Re: [xmca] Fwd: Sawchuk and Stetsenko: Questions

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch who-is-at>
Date: Mon Dec 08 2008 - 11:09:03 PST

There are a number of things I like about this paper and the work of
Peter and Anna. I have a number of questions to ask. Here are a few
for starters.

The paper says:

* “Marx never framed his work as a theory of human development in the
sense we use the term here …”
* “… nor did he articulate an explicit “sociology” per se.”
* “... Marx was, after all, focused on the fields of political economy
and philosophy primarily …”
* “Marx's work is most concerned with offering large-scale, structural
accounts of social systems.”

1) Isn't “Marxist sociology?” called historical materialism?
2) What does it mean to characterize Marx's work as being most
concerned with offering “structural” accounts? What is a “structural”

The paper also says:

"However, because we cannot meaningfully wrestle with sociology (or
psychology), the broader social scientific question of structure and
agency, or theories of historical change as a whole, herein we focus
on one particularly salient area of sociological thought: theories of
“conduct”—how people (not institutions, norms, values, roles, etc.)
act, interact, reproduce, and transform the world."

3) What is "conduct"? How can this concept be understood in terms of
the different generations of CHAT? How about in terms of classical
historical materialism?
  - Steve

There are a number of things I like about this paper and the work of
Peter and Anna. I have a number of questions to ask. Here are a
couple for starters.

The paper has these statements:

* “Marx never framed his work as a theory of human development in the
sense we use the term here …”

* “… nor did he articulate an explicit “sociology” per se.”

* “... Marx was, after all, focused on the fields of political economy
and philosophy primarily …”

* “Marx's work is most concerned with offering large-scale, structural
accounts of social systems.”

1) Isn’t “Marxist sociology?” called historical materialism? Wasn’t
this explicitly articulated?

2) What does it mean to characterize Marx’s work as being most
concerned with offering “structural” accounts? What is a “structural”

- Steve

On Dec 7, 2008, at 12:40 PM, Mike Cole wrote:

> Hi all-- Here is a note from Peter Sawchuk to whom I sent info on
> how to
> join
> xmca, so perhaps we can get some authors responding to readers as
> well as
> new readers joining into the discussion.
> mike
> (PS- I am not sure if Anna is on xmca at present or not, so include
> her in
> the cc list again)
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Peter Sawchuk <>
> Date: Sun, Dec 7, 2008 at 12:00 PM
> Subject: Re: Sawchuk and Stetsenko: Questions
> To:
> Cc: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>,
> "Stetsenko,
> Anna" <>
> *Hi Mike,
> Thank you for this email as I was not aware that there was
> discussion taking
> place on this paper. Now, my sincere apologies, but I'm sure that I
> know how
> to reply to messages on XMCA, so perhaps you could load this on for
> me?
> Thank you in advance if you can. It deals mostly with Jennifer's
> original
> post referenced in your email below. I'll also say that think all of
> Andy's
> point in an earlier posting are worth considering but don't have
> time to do
> now, and at the end I do offer at least some information on the
> transformation question you raised (hopefully it's not redundant to
> people).
> I think Anna might be able to respond to your first question better
> than I
> can. If you're too busy to load this I understand obviously. Maybe
> this will
> load automatically.
> Best wishes - Peter*
> *==============
> A response from Peter Sawchuk:
> *
> From: Jennifer Langer-Osuna
> <**<
> >
> **>
> Date: Wed Dec 03 2008 - 12:05:07 PST
> Ok, here's my stab at it...
> The focus on collaborative projects (same as joint activity?) does
> seem promising as a way to capture the dialectic of structure and
> agency.
> I would say that 'collaborative' and 'joint' need to be defined for
> people.
> This may be what Andy and others are thinking of doing currently. In
> this
> context and in relation to Anna and I's paper it may be a
> unnecessary but
> I'll simply add that I see narrow and broad notions of both. A narrow
> version thinks of these terms as necessarily 'cooperative'; whereas
> an broad
> version recognizes collaborative-ness/joint-ness as including both
> cooperative and conflictual relations (e.g. fighters in a boxing
> match, or
> workers and management in a strike – each actor orients to rules,
> divisions
> of labor and a whole host of shared mediating artifacts that makes
> their
> conflict a collaborative or joint achievement). Anna and I were
> developing
> on the broad version.
> For example, in a reform-oriented algebra classroom students
> take up the classroom resources for particular task-related functions
> that are largely defined by the norms of the classroom, which are
> largely defined by the goals of this particular, new, reform-oriented
> school. And yet the students have a great deal of agency not only in
> terms of whether they engage in, merely comply with, or resist the
> tasks but also in using those same classroom resources for other,
> unintended (by the teacher) functions. For example, students use the
> internet both to research task-related topics, but also to download
> music (however, even this function of downloading music comes from the
> norms of another "collaborative project" in youth culture – that of
> collecting and sharing valued songs). In any case, students' agency
> feeds back to the classroom itself, such that it is certainly a
> negotiated, emergent, co-constructed relationship. Say, if many
> students resist the task, the teacher may start to focus more on
> disciplinary issues which may change the form of the classroom as a
> whole, or perhaps a more sensitive teacher may respond to this
> resistance by shifting the tasks such that they are of more interest
> to the students, and so on.
> An important question here to my mind concerns overlapping activity
> systems
> and object-relatedness since teachers and students orient to several
> objects
> in the course of their daily practices which overlap and contradict
> one
> another.
> However, this paper focuses largely on sociology, not so much
> anthropology, which says to me that the importance here is on the
> dialectic between the agency of people and the larger, broader social
> structures that go beyond, say, a particular classroom or school. This
> is where I stop being able to follow the argument and need
> clarification (if indeed what I wrote earlier is actually a sensible
> interpretation).
> The meaning of a focus on 'conduct' was a way of flagging that not
> only
> large structures are the focus of a sociological contribution to
> CHAT. Or
> perhaps better but, 'conduct' is the entry point to considering the
> everyday
> interactions as well as the macro societal structures (and their
> interrelations). Some sociology is strongly rooted in and begins
> (and some
> even end) with this macro level analysis. This is a traditional
> realm of
> mainstream Euro-American sociology. These are forms of sociology
> that have a
> good deal to teach us about the meaning of the motive/structural
> dimensions
> of activity. Vygotsky's frequent reference, for example, to the
> structures
> of class society in his approach were a contribution to seeing how
> these
> matters connect to human development, but macro structures boiled down
> simply to these matters miss a great deal. I am primarily a Marxist
> sociologists, but the German sociologists Max Weber, for example,
> offers
> some additional insights into the relationship of meaning,
> rationality and
> authority as expressed at this macro level as well that Marx did
> not. How
> carefully do CHAT researchers attend to these macro structures?
> That's a
> debate that could be traced through MCA possibly. More importantly,
> though,
> is the fact that there's a lot of sociology that makes contributions
> to
> other dimensions of activity, and that's the point of Anna and I's
> paper.
> Jennifer mentioned Goffman for example. He's a favourite of mine and
> he
> shows vividly how people present themselves (and, if successfully
> carried
> out, are thus treated accordingly within the course of participation
> in
> activity; i.e. they carve out a standpoint and through this realize a
> certain subject position within activity allowing particular access
> and
> forms of use of artifacts, etc.; the sociologists Pierre Bourdieu
> and his
> concept of habitus is very helpful in this regard but he is dealt
> with in
> other pieces of my work not Anna and I's paper). Our point in the
> article is
> that some invaluable research from sociology, specifically focussing
> on
> conduct, sheds some important light on how people engage in
> activity, and,
> importantly, how this activity is part and parcel of the ongoing
> contradictory relationship between social reproduction (reproducing
> the
> status quo) and changes necessarily manifest at the individual, group,
> organizational and societal levels.
> Take, for instance, the recent U.S. presidential
> elections. There is the larger political body of the nation and there
> are the individual people in an arguably collaborative project to
> elect a President. We could look at this process through what I think
> the paper is offering. That is, the political structure constrains
> people's participation in several ways: what parties are available,
> which candidates we have to choose from, the legal process and
> existing political system, the responses and policies of the current
> administration that have shaped how we make meaning of this election,
> and so on. There are also larger structures of media and so on that
> have powerful institutional roles in shaping this dialectic as well.
> Then there are the people who, with their agency, aligned with, merely
> complied with, or resisted the electoral process. This is where I get
> confused. When I read these more sociological (and especially those in
> a liberatory political vein) arguments, I find myself imagining some
> complex, but ultimately more or less united effort by the individuals.
> Yet the individuals themselves live in such varied and hybrid spaces
> that, while they may all working be on the collaborative project of
> electing a president, are also in strong and often opposing conflict
> with one another. That is, their positionality in the process differs.
> Take, for instance, the Cuban-American community in Miami. Many
> members of this community, due in large part by their history in the
> Castro-led Cuban revolution and their subsequent exile to Miami, took
> on positional identities with respect to the U.S. elections that
> interpreted Obama's popularity, charisma, and rhetorical style to be
> very similar to that of Fidel Castro's back in 1959. As Obama's
> popularity increased, as his beloved speeches became more popular, and
> so on, many in this community saw it only as increased evidence that
> Obama was indeed a socialist/communist revolutionary. What was hope
> and excitement for many in this country was a sense of dread for
> others, based on differing personal histories, and in this case in an
> almost inverse linear relationship. Technically, as American voters,
> the Miami Cubans were afforded no less power than the Miami liberals
> living just down the street. Their positional identities were not
> simply constrained by a sense of oppressor/oppressed with respect to
> their roles as American citizens, but rather how they made sense of
> the elections due to their histories and the other socio-political
> worlds that have shaped them. In this sense, the participants in this
> collaborative project were being shaped by an almost endless hybridity
> of socio-cultural practices past and present. The agency of the Cuban
> Americans' participation in the presidential election was also shaped
> by their past trauma in Cuba. Its as if agency can be seen as the
> degrees of freedom inherent in the inevitable plurality of structural
> forces that act upon us and our ability therefore to choose among them
> how to frame each situation. I suppose in this way, I'm agreeing with
> Goffman. Yet I'm not sure how much neutrality Goffman places in what
> "frame" we enact. In the case of the Cuban Americans, many of them
> framed Obama in this way due to a very strong, visceral reaction to a
> past experience. Those who had lived in the U.S. long enough were
> certainly also conflicted, but ultimately couldn't get past that fear.
> Others, such as those from my generation who had never actually
> experienced Castro's Cuba but were certainly indoctrinated into the
> anti-Castro perspective were much too "American" to choose that same
> "frame" in viewing the elections. That fear, and that history, was not
> sufficiently ours. And so, I guess to sum this long mental outpour,
> I am
> wondering how
> hybridity of practices and of histories is embedded into this
> discussion. No collaborative project is purely of a particular
> structure nor of a homogenous people and their histories. And how is
> this hybridity captured in the structure-agency dialectic? (P.S. This
> brings to mind Dorothy Holland's (and colleagues) work on figured
> worlds and am wondering if anyone else feels that her work is very
> pertinent to this discussion.)
> Jenny
> There's lots of specifics here to think about, but I think this
> notion of
> hybridity is place I can start. The examples Jennifer gives show the
> enormous variation of people's orientations and practices, and yet
> there
> remains clearly distinguishable patterns of behaviour. How do we
> understand
> it in our research? People are different; they come from different
> places;
> have different biographies; they engage in different projects; etc.,
> but we
> should ask ourselves how on earth any patterns and regularity could
> possibly
> exist amid the potential chaos of differences? (this is what
> sociologists
> have traditionally referred to as the 'problem of order'). In either
> of
> Jennifer's examples (the classroom and the election) what I think I
> see is
> that we would have a difficult time understanding hybridity without an
> awareness of the macro social structures (e.g. the legal, media,
> electoral,
> immigration, economic system, and specifically the communal history of
> either America or Cuba for example). This would be necessary but not
> sufficient to understand what's going on. This is because these
> macro-structures do not simply stand over us all emitting some form of
> regulartory force (as some macro-sociology gives us the impression
> they do).
> One way of thinking about these macro structures and hybrity would
> be that
> macro structures are always locally realized (e.g. the election took
> place
> one 'kitchen table' at a time along Joe Biden's route home every
> night).
>> From this perspective, the macro is primarily a conglomeration of
>> local
> achievements – in some ways this is the dimension of social life that
> people like Harold Garfinkel (referenced in the article) wished to
> emphasize
> explicitly because he saw other sociologists of the day talking
> about macro
> structures as simply 'emitting a regulartory force' on all us dupes.
> A third way of thinking about this relationship between macro and
> micro,
> structure and agency is to begin with the analytic tools offered by
> from which we might appropriate resources from sociology.
> Specifically, to
> begin by thinking in terms of overlapping, distinguishable (both
> analytically and in terms of lived practice) and contradictory
> object-relatedness of different forms of activity, and hence we
> arrive at
> the importance of the symbolic and material artifacts and an
> argument that
> artifacts, in effect, conjoin the macro and micro levels of analysis
> (another phrasing of this, one that we use in our article, that
> recognizes
> implicitly the importance of Garfinkel's approach would be to use
> the terms
> extra-local and local). The claim here would be that it is the
> artifact that
> travels through space and time to distribute social regulation. In
> relation
> to what I'm talking about here, artifacts are, in essence, the
> history and
> the structure, of locally realized activity (that Garfinkel for
> example
> really didn't pay enough attention to); when they come to be
> powerful forces
> of social (vs. merely idiosyncratic) regulation these artifacts are
> 'extra-local' as well because they appear in other localities (texts
> being
> the sine qua non of this in contemporary life as sociologist like
> Dorothy
> Smith and Giddens argue; the post-structuralist theorist Michel
> Foucault
> takes this even further showing how artifacts such as text create
> not just
> procedures but identities of people who carry these procedures out,
> i.e.
> subjectivity; as others on this list have pointed out Dorothy
> Holland and
> co. have made some important links in this area generally). But while
> artifacts express and bring to life elements of regulation,
> determination or
> structure in their local activation/use, they also allow
> possibilities of
> human freedom or agency since amidst the landscape of many available
> artifacts (which are not equally available to everyone, or at least
> are not
> equally available to all participants in the same way, whis is
> another form
> of structure based on subjectivity and skill in use), artifacts can be
> combined, used differently than intended and/or altered locally. As
> the
> sociologists Anthony Giddens (referenced in the article) would say,
> this
> would be an example of structured agency or rather the 'structuration
> process'. This was basically the point of my work in 2003 that Helena
> Worthen mentioned in an earlier post. There I didn't use the term
> hybrity,
> but I can say that hybridity is closely related to agency in two
> ways then:
> 1) there is variation in social practice found even where there are
> widely
> shared motive-structures (and obviously where this motive structure is
> disputed), there is competing forms of object-relatedness, as
> different
> people operate within a complex field of possible goals and local
> operational conditions of activity; and 2) the combination of,
> differential
> uses of, or alteration of artifacts provide further sources of
> variation.
> Though hybrity and agency are not the same thing, both are closely
> related
> in these two situations.
> Finally, since Mike Cole brought this up in another post and it
> relates
> here, I'll simply add that the notion of "transformative" non-
> cannonical
> approach to CHAT, which Anna and I argued is important, emerges when
> we talk
> about, in turn, hybrity (and in particular hybrity, or social
> differences,
> based on social standpoints that reflect deep social rather than
> merely
> idiosyncratic and local contradictions) and then practices of agency
> (or
> resistance) that hybrity is a resource for. For both sociology and
> CHAT, the
> contradictions that become identifiable at what sociology
> traditionally has
> referred to as the macro level through to the meso and micro/local
> levels of
> society (cf. from a CHAT perspective the phrasing, contradictions
> identifiable at the motive level of activity through to the
> variations in
> goals and operations) are among the most powerful animators of human
> development because they represent shared problems which in turn
> offers the
> potential for shared, joint, collaborative responses. That is,
> strictly
> speaking left alone with our problems we merely cope with them
> rather than
> solve them. Our article argues that these multiple levels of
> analysis are as
> fundamental to understanding social change as they are to particular
> instances of human development. Sociology offers lots of resources
> to an
> approach that recognizes there is no social development without human
> development, and (dialectically) vice versa.
> The question of a transformative approach to activity, to me is
> rooted in
> the long debate about the degree to which - or for some researchers
> such a
> Kozulin even the question of 'if' - Vygotsky's work was rooted in
> Marxist
> dialectical materialism. One might ask whether, by virtue of context
> (immediate post-revolutionary Russia) - if V's orientation to
> Marxism was
> pro forma rather than bona fide. My view is that the latter.
> Evidence for
> this argument lies throughout V's work. Some specifics to help
> though: the
> volumes of *Collected Works* in a variety of places, but V's chapter
> entitled *"Two Psychologies"* may be a good starting point; likewise
> the
> overall framing provided in V's *Educational Psychology*
> (particularly near
> the end) is also useful in this regard; alternatively, all of this
> summarized very nicely in V's "The *Socialist Alteration of Man*
> article [I
> often send students to the Marxist Archive (
> for easy access
> some of
> this material]. Beyond the primary sources, many authors have
> carried out
> this work of accumlating evidence already however (Ratner, Elhammoui
> and
> others) in analytic terms and others in biographical terms.
> In sum however, beyond the fact that V is grappling with psychological
> discourses of the day making his writing necessarily a negotiated
> one, and
> thus less pristine, more committed to detailed critique and
> dispersed in its
> effect of orienting toward understanding Marxist roots and
> historical-transformation question, there is the more general
> difficulty
> that emerges with a lack of familarity with Marxist concepts. Not
> everyone
> has the time or energy to undertake this work (and hence the rarity
> of forms
> of inter-disciplinary thought), but the result, very reasonably, is
> that
> this lack of familarity allows one's reading to glide over V's
> encouragements toward a radical, historical transformational
> approach with a
> sense that it is merely moral posturing (this is certainly what many
> sociologists have done; as Anna and I mention in our paper) rather
> than an
> inherent part of the theoretical framework. In this sense, it is
> difficult
> to read V without some orientation to terms like 'the forces and
> social
> relations of production' (i.e. the mode), 'class struggle', 'labor',
> to say
> nothing about the break that on the one hand 'dialectical thought'
> and on
> the other the notion of a 'materialist approach' to it provides.
> Before
> digging into Marx himself, I have encouraged people to pick up a good
> introductory book like David Riazanov's classic *Karl Marx and
> Frederick
> Engels: An Introduction to their Lives and Work* [which can be
> downloaded
> free at
> ]
> and some of Raymond Williams' beautiful *Problems in Materialism and
> Culture
> * as well as a copy of Tom Bottomore's *Dictionary of Marxist
> Thought* as a
> way to do some individual reading. Proceeding from there to my mind
> a basic
> orientation to Marxist thought re-shapes the reading of the entire
> corpus of
> V's work; that, while it necessarily focuses on particular
> psychological
> mechanisms a perspective on how these mechanisms fit into a
> transformative
> model flourishes, to be further sharpend and advanced.
> Cheers - Peter
> _______________________
> Peter H. Sawchuk, PhD
> Associate Professor
> Sociology and Equity Studies in Education
> Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
> University of Toronto
> 252 Bloor Street West
> Toronto, Ontario, Canada
> M5S 1V6
> (t) 416-978-0570
> (e)
> (f) 416-926-4751
> To find out about the Learning & Work Graduate Studies Program at
> "ttp://
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