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CONSTRUCTING COMMON GROUND: MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING ACROSS CULTURAL DIVIDES Yrjö Engeström CRADLE University of Helsinki LECTURE 3 JOHN DEWEY LECTURES 2013:

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Presentation on theme: "CONSTRUCTING COMMON GROUND: MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING ACROSS CULTURAL DIVIDES Yrjö Engeström CRADLE University of Helsinki LECTURE 3 JOHN DEWEY LECTURES 2013:"— Presentation transcript:

1 CONSTRUCTING COMMON GROUND: MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING ACROSS CULTURAL DIVIDES Yrjö Engeström CRADLE University of Helsinki LECTURE 3 JOHN DEWEY LECTURES 2013: Concept Formation in the Wild as Educational Challenge: An Activity-Theoretical Research Program CREAD – Research Center on Education, Learning and Didactics Brittany Institute of Education University of Western Brittany, Rennes, France November 2013

2 WHAT MIGHT MAKE IT POSSIBLE FOR TWO GROUPS OF PEOPLE TO CONSTRUCT MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING DESPITE DEEP CULTURAL DIFFERENCES AND LACK OF DIRECT CONTACT?

3 HERBERT CLARK’S THEORY OF COMMON GROUND THE COMMON GROUND BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE IS THE INFORMATION THE TWO OF THEM SHARE; THE COMMON GROUND CONSISTS OF THE KNOWLEDGE, BELIEFS, AND SUPPOSITIONS SHARED BY THEM [Clark, 1992, p. 68]

4 COMPARE WITH GILBERT RYLE’S POINT “A spectator who cannot play chess also cannot follow the play of others (…) understanding is a part of knowing how. (…) roughly, execution and understanding are merely different exercises of knowledge of the tricks of the same trade. (…) Nor does this account of understanding require or encourage us to postulate any mysterious electric sympathies between kindred souls. Whether or not the hearts of two chess-players beat as one, which they will not do if they are opponents, their ability to follow one another’s play depends not on this valvular coincidence but upon their competence at chess…” [Ryle 1949, p. 54-55]

5 BY DEFINING IT AS “INFORMATION” OR “KNOWLEDGE, BELIEFS, AND SUPPOSITIONS” SHARED BY PEOPLE, CLARK PUTS COMMON GROUND INTO THE HEADS OF INDIVIDUALS BY CONTRAST, I SEE THE CORE OF COMMON GROUND QUITE LITERALLY AS GROUND, AS OBJECTS OUT THERE IN THE WORLD BETWEEN SUBJECTS RYLE’S CHESSBOARD IS SUCH A MATERIAL OBJECT; BEING INVOLVED IN AND UNDERSTANDING CHESS MAKES IT POSSIBLE THAT CHESS PLAYERS UNDERSTAND ONE ANOTHER, IN SPITE OF CULTURAL DISTANCES AND DIFFERENCES OBJECT-MEDIATED COMMON GROUND

6 BUILDING COMMON GROUND THE BUILDING OF OBJECT-MEDIATED COMMON GROUND MAY BE COMPARED TO THE CONSTRUCTION OF TERMS, ARTIFACTS, RULES, AND ROUTINES NEEDED FOR MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING AND HANDLING OF AN OBJECT IN OTHER WORDS, COMMON GROUND IS NOT PRIMARILY IN THE HEADS OF INDIVIDUALS BUT IN THE SOCIO-MATERIAL “INFRASTRUCTURE” BUILT AND MAINTAINED AROUND THE OBJECT

7 DIFFERENCES ARE THE KEY, NOT SIMILARITY INSTEAD OF SAMENESS OR SIMILARITY, OBJECT-MEDIATED COMMON GROUND SHOULD BE SEEN AS A MEETING PLACE BETWEEN DIFFERENT TAKES ON AN OBJECT “It is quite clear that the concrete (empirically obvious) essence of the link uniting the various individuals in some ‘one’, in a common multitude or plurality, is by no means posited and expressed in an abstract attribute common to them, or in a determination that is equally proper to the one and the other. Rather such unity (or community) is created by the attribute that one individual possesses and the other one does not. And the absence of a certain attribute binds one individual to another much more strongly than its equal existence in both. Two absolutely equal individuals, each of which has the very same set of knowledge, habits, inclinations, etc., would be absolutely uninteresting to one another, and the one would not need the other. They would simply bore each other to death. It is nothing but a simple doubling of solitariness.” [Ilyenkov, 1977, p. 349-350]

8 DIMENSIONS OF VARIATION THE NOTICING OF DIFFERENCES LEADS TO A SEARCH FOR DIMENSIONS OF VARIATION: GREEN IS DIFFERENT FROM BLUE ALONG THE DIMENSION OF COLOR IT IS THE IDENTIFICATION OF THESE VERY DIMENSIONS WHICH ALLOWS THE NEGOTIATION, ELABORATION AND EXPANSION OF OBJECT-MEDIATED COMMON GROUND

9 OBJECT-MEDIATED COMMON GROUND AND BOUNDARY OBJECTS BOUNDARY OBJECTS ENHANCE COORDINATION BETWEEN ACTORS WITH DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES, POSITIONS, AND TASKS (STAR & GRIESEMER, 1989) I AM INTERESTED IN THE DISCOVERY AND CONSTRUCTION OF OBJECT-MEDIATED COMMON GROUND BETWEEN ACTORS WHO DO NOT HAVE TO COORDINATE THEIR ACTIONS AND ACTIVITIES, WHO ARE SEPARATED BY VERY LARGE GEOGRAPHIC, ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, AND CULTURAL DISTANCE AND WHO WOULD NOT HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH ONE ANOTHER WITHOUT RESEARCHERS COMING AND ASKING THEM ABOUT THEIR UNDERSTANDINGS OF EACH OTHER I AM INTERESTED IN THE POWER OF OBJECTS TO GENERATE COMMON GROUND EVEN IN THE ABSENCE OF A PRACTICAL NEED FOR COORDINATION

10 TWO SETTINGS TWO ACTIVITIES OF BUILDING WOODEN BOATS

11 THE ACTIVITY OF BUILDING LARGE WOODEN FISHING BOATS IN A VILLAGE AT THE GULF OF BENGAL IN INDIA

12 THE INDIAN ACTIVITY FISHING BOATS NEEDED FOR MAKING A LIVING THE BUILDING CREW COMES TO THE VILLAGE EACH WINTER TO BUILD ONE OR TWO BOATS FOR THE FISHERMEN NO BLUEPRINTS BUILDERS HAVE LITTLE OR NO SCHOOLING; MANY OF THEM CANNOT READ OR WRITE SIMPLE HAND TOOLS, MOST OF THEM SELF-MADE THE BOATS ARE LARGE (18 METERS), FUNCTIONAL AND EFFECTIVE; THEY STAY FISHING OFF-SHORE FOR 12 DAYS, THEY MUST PASS GOVERNMENT INSPECTION

13 THE ACTIVITY OF BUILDING A REPLICA OF A 17 TH CENTURY WOODEN GUNBOAT IN HELSINKI, FINLAND

14 THE FINNISH ACTIVITY REPLICA OF A 17 TH CENTURY GUNBOAT, TO BE USED TO CARRY TOURISTS HIGHLY LITERATE MASTER CARPENTER SPECIALIZED IN WOODEN BOATS, PLUS APPRENTICES, AND A MANAGER RESPONSIBLE FOR ORGANIZING AND FINANCES BLUEPRINTS BASED ON THE HISTORICAL MODEL (THE CARPENTER USUALLY PREFERS TO WITHOUT BLUEPRINTS) DIVERSE POWER TOOLS THE BOAT WILL BE LARGE (20 METERS LONG); IT MUST CORRESPOND TO THE ORIGINAL MODEL, YET THE CARPENTER ALSO MAKES MODIFICATIONS

15 WORKING HYPOTHESIS

16 PHOTO ELICITATION PHOTOS SERVED AS MEDIATORS – EVOCATIVE OBJECTS AND MINIMAL CULTURAL BROKERS - TO PROMOTE DIALOGUE AT A DISTANCE BETWEEN BOAT BUILDERS FROM TWO VERY DIFFERENT CULTURAL SETTINGS FEATURES SPECIFIC TO AND CHARACTERISTIC OF THE GIVEN SITE AND WORK PROCESSES WERE SHOWN IN ORDER TO ELICIT A RESPONSE THE PHOTOS DEPICTED THE BOAT ITSELF, THE WORKERS, AND THEIR TOOLS SETS OF 17 PHOTOS FROM FINLAND AND 18 PHOTOS FROM INDIA WERE USED; TWO OF THE INDIAN PHOTOS WERE SELECTED BY THE WORKERS THEMSELVES

17 SAMPLES FROM THE TWO SETS OF PHOTOS

18 RE-MEDIATION BY PHOTO ELICITATION

19 SEVEN TYPES OF EXPRESSIONS OF DIFFERENCE IN THE TWO INTERVIEWS

20 EXPRESSIONS OF DIFFERENCE ACCORDING TO TYPES OF THEMATIC CONTENTS

21 KEY DIMENSIONS OF VARIATION IN THE FINNISH INTERVIEW

22 KEY DIMENSIONS OF VARIATION IN THE INDIAN INTERVIEW

23 DIMENSIONS OF VARIATION THE FINNISH ACTIVITY WAS ORIENTED AT VARIATION ULTIMATELY STEMMING FROM THE CUSTOMER’S DEMANDS DEFINING THE PURPOSE OF THE BOAT, AND FROM THE NATURAL CONDITIONS IN WHICH THE BOAT WILL BE USED THE INDIAN ACTIVITY, HAVING BASICALLY ONE STABLE TYPE OF CUSTOMERS AND BOAT MODELS, WAS MUCH MORE ORIENTED TO VARIATION ULTIMATELY STEMMING FROM COSTS OF PRODUCTION, DETERMINED BY THE LEVEL OF TECHNOLOGY AND NUMBER OF WORKERS EMPLOYED

24 DIFFERENCES AND COMMON GROUND THESE DIFFERENT DIMENSIONS OF VARIATION DID NOT HAMPER THE CONSTRUCTION OF COMMON GROUND BETWEEN THE TWO ACTIVITY SYSTEMS THE FINNISH SHIPWRIGHT SHOWED THAT HE UNDERSTOOD THE LACK OF VARIATION OF BOAT MODELS IN THE INDIAN ACTIVITY: “This is the best boat for the purpose. It has to be. Otherwise they would have changed it during the years.” HE ALSO UNDERSTOOD THE INDIAN CREW’S CONCERN FOR COSTS: “It is easier and faster, they lose less wood [by doing the planking before a skeleton].” THE INDIAN BUILDERS UNDERSTOOD THE ADVANTAGES OF TECHNOLOGY: “They have a system that runs on electricity – now you understand, right? With two people, they can make it work. For us, if you have to lift, you cannot do it with two people. […] We have four-five people, with ropes and all that, and this is how we move on.”

25 ADMISSIONS OF IGNORANCE “I am working on my own. And there, there are how many?” (Finnish interview) “Who is doing their carpentry work? Who is doing the pieces? Who has the eye? […] I do not know. You have to ask them.” (Finnish interview) D [pointing at a photo]: “What is this? This one?” B: “A factory? A factory shed?” (Indian interview)

26 COMMENTS ON RELATIONSHIPS AND INTERACTIONS * MH: “The differences are not that big. I could go there and work.” Interviewer: “Do the same work?” MH: “Do the same.” Interviewer: “But do you think they can come and work here?” MH: “Why would they? They live there.” (Finnish interview) *D: “Can this head carpenter come to our country? Could he come and visit here?” R: “What he is saying is that if he can arrange his travel funds, and sees that the work is similar to what he does, the tools are similar, then it is worthwhile for him to come … make sense?” B: “What does he gain otherwise?” D: “Seeing this, he will be able to make his own. […] Wants to see with his own eyes.” (Indian interview)

27 COMMENTS OF HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL CONDITIONS “Here we have to think about money all the time. They [the Indian boat builders] also have to [think of it]. […] You could build a nice beautiful boat if you had money. If somebody comes and says what kind of a boat he wants, and it doesn’t matter how much it costs… But always there is a limit of money.” (Finnish interview) B: “In earlier days, when we used to hoist the keel, it was lighter.” R: “Hmm, we used to push it by hand.” B: “Then it gradually got heavier and we started using an instrument run on a rope. Now we are using chain on a pulley to pull up the keel. Similarly, in a factory, they are moving their wood. They have machines, mechanical devices [that] run on electricity. You press a button and – oooo – the whole thing is lifted.” D. “Yes!” R: “Think of the advantage [of having] electricity [for] running these machines … all it needs is someone to tie it up properly. Press the switch and it will be at its desired location. And for us, pulling it by hand, you need many [of us] right there.” (Indian interview )

28 THE TEXTURE OF EMERGING COMMON GROUND BETWEEN TWO ACTIVITIES OF BOAT BUILDING

29 IMPLICATIONS Contested materially grounded collective objects, such as land for the movements of landless people in Latin America and South Africa (e.g., Wolford 2010), or homes for anti- eviction movements in Europe, United States, and South Africa (e.g., Miraftab and Wills 2005), are generating large- scale common ground across geographic and cultural distances These are examples of vitally important objects that do not require esoteric expertise or lifetime specialization Such foundational objects might be a good starting point for efforts to foster intercultural understanding in our age of global capitalism

30 REFERENCE Yrjö Engeström, Swapna Mukhopadhyay, Marco Pereira Querol & Liubov Vetoshkina (submitted). CONSTRUCTING OBJECT-MEDIATED COMMON GROUND: MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING ACROSS CULTURAL DIFFERENCES


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