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Re: [xmca] The strange situation: analyzing a land dispute
Mike refers to an interesting 1979 paper by Edwin Hutchins. Mike
asks: what kinds of concepts were mediating the events described in
Hutchins analyzes a Trobriand village court judgment concerning a
property dispute. He uses this example to demonstrate that claims in
earlier papers by Malinowski (1920's) and Lee (1940's) about supposed
limitations or lack of ability by Trobrianders to use syllogistic and
inferential reasoning were incorrect.
He demonstrates that inferential reasoning is in fact quite definitely
used in Trobriand discourse. He explains Malinowski's failure to find
this in his need to rely on discourse he could write down with paper
and pencil, not having a tape recorder. So Malinowski focused on the
slower-moving forms of discourse he could record, like magic rituals.
Unfortunately these do not necessarily utilize more complex forms of
thinking. Hence, inferential thinking was not visible to Malinowski's
fact-gathering methods (and, apparently, his intuitions, one might
observe). Lee's work was entirely based on analyzing Malinowski's
data, so she just continued the problem. Aspects of their work are
discussed in the Wikipedia under the entry Trobriand Islands, btw.
The village court judgment Hutchins analyzes pertains to a dispute
over who has the rights to a garden. Four concepts used in the
judgment are analyzed by Hutchins - Tupwa, Pokola, Kesila, and rights
transfer. Briefly defining these terms in my words by translating
these concepts into terms from bourgeois property relations (this is
not adequately or truly conceptually understanding the Trobriand
concepts by any means) - roughly speaking, Tupwa refers to when a
buyer has made an offer, Pokola refers to when a seller accepts an
offer, Kesila refers to the land in relation to the seller after they
transferred the rights, and rights transfer refers to when a
transaction is completed.
Hutchins shows that many inferences and forms of syllogistic reasoning
are made in the judgment. The dispute revolved around whether this
garden had been "sold" (rights were transferred) 30 years earlier. If
it had not been, it would be Tupwa today, since the "owner" from 30
years ago was willing to transfer the rights. But if it had indeed
been transferred, the garden was Kesila in relation to the original
owner. It turned out that the judgment was that the garden was Kesila
in relation to the original owner - that a third party had acquired
those rights 30 years earlier. Etc.
The point here is that syllogistic and inferential reasoning were
clearly employed, refuting Malinowski and Lee.
So how about Mike's question. Where might Vygotsky's concept
formation theory come in? What kinds of 'concept systems' or 'modes
of interpretation' were in play?
One point that strikes me is that the kinds of mental **operations**
made in the judgment seem more associated with **conceptually-based**
structures of generalization. That is, using Vygotsky's Ch 6
categories - and his law that possible thought operations change as
relations of generality change - the inferential modes of thinking
Hutchins describes are the kinds of mental operations that are made
possible by preconcepts and true concepts. They do not appear to be
the kinds of mental operations enabled by or associated with merely
syncretic or complexive thinking.
Another point that strikes me is that concepts such as Tupwa and
Pokola, associated with the social conditions and processes
surrounding the transfer of land rights, must be deeply embedded in
the history of Trobriand culture and society. This would suggest to
me that these are true, fully developed concepts.
On Apr 6, 2010, at 7:12 PM, mike cole wrote:
Whoa!! gotta print and read,
Martin. But ALL-- could you check out the article at
Not a school. But what sort of concepts (modes of interpretation if
prefer michael r!) are mediating this activity??
On Tue, Apr 6, 2010 at 6:43 PM, Martin Packer <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
A little while ago David Kellogg suggested that when LSV refers to
"scientific concepts" they "are simply the type of concepts that are
in classrooms." I replied that I thought LSV was hunting bigger
game: he was
trying to show how children develop the capacity to think
Now, after doing some more homework,I think that both David and I are
correct. On my reading of chapter 6 of T&L,
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