Continuing the dialogue: Vygotsky, Bakhtin & Lotman

Citation Wertsch, J. V., & Smolka, A. L. B. (1994). Continuing the dialogue: Vygotsky, Bakhtin & Lotman. In H. Daniels (Ed.), (Tran.), Charting the agenda: Educational activity after Vygotsky (69-92). London: Routledge. Sidewiki
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BibTex

BibTex

BibTex

@incollection{wertsch1994continuing,
address = {London},
author = {Wertsch, J.V. and Smolka, A.L.B.},
booktitle = {Charting the agenda: Educational activity after Vygotsky},
date-added = {2012-03-12 01:06:46 -0400},
date-modified = {2012-05-03 17:15:27 -0400},
editor = {Daniels, H.},
keywords = {Discourse; D&L in M&S -theory},
pages = {69-92},
publisher = {Routledge},
read = {1},
title = {Continuing the dialogue: Vygotsky, Bakhtin & Lotman},
year = {1994},
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My Summary and Insights

Wertsch and Smolka begin with Vygotsky's claim that the social dimension of consciousness is primary and that the individual dimension of consciousness is secondary, and consider the implication of this on educational activity, specifically discourse.

According to Vygotsky, social/'inter-mental' functioning gives rise to individual/'intra-mental' functioning.

Wertsch and Smolka then turn to Vygotsky's notion of “Mediational Means” - signs or 'sign systems' that are used to organize one's own or others' behaviours. These can include language and counting systems. Incidentally, I wonder if Vygotsky's Mediational Means are similar to Lucy Suchman's and Jay Lemke's ideas about “Boundary Objects”?

According to Vygotsky, incorporating mediational means makes an action easier, more efficient, and is qualitatively transformative. For Wetsch and Smolka, this implies that 'agency' is assigned to the 'individual-operating-with-mediationalmeans' (Wertsch, 1991), and therefore mediational means both empower AND restrict human action.

Vygotsky's “General Genetic Law of Cultural Development” suggests that there are 2 functional planes in a child's development:

  1. interpsychological plane (i.e. between people)
  2. intrapsychological plane (i.e. within the child)

“Internalization” transforms a child's cultural development and its structures and functions. Furthermore, social and genetic human relations underlie all higher functions and their relationships. For Vygotsky, an individual's mental processes are always 'quasi-social', and an example of this is what Vygotsky called 'inner speech'.

Wertsch and Smolk then turn to Bakhtin and his notion of “dialogicality” - the ways in which 2 or more voices come into contact. This notion was fundamental to Bakhtin's account of human social and mental processes.

Bakhtin differentiated between 'national language' (i.e. of a country) and 'social language' (i.e. of a social/professional/age group). The 2 languages are intertwined.

For Bakhtin, unspoken words aren't neutral or impersonal - one must take the word (not from a dictionary) and “make it one's own”.

I wonder if this has any implications on the Knowledge Building idea of a community's Knowledge Artifact - that once an idea has been contributed to the knowledge community, that the idea now becomes the knowledge community's knowledge artifact and members of the community are collectively responsible for imporving this idea. Perhaps a learner in this knowledge community needs to make an attempt to improve the idea (i.e. interact with the idea) in order to assimilate/accommodate it into one's own personal construction of meaning? Without attempting to improve the idea, the individual doesn't interact with the knowledge object, and therefore doesn't incorporate it into their knowledge structures.

Bakhtin's notion of “speech genres” are not a form of language, but a “typical form of utterance” that corresponds with typical speech communication situations. For Bakhtin, all utterances are spoken within speech genres.

Wertsch and Smolka argue that Bakhtinian constructs of 'social languages' and 'speech genres' can be considered as Vygotskian 'mediational means' - all 3 are sociocultural in nature. Hence all 3 constructs “import” the sociocultural into the mental. They then turn to Bakhtin's notion of 'dialogic interanimation' as a construct by which to understand meaning, utterances, etc. from the perspective of how voices come into contact.

Lotman's notion of Functional Dualism comes into play here. Lotman espouses that there are 2 basic functions of all texts, but 1 or the other will dominate:

  1. univocal (convey meanings adequately)
  2. dialogic (generate new meanings, a “thinking device”)

Functional dualism requires the evolution and interaction of structures.

For Bakhtin, the receiving voice (i.e. the listener) is never passive. Univocal speech genres provide little room for the receiving voice to question/challenge/influence the sending voice. Dialogic speech genres assume each voice will take others' utterances as thinking devices - as a “move” in a social negotiation of meaning. In dialogic speech genres, utterances are viewed as open to challenge, interanimation, and transformation. This is very similar to how Knowledge Building views the improvability of ideas/knowledge artifacts.

Werstch and Smolka then give 2 examples of 2 different kindergarten teachers' conversational exchanges with their student(s). The first example illustrates a univocal speech genre (I-R-E sequence), and the second a dialogic speech genre.

Contact and interanimation of voices indicate the degree to which a speech genre invoked discussion. In univocal exchanges (i.e. I-R-E sequences) there was minimal contact and minimal interanimation of voices. Dialogic exchanges involved rich and unusual forms of contact between voices.

“Instead of taking others' utterances as untransformable packages of information to be received, they were encouraged to take them as THINKING DEVICES, as a kind of raw material for generating new meanings” (Wertsch & Smolka, 1994)

Wertsch and Smolka hypothesize that different forms of intermental functioning associated with univocal versus dialogical speech genres would result in different forms of intra-mental functioning, and that 1 type of interaction would be more beneficial than another type of interaction. They go on to suggest that sociocultural issues need to be considered to understan WHY intra-mental functioning is organized as it is (i.e. with intermental funcitoning as its root) - the key is to understand the sociocultural context in which the intermental functioning occurs.

Links here

Highlights (86%)

"...the social dimension of consciousness is primary in time and in fact. the individual dimension of consciousness is derivative and secondary" (Vygotsky, 1979: 30). This is a claim that is fundamental to many of Vygotsky's analyses of various phenomena (i.e. egocentric and inner speech, concept development, 'zone of proximal development'). p. 1

Purpose of the article is to explore implications of Vygotsky's claim on educational activity. p. 1

Vygotsky: social/'inter-mental' functioning gives rise to individual/'intra-mental' functioning. This is 1 of 3 interrelated common Vygotskian themes. p. 1

The other 2 common Vygotskian themes: (1) reliance on genetic/developmental method for examining all aspects of human mental functioning, (2) human social and psychological processes are fundamentally shaped by the mediational means they employ (esp. language). p. 1

Vygotsky's "Mediational Means": 'signs'/'sign systems' (used to organize one's own or other's behaviours (e.g., language, counting systems, mnemonic techniques, algebraic symbols systems, works of art, writing, schemes/diagrams/maps/mechanical drawings, etc.) p. 2

??? Are Vygotsky's "mediational means" similar to Suchman's/Lemke's "boundary objects"? p. 2

Vygotsky: incorporating "MEDIATIONAL MEANS" not only makes the action easier and/or more efficient (i.e. quantitative benefit); it inevitably leads to QUALITATIVE TRANSFORMATION p. 2

Vygotsky's claims about "mediational means" imply that 'agency' is assigned to the 'individual-operating-with-mediationalmeans' (Wertsch, 1991). Hence Mediational Means always empower AND restrict human action in specific way p. 3

Vygotsky's "General Genetic Law of Cultural Development": 2 functional planes in a child's development. (1) between people (i.e. INTERpsychological plane), THEN (2) within the child (i.e. INTRApsychological plane). This applies to volunatry attention, logical memory, concept formation, volition development. "Internalization" transforms a child's process of cultural development, and changes its structures and functions. Social/genetic relations between people underlie all higher functions and their relationships. p. 3

Vygotsky assumes that mental processes DON'T occur solely or fundamentally in individuals. This is in direct contradiction to contemporary research, which assumes that terms such as 'cognition' apply to the INDIVIDUAL by default. p. 4

Vygotsky sees an isolated individual's mental processes as being 'quasi-social' (1981b:163), as reflected by his use of 'inner speech' (a.k.a in contemporary research as 'information processing' or cognitive processes'). p. 4

Notion of 'dialogicality' was fundamental to Bakhtin's account of human social and mental processes. p. 5

DIALOGICALITY (Bakhtin): various ways in which 2 or more voices come into contact. p. 5

'Primordial dialogue of discourse' (Bakhtin, 1981:275): voices come in contact in f2f turn-taking interaction, hence aspects of an utterance may be a response to (or anticipation of) another voice's utterance. p. 5

2 ways primordial dialogue of discourse may be manifested (i.e. how utterance may come into contact): (1) process of 'understanding'/'comprehension' - listener's utterance come into contact with and confront speaker's utterances. (2) When 1 person's voice takes over (i.e. repeats) another voice's words/expressions. p. 6

Parody is a form of multi-voicedness, where at least 2 voices are doing the speaking (i.e. the quote's originator, and the person who is doing the quoting). Multi-voicedness seen as essential to ANY utterance. p. 6

Bakhtin differentiates between 'social language' (i.e. of a social/professional/age group) and 'national language' (i.e. of a country). p. 7

Bakhtin views speakers as always invoking a social language in every utterance, and this social language shapes what any speaker can say. Bakhtin termed this kind of dialogicality/multi-voicedness 'VENTRILOQUATION' (the process of 1 voice speaking through another voice or voice type as found in social language). p. 7

For Bakhtin, unspoken words aren't neutral/impersonal language. Unspoken words exist in other people's mouths and other people's concrete contexts, serving other people's intentions. This is where one must take the word (not from a dictionary) and "make it one's own". p. 7

??? I wonder if this has any implications on the Knowledge Building idea of a community's Knowledge Artifact - that once an idea has been contributed to the knowledge community, that the idea now becomes the knowledge community's knowledge artifact and members of the community are collectively responsible for imporving this idea. Perhaps a learner in this knowledge community needs to make an attempt to improve the idea (i.e. interact with the idea) in order to assimilate/accommodate it into one's own personal construction of meaning? Without attempting to improve the idea, the individual doesn't interact with the knowledge object, and therefore doesn't incorporate it into their knowledge structures. p. 7

Bakhtin's notion of 'speech genres' (i.e. military commands, everyday genres of greeting, farewell/congratulation, salon conversations about everyday, genres of table conversation, intimate conversations among friends, everyday narration): it is a "typical form of utterance", not a form of language. Corresponding with typical speech communication situations p. 8

'social languages' --> pertain to group of speakers. 'speech genres' --> pertain to contexts. Both are intertwined. p. 8

Bakhtin: all utterances are spoken within speech genres. p. 8

Wertsch et al. argue that Bakhtinian constructs of 'dialogicality', 'social language', and 'speech genre' are mechanisms by which Vygotsky's claims about social origins and social nature of human mental functioning. Bakhtinian constructs allow clarification of some links between inter-mental and intra-mental functioning; with cultural, historical and institutional settings. Consider 'Social languages' and 'speech genres' (Bakhtin) as 'mediational means' (Vygotsky). p. 9

Wertsch et al. argue that social language and speech genre 'mediational means' are sociocultural in nature, hence they 'import' the sociocultural into the mental. This gives the needed grounding to Vygotsky-the-methodologist's treatment of the word as a unit of analysis (but the relation to the sociocultural setting is only suggested, not elaborated). p. 9

Bakhtin: utterances "are aware of and mutually reflect one another". This awareness and reflection can occur in many ways (i.e. repeating what someone else said, refer to what someone else said, silently presuppose what someone else would say, one's own responsive reaction reflected in one's own speech) p. 9

"Dialogic interanimation" (Bakhtin): understanding meaning, utterances, etc. from the perspective of how voices come into contact. p. 10

Yu M. Lotman's notion of "FUNCTIONAL DUALISM" of texts. there are 2 basic functions of all texts: (1) UNIVOCAL - convey meanings adequately, and (2) DIALOGIC - generate new meanings (i.e. a "thinking device"). All texts serve both functions, but 1 or the other function will dominate. (i.e. if main emphasis is accurate information transmission, the univocal function dominates). Requires the evolution and interaction of structures. p. 10

*** I liken univocal to Web 1.0 and to traditional transmission teaching. I liken dialogic to Web 2.0 and transactional/Socratic teaching. p. 10

Bakhtin: a receiving voice (i.e. listener) is never passive. p. 12

Speech genres organized around the univocal function of text provide very little/no room for the receiving voice to question/challenge/influence the sending voice. p. 12

Speech genres grounded in dialogic function of text assume each voice will take others' utterances as thinking devices (i.e. as a 'move' in a negotiation of meaning). Utterances are viewed as open to challenge, interanimation and transformation. p. 12

*** This is very similar to how Knowledge Building views ideas/knowledge artifacts. p. 12

....AND NOW SOME ILLUSTRATIVE EXAMPLES....(1) kindergarten class (analysed by Mehan 1979) - IRE ( teacher initiation-student reply-evaluation sequences) p. 13

I-R-E sequences are grounded in the univocal function of texts. Is based on information transmission from teacher to student, and from student to teacher. p. 13

2nd example: dialogic function is foregrounded, Brazilian kindergarten class. The teacher-researcher is in a project which seeks to change classroom discourse (i.e. less authoritative) to better serve low-income children p. 14

Utterances serve a univocal function and a dialogic function. Utterances also transmit information and also serve as 'thinking devices' ('generators of new meanings'). p. 19

Contact and interanimation of voices indicate the degree to which a speech genre invokes discussion (i.e. kindergarten teacher allows students to argue if the animal is a toad or a frog, eventhough teacher has said it's a frog but not in an authoritative voice). Teacher's voice reflects a kind of openness to others' voices throughout this exchange. p. 20

CONCLUSION p. 20

Interaction characterized by I-R-E sequences (i.e. 1st example) emphasized univocal function of utterances, involved minimal contact and interanimation of voices. p. 20

Interaction in the 2nd example (Brazilian project) showed dialogic function of utterances, involved rich and unusual forms of contact between voices p. 20

Examples 1 & 2 reflect 2 different 'speech genres'. p. 20

Wertsch et al. hypothesize that "different forms of intermental functioning associated with these speech genres would result in different forms of intra-mental functioning. Maximum intra-mental benefits can be expected from 1 form and minimal benefits from the other form of interaction. p. 20

Other researchers have suggested that different forms of inter-mental functioning may benefit different forms of intra-mental functioning, that perhaps a mixed exposure is "natural and appropriate". p. 21

Other Vygotskian inspired studies have indicated that for students experiencing major difficulty in school, could be productive to change the forms of inter-mental functioning in which they're expected to participate. p. 21

??? Does this imply that students who are having difficulty in school are really having communication difficulties ? p. 21

In example 2 (Brazilian project), teacher used new speech genres that were new to students. "Instead of taking others' utterances as untransformable packages of information to be received, they were encouraged to take them as THINKING DEVICES, as a kind of raw material for generating new meanings." p. 21

*** Reminds me of "Improvable ideas" Knowledge Building principle p. 21

Wertsch et al. argue that we need to incorporate sociocultural issues moreso that we have, in order to understand WHY intra-mental functioning is organized as it is (i.e. intermental functioning is the root of intra-mental functioning). Key to this is understanding how intermental functioning shapes and is shaped by cultural, historical, and institutional settings in which it occurs. p. 22

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