Saturday, September 24, 2005

Reading :: Dialogic Inquiry

Originally posted: Sat, 24 Sep 2005 11:01:15

Dialogic Inquiry: Towards a Socio-cultural Practice and Theory of Education

by Gordon Wells

As the title implies, Gordon Wells is mostly interested in how education is conducted. He works within a Vygotskian framework, drawing heavily on cultural-historical activity theory to conceptualize knowledge and to think deeply about how people learn. The book turns out to be both interesting and valuable, particularly the theoretical framework developed in Chapter 1.

Here, Wells draws on Bakhtin, Vygotsky, and Halliday, turning up what I thought were some striking parallels. Based on this discussion, he argues that we should think not of knowledge but of knowing, a collaborative attempt to better understand and transform their shared world" (p.76). Only individuals know, but they do so in shared activity. Knowing is "a goal-oriented social process mediated by representational artifacts" (p.83). And knowledge is developed in a "spiral of knowing" (p.85), which appears to be based on Ilyenkov by way of Engestrom.

As we get into the book, the theoretical work continues. For instance, Wells productively examines classroom activity at the three levels of activity (activity, action, operation), and makes the point that these are not just hierarchically related, they are different perspectives (p.169). He addresses the issue of scope in activity (p.180). He argues that genre "provides a way of characterizing the organization of the chosen actions and operations in terms of socially shared specifications of the constituent elements and their sequential arrangement" (p.181). And he acknowledges that there are different perspectives on the enactment of an activity system, depending on who occupies the subject position.

In other words, Wells, presents a sophisticated understanding of activity theory and grapples with many of the questions that "third generation" AT has been addressing. If you're interested in seeing AT's potential for informing educational research, take a look.


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