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Re: [xmca] Cultural memory
- To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Subject: Re: [xmca] Cultural memory
- From: Andy Blunden <email@example.com>
- Date: Sat, 15 Oct 2011 20:38:19 +1100
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Of course you are right Greg that language, whether spoken or written,
is the mediating artefact par excellence. But not everyone recognises
words as specifically mediating artefacts. The dominant trend of
interactionism today regards interactions as a subject-to-subject dyad,
and subsumes within each subject their knowledge and facility with
language use. So the status of words as artefacts existing prior to and
independently of the interacting individuals is invisible. Indeed, the
actually words do not exisat prior to the interaction, only the "model"
for them, so to speak. The distinction between a text (i.e., the written
word) and speech in this context is just that those who do not come from
Cultural Psychology or Activity Theory do not take speech as a mediating
artefact, but rather a function of the subject. This allows them to
pretend that a culture is recreated from scratch every moment as people
interact, and the subject's memory and continuing language-ability is
the only thing guaranteeing the existence of culture, recreating
appropriate words in the course of evey interaction.
I agree with you that the distinction between text and speech is
entirely secondary but in the context of arguing for the very idea of
mediating artefacts it becomes important, because my protagonist just
doesn't see the point of considering mediating artefacts, i.e., material
objects with social significance, at all. This is what forces me on to
the territory of "cultural memory." If cultural memory can be plausibly
explained without recourse to the idea of mediating artefacts, then it
is just as Deborah suggested, we must agree to disagree, it's just a
difference of preference.
Do you see what I am getting at?
Greg Thompson wrote:
Seems like you're in a pinch Andy. The way you've phrased the problem
makes it something of a riddle to me, for a number of reasons. How do
you pass things by word of mouth but not with texts? Unless by "texts"
you meant written words, in which case, what do you make of oral
"texts" passed down through generations? There are other sorts of ways
in which thickly culturally mediated words and practices, similar to
the things that Lucas mentioned, are passed down through the
generations. So I'm with Lucas that there are lots of examples of
cultural practices (activities?) that get passed on from generation to
generation without necessarily having land or artifacts tied to them.
But I also disagree with your "protagonist."
I'd locate the problem somewhere in the notion that words of the mouth
are unmediated expressions of subjectivity. Two big problems here,
first, words, second subjectivity. Taking the second first (b.c. you
seem to suggest that he is positing that "words" are unmediated - more
on that later), if subjectivity has thickly social origins, i.e. is
mediated by culture and place, then aren't things issuing forth going
to be mediated by culture. Volosinov and Bakhtin provide some of the
best thinking about this (I'd strongly suggest Volosinov's Chapter 3
of Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, titled Language and
For me, Andy, the problem arises when you accept your protagonist's
claim that language simply and straightforwardly brings what is inside
out. You skim over language as a mediating artifact. I think there's
been some talk about this lately (some in disagreement with my
position), but I just don't see how you can leave language out as a
But maybe you can give some convincing examples?
And maybe I'm missing the larger point of your position.
But I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the times as one in
which people don't see the mediating artifacts around them (I
regularly teach about my favorite mediating artifact: language!). I
think the success of the American TV show Survivor provides good
evidence of the Robinsonade-like fantasies of people today who imagine
themselves as great heroes surviving in the wild. (and I'd add that
Volosinov's other well-known book, Freudianism, speaks very well to
the fantasies of the bourgeousie during times of crisis).
On Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 6:54 PM, Andy Blunden <email@example.com
My point is, Lucas, that I doubt that this can be done in fact,
without reliance on one kind or another of enduring artefact. I
need a counterexample to be convinced.
Lucas Bietti wrote:
Can these customs be related to ways of behaving according to
specific social contexts? In a broad sense, 'politeness' in
the pragmatic and discursive sense (to say the right things at
the right time) could be a way of behaving handed down from
one generation to the next based on imitation and correction
by verbal communication among members of the same epistemic
community. This also depends on what you are referring to by
On October 15, 2011 at 1:54 AM Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org
> I need some help. I am having a discussion with a supporter
> Brandom, who was at ISCAR, but is not an Activity Theorist.
> question of cultural memory.
> One of my criticisms of Robert Brandom is that he does not
> place for mediation in his theory of normativity. He
supposes that norms
> are transmitted and maintained down the generations by word
> (taken to be an unmediated expression of subjectivity), and
> (whether texts, tools, buildings, clothes, money) play no
> in this.
> I disagree but I cannot persuade my protagonist.
> I challenged him to tell me of a (nonlierate) indigenous
> managed to maintain their customs even after being removed
> land. My protagonist responded by suggesting the Hebrews,
but of course
> the Hebrews had the Old Testament. Recently on xmca we had
> point come up and baseball culture was suggested, and I
responded that I
> didn't think baseball-speak could be maintained without
> balls, pitches, stadiums, radios, uniforms and other
artefacts used in
> the game.
> Am I wrong? Can anyone point to a custom maintained over
> without the use of arefacts (including land and texts as
well as tools,
> but allowing the spoken word)?
> *Andy Blunden*
> Joint Editor MCA: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/18/1
> Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
> Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857
> xmca mailing list
> email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/18/1
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/ <http://home.mira.net/%7Eandy/>
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Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Sanford I. Berman Post-Doctoral Scholar
Department of Communication
University of California, San Diego
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/18/1
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
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