#PLENK2010 Networks as Joint Social Spaces: A Foundation for Pedagogy

I. The Pragmatic Philosophy Part

According to Wittgenstein and Bakhtin, words are instruments of meaning, but that meaning is only realized in the context of their use, not from any kind of essence.  (See my previous post for direct quotes and a fuller treatment)  I believe this radical pragmatic concept also applies to logos – understood here as language, conversation, proposition, principle, reason, analogy, etc. . . , and I would include knowledge.  That is, knowledge is only fully understood and becomes meaningful in the context of its use and in its position between speakers.

II. The Biological View

Organisms interact and adapt to their environments through structural coupling (Recurrent interactions leading to a congruence between systems.), with other organisms through social coupling, and with other humans through linguistic coupling in a process of co-ontogenic (co-developmental) coupling (Maturana & Varela). Taking place in social network spaces, it explains our psychic experience as:

. . . the semiotic expression of the contact between the organism and the outside environment.  That is why the inner psyche is not analyzable as a thing but can only be understood and interpreted as a sign. (Volosinov as quoted in Shotter)

Furthermore, this sign is not in the head of an individual, but in the network that is the social space for creating joint expression and experience.  Our psyche is not in us, but is distributed throughout our cultural historical background and in our shared social spaces.

In this way, we are just like words, we develop (ontogeny) and are defined through our associations with others.

Because, who we ‘are’ between ‘us’, determines who and what we are to ‘our world’, (and who) and what ‘our world’ is to us. . . . And who we are to each other is up to us to care about. That is why it matters. (Shotter p. 206)

III. A similar critique of Education

Learning does not have a meaning that can be measured by a certification or a test of its essence, but it can have a use and it can take on meaning through the process of joint action.  Consider this description taken from Steven Johnson’s  Where Good Ideas Come From

  • A new idea is a new network of neurons firing in the brain.
  • But most such ideas are only partial.  They become complete when we work on them jointly with others.
  • The process of linguistic coupling extends and completes our new neuronal networks and joins them with other new neuronal networks.  These semiotic actions, when at their best, can seem mysterious or even divine in their function.

For something seems to be at work in the activities between people.  The activities are not just repetitive, they grow, they develop, they are creative, they make history; . . .  A ‘double divinity’ seems to be hidden in our joint actions; a ‘creator’ and a ‘judges’ that resides in the sensus communes, that is, ‘in’ its shared ways of ‘seeing sense’ and ‘making sense’. (Shotter, p.205)

IV. So – With a Full Understanding of the Importance of Networks and Community;

What Would Education Look Like?

I’ll answer this question by looking at some vision of education in my next post.

3 thoughts on “#PLENK2010 Networks as Joint Social Spaces: A Foundation for Pedagogy

  1. Interesting post Howard! I was talking with someone and he mentioned that the ancient Indian philosophers (Nyaya theory) postulated that meaning cannot exist without the exemplar (or context)…and this was perhaps 2000 years ago or more (http://www.swamij.com/six-schools-indian-philosophy.htm)!

    From the wiki entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nyaya):

    The Nyaya epistemology considers knowledge (jñāna) or cognition (buddhi) as apprehension (upalabdhi) or consciousness (anubhava). Knowledge may be valid or invalid. The Naiyayikas (the Nyaya scholars) accepted four valid means (pramaṇa) of obtaining valid knowledge (prama) – perception (pratyakṣa), inference (anumāna), comparison (upamāna) and verbal testimony (śabda). Invalid knowledge includes memory (smṛti), doubt (saṁśaya), error (viparyaya) and hypothetical reasoning (tarka).[4]

    I am struck by the “invalid knowledge includes memory..” part 🙂

  2. Thanks for the reminder that many concepts have a long history, “forgetting” is common, and “remembering” is a task.
    Also, it seems Nyaya is most closely associated with western analytic philosophy, which is where Wittgenstein began. It does reminds me that we can get tied up thinking about differences and forget how much we share with other viewpoints.

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