Sign Process
A Potpourri of Pragmatism, A Smattering of Symbolic Interactionism, Semiotics, and Science and Technology Studies, an Homage to Original Institutional Economics, and a Dabbling in Democratic Theory, by Lyn Headley, Male.   

Thursday, August 28, 2003
Summer Wrap-up Post

Well, my summer is almost over. I start grad school in a few weeks and in the meantime will be making a cross-country trip from Chicago to San Diego. Blogging has been a lot of fun but my frequency will probably decrease as I settle into grad student mode. Check back every once in a while though, as I plan to keep posting. I leave you with two things: my recent experiences reading Douglas Browning and my academic interests.

Douglas Browning has become my favorite living thinker. I've been reading and rereading Ontology and the Practical Arena for the past 3 weeks and profiting immensely from it. It is one of my three favorite books (along with Dewey's Logic and Mead's philosophy of the present). I think I have some idea of why Browning has been so helpful to me, and it is this: 1) He is concerned with the question of how to theoretically investigate topics whose subject matter is not well defined. 2) He gives practice a central role in his thought. Both of these are crucial for me too.

Now my academic interests: I am interested in constructing a coherent and empirically sound account of the interlocking realms of politics, technology, law, and economics around the complementary rubrics of practice and institutions.

Thanks for stopping by!
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
Mead's buried Treasure

I love George Mead because he was so gutsy. He had to know that none of his contemporaries would understand The Philosophy of the Act, that it would probably not be published, much less grasped, in his life time. I for one am profoundly grateful to him for tossing the historic ball our way. This one blows me away, for example:

"The epistemological problem is found in the objectivity of that which is subjective. The problem of relativity is found in the subjectivity of that which is objective. The solution of the epistemological problem is found in the recognition of the objectivity of the apparatus by which we reach the subjective, and the necessity of accepting the natural history of the individual and the community within which this apparatus was acquired. The solution of the relativist's problem is found in the recognition that the emergent value which the individual organism confers upon the common world belongs to that world in so far as it leads to its creative reconstruction. In so far as the world is passing into a future, there is an opportunity for that which is not objective to become objective."

This is buried in the miscellaneous fragments on perspectives section at the end of the book.
Monday, August 18, 2003
Linguistic Anthropology

I have recently become aware of linguistic anthropology, but have yet to delve deeply. This weekend I checked out a book called Natural Histories of Discourse, edited by Silverstein and Urban, and spent about a half hour browsing through it. I found a lot of the material very exciting and relevant, but I also felt stymied by what I hope were only terminological difficulties. I think I might turn to a different volume for firmer footing, and to that end I believe I will look for some of the items on this Syllabus for Linguistic Anthropology of Education, a class taught by stanton wortham at Penn.
Friday, August 15, 2003
This one looks interesting: A neuro-socio-cognitive model of self-awareness with an emphasis on inner speech. I've only read a little but Mead is discussed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003
The Browning-Bourdieu Link

"[The order of the practical arena] cannot be articulated in its own native applicability as a system, for the point of such an order is not the achievement of a 'systematic' but a practical understanding. If a system is to be applied to the practical arena, it can only be by means of moving from a "presystematic" to a 'systematic' level of consideration, by means, that is, of the application of a structure derived from another climate of concern and devoted to a different conception of understanding and significance.
-- Douglas Browning, Ontology and the Practical Arena

"Even if reciprocity is the objective truth of the discrete acts which ordinary experience knows in discrete form and calls gift exchanges, it is not the whole truth of a practice which could not exist if it were consciously perceived in accordance with the model."
-- Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice

Who else besides Hildebrand is building on browning?

Monday, August 11, 2003
Friday, August 08, 2003
Can Erkki Kilpinen shed light on Mead's relevance to economics?

Erkki Kilpinen, despite lacking a home page, seems to be a person. He just took his phd (sociology 2000) with a thesis entitled "The Enormous Fly-Wheel of Society: Pragmatism’s Habitual Conception of Action and Social Theory." (Helsinki: University of Helsinki) He has been a member of the Helsinki Metaphysical Club. He lists his current interests as (i) Peirce's general conception of human (and animal) rationality, (ii) G.H. Mead, and (iii) Pragmatistic social theory. Sounds promising. Even more exciting, however, are his recent forays into institutional economics with such essays as "What is Rationality? A New Reading of Veblen’s Critique of Utilitarian Hedonism", International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, 13(2), pp. 187-206, and (I've actually read this one) "Does Pragmatism Imply Institutionalism?" which is in the current (june 2003) issue of the Journal of Economic Issues. Then there is his recent Semiotica article "A Neglected Classic Vindicated. The Place of George Herbert Mead in the General Tradition of Semiotics."

Kilpinen is already being cited by philosophically savvy institutionalists like Geoffrey Hodgson. And he seems to sense an opening between strictly philosophical pragmatist concerns and the highly applied nature of much economic scholarship. But thus far his work has been mostly in the mode of consolidation. Kilpinen seems poised to pounce. But will he pull the trigger?

Disclaimer: I am a naive little boy.

[update: I've found what seems to be two pictures of Kilpinen in a turtleneck. ]

Thursday, August 07, 2003
A Plethora of Manicas

Yesterday I couldn't post anything because blogger was broken all day. However, I did manage to uncover some cool stuff by Peter Manicas like this review of Festenstein's book on Pragmatism and Political Theory and another review of a book about russian interpretations of american thought by John Ryder. There is also this challenging and unpublished piece whch scrutinizes many of Dewey's basic concepts, including his logic, in the context of realism, idealism and materialism. And Marx is in there too. Oops, I said Marx. Anyway, it's called Naturalism and Subjectivism: Philosophy for the Future? Manicas' mild critique of Dewey's fundamental approach didn't really resonate with me, but it did cause me to bump up Joseph Margolis a notch on the "to read" list.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003
Science studies and political commitments

Brian Martin is a dissident physicist who started doing science studies stuff about 15 years ago. His site is full of interesting books and papers. Go there now. Make sure you read the following article: Captives of Controversy: The Myth of the Neutral Social Researcher in Contemporary Scientific Controversies. Apparently it caused quite a stir in denying that science studies researchers should try to remain neutral in the sundry controversies to which they applied their demystifying epistemic elixirs. See especially the reply by Collins, who is apparently a bigwig. I should shut up now since I have no idea whose toes I am treading on.

Martin also gives a shout out to one of my own, Chandra Mukerji, and her book A Fragile Power. Chandra is the director of the Science Studies program at UCSD and I had an enjoyable chat with her in her office last april. Hey Chandra! What are we reading next month?

Tuesday, August 05, 2003
Are logical forms relative to specific kinds of inquiries?

I'm currently mulling over a quote by Tom Burke which I found on the Dewey list (incidentally there is a lot of great discussion archived over there) and which doesn't seem correct to me.

"More importantly, the logical forms of inquiry into inquiry will be nothing more nor less than the logical forms of inquiry, period. Inquiry into inquiry has no special logical forms all its own. Logical forms allegedly apply to *every* inquiry, including logic itself! We have misunderstood what he means by "logical forms" to even ask the question "What, then, of the logical forms of inquiry into inquiry?" Any forms or principles that apply to or in logic itself but not to inquiry in general will be special forms or principles of logic but not "logical forms" or "logical principles" (in the one sense of "logical"). "Logic forms" are not specific to any particular kind of inquiry but to inquiry in general."

Burke seems to say that for something to be considered a logical form, then it must not only yield warranted assertions in specific types of inquiry, but also...what? In all of them? In application to inquiry into inquiry in general, only? There are many kinds of inquiries going on out there, and inquiry into them, it seems to me, is basically an untouched frontier from a Deweyan point of view. I have isolated one type of primary inquiry which I call the technological platform and am currently investigating what I take to be its logical forms. Is such an inquiry into inquiry not Logic?
Monday, August 04, 2003
Look what I found while grubbing uninvited through the BRC website. Dewey/Hayek conference papers! These are fresh off the keyboard and most of them have the word "draft" plastered all over them, so don't tell anybody I sent you over there. But there are some nuggets. It's interesting to see these people interpret Dewey. You can tell that many of them don't really want to read too much of him and so try to get away with the usual generalities and authoritative interpretations. One example is the piece by Dupuy, called Intersubjectivity and Embodiment, which in general I liked very much and which isn't really about Dewey (but does contain a provocative hint about a comparison between Dewey and Bourdieu which I would love to see carried out). In the end Dupuy ends up relying on a one-paragraph summary of Dewey's views on truth in the form of "epistemic democracy" as described by, get this, Posner! Needless to say Dewey's views don't look so flattering through this lens. The paper is really good though and I don't want to give anyone too negative of an impression. In fact I'll try to review it tomorrow.

Friday, August 01, 2003
I am reading Kang's book from 1976 (the year of my birth) entitled _G.H. Mead's Concept of Rationality: A Study of the Use of Symbols and Other Implements_. It's part of the "Approaches to Semiotics" series edited by Thomas Sebeok and I am getting a great deal out of it. In this ambitious study Kang interprets Mead's entire corpus through the lens of the concept of rationality, clearly a central concern of Mead's but not one which I had thus far considered as THE central concept of his work. Kang does not discuss the application of Mead's ideas to economic theory but drops a number of hints, and the preponderance of institutional terminology and the implemental nature of rationality itself make the possibilities pretty clear. Which is why I am so amazed that Mead's work has almost completely escaped notice by the institutionalists. I'm not just talking about social psychology either. I'm talking about the nature of institutions and technology.

so sayeth Kang:

"Insofar as an implemental process is an institution, it is (or has been) a method. And insofar as an implemental process is a method (and insofar as its situations recur), it can be diffused and institutionalized. On the other hand, certain institutions remain actively conserved in a society in spite of the fact that the situations to which they are functional have disappeared. In a perspective of new situations, these institutions are no longer methodic, but obsolete; they are museum pieces at best, if they are not obstacles to introduction of new methods."

I think that the problem is that the institutionalists want to contrast institutions and technology, with the former relegated to irrationality. I hope I am oversimplifying here but in my readings ot the institutional literature this is the impression I have gotten. I need to think about it some more.

Thursday, July 31, 2003
Here is a first-rate article on the analysis of talent called Smart People or Smart Contexts? Cognition, Ability, and Talent Development in an Age of Situated Approaches to Knowing and Learning by Barab and Plucker at Indiana. From the abstract: "The purpose of this article is to support a concept of ability and talent development that is theoretically grounded in 5 distinct, yet interrelated, notions: ecological psychology, situated cognition, distributed cognition, activity theory, and legitimate peripheral participation." See also Barab and Kirshner's Guest Editor's Introduction: Rethinking Methodology in the Learning Sciences in the special issue of THE JOURNAL OF THE LEARNING SCIENCES, 10(1&2) containing this article and others.

One more snippet to whet your appetite:

The goal of these researchers, educators, and designers moves beyond offering explanations of, and onto designing interventions for. In fact, and consistent with pragmatists such as Dewey, Pierce, and James, to some degree it is the latter functional constraint that constitutes what is a useful explanation of.
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
Anybody else fascinated by the practice of name dropping? Are you so fascinated, Phil Agre? I know Bruno Latour is.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Tentative formulation of the difference between science and technology:

Technical communities enable the activity of other communities without requiring them to manipulate the symbol language used in reasoning about the activities in isolation from them. Scientific communities do not so enable others. That is, they do require that others manipulate an isolated symbol language in order to be further enabled.

The tricky part is the "enablement." It probably has something to do with Dewey's notion of isomorphism, whereby a single set of operations establishes a mapping between the relationships (or was it relations?) of two different domains.

Monday, July 28, 2003
I've been working through Peirce lately and it's a strange sensation (dislaimer: these are just impressions. don't take me too seriously). I think Bentley's assessment that Peirce was constrained by the prevailing language of his day is accurate. There is too much mentalistic baggage in the terminology he employs. But besides that, Peirce's system is a strange mix of brilliant insights and shocking naivete. The end result is that reading peirce is like digging diamonds out of a septic tank. It is a process that can make you rich, but you have to make sure to clean yourself off afterwards.

Here is an example of the brilliant Peirce:

"That there are gems at the bottom of the sea, flowers in the untravelled desert, etc., are propositions which, like that about a diamond being hard when it is not pressed, concern much more the arrangement of our language than they do the meaning of our ideas." [Mead, by the way, makes the same point in his brilliant carus lectures, Chapter I: The Present as the Locus of Reality ]

And here he displays his naive bitterness:

"If we endeavor to form our conceptions upon history and life, we remark three classes of men. The first consists of those for whom the chief thing is the qualities of feelings. These men create art. The second consists of the practical men, who carry on the business of the world. They respect nothing but power, and respect power only so far as it [is] exercised. The third class consists of men to whom nothing seems great but reason. If force interests them, it is not in its exertion, but in that it has a reason and a law."

Peirce's schizophrenia regarding the practical is truly baffling to me.

Friday, July 25, 2003
John Dewey was exploring the relationship between technology and law 80 years before the important work of Lawrence Lessig, and at a deeper level. Observe:

"A rule of law, although it may be laid down because of a special act as its occasion, is formulated in view of an indefinite variety of other possible acts. It is necessarily a generalization; for it is generic as to the predictable consequences of a class of facts. If the incidents of a particular occasion exercise undue influence upon the content of a rule of law, it will soon be overruled, either explicitly or by neglect." (LW.2.271)

Now let me translate the above into hacker speak:

In releasing a class library, the developer should ensure the general nature of the provided interface. The library should be useful to the developer; but it should not only be applicable to her particular situation, but instead be formulated in view of an indefinite variety of other possible applications. If the library is too specific to the developer's needs it will remain unused; unused functionality should be cut from the distribution.

(by the way, I'm looking for a case-by-case but also theoretical introduction to the process of legal reasoning and the evolution of the law. I will probably be checking out commons' Legal foundations of capitalism soon but if anybody has other recommendations, especially from a practical-political-pragmatist-philosophical point of view I'd love to hear them).

Thursday, July 24, 2003
Did you know that in 1926 Dewey wrote an article called Corporate Personality (available in the later works volume 2 along with his key political work _The Public and its Problems_) which was published in the Yale Law Review and which swept away a bunch of tired debates about the "real" or "fictional" status of the personhood attributed to corporations? This article is amazing, mostly because you can see how very tangential it is to the core of Dewey's life pursuits. It's as if he said "well, I'm not doing anything this weekend and these lawyers are awfully confused. So I'll polish off the old pragmatic method and give 'em a hand." Is this article the best short introduction to Dewey's philosophy? Maybe for certain people. Whatever, just read it.

Oh, for a little more on the Dewey-legal-institutional-economic theory nexus, I hiiiiiiiighly recommend Institutional Economics at Columbia University.
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
I have been going through the Dewey-Bentley correspondence and it's a lot of fun. Did you know Bentley referred to his life's pursuit as a "generalized economic theory?" (53) That tingles!

Sidney Ratner et al., eds., John Dewey and Arthur F. Bentley: A Philosophical Correspondence, 1932-1951 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1964).
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Ok here it is, the long awaited list of Lyn's favorite thinkers as of lunch time on July 22, 2003:

1) John Dewey
2) George Herbert Mead
3) Pierre Bourdieu
4) Douglas Browning
5) Erving Goffman

You are probably regarding this list with a strange mix of horror and fascination. You are also standing on the back of your chair, fist in the air, shouting "Where is Peirce!? Where is Peirce, you swine?!" I can only say that I'm working on it. To tell you the truth I haven't read that much Peirce. I just got the Buchler volume (philosophical writings) in the mail though via the used booksellers program which is great, and I'm going to give it a good look very soon.

In fact I am just about to put on a little James Brown and browse some Peirce for the remainder of my lunch period.