Richard Quantz's Critical Interactionist Theory for Educators


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Notes for a Critical Interactionist Theory for Educators: Signification
by Richard A. Quantz






Educators have a dizzying array of social theories from which to choose. There are the classic theories of Durkheim, Weber, and Marx, as well as modernist theories such as Parson's functionalism, Blumer's symbolic interactionism, Luhman's (and a host of others) systems theory, the interpretive theories of phenomenologists such as Garfinkel and Burger and Luckman, as well as the critical theory of Habermas and the other members of the Frankfurt School. We have some interesting contemporary theories such as Bourdieu's field theory, Giddens's structuration theory, and, of course, the poststructuralism of Derrida and Foucault, the feminist poststructuralism of Kristeva, Irigaray, and Butler, the postcolonial theories whose roots are found in the work of Fanon and Du Bois and given its most recognized form in Said's Orientalism. There is the racial formation theory of Omi and Winant and the Critical Race Theory of Bell, Delgado, Crenshaw, and Lawrence. And, of course, there are the postmodern theories of Baudrillard and of Deleuze and Guattarri. Given the variety of this list and the even greater variety of all of those theories left out of this list, is there really a need for another social theory? And even if there is such a need, does it make any sense to conceptualize a social theory specifically for educators? The simple answer to these question is "Yes. There is."
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Much classical and modern social theory conceives of society as a total integrated system. Whether we are talking about Durkheim, Marx, Parsons, or the critical theorists, society is presented as a single whole with integrated parts. While they may disagree about the nature of these parts and of their implications, society is typically reified by these theories so that society has its own ontological status. The loyal opposition of interpretive theories such as symbolic interaction, neo-Weberian theories, ethnomethodology, and phenomenological sociology may reject the systemization of a totality but tend to replace it with the reification of a subjective society located in the minds of social actors. The contemporary theories are each, in their own way, attempting to address such shortcomings, but, so far, few have caught on with educators. While Bourdieu is frequently referenced, it is his theory of cultural capital that is latched on to rather than his basic field theory. At the present time, at least among those who consciously build upon social theory, the most appealing seem to be a revived Marxism or some version of poststructuralism, particularly feminist poststructuralism. But for many of us, each of these theories seems to be inadequate for addressing the particular questions of educators.
Educators cannot use social theories that arise pristine from the world of schools as if schooling is somehow not integral to the rest of social life. Any theory used to address questions of education must arise from the full specter of human experience. And yet, I believe the days when we can expect a social theory to explain everything are gone. We need a social theory that can be utilized broadly but that has particular usefulness for educators—a heuristic theory or one that I prefer to call "intellectually useful" to those interested in
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education. Those theories drawn upon by educators in the present moment often provide important insights, but none seems adequate enough.
While Marxism's various reproduction and resistance theories still have their resonance, they simply do not explain enough. In recent years Marxism has made a strong resurgence following the theoretically devastating destruction of the unitary proletariat in the work of LeClau and Mouffe. But even with the unleased power of capital from the globalized economy, such macro analyses seem dated. They may help us understand such large policy issues as the accountability movement, but they do little to help us understand the micro interests at play in the identity politics around race, gender, and sexuality something that feminist poststructuralists have been much better at revealing. Like the poststructuralists, I am skeptical of theories that claim universality, but I also have problems with poststructural theories.
As someone who has always been strongly attracted to the arts, I find the poststructural penchant for self-conscious parody and literary playfulness very attractive. And as someone highly skeptical of the manner in which those in power have used "reason" to justify the most unreasonable and inhumane actions, I find the poststructural refusal to play hegemonic language games by inventing their own almost irresistible. However, when I actually attempt to utilize poststructural writing to construct useful narratives to engage the institutionalized education that we call schooling, I find it lacking.
For all of its attractiveness, poststructuralism has too many fatal flaws. For along with the positives that I mention above, poststructuralism also leads to some unconvincing positions. While I appreciate poststructuralism's rejection of the idea of a centered culture, I am less satisfied with its anarchic
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decenteredness. While I appreciate its rejection of the heroic subject and the honored authority, I am less comfortable with the erasure of the subject and author altogether (see for example Foucault, 1987). While I greatly appreciate the poststructural attempt to overcome the Cartesian dualisms embedded within structuralism (indeed within all European intellectual movements since Descartes), I find the inherent Cartesian dualism alive and well in the poststructural commitment to the idea of an unconscious and in its apparent willingness to eschew the influence of the material. And while I find absolutely crucial poststructuralism's heightening our awareness of the centrality of patriarchy, Eurocentrism, and heteronormativity in everyday school life through its focus on identity politics, I am distressed at poststructuralism's failure to provide cogent critique of capitalism and the class-based destruction of human potential that accompanies it. If Marxists ere on the side of reducing everything to political economy, poststructuralist appear to ere on the side of reducing everything to identity politics.
So for those like me, who find Marxism important but inadequate for explaining everyday life in schools and poststructuralism attractive but lacking in explaining the role of materialism in everyday school life, what are we to do? Is there a way out? Is there a way to take advantage of the culturalism that poststructuralists have recognized without falling into its traps? Is there a way to bring the politics of the material into identity politics? I believe so.
What follows is the first installment in a series of essays that will layout such an alternative. This essay presents an option that does not build on the traditional European discourses and, therefore, does not contain one flaw
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found in nearly every theory above. It avoids a Cartesian dualism. Each of the theories mentioned above to one degree or another contain such dualisms. This is true even of theories that try to eliminate the dualism through dialectics such as critical theory. It is true for poststructural and postmodern theorists who understand their very project as attempting to overcome such dualistic thinking but who also posit an unconscious in opposition to a conscious, as well, of course, of a "post" to a "modern." It is even true for the American born symbolic interactionism which raised W. I. Thomas's "definition of the situation" to such importance that symbolic interactionism seemed to have more in common with the interpretivism of German rationalism than with its American pragmatic roots and, therefore, leaving most of its practitioners to accept the inherent dualism between mind and body that such a dictum suggests. The approach presented here has room for both the cultural and the material, the subject and the social, the creative and the structured and, yet, presents none of them as binaries. I call it critical interactionism--an approach that builds on the early twentieth-century work of both the American pragmatists and the Russian Bakhtin circle. It is not merely a lumping together of the two, but a reconstruction of each in light of the other to create something somewhat new—an action theory that can be used to make sense out of micro-interactions and an interaction theory that can be used to critique macrostructures. While I would love to publish the whole of the theory at once, the hard work of theory construction requires a more deliberative and tedious process. As a result, in this essay, I present only a beginning narrative: one that centers on the smallest unit that can be used in social analysis. What follows is an introduction to a critical interactionist
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theory of signification that I believe will be of particular usefulness to educators for it provides the beginning of a way to approach the everyday life of schools in a manner that can illuminate and integrate the politics of both the material and the cultural because it fails to accept such a dualism in the first place.
A Critical Interactionist Theory of Signification
Humans are social animals, but hardly the only social animals. Sociability is a trait of many animal species. Certainly the primates such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and monkeys live in social units with well-developed rules of interaction. But other non-primate mammals such as elephants, lions, sheep, and wolves also live in complex social units. These social units may be marked by different patterns of interaction, but they each have a system of complex communication. In fact, we might argue that social action is predicated upon a system of communication. It is not just that social groups engage in communication, but that social action is built though communication.
Gestures. Classic American pragmatists such as G. H. Mead and John Dewey suggest that the fundamental building blocks of all social action can be found in the gesture. As a social act moves through time, it consists of several phases. Others observing earlier phases of an act might be able to anticipate later phases of the act and adjust their own actions in anticipation of the completed later phases. A gesture can be understood to be such an early phase of an act. For Mead, gestures are "those phases of the act which bring about the
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adjustment of the response of the other form" (Mead, 1967, 45).1 At it most basic, a gesture is the initial movement that indicates what is to follow. Its "function" in social action might be said to be to make adjustment possible.
My dog loves to run around the yard pushing a soccer ball around with her nose. At some point she invites me to kick the ball while she tries to block my kick. She stands in front of me keeping a close eye on my kicking leg and foot. As I draw my leg back to kick, she adjusts her position in anticipation of where my kick will send the ball. When I try to trick her by changing the direction of my leg movement or my foot placement, she quickly adjusts her position in anticipation. Her ability to quickly shift positions allows her to block a remarkable number of my kicks. This is social behavior where my dog is reading the gestures in my act of kicking the ball. She isolates the initial and relevant characteristics of my kick and adjusts her position depending on what these gestures indicate. Mead would say that my initial leg and foot movements "call out" my dog's responses. The most basic social action consists of such gestures as initial phases of a complex act that call out another participant's adjustment in their own action in anticipation of the completion of the act.
Signals. All social animals have developed a series of signals that serve as initial gestures for complex social acts. Signals can be thought of as gestures with a direct, and often innate, meaning. The various dog sounds signal to all dogs certain basic meanings. A Pekinese in Beijing does not learn a different language from a Great Dane in Omaha. Barks, whines, whimpers, growls,
1 Or alternatively, gestures are those phases "of the individual act to which adjustment takes place on the part of other individuals in the social process of behavior" (MSS 46)
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wagging tails, bared teeth, flattened ears all indicate the same thing to all dogs. These signals serve as gestures and their "meaning" lies in their indication of what is to follow. When a dog growls and bares its teeth in a particular way, it is a signal (a gesture) indicating initial stages of violent action. Dog growls and bared teeth in a slightly different way may indicate only playing at violent action. While such distinctions may be minor, they are unmistakable to dogs. These signals are initial gestures in a complex act that allows other animals to adjust their own actions in anticipation of the completion of that act. Of course, since an act is a series of phases located in time, it is possible to interrupt the act so that it is not completed. One dog could signal an attack but with appropriate submissive gestures on the part of the other animal such an attack might never occur.
Humans also communicate with signals. Smiles, laughter, cries of pain, screams of fear, yells from being startled are signals universally found among humans. While it may be true that humans have learned how to mimic true signals and, therefore, are capable of misrepresenting themselves (e.g., they may give a scream of fear not because they are afraid but because they wish others to think that they are afraid) and of suppressing themselves (e.g., learning to keep their face blank so as to not reveal intentions) that does not negate the point that humans, like other mammals, do, at times, communicate with signals. On the other hand, most scholars agree that human communications are characterized by a unique quality sometimes attributed to language or intelligence or signs. Mead refers to this quality in terms of "significant symbols," I will refer to it as signification.
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Signs. Like all social communication, signification exists in time as a series of events. The basic communication process includes an initial gesture indicating subsequent behaviors that make possible adjustive responses on the part of other beings. As already stated, we can say that the initial gesture "calls out" or "indicates" the subsequent behaviors that allow for others to adjust their action. The pragmatists' brilliance lies in their recognition that the movement from mere signal to significant symbol occurs when the initial gesture indicates to (or calls out in) the one-gesturing the same subsequent behaviors as it does to the others. This is what Mead means by the gesturer taking the role of the other. The one-gesturing makes the gesture and assumes the role of another being to understand how that other might anticipate the completion of the act. In this way, the one-gesturing can construct a series of significant gestures that takes into account the others in the social situation.
Basic communication through signals calls out in the other certain responses, but, unlike signs, signals do not call out those same responses in the one-gesturing. Put a different way, when the one-gesturing can take the role of the other and, therefore, share with the other a similar anticipation of the completed action, a simple signal becomes a significant symbol. Or in terms that might be more familiar, a signal becomes a sign. Both Mead and Dewey point to the clucks of a mother hen that become indicative of feeding time to her chicks as an example of signals. But the meaning in this case exists for the observing chicks, not for the hen. When a human mother speaks to her child announcing that it is time to eat; the meaning exists not just for the child, but for the mother as well. As Dewey says, "the hen's activity is ego-centric; that of the human being is participative. The latter puts [herself] . . . at the standpoint
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of a situation in which two parties share. This is the essential peculiarity of language, or signs" (Dewey, 1997, 147). Whereas signals call out particular responses in another being, signs call out in the one-gesturing a similar expected resultant as is called out in the other. In this way, what appears to be a purely individual step (e.g., my writing this sentence) is actually socially constructed as the one-gesturing takes the role of the others in the situation and acts accordingly.
When I am playing with my dog, she focuses on the movement and placement of my kicking leg and foot. She adjusts depending on how they move. I can recognize exactly what aspects of the act serve as indicating gestures to my dog, and so indicate to myself the completion of my act. My gestures come to indicate to me the same thing that it indicates to my dog. On the other hand, when my dog plays with me a game of dodge in which she tries to get around me while carrying her tennis ball, her movements appear to be continuous adjusted reactions to my moves until an opening appears which she can take advantage of. Her movements do not appear to be a planned series of gestures designed to fool me. The difference lies in my ability to respond to my own gesture in the same way as another might do. When this occurs, the process moves beyond more basic communication to signification. The initial gesture is no longer merely a signal, but becomes a sign. As a sign, it allows me, the one-gesturing, to adjust my reactions to my own gesture. The signification process, then, has three phases or aspects to it. There is the initial gesture or sign (in Mead's terms, the significant symbol). There is the anticipated completion of the act (in Mead's terms, the expected resultant). And there is the adjustive response on the part of the other (or of myself when
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I "take the role of the other.") Signification arises through the interaction of all phases of this tripartite communication process.
Consciousness. Communication does not require consciousness. When two dogs meet, they begin a series of social acts. Each assumes a particular posture and approaches the other carefully perhaps quickly wagging the tips of their tails. Each of these gestures indicates a particular set of possible conclusions to the act allowing the other to adjust its response. This process continues back and forth. Such a series of initial gestures and adjustive responses is the behavioral pattern of communications and yet nowhere does it require one of the dogs to have consciousness. This communications process does not require either of the dogs to hold in its mind some concept or meaning of either the gesture it is giving or of the one that it is adjusting to. The whole social communications process occurs without consciousness.
When I reach down and pick up the tennis ball to throw for my dog to chase, her adjustive responses (becomes alert, focuses on my hand, brings body to the ready) give that gesture its meaning. The meaning is found in the relationship among all three aspects of the tripartite process but as with the two dogs who meet each other, this social interaction between my dog and myself does not require consciousness. Neither my dog nor I need have a self- conscious orientation to the act of my throwing the ball for me to throw the ball and for her to chase it.
Realizing that meaning is located in a social process reveals that our world "makes sense" only as it is constructed in social relations. "The whole content of mind and of nature, in so far as it takes on the character of meaning, is dependent upon this triadic relation within the social process and among
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the component phases of the social act, which the existence of meaning presupposes" (Mead, 1967, 112). To be "conscious" of the world suggests that we are oriented toward the objects of the world within this tripartite relationship. "Consciousness is functional, not substantive . . ." (Mead, 1967, 112), Mead states. Consciousness refers to attenuation to the interplay of the three aspects of the triadic process in order to help adjust mutual actions in relation to each other. The meaning of an initial gesture does not lie in the gesture itself nor in the dual relationship between the initial gesture and the completed resultant, but to the full social process that includes both of those aspects in relation to the adjustive response of the other. Thinking is just working through the various possible interplays between gestures, resultants, and responses.
Since gestures are just the initial phases of an act that is completed subsequent to the gesture, the gestures and the completed resultants are connected to each other within the individual's personal history. Since both the gestures and the resultants are acts, the body possesses their relational memory. The same is true of adjustive responses to initial gestures in anticipation of completed resultants. In this way, "the past must be found in the present world" (Mead, 1967,116). The past is recalled in the present moment when the initial gesture calls out the memory of the completed resultant. When the gesture is a non-significant gesture, the completed resultant and the adjustive response exist in a full and concrete action. But when the gesture is a sign (or significant symbol), then the completed resultant and the adjustive response may be inhibited in the concrete and occur only in the memory of the bodies of the participants.
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The resultant is indicated by the initial gesture of an act, but the remarkable ability of humans is our capacity to isolate the common characteristics of different concrete gestures that can induce a common response to the gesture by calling out the anticipated resultant. When we find ourselves responding in similar ways to the past, we begin to isolate those characteristics of the different events to find those commonalities that might induce such a response. A set of common characteristics can, in turn, be represented by a sign so that the sign can substitute for the characteristic gestures of the act and, therefore, successfully indicate or call out the same common resultant (or the bodily memory of the resultant) and lead to the same set of adjustive responses as the full set of initial gestures.
Since the process of sign indicating resultant and leading to responses is located in time (that is, one follows the other in time), the process allows for the possibility of interrupting the actual act by bringing the past (in terms of bodily memory) into relation to the future (in terms of potential adjusted responses). The use of signs allows humans to bring the past and the future into the present as we combine and recombine various signs with various bodily memories of resultants and various possible adjusted responses. Mead calls the various possible adjusted responses "attitudes" (i.e., the implicit responses). With the ability to organize these attitudes through inhibiting the signification process, humans are able to control the completed resultants in future actions. This inhibition of the action through signification (i.e., the interplay between signs, bodily memory of resultants, and organized attitudes) is what we call consciousness or conscious thinking or reflective behavior or intelligence.
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Meaning. While Mead consistently states that the gesture must call out the same response in the various parties to the social act, this does not mean that they all have the exact same mental image in their head. Since Mead rejects the idea that meanings have anything to do with mental images in the head, such could not possibly be his meaning. Rather, what he means is that the sign (i.e., significant symbol) must be able to work in a manner that permits the various members of the social situation to adjust their own responses in anticipation of the expected completed resultant. So when the one-gesturing makes the gesture, all present, including the gesturer, are able to perform an adjustive response expecting a particular resultant. As Dewey writes, "To understand is to anticipate together, it is to make a cross-reference which, when acted upon, brings about a partaking in a common, inclusive, undertaking" (Dewey, 1997, 148).
When the basketball player looks to her right and dips her right shoulder, it is a gesture that begins an action that ends with the player dribbling to her right. The person guarding her responds to the gesture (eyes plus shoulder dip) by moving to her left. The "meaning" of the gesture, however, is not found in the sign itself but in the full "field" or "matrix" that includes the gesture, the resultant, and the adjustive response. Consider the following situation. If the basketball player moves her eyes right and dips her shoulders right, the player guarding her recognizes this gesture as a sign indicating a move to the right and adjusts her own action accordingly, but because the gesture is a sign and not just a signal, the first player is also able to adjust her own response and moves to the left instead. Because the meaning of the gesture does not lie in the sign alone, but in the full tripartite field, the
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meaning of the sign must now be understood as a lie or a feint. In both of the above cases, the adjustive response "brings out" the relationship between the gesture, the resultant, and the response. In the first case, the relationship is one in which the meaning of the gesture is that the player moves to the right and the second relationship is one in which the meaning of the gesture is that the player feints to the right.
The very same interplay among phases of the signification process occurs even if our interaction is merely verbal. For example, when I say "the pen" to my friend, the vocal utterance is the initial gesture (i.e., the sign or significant symbol) that indicates my intended focus on the pen (i.e., the resultant) whether that focus is of a pen in our presence or of a pen from my past experience. My saying, "the pen" leads my friend to also focus on the pen (i.e., the adjustive response) to my utterance. Of course, whether my friend's focus is on a pen that I am holding out in front of us or one on the table where I am pointing or one that we have joint experience with in the past or an abstraction that we both recall from our individual history depends on the circumstances. As in the case of the basketball players, the meaning of the utterance is also located in the matrix created by the interplay among the three phases of the signification process.
If we understand signification to be the whole tripartite process of initial gesture, adjustive response, and completed resultant, than signification cannot be reduced to just one aspect of this process. As Mead states, what we "ought to do, is to take the complete act, the whole process of conduct, as the unit" of our account (Mead, 1967, 111). We might think that the meaning of the initial gesture (or sign) can be limited to its implied resultant, but the meaning
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of the sign can not lie in the resultant alone since a gesture that is not recognized as such by the other will not have an appropriate adjustive response. This is true even if the initial gesture has a completed resultant. If an initial gesture is recognized as a sign but the adjustive response of the other is an inappropriate adjustive response, than the "meaning" of the initial gesture must include the inappropriate adjustive response. As Dewey writes, "To fail to understand is to fail to come into agreement in action; to misunderstand is to set up action at cross purposes" (Dewey, 1997, 149).
For example, while working with a student, a teacher quickly draws back his hand to catch the attention of another student walking by. But the first student recognizes the gesture not as a sign intended for the other student but as a sign of a potential strike on her and shrinks down covering her face with her arms in a protective posture. What is the meaning here? Can we merely limit the meaning to the relationship between the initial gesture and the intended completed resultant? Clearly, the meaning must also include the actual adjustive response by the student. The meaning of the sign in this case must include not only the intended meaning but the actual student response. Its "meaning" is particular to the actual concrete event and includes all three aspects of the tripartite signification process. For this reason, the smallest unit of meaning must be the relationship among all three aspects and not reduced to merely the relationship between the initial gesture and the completed resultant. The smallest unit of meaning must be the full tripartite action and cannot be reduced to the sign alone. In this way, meaning is located in the processes of social interaction rather than being reducible to language or
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discourse alone unless one uses these terms to mean the full tripartite social process.
The meaning of an object. Imagine I am walking down a path in the woods and a wolf appears before me. When the wolf appears before me, it appears as a particular and unique thing, but I sort through all of the specific characteristics of the thing presented before me and select a few to focus upon. Let us say that I have had several past experiences with wolves and as a result, drawing on the memory of those past experiences, I select out a few commonalities among this object before me and that set of objects with which I have had these past experiences. Perhaps I organize a set of characteristics that include the ears, snout, eyes, overall shape and size. To be more precise, however, I do not select the common characteristics of the object itself, but the commonalities of the phenomenon of the object. The characteristics that I select are in my retinal images, my olfactory vibrations, and the aural impulses. By selecting and focusing on the set of commonalities of the phenomena while ignoring those characteristics that are unique to the phenomenon of this particular object, a recognition resultant is indicated and a set of habitual responses is called out. That is, the selected sensual stimulations call out a series of sensory memories and the relationship between the stimuli and the memories elicits an adjustive response of avoidance. The meaning of this object is located in the whole process that includes the initial stimulation, the recognition resultant, and the adjusted response.
Humans have the unique ability to represent this tripartite process with a sign. In this case, the sign might be the word "wolf." Now when I say the word "wolf" I call out the bodily memory of the sensual stimulation and the
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recognition resultant and the adjusted response. With my ability to signify the object of my observation, I "speak" to myself, I call out in my own self (as if it were another person) a set of adjustive responses to the expected resultant. The object (in this case the particular wolf in front of me) becomes meaningful to me as a part of the signification process. While I might attribute its meaning to the object, the meaning itself lies in the three aspects of the signification process evoked from the memories located in my body.
This tripartite signification process not only allows us to influence the adjusted responses through manipulation of the aspects of the signification process, but it allows us to construct the environment that we respond to. Because different habitual responses become associated with a recognized commonality of characteristics, we must seek out such possible commonalities in the particular objects we encounter. To try different responses, we must focus on or impose on the object the commonalities that are necessary to call out such a response. In this way, we might focus on those characteristics of a cat that call out a caring response in us (such as soft, furry, gentle) while at other times we might focus on those characteristics of a cat that call out distasteful responses in us (such as claws, smell, dander). Both sets may exist side-by-side, but in one encounter our adjustive response is receptive while in the next it is unreceptive. This ability to select which set of commonalities we address forms the basis of what has become known as constructivism. It isn't that the object does not exist separate from the human. It does. Rather it is that the meaning of the object, the reality of our experience with the object, lies in the interaction between the characteristics of a particular object and the human experience with that object. On the other hand, it isn't that the meaning does
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not exist in our language. It does. But language is not separate from our body as some kind of ethereal essence or ontological object. Rather the meaning of our language lies in our ability to manipulate phases of the signification process that includes the interaction among objectively stimulated phenomena and subjective bodily memories. In this way, what we call reality is a construction of an interactive, intersubjective tripartite process.
Abstraction. By understanding signification to lie in a tripartite social process, we are also able to avoid the Cartesian dualism that divides concepts (i.e., thoughts, significants) from their material indicators (i.e., words, signifiers) such as found in Saussurian semiotics. Signification as discussed above clearly places meaning in the particulars of a specific and concrete social act. To understand any particular utterance requires that we examine the concrete dialogue within which it was uttered. But clearly humans do not only assign meaning in the concrete. We also create abstractions, universals, and commonalities. How might we explain such things while remaining consistent with the basic understanding of signification as discussed above.
Mead addresses this question by pointing out that there are two different adjustive responses made to the presentation of an object: a response toward the object per se but also a response of recognition. In other words, he suggests that when we confront any object (including a sign), we (1) respond to the specific conditions of that object in this place and time and (2) respond to the object with various degrees of recognition. Recognition refers to the attenuation to a particular set of common characteristics found among this particular object and other objects experienced in the past. Mead calls these common characteristics "universals."
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When I pick up the ball, it calls out a response in my dog who comes to attention in preparation to chase the ball. Given the many different balls lying around, each one having its own unique particular look, feel, and smell, those characteristics of the various balls that lead to the dog's response is that which is "universal" to the various balls. The use of the term "universal" in this case does not refer to the whole world but to the characteristics shared by all objects of that set. In other words, in this case, universal does not refer to all balls in the world, but only to all balls in the set to which my dog would give the characteristic adjustive response when I pick it up. To avoid confusion with the broader more common meaning of universality, I will use the term "commonality" to refer to the process that Mead calls universality.
If different objects call out a particular adjustive response, those objects possess a commonality. The commonality is constructed in the response rather than in the object. In other words, the commonality lies in the adjustive response to particular objects. The objects are particulars; it is the responses that have commonality. We recognize different, unique and particular objects as a member of a class when these various objects are related to a common response. We recognize different, unique and particular gestures as members of a class when these various gestures lead to common adjustive responses in anticipation of these gestures being completed in an expected resultant. Habits are common responses to a variety of differing particular gestures and objects. Each specific experience is unique, but the collection of responses is "recognized" as a class due to shared commonalities. Must we assume these commonalities are essences or abstractions of the mind? No, following Dewey (1997), these commonalities are the recognition of that which is irrelevant to
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the particularity of the object. Those characteristics that do not make the object unique are the characteristics that call out the common adjustive responses.
As in specific meanings, abstracted meanings refer to a field or matrix of phases in concrete actions. Just like specific meanings, abstracted meanings lie in the interaction among concrete objects (including gestures such as signs) and their anticipated resultants and the adjustive responses. The difference between specific and abstracted meanings lies only in our recognition that different concrete objects indicate similar anticipated resultants leading to repeated adjustive responses. Meaning, therefore, lies in the social relationships created among the gesture, the resultant, and the adjustive responses.
A distinction must be made between abstraction as the recognition of repeated adjustive responses and abstraction as the conclusion of mental deductions. Typically we have come to believe that abstractions occur only after a series of particular events are examined for their common properties. But as Dewey wrote, "It would be difficult to imagine any doctrine more absurd than the theory that general ideas or meanings arise by the comparison of a number of particulars, eventuating in the recognition of something common to them all" (Dewey, 1997, 155). Mead's approach suggests that an habitual response seeks commonalities rather than that commonalities produce habitual responses. First we enact a common adjustive response and then we search the initial gestures and seek the characteristics that call out those responses. In this way we read into the gestures commonalities that may or may not be there in order to explain our response. This "irrational generalizing tendency" (Dewey, 1997, 156) suggests that reasoning proceeds as a series of
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trials and errors. The difference between sound reasoning and unsound reasoning lies only in our ability and willingness to recognize what truly calls out the common response and requires our realization that the commonality lies in our own responses rather than in the object itself. The commonality lies in the interaction among the phases of signification rather than in some ideal essence of the object or some subjective mental state of our own mind.
Thought. Thinking occurs during a "temporary inhibition of action" in which the individual must select among alternative future actions given the particular social situation. It involves selecting "alternative ways of completing the given social act wherein he is implicated, or which he has already initiated" (Mead, 1967, 91). Since signification is a tripartite process that occurs through time, the process may be interrupted at any point. Mead (1967) suggests that what we refer to as thinking occurs when such interruptions lead to contemplation of alternative actions. Because humans have the capacity to recognize and then name the characteristics that indicate particular resultants, we have the capacity to "try out" alternative futures by uttering the signs that indicate different resultants and various adjustive responses.2 Such reflective behavior "arises only under the conditions of self- consciousness, and makes possible the purposive control and organization by the individual organism of its conduct" (Mead, 1967, 91). Reasoning involves an act of indicating to our own self that which indicates a particular response. This distinguishes human reasoning from other animal thought. Humans have the ability to name the characteristics that lead to a response; other animals
2 Such internal utterances would be what Volosinov (1986) and Vygotsky (1962) each refer to as inner or inward speech.
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apparently do not. "When you are reasoning you are indicating to yourself the characters that call out certain responses—and that is all you are doing" (Mead, 1967, 93).
That is what you are doing when you act in a rational fashion: you are indicating to yourself what the stimuli are that will call out a complex response, and by the order of the stimuli you are determining what the whole of the response will be. Now, to be able to indicate those stimuli to other persons or to yourself is what we call rational conduct as distinct from the unreasoning intelligence of the lower animals, and from a good deal of our own conduct. (Mead, 1967, 94)
Humans have the capacity to select out of a field of stimuli those characteristics that lead to particular resultants and call out specific responses and then hold on to those connective responses and combine them with other responses. This allows the creation of new chains or links of possible conclusions to original stimuli. It makes possible the entertainment of possible outcomes and the choice of which to accomplish. The various possible outcomes result from our ability to voluntarily isolate the relevant stimuli and to hold on to them. And this ability allows us to premeditative action as opposed to mere trial and error. It permits learning through reasoning (i.e., "isolation and recombination of responses" (Mead, 1967, 96)) rather than merely through chance. And it introduces the possibility of creativity into the construction of meaning (Joas, 1996). This process of indication-connected-to-responses is signification. Meaning, therefore, arises
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through the process of signification in regards to the problem arising in the situation.
Mead wants to show that an "idea" is the part of an action that occurs at the beginning of the act but is not necessarily completed. It corresponds to the gesture indicative of the completed action. We can, of course, complete or not complete this idea. "Ideas, as distinct from acts . . . are simply what we do not do; they are possibilities of overt responses which we test out implicitly in the central nervous system and then reject in favor of those which we do in fact act upon or carry into effect" (Mead, 1967, 99). What becomes key, however, is our ability to select, isolate, and focus upon this gesture. In so doing we are self- conscious and acting with reason. This is what Mead suggests we mean by human intelligence. "Delayed reaction is necessary to intelligent conduct" (Mead, 1967, 99). For this reason, the ability of signs to allow us to step outside of time is essential to human rationality because it permits the inhibition of time that is required for entertaining and selecting alternative future resultants or adjustive responses.
Some conceive of thinking as a series of stimulus and response events. A stimulus evokes a particular response that becomes a stimulus for another response that becomes a stimulus for another response and so forth. This suggests that thinking is like dominos in which when one domino is pushed over the inevitable chain of falling dominos leads to a particular inevitable end. But while this may be true of certain behaviors—a sudden explosion of sight and sound on a person's near left will lead to that person's instinctive movement away from the blast—most human action is not a smooth chain of such events. Rather, most human action involves the individual "presenting to
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himself a situation that is going to arise, and determining his methods of" responding (Mead, 1967, 103). In most situations, a stimulus will set up "a process which is not fully carried out" (Mead, 1967, 104). While the adjustive response may complete the full meaning of a gesture, the full response does not need to be completed because the response can be "innervated" or remembered in the body's multiple responses.
The idea of innervation might suggest a parallelism that Mead rejects. He does not want to suggest that there is a corresponding bodily state to a psychic idea. It is not that there is a stimulated nerve trace that corresponds to a mental idea, but that what we refer to as ideas are the bodily responses as associated with the significant gestures. Thinking is no more than the process of associating the object with the gesture through bodily memory. This signification process allows humans to interrupt the actual response and to play it out through the combining and re-combining of these gestures in the body itself. Remembering that a gesture is the initial moment in a complete act allows humans to merely inhibit the full action after the initial moment. The ability to utilize significant gestures as the initial moment allows us to continuously interrupt the actual action. We do not have to actually complete the act because the significant gesture stands in for the completed act. Such series of significant gestures in which the following phases of the signification process is interrupted describes the process we call "thought." While we generally understand thinking as non-material mind at work, we would do better if we were to understand thinking as the selection of responses from those possible responses tested through this process of initiating and inhibiting action.
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Taking the role of the other. When the one-gesturing makes the gesture and assumes the role of a person other than her/himself in order to anticipate what is being called out, s/he is "taking the role of the other." In this way, the one-gesturing can construct a series of significant gestures that has in mind the others in the social situation. What appears to be a purely individual, subjective act (e.g, making a statement such as "I like ice-cream") is actually socially constructed as the one-gesturing takes the role of the others in the situation and acts accordingly. When I want to communicate something to you, I must take your role in the conversation and, through my ability to disrupt time, test your responses to my gestures. In this way, I carry on a conversation with my self as others. This is true whether or not you are present. As I work through ideas, I put these ideas into utterances which I test out with self- constructed others. Of course, part of my ability to think and communicate in a manner that other people will find compelling depends on my ability to anticipate accurately how others will respond to my utterances. If my construction of my anticipated audience is not well considered, than my words and ideas will appear confused.
If we understand thinking itself as taking this dialogical form, than we must recognize that the process not only involves my creative manipulation of signs to communicate to others, but it necessarily involves the structuring of my utterances by the constructed others. The others, whose roles I take, encourage me to select signs that are likely to lead to my desired responses. In other words, while I may feel like my words are my words and my utterance reflects my subjective thoughts, the socially constructed others orient my choices. My failure to bend to their structuring influences is likely to lead to
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incomprehensible utterances. Mead helps us understand that the Cartesian dualism, which projects separate entities for both subjective meaning and externalized expression, simply makes no sense when we realize that what we call subjectivity is no more than the tripartite process of signification in which the other may be our own self taking the role of the other.
Volosinov and the Bakhtin Circle.
As a German working to combat the European scholarly traditions that favor structural explanations of social life, Hans Joas wisely emphasizes Mead's insertion of creativity into the fundamental social act (Joas, 1996). As explained above, human social action always includes an element of creative interpretation by the players. For this reason, any social theory which implies that the social is explained by structures beyond human construction misrepresents social action. On the other hand, as an American working in a cultural milieu that assumes autonomous and creative individuality, I need to emphasize the social constraints that are also central to Mead's theory. While it may be true that human interaction involves an element of creativity, it is equally true that every human interaction involves an element of inertia. To understand social action only in terms of creativity misrepresents social action as much as understanding society as fundamentally structured. The key is to construct a sense of the social that always includes both the creative and the inertial. The failure of the pragmatists (and especially the best known pragmatic social theory—symbolic interactionism) to place as much emphasis on the constraints of social action as they did on the dynamics of social action
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has led to social theory that simply fails to explain the continuing dominance of some people over others in our liberal democratic societies.
While Mead's personal life was extensively entwined with political action (see Joas, 1997), Mead failed to fully develop the political implications of his general theory. If we recognize that all signification, whether actual conversations with others or internal dialogue when taking the role of the other, requires the speaker to select signs calculated to communicate with others who are located within a given historical set of social arrangements, we must also recognize that every utterance is filled with the assumptions of those social arrangements. In other words, every utterance is imbued with ideology.
Shortly after the pragmatists began to develop their theories in America, the Bakhtin circle began producing an equally remarkable set of work in the young Soviet Union. The work of M. M. Bakhtin (1973, 1981, 1984, 1993), V. N. Volosinov (1976, 1986), and P. N. Medvedev (1985) attempted to construct a sociological theory of language and literature that may have been influenced by the pragmatists (among others), but which was primarily aimed at constructing a Marxist theory that did not reduce cultural phenomena to mere superstructure mechanically constituted from the socioeconomic basis. The Bakhtin circle worked to create a more dynamic theory that allowed for a more constitutive role for culture arguing that such a dynamic theory was more consistent with Marxist dialecticism. At least one of them, Volosinov, paid for this attempt at reforming orthodoxy with exile and (presumed) death. While there are some critical and, perhaps, incommensurable differences between the American pragmatists and the Russian Bakhtinians, there are also some remarkable similarities. Both groups developed theories that assumed no
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idealist entities preferring to argue for a "behaviorist" (Mead) or "objectivist" (Volosinov) theory instead. (Of course, as mentioned above, the use of the terms "behaviorist" and "objectivist" occurred before the contemporary positivist colonization of those terms and so the contemporary reader must be careful not to mistakenly believe that either group accepted any form of positivism.) Both rejected a subjectivist psychology and developed a social psychology that reconstructs our understanding of the psychological as sociological rather than the other way around. Both groups saw language and semiotics as the central element of social action. But while there are some very important similarities, there are also some very important differences. From my perspective, the most important of those differences lies in the Bakhtinian's inability to separate themselves from the long tradition of European philosophical dualities. While rejecting the simple Cartesian dualism that dominated Continental theory, they embraced the Marxist dialecticalism that may resolve dualisms but does not erase them. On the other hand, while the Bakhtin circle and the pragmatists may start at different places, their theoretical thinking around signification crisscrosses each other. While I find Mead's and the pragmatists' tripartite theory of signification more powerful than Volosinov's and the Bakhtinians' dialectical theory, I believe that the Bakhtinian's keen awareness of the ideological nature of signs is important for a complete theory of signification. By re-inscribing Volosinov's interest in utterance, dialogue, and ideology onto Mead's tripartite process of initial gesture, anticipated resultant, and adjustive response along with Mead's recognition of the importance of taking the role of the other, we have the basic elements of a theory of signification that is powerful enough to explain the
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smallest and most ordinary of human communication as well as the most complex aspects of contemporary institutionalized communication from the media to popular culture to schooling.
The Utterance. For Volosinov, the central problem was to develop a theory that could counter the influence of both the Saussurian school of semiotics ("abstract objectivism") and the Humboldtian school ("individual subjectivism") while replacing the simplistic Marxist theory then in favor in Russia with a more complex, dynamic Marxism. For this essay, it is Volosinov's counter to Saussurian theory that is of most relevance. Saussure, consciously influenced by the Cartesian dualism, argued that language (i.e., langage) could be divided into two parts: the system of language (i.e., langue) and the actual act of speaking (i.e., parole). He further argued that since parole was a dynamic diachronic act each utterance would be unique and, therefore, not amenable to scientific study. Science, Saussure argued, required a synchronic system as its object of inquiry and, therefore, necessarily demanded that a science of language address only langue. If langue is the object of the scientific study of language, than the sign, which is located in langue, becomes the smallest unit of meaning that can be studied.
Volosinov and the Bakhtin circle rejected Saussure's argument and countered by placing parole at the center of their theory and arguing that rather than sign being the smallest unit of meaning, the utterance should be understood to be the smallest unit. Volosinov argued that meaning cannot be ripped out of the concrete world of social action. When we locate meaning in an abstract synchronic system of language (i.e., langue), we remove it from the historical and political context of its expression. By placing meaning in parole,
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Volosinov returns meaning to a concrete diachronic social action. The shift from the sign to the utterance makes a fundamental and crucial shift in Volosinov's theory by recognizing that meaning is a socially constructed act located in concrete socioeconomic and historical contexts. When commentators claim meaning in signs (i.e., langue), they fail to realize the sociological nature of understanding.
Mead and the American pragmatists do not construct their semiotics in opposition to Saussure's Cartesian dualism nor are they locked in the binary thinking characteristic of Marxism and so, for both reasons, they do not find the argument as to whether sign (langue) or utterance (parole) is the smallest unit of meaning particularly useful. Nonetheless, the Meadian emphasis on signification as a process located in concrete social contexts clearly refuses to locate meaning in an abstract synchronic system of language. Mead did not use the language of Saussurian semiotics, but if he had I'm convinced that he would only wish to refer to langage and avoid references to langue and parole altogether. Because of the continued influence of Continental semiotics in contemporary discussions of semiotics, the "sign" as a term has become intricately tainted by the European binary. While we frequently see nods of honor given to Peirce's tripartite concept of sign, the contemporary conversation assumes a Saussurian sign. This assumption is true even for those poststructuralists influenced by Derrida whose own work attempts to overcome the fundamental Cartesian dualism inherent in Saussurian semiotics. To avoid the confusion that might result from the colonization of the term "sign" by the Continental theorists, an adaptation of the Bakhtin
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circle's replacement of sign with utterance makes sense for a theory of signification built upon Mead.
In Meadian terms, an utterance would have to be understood as that unit of meaning constructed in the tripartite process that includes an initial gesture, a completed resultant, and an anticipatory adjustment. Like the Bakhtinian utterance, the pragmatic utterance is an isolated moment in a larger conversation among actors. It is a dynamic process that requires actors to anticipate, adjust, and generate social action within a set of social relations that have personal and societal history. Any attempt to reduce meaning to something smaller than an utterance can only be understood as an exercise in abstraction that is really nothing other than re-situating meaning into a new concrete context—one that makes abstraction its center. In other words, when meaning is reduced from utterance to sign, it is taken out of the concrete situation of the original utterance. Whatever claim to meaning is then attributed to the sign is merely an abstraction of the original utterance. It is, in fact, a new utterance made in a new context. A context that is governed by the rules of whatever genre governs the new context such as the rules of literary criticism or of positivist social science. We should not, therefore, confuse the meaning of an utterance with abstract claims made in a new context. As such, a pragmatic theory of signification, like the critical theory of the Bakhtinians, can make utterance the smallest unit of meaning.
Dialogue. While the utterance may be the smallest unit of meaning, any particular utterance is itself part of a larger, on-going dialogue. While the Bakhtinian concept of dialogue does inherently accept binary thinking, the Bakhtinians, particularly Bakhtin, recognized the multiplicity of social action.
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To reduce dialogue to an engagement between two is to misunderstand Bakhtinian thought.
Volosinov and the Bakhtin circle make a point that is similar to Mead and the pragmatists. Volosinov argues that outer speech can be brought inside and made inner speech. Volosinov is not reducing the external "objective" dialogue to an internal "subjectivist" dialogue, but rather his theory erases the separation between inner and outer speech by recognizing that utterances only gain meaning in a larger context that must include those utterances that precede and follow it. In this way, the social process of outer speech, which is characterized by dialogue, constitutes inner speech as well. Like outer speech, inner speech takes the form of utterances in which my silent utterances are presented to an assumed audience. In this way, all utterances must be understood to gain meaning in dialogue. As Volosinov wrote, "Understanding strives to match the speaker's word with a counter word" (Volosinov, 1986, 102).
The theoretical meaning of Bakhtinian dialogue is often misrepresented in contemporary scholarship where dialogue is understood as a prescriptive social theory rather than a descriptive social theory. While Bakhtin certainly prescribed dialogical forms for the novel (see Bakhtin, 1973), his reason for doing so was because of his understanding that meaning is itself dialogical and so to understand the power of the novel, we must understand how its specific form differs from other forms of literature in its ability to represent the multivoicedness of everyday life while reflecting and refracting the underlying economic base. This identification of the unique contribution of differing forms was a central problem for the Bakhtin circle in its efforts to
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create a Marxist literary theory (see Medvedev, 1985). But such literary prescriptions should not be confused with social prescriptions. This is particularly clear in the work of Volosinov whose work most clearly presents the social theory of the Bakhtin circle. Dialogue is not a prescriptive theory of value, but a descriptive theory of the social. Volosinov and the Bakhtinians tell us that we make a mistake when we understand the meaning of any text as monological. Texts (all texts) are dialogical (see Volosinov, 1986, 72-73). When we confuse the lecture as monological and assign meaning to it as if it exists outside of dialogue, we make the same mistake as the philologist who "tears the monument out of that real domain and views it as if it were a self- sufficient, isolated entity" (Volosinov, 1986, 73). For the Bakhtinians, the meaning of any lecture can only be found in the dialogue created by the lecture (an utterance) and the utterances that precede and follow it. In other words, lecturing and classroom discussions are equally dialogical and so when educational scholars advocate discussion in classrooms on the basis that lecturing is monological while discussion is dialogical, they are making the precise mistake that the Bakhtin circle is warning against. While there may be good reasons to advocate for pedagogies that are more openly conversational, those reasons are not because lecturing is monological. For
any utterance—the finished, written utterance not excepted—makes response to something and is calculated to be responded to in turn. It is but one link in a continuous chain of speech performances. Each monument carries on the work of its predecessors, polemicizing with them, expecting active, responsive understanding, and anticipating such understanding
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in return. Each monument in actuality is an integral part of science, literature, or political life. The monument as any other monologic utterance, is set toward being perceived in the context of current scientific life or current literary affairs, i.e., it is perceived in the generative process of that particular ideological domain of which it is an integral part." (Volosinov, 1986 , 72)
While there are some important theoretical differences between Mead (and the American pragmatists) and Volosinov (and the Russian Bakhtin circle), both scholars rejected a dualism that locates thinking in subjectivity while placing expression in an externalized object. Both realize that the process of signification is a social activity that involves multiple players and that what we call thinking or consciousness is merely the internalization of this signification process into inner speech or inner dialogue. In this way, we should understand dialogue to be the series of utterances within which the meaning of any particular utterance must be located to understand its meaning.
Ideology. As Marxists, the Bakhtin circle focused on ideology. By shifting the fundamental unit of signification from the Saussurian sign, which is located in langue (language), to the utterance, which is located in parole (the speech act), Volosinov placed concrete, historical social relations (the Marxist "basis") at the center of signification. In this way, no utterance can occur outside of ideology. As Volosinov wrote, "Everything ideological possesses meaning: it represents, depicts, or stands for something lying outside itself. In other words, it is a sign. Without signs there is no ideology" (emphasis original, Volosinov, 1986, 9). This insight is true whether we construct a binary or
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tripartite semiotics. Because meaning is located in the concrete, historical moment, meaning must always reflect and refract the basic material organization of society at that moment. Wherever meaning is constructed, that construction reflects and refracts political interests. Whether alone in your room, or shopping for clothes, or watching television, or teaching in a classroom, individual humans cannot separate themselves from political interests. That so many people understand themselves as unique, autonomous individuals whose daily actions are based purely on subjective and personal interests is itself an ideological understanding that marks them as living in the contemporary American moment. That all human semiotic action from thinking to conversations to movies to books is filled with ideology is a profound idea. It is an idea completely consistent with Mead's theory of signification, but an idea that was not well developed or exploited in the work of the pragmatists.
Mead's tripartite process locates signification in a process in which individuals adjust their actions in relation to others in anticipation of their initial gestures leading to a completed resultant. This dynamic process allows enormous creativity on the part of individuals as they watch and anticipate and attempt to adjust to those around them. But the process of adjustment also requires each individual to take into consideration how others might make sense out of their actions. Such consideration necessarily favors normed meanings. They also necessarily require individuals to calculate likely results given unequal distribution of power. What we refer to as ideology might be understood to be the tendency for certain political interests to be favored when people attempt to communicate through a signification process that anticipates
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others responses within concrete, historical contexts in which power is inequitably distributed.
If we incorporate the Bakhtinian insistence on ideology as integral to all dialogue, than Mead's tripartite process of signification must always be understood to be just as much a structured situation as a creative opportunity. In other words, Mead's theory creates a dynamic process of signification within which the struggle between individual creativeness and sociopolitical enforcement is played out. In our ordinary conversations, we engage in a political game in which various interests are favored or resisted. The heart of cultural politics can be said to be located in the interplay of utterances within the dialogue of multiple actors as they go about constructing everyday life.
Unconsciousness. One of the central and unshakeable twentieth- century ideas is the idea of the unconscious. Though initially received with skepticism and hostility, Freud's claim of a hidden system within the psyche that was the true cause of our actions has aroused fascination throughout the world. While Freud's specific contents of the unconscious--its id, ego, superego and its death and eros instincts—may no longer be in favor, the idea that there exists within each individual mind some part that is hidden from view and yet strongly motivates our actions has never been more entrenched in the culture. The suggestion that this thing called an unconscious is not a part of the natural existence of humans appears to fly in the face of our own individual experience. But, of course, the assignment of the sign "unconscious" to any aspect of human thought or action is to locate it in semiotics.
Volosinov (Volosinov, 1976, 76) points out, "Freud's whole psychological construct is based fundamentally on human verbal utterances; it
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is nothing but a special kind of interpretation of utterances." Freud's unconscious is not amenable to observation by the therapist. While dreams and hypnosis might provide clues as to its contents for a therapist, ultimately the unconscious can only be known through the individual's own verbal report (even to the individual her/himself). Volosinov shows us that what Freudians call "the unconscious" really only gains existence when made "conscious" through utterances. While such recognition does not provide proof that there is no unconscious, it does reveal that all of our knowledge of the so- called unconscious is really located in the so-called conscious.
One question that we need to explore is why the idea of an unconscious has had such appeal to Western theorists. Freud's claim of a subjective idealism that lies behind an individual's meaning and that is not readily acknowledged by that individual is not what is new in Freud's concept. Such an idea is at least as old as Plato's myth of the cave. What makes Freud's construct unique is the way that it locates within individuals a strife and a conflict between this hidden unconscious and the readily apparent conscious. For Freudians, the conflict occurs between natural instincts such as the id, ego, and superego. For later European theorists such as the Frankfurt School and Lacan, contemporary Feminists such as Kristeva and Irigaray, and poststructuralists influenced especially by Foucault such as Butler, the unconscious provides a mechanism to explain how the struggle between the forces of an oppressive political and economic regime can be embodied within individuals without their self-awareness. It is a mechanism that simplifies the explanation of "false consciousness" or patriarchy or Eurocentrism or heteronormativity. But it is also a construct that creates another dualism. Even
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in the case of poststructuralists such as Derrida and Foucault whose work is directed to the elimination of traditional dualisms, their assumption of an unconscious creates a fundamental dualism.
Part of the problem of the typical Continental approach to the problem lies in their construction of a world of objects. Whether those objects lie in the subjectivity of an idealist mind or in the objectivity of a concrete nature, Continental theorists tend to approach their theory construction around the identification of social objects. But, as their semiotics so clearly shows, we cannot construct an object except in reference to another object. When we understand the unconscious as the unconscious, it forces us to also posit its binary other, the conscious. As objects such constructs become fixed and inflexible. Critical interactionist theory, however, is not built upon social objects but social processes. Critical interactionist theory is, therefore, able to construct an understanding that is not inherently dualistic.
Above I suggested that what typical theories call "consciousness" is merely a temporal inhibition of action through the process of signification that permits the attenuation that we might give to the interplay of the three aspects of the triadic process in order to help adjust mutual actions. There is no "conscious" as an entity. There is, however, a moment within the signification process where we focus our attention. Of course, there are also moments in that process where we do not focus our attention. In fact, in the discussion on consciousness above, I pointed out that much communication can occur that requires no consciousness at all.
Volosinov and the Bakhtin circle help us realize that all semiotic action involves ideology and I have suggested that a critical interactionist conception
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of the signification process places ideology at the center of its process through the necessity of actors taking the role of the other in a society organized through conventions and marked by unequal distribution of power. The struggle represented in the idea of a conscious and an unconscious that Continental theorists find so attractive might be thought of as no more than the struggle that individuals must face given the different concrete situations within which their dialogue is constructed. When trying to engage in mutually adjustive social interaction, we must take the role of the other, but which other should we take? There is no generalized other who represents the total other as a singularity. There are only generalized others who are abstractions we construct from our past concrete experiences. Certainly there is a struggle among the various conventions we could apply in a particular situation and many possible actions are discarded (or censored) because of anticipated responses given the distribution of power. Such choices we all make, though some of us reflect on these choices more than others of us and, therefore, bring into our awareness the various forces working upon us. Such a construction of the signification process permits us to arrive at a more satisfactory explanation of the struggle between the power of oppression and the possibility of resistance without resorting to the positing of some special place in our psyche that we might call the unconscious.
Conclusion
At the present moment, educational theorists seem to be faced with a

myriad of contradictory social theories with which to address schooling. While many of these theories seem to offer some important insights, all of them also
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contain unacceptable assumptions that ultimately are inadequate for clarifying what occurs within schools. For those oppositional theories rooted in European discourses such as the various Marxisms and poststructuralisms, one of those flaws lies in an assumed dualism that exists even when the Marxist dialectic or the poststructural suspicion of binaries is incorporated in their critique. For in both cases, the basic unit of signification is built upon a binary of some sort. Of all the theories of signification that are available to us, only that of the pragmatists begins with a tripartite construction. Whereas Marxism and poststructuralism each assumes a "theory of the sign," critical interactionism might be thought to construct a "theory of signification." When the pragmatists' process of signification is amended to include a Bakhtinian understanding of utterance located in unequal power relations, we have the basis for a powerful oppositional action theory for educators. We create the opportunity for an action theory that does not fall into the trap of hypostatizing either creativity or structure. We have a way that allows us to strip the mythologies of contemporary life of their illusions while not falling victim to meaninglessness. We construct a theory that rejects the essentialism of total systems without embracing individualism. We use a theory that permits the playful and startling insights of the best of poststructuralism while also maintaining a radical and a concrete political project.
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