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Re: [xmca] concepts
- To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
- Subject: Re: [xmca] concepts
- From: Martin Packer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Mon, 11 Apr 2011 22:16:37 -0500
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I didn't mean any petard-hoisting, honestly! I just get excited at times about ideas. Big ones, and little ones too.
Let me respond a bit more appreciatively to what you're saying. I'm most interested at the moment, in my own work, in trying to understand Vygotsky. I think I share that interest with some others here, but I'm equally sure not everyone has the interest. But to me it's quite fascinating to struggle to try to interpret and apply texts that I am separated from by time, language, geography and economic system.
Is there power in knowledge? Do knowledge claims bolster positions of professional expertise? Do academics not traffic in prestige and advantage even as we make apparently neutral and detached pronouncements about trivial details? Does success in every endeavor not "depend on a very complex knowledge of and ability to manipulate determinative politics, discourses, and institutions -- on professional competencies and social privileges that constitute even the 'organic intellectuals'"? (That's Paul Bové beating up on Charles Taylor in his foreword to Deleuze's book on Foucault.)
Yes, of course. I take Foucault very seriously. Does Vygotsky write about any of this? No, not really. Does that mean he was not aware of it? Impossible! This was a man who read Marx, who was living at the time of a revolution whose stated aim it was to correct the distortions that an unjust society had wrought on human beings, and who was in a position of power himself when Stalin took control. How could he possibly not have been aware of the connections between knowledge and power, the micro-politics of concepts?
He did write occasionally, as in "The Socialist Formation of Man," of topics such as the formation of the "psychological superstructure of man" and of "the basic assumption that intellectual production is determined by the form of material production." He wrote that "A fundamental change of the whole system of these [societal] relationships which man is a part of, will also inevitably lead to a change in consciousness, a change in man’s whole behaviour." He even wrote of Nietzsche and questioned his assumption that the will to power would continue to dominate human relations. By and large, though, his writings let these things pass.
Just as at the beginning of T&S Vygotsky writes that of course emotion and communication are intimately linked to thinking and speaking, but that they must fade into the background in his analysis in that book, I read all Vygotsky's texts assuming that politics and power are also in the background, unspoken but not forgotten. Then, to me, it seems that what Vygotsky was doing is similar to what Foucault was doing in his writings on the ethics of self-formation. He is focused on the *formation* of subjects, and of forms of subjectivity, as children grow into adults in whatever kind of distorted social order they happen to be born into. Could he explicitly put it that way? Did he have the space or time to spell out the whole story? Or do we have to do it for him?
Bottom line, I don't see that a politics of concepts is in any clear way incompatible with Vygotsky's project, as I grasp it. His 'concrete psychology' of the Moscow tram driver would also be a study of the American professor.
On Apr 11, 2011, at 8:52 PM, White, Phillip wrote:
> ah, the bliss of being hoisted upon one's own petard! thanks, Martin. (;-)
> yeah, Foucault's use of concept is constant.
> what i was obliquely attempting to get at was that the term 'concept' could be seen as highfalutin, rather than, say, the term "big idea". (hah! of course, my father would rebuke me with, "What's the big idea?!")
> but what i mean is that concept is another word for idea. and an idea that appears to be difficult to grasp, abstract in short, could be seen as a 'big idea'.
> it's about lingo, using latinate/greek words, rather than those little ordinary daily words.
> it even seems to me that when, say, i'm teaching about "community of practice" - i guess we could say that's a pretty big concept, or even "legitimate peripheral participation", that initially it seems abstract, but once everyone in the class talks about it, that over time, with concrete examples from experience, that "community of practice" no longer seems abstract. in fact, it seems quite real and people can identify it when they observe it, just like they can identify the difference between an ornamental pear tree and a comice pear tree.
> takes me back to Bateson - that making sense of the world, recognizing the patterns, is recognizing the difference that makes a difference. and it's that curious difference wherein a child over time can distinguish bertween a cat and a dog and a horse and a donkey, and it's through recognizing the difference that makes a difference.
> so, while Foucault didn't suggest it, i'm suggesting that one of the ways experts claimed expertise was to employ a vocabulary that would set the profession apart from the everyday world of being.
> am i being anti-intellectual?
> because when with my students we been reading Lave, say, and there is always someone who complains about her vocabulary, i always argue in support of her vocabulary.
> internal contractions.
> Phillip White, PhD
> University of Colorado Denver
> School of Education
> From: email@example.com [firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of Martin Packer [email@example.com]
> Sent: Monday, April 11, 2011 5:38 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] concepts
> wasn't Foucault's central concern in, say, The Order of Things, to explore the *basis* on which human knowledge, or knowledges, are constituted? In his terms, within a discursive formation there is a dispersion of concepts. An ordering of words is used to order what can be seen in the world. The point was not that there is no such thing as 'concept,' but that concepts are not neutral, natural maps of a preexisting and independent reality. For example, he wrote of the "form of positivity" of the sciences - "the concepts around which they are organized, the type of rationality to which they refer and by means of which they seek to constitute themselves as knowledge." To a great extent, his attention to the material practices in which both objects and abstractions are produced was drawn from Marx, so I don't think it is wildly incompatible with Vygotsky's project.
> On Apr 11, 2011, at 5:36 PM, White, Phillip wrote:
>> though really, i'm more with Jay on this point that there is no such thing as a 'concept' - i'm thinking that the practice of the word became, what?, let's say 'insitutionalized', or 'valorized' during the enlightenment project... that period which Foucault points to of ways of categorization and classifications that emerged as professional experts exercised for themselves the power to label, prescribe, diagnose, etc. etc., as in, for example, the separation of madness and reason.
>> yeah ......
>> another one of my half-baked ideas!
>> Phillip White, PhD
>> University of Colorado Denver
>> School of Education
>> From: firstname.lastname@example.org [email@example.com] On Behalf Of mike cole [firstname.lastname@example.org]
>> Sent: Monday, April 11, 2011 4:07 PM
>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>> Subject: Re: [xmca] concepts
>> I agree, Monica. Its odd that we make such distinctions and then worry that
>> we do not
>> know what a key term in the discussion (in this case, concept) is supposed
>> to mean (we all find a way to make sense of it for ourselves however!).
>> Martin and other conceptual knowers. LSV and Luria insisted that words were
>> generalizations. How is that idea of generalization related to the idea of a
>> A con-cept. With-cept? I have no conception!
>> On Mon, Apr 11, 2011 at 1:13 PM, Monica Hansen <
>> email@example.com> wrote:
>>> I have enjoyed reading your back and forth on this topic of concepts.
>>> Examining the concept of concepts is indeed problematic, but it is the crux
>>> of the whole issue. Social/individual, internal/external,
>>> physiological/mental, concrete/abstract, etc.
>>> You ended with this:
>>> "But to sever completely the links between everyday discourse and
>>> discourse would be to prevent the informing of the former by the latter
>>> LSV found so important."
>>> I would just like to go one further: severing the links between everyday
>>> discourse and scientific discourse would prevent the former(everyday) from
>>> informing the latter(scientific). There can be no higher psychological
>>> processes, no scientific concepts without everyday concepts because it is
>>> the specific and local nature of experience that informs all the others
>>> is informed by the others as well). It is the dialogic nature of concepts
>>> that makes them so fascinating and so powerful.
>>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On
>>> Behalf Of Martin Packer
>>> Sent: Sunday, April 10, 2011 11:33 AM
>>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>> Subject: Re: [xmca] concepts
>>> On Apr 10, 2011, at 12:33 PM, Martin Packer wrote:
>>>>>> Maybe the notion of a "concept" might be a bit like that of a "gene" in
>>> the sense that a gene is a sort of functional unit, but it has no simple
>>> material reality in itself.
>>> Jay's opening sentence neatly illustrates the difficulty of eliminating
>>> 'concept.' He writes of 'the notion' of a concept - which is to say, to
>>> write about concepts he has to employ a concept, namely that of 'concept'!
>>> (If that seems odd, try reading some Frege!)
>>> As the Stanford Encyclopedia article points out, no one has satisfactorily
>>> defined a concept. But the seeming unavoidability of invoking something
>>> 'concept' follows from the fact that we humans (and perhaps animals too;
>>> another seemingly intractable debate) deal not so much with particularities
>>> as with generalities. We talk and write not about this think and that
>>> but this 'kind' of thing and that 'type' of thing. We write not about the
>>> specific concept of 'rabbit,' but about 'the notion' of concept.
>>> As Henry James once wrote, "The intellectual life of man consists almost
>>> wholly in his substitution of a conceptual order for the perceptual order
>>> which his experience originally comes." One may disagree with the
>>> of the two order that James' words seems to suggest, but it seems
>>> implausible to deny that there are *two* orders.
>>> Do this order of generalities involve complex interrelations or systems, as
>>> Jay suggests? Are they specified in practice, in ways that depend on
>>> context? Yes, of course. I am deep in the middle of chapter 6 of T&S, and
>>> LSV wrote of all this, 70 years ago. We have already discussed here his
>>> notion [!] of a system of generality, represented metaphorically by lines
>>> longitude and latitude on a globe. He conceived of this system as
>>> in acts of thought that actively grasp their objects. He saw both the
>>> dependence of generalities on language, and their distinction.
>>> Should we avoid, as Jay recommends, claiming that "there are concepts as
>>> such"? I'm not sure what this claim would amount to. There are, and can
>>> only be, "concepts for us." Should we avoid reifying concepts? Certainly!
>>> Should we remove the term from all scientific discourse, leaving it only as
>>> an "everyday locution"? That's a matter of taste, I suppose. But to sever
>>> completely the links between everyday discourse and scientific discourse
>>> would be to prevent the informing of the former by the latter that LSV
>>> so important.
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