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Epistemology, Politics, and Ethics

in Sociocultural Theory
STEVEN L. THORNE
Department of Linguistics and Applied
Language Studies
The Pennsylvania State University
304a Sparks
University Park, PA 16802
Email: sthorne@psu.edu
This article describes the history and continuing development of Vygotsky-inspired sociocultural theories (SCT) and their application in second and foreign language research. In
particular, I emphasize the intellectual traditions out of which SCT emerged and the relation
of SCT to other critical scholarship. The discussion includes long-standing as well as recent
conceptual and methodological innovations in SCT research, the philosophical entailments of
SCT in regard to epistemology and ethical issues, and a select review of SCT second language
studies.

THE STUDY OF SECOND LANGUAGE ACquisition (SLA) has always included a diversity of
theoretical frameworks and approaches to datadriven inquiry. Tensions, however, have also been
an omnipresent feature of the intellectual landscape of the field. Contributing to an extended
intrafield debate (e.g., Beretta, 1991; Block, 1996;
Gregg, Long, Beretta, & Jordan, 1997; Lantolf,
1996; Long, 1990, 1993), Firth and Wagner (1997,
1998), on the one side, argued that the mainstream SLA literature continues to privilege individual cognition and thereby fails to take account
of critical sociolinguistic and communicative issues, and perhaps most importantly, that the interactionist SLA perspective constructs the representationally flat social identity of learner and native
speaker as research proxies for human agents. On
the other side, there is every reason to study the
cognitive and neurobiological aspects of mental
functioning as they relate to communicative performance and development. Sociocultural theory
offers a framework through which cognition can
be investigated systematically without isolating it
from social context or human agency. This framework is possible given that, as Lantolf (2004) explained,
The Modern Language Journal, 89, iii, (2005)
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C 2005 The Modern Language Journal

despite the label sociocultural the theory is not a


theory of the social or of the cultural aspects of human
existence. . . . It is, rather . . . a theory of mind . . . that
recognizes the central role that social relationships
and culturally constructed artifacts play in organizing
uniquely human forms of thinking. (pp. 3031)

My purpose in this article is to describe the history


and continuing development of Vygotsky-inspired
research and its application to second and foreign
language (L2) developmental processes.
As Ortega suggests in her introduction to this
special issue, a timely gauge of contemporary SLA
is possible through a focus on the troika of technical, epistemological, and ethical dimensions of
various approaches to L2 teaching, learning, and
research. I explore sociocultural approaches from
these vantage points and build the argument that
method, epistemology, and ethics are interconnected and profoundly political in their origins
and consequences.
To start, a terminological clarification is in
order. In part due to its use by multiple communities, there has been considerable and understandable debate about the label sociocultural
theorywhat it means, to whom it belongs, and
the intellectual lineage from which it emerges
(a colloquium at the 2004 American Association for Applied Linguistics addressed this very
issue, see Zuengler & Cole, 2004). There exists a

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general use of the term sociocultural (sometimes
hyphenated as socio-cultural ) in reference to social and cultural contexts of human activity (e.g.,
Heath, 1983; Ochs, 1987; Ochs & Schieffelin,
1984). However, the term sociocultural theory also
invokes a much more specific association to the
work of L. S. Vygotsky and the tradition of Russian cultural-historical psychology (Donato, 1994;
Frawley & Lantolf, 1985; Lantolf, 2000; Lantolf &
Appel, 1994; Swain, 2000; Thorne, 2000b, 2003).
This article addresses sociocultural in this second
and more constrained sense. Due to the near
ubiquity of sociocultural theory (hereafter SCT)
as a general descriptor of the multiple lineages
of Vygotsky-inspired applied linguistics research,
I will follow this convention although I prefer
and also will use the term activity theory, particularly in reference to more recent research (e.g.,
Y. Engestrom, 1987, 1999; Lantolf & Pavlenko,
2001; Leontev, 1981a). Although current SCT
approaches include numerous and somewhat divergent emphases, all would agree with Wertsch
(1995) that the goal of [such] research is to understand the relationship between human mental functioning, on the one hand, and cultural,
historical, and institutional setting, on the other
(p. 56). Furthermore, SCT and activity theory
place emphasis on using research processes and
findings to enact positive transformation in problem situations (Y. Engestrom, R. Engestrom, &
Kerosuo, 2003; Thorne, 2004).
This article is roughly divided into two halves.
The first half describes the intellectual antecedents and development of SCT approaches
up to current work in activity theory, while the
second half outlines contemporary SCT-informed
SLA research with a focus on the methodological,
epistemological, and ethical dimensions to this
work. Discussion of SCT research is provided to
link theoretical arguments with L2 (and other)
contexts. In addition, I present problems and limitations within SCT while also describing strengths
of this framework.
HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF
SOCIOCULTURAL APPROACHES
Sociocultural theory has matured over its approximately 80-year history as a theory of human
development that unites the ontogeny of an individual with the cultural-historical milieu and
the variable processes of participation in culturally organized activity. Creative fusions rooted in
Vygotskys seminal work form an array of interpretive frameworks for addressing problems and

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questions of language development. Although
rooted in Marxist and Vygotskian theory (the relationship between these two theories will be discussed in the following section), SCT approaches
are an open theoretical enterprise that, through
the continued labors of its practitioners, have continually adapted to changing ideological and material challenges while retaining, with a kind of
rigid resilience, a commitment to the principal
concept of culturally mediated higher-order mental functioning.
The evolution of Vygotksky-inspired theorizing
is often portrayed as occurring over three generations (Y. Engestrom, 2001; see also Bakhurst, 1991,
1997; Cole, 1996), the first of which centers on
Vygotsky and cultural mediation. The second generation begins with Leontev (e.g., 1981a), who accepted the importance of cultural mediation but
emphasized cultural activity as the principle that
dialectically relates external forms of social life to
individual and collective psychology. This emphasis continues to be elaborated in third generation
SCT research. These developments are described
in more detail in the following sections.
First and Second Generations of SCT:
Mediation and Activity
Although critical of the knee-jerk and often
dogmatic appropriations of Marxist doctrine that
were rampant during the Bolshevik revolution,1
Vygotsky was inspired by Marxist notions of social justice and committed to forming a psychology that would influence the nascent mass intervention of public education, a project he hoped
would provide a cognitively and socially progressive function in society (Prawat, 2000).2 At this
early point in the narrative, I am compelled to
comment that Marxs philosophical, economic,
and sociological writings are unjustly, if also understandably, associated with totalitarian regimes
in this postcommunist world where global circuits
of capital have seemingly won out over the ethical concern for the greatest good for the greatest
number. As critical theorist Terry Eagleton (2003)
described the political ethics of Marx, the socialist society is one in which each attains his or her
freedom and autonomy in and through the selfrealization of others. Socialism is just whatever
set of institutions it would take for it to happen
(p. 170).
Wertsch (1985) suggested that Vygotskys developmental research grew out of and incorporated
three Marxist principles. The first was Marxs
suggestion that units of analysis should be holistic.

Steven L. Thorne
Vygotsky applied this principle to psychology and
argued that collective human history and ontogenetic developmental processes must both be
addressed in an account of human mental functions (i.e., what Vygotsky termed the genetic
method). Second was Marxs formulation that human consciousness is social in origin. In this
regard, Vygotsky was particularly influenced by
Marxs sixth thesis on Feuerbach, which stated
in part that human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it
is the ensemble of social relations (Marx, 1972a,
p. 145). The third and critically important influence on Vygotskys work was Engelss writings on
the centrality of tool and sign mediation in human
functioning. These influences suggest more than
a modification of epistemology and method, for
essentially, this is a proposal for a new ontology
that describes higher-order3 mental and behavioral control as the internalization of cultural and
linguistic resources (Frawley, 1997).
Vygotskys (1981) genetic law of cultural development brings these three issues together in an
illustration of the mediated processes of individual and collective development. The well-known
formulation is as follows:
Any function in the childs cultural development appears twice, or on two planes. First it appears on the
social plane, and then on the psychological plane.
First it appears between people as an interpsychological category, and then within the child as an intrapsychological category. This is equally true with regard to
voluntary attention, logical memory, the formation of
concepts, and the development of volition. . . . It goes
without saying that internalization transforms the process itself and changes its structure and functions. Social relations or relations among people genetically
underlie all higher functions and their relationships.
(p. 163)

In relation to psychological theory in the early


20th century, Vygotsky (1981) stated that the challenge in psychology is to show how the individual
response emerges from the forms of collective life.
In contrast to Piaget, we hypothesize that development does not proceed toward socialization, but
toward the conversion of social relations into mental functions (p. 165). Vygotsky advanced a model
of human activity that emphasized tool mediation
as necessary to carry out cognitive and material
functions. Commenting on Vygotskys concept of
mediation, Y. Engestrom (1999) explained that
the idea is that humans can control their own
behaviornot from the inside, on the basis of

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biological urges, but from the outside, using and
creating artifacts (p. 29).
The second generation of cultural-historical research began some years after Vygotskys death
and draws its primary inspiration from the
Kharkov school of Soviet psychology, specifically
the work of A. N. Leontev (e.g., 1981a). Despite certain divergences from Vygotskys work,
activity theory, as it became known, is considered
part of Vygotskys lineage (Frawley, 1997; van der
Veer & Valsiner, 1991). Although Vygotsky and
Leontev both proposed that participation in culturally organized activity generates higher mental
functions, their emphases differed significantly.
Vygotskys writings argued for the genesis and mediation of mind by cultural tools (semiosis). This
focus on cultural mediation was constructively
contested in Leontevs (1981b) formulation that
emphasized the genesis and mediation of mind
through sensuous human activity (to paraphrase
Marx, 1972a, p. 144). Activity in this sense refers to
social relations and rules of conduct that are governed by cultural, political, and economic institutions (Ratner, 2002). Leontev and subsequent
activity theorists elaborated this shift by more formally operationalizing the roles of communities,
the rules that structure them, and the continuously negotiated distribution of tasks, powers, and
responsibilities among the participants of an activity system (Cole & Y. Engestrom, 1993, p. 7).4
Third-Generation Developments and Knotworking
The incipient third generation of activity theory is, at the time of this writing, still a work
in progress. Leading third-generation SCT researchers see activity theory not as fixed or completed, but as an evolving community of internationally dispersed practitioners which itself forms
a multivoiced activity system (Y. Engestrom,
1993, p. 64). As such, activity theory provides a set
of heuristics and tools that can be (and should be)
situationally adapted to the processes under consideration.5 Y. Engestrom (2001) described the
third generations ongoing task as that of developing conceptual tools to address dialogue, a multiplicity of participant perspectives, and the interrelations between defined activity systems.6
A recent innovation in this direction is the
metaphor of knotworking (Y. Engestrom, R.
Engestrom, & Vahaaho, 1999), which provides a
theoretical framework for relating multiple activity systems across time and space. Whereas teams
are considered relatively stable human and resource configurations, and networks, similarly, are

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stable structures within which nodes are accessed
by individuals or collectives, Y. Engestrom et al.
(1999) developed knotworking to describe the
construction of constantly changing combinations of people and artifacts over lengthy trajectories of time and widely distributed in space
(p. 345). They described this conceptual approach as follows:
Knotworking is characterized by a pulsating movement of tying, untying and retying together otherwise
separate threads of activity. The tying and dissolution
of a knot of collaborative work is not reducible to any
specific individual or fixed organizational entity as the
center of control. The center does not hold. The locus
of initiative changes from moment to moment within
a knotworking sequence. Thus, knotworking cannot
be adequately analyzed from the point of view of an
assumed center of coordination and control, or as an
additive sum of the separate perspectives of individuals or institutions contributing to it. The unstable
knot itself needs to be made the focus of analysis.
(pp. 346347)

Y. Engestrom et al. (1999) pointed out the important need to distinguish between individually
and collectively based forms of knotworking. Intersubjectivity is not reducible to either the inter action between or the subjectivity of each participant. Both are needed (p. 354). This distinction
allows the knotworking principle to be used to
analyze, for example, an individuals movement
through time and space or an activity system at
the various levels of individual, artifacts, and regularity of temporal and structural forms (such as
may occur in medical institutionsthe site of the
knotworking researchcourts of law, educational
settings, nightclubs, and workplaces). I consider
knotworking a compelling advance in the adaptive evolution of activity theory to changing life
and work conditions in the 21st century.
To my knowledge, this approach has not been
applied to educational or communicative situations. However, some of my colleagues and I are
applying the knotworking concept to L2 learning issues (Thorne & Kinginger, 2005) through
an examination of Internet and cell phone use by
students studying abroad. It is now common for
students abroad to converse daily with home communities via instant messaging, email, and Weblog (or blog ) technologies (see Thorne & Payne,
2005), while the cell phone has become a necessary communication tool for social integration in
much of Europe and Asia (Katz & Aakhus, 2002).
Is the use of these communication tools constructive for the ostensible goals of in situ language
learning? This is the empirical question we are
addressing through an ecological assessment of

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the functions and outcomes of Internet and cell
phone usage within the context of building and
maintaining social relationships in study abroad
contexts. We consider this study one of many potential applications of the knotworking approach
to late modern communicative practices and their
relationship to development.
Challenges to SCT: Concepts, Schooling,
and Language
A central challenge confronting SCT is the
assumption by many practitioners that scientific
concepts and formal schooling have a positive valence for all populations (although see Tulviste,
1991, for a different view). This idealized perspective is in direct contradiction to the research of
reproduction theorists and critical pedagogues,
who have described formal schooling as having
the potential to marginalize further already disenfranchised populations (e.g., Bowles & Gintis,
1976; Giroux, 1988; Willis, 1981; in relation to L2
contexts, see Norton & Toohey, 2004). This issue
articulates with the concern, to build on Martins
(1992) work, that meaning potential , the capacity
to participate in and produce meaning for oneself and others, is unevenly distributed across individuals and groups as well as across institutions
and communities. Although teaching students to
perform competently using power-genres of communication (e.g., standard linguistic varieties and
higher, dominant social class registers) is a utilitarian and necessary goal of formal education (to
be clear, I support such efforts for their tangible and immediate efficacy), it is also a politically
conservative strategy that does little to alter the
hierarchical socioeconomic class structures that
marginalize speakers of other, generally mutually
intelligible but lower status, varieties. There is a
clear ideological tension between wanting to create a more equitable society by advocating opportunities to develop specific cognitive and semiotic
resources, and falling into what Pennycook (2001)
described as the emancipatory modernist
(pp. 3641) trap of simply supplanting one form
of domination with anothera condition Foucault (1972) theorized as surface differences in
morphology that at a more profound level are
based on the same generative episteme.7 Practitioners of SCT and activity theory are attempting to address these issues, however, by focusing greater attention on power and agency in
their analyses, particularly by including concerns
voiced in the critical sociology of knowledge literature (see Jocuns, 2005)8 and an awareness of
what Bourdieu and Passeron (1977) termed the

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Steven L. Thorne
symbolic violence associated with the epistemological prescriptivism endemic to most formal
schooling settings. Recent research in the areas
of composition and writing, education, and use
of technologies for learning has been particularly strong in uniting activity theory with critical approaches to pedagogy, identity, agency, and
power (e.g., Bazerman & Russell, 2003; Prior,
1998; Russell, 1997; Sawchuk, 2003).
Another substantive critique of SCT is that
it does not explicitly provide a detailed view
of language (e.g., Mitchell & Myles, 1998), although recent studies have linked together the
concept of activity with semiotic performance
(see Diamondstone, 2002; R. Engestrom, 1995;
Wells, 1999, 2002). Partly in response to this need,
there have emerged a number of direct applications of SCT to semiotics and additional language learning such as those by Donato (1994,
2004), Hall and Verplaetse (2000), Lantolf and
Pavlenko (2001), Kramsch (2000), Lantolf and
Thorne (in press), Thorne (2000a, 2004), and
van Lier (2004), among others. On a more conceptual level, Thorne and Lantolf (in press) and
Lantolf and Thorne (in press) have developed an
SCT model of communicative practice that enjoins philosophy of language (e.g., Peirce, 1955;
Searle, 1995; Wittgenstein, 1958), emergentist approaches to language (MacWhinney, 2001) and
grammar (Hopper, 1998), usage-based language
acquisition (Tomasello, 2003), and Vygotskian
language theorists (Rommetveit, 1992; Volosinov,
1973); see also Thorne (in press) for a discussion
of SCT and neurobiological approaches to communication and language processing. This body
of work constitutes a modest start toward building greater capacity within SCT for addressing
more broadly the specifics of language development as well as linguistically mediated cognitive
development.
As mentioned previously, from the analysts
perspective, constructing an activity system as a
research object involves defining the roles that
people, institutions, and artifacts play in momentto-moment practice, thus eliding the analytic
blind spots that teacher-, student-, or technologycentered approaches tend to produce. This framework theorizes agency as enabled and constrained
(a) by material and semiotic tools such as languages and literacies, pedagogical frameworks,
and conceptions of learning; (b) by the relevant
communities; and (c) by the historical and emergent rules and divisions of labor that structure the
ongoing activity. Agency will be a focal theme in
the research discussed in the following sections.
First, however, I address the themes of methodology and epistemology.

METHODOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY


IN SCT
Tool-and-Result, Process Analysis, and Strategic
Essentialism
Technical/methodological and epistemological concerns are fused within SCT. In this sense,
Newman and Holzman (1997) described Vygotsky, I think correctly, as a pre-postmodernist
(pp. 2526), along with Wittgenstein, in that he
was critical of research that divorces or ignores
the mutually constitutive relationships between
methodology and epistemology.9
Concepts, tools, and techniques do not result in
the uncovering of knowledge; they are themselves
nonneutral, historically formed producers of particular kinds of knowledge. Though it is in some
ways an obvious point, research methodologies
and genre-specific write-ups necessarily truncate
the complexity of the phenomena they represent
in essentializing, if also creatively interpretive,
forms that are organized according to political
and epistemological conventions.10 (The author
reflexively notes that this text is no exception!)
Vygotsky (1978) the methodologist, it seems, was
keenly aware of the relationship between methodology and the results of research, and some 75
years ago wrote the following:
The search for method becomes one of the most important problems of the entire enterprise of understanding
the uniquely human forms of psychological activity . . . the
method is simultaneously prerequisite and product, the tool
and the result of the study. (p. 65)

Newman and Holzman (1993) interpreted


Vygotskys statement as making a distinction between tool-for-result, which ontologically separates a method from the knowledge it produces,
and tool-and-result, which explicitly observes an
ecology between the methodological choices a researcher makes and the resultant knowledge, description, or understanding he or she produces
(see also Grabois, 2004). Though method does
not dictate results, it sets parameters that channel the construction of data and interpretative
possibilities. This is the case for all approaches
to research, includingof coursethose associated with SCT. The point, as has been recognized in anthropology for decades (e.g., Clifford
& Marcus, 1986), is to recognize the ecological relationship between method and research results
and to build reflexivity into the analysis accordingly. Newman and Holzman (1993) saw this point
as central to Vygotskys contribution to psychology. In their rather radical reading of Vygotskys
work, his tool-and-result position evokes the

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revolutionary capacity of the human species,
through making meaning, to transform their material and symbolic environments.11
Vygotsky (1978) and the theoretical traditions
that are inspired by his work attempted to address the aforementioned concerns by engaging
in process analysis as opposed to object analysis (p. 65). In contrast to methodologies that
suggest the isolatability of variables and phenomena, SCT theorists would argue that though context, language (both learning and use), and subjectivity are analytically separable, and can be
profitably examined as such, such analyses are
most useful when embedded in a holistic processontology that can be described as situated activity
(Hanks, 1996; Lave & Wenger, 1991). As Nardi
(1996) tersely argued, you are what you do and
what you do is firmly and inextricably embedded in the social matrix of which every person is
an organic part (p. 7). The prominent Russian
philosopher, Evald Ilyenkov (1977), proposed a
similar formulation:
Thinking is not the product of an action but the action
itself, considered at the moment of its performance,
just as walking, for example, is the mode of action of
the legs, the product of which, it transpires, is the
space walked. (p. 35)

In reference to Bourdieus life-long commitment


to the theoretical construct of social practice, often explicitly aligned with SCT (e.g., Ratner, 2002;
Thorne, 2000b), Calhoun, LiPuma, and Postone
(1993) argued that social life . . . must be understood in terms that do justice both to objective
material, social, and cultural structures and to the
constituting practices and experiences of individuals and groups (p. 3). This is a reasoned characterization that describes well SCTs commitments
to ecological validity.
A final note on this theme concerns research
as knowledge production. As I have discussed
in an earlier publication (Thorne, 2000b), critical theorist Gayatri Spivak (1993; see also Spivak
interview as cited in Harasym, 1988) described
knowledge production as appropriately involving
the strategic use of essentialism (p. 66).12 Responsible theorizing through politically strategic
essentialization involves denaturalizing representations of data and category formation and affirming that research participants are agents with
personal and collective histories that matter. In
essence, Spivak called for a self-conscious, political awareness of how we as theory builders are
socially, ideologically, and institutionally located.
Pennycook (2001) built on this argument and sug-

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gested that using essentialism strategically is at
least one way to do ones politics that potentially
catalyzes forms of analysis that lead to forms of
action (p. 73). This is an ethical issue that relates equally to scientific inquiry, theory building,
and grounded educational practice. Ethics and
epistemology matter and should inform SLA research and theory in such a way as to combat what
Bourdieu (1991) described as the visible effects
of the domination exercised by the sovereign discipline (p. 32).
Methodology in L2 Research Using SCT
Vygotskys specific approach to method included four genetic domains (here genetic is used
to indicate historical time frame) within which
to observe mental functioning: (a) phylogenesis
of Homo sapiens as a species, (b) sociocultural
development of human cultures over historical
time, (c) ontogenesis of individuals over the life
span, and (d) microgenesis of particular mental
functions and processes over shorter periods of
time.13 The latter two domains are the most relevant for L2 research,14 though studies focusing
on phylogenetic (Tomasello, 1999) and sociocultural levels (Cole, 1996; Scribner & Cole, 1981)
have been highly productive in forging connections between human cultures and the universal
and heterogeneous qualities of higher-order (i.e.,
acculturated) mental functions.
In terms of explicit methodological choices
within the microgenetic level of L2 research using SCT, a number of methodologies are used, including textual and discourse analysis (Kramsch,
2000; Pavlenko & Lantolf, 2000), mediated discourse analysis (Scollon, 2001; Scollon & Scollon,
2004), microinteractional/conversational analysis (Ohta, 2001), and conversational analysis/ethnomethodology (Mondada & Pekarek
Doehler, 2004; see also Markee & Kasper, 2004).15
To discuss the latter briefly, Mondada and Pekarek
Doehler (2004) built on the position that learning
and cognition are processes distributed in, and
emergent of, talk-in-interaction. In this view, social order and epistemological norms are achievements, not a priori entities, that are jointly
established, maintained, and transformed in ongoing processes of interaction. Mondada and
Pekarek Doehler forged a complementary union
between conversation analysis, which they used
as the method for analyzing talk-in-interaction
and for reconceptualizing the constructs of task
and competence, and SCT, with its orientation
toward the cultural mediation of higher-order

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Steven L. Thorne
cognitive functioning and its development. Based
on data from L2 learners of French,16 they argued
for a concept of competence in which capacities . . . are embedded and expressed in collective
action (p. 515). Furthermore, they contended,
and I agree, that the Vygotskian concept of mediation is more than a means for solving problems
and creating learning possibilities. Rather, the
process of mediation-in-interaction can be understood as part of the methods by which members
construct learning environments, tasks, identities,
and contexts (p. 515; see also Pekarek Doehler,
2002). Though the use of conversation analysis
to provide evidence of development per se remains an outstanding challenge (see Hall, 2004),
the syncretism of conversation analysis and SCT is
a strong example of evolving hybrid frameworks
that increase the explanatory power of both mediated cognition and talk-in-interaction.
A final example of a method that is just emerging into SCT-based L2 research is dynamic assessment, a procedure that unites the goals of better understanding a learners potential through
structured sets of interactions and fostering development (as visible through advancements in performance) through those interactions. Dynamic
assessment is rooted in a construct called the zone
of proximal development (ZPD). Among Vygotskys
many contributions to cultural and educational
psychology, in the West, the ZPD construct has
proliferated most broadly and arguably has had
the greatest impact (Chaiklin, 2003; as related to
L2 research, see Aljaafreh & Lantolf, 1994; Kinginger, 2002). A compelling attribute of the ZPD is
that, in contrast to traditional tests and measures
that only indicate the level of development already
attained, it is forward-looking through its assertion that mediated performance, and discovery
of the qualities of assistance necessary for a particular individual to perform particular competencies, can be indicative of independent functioning in the future. Dynamic assessment methods
involve mediating an examinees performance by
providing prompts and leading questions during
the assessment intervention itself. Its primary goal
is to fuse assessment procedures with interactive
opportunities for learning, and in so doing, to
produce a nuanced understanding of an examinees current and future developmental potential.
Though further discussion is beyond the scope of
this article, Lantolf and Poehner (2004) have provided an in-depth description of dynamic assessment use in education, and also have suggested
guidelines for its use in L2 contexts. In addition, they have prepared a companion article (in
press) that extends principles of dynamic assess-

ment to formative assessment and L2 classroom


practice.
EPISTEMOLOGY AND ETHICS IN SCT
Task, Activity, and Agency
Within SLA, agency and intentionality are debated concepts that signify ontological variance in
worldview. These issues are put into sharp relief
through the ontological entailments underlying
tasks, in cognitively oriented SLA, and activity, in
SCT. In a frequently cited article, Coughlan and
Duff (1994) argued that what is often conceived
of as a fixed task is really quite variable, not
only across subjects but within the same subject at
different times (p. 174). Task, as Coughlan and
Duff described it, refers to a behavioral blueprint (p. 175) that researchers employ to elicit
linguistic data. An activity, the term they prefer,
describes what individuals and groups actually do
while engaged in some communicative process.
The term activity, then, brings together cognitive/communicative performance as it relates to,
and in part produces, its social-institutional context (e.g., Mondada & Pekarek Doehler, 2004).
This issue is further addressed in the work of Roebuck (1998, 2000), who builds on Coughlan and
Duffs (1994) work to examine not only what participants in studies produce as data, but also
how they position themselves in psycholinguistic
tasks and the effects of positioning on observable
behavior (e.g., elicited data).17 Roebuck (2000)
took up this concern through an expose of how
research subjects and subjectivity are treated in
natural science and hermeneutic approaches. She
employed activity theory for its emphasis on intentionality and goal-directed action, which can
challenge the assumption that individuals and
their activity in tasks can be controlled (p. 79).
In her own L2 research, Roebuck demonstrated
that participants ostensibly involved in the same
task are in fact engaged in different activities due
to each participants personal history, goals, and
current abilities.
In response to this SCT view, Ellis (2003) affirmed that task performances are always constructed rather than determined but argued that
recognition needs to be given to the propensity
of certain tasks to lead to particular types of language behaviour (p. 201). I agree that learner
agency does not determine activity, but neither do tasks uniformly influence learner performance. Part of the issue is lexical. Tasks, on the
one hand, are imagined unilateral interventions.
Activities, on the other hand, are multilaterally

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constructed process-ontologies. To differentiate
task and activity, Roebuck (2000) suggested that
the task represents what the researcher . . . would
like the learner to do, and activity is what
the learner actually does. Thus, activity is how
learnersas agentsconstruct the task (p. 84).
Ahearn (2001), an anthropologist who recently
published a stellar review article focusing on
language and agency, described agency as the
socioculturally mediated capacity to act in a
world where all action is socioculturally mediated, both in its production and in its interpretation (p. 112).18 Within a particular social-spatialtemporal configuration, there are constraints and
affordances that make certain actions probable,
others possible, and yet others impossible (Ellis
would likely agree on this point). In this sense,
differences in conceptualizations of agency within
SLA may be a (highly consequential) matter of
emphasis. For task-oriented researchers, a strong
movement within SLA research and pedagogy, the
gravitational pull of a task draws the research participant inexorably into the form of the model.
For activity-oriented researchers, the unilateral intervention of a task, or plan with its accompanying artifacts and orientations, is met by the production of what might be termed a countertask by
the participants, which I liken to Charles Peirces
(1955) notion of the interpretant (p. 99). This
meeting of the initial sign (researchers task)
with a participant-generated sign (countertask)
necessarily implies a difference between the researchers task and what SCT researchers would
describe as the participants activity. Yet critical to
this specific context, the participant is in the position of responding to conditions put forth by the
researcher.19 This fact underscores the unequal
distribution of control as to how the task plays out
as an activity, but does not diminish the multilateral construction of activity as it unfolds in time.
Ellis (2003) concluded his discussion of this issue
by stating that it is not appropriate to reject task
as a legitimate target for study and to insist on the
overriding importance of learner agency in determining activity (p. 201). As long as the task
is the legitimate target for study, again I find
myself in agreement with Ellis. If, however, one
is interested in actual processes of learning and
development that take the learners point of view
into account, then a focus on activity is necessary
and desirable.
Agency and Identity
Of course, a robust conceptualization of agency
requires more complexity than a dichotomized

The Modern Language Journal 89 (2005)


taskagency dualism. Critical applied linguistics
research, of which SCT is but one proliferation,
increasingly addresses processes such as the ongoing performance of identity and intentionality within institutional and social networks that
afford and constrain participation structures (in
the sense of Philips, 1983; see also McNamara,
1997; Norton, 2000). Lantolf and Pavlenko (2001)
developed a conception of agency from the perspective of activity theory which sharply contrasts
with popular conceptions of free will and independent thinking. Agency as it is construed in
activity theory is never a property of a particular individual; rather, it is a relationship that is
constantly co-constructed and renegotiated with
those around the individual and with the society
at large (Lantolf & Pavlenko, 2001, p. 148). As
Lantolf and Pavlenko suggested, one way to view
the relational construction of agency is provided
by the more recent formulations of activity theory
(e.g., Y. Engestrom, 1987, 1999), where an individual is mediated not only by material and symbolic
tools, but also always by social formations such as
immediate communities of practice (in the sense
of Lave & Wenger, 1991) as well as distant or even
imagined communities (e.g., Anderson, 1991; see
also Wenger, 1998).
A relational and historically developed formulation of agency suggests that learners actively
engage in constructing the terms and conditions
of their own learning (Lantolf & Pavlenko, 2001,
p. 145). This view of human agency
is about more than performance, or doing; it is intimately linked to significance. That is, things and
events matter to peopletheir actions have meanings and interpretations. It is agency that links motivation . . . to action and defines a myriad of paths taken
by learners. (pp. 145146)

Agency in this sense is not a preexisting value;


it is continually constructed (or debilitated) as a
qualitative function of orientation to activity. In
other words, with its concomitant components
of intentionality and desire, agency is a culturally (in)formed attribute whose development is
shaped by participation in specific social practices.20 Thus, in application to language development, learners will be influenced by their personal histories of language education as well as by
language ideologies in the form of implicit and
explicit discourses produced at institutional and
nation-state levels (Lantolf & Pavlenko, 2001). An
individuals history will have an impact on learning strategies and motives for studying the L2
(Gillette, 1994), but it is also critical to affirm

Steven L. Thorne
that agency is mutable and may transform in response to ongoing and anticipated activity.21 This
is an exceptionally important point upon which
the emancipatory (if also utopian) premise of education is, or should be, built. An outcome of activity in language classrooms may include linguistic,
pragmatic, and discourse grammatical features of
the focus language. But equally important is for
outcomes of a local action to enhance an individuals capacity to perform relevant and competent
identities. This is one aspiration that activity theory shares with critical pedagogynot only to cultivate developing expertise at the level of communicative performance, but also to support ones
continued development as a person. As Lantolf
and Pavlenko (2001) suggested from an activity
theoretical perspective, SLA is about much more
than the acquisition of forms: it is about developing, or failing to develop, new ways of mediating
ourselves and our relationships (p. 145).
The following section reviews two case studies
in illustration of the SCT notion that agency is
a relational construct, is intimately connected to
motivation, and has significant correlations to L2
development.
Contrasting Cases of Interpersonal Mediation
The structural and interactional qualities of L2
settings and their consequences for more than the
development of language ability have been the
topic of research by Lantolf and Genung (2002)
and Thorne (2003). Lantolf and Genung opened
their case study with a quotation from Ehrman
and Dornyei (1998), who said that proponents of
[socioculturally oriented] theories, such as Lave
and Rogoff, suggest that effective learning and
motivation are always socially imbedded (p. 261).
Lantolf and Genung (2002) played on this notion by adding, as will become clear, ineffective learning is also socially embedded. It is not
embedding that makes learning effective; it is
the quality of the social framework and the activity carried out within that framework that determine learning outcomes (p. 176). They then
used activity theory to explicate the case of an
enthusiastic graduate students failed attempt to
learn Chinese in an intensive summer language
program.
The tension began when the doctoral student
in linguistics, PG, a highly motivated and effective language learner (p. 184) and specialist in
SLA, began the course in order to fulfill a degree
requirement but also because she had a strong desire to learn the Chinese language. Her prior experience with foreign language courses had been

401
positive, and her expectation was that a portion
of everyday classroom interaction would include
communicatively oriented opportunities. To her
surprise, instruction involved only highly structured syntactic pattern practice based on material the students were to have learned through
self-study the night before. Factual validity and
communicative elements were entirely absent and
only responses adhering to the immediate syntactic pattern in question were accepted. The instructors role was to correct errors in syntax and
pronunciation. The students role was to follow
precisely the repetition and substitution format
independent of prior instruction that may have
been relevant. In her journal, PG made the following observation:
On July 28, the NS instructor was trying for the umteenth time to instruct us in the use of the particle
le. This particle had been a cause of confusion for
over a week, and all of us were at wits end trying to
get it straight. Part of our confusion arose from the
insistence that we use only a specific pattern to answer on any given day. What we said the day before,
which was perfectly acceptable and grammatically correct then, was, magically, not acceptable and not correct the next day, because the instructor was drilling
a different optional form. (Lantolf & Genung, 2002,
p. 186)

This and other related incidents illustrate that,


from PGs perspective, the division of labor in the
classroom resulted in a frequent affront to her integrity as a person (p. 186). PG engaged both the
course instructors and the department head with
constructive criticism about the teachers negative
attitude toward students, the lack of opportunity
for communicatively oriented talk, the rigid audiolingual pedagogy, and the seemingly irrational
emphasis on traditional written characters at the
expense of instruction in simplified characters.
This was, after all, a course in colloquial Chinese
aimed at developing culturally appropriate conversation and accurate reading ability (p. 188).
In varying ways, she was told that Chinese was
too different from Indo-European languages and
therefore required the use of a teacher-fronted
substitution drill approach. Despite her growing
resentment, PG did not drop the class due to her
commitment to finish her Ph.D. in the time frame
allocated. Her desire to learn Chinese, however,
became replaced by the significantly reduced aspiration of fulfilling her non-Western language
requirement by obtaining a passing grade. In
other words, PGs initial motive, learning Chinese,
had been supplanted by her secondary motive
completing a degree requirement.

402
As the authors suggested, this case study shows
that motivation (in the more conventional sense,
e.g., Dornyei, 2001) likely involves multiple phenomena and demonstrates the problem of treating motivation as a stable force and using it as
a predictor of learning outcomes. An individuals goals are formed and reformed under specific historical material circumstances (Lantolf &
Genung, 2002, p. 191). Lantolf and Genung summarized the application of activity theory to this
case study, saying that
communities and activities within them are rarely stable and smoothly functioning entities. They are characterized by shifting motives, goals, and rules of behavior and they normally entail struggle and conflict,
including contestations of power, how it is deployed
and potentially challenged. (p. 193)

Breakdowns, conflicts, and attempts to reconcile tensions within any activity system catalyze
change. Regrettably, as this study demonstrates,
certain social-material conditions may impoverish, rather than afford, opportunities for developmental transformation, with obvious ethical and
pedagogical implications.
As a counterexample, interpersonal mediation
that results in positive change is also possible,
where students feeling alienated from the language they are studying and from the specifics
of a L2 context can decide to reengage based
on changes to social and material conditions. In
a previous study (Thorne, 2003),22 I focused on
Kirsten, a university student in a fourth-semester
French grammar course who participated in an
Internet-mediated intercultural communication
exchange with a university in France.23 In a
postsemester interview, Kirsten described a transition that began with frustration over the slow start
to the relationship with her key-pal:
I was really upset when I didnt hear from him [French
key-pal] at first. . . . I was like . . . he didnt respond, I
didnt talk to him, Im really disappointed, I went and
cried, and now Im like wow! within a week I went
from completely despondent and being like I hate
this, grrrrr, to wow, love it! Love it! (Thorne, 2003,
p. 47)

In the latter part of this excerpt, Kirsten was


referring to a 1-week period of extended and
prolific dialogue with Oliver, her French partner, which began with an email exchange but
then quickly moved to another Internet communication tool, America Online Instant Messenger (IM). She reported that their first IM
interaction went on for nearly 6 hours and in-

The Modern Language Journal 89 (2005)


cluded the use of both English and French. Subsequent to this exchange, they continued interacting in 20- to 30-minute sessions, often twice or
three times per day. Two issues are relevant here,
the shift to IM, which is the clear communication tool of choice for peer interaction among
university-aged youth (Grinter & Palen, 2002),
and the subordination of French language study
as an educational activity to the use of French
(and English) for the building of a meaningful
social relationship. Not discounting the importance of a blossoming friendship, Kirstens linguistic and pragmatic performance in French showed
significant shifts. Through interaction with and
goading from Oliver,24 Kirsten eventually gained
command of appropriate tu/vous pronoun use, a
facility that had eluded her throughout years of
French study (for research related to this topic,
see Belz & Kinginger, 2002, 2003). An even more
dramatic change occurred in her attitude toward
grammar. Kirsten had always thought of herself
as horrible at French grammar and had little
confidence in her capacity to carry out meaningful communication in the language. When asked
about the specific linguistic gains arising from her
interactions with Oliver, Kirsten made the following remarks.
Interviewer: What else beside the tu/vous stuff did he
help you with?
Kirsten: Usage of au versus en versus dans versus a`
versus, you know, that kinda stuff. A more in-depth
vocabulary, for sure . . . its kind of nice to have a human dictionary on the other end too . . . I was like how
am I supposed to say? like for example . . . So the de
and a` thing, de la campagne, a` le cite , whatever, stuff
like that. I was like wow, you know, eeeeeee [vocalization of glee; laughs]. Because I couldnt get that
from a dictionary.
Interviewer: Thats something you have to have a little
help with, yeah?
Kirsten: Yeah, yeah, and how am I supposed to learn it?
Thats not in the grammar books, you know [laughing], expressions like that, and other things. It was
fun. (Thorne, 2003, pp. 5051)

In these excerpts, Kirsten described the interaction that allowed her access to the French prepositional system that she couldnt get . . . from a dictionary and that is not in the grammar books.
Many French language students have successfully
developed the ability to use French prepositions
of location from grammar texts or instructorprovided grammar explanations. Kirsten, however, seemingly required interpersonal mediation, specifically from an age-peer who was willing
to provide immediate corrective feedback as part

Steven L. Thorne
of an ongoing social relationship. Her reflections
suggest the following developmental sequence. In
the initial IM conversation with Oliver, she crossed
a threshold that marked the first time she was
consciously aware of her capacity to communicate
meaningfully in French.25 Kirsten realized this increasing capacity when she stated, in reference to
this first IM conversation, that was the first time
that I was like, I made a connection in French.
I was so proud. It was like, wow, thats me, in
French, and he understood me! (Thorne, 2003,
p. 53) After this point, she was able to benefit from
Olivers explicit linguistic assistance and to participate in extended and unrehearsed dialogues in
French, largely through his confidence-building
enthusiasm for the content of her ideas (which is
clearly expressed in the IM transcript data).
In the cases of Kirsten and PG, analysis focused
on the ways differing interpersonal dynamics constructed differing capacities to act, which in turn
were associated with divergent developmental trajectories. These studies suggest that motivation is
not an atomistic element possessed by a learner,
rather it is built in relation to prior and ongoing
activity and responds to changing social-material
circumstances.

CONCLUDING REMARKS
In this article, I hope to have shown that the
epistemological apparatus of SCT and activity
theory provide methodologically, politically, and
ethically vigorous tools for use in SLA research
and praxis. I have acknowledged that these approaches come with limitations but have argued
that awareness of such limitations and efforts to
address them are also underway. For example,
though SCT and activity theory emerged from
within the milieu of high modernity, with its totalizing grand narratives and rigid structural analyses, a growing number of current practitioners
deemphasize the stability of systems and the presumption of consistency across contexts, time periods, individuals, and communities. One strong
indication of this shift within SCT is the current engagement with the question of how to
weight cultural-historical mediation versus emergent practice. This relationship of history to
emergence forms a dialectic; activity produces,
and is informed by, the historical evolution of
participating individuals, discourses, institutions,
and artifacts. The issue of history (culture-in-thepresent), then, is important given that practices
and tools (e.g., human language) grow and trans-

403
form over time and subsequently inherit the historical residua of their developmental trajectories.
Quite literally at the same time, people exhibit
agency and creativity as they adapt to, reproduce,
and often also transform their symbolic and material environments (e.g., de Certeau, 1984). The
tensions associated with this balance drive the continued development of the theory and its perennial search for new or reinvigorated methodologies, one example of which is the aforementioned
union of conversation analysis and SCT. It is important to note that SCT has its roots in a common
intellectual and activist lineage that also informs
critical pedagogy and structurationist sociology.
Hence, part of what I see as an important development in SCT is to continue to strengthen these
ties and collaboratively to develop an increasingly
critical research and activist apparatus for use
in developmentally focused research. From this
perspective, SCT and poststructuralist approaches
are not in competition. Rather, they share aspirations for political engagement, while also offering
distinctive contributions to the project of critical
scholarship.26
A distinct difference between SCT and most
other research frameworks is that it does not separate understanding (research) from transformation (concrete action). Modern activity theory
in particular, though also used descriptively and
analytically as a diagnostic framework, is fundamentally an applied methodology. That is, it encourages engaged critical inquiry through which
an investigation would lead to the development
of material and symbolic-conceptual tools necessary to enact positive interventions. Y. Engestrom
(1999) expressed this potential through the idea
of radical localism, the notion that the capacity for
change is alive in the details of everyday practices
that, en masse, make up society. In matters of epistemology, ethics, and their relation to methodology/technique, a burning question is simply,
What kind of world do we want to live in? How are
our actions as researchers, activists, interpreters,
scientists, educators, or the other identities we
perform through our daily professional practices,
changing, and we hope improving, the conditions of knowledge about language and the mind
and the teaching and learning of additional languages? Though certainly not unique among theoretical perspectives, SCT approaches take these
questions seriously by understanding communicative processes as inherently cognitive processes,
and cognitive processes as indivisible from humanistic issues of self-efficacy, agency, and the
capacity to lead a satisfying if not fulfilling life.

404
And none of these qualities exists independent
of culture or institutions or language policies or
circuits of power. This view suggests that culture
exists as an objective force in the world, one that
is inscribed in artifacts and in the building and
transformation of social relationships. As would
be appropriate for the final statement of an article
on the ethical, methodological, and epistemological entailments of SCT, Marx (1972a) proposed
that philosophers have only interpreted the world,
in various ways; the point, however, is to change it
(p. 145).

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I wish to thank guest editor Lourdes Ortega and to
acknowledge publicly her prodigious ability to provide
incisive and careful feedback. I am also indebted to Jim
Lantolf and Carl Ratner for comments on an earlier
draft, and to four anonymous reviewers for their questions and suggestions.

NOTES
1 See Bakhurst (1991, 1997) for a detailed historical
account of the development of Soviet philosophy and
psychology beginning with the Bolshevik revolution.
2 Citing Vygotskys biographer Yaroshevsky, Prawat
(2000) reported that in reaction to one of Stalins attacks on his work, Vygotsky cried out, I do not want
to live anymore, they do not consider me a Marxist
(p. 691; see also Lantolf, 2004).
3 Higher-order cognitive functions include intentional memory, planning, voluntary attention, interpretive strategies, and forms of logic and rationality. They
develop in a way that correlates to an array of cultural
practices such as schooling, interaction with primary
care givers, the learning and use of semiotic systems such
as spoken languages, textual and digital literacies, mathematics, music, exposure to folk and scientific concepts, context-contingent behavioral norms, and spatial
fields such as the social and functional divisions of built
structures and visual artistic expression. All of these (and
more, this is obviously a partial list) are uniquely human
social-semiotic systems (e.g., Halliday, 1978) that evolved
over time and continue to transform from generation
to generation.
4 This critique was initially voiced by Leontev (1981a,
1981b) and, to foreshadow the future development
of the theory, has been substantively addressed by
Y. Engestrom (first in 1987) and then both explicitly and implicitly by an ever-increasing number of researchers (e.g., Kuutti, 1996; Lompscher, 2003; Wells,
2002; Zinchenko, 1996; within applied linguistics see
Block, 2003; Coughlan & Duff, 1994; Donato, 1994;
Hall, 1995; Lantolf & Genung, 2002; Lantolf & Pavlenko,
2001; Thorne, 2000a, 2004).

The Modern Language Journal 89 (2005)


5

As part of this effort, activity theory has been


infused by an array of conceptual and methodological influences (to take but a few examples, hybridity,
conversation analysis, and practice theory), and activitybased research that incorporates symbolic interactionism (Star, 1996) and actor network theory (Y. Engestrom
& Escalante, 1996).
6 For a L2 example of interactivity system analysis, see
Thorne, 2000a.
7 Foucault (1972) defined the term this way: The
episteme may be suspected to be something like a worldview, a slice of history common to all branches of knowledge, which imposes on each one the same norms and
postulates . . . the total set of relations that unite, at a
given period, the discursive practices that give rise to
epistemological figures, sciences, and possibly formalized systems . . . the episteme . . . is the totality of relations
that can be discovered, for a given period, between sciences when one analyzes them at the level of discursive
regularities (p. 191).
8 Jocuns (2005) provided an insightful discussion on
sociology of knowledge in reference to SCT and activity
theory focusing on the processes of knowledge display,
construction, and distribution.
9 Indeed, in one of the more detailed accounts of
Soviet intellectual history, Bakhurst (1991) described
Vygotsky as concerned with the question of how psychologists methodology (including general theoretical
suppositions) can infect [italics added] the object of
their analysis (p. 61).
10 Bourdieu (1991) described this process using the
marketplace metaphor, that discursive fieldsincluding
academic specializations such as SLAoperate through
proper forms of symbolic exchange and reproduce
themselves through a mechanism of selection bias that
favors the same or similar categories of perception.
11 To quote Newman and Holzman (1996) at length:
Meaning making is the toolmakers (our species)
tool-and-result, a non-dualistic dialectic-in-practice of
changing the many totalities which are determining the
changer. For human beings are never fundamentally
changed (i.e., never develop) except insofar as, by our
revolutionary activity, we change the totality of our continued historical existence. This we accomplish not by
the humanly impossible act of materially altering all the
elements of history, but by the uniquely human activity
of materially reorganizing what there is to create a new
meaning (p. 86).
12 The salient issue to Spivaks proposed use of essentialism is that since it is not possible not to be
an essentialist, one can self-consciously use this irreducible moment of essentialism as part of ones strategy (Spivak in interview with Harasym, see Harasym
1988, p. 66). Spivak was specifically describing representational choices at use in subaltern historiography that
act as a corrective to traditional historical scholarship by
focusing on the marginalized and overlooked majority
that rarely surface in historical scholarship. Said (1988)
described the subaltern project as follows: Subaltern
studies represents a crossing of boundaries, a smuggling
of ideas across lines, a stirring up of intellectual and, as
always, political complacence (p. x).

405

Steven L. Thorne
13

Scribner (1985) provided a useful discussion of


Vygotskys incorporation of history and time in psychological research.
14 See Lantolf and Thornes (in press) book-length
treatment of SCT L2 research for an extended discussion of the genetic method.
15 See also Ratner (2002) for an extended discussion
of method in cultural psychology.
16 The data consist of a corpus of instructed and outof-school language use among 10- to 12-year-old immigrants to French-speaking Switzerland and a French L2
classroom in a German-speaking region of Switzerland.
17 For an assessment of experiments as special kinds
of contexts, see Lave (1996).
18 This characterization of agency as it relates to
communicative practice is neatly depicted in Bakhtins
(1986) notion of addressivitythe expectation, within
a defined community of practice, of the response to
ones utterance that in turn can be seen to mediate the
production of the utterance in the first place. In other
words, when an individual produces an utterance, this
instance of a communicative gesture consists of drawing from prior voices and articulations emerging from
that community, tailoring the utterance so that it may
achieve the speakers goals, and anticipating the potential responses from the interlocutor or community to
the utterance in question.
19 As Marx (1972b) might have described it, a student
in an imposed pedagogical or experimental situation
would be engaged in alienated labor where the product
of his activity is not the object of his activity (p. 205).
20 In a recent article, one of the worlds leading neuroscience researchers, Michael Gazzaniga, with co-author
Megan Steven, noted that human responsibility and
agency are not reducible to automated functions of an
individuals nervous system. Rather, they argued for a
position that is broadly aligned with the tenets of SCT,
stating that no one person is more or less responsible
than any other person for actions carried out. Responsibility is a social construct and exists in the rules of
society. It does not exist in the neuronal structures of
the brain (2005, p. 49).
21 As Bourdieu and other structuration theorists have
argued (and I maintain that activity theory is a part of
the structuration lineage), participation in historicalcultural activity produces an individuals habitusa set
of socially and interactionally derived generative dispositions that enable and constrain agency (i.e., Bourdieu,
1979, 1984). Habitus is not a deterministic or behaviorist construct. Rather, in contrast to Kantian a priori
categories of mind, it is formed through activity in the
social and cultural-material world and is an ongoing,
life-long process (although we acknowledge, following
Marx, Bourdieu, and Vygotsky, that early childhood is an
immensely important period in the formation of an individuals history). Motives, categories of judgment and
taste, and conceptual approaches to problem-solving develop as a consequence of participation in material and
symbolic activity.
22 Data for this article were collected as part of the
Penn State Foreign Language Telecollaboration Project
funded by a U.S. Department of Education Interna-

tional Research and Studies Program grant (CFDA No.


84.017A).
23 Students of French at The Pennsylvania State Uni
versity interacted with engineering students at the Ecole
Nationale Superieure de Telecommunications de Bretagne during the Spring of 2002 (see Thorne, 2003).
24 In an email message, Oliver ended his message with
Bon je garde le vous mais, de grace, utilize tu avec moi!!
(Okay, I get the vous but please use tu with me!!). In
interview, Kirsten, pointing to her email response to
Oliver, said See, I do learn. I changed it! In the final
line of her email message, Kirsten had written, Jattends
impatiemment ton reponse! (I impatiently await your [informal pronoun] response!)
25 Though this episode occurred outside of class,
Kirsten shared parts of this IM conversation and pointed
to specific utterances in the text that indicated her newfound capacity to communicate in French. See Thorne
(2003) for details.
26 See Luke (2004) for an insightful exegesis of the
term critical .

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Additions and Changes for the MLJ


Beginning in 2007, the MLJ will offer a fifth issue: a monograph or a focus volume in alternating years.
Barbara Lafford, Arizona State University, has been appointed Editor of the Monograph/Focus Volumes.
Her initial term is for 5 years. See this issue, page 466 for a full announcement.
Beginning in 2008, Sally Magnan will step down as Editor-in-chief of the MLJ . The search for the new
editor has begun. See this issue, page 488, for the search announcement.