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Re: [xmca] Current edition of Theory & Psychology

By "crisis," Ivan, I had in mind just the kind of situation you describe in southern San Diego.

As I reported to Mike at the time, when I read "Cultural Psychology" a few years ago, I got really excited, not so much because of the specific teaching and learning methods that were going to be used, but rather that - like the climax of a detective novel - Mike had identified the culprit, the research problem that lay at the heart of problems of poverty and illiteracy in developed countries - /how is it possible to sustain a project/? what characterises a /sustainable project/? This revelation was crucial in my coming to the conclusion that the molar unit of analysis for CHAT had to be the /collaborative project/, athe conclusion which I drew in my book published earlier this year, "An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity."

This did not mean of course that I had the answer - Heavens! a concrete answer to teh question of what sustains a collaborative project is the answer to all the problems of modernity. It is a clear definition, in my view, of the problem, the "germ cell" for an understanding of modern social life. It is what really needs to be studied.

"Collaborative project" is not just a special topic or one choice for making interventions, because (1) "Project," in my view, is a much better way of concieving of the unit of social life than "system of activity." In particular, the relation between the so-called object and "system." For a project, the aim is not something separate which gets added to the system of activity, but is /immanent in the project itself/. It is emergent. It is "realised." (2) "Collaboration" is the fundamental, normative relationship between people of modern life. So it is an adequate definition of what we need to be studying when we do research into human life. We need to understand collaboration. But fairly few CHAT researchers (let alone anyone else) make this explicit and upfront. Collaboration is only possible if there is a project to collaborate on and all projects are collaborative. Concepts originate as the immanent realised aims of projects. So collaborative projects form the units of our psychic life just as they are the units of our social life. So as a unit of /analysis/, collaborative projects reflect collaborative projects as the *real* unit of social life.

So you can understand how excited I was to read your article in /Theory & Psychology/!

Ivan Rosero wrote:
Well, bankruptcies can still make more than a few very rich, so the "we"
and "our" in this building of habitable imaginaries presupposes a prior set
of other imaginaries through to come together anew, and perhaps
differently, even if we think we know each other --or, in other words, to
give each other space to be other things, to be strangers in creative ways
in order to have any hope of reinventing and in*forming what we do in such
a way to make it more hospitable.

As it happens, one tendril that continues to pass through Town and Country,
but is now much more active elsewhere in southeast San Diego, is a strong
connection to the food system change movement, which another graduate
student at LCHC is exploring after having dwelt for a while at T&C.  Here
is one of its core members, Diane Moss (quoted in
who we know personally, answering a few questions in a way that concretizes
the shape of a few new imaginaries that we here at LCHC have been drawn

*What happened when you came back from that workshop in 2008?*

I started seeing empty lots and seeing they could be used for other
purposes. I saw that we probably had the ability to grow our own food.

I bet on any block in southeastern San Diego, somebody's growing something
in their backyard: collard greens, corn. We started looking at how we could
take that talent and start having conversations about collective growing or
community gardens. Even though we didn't use the term "food desert" at that
time, we talked about why we didn't have the same markets everyone else has.

*Why didn't you like "food desert"?*

I thought desert meant nothing — that you had nothing to build on. I said,
well, we've got people who grow things. We're not starting from scratch.

But I embraced it when I became familiar with another definition: that
there are more fast food outlets than fresh food outlets.

*You hadn't thought about access to good food in this community as a
problem before 2008?*

Southeastern San Diego always gets tagged as a community with lots of
problems. So here was another negative tag people put on this community. I
saw that we didn't have the resources we needed, but I didn't think of it
in terms of a food desert.

*What have been the biggest challenges to getting people involved?*

People say yes, we should have gardens. But it's difficult for people to
change their habits.

*How do you change habits?*

It takes time. Neighbors talking to neighbors. People taking a chance to do
something different.

LCHC has been fortunate beyond any expectation to have entered into this
new collaboration and the mesh of actors it pulls together.


On Sun, Nov 13, 2011 at 11:54 AM, Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com> wrote:

My response to this thread is an extension of the notion of "ambivalence"
at the heart and soul of all social imaginaries.
It was mentioned that the motivating force to "keep going" without clarity
of intention or goals is the "felt sense" of social BANKRUPTCY [economic
metaphor] in the current social imaginary.  Zygmunt Bauman uses the very
extreme metaphor of "waste" in his 2004 book to stir the ambivalence at the
center of our current social imaginary.  Ingold's article I recently posted
captured the 12 century social imaginary where walking, texts,
architecture, discourse, and contemplation were all manifestations of a
single ontology. All these objects expressed a social imaginary that did
not have some of the object "representing" the "underlying" social
imaginary but rather were ALL immanebt manifestations of the SAME social

Modernity [the tension between enlightenment and romanitic hermeneutical
ideas/ideals] also may have an encompassing social imaginary that has a
fundamental rupture [ambivalence] in the notion of "representation" as
expressing some "underlying" reality
[realization] when in actuality the modern walks, texts, architecture,
discourses and contemplations are expressions of a monolithic social
Bauman's analysis of modernity [he is an "exile" from the holocaust] has
situated ambivalence at the heart of ALL social imaginaries when realized
express "order" or "structure" which requires LIMITING  formations. This is
the core idea of sociology.  Baumans emancipatory vision for sociological
imagination [in which he generates multiple metaphors] is to explicate the
ambivalence at the heart of modernity leading to social bankruptcy. It is
the reality of this ambivalence in our current modern social imaginary
where Bauman locates hope and the possibility for emancipation from the
"waste lands".
Bauman purposely is exploring the power of the metaphor of "waste" to grasp
the desolation of our current arrangements. For Bauman the metaphor of
"waste" as the by-product of our "productions" in our "garden contexts"
[another metaphor which the Nazi's used to create a social imaginary where
Jews were "weeds" in the garden]  is grasping the fundamental ambivalence
at the heart of our social bankruptcy.
For Bauman and many others who are searching for a new orientation in our
globalized planetary social imaginary the metaphor of "the suffering
stranger" travelling in the waste lands is the moral calling requiring a
response as a growing "response-ability" as a "skill" developing within a
"new commons".
We need new "practises" and new "texts" and also new discourses and new
forms of contemplation.  However, I'm wondering how central to transcending
our current social imaginary, which is now a wasteland, are new forms of
architecture which express the yearning to respond to the suffering

In summary, the larger contexts being explored may be cultural-semiotic
imaginaries that must become realized within a new commons which must be
in*formed to "hold" the suffering stranger in our midst [difference and
alterity and weeds and waste as the ambivalence at the heart of the modern
vision of the garden]

Accountability, measurement, statistics, as our current social imaginary of
cultural and social "order" at its heart has the cavity of the suffering
stranger that is now calling for a response and a new cultural and social
order in a new commons which must be in*formed as our response-ability to
the call of the other.

Bauman's notion of "waste" and "waste lands" as by-products of our
globalized social imaginary calls for an alternative social imaginary that
exists in the ambivalence at the heart of our current  world order.

On Sun, Nov 13, 2011 at 9:57 AM, Ivan Rosero <irosero@ucsd.edu> wrote:

Arturo, two things coincide for me in reading your email:  1) I've been
working for the last 4 years in the same collaboration that
Lecusay,Downing-Wilson,Cole have written about, and 2) I too share the
following concern:

CHAT keeps operating with a process and methodological
ontology whereby the individual and the social are inseparable but
does not provide a clear cut language of description of how the social
structure shapes activity or, to put it in Seeger's terms, how power
shapes discourse (and consciousness and identy).

As the authors have described, the community setting in which this latest
of LCHC's projects has unfolded does not permit even the relatively loose
structures that were the hallmarks of previous 5D projects --this is
the ad-hoc stumbling upon interesting things to do together is such an
important component of the dual sense of "appropriation".  In the social
space that has been created between LCHC and Town and Country there
(as I have experienced it over the last four years) an enduring
that refuses to come to closure --neither LCHC participants, including
students, staff, and undergraduate students, nor T&C participants have
arrived at any definite position vis a vis what we are doing together.
kids get older, new ones arrive, some teens have left, club and group
structures change, entire families move out.  UCSD's side of the story is
more predictable in the institutional sense of allowing year-on-year
planning of classes and recruitment of students, as well as, of course,
staying power of UCSD as a much longer running process than the
collaboration itself.  But this can only explain the brute sense of our
continued presence, one which would be impossible to impose in any case,
that we still have to try and explain the delicate sense of our continued
presence --what is happening in the space of this
cross-cultural/cross-institutional intersection that keeps pulling
(in a delicate way) such a heterogenous amalgam of participants --a
constant churn of undergraduate buddies, a more stable set of grad
students, a constant, but slowly changing, stream of kids, Ms. V., and
few community parents that regularly lend a hand?

You and Andy have said that there must be some kind of crisis, and this
be so, but if this is what is allowing the participants to come together
anew, it is not the kind of crisis that can be compared to, say, Occupy
Wall Street, or Greece, or the Arab Spring.  It might be that I lack the
requisite social imagination, but the way I see it, what is special about
this collaboration is that it holds together without disclosing to its
participants directly how this is happening.  We have been at it for four
years, and it isn't obvious to me why, as a T&C elder says, we "keep on
keeping on".  This is especially true in light of severe, and recurrent,
frustrations on every side.  For example, in the absence of UCSD
homework does not get done nearly as regularly as when they are there
--this creates a huge problem for Ms. V, who must still try to satisfy
community need in our absence.  Sometimes we at LCHC find ourselves at
with local customs and decisions, to which we nevertheless submit in
to keep on keeping on.  But where are we keeping on to?  (Especially
without access to clear-cut language with which to explain any of this!)

So, these kinds of open-ended interactional spaces elicit from their
participants a degree of patience that is rarely seen anywhere --more or
less equally distributed!  Southeast San Diego, where T&C is located, is
not unique in all the ways that its inhabitants are systematically
marginalized, and it is a fact that local community organizers (I've been
at some of their meetings) look on UCSD and charitable institutions with
very suspicious eyes.  In the face of these realities, mutual
is one factor, but not a wholly explanatory one for the loose
holding-together that is going on here.

Whatever the answers are, it is impossible for me to conceive of a
satisfying explanation that does not include affective-imaginative
dimensions.  The way I see it, the mystery here is not how
shapes discourse/activity, it is why this collaboration holds in the face
of what would normally be insurmountable difficulties.  Good will and
patience all around?  Maybe, but this only pushes the question deeper
the affective-imaginative life of this collaboration.


On Sat, Nov 12, 2011 at 6:26 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

Continuing my sharing of the current edition of Theory & Psyhology,
attached are scans of Deborah Downing-Wilson, Robert Lecusay and Mike
Cole's paper (which I have been so excited about) and the first 16
Yrjo Engestrom's paper (I have omitted the case study) which is a
synopsis of his current views on activity and concepts.


Andy Blunden wrote:

That's a very interesting series of points, Arturo!
Could I just ask you to elaborate a little on what you meant by "the
unconscious in sign-making" and "the problem of fetishism of the
I guess that you are right that in almost any social context (the US
included I suspect), the kind of project that Mike writes about can
only be
implemented by surruptitiously moving the goal posts set by the
authorities, by a kind of subversion, making use of openings created
manifest social crisis.
As I'm sure you know, I am in agreement with your critique of the
to satisfactorily "marry" psychological concepts with sociological
concepts, in CHAT or anywhere else for that matter. But doesn't the
kind of
project Mike is talking about, where goals are immanent in the project
itself, and the project is thoroughly and explicitly collaborative, go
way to addressing this problem?


Arturo Escandon wrote:

Just wanted to point out that there are places where you cannot even
think of implementing a simple plain standard design experiment, let
alone an ad-hoc intervention because educational settings and
institutions are thought to be mere knowledge
reproduction-distribution centers. Research is the job of the
of Education. "Joint activity"? What on Earth is that in Japan except
the illusion of freedom framed under top-down cosmological structure.
I am afraid that most of the cases depicted in the journal are a
reproduction of the cultural conditions existing in few settings, in
few communities, in a handful of countries. Am I able to implement an
intervention or mutual appropriation in the Japanese educational
context? No. Am I able to do it in "local communities", yes, but
considerable restrictions. However, I am guessing that the most
effective interventions in local communities spring from social
crisis, not from planned activity, that is, some sort of punctuated
equilibrium in which the community changes or perish.

I am very curious about (1) how the structural constraints and
affordances of organisations themselves shape those mutual
appropriations and how we can account for them; (2) how the mediating
means themselves are unequally distributed (knowledge differential):
in order to bridge the differences established by the lack of a
repertoire of meanings you have to engage in meaning making, creating
in fact a new differential; (3) the unconscious in sign-making or
using activity. Educational activity brings consciousness at the
expense of bringing unconsciousness as well. I have not read a single
decisive work addressing the problem of fetishism of the sign, on
which a theory of the uncosciousness could be integrated into CHAT,
except for works that deal with the problem of "the ideal".

Seeger asks the right questions but I believe there is much more out
there about ways of marriaging psychology and sociology to give a
better account of agency. At the end, the issues raised by Sawyer are
still relevant: CHAT keeps operating with a process and
ontology whereby the individual and the social are inseparable but
does not provide a clear cut language of description of how the
structure shapes activity or, to put it in Seeger's terms, how power
shapes discourse (and consciousness and identy).



On 10 November 2011 23:41, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

The current edition of Theory & Psychology looks very special. I
admit I
have at this stage only actually read the article by Mike Cole,
Lecusay and Deborah Downing-Wilson, but it is a special issue on
interventionist methodology, with articles by a number of people
Engestrom's CRADLE and also Falk Seeger, who is guest editing the
Issue of MCA on Emotions.

Mike's article elaborates on what the participants call a "mutual
appropriation" approach to developing theory and practice. Instead
implementing a project design and then modifying it in the light of
reseacher's experience, the researchers go in to a local community
open ended ideas about how and what they want to achieve, and engage
their community partner, learn about their (the partner's) project,
assistance and resources and share knowledge and objectives and ....
mutually appropriate. The article describes the results of a
project which is an exemplar of "mutual appropriation" which has
of the 5thD after-school programs which LCHC began in the 1980s.

The article is actually very moving. I personally think that this
work is tackling the main problem in front of us cultural-historical
cultural psychology people today. If you don't subscribe to Theory &
Psychology, I don't know how you can get to read the paper. Maybe
has a solution there. But it is a must read. I will read the
articles in the special issue, but this is a real high.



*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<
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*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<
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*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

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