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RE: [xmca] concepts

Perhaps this phrasing provides sufficient resolution:
Concepts are fundamentally cultural as part of the frameworks for thinking that people appropriate through their social experiences, suggesting that bringing them to bear in settings guided by different motives and practices requires modification of their principles and thus of the concept.

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Sunday, April 17, 2011 11:56 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] concepts

Thanks for that Peter. As an aside I can confirm your assertion about 
"trajectories", one of the most illustrious Australian writers (now 
resident in NYC of course) Peter Carey, earnt his living for many years 
as a copywriter with my father, and a good proportion of the communist 
inteligentsia of the 30s and 40s were to be found in advertising in the 
60s, too. :)

Your article is really about another topic, so we can't demand too much 
on concepts. Let me draw your attention, though, to one minor point in 
the midst of what is generally fine. You say:

    "Concepts are fundamentally cultural as part of the frameworks for
    thinking that people appropriate through their social experiences,
    suggesting that bringing them to bear when crossing cultural borders
    requires modification of their principles and thus of the concept."

This carries the implication of "cultures" with borders and unitary 
"frameworks." Knowing you, Peter, I am sure this was not your intention. 
You use "frameworks" in plural, so perhaps you had this point in mind. 
But I think if we are not going to ascribe this unitary, bounded 
framework to a society, even in the plural, then we are challenged to 
dig a bit deeper into what creates, constrains and sustains concepts.

Interesting article though, and good for you for standing up for the 
pursuit of happiness (when properly understood)


Peter Smagorinsky wrote:
> In case anyone's interested, I'm posting some revisions I've made over the
> weekend on the section on concepts I'm working on. Some of what appears was
> included in a prior post, but revisions have been written around the
> original. Sorry, no plankton. p
> One aspect of concept development that tends to be overlooked is that
> concepts enhance people's ability to anticipate how future action will
> unfold. A generalization that is structured with formal, abstractable
> principles and grounded in extensive worldly experience enables, to a
> reasonable degree, one to infer what will happen next, given sufficient
> information about the present and how it has come into being. A concept is
> not simply a generalization, but one that is moved into action by an
> ideology or theory about how its principles function in relation to nature
> or social relationships and practices (Barrett, Abdi, Murphy, & Gallagher,
> 1993; cf. Gelman, 1999). Concepts are thus more than taxonomic structures.
> Rather, they serve as the basis for the planning of rule-governed,
> culturally-channeled worldly action. . . .
> In the sense that concepts contribute to one's ability to anticipate how the
> future will unfold, they can help lead to feelings of order and security,
> and thus happiness, a term I use in the manner of Csikszentmihalyi and
> Larson (1984), who view happiness as a state of deep-seated contentedness
> and satisfaction with one's place in the world, rather than as a superficial
> condition of pleasure. The more formally grounded (i.e., scientific or
> academic) and abstractable a conception is to new settings and situations,
> the fewer disruptive surprises one will encounter and the more one will
> experience stability when engaging with the world. This is not to say that
> surprises and detours are necessarily unhappy occasions, for they often lead
> to happy outcomes, as I illustrate in Chapter 7 with student writer Doug,
> who deliberately creates unanticipated moments in his writing in order to
> build excitement in his own composing process. Rather, it is to say that a
> concept enables an orderly engagement with life such that unanticipated
> events are less likely to cause unwanted disruptions and decisions that
> produce negative outcomes. Indeed, one could infer that Doug's conscious
> creation of suspense for himself as a writer is a concept-driven decision
> based on his experiences and understanding of how to structure his own
> reality to produce outcomes that he found stimulating.
> By linking concepts to happiness, I also link it to the affective dimension
> of Vygotsky's view of human development (see Chapter 2) as comprehensive and
> integrated. In this view, cognition and affect are synergistic processes
> with a dialectic relation. As I illustrate in Chapter 7, student writer
> Susan Bynum's positive sense of herself as a writer enabled her to overcome
> obstacles during her composition of an analytic essay that required her to
> explicate the relationships within a labrynthian Shakespearean plot in the
> play Much Ado About Nothing. She was able to envision a positive outcome to
> her writing that enabled such strategies as not laboring over word choices
> because she understood that she could skip some decisions and return
> eventually to make improvements. This affective framework in turn helped her
> to produce an essay that contributed both to immediate feelings of
> satisfaction and to her overall feeling of confidence as a writer. Future
> action that helps one reach goals and experience the experience-what I refer
> to as a meta-experience in discussing the construct of perezhivanie in
> Chapter 2-as  satisfying, engaging, fulfilling, or other affectively
> positive feeling can in turn lead to a happier and more affectively balanced
> and satisfying experience of life.  
> Concepts are fundamentally cultural as part of the frameworks for thinking
> that people appropriate through their social experiences, suggesting that
> bringing them to bear when crossing cultural borders requires modification
> of their principles and thus of the concept. This adjustment contributes to
> one's development of a more complex understanding, and development toward a
> modified life trajectory capable of adaptation to new problems. A young
> person might identify as "a writer" over a period of decades, yet have that
> identity and understanding of it as an identity mediated and modified by
> different settings, levels of maturation, goals, and other factors. He or
> she might say that "I want to be a writer" in high school. Subsequently, he
> or she might engage in a variety of disciplinary writing experiences in
> college that suggest the need for rhetorical differentiation, learn
> especially the conventions of literary criticism as an English major, take a
> job in an advertising agency writing copy that requires an adjustment from
> the expansive and belletristic conventions of literary criticism to the
> economical and functional limitations of producing snappy slogans, advance
> to writing jingles that fit the parameters of music and include memorable
> rhymes that must be coordinated with images, and ultimately gravitate to
> writing and performing songs on stage that are more expansive and cover any
> conceivable topic[1]. This trajectory is always socially mediated, with the
> constraints and affordances available in one of these writing cultures not
> necessarily providing developmental channels in another.
> As these examples suggest, concepts do not simply comprise empty theories,
> as Vygotsky's (1987) attention to the need for the interplay of spontaneous
> and scientific conceptual fields would indicate. Rather, concepts must have
> experientially- or empirically-grounded utility to guide worldly action and
> engagement. Concepts thus provide the means through which action takes on
> function, form, meaning, and purpose. This action may be social, as in
> having a robust understanding of the conventions of the genres through which
> one hopes to communicate, or in relation to the natural world, as in
> understanding meteorological conditions and how they suggest what awaits one
> in engaging with the geological world.
> [1] This trajectory is made up from a composite of real examples. The
> differences in disciplinary writing conventions have been well-documented in
> studies of rhetoric (e.g., Bazerman & Paradis, 1991); the qualities of
> literary criticism draw selectively on the broader conventions that govern
> argumentation and thus require highly specialized disciplinary knowledge
> (Fahnestock & Secor, 1991); English majors often have great difficulty
> adapting their writing from their college discipline to business
> environments in such areas as writing concise memos (Anson & Forsberg,
> 1990); and for the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds-widely ranked as among the
> most influential rock albums ever released-Brian Wilson employed a writer of
> commercial jingles, Tony Asher, as his co-composer.

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