygotsky and context"
> I
> will stop here and hope to be able to make this topic the focus of future
> discussions
> mike
> On 10/22/06, Kellogg <> wrote:
> Dear (Wolf-)Michael and Mike (Cole):
> Thanks (to the former Mike) for the two Derrida refs (which I will get to
> in a few weeks when my students go on their practica), but above all
> thanks
> to the ref to your own book on language and science learning; I'm
> gestating
> an article on the subject at this very moment, and I will certainly order
> and read your work.
> Like most people, I came to Derrida through "Grammatologie" and
> "L'ecriture et la differance". And like Mike (Cole) I came to him looking
> not for philosophy or "performative" writing, but rather for some fairly
> empiricial, practical, even programmatic conclusions.
> At the time I was writing an article on "native speakerism", that is, the
> unpleasant fact that any backpacking credit card exile from the USA can
> step
> off a plane at Inchon airport and put a Korean Ph.D. in English, TESOL, or
> even applied linguistics out of work simply by virtue of their dulcet
> mid-Western twange.
> I thought Derrida's attack on phonocentrism, the belief that language is
> overwhelmingly spoken and that writing is merely a pale shadow of its
> spoken
> body, might help here. This is actually related to the work I'm doing on
> the
> language of science teaching, because my data showed that Korean teachers
> tended to written, decontextualizable, scholarly English while the
> so-called
> "communicative" English being packaged for export by TESOL inc.USA is a
> service language designed for face to face interaction with flunkies in
> the
> neo-colonies (not to put too fine a point on it).
> But I was very disappointed with Derrida. Yes, it is true that Derrida
> rejects Saussure's position on the primacy of spoken language. But his
> "method" is simply to turn Saussure on his head: written language is
> primary
> (because all meaning-making systems are constructed through the opposition
> of "traces" and absences") and spoken language is derivative (because
> spoken
> language is simply writing on air).
> I think that turning Saussure on his head in this way leaves the
> fundamental problems with Saussurean linguistics completely unaddressed.
> That includes the most fundamental problem of all--how do "concepts" and
> "acoustic images" develop in minds in the first place? IT also includes
> some
> problems which, although they do not appear fundamental from a European
> perspective, are fairly close to our hearts in Asia (for example, what
> about
> Chinese writing?)
> Vygotsky really DOES tell us what is different and distinctive about
> writing--its decontextualizeability, its relative freedom from temporal
> context, and above all its role as a mental tool, which is similar to the
> role played by foreign language learning. But Derrida repeats all of
> Saussure's ignorant gobbledygook about Chinese and ends up with a
> Eurocentric idealization of Chinese writing that is simply the reverse of
> Saussure's.
> Above all (in answer to Mike's request for some empirical implications) I
> think that Vygotsky's view of writing as emerging from two different
> genetic
> roots (that is, drawing and spoken language) allows him to understand the
> "pre-history" of written language in the child (I am still incensed that
> Chapter Eight of "Mind in Society" was translated into Korean as the
> "Precedent of Written Language" rather than its "prehistory"). If we
> accept
> Derrida's view that all language is written language then it is very hard
> for me to see how there can be any such thing as pre-history, in either
> ontogenesis or sociocultural development.
> (One reason this is hard for me to see is that I believe that human
> language is simply a socio-cultural exaptation of animal communication
> systems, much as speech is an exaptation of organs originally evolved for
> respiration and the ingestion of food. Derrida's view, that is, that
> writing
> is the real source of language, seems very hard to square with this.)
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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> Jay Lemke
> Professor
> University of Michigan
> School of Education
> 610 East University
> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
> Tel. 734-763-9276
> Email.
> Website.
> <>
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