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Every researcher looks at the world through lenses that are the product of his or her professional development. I view development as a complex interplay between child and culture. My interpretive framework owes its character to the fact that I began studying psychology in Britain at a time when a "new look" [1] was being fashioned, with greater attention to the social worlds in which children live, and to the role of adults who "act as mediators... of the wider social order" for the child [2]. The work of people like Martin Richards, Judy Dunn, David Ingleby, Elena Lieven, Jerome Bruner (then in England, at Oxford), Colwyn Trevarthen, John Shotter and others[3] broke with the neo-behaviorist socialization theories then current, without adopting a computer-obsessed cognitivism, and focused on social interaction and social context as keys to understanding learning and development.

Exposure to this new paradigm motivated me to cast around for a way to systematically investigate social interaction, a logic of inquiry that would pay appropriate attention to both the semiotic organization and the pragmatic, performative character of people's everyday interaction. This in itself became a long exploration of interpretive methods, of a "hermeneutic phenomenology," that I tested and taught in a variety of circumstances [4]. What became increasingly evident to me was the work of construction that is accomplished in social interaction, in everyday conversation, as entities are indexed, social worlds invoked, and people moved and changed. Studying this called for ways of fixing human action as a "text-analog," then carefully interpreting the language games being played [5].

The United States imported some of the "social constructionist" paradigm[6] from the U.K., but it also has a home-grown brand, going by the names of sociocultural or cultural-historical theory, situated cognition, or simply cultural psychology. Here too the concern has been to understand the role of interpersonal interaction, social practices and cultural artifacts in children's learning and development. The pioneers in this paradigm have taught us to view culture as a medium for human activity and growth (Michael Cole[7]), in the "intentional worlds" people inhabit (Richard Shweder[8]), they have highlighted the ways cultural artifacts--tools, signs, texts--are crucial "mediational means" that shape human action and transform human agency (James Wertsch[9]), explored the notion that "children's cognitive development is an apprenticeship," occurring through "guided participation," that requires attention to "personal, interpersonal, and community processes" (Barbara Rogoff[10]), and suggested that learning always takes place in a "community of practice" where the learner is a "legitimate peripheral participant" who changes in their identity (Jean Lave[11]). As Sylvia Scriber noted, it is necessary that "an analysis of changing social practices becomes integral to--rather than merely peripheral to--an inquiry into learning and development."[12] Overall, there is consensus about the importance of looking for learning in action rather than in reflection, in relations among people rather than in the individual, and in everyday social settings rather than in the laboratory.

School is clearly one place of learning, and so researchers working within this paradigm have investigated the "activity settings"[13] of schools and their "institutional activities." [14] But their focus has still been primarily the influence of schooling on cognitive skills like memory, logical problem solving, literacy, and "schooled" or "scientific" concepts, or sometimes a criticism of the "decontextualized" knowledge taught in school[15]. Equally often, moreever, they have left the school entirely, to study examples of "informal" learning and "everyday" cognition. I am a little perverse in insisting that we need to understand the 'informal' and 'everyday' aspects of school itself. This is what my research has focused on most recently. The broad and important question of how schools change the kind of person a children is has gone unasked. It is to this question that my own work in the past several years has been addressed.

Looking at school not just as a place of cognitive change, but as a site of something broader and more profound--a site of what I've begun to call, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the "production of persons"--requires attention to the societal context of schooling. For example in my research in Michigan, Willow Run, a community facing historical changes--faced with the task of making history, so to speak--provided a unique opportunity to examine the social practices, cultural contexts, and interpersonal relations that together make up schooling. It offered an opportunity to contextualize children's development thoroughly in both place and time, locale and history. An opportunity to study development as a culturally and historically situated process; that is, as a process that includes not just children becoming adults, but also the reproduction and transformation (both) of the culture of a community, and the appropriation and relinquishment (both) of tradition and history. In that research project I sought, then, to articulate the connections schooling makes among children's development, political and economic systems, and historical change.

 

1 Martin Richards. "Preface and editorial acknowledgement." In The integration of a child into a social world. ed. M. P. M. Richards. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974.

2 Martin Richards, "Introduction." In Richards, 1974, op. cit., 7.

3 E.g., Judy Dunn and Martin Richards. "Observations on the developing relationship between mother and baby in the neonatal period." In Interaction in infancy: The Loch Lomond symposium. London: Academic Press, 1977; Jerome Bruner. "The ontogenesis of speech acts." Journal of Child Language 2 (1975): 1-19; David Ingleby. "Ideology and the human sciences." Human Context 2 (1970): 159-180; Colwyn Trevarthen. "Behavioral embryology." In The handbook of perception, ed. E. C. Carterette and M. P. Friedman. New York: Academic Press, 1973; John Shotter. "Prolemena to an understanding of play." Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior 3 (1973): 47-89.

4 E.g., Martin Packer. "Hermeneutic inquiry in the study of human conduct." American Psychologist 40 (1985): 1081-1093; Martin Packer. "The structure of moral action: A hermeneutic study of moral conflict." Contributions to Human Development whole number 13 (1985); Martin Packer. "Tracing the hermeneutic circle: Articulating an ontical study of moral conflicts." In Entering the circle: Hermeneutic investigation in psychology, ed. M. J. Packer and R. B. Addison. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989; Martin Packer. "Interpreting stories, interpreting lives: Narrative and action in moral development research." In Narrative and storytelling: Implications for understanding moral development,  New Directions for Child Development, ed. M. B. Tappan and M. J. Packer. 63-82. 54. 1991; Martin Packer. "Critical interpretive research: An introduction." 1999. Available at <www.duq.edu/liberalarts/gradpsych/ packer.html>

5 Cf. Paul Ricoeur. Interpretation theory: Discourse and the surplus of meaning. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1976; John B. Thompson. "The methodology of interpretation." In Ideology and modern culture: Critical social theory in the era of mass communication, J. B. Thompson. 272-327. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990; Martin J. Packer. "Hermeneutic inquiry in the study of human conduct." American Psychologist 40 (1985): 1081-1093; Martin J. Packer and Richard. B. Addison, ed. Entering the circle: Hermeneutic investigation in psychology. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

6 E.g. John Shotter. "The social construction of remembering and forgetting." In Collective remembering, ed. D. Middleton and D. Edwards. 120-138. London: Sage, 1990; Kenneth J. Gergen. "The social constructionist movement in modern psychology." American Psychologist 40 (1985): 266-275; Edward E. Sampson. "A critical constructionist view of psychology and personhood." In The analysis of psychological theory: Metapsychological perspectives, ed. H. J. Stam, T. B. Rogers, and K. J. Gergen. 41-59. 1987.

7 Michael Cole. Cultural psychology: A once and future discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

8 Richard A. Shweder. "Cultural psychology: What is it?" In Cultural psychology: The Chicago symposia on culture and human development, ed. J. W. Stigler, R. A. Shweder, and G. Herdt. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989; Richard A. Shweder and Joan G. Miller. "The social construction of the person: How is it possible?" In Thinking through cultures: Expeditions in cultural psychology, ed. Richard A. Shweder. 156-185. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.

9 James V. Wertsch, ed. Culture, communication, and cognition. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1985; James V. Wertsch. Voices of the mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.

10 Barbara Rogoff. Apprenticeship in thinking: Cognitive development in social context. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991; Rogoff, Barbara. "Observing sociocultural activity on three planes: Participatory appropriation, guided participation, and apprenticeship." In Sociocultural studies of mind, ed. James V. Wertsch, Pablo del Río, and Amelia Alvarez. 139-164. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

11 Jean Lave. Cognition in practice: Mind, mathematics and culture in everyday life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988; Jean Lave and E. Wenger. Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

12 Sylvia Scribner. "A sociocultural approach to the study of mind." In Mind and social practice: Selected writings of Sylvia Scribner, ed. Ethel Tobach, Rachel Joffe Falmagne, Mary Brown Parlee, Laura M. W. Martin, and Aggie Scribner Kapelman. 266-280. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990/1997, 271.

13 E.g., Roland G. Tharp and Ronald Gallimore. Rousing minds to life: Teaching, learning, and schooling in social context. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

14 Rogoff, 1991, op. cit.

15 Martin Packer. "The problem of transfer, and the sociocultural critique of schooling." The Journal of the Learning Sciences . In press.

16 Hans Joas. "The unhappy marriage of hermeneutics and functionalism." In Communicative action: Essays on Jurgen Habermas's The Theory of Communicative Action, ed. Axel Honneth and Hans Joas. 97-118. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991, 115.

 

 

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