Re: [xmca] Synchrony or entrainment (was reciprocity continued)

From: Paul Dillon <phd_crit_think who-is-at>
Date: Mon Dec 22 2008 - 15:01:16 PST

Why is this thread named "reciprocity continued"? I haven't seen any discussion of "reciprocity" so far, at least as the term is used in sociology (e.g., Peter Blau) or in social-anthropology.

I also haven't seen any mention the idea of "entrainment" in this discussion of "synchronized" or "synchronic" behavior. I think it might provide a more flexible approach to dealing with the emergence of motive and object..

One good publication is "In Time with the Music: The Concept of Entrainment and its Significance for Ethnomusicology" which is available on line at:

In Ken Kesey's novel: "Sometimes a Great Notion" there is an amazing description of four loggers working together to harvest a slope with a deadline impossible to meet that really illustrates "entrainment" in what can clearly be described as an activity. . Kesey writes a long passage describing the harmony, the synchronization of their individual actions within the team, of the four men in relation to the way a jazz quartet (say the classic Coltrane quartet) functions with each individual developing a unique expression of the shared song which nevertheless creates something greater than the individuals, that something in turn guiding them in their individual expression. Kesey brings this down to the work team harvesting Douglas pines. Don't have the book available but it's near the end. Paul Newman starred in a movie version but it lacks Kesey's penetrating discussion of the event.

The ethnomusicologist's "entrainment", unlike the ideas presented so far in this thread, allows for a supra-individual object that can't be reduced to additive relations between the individuals. Might be worth checking out.


--- On Sun, 12/21/08, Andy Blunden <> wrote:
From: Andy Blunden <>
Subject: Re: [xmca] reciprocity continued
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
Date: Sunday, December 21, 2008, 7:23 PM

Thanks for all that Derek. In the interaction between us there is obviosuly lots
of room for misunderstandings and cross purposes and I think we have probably
found some.

I think it mainly comes down to the fact that your idea of "concerted
activity" is in reality very close to my idea of "collaborative
project" itself an interpretation of "joint activity" shared by
most of us on this list.

On the other hand, I do think there is an important analytical difference
between, on the one hand, copying someone and on the other hand, joining in
their endeavour or trying to get them involved in your own.

Enjoy your Christmas as well, Derek.


PS Derek, when I say "subject" I do not mean "individual."

Derek Melser wrote:
> Mike, Andy:
> This 'Synchrony and Cooperation' paper may help us connect a few
dots. The
> authors are looking at 'synchronous activity', which has also been
> 'concerted' activity which term I think is better at capturing
> deliberate nature of the conforming of actions. I mean,
> 'synchron*ised*activity' would be better. Anyway, it is a good
> foundational concept for
> activity theory. Plenty of alternative labels, of course: 'collective
> activity', 'shared activity', 'joint activity',
'entraining', etc., or even,
> at a slightly more sophisticated level, 'collaborative project',
say. The
> thing is, as some of the people cited in the synchrony article
> McNeill and Ehrenreich) insist, people have a very strong inherent
> motivation to participate in synchronous activity. It's enough that
> a game on, for people to want to pitch in. How strong is this motivation?
> There ain't none stronger. And that's good for a small group
confronting a
> lion, or two. Another book of Ehrenreich's, 'Blood Rites',
makes this clear.
> Maybe you just don't need any other 'motive' to get *activity*
> And how basic in our repertoire is synchronous activity? Is the motivation
> to it 'innate'? Look at the Nagy and Molnar finding.
> *
> *
> It might be appropriate also for me to respond to Andy's (17th Dec)
> criticisms of my 'verbal behaviour' paper in the context of this
> of 'synchronous activity'. Here goes. Andy's remarks are in
black, mine in
> blue.
> A central feature of your essay I find attractive, that is, the effort
> make what you call the "acting in concert" of just two
individuals the
> starting point of your analysis. But I have a lot of problems with how you
> go about it. Let me note a few:
> * the archetypal mode of interaction for you is *doing the same thing*,
> which I find to be really odd. I don't think I have ever had such an
> interaction. It seems quite at odds, to me, as an archetype of human
> interaction;
> Examples of two or more people 'doing the same thing' in concert
> shaking hands, having breakfast together, dancing, joining forces to lift
> heavy suitcase, drying the dishes together, exchanging a smile.
> * you base this idea on firstly the "mirror neurons" hypothesis,
which is
> pretty recent, entirely speculative, and actually, I just don't
believe it.
> I think it's a neuroscientist's attempt to avoid cultural
psychology and
> deduce social action from neurons. In any case, by ditching socially
> interaction in favour of mirror neurons, you abandon cultural psychology
> favour of neural reductionism, in my opinion.
> As far as I know, neither any expert in this area nor me has ever regarded
> the mirror neuron findings as anything more than circumstantial
> corroborative evidence of a basic urge to concerted activity. See, for
> example, Djyksterhuis' and Kinsbourne's respective contributions
> *Perspectives
> on Imitation: From Cognitive Science to Social Science*, S. Hurley and N.
> Chater, eds., MIT Press 2005. My own bias in the 'brain-mechanism or
> culture' version of the chicken-and-egg debate is towards the view
> brain mechanisms evolve as a result of the survival value of cultural
> innovations (in this case, the foundational cultural innovations
> activity and empathy). This 'culture maketh the brain' view was
> propounded by Ralph Holloway, or perhaps Donald Hebb.
> * You support this hypothesis with "Presumable" reconstructions
of human
> evolution based only on the evdience that "presuambly" it
happened this way,
> because you claim that it ended this way. Tautological speculation.
> My main 'presumably' is that the pleistocene development by
hominins of
> culture, verbal communication, consciousness and thinking must closely
> parallel the development of these skills by the modern infant. (The latter
> process can be observed if you know what you're looking for and
have a
> terminology capable of describing it.) The 'presumably' is that
> developmental steps are much the same in each case. Given the fact that
> can reproduce much of this development, via the same steps, in chimpanzees
> (see Savage-Rumbaugh et al.) and the fact that the hominins we are talking
> about are at least half-way on the evolutionary road towards modern humans
> (esp., infants), I would say it is a reasonable assumption that a similar
> development, via similar steps, took place then.
> * You further support this hypothesis on observations of infant behavour
> which I find questionable: newborns imitating adults before they even know
> about an objective world, though it is outside my area of expertise.
> The 1983 Meltzoff and Moore findings on neonatal imitation have been
> massively corroborated since. What I find particularly interesting, and
> strongly suggests that it is concerted (joint, shared) activity that is in
> question, and not mere imitation, is the 2004 Nagy and Molnar finding that
> the newborn is also able to 'solicit' or 'provoke' a
synchronous response
> from an observer. That is, from the very beginning, the infant can not
> join in with what others are doing but also invite others to join in what
> he/she is doing. As for where 'the objective world' comes in: one
of the
> beauties of making concerted activity primary is that it enables a very
> simple and plausible account of objectivity in terms of the concerting
> concertability (shareability), repeatability, etc.) of perceptions. The
> infant masters the concerting pf perceptions (and thus first encounters
> 'things in the world') in the first year.
> * You erect on ths basis of this implausible speculation, a theory of
> pedagogy which I would never dream of implementing in the classroom. I
> wonder do you have any empirical evidence that this method of
> demonstrate-and-imitate works in the classroom? I would be surprised. I
> think kids would laugh.
> I have never been a schoolteacher but I grew up in a teaching family. My
> parents, John and June Melser, were both prominent educationalists. My
> father founded and was for twenty years principal of a highly successful
> experimental, arts-based public school (PS3, now the John Melser Charrette
> School) in Greenwich Village, NY. My mother was a reading expert who
> conceived, edited, graded, and partly wrote, The Story Box, probably the
> most successful series of children's readers ever produced,
world-wide. Both
> John and June were both teachers and teachers of teachers. In my
> much of the dinner-table conversation concerned classroom technique. For
> myself, it became clear to me what it is to 'show someone how to do
> something' or to 'help someone learn to do something' that
is, I saw what
> demonstration-and-imitation is founded on much later, with
> communal chanting far in the past, when I was copying formulae, notes,
> diagrams, etc., that the professor was writing on the blackboard in
> mathematics and zoology classes at university.
> * Although you develop the initial ideas in terms of a speculative
> you claim your aim to be for a technique of managing other people's
> behaviour, which I take to be the definition of behaviourism, which is
> anathema to me. My aim is emancipation not control. But that's just
> You might be confusing me with Byrrhus Frederick. What I say in the
> is that verbal communication is a technique that enables people to manage
> (plan, organise, initiate, implement, monitor, etc.) their own concerted
> cooperative activity. This is Wittgenstein's 'language-game'
concept. But,
> yes: telling someone something, or asking them to do something, could be
> seen as a form of mind-control.
> * Your second mode of interaction is what you call cooperation, i.e.,
> division of labour. But you completely overlook what I take to be the
> archetypal mode of interaction, i.e., joint action or collaboration,
> independent subjects working towards the same end, and taking joint moral
> responsibility for the outcome. In my view this *includes* conflict, and I
> completely disagree with your characterisation of conflict as treating the
> other person as an object. I am criticising you now precisely because I
> treat you as a person. Conflict and cooperation are inseparable in
> human collaboration, i.e., two subjects working towards the same objective
> and really caring about the outcome.
> My view is that, in your terms, "the archetypal mode" is
"joint action",
> yes. Let's neither of us overlook that. Describing prototype concerted
> activity without giving ontological priority to the individual
> is difficult, maybe impossible. Yet that's how it happens. Concerted
> activity is logically and developmentally prior to solo action.
> subjects' are creatures of solo action and thus cannot logically
> concerted activity. The latter is the matrix from which 'independent
> subjects' or 'independent agents' (see immediately below)
emerge. That's the
> whole point of an 'activity'-based approach, surely. Activity,
> collective/concerted activity, is ontologically prior to both 'the
> and to 'subjectivity' (or solo agency or 'the individual'
or whatever).
> * I say it is untrue that it is "Standardly assumed" that
cooperation is the
> outcome of rational decision by independent agents. This is a strawman.
> Maybe among Chicago School economists.
> You yourself say, immediately above, that joint action is a matter of
> "independent subjects working towards the same end". This
illustrates how
> difficult it is, using everyday language, to describe concerted activity
> without 'valorising' (?) the individual in the process.
Wittgenstein ended
> up saying that primary concert is ('forms of social life' are)
> Concert can't be described objectively, only empathised or, of
> participated in. And, although this is fine for us non-academic folks, it
> ain't so propitious for 'social science'.
> * Altogether I think your approach is founded on mistaken ideas about
> imitation and getting other people to do things.
> BUT ... your aim of founding a psychology and pedagogy on a theory of
> activity is well worth supporting, and I hope you continue to discuss it
> here. There are scores of people on this list with experience in pedagogy
> who would doubtless like to contribute ... though they might not want you
> to imitate them. :)
> Merry Christmas everyone,
> DM
> 2008/12/22 Mike Cole <>
>> The attached article may be relevant to recent discussion of habitus
>> need with respect to the
>> primacy (or not!) of reciprocity. I think Durkheim gets short shrift,
>> I
>> appear to like his ideas better
>> than most here.
>> mike
>> _______________________________________________
>> xmca mailing list
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

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