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[xmca] Re: Six key points on sociocultural models of development

Very thought provoking post. These happen to be issues that are on my mind for a paper that I'm working on, and so thank you for providing me with an opportunity to write these ideas out. But please forgive my indulgence in the far too many words that follow. 

I think that Andy's concerns with mediation are good ones. The split in ways of thinking about recognition that I have suggested previously is a split between "recognition" as a psychological need (maybe kin to "self-esteem" of the 90's) and recognition as an ontological ground of subjectivity. I would put W.I. Thomas and (hesitatingly) Axel Honneth more in the first camp and Hegel and Mead in the second. I would further suggest that the second camp, recognition as an ontological ground of subjectivity, has more relevance around the globe, whereas the first one, recognition as a psychological need, is particularly relevant in Western contexts. 

For evidence of the non-global nature of recognition as a psychological need (in the particularly Western way that we think of it), you simply need to look to how people respond to depressed persons in China. In America (and the West generally?), we tend to offer recognition to someone who is depressed by saying nice things about them, e.g., to a disconsolate grad student who is depressed about their dissertation and unable to write: "you're a great scholar and you're work is very important so don't get so down," OR, as the SNL character Stuart Smalley used to say "you're good enough, you're smart enough, and people like you." 

In contrast, in China, the kind of thing that is said to depressed persons is more like: "you're a shame to your family, everyone else is working hard, quit being so lazy and finish your work!" And the funny thing is, it works. 
(this anecdote is loosely based on the work of a colleague, Jason Ingersoll, who spent over 2 years in China studying depression - his rather remarkable dissertation is available online, and I have a copy).

So for this reason, I'm hesitant to consider the "psychological need" approach to recognition as a cultural universal. But within the US, it seems essential.

I think that there might be an interesting third approach that captures the Hegelian sense of recognition as an ontological grounding for subjectivity while also recognizing it as a psychological need. Larry, it seems like this might be where you are headed.

In this regard, I think that Charles Taylor has some interesting thoughts on recognition as having a kind of particular importance in modernity. This is because in earlier times identities were prescribed by society (think feudal system or the caste system of India). In capitalist modernity, individuals are thrown into society without any solid anchors of identity. I take this to be a projection of Marx's "all that is solid melts into air" onto the realm of identity. Nowadays, because we no longer have an a priori anchor - a biological (or otherwise) right - to a particular identity, WHO we are is up in the air and we are confronted with a kind of existential crisis (importantly, this is a crisis only so long as we have a desire to be a "somebody" - an assumption that I find generally plausible, but not absolutely necessary; cf. Buddhistic notions of Self). The resolution of this crisis comes through the various moments of recognition (consummation) that we experience throug!
 h !
others and which constitute us as a particular "somebody" (and better a "somebody" than a "nobody"). 

This recognition can happen in everyday interaction rituals where we greet others and are greeted by others in particular ways (e.g., the somewhat stereotyped scene from old movies where the company president walks in and is greeted along his walk by a string of "Good morning Mr. X" and Mr. X either responds with a simple nod or responds with "Good morning Jane" - in the lack of parallelism in the greeting ("Mr. X" vs. "Jane" or nothing at all), there is an important moment of recognition for both parties - an emergent WHO). 

Recognition can also happen through various institutional means, such as when we take a test or get a good grade in school (and listen to high school or college students after getting the results of a test and you'll see/hear that this moment of comparison/recognition is one of the first things that they seek: "I got XX, what did you get?", or more tactfully, "How did you do?").

Recognition can also happen through other social means such as the value of one's portfolio (a different kind of "value" but one that appears to the bearer to have a kind of universality for seeing how one "measures up" to others), or the act of going shopping and being realized as a "customer" (and advertising is fundamentally about creating a moment of recognition as a particular type of customer - traditionally an "elite", but currently a "unique"). Political news programs (Foxnews or MSNBC) can also provide a moment of recognition by validating the interpretive framework ("Democrat" or "Republican") or ground against which we define ourselves as good, right, and moral. And there are, of course, the more obvious kinds of recognition in "the praise and ovation of the people" - as the tag line of the TV show Iron Chef used to say - and which you would find on other audience competition shows like American Idol.

Now treating these examples in reverse order, the local cultural fetishization of American Idol, political news programs, shopping, grades, and greetings - all of this points to a particular importance of the role of recognition in THIS historical moment. Recognition is the resolution to the existential crises of *being* in modernity. In the interests of making the point, I've gone well beyond Taylor's argument. But hopefully this provides one (potentially flawed) way of thinking about recognition in THIS cultural historical moment.

Larry, I find your approach to all of this to be particularly interesting precisely because it is different from how I have been approaching it and so it pushes me to think in new ways about these ideas. I'm not sure if you'll be able to make sense of any of the deeply confused ideas I put forward above, but I'm always interested in hearing what you have to say. 

As for your question about whether mediation of dialogical relational intersubjectivity is prior to mediation by material artifacts, I'm not sure I understand you perfectly clearly. I wonder how you are conceiving of these two types of mediation? And how does answering one way or the other affect your approach to, say, teaching kids? (I'm assuming that this is what you are after, in the end). And I do like your both/and approach to answering this question but I'm not clear that you were comfortable with this as an answer.

And now, in looking back at your post, I just realized that I failed to consider what seems to be the most important issue that you raised - what does this mean in pedagogical practice.

As for this question, I fully agree with what I take to be your main point, namely, that teachers often loose sight of the role of recognition for students and tend to focus more on the stuff to be taught/learned. But I think that I would take it in a slightly different direction by emphasizing recognition less as a kind of humanistic need (or desire) and thinking more in terms of the teacher contributing to the determination of WHO the child takes her/himself to be in a given moment, and this will affect who the child will be in the next (i.e. how s/he will act). 

Effectively recognizing a child as a good student will lead to the child be(com)ing a good student. The real challenge is: HOW do you *effectively* recognize a child as a good student? Andy's concern with the mediatedness of recognition makes this HOW into a non-trivial task. Because recognition is mediated, it is beyond the simple control of the teacher.

Take the following as an example: would it be enough for a teacher to simply say individually to each student in the class that the teacher thinks that the student is a brilliant student? This might do some good for a kindergarten class, but for them, they don't exactly know what this means and even if they believe you, they won't know how this translates into behaviors and actions (and it probably won't have very lasting consequences). For a high school class, the kids would probably look at you and wonder about your sincerity - and/or your motivations (e.g., "is he just saying that so that we won't give him a hard time?" - and in college it would be: "is he just saying that so that we'll give him a good rating on RateMyProfessor.com?"). Some high school kids would "know" that you are just "blowing smoke up their you-know-where," and would disregard the comment altogether, and thus the moment of recognition is lacking. 

The problem is that once you get kids old enough (maybe 7-9), recognition is no longer just the simple dyadic recognition of a parent saying something to them at a particular moment in time. Instead, as kids get older, recognition becomes much more than this. It becomes an absolute. One IS this type of person or that. This is, in part, due to a more enduring notion of Self, but is also, in part, due to the fact that recognition now happens with respect to a macro-social order, it is now mediated by what we might call, following Mead, a generalized other. You might say that this perduring generalized other becomes the ground for the perduring self, and without which, the self could only be a groundless and fleeting mirage. The social ground locates the individual.

But, importantly (and luckily for us), the ground is moving, as are the possible figurations. Thus, telling a student who has gotten C's and D's all her/his life that s/he is brilliant is not going to be very effective. S/he knows better. What is needed is the artful practice of bringing out this truth. This often involves re-interpretations of her/his behaviors and actions, but it can also involve introducing a new frame for interpreting those actions and behaviors such that these actions and behaviors can truly become evidence of "brilliance." When this works, it is a beautiful thing. But it doesn't always look like what we might expect (engaging in an argument with a student could function as a moment of recognition that the student is smart enough to be challenged). Furthermore, recognitional processes don't always work precisely as the teacher might have hoped. This is because the process of recognition is mediated and is thus, in the end, out of our hands. In a third t!
t mediates the teacher student dyad. And most often, these processes of recognition go mostly unnoticed by teachers and do their work "in the dark," so to speak. Shedding light on these processes of recognition seems to me to be important work.

Okay, that was much too much, but all stuff that is on my mind for what I'm presently working on so thank you very much for the opportunity to think these ideas through in writing.

All the best,

Larry Purss wrote:
> Gregory, thanks for this reference on the topic of desire for recognition.
> My question to Martin was my attempt to understand our fundamental need for
> recognition, [self/other], and how this fundamental need is transformed by
> cultural-historical institutional arrangements.  As I read Martin's article
> he located the need for recognition as one of the  6 foundational
> [ontological?] GROUNDS of the sociocultural perspective.
> If the desire for recognition is foundational , then the
> dialogical understanding of communication as the relation BETWEEN self and
> other is primary [not the dialectical resolution of tensions into a new
> cognitive synthesis which may be derivative from a more
> primary intersubjective relational foundation]  I'm wondering, reading
> scholars such as Merleau-Ponty, if mediation of dialogical relational
> intersubjectivity, is prior to mediation by material artifacts.
> This question is probably expressing my ignorance of the relation between
> the notions of tool use and intersubjectivity but how else to get clarity?
> In actual practice it may be impossible to separate these two mediational
> means BUT it seems that the dialogical perspective emphasizes the mediation
> of self/other intersubjective relational being/becoming while mediation via
> tool use emphasizes internalization and cognitive synthesis through
> cultural-historical object usage.
> The notion of biosocial niches can accomodate both mediation through other
> persons AND mediation through artifacts, so really it is not an either/or
> question but rather a matter of emphasis.  The practical question in school
> settings is how to be aware of the profound desire for recognition of all
> the persons [students and teachers] which teachers may loose sight of in the
> focus on developing and internalizing scientific concepts. [which comes at a
> cost of transmuted desire for recognition]
> The focus on the intersubjective relational "betweenness" of the dialogical
> perspective seems to emphasize the "desre for recognition"  more than the
> language of mediated tool use.
> Hesitant to press "send" as I expose my ignorance
> Larry 
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