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Re: [xmca] Institutions and concepts

Reading back again as I catch up a bit on the threads.

I think that "institution" as a tool to think with can be useful, but I am not so much interested in its definition as in the sense in which it might be the case that any and every "scientific" or "academicized" concept makes sense and has its origin and original function only in relation to some particular social institution. (Even though it may then spread and find uses in other contexts.)

I believe that this idea is loosely implicit in LSV's and Luria's notions about scientific concepts, and in the subsequent development of the everyday vs. scientific dichotomy that we seem to find ourselves discussing on xmca about twice a year forever! :-) I think it is even more explicit, and rather persuasively argued for in the work of Michel Foucault (esp. what is called in English "The Order of Things" but really throughout his historical analyses).

And this connection is important for a number of reasons. First, I think, because it calls into question all the approaches that see concepts as arising from an understanding of reality apart from the context of particular activities and practices within particular institutions. If concepts are essentially institution-dependent, then we get a view of the nature of "scientific" concepts much closer to say Latour's (or less radically, Kuhn's). And correspondingly we get a view of "institutions" that ought to include the institutions of everyday life and everyday concepts, especially those invisible institutions which do not have specialized, explicit, and usually materially visible superstructures (schools, churches, governments, corporate headquarters, hatcheries, etc.).

In classic (Parsonian) sociology, a social institution is basically just a self-reproducing pattern of activity that persists across generations, and is usually recognizable as such by participants. it is one of the meeting places of sociology and anthropology. So in this view, for example, marriage is an institution, and so I suppose is hiking.

That gets us closer to a view of "everyday institutions" that could ground "everyday concepts".

So the second importance I would see in all this is in understanding the relations of and people's acquisition of "scientific" or specialized concepts. It would, I think, strongly push us towards a notion like legitimate peripheral participation or at least some sort of participation in the grounding institution(s) of a concept as key to learning to use it. It would also make sense of the general absence of "far transfer", in that moving a concept outside of the activities of its grounding institution requires a major leap and reconceptualization for the new context. And it would create some multi-dimensional space of "distances" between everyday institutions in which most people participate vs. the specialized institutions that ground scientific-academic concepts. The greater the distance, on various dimensions, the harder to develop a flexible and integrated use-mastery of the new concept. Or, as a common second best, one might learn a limited and more ritualized use only in specific contexts, but without bridges linking back to one's everyday concepts.

(Note that I assume that scientific concepts do not replace everyday concepts, but add an extra set of thinking options to our repertoire.)

This would also mean, I think, that the zoped may well be institution-specific. And I am not sure of various people's views as to whether it is concept-specific or not. Something to tease out, perhaps.

Two final points. First I am using "concept" here as a shorthand for concept-mediated practices, where the reality is always the practice-in-activity. Concepts as some sort of non-material realities in themselves make no sense to me. And second, there is an asymmetry in the relation of concept and institution. You can't, I think, define a concept apart from its grounding institution and the activities and practices normal to that institution. But you could not I think successfully define an institution through its associated concepts (though some people do try to do this, for example, with Mathematics, and even far less plausibly with the natural sciences).

But to end by crossing two recent threads: if concepts are embedded in institutions, and concept learning is part of a development that always depends on affects, should we expect that institutions not only have their characteristic concepts, but also their characteristic emotional feelings? And that learning an institution-grounded concept therefore also means learning to feel emotionally in the "style" of that institution?


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Mar 27, 2010, at 9:27 PM, Larry Purss wrote:

> Andy
> I want to take up your invitation and ask some questions about  your key term "institution".
> What is its unit? 
> Institutions are historically constituted and have implicit rules that constrain but also CONSTITUTE interactional patterns of activity. This unit  implies it is ontologically prior to the person so has social realism. Persons exist within institutional structures that are formative for human morality and self-reflection. Institutions can be studied structurally, functionally, and historically (developmentally). A  more coherent  narrative to understand  institutions as units of analysis would be to construct all 3 narratives- structural, functional, and historical as 3 versions of the unit.
> Is it alive or dead?
> Andy, this is where I get confused. Your definition of  institution as I read it implies it is DEAD. I assume institutions are alive and embody the structure side of the structure/process tension. I'm making an assumption that institutions are constantly evolving in historical development.  If structure becomes rigid then development is affected but also institutions are NECESSARY  to give coherence to forms of sociality. For me the question is how to keep institutions alive and dynamic but this is a moral question of how we OUGHT to proceed.(my AS-IF realm) However, institutions as a unit of analysis are alive. From this perspective my self-reflection is to ask How do I  proceed within an institutional structure to keep it dynamic and alive? This is where I believe the concept of self/other (ego-alter) and the emphasis on "recognition" may give some guidance to keep communication open.
> How does it motivate action?
> This is a moral question. Since I'm assuming that humans cannot exist outside of institutional structures then I believe that ideally communication, and collaboration are the processes that may bring in novelty and vitality to institutions. I believe that issues of recognition are fundamental but so are shared assumptions and "common sense" (whether in marriage, schools, or politics) Taylor's social imaginaries or Moscovici's social representations point out that there can be multiple competing narrative frames within the same institution and that is why institutions are such places of conflict and strife.However, I don't see each individual occupying there own relative social construction. I'm assuming that there are a limited number of  shared social representations (common senses) that are contested and people have allegience to to one or a  few of these shared social representations and are critical of other shared social representations. Each of these shared social imaginaries has its own unique historical development and different actors in the institution have allegience to various shared social representations. However, I do assume that in modernity there is a central allegience of  actors following the moral imperative of valuing the individual as ontological.as a common sense implicit shared assumption.  Rules sustain the structure of the institution but are implicit. What is not recognized is that institutions  contain competing moral imperatives that are contested ground. 
> The only way through this tension, if the institution is going to continue to develop is through communication and social recognition.
> How is it composed/constituted?
> This is where CHAT perspectives on institutions are valid and coherent. Institutions are material and ideal. They are culturally, socially, historically evolving structures where the persons who participate in these institutions are both constrained and also become agentic. Communication is the process of institutions continuing historical development. Communication is not just  linquistic but also implicit and e-motion is an aspect of all communications. 
> Andy, I'm assuming institutions are central and fundamental to being human as the ways we structure and pattern our interactions. They are always moral and express how we ought to interact. However they are always contested and in this century institutions are struggling with the modern and post-modern themes of social recognition. Modernity had a shared common sense notion that the individual had ontological existence and institutions were structured with this shared assumption. And the rules were structured to perpetuate this taken for granted notion. However, there has been an historical turn and these shared assumptions are now contested and new forms of institutional structure will hopefully evolve to reflect these new dialogical assumptions.
> Andy, I'm wondering if you assume current institutions are too rigid to evolve (are dead)and therefore new institutional forms must be constituted whereas I may have more faith that current institutional structures are more alive and through moral struggle and dialogical communication, can evolve.
> The question is really my thinking out loud in order to find my moral and ethical compass as I continue to work in an institutional structure that is very rigid but  in which I hope I can have INFLUENCE and maybe introduce an alternative narrative that may in the future become the new common sense.  
> Larry
> I've responded to your question
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
> Date: Saturday, March 27, 2010 5:35 pm
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Institutions and concepts
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
>> Overnight I have added and amended it a little. I will dress 
>> it up a bit and post it for Bruce to put on the "Papers" 
>> page, for comparison if you like.
>> We should ask of any concept of social subject-object:
>> 1. What is its unit?
>> 2. Is it dead or alive?
>> 3. How does it motivate actions?
>> 4. How is it composed? (texts/artefacts, actions, people, 
>> Nature, metaphysical entities, etc).
>> Larry, yes I think it is fair to say that each approach 
>> makes a conception of something which exists in let us say, 
>> the public sphere, something everyone knows, and casts it 
>> into a cerain theoretical frame. Each frame provides and 
>> excludes certain insights. Nice to be able to move from one 
>> approach to another safely and knowingly.
>> I like "project" because it gives me Activity Theory access 
>> to the entire body of Hegel's immensely rich insights (such 
>> as concepts), it avoids AN Leontyev's objectivism and 
>> functionalism, it is alive, and unlike "Figured World," 
>> "Genre" and "Field" it conveys the idea of joint activity, 
>> rather than emphasising individual competition. "Social 
>> movement" is good, but implies too restricted a scope of 
>> applicability.
>> I think "institution" conveys the idea of a project which 
>> has become solidified or dead, and more or less corresponds 
>> to the common meaning given to the word without specialized 
>> theory.
>> Andy
>> mike cole wrote:
>>> Andy-- It would be interesting to array your list along side 
>> of the
>>> historical genealogy that has grown from Arne Raithel's early 
>> genealology of
>>> chat.
>>> mike
>>> On Sat, Mar 27, 2010 at 9:20 AM, Larry Purss 
>> <lpurss@shaw.ca> wrote:
>>>> Andy
>>>> I find this list fascinating and intriguing.
>>>> Each term has different conceptual frames but all are trying 
>> to map similar
>>>> terrain.
>>>> Why are you recommending "projects" and "institutions" as 
>> more coherent
>>>> terms than some of the other discourse terms?
>>>> My reason for liking your term "institutions" is very 
>> particular to my
>>>> working in schools as the world arena where intersubjective 
>> constitution is
>>>> developing.
>>>> Since everyone recognizes schools as institutional structures 
>> which "frame"
>>>> (A term I particulary like and use all the time with 
>> students) particular
>>>> patterns of interaction, then elaborating the notion of 
>> "institution" has a
>>>> good chance to be easily transferable to the "educational" 
>> discourse>> "genres" (Another term I like)
>>>> Martin,
>>>> I recognize your "project" which emphasize HISTORICAL 
>> DEVELOPMENT of ideas
>>>> and frames and genres as very helpful to how we map the 
>> terrain. For example
>>>> the article you posted on Kant highlights the 1920's as a 
>> particular>> historical moment in Germany which created new 
>> "frames" and "projects" which
>>>> have supported further institutional developments.  
>> Martin, as you point out
>>>> we are still currently engaged in "reading" these "texts" 
>> both as
>>>> "historical" documents BUT also our current discourse is 
>> still articulating
>>>> responses to Kant and  Hegel, but without our 
>> understanding the historical
>>>> roots of our discourse.
>>>> Your elaboration of the epistemology/ontology tension and the 
>> historical>> location of this tension in 1920's Germany is a 
>> fascinating "narrative."
>>>> Andy,
>>>> Once again, thanks for this psychological tool. I'm thinking 
>> of framing it
>>>> and putting it next to my computer as I think out loud. (Mead's
>>>> conversational gesture)
>>>> Larry
>>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>>> From: Tony Whitson <twhitson@UDel.Edu>
>>>> Date: Friday, March 26, 2010 8:50 pm
>>>> Subject: Re: [xmca] Institutions and concepts
>>>> To: ablunden@mira.net, "eXtended Mind, Culture,   
>> Activity" <
>>>> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
>>>>> Thanks, Andy; this is extremely useful.
>>>>> I would add this:
>>>>> Stephen Toulmin: Concepts as micro-institutions (according 
>> to my
>>>>> memory,
>>>>> which is less reliable at this hour)
>>>>> I have something on this in my chapter in the Kirshner & Whitson
>>>>> (eds)
>>>>> book on Situated Cognition. See
>>>>> http://www.amazon.com/Situated-Cognition-Semiotic-
>> Psychological-
>>>>> Perspectives/dp/0805820388/
>>>>> On Sat, 27 Mar 2010, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>>>> mike cole wrote:
>>>>>>> Perhaps I am agreeing with Andy about the linkages between
>>>>> institutions
>>>>>>> and
>>>>>>> concepts, which is also a linkage between activities and 
>> concepts.>>>> Mike, I would like to mention the following semantic
>>>>> connections which I
>>>>>> think CHAT needs to pay attention to if we are to talk to the
>>>>> numerous other
>>>>>> currents who share our domain of enquiry.
>>>>>> Institution = Discourse  (Foucault)
>>>>>>           = Practico-intert (Sartre)
>>>>>>           = Object (Hegel)
>>>>>>           = Activity (ANL, def. by object)
>>>>>>           = Genre (Bakhtin)
>>>>>>           = Frame (Goffman)
>>>>>>           = Tradition (Gadamer)
>>>>>>           = Figured world (D Holland)
>>>>>>           = Activity System (Engestrom?)
>>>>>>           = Social formation (Marx)
>>>>>>           = Field (Bourdieu)
>>>>>> which is a dead or solidified ...?
>>>>>> Project     for Schmit
>>>>>>           for Hegelians like Pinkard and Andy
>>>>>>           for Existentialists (Sartre, Heidegger?)
>>>>>> Gestalt des consciousness for Hegel
>>>>>> momentary   = context
>>>>>>           = situation
>>>>>> Projects & Institutions have as Units ... ?
>>>>>>           = Concept
>>>>>>            = Action (ANL)
>>>>>>            = Text?
>>>>>> obviously none of the = are really =, because they involve
>>>>> different
>>>>>> conceptual frames. Which is my point, I guess.
>>>>>> Andy
>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
>>>>>> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
>>>>> Tony Whitson
>>>>> UD School of Education
>>>>> NEWARK  DE  19716
>>>>> twhitson@udel.edu
>>>>> _______________________________
>>>>> "those who fail to reread
>>>>>  are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
>>>>>                   -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
>>>>> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
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>> -- 
>> -----------------------------------------------------------------
>> -------
>> Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/ +61 3 9380 9435 
>> Skype andy.blunden
>> Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:
>> http://www.marxists.org/admin/books/index.htm
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