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Paper presented at John Dewey Society, AERA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, April 30May 4 2010

A Transactional Approach to Learning

Leif stman Department of Curriculum Studies Uppsala University, Sweden Johan hman School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences (HumES) rebro University, Sweden

In the last decade a debate about the advantages and disadvantages of different methodologies for learning studies has been conducted between cognitivistic researchers and researchers representing different sociocultural perspectives. In short, the main critique is that cognitive research fails to account for the institutional dimension of learning, e.g. that cultural tools (artefacts and language) mediate learning (Ivarsson, Schoultz, & Slj, 2002; Schoultz, Slj, & Wyndham, 2001b). The critique of sociocultural research is that the individual dimension of learning is overlooked, e.g. that the interpretation of cultural artefacts by the students is crucial for how the artefacts are used (Vosniadou, Skopeliti, & Isopentaki, 2005). The critique that the individual dimension of learning is less visible in sociocultural approaches to learning is also delivered by Hodkinson, Biesta & James (2007), who claim that there is a tendency for individual differences and individual learning to disappear, with the focus on social interactions, activities and participation (p. 417). This critique can be boiled down to one central question, namely how to investigate and understand individual continuity and change in sociocultural perspectives on learning.

This question requires us to come up with methodological approaches that can provide us with knowledge about how intrapersonal, the interpersonal, and institutional dimensions influence and interact in the learning processes. This can only be accomplished by in situ studies where the interplay between these dimensions in students and teachers communication in everyday classroom practice can be analysed.

Studying learning in situ involves a number of methodological challenges, however, and is perhaps why this goal proves to be so hard to reach. As Rogoff, already in 1995, concluded:

Even when both the individual and the environment are considered, they are often regarded as separate entities rather than being mutually defined and interdependent in ways that preclude their separation as units or elements (pp. 139-140).

In a research review of cultural psychology, Lehman, Chiu and Schaller (2004) conclude that although most researchers within this field admit to a mutual relationship between culture and psychological processes, two different substantial bodies of research are treated as being entirely independent. These two areas relate to: a) research into the ways that culture influences psychological processes and, b) how psychological processes contribute to the origins and persistence of cultures. The authors therefore draw attention to the need for research that focuses more fully on the dynamic relations between psychology and culture (ibid., p. 705).

Although the challenge is methodological in character, the work of coming up with analytical methods requires philosophical clarifications. In relation to cognitive research, where learning is analysed in terms of development of cognitive structures and conceptual change, this clarification concerns first of all the question of what is observable in action (Stenlund, 2000). In such approaches action, language and learning (meaning making) are treated as detached processes located in the two separate realms of outer reality and the inner mind. This makes it very hard (and in our view impossible) to analyse the interplay between peoples experiences and the social interaction and customs (institutionalised expectations and ways of acting) through studies of action alone.

Wertsch (1998), Garrison (2001) and Hodkinson, Biesta & James (2007) have pointed out that dualistic tendencies are also present in many sociocultural approaches. Wertsch (1998), for example, maintains that the term internalisation, often used in sociocultural studies, can be misleading as it:
encourages us to engage in the search for internal concepts, rules, and other such entities that are quite suspect in the eyes of philosophers such as Wittgenstein []. The construct of internalization also entails a kind of opposition, between external and internal processes, that all too easily leads to the kind of body-mind dualism that has plagued philosophy and psychology for centuries (p. 48).

We would like to argue with Garrison (2001) that John Deweys pragmatic philosophy and concept of transaction makes it possible to overcome the methodological problems connected with dualistic tendencies. The argument put forward here is that in order to create an analytic method that can deal with the interplay between the intrapersonal, interpersonal and institutional dimensions it is fruitful to use a first person perspective on interaction and language. The former is possible through the transactional approach put forward by Dewey and Bentley (1949/1991). Although they also touched on a first person perspective on language, the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein will here be used to elaborate on such a perspective when creating an analytical approach.

In this paper we first of all outline some basic aspects of Deweys theory of action and transactional perspective on meaning making. Second, we show how Deweys transactional view of language use is in tune with Wittgensteins language game method, and how this first person perspective dissolves the problem of observing meaning. Third, we specify the process of meaning making by describing how aspects of continuity and change in individuals meaning making can be understood transactionally. Fourth, drawing on the transactional perspective we suggest that intrapersonal, interpersonal and institutional aspects of meaning making can be approached as mutual and simultaneous dimensions. Fifth, we give examples of methods for empirical analyses of learning based on the transactional principles outlined in this paper. In the final section we pay attention to methodological warnings raised by researchers when trying to dissolve dualism.

Deweys theory of action

In his theory of action Dewey is highly influenced by Darwin in the sense that everything in the world is evolving and is in the process of constant change due to organisms adaptation to their environment (see Dewey, 1909/1983). This means that nature is viewed as consisting of events rather than substances (Dewey, 1929/1958, xi). In this evolving universe the fundamental aspect of life is action: the organism, is always active; that it acts by its very constitution, and hence needs no external promise of reward or threat of evil to induce it to act (Dewey, 1932/1985, p. 289). The activity of organisms can be understood in terms of the organisms functional coordination with their environment (see Garrison, 2001; Biesta & Burbules, 2003). This coordinative process consists of an active phase doing and a passive

phase undergoing the consequences of action. The relation between actions and consequences is not casual and linear but reciprocal. Dewey holds that responses from the environment are not the start of action but something that change the direction of action already going on (Dewey, 1932/1985). Actions change the environment and shift of activity is a response to changing conditions. The functional dynamic coordination is a continuous backand-forth process in which organisms continuously readjust their actions to a constantly changing environment. This relational perspective implies that the activities of an individual can never be fully understood in isolation. Dewey therefore speaks about organism-inenvironment-as-a-whole (Dewey and Bentley, 1949/1991).

In their influential work, Knowing and the Known, Dewey and Bentley refer to this way of investigating and understanding interaction as transaction (1949/1991, pp. 101102). Here it is important to underline that in introducing this concept Dewey and Bentleys intention was not to create a new ontology but rather a methodology for investigating action that departs from the way we live through events in real life this is what we could call first person perspective on interaction (see below). What makes Deweys transactional perspective particularly useful for in situ studies is that the acting individual, fellow beings, other organisms, things and phenomena in the environment are not looked upon as predetermined or autonomous in contrast to a mechanistic interactional perspective where things are described in terms of causal interconnections between predetermined entities. The concept of transaction takes radical account of the fact that the only way to acquire information about human beings is through their actions. Therefore, in transactional investigations the point of departure is the processes that take place in the encounter between human beings and their environment and between human beings themselves. Human beings and environment are consequently described in terms of relations that arise in actions in specific events.

In a transactional perspective, meaning emerges as a consequence of individuals coordinative processes. In illustrating this way of approaching the interplay Dewey exemplifies with a trade (Dewey & Bentley, 1949/1991, p. 242). It is in and because of the transaction that one participant becomes a seller and the other participant a buyer. It is also in the nature of the transaction that the things bought and sold become goods, as well as all the other parts becoming what they are in accordance with how they participate in the process and the changes they undergo. It is in the transactional process that humans and their environment obtain their meaning. In this way, meaning is not treated as something that exists within 4

things themselves or in the minds of human beings, but as indissolubly connected to the relations that are created in and by action meaning is literally something we do. Thus, meanings are practical in the sense that they are something we use as a means to an end; when used for a purpose something acquires meaning. In other words, meaning emerges in the process of doing and undergoing the consequences of action. As a consequence, meaning is not indeed a psychic existence; it is primarily a property of behaviour (Dewey, 1929/1958, p. 179).

Dewey calls language the tool of tools in human meaning making. According to Dewey, meaning is grounded in the immediate qualities of organic activities and receptivities, although meanings do not come into existence without language, and language implies two selves involved in a conjoint or shared undertaking (Dewey, 1929/1958, pp. 298-299). In the use of language, that is, in communication, the products of primary experience can be refined, changed and elaborated:

When communication occurs, all natural events are subject to reconsideration and revision; they are re-adapted to meet the requirements of conversation, whether it be public discourse or that preliminary discourse termed thinking. Events turn into objects, things with a meaning. // Events when once they are named lead in an independent and double life. In addition to their original existence, they are subject to ideal experimentation: their meaning may be infinitely combined and re-arranged in imagination, and the outcome of this inner experimentation which is though may issue forth with crude or raw events (Dewey, 1929/1958, p. 166).

In communicating meaning individuals coordinate their activities by making something in common, which indicates that meaning making is fundamentally a social process (see Garrison, 1995). This coordinative perspective also provides us with a useful general understanding of learning:

Interactions are established between, as Dewey said, what is done and what is undergone, and it is by means of apprehending these connections and interrelations that an organism increases in complexity (Dewey, 1934/1980, p. 23); in other words, it learns (Semetsky, 2008, p. 86).

Learning can thus be described in terms of actions, i.e. as meaning making resulting in a more developed and specific repertoire for coordinating activities and the environment.

A first person perspective on language use

As outlined above, language plays a key role in the transactional understanding of meaning making. Garrison (1995) even holds that Deweys view of language as communication in cooperative and coordinated partnership in the construction of all meaning is at the core of his entire philosophy. Transactional in situ studies accordingly require an elaborated view of language and the relation between language, meaning and reality.

In cognitive approaches it is often assumed that underlying mental predispositions cause peoples speech and other actions in any given situation. It is therefore assumed that analyses of meaning making require that we know the intentions, thoughts and feelings that lie behind action. Such assumptions amount to a specific view of the mental as separated from the outer reality, and of language as something that is possible to separate from humans and their activities. Analyses carried out in connection with this view thus tend to treat language as an entity that is detached both from the acting persons in question and the environment in which they are acting. We can call this a third person perspective on language a perspective taken from a theoretical position that is distanced from the act of communication. In this third person perspective language is regarded as an object a tool or an instrument used for connecting meanings (concepts, ideas) with reality (referents, things). In this way language, the meanings and reality are described as being located in different realms having an external relation to each other. In order to connect mind and action cognitivist researchers need to construct a translation theory, which means finding a method of interpreting the observable into meaning in a consistent way, i.e. to create specific terms that correspond to inner thoughts, feelings etc.

As highlighted by Stenlund (2000), some obvious problems are connected to the idea of a translation theory. One problem is that such theories attempt to establish connections between the observable and the unobservable: How is it possible to know that a particular action corresponds to a certain mental structure when we have only been able to observe one side of this connection? Another problem is that in such theories the borderline between inner and outer is treated as though they were two different regions of nature and not as two different language games, i.e. two different logics of language. Studies that rely on a translation theory tend to present conclusions about mental representations as empirical facts, although the existence of these representations cannot be controlled. 6

Deweys transactional perspective offers a way of overcoming these problems through a different view of language:

It will treat the talking and talking-products or effects of man (the namings, thinkings, arguings, reasonings, etc.) as the men themselves in action, not as some third type of entity to be inserted between the men and the things they deal with (Dewey & Bentley, 1949/1991, p. 11).

As pointed out in this quotation, language is not treated as a mere addition to humans and their environment. Rather, language is treated as an aspect of human actions: language and things connected with language (talking, thinking etc.) are synonymous with man in action. What is called mind is accordingly something that emerges in the use of language: Through speech a person dramatically identifies himself with potential acts and deeds // Thus mind emerge (Dewey, 1929/1958, p. 170). The transactional perspective can thus be seen as an alternative to mentalistic investigations in the sense of seeking explanations for peoples actions in the human mind:
The living, behaving, knowing organism is present. To add a mind to him is to try to double him up. It is double-talk; and double talk doubles no facts (Dewey & Bentley, 1949/1991, p. 124).

However, as Dewey and Bentley emphasise, this way of treating language is not to be perceived as an -ism or a theory:

The difference in treatment of language is radical. Nevertheless it is not the type called theoretical, nor does it transmute the men from organisms into putative psyches. It rests in the simplest, most direct, matter-of-fact, everyday, common sense observation. Talking-organisms and things there they are; if there, let us study them as they come: the men talking (Dewey & Bentley, 1949/1991, p. 11).

It is rather to be perceived as a methodological stance and a way of investigating peoples meaning making by using the way the relation between language, meaning and reality emerges when we are directly involved in the act of communication a first person perspective on language usage (not to be confused with the researchers analytical position, see below). In clarifying this perspective on language we find Wittgensteins later works particularly helpful. The similarities between Deweys and Wittgensteins views of language have also been underlined by scholars like Rorty (1980, 1990), Quine (1969) and Garrison (1995). 7

A point of departure in Wittgensteins later works is that philosophical problems are generally connected to the correspondence theory of language (see Fann, 1969; Monk, 1999, Pleasants, 1999):
Other illusions come from various quarters to attach themselves to the special one spoken of here. Thought, language now appears to us as the unique correlate, picture, of the world. These concepts: proposition, language, thought, world, stand in line one behind the other, each equivalent to each. (But what are these words to be used for now? The language-game in which they are to be applied is missing.) (Wittgenstein, 1953/1997, 96).1

In order to dissolve this picture of language, Wittgenstein repeatedly reminds us that in the act of speaking we are always situated within a certain language. Wittgenstein therefore advises us to seek the meaning of words from their use in real situations (see Wittgenstein, 1953/1997, 43 and 1969/1997, 61).2 Here Wittgensteins term language-game is an essential concept and by using the term language-game he wanted to:

bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life (1953/1997, 23).

In this way Wittgenstein emphasises language as being interwoven with ways of acting, and that the connection between language (words, expressions etc.), meaning and reality is not to be found in theory, but in practice. Accordingly, the use of language is always intimately related to an activity such as learning, commanding, teaching, inquiring etc. The meaning of a word or proposition does not lie in its correspondence with reality, but in the role it plays in the language-game. When language is actively used when somebody ask us to fetch a chair, for example it is unreasonable to describe this in terms of an activity where we first relate the sound of the word chair to the physical object chair and then form a mental meaning of the implications of this request. In the use of language relations between words, meanings and objects have already been established and therefore do not need to be created. In other words,

See the sections 93-107 in Wittgenstein (1953/1997) where he develops the problems with this picture of language. See also Monk (1990, p. 308).

It is important to note that it was not Wittgensteins intention to create a theory of language or meaning or an epistemology. The perspectives he introduced should be treated as methods of clarification, as this avoids certain philosophical problems (Wittgenstein, 1969/1997; see also Fann, 1969; Monk, 1990 and Stenlund, 2000).

when we learn a language we do not only learn how to use it, but also simultaneously learn about the world, peoples experiences, values etc:

In learning a language you learn not merely what the names of things are, but what the a name is; not merely what the form of expression is for expressing a wish, but what expressing a wish is; not merely what the word for father is, but what a father is; not merely what the word for love is, but what love is. In learning language, you do not merely learn the pronunciation of sounds, and their grammatical orders, but the forms of life which make those sounds the words they are, do what they do e.g., name, call, point, express a wish or affection, indicate a choice or an aversion, etc. (Cavell, 1999, pp. 177-178).

The meaning of the word and the circumstances in which the word is used are interconnected in a way that precedes the analytical separation between the world (the circumstances), the use of words and the meaning of the word (see also Janik & Toulmin, 1973, p. 235). Accordingly, clarifications in language are not made in analytical processes (in interpretations). To competent users of a language-game, the meanings of the words used in a certain situation are already obvious. Therefore, when clarifying the meaning of words, Wittgenstein advises us to ask questions like: How did we learn this word (good for instance)? From what sort of examples? In what language-games? Then it will be easier for you to see that the word must have a family of meanings (Wittgenstein, 1953/1997, 77).

The first person perspective on language usage implies that the unity of language, meaning and reality is a natural ingredient in our daily lives. In most cases in our communications with our fellow beings we do not doubt or hesitate about what they know, believe, want etc., since doing this would make many of our ordinary ways of living together impossible. This means that what is regarded as hidden and unobservable in a third person perspective on language is visible in a user perspective. The fact that we can often immediately observe what people feel, want and so on by the way they use language in specific situations is a result of our having learned psychological language at the same time as learning psychological experience.4 Wittgenstein maintained that the psychological is very much alive in our actions and in our way of communicating with each other (see Monk, 1999, pp. 473-475). If we assume a first person perspective, the psychological and our way of using language are so intimately connected that it is unreasonable to presuppose that they are two distinct processes.

Discursive psychology has a similar point of departure (see, for example, Edwards 1997, p. 48).

Accordingly, one of the main methodological points in Wittgensteins later works is that we do not have to conduct empirical or philosophical investigations to connect meaning with the empirical world. We do not have to create such a relationship because we do not usually make a distinction between what we mean and what the meaning represents. Obviously, no translation theory is required if we do not make an initial separation between the inner and the outer. Thus, by using a first person perspective on language the inner-outer dualism tends to disappear, and the meanings that humans make can therefore be said to be observable in the use of language.5 As a consequence, it appears to be possible to study human beings actions and acquire enough information to create knowledge about individuals meaning making.

Thus, the advantage of a first person perspective is not only that it makes a translation theory unnecessary, but that it also helps us to keep the observed empirical material and the refined analytical conclusions at the same logical level, namely action.

A first person perspective should not be confused with a first person position, however. As such confusion is quite common a comment about this is relevant. The difference is similar to the difference between acting and analysing somebody acting, and to the difference between actually riding a bike and studying somebody riding a bike. These two positions are not equal and cannot substitute each other. In other words, the difference between a first person position and a third person position cannot be eroded. As researchers we are, sooner or later, forced to take a third person position: even anthropologists living with and in a culture (i.e. taking a first person position) will eventually need to take a third person position in order to analyse, categorise and in other ways construct essences from the empirical material. We also need to make choices about which perspectives, questions and methods we want to use. As shown by both Dewey and Wittgenstein, the third person perspective on language is a theoretical construction that separates language, meaning and reality, whereas in the act of communication another relation between these entities emerges. It therefore seems reasonable to suggest that researchers can choose the perspective on language that best serves the purposes of the investigation.

It is essential to note that this perspective differs from social constructivist perspectives on language where the world is seen as constructed by language: the language is so to speak a filter of interpretation or glasses with a certain perspective. In this way, language is an external object that is used as a tool when trying to create a picture of the world.


Continuity and change

A central issue in educational methodological discussions concerns the question of transfer in learning. For example, Sfard argues that if a model of learning is to be convincing, it is probably bound to build on the notion of an acquired, situationally invariant property of the learner, which goes together with him or her from one situation to another (1998, p. 10). Rogoff (1995) draws attention to how the sequential conception of time in dualistic approaches makes it difficult to explain how previous experiences participate in meaning making in new situations:
These [past, present and future] are treated as separate and yield problems of how to account for relations across time that are often handled by assuming that the individual stores memories of the past that are somehow retrieved and used in the present, and that the individual makes plans in the present and (if they are stored effectively) executes them in the future. The links between these separated time segments are bridged in mysterious ways to bring information or skills stored at one point in time to use in another (pp. 154-155).

Sfard (1998) means that situated and sociocultural learning theories have the ability to explain how learning as change can be understood in the context in which it takes place, namely, where people are constantly making new relations in different sociocultural situations. At the same time, she criticises the shortcomings of these studies of learning in their inability to account for the fact that something repeats itself as we move from context to context.

To avoid such critique it is tempting to assume that we need to know what kind of experiences people have had before they act and are exposed to a particular situation in order to decide the significance of experiences on meaning making. This knowledge is then to be related to the results of meaning making. In other words, comparable initial and terminal meanings need to be created. Dewey and Bentley (1949/1991, p. 115) highlight a problem here, namely, that the entire process presupposes that we can find out about an individuals experience without this being exposed to any kind of interaction, i.e. as though the individual was in a frozen state or was a single autonomous atom.

In a transactional perspective the question of transfer is investigated in terms of continuity and change, which are understood as two simultaneous and mutual aspects of a learning event (see Wickman & stman, 2002a, b; hman & stman, 2007). Dewey (1938/1997) stresses that 11

every experience influences in some degree the objective conditions under which further experiences are had (p. 37). In a learning practice, this continuity aspect is understood as the prior experiences the students re-actualise in order to make meaning in a new situation. In a particular educational event, prior experiences can, for example, appear when students respond to a situation, assess this situation and connect their assessments to future actions. Consequently, when meanings are made, earlier experiences can be seen as being included as part of the event, in action in the certain situation. The change aspect is understood in the way the students relate the recalled experiences to what is experienced in the current educational practice. In this establishment of new relations, students previous experiences take on a different or extended meaning. Individual continuity and change are thus two sides of the same coin, and this mutuality is established when students act and encounter the environment.

This understanding of continuity and change implies that prior experiences do not appear as fixed memory units belonging to the past, but as something that comes into existence when they are re-actualised and related to the circumstances of a present event and as something that continuously changes as we make new meanings in new encounters. Exactly which experiences students will recall when acting is difficult to predict, however. Therefore, in transactional studies, the interplay between continuity and change in students meaning making is explored in relation to a specific event.

The transactional understanding of individual continuity and change dissolves the sequential concept of time, in which past, present and future are treated as isolated time segments that sequentially succeed each other. Instead, a concept of time evolves in which every event in the present comprises both the past and the future:

Any event in the present is an extension of previous events and is directed towards goals that have not yet been accomplished. As such, the present extends through the past and future and cannot be separated from them (Rogoff, 1995, p. 155).

We would argue that this way of perceiving time means that the past exists in the present in the recalled experiences. Similarly, the future already exists in the present, in that the acting students have established some kind of direction a goal, aim, orientation, or an idea of possible consequences. In this way, both the change and continuity of student learning can be accounted for in the investigation of students actions in specific situations.


A mutual understanding of intrapersonal, interpersonal and institutional dimensions

When trying to deal with both individual and sociocultural aspects of learning in one approach, avoiding one aspect being positioned as superior from the beginning and predetermining the others is always difficult. If the individual is the starting point, the individual tends to appear as being free to form its actions independent of the sociocultural context. If the starting point is the sociocultural context, it often appears as determining the individuals actions. Such theories have a tendency to be self-fulfilling in empirical studies.

Dewey helps us to avoid this pitfall by underlining the reciprocal relation between the individual and the sociocultural environment:
What is called environment is that in which the conditions called physical are enmeshed in cultural conditions and are more than physical in its technical sense. Environment is not something around and about human activities in an external sense; it is their medium, or milieu, in the sense in which a medium is intermediate in the execution or carrying out of human activities, as well as being the channel through which they move and the vehicle by which they go on (Dewey & Bentley, 1949/1991, p. 244).

The transactional perspective can thus be seen as an attempt to dissolve the dualisms created within the traditional philosophy:

What has been completely divided in philosophical discourse into man and the world, inner and outer, self and not-self, subject and object, individual and social, private and public, etc. are in actuality parties in lifetransactions (Dewey & Bentley, 1949/1991, p. 248).

It is once again essential to point out that Deweys ambition was not to present a new universal theory or an ontology, but to present a method of inquiry or investigation (Dewey and Bentley 1949/1991, p. 152). It is therefore from a methodological perspective that we should understand his description of what is needed to understand peoples actions in a participant perspective:


neither he nor anything done or suffered can possibly be understood when it is separated from the fact of participation in an extensive body of transactions to which a given human being may contribute and which he modifies, but only in virtue of being a partaker in them (Dewey and Bentley 1949/1991, p. 243).

We and our environment are interwoven through our actions. This methodological perspective implies that both the psychological and the sociocultural are observable in actions and that they can therefore also be understood in terms of action. Investigated in this way, they will turn out as reciprocally constituting aspects of action.

As a consequence, the intrapersonal, interpersonal and institutional aspects of meaning making are treated as dimensions that are mutually defined and interdependent in ways that preclude their separation as units or elements (Rogoff, 1995, p. 140).6 Neither individual experience nor sociocultural activity appear in transactional investigations as factors that precede or occasion meaning making. Methodologically speaking, there is an indissoluble relation between an individuals experience and the discursive practice (s)he participates in both the individuals experience and the cultural activity constitute each other. Sociocultural activity arises from individual action, which means that we cannot isolate the sociocultural as an autonomous, causal factor. The experiences of the individual are formed during encounters in sociocultural activities. This also means that individual experiences cannot be isolated and assigned primary factor status. In other words, the sociocultural activity and the experience of the individual are each others prerequisites. It is not possible to understand one without referring to the other. This means that in transactional analyses none of these dimensions can be favoured in advance. The importance of the different dimensions thus becomes an empirical question, i.e. how the dimensions emerge in individuals actions in a specific event.

Rogoff has formed this holistic and relational approach with inspiration from both Dewey and Vygotsky. In understanding the personal plane, Rogoff puts forward a process-oriented perspective as an alternative to the perspective of internalisation. She sees learning and development as the individuals transformation of participation in an activity. This participation both contributes to the activity and changes the individual: participation is itself the process of appropriation (Rogoff, 1995, p. 151). Rogoff claims that this approach is the core of the sociocultural perspective: Without an understanding of such mutually constituting processes, a sociocultural approach is at times assimilated to other approaches that examine only part of the package (ibid, p. 141).


Analytical methods within a transactional approach

The research group SMED (Studies of Meaning-making in Educational Discourses) has been engaged in methodological development based on the perspectives presented above for several years. This work has resulted in a toolbox of methods for classroom studies and a number of empirical and methodological articles (see for example Wickman and stman 2002 a, b; Almqvist & stman, 2006; Lidar, Lundgren & stman, 2006; Wickman, 2006; hman & stman, 2007, Rudsberg & hman, 2010; Quennerstedt, hman & hman, accepted). Within the limits of this paper, in this final section we choose to present some of the developed methods. This presentation serves as an illustration of the practical use of Deweys transactional perspective and Wittgensteins first person perspective on language use in empirical analyses of classroom conversations and activities. When presenting the analytical approaches we do so in relation to common research questions within learning research.

It is not possible to detail all the different methods in this paper, although for those of you who are interested in such details we have tried to highlight works that do just this. Before the actual presentation we would like to reiterate that we analyse learning as individuals ways of coping and interacting with the environment in an activity. This emphasis on coping and coordination means that our focus is on what individuals do when they try to pursue an activity with specific purposes. Therefore, and as a consequence of a first person perspective on interaction and on language, it is necessary to acquire knowledge about the purposes that the interlocutors themselves pursue.7 Sometimes the purpose is obvious in the participants talk, although it can also be important to ask the teacher and students about the purpose.

The analytical methods presented here are the development of a method that is called Practical Epistemology Analysis (stman & Wickman 2001; Wickman & stman 2001, 2002a, b). Practical Epistemology Analysis (PEA) is built on the pragmatic turn of analysing and understanding education (cf. stman, 1996): what counts as true or relevant knowledge is different in different practices, and that this is the case because the purposes for actions are

It is important to notice that this methodological advice does not imply a psychological interpretation of intention. Instead we use the transactional approach illustrated by Wittgenstein as the following: An intention is embedded in its situation, in human customs and institutions. If the technique of the game of chess did not exist, I could not intend to play a game of chess. In so far as I do intend the construction of a sentence in advance, that is made possible by the fact that I can speak the language in question (Wittgenstein, 1953/1997, 337).


different in different practices (Rorty, 1991; cf. Lidar, Lundqvist, & stman, 2006). What can be considered to be true and valid knowledge is constructed in discourse practice, i.e. epistemology can be seen as a part of and a result of all human practices (Rorty, 1990).

All the methods presented are designed for analyses of events. The smallest event possible is one transaction (which requires that the purpose for the transaction is known). At a general level, when using the methods described the procedure largely follows Wittgensteins methodological advice: look at the circumstances when people use words and sentences (see, for example, Wittgenstein 1953/1997, 66; 1969/1997, 501).

It is also important to underline that the transactional perspective does not prevent methodological distinctions between different dimensions of the process. It is also fully possible to put one of these dimensions in the foreground and the other in the background of the analysis depending on research interest, as long as the dimensions are mutually and simultaneously described (see Rogoff, 1995; Garrison, 2001).

The role of the intrapersonal in learning Like Lave (1996), one could say that learning is not the issue for learning research. The mission is rather to understand why certain learning and not another takes place within an activity. In order to create such an understanding one needs to look into both the process of learning and the product of this process. When Wertsch (1998) introduced the term privileging, it could be argued that he brought the process of learning into focus in a way that is in accordance with a pragmatic perspective (stman & Wickman, 2001; stman, 2010). The term privileging make us pay attention to the question of why peoples learning takes one direction and not another and that these constitute possible and plausible directions. Through PEA a description of students privileging in a practice is acquired; i.e. a description of which practical epistemology students use in the studied practice.

In PEA four concepts are central: encounter, gap, relation and stand fast, all of which can be operationalised in terms of concrete actions. The term encounter is used to describe what happens when the students transact in a situation. An encounter can be made with the teacher, peers and/or the physical world. Gaps occur in these encounters and in order to fill the gap, relations have to be created between what the students already know and what is new 16

in the encounter. The relation takes the form of differences and similarities. The gap is sometimes obvious, for example when the participants hesitate, ask questions, make guesses etc. On other occasions the gap is immediately filled with relations. Sometimes the students are unable to fill the gaps the gap lingers. What stands fast for the different individuals in the situation is what the students already know.

Let us illustrate this perspective in discussions between two university students. The following transcript, taken from stman & Wickman (2001), is from a lesson where the students are investigating the morphology of insects.8 They have received instructions from the teacher to study the insects antennae, mouthparts etc. We enter the conversation when the students have observed a bumblebee in the stereomicroscope and are consulting the textbook. Lena Malin Do they have any antennae? No, they usually do though, dont they? In cartoon films they usually have antennae. (They discuss other matters for a while) Okay, if you put it like this: in all cartoon films Ive seen, then bumblebees always have antennae. Yes, they do. An artist whose picture Ive got. In her painting the bumblebee have got antennae. And shes one of those that make perfect representations.

Malin Lena Malin

In the conversation the students notice a gap: do bumblebees have antennae? Malin introduces her experience of cartoon films in order to answer the question, and Lena agrees with her conclusion. In the next meaning exchange Malin put forward another reason for believing that bumblebees have antennae: an artist who always makes representational pictures has painted bumblebees with antennae. The analysis is summarised in the table below. What is obvious here is that for the students a lot of terms stand fast, for example bumblebee, antennae, cartoon films and paintings. The learning that occurs is that they create relations between these and former experiences. This learning takes place through encountering prior experiences experiences of cartoon film and realistic paintings.

Using PEA, learning is the creation of relations as to what stands fast and the learning process is the creation of relations as to what stands fast in the encounters staged. This way of

A more elaborated analysis of university students use of practical epistemology is presented in Wickman and stman (2006).


perceiving learning and the learning process is a consequence of a first person perspective on interaction and language.

Gaps Do bumblebees have antennae or not?


Encounters with Real bumblebee, text book

Cartoon films bumblebees 1. Earlier experiences: antennae cartoon films 2. M L Realistic paintings Earlier experiences: realistic bumblebees antennae painting

In the analyses above it is obvious that students prior experiences are used to create the relations, thus bridging the gap that is created in the encounter with the real bumblebee. In order to bridge the gap, one has to stage encounters with the human or the physical world. In this example Malin encounters her prior experience with cartoon films and realistic paintings. This recalling of experiences means that the old experiences acquire new meaning, in this case as proof that bumblebees have antennas. Thus, using a first person perspective on interaction and language has radical methodological consequences: it becomes possible to create knowledge about individual continuity through studying a single transaction, since the different aspects of time past, present and future become visible in a single transaction. What is also important to note is that in the act of reactualisation change is inevitable. Thus, continuity and change coexist in the act of reactualisation.9 Although it is possible to use any transaction to make studies of individual continuity and change, it is often more convenient to start such analyses when a gap has become visible in transaction.

The role of the interpersonal in learning At least two different types of questions can be discerned in the interpersonal, or the social, role in learning. The first kinds of questions concern the role that norms and values institutionalised within a specific activity and group of people have for an individuals learning. This issue is for example dealt with in Almqvist & stman (2006) and stman

For more detailed information see hman and stman (2007), Lidar, Almqvist & stman (2009) and Quennerstedt, hman & hman, (accepted), where the ambition is explicitly to clarify the individual dimension of learning within a sociocultural frame.


(2010, forthcoming) by analysing the institutionalised expectations that are staged by the participants in communication. The second kinds of questions focus on what encounters with other people can mean for the learning. Here we deal with this second question by illustrating the role that teachers can have for students meaning making.

Lidar, Lundqvist and stman (2006) developed an approach Epistemological Move Analysis (EMA) in order to create knowledge about the role that teachers play in students privileging processes (see also Rudsberg & hman, 2010). In interactions with students, teachers perform practical and conversational actions, and some of these can be thought of as epistemological: they communicate to the students what counts as knowledge and what counts as relevant ways of acquiring knowledge in this particular practice or situation. These actions can be thought of as specific moves in a language game.

In epistemological move analyses, the description of teachers actions focuses on the effect these have on students meaning making. Consequently, it is only possible to acquire such information through an analysis of at least three transactions. If the students do not follow up a teachers action the action of the teacher cannot be described. Ascribing specific intentions to the teacher would not be in accordance with a first person perspective on interaction. EMA therefore starts with a PEA in order to identify the situations in which the teachers actions take place. It then ends with a PEA in order to determine whether the practical epistemology used by the students has changed. This procedure makes it possible to identify and describe the connection between teachers teaching practices and students privileging. What becomes obvious in the analyses is that the teachers different actions epistemological moves influence the students meaning making processes in a profound way. The practical epistemology that students use changes as an effect of the transactions between students and teacher. Students are not always able to proceed with the activity without the help of the teacher. Even in the most simple activity student often get lost because they are not given any clues as to what is worth noticing or not in the particular activity. Thus, perception, or identifying what is worth paying attention to, cannot be taken for granted. The analyses facilitate a description of the qualitatively different functions different epistemological moves that the teachers actions have in the context of students learning processes. In different ways, all the epistemological moves identified help the students to change their perception, their attention, i.e. to notice new things in an encounter. Even confirming moves such as nodding are attentional, since they offer confirmation to the students that they are 19

focusing on the right thing. When using different epistemological moves the teacher interacts with the students and thereby directs their attention to new and relevant things in the specific practice. In other words, the epistemological moves help the students to create new and relevant relations to what stands fast, pay attention to fruitful gaps or stage productive encounters. Consequently, the students change their way of privileging and can then create the intended knowledge.

The interplay between students and teachers that is identified in the analyses is an illumination of relations between the individual and the social dimension of learning. EMA facilitates such illumination through studies of peoples interactions in a discourse practice.

The role of the institutional in learning When working with the institutional, or the cultural, dimension at least two central questions need to be addressed: i) what roles do cultural norms and values have for students learning; and ii) what role do cultural artefacts have for students learning? The difference between these two questions and the question of the role of the social in learning is mainly one of scale. If the social concerns the group and the practice that is studied, the cultural concerns customs that is manifested in space and time that goes way beyond the particular group or practice being studied.

In order to answer the first question in situ analyses are often insufficient: complementary historical or comparative analyses are often also necessary. In this context the method of Communication Analyses of Companion Meanings (CACM) was developed as an attempt to identify the institutional dimension of students learning the socialisation that accompanies learning. The concept of companion meanings grew out of an ambition to conceptualise the collateral learning (Dewey, 1938/1997) that is connected to the learning of epistemic meanings, e.g. scientific meaning in science education (stman, 1996; Roberts & stman, 1998). CACM contain the three following steps:

Step 1. Practical epistemological analysis (PEA): an analysis that describes the relations created in the encounters.


Step 2. Language game analysis: adding an analysis of the words, expressions etc., used in the creation of these relations (step 1) helps to identify which language game is being used. In order to clarify how people use words in relation to other words we use an approach that is common in many discourse theories, namely comparison (see, for example, Edwards and Potter, 1992), i.e. a comparison between the specific languages used with other possible language uses. A norm (rule) for inclusion and exclusion is formulated on the basis of the comparison. Here it is crucial to note that norms or rules are part of a language game, since they are expressed through the use of language and are not regulating in the sense that we can understand and predict peoples actions by identifying and describing them (Edwards, 1997, p. 5). Furthermore, they are learned through practising a language game (Lundqvist, Almqvist & stman, 2009; Taylor, 2009; stman, 2010).

Step 3. Moral contextualisation: the identified norm is regarded as a moral norm. It is important to note, however, that a companion meaning analysis doesnt mean that researchers can take a stand as to whether the identified norm is moral or non-moral in character. The point is rather to treat them as possible candidates for inclusion in the moral sphere.10

When it comes to analyses of the role of artefacts, historical analyses are often unnecessary: it is enough to know that the artefact has been used for a long time in different practices. As mentioned at the beginning of this paper, there has been an intensive debate between cognitive and sociocultural researchers concerning the role that artefacts play in students learning. This debate implies that the other party neglects the individual and the cultural aspects when undertaking such investigations.11

Lidar, Almqvist & stman (in press) demonstrate how a transactional approach can escape a priori conceptions that directly lead to the mentioned fallacy:

As Dewey (1922/1988) emphases there are no universal demarcations that separates moral from non-moral since and which act that should be included as being moral varies: The foremost conclusion is that morals have to do with all activity into which alternative possibilities enter. For wherever they enter a difference between better and worse arises. // Yet it is a perilous error to draw a hard and fast line between action into which deliberation and choice enter and activity due to impulse and matter-of-fact habit. every reflective choice tends to relegate some conscious issue into a deed or habit henceforth taken for granted and not thought upon. Potentially therefore every and any act is within the scope of morals, being a candidate for possible judgement with respect to its better-or-worse quality (p. 279).


The fallacy highlighted by Hodkinson, Biesta & James (2007) related to the privileging in investigations of either agency or structure is also closely connected with this discussion. In elaborating on this fallacy they suggest that sociocultural researchers would benefit from the work of Bourdieu.


either that cultural artefacts are external manifestations that embody and represent specific conceptions and when people uses cultural artefacts these conceptions determines peoples actions and thinking

or that individuals prior conceptions govern how the artefact will be interpreted, which means that the prior conceptions determine individuals actions and thinking.

If we want to avoid this fallacy we need to start with the simple notion that it is only when people uses artefacts that we can create knowledge about how artefacts affect learning. Thus, the object for investigation must therefore be artefact in use. Lidar, Almqvist & stman (in press) found that students who use the same artefact in this case a terrestrial globe in order to answer an identical question (what is on the other side of the earth?) arrive at a variety of answers. On closer inspection, the differences in the answers were due to different ways of using the artefact, i.e. the students reactualised different experiences when encountering/using the artefact. This became evident because in PEA the focus of investigation is the creation of relations to what stands fast in the encounter with the terrestrial globe. This means that use of an artefact always involves uniqueness agency becomes evident in the act of reactualisation. The uses of PEA in this investigation also showed that when the terrestrial globe was given a certain meaning in its actual use the artefact-in-use mediated actions. In order to benefit from the presence of a cultural artefact (for example a terrestrial globe or a map) knowledge about the cultural conventions of using these tools has to be acquired. If this is established it is possible to benefit even if the physical artefact is not actually present. In the presented study, one of the groups of students held hands to represent the earth and then used this representation to arrive at an answer to the question.

If one acknowledges that we can only create knowledge about the role of cultural artefacts for learning through studying peoples actions it also becomes logical to acknowledge that the purpose of study is to find out under which circumstances the individual and the cultural come together in peoples use-of-artefacts. When doing this, social norms, power relations and so on turn out to be important circumstances (see hman, accepted).

Concluding remarks


The transactional perspective presented in this paper should not be apprehended as a theory of learning. Our intentions are rather to show how Deweys and Wittgensteins first person perspective offers philosophical clarifications of central methodological problems connected to in situ studies of learning that take intrapersonal as well as interpersonal and institutional dimensions into consideration. However, in using a transactional methodology based on a first person perspective a number of pitfalls need to be borne in mind. In the following we make brief mention of two of the most important pitfalls.

In striving to avoid dualism it is tempting to replace it with a universal claim for holism, and in this way exchange one metaphysical standpoint for another. The first pitfall could thus be described as making anti-dualism a universal category. While a dualistic point of departure tends to treat meanings and actions as always belonging to different spheres, a holistic metaphysics runs the risk of overlooking those situations in life where things appear as separate, or when a separation provides a more useful understanding. As Valsiner (1998) holds: The result could be a conceptual myopia structured complexity of the phenomena is overlooked and replaced by one or another way of describing unstructured (or dynamic) complexity (p. 352). What Valsiner is thus pointing to here is that the problem with a dualistic approach is not that it makes distinctions, but that the distinctions are preconceived. On the other hand, if we are prevented by holism from making any divisions and separations, we reduce the possibilities of organising our knowledge about a studied phenomenon. It is therefore important that the transactional approach does not prevent us from making empirically based distinctions when describing learning.

Valsiners critique also leads us to the second major pitfall when developing a mutually constituting approach, namely that such an approach can become a general explanatory label that is used to stop any need for further inquiry (ibid., p. 353). This is the case when the approach is used not only as a method with which to make investigations to create new knowledge, but is taken out of its context and given a metaphysical status. The problem is not that the assumptions of different approaches are necessarily wrong, but rather when they essentialise one feature, seen from a particular point of view into the essence of the way things really are (Pleasants, 1999, p. 24), i.e. to transform methodological assumptions into general and universal explanations of phenomena, events etc.


With these warnings in mind it is our hope that the findings from the different kinds of analyses presented towards the end of this paper eventually will provide sufficient knowledge to form the basis for an empirically grounded transactional theory of learning.

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