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Memory Practices

and Learning
Interactional, Institutional, and
Sociocultural Perspectives

A Volume in
Advances in Cultural Psychology:
Constructing Human Development

Series Editor
Jaan Valsiner
Niels Bohr Professor of Cultural Psychology, Aalborg University
Advances in Cultural Psychology:
Constructing Human Development
Jaan Valsiner, Series Editor
Memory Practices and Learning:
Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives (2017)
edited by sa Mkitalo, Per Linell, and Roger Slj
Making of The Future:
The Trajectory Equifinality Approach in Cultural Psychology (2016)
edited by Tatsuya Sato, Naohisa Mori, and Jaan Valsiner
Cultural Psychology of Musical Experience (2016)
edited by Sven Hroar Klempe
Amerindian Paths: Guiding Dialogues With Psychology (2016)
edited by Danilo Silva Guimares
Psychology in Black and White:
The Project of a Theory-Driven Science (2015)
by Sergio Salvatore
Cultural Psychology of Recursive Processes (2015)
edited by Zachary Beckstead
Temporality: Culture in the Flow of Human Experience (2015)
edited by Lvia Mathias Simo,
Danilo Silva Guimares, and Jaan Valsiner
Making Our Ideas Clear: Pragmatism in Psychoanalysis (2015)
edited by Philip Rosenbaum
Biographical Ruptures and Their Repair:
Cultural Transitions in Development (2014)
by Amrei C. Joerchel and Gerhard Benetka
Culture and Political Psychology: A Societal Perspective (2014)
by Thalia Magioglou
Fooling Around: Creative Learning Pathways (2014)
edited by Lene Tanggaard
Cultural Psychology of Human Values (2012)
by Jaan Valsiner and Angela Uchoa Branco
Lives and Relationships: Culture in Transitions Between Social Roles (2013)
edited by Yasuhiro Omi,
Lilian Patricia Rodriguez, and Mara Claudia Peralta-Gmez
Dialogical Approaches to Trust in Communication (2013)
edited by Per Linell and Ivana Markov

Series book list continued on next page

Crossing Boundaries:
Intercontextual Dynamics Between Family and School (2013)
by Giuseppina Marsico, Koji Komatsu, and Antonio Iannaccone
Cross-Cultural Psychology: Why Culture Matters (2013)
by Krum Krumov and Knud S. Larsen
Interplays Between Dialogical Learning and Dialogical Self (2013)
edited by M. Beatrice Ligorio and Margarida Csar
Dialogic Formations: Investigations into
the Origins and Development of the Dialogical Self (2013)
edited by Marie-Ccile Bertau,
Miguel M. Gonalves, and Peter T. F. Raggatt
Cultural Dynamics of Womens Lives (2012)
edited by Ana Ceclia S. Bastos, Kristiina Uriko, and Jaan Valsiner
Culture and Scial Change:
Transforming Society through the Power of Ideas (2012)
by Brady Wagoner, Eric Jensen, and Julian A. Oldmeadow
Cultural Psychology of Human Values (2012)
by Jaan Valsiner and Angela Uchoa Branco
Researcher Race: Social Constructions in the Research Process (2012)
by Lauren Mizock and Debra Harkins
Cultural Psychology and Psychoanalysis: Pathways to Synthesis (2011)
edited by Sergio Salvatore and Tania Zittoun
Apprentice in a Changing Trade (2011)
edited by Jean-Franois Perret, Anne-Nelly Perret-Clermont, Danile
Golay Schilter, Claude Kaiser, and Luc-Olivier Pochon
Constructing Patriotism:
Teaching History and Memories in Global Worlds (2011)
by Mario Carretero
Methodological Thinking in Psychology: 60 Years Gone Astray? (2010)
edited by Aaro Toomela and Jaan Valsiner
Living in Poverty: Developmental Poetics of Cultural Realities (2010)
edited by Ana Ceclia S. Bastos and Elaine P. Rabinovich
Relating to Environments: A New Look at Umwelt (2009)
edited by Rosemarie Sokol Chang
Rethinking Language, Mind, and World Dialogically (2009)
by Per Linell

Series book list continued on next page

Series book list continued from previous page

Innovating Genesis:
Microgenesis and the Constructive Mind in Action (2008)
edited by Emily Abbey and Rainer Diriwchter
Trust and Distrust: Sociocultural Perspectives (2007)
edited by Ivana Markov and Alex Gillespie
Discovering Cultural Psychology:
A Profile and Selected Readings of Ernest E. Boesch (2007)
by Walter J. Lonner and Susanna A. Hayes
Semiotic Rotations: Modes of Meanings in Cultural Worlds (2007)
edited by SunHee Kim Gertz, Jaan Valsiner, and Jean-Paul Breaux
Otherness in Question: Development of the Self (2007)
edited by Lvia Mathias Simo and Jaan Valsiner
Becoming Other: From Social Interaction to Self-Reflection (2006)
edited by Alex Gillespie
Transitions: Symbolic Resources in Development (2006)
by Tania Zittoun
Memory Practices
and Learning
Interactional, Institutional, and
Sociocultural Perspectives

edited by
sa Mkitalo
Per Linell
Roger Slj
University of Gothenburg


Charlotte, NC
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Makitalo, Asa, editor. | Linell, Per, 1944- editor. | Saljo,

Roger, 1948- editor.
Title: Memory practices, and learning : interactional, institutional, and
sociocultural perspectives / edited by Asa Makitalo, University of
Gothenburg, Per Linell, Universities of Linkoping and Goteborg, Roger
Saljo, University of Gothenburg.
Description: Charlotte : Information Age Publishing Inc., [2017] | Series:
Advance in cultural psychology | Includes bibliographical references.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016032899 (print) | LCCN 2016058893 (ebook) |ISBN 978-
1-681236-20-9 (hardcover) | ISBN 978-1-68123-619-3 (paperback) | ISBN 978-1-
68123-621-6 (ebook) | ISBN 978-1-68123-621-6 (EBook)
Subjects: LCSH: Memory--Social aspects. | Learning--Social aspects. | Social
psychology. | Culture.
Classification: LCC BF371 .M4625 (print) | LCC BF371 (ebook) | DDC 153.1--
LC record available at

Copyright 2017 Information Age Publishing Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a

retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechani-
cal, photocopying, microfilming, recording or otherwise, without written permis-
sion from the publisher.

Printed in the United States of America


Series Editors Preface.................................................................................i

Editors Preface........................................................................................... v

1. Introduction
Roger Slj.......................................................................................... 1


2. Emergence in Conversational Remembering

Brady Wagoner and Alex Gillespie...................................................... 25

3. Naming the Other: Category Memberships and Practices

of Ethnic Othering in Childrens Multiethnic Peer-Group
Ann-Carita Evaldsson and Fritjof Sahlstrm....................................... 45

4. Remembering as Instructional Work in the Science Classroom

Maria Andre, Per-Olof Wickman, and Lotta Lager-Nyqvist................ 75

5. If Green was A and Blue was B: Isomorphism as an

Instructable Matter
Timothy Koschmann and Sharon Derry............................................... 93




6. Starting Out as a Driver: Progression in Instructed Pedal Work

Mathias Broth, Jakob Cromdal, and Lena Levin.................................113

7. Mobilizing Distributed Memory Resources in English

Project Work
Nigel Musk and Asta ekait.............................................................145

8. Practices of Remembering: Organizing Math Activities in a

First Grade Classroom
Helen Melander and Pl Aarsand......................................................175

9. Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications: Cognitive

Socialization When Learning to Reason as an Economist
sa Mkitalo and Roger Slj........................................................... 201



10. Narrative Tools, Truth, and Fast Thinking in National

Memory: A Mnemonic Standoff Between Russia and the
West Over Ukraine
James V. Wertsch................................................................................233

11. Collective Memory in Dynamics of Ethnopolitical

Mobilization: The Karabakh Conflict
Rauf R. Garagozov.......................................................................... 249

12. Memory and National Identity in a Modern State:

The Nigerian Case
Golda Kosisochi Onyeneho................................................................ 277

13. Connecting Dots: Family Reminiscence

Kyoko Murakami and Rachel L. Jacobs.............................................. 293



14. Individual Remembering as Interactive Achievement:

Reminiscing in Collective Interviewing
Wolff-Michael Roth............................................................................319

15. Making History: Apprehending Future While Reconstructing

the Past
Giuseppina Marsico and Jaan Valsiner.............................................. 347

16. Clocking Nature and Society

Geoffrey C. Bowker........................................................................... 365

17. Epilogue: Memory Practices Writ Large and Small

Per Linell and sa Mkitalo............................................................. 383

About the Authors................................................................................... 403

Subject Index.......................................................................................... 411



Contextualizing Memory and Learning

This volume outlines cultural practices of remembering and learning at

the intersection of individual, interactional, and institutional processes
of negotiating the border of the past and the future. Such negotiation of
the time border is a recurrent theme in our series of Advances in Cultural
Psychology. Mario Carreteros monograph Constructing Patriotism (2011)
led the way, followed by Culture and Social Change (Wagoner, Jensen, &
Oldmeadow, 2012) and, most recently, Crossing Boundaries (Marsico,
Komatsu, & Iannaccone, 2013).
Bordersstructural units that unite neighboring parts of a system
(in biological terms, membranes) are crucial for any systemic structure.
In the case of developmental phenomena, the border is ever-present
between what has already developed and what is not yet. The phenomena
of memory and learning occur precisely on that border. Without the past
there could be no memorywithout the future, no learning.
Both main themes of this bookmemory and learningare classic
topics in the history of psychology and continue to be prominent in our
contemporary capture of psychology by the omnipresent fascination with
neurosciences. This is a social process in science that creates a new bor-
dera defensive barrier by the social and the humanities end of the

Memory Practices, and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. iiv
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. i

spectrum of perspectives on memory and learning, against the brain.

The critique of the neurosciences attack on the psycheand its takeover
of psychologyis understandable, yet counterproductive. Such defense
is of course a part of the negotiation of access to resourcesno doubt the
expensive machinery needed for the neurosciences limits the increasingly
less funding available for the humanistic side of the field. It is no surprise
that an issue of resource allocation disparity leads to opposition and pro-
tective border construction. The reader finds some trace of such activity in
some of the rhetoric moments in this book.
However, the real problem is different. Instead of the science-political
effort to resist the power assertions that privilege neurosciences ahead of
the humanities, the scientific problem persistshow to build a neurosci-
ence on the basis of cultural psychologies. That the presence of brain make
it possible for Homo sapiens to reach the heights of its cultural construc-
tion is a trivial statement. But in which ways are brain functionsand
their developmentguided by cultural processes? I am here not talking
about determinacyneither the brain causes culture, nor (obviously)
does the culture cause brainbut about mutuality of the relationships
in the Brain<>Culture system.
Some cultural practices directly link the body and the cultural psyche.
The most curious human inventionputting a torch into ones mouth and
puffing out smoke (otherwise known as smoking)may be the first candidate
for looking at the phenomena relevant in a new hybrid science: cultural
neuroscience. Smoking has both curative and destructive potentials. So do
all medical drugs that the multitude of pharmaceutical companies offer,
in exchange of money, for the deep human psychological desire of becom-
ing healed. All chemical efforts to modify our brains are cultural in their
naturethe medicines heal, the athletes cheat (if taking substances
defined by some social institution as illegal), and alcohol makes us drunk
are all cultural meaning constructions. Here culture leads the various
medicine warson cancer, against HIV or Zika, or for health through
the selection of health foods. In contrastyou will find no chimpanzee,
in nature or in psychology laboratorieswho would smoke, have a Scotch
before participating in an experiment, or demand to be on a diet because
looking in the mirrorhe considers himself too fat. A calories-counting
chimpanzee is a possible actor in a comedyor a real headache for zoo
personnel if such creature really were to emerge from our efforts to teach
chimpanzees human language and culture.
A similar comedy actor status could be allotted to an educator who is
required to rely upon standardized testing of his or her pupils in a class-
room as an indicator of their success in the educational tasks. The educator
knows all too well that putting numbers onto the real processes involved
in education under the label of standardized assessment procedures, which
Series Editors Preface iii

are supposedly objective measures, is inconsequential to the actual human

learning in cultural contexts. But his or her educational institution requires
the application of thoseand the results may become bases for admin-
istrative decisions about the future of the educational setting. Testing of
outcomes of learning can never tell us anything about the processes involved
in learning. But it is exactly these processes that our contemporary science
needs to discover, and one of the innovative features of the cultural per-
spectives in psychology is its highlighting of the cultural organization of
the teaching and learning processand more. While looking at the process
of teaching and learning, it is the emergence of the new that is of special
importance. Again, that focus is to be shared by all sciences that claim to
be developmental: psychology, sociology, anthropology. Interestingly, it is
of relevance also in astrophysicsthe birth and development (and demise)
of galaxies is similar question in its theoretical domain to that of the birth
and development of human beings.
The focus on emergence is a crucial general theme in this book. Remem-
bering and learning are both emergent processes catalyzed by human
activity frameworks and based on the general mechanisms of internaliza-
tion and externalization. The latter are psychological level analogues of
the biological interchange of substances between the organism and the
environment. The unity of the biological, psychological, and social inter-
changes with the environment is given by the open-systemic nature of any
developmental process. The reader of this book has the opportunity to
learn how to look at psychological and social phenomena through the lens
of contextualized sociocultural microscope. I hope that this experience
leads to the forgetting of the idea that memory and learning are in the
person. Instead, the book is a tribute to relocating these functions onto the
border of the active person and the social context.


Jaan Valsiner

February 2016


Carretero, M. (2011). Constructing patriotism: Teaching history and memories in global

worlds. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishers.
Marsico, G., Komatsu, K., & Iannaccone, A. (Eds.). (2013). Crossing boundaries:
Intercontextual dynamics between family and school. Charlotte, NC: Information
Age Publishers.

Wagoner, B., Jensen, E., & Oldmeadow, J. (Eds.). (2012). Culture and social change:
The transformation of society through the power of ideas. Charlotte, NC: Informa-
tion Age Publishers.

This book is the result of a collaboration aimed at showing the poten-

tials of sociocultural, situated, and dialogical perspectives in research on
memory and learning. The basic assumption of the work reported is that
such activities may be fruitfully studied as interactional, institutional, and
sociocultural practices rather than as purely mental events located within
individuals and tested in laboratory-like settings. Our focus on memory
practices, on remembering, and on learning as a situated activity testifies to
this orientation towards understanding how people engage in remember-
ing and learning in daily circumstances and how they do so by interacting
with others and with material artifacts.
The work reported has a history in a multidisciplinary collaboration
between scholars at four Swedish universities within the framework of the
project Learning, Interactive Technologies and the Development of Narrative
Knowing and Remembering (LINT). This project was generously funded by
three different agencies: Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Bank
of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation, and the Swedish Research Council.
The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation served as coordinator of
the grant administration throughout the project, and the project number
of the original grant was RJ PDOKJ028/2006:6.
The project leaders at the four universities have been Professor sa
Mkitalo, University of Gothenburg, Professor Per Linell, Linkping Uni-
versity, Professor Per-Olof Wickman, Stockholm University, and Professor
Ann-Carita Evaldsson, Uppsala University. The project was coordinated

Memory Practices, and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. vvi
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. v

from the University of Gothenburg, and Professor Roger Slj served as

head applicant and project leader. The project leaders wish to express their
thanks to the funders both for their continued support and for extending
the project so that this volume presenting research from international
partners could be published.
Finally, wethe editors of this volumewould like to thank Ms. Doris
Gustafson, head of administration and accounting of our research team, for
her commitment to administering the LINT project and all the other proj-
ects she has been responsible for during the past decades. Collaboration
between universities on a national level may sound easy, but the administra-
tive obstacles presented challenges that scholars are not trained to foresee,
let alone overcome. Ms. Gustafson has a unique talent for anticipating
financial and other problems and for sorting them out once they occur.

sa Mkitalo

Per Linell

Roger Slj

Roger Slj

In everyday language, memory and learning seem to be closely related,

as two sides of the same coin. Learning presupposes that something is
acquired and stays in memory, and memory is where we keep what we
have learned; it is by means of our memory that we recall past events. This
manner of speaking rests on a number of metaphors where memory is
understood as a container or location for storing information and experi-
ences, and learning is the mechanism through which inputs are created (cf.
below). When people learn, it is as if sensations and experiences pass some
kind of barrier where features of the world are converted to information
stored in a persons memory (Rogoff, 1990). What is material, or at least
out there, is converted into a representation or, in other traditions, an
engram (Lashley, 1960), where memory traces are stored in our brains
in response to the external stimulation.
The memory and learning terms have many meanings and they are
used in many discourses, or, to use Wittgensteins (1953) terminology, they
are part of many language games. People have a memory in the sense
that they have a capacity to remember. This memory, understood in terms
of a container or storage metaphor, we may talk about as good, poor,
photographic, vivid, or in several other ways, and these descriptions are
taken to characterize a feature of our personality. But a memory can also be
a specific eventthat is, that which is remembered: a traffic accident, the

Memory Practices and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. 122
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 1

birth of a child, or a graduation day. Furthermore, we have ceremonies in

memory of something or someone, and a person or an organization can be
devoted to work in someones memory. A society or an ethnic group may
be said to have a social or a collective memory through which significant
events are reproduced and identities are shaped (see chapters by Garagozov,
Onyeneho, and Wertsch, this volume). We commemorate religious leaders,
national heroes, and the dead through monuments and cemeteries, where
the past is kept for those who live (Marsico & Valsiner, this volume). We
may speak of popular or folk memory, which is then often contrasted with
the kind of memory work that scholars, for instance academically trained
historians or folklorists, specialize in. Some scholars speak of a memory
industry (Klein, 2000) to refer to museums, history novels, and magazines
and Internet sites for genealogy. Today, the term memory is often used to
refer to a hard disk or a cache. Thus, the term memory is polysemous in
an interesting manner. It can refer to artifacts, singular events, biological
structures, a feature of the mind and of our personality, stories told about
collective experiences, and a range of other phenomena.
When we go into more detail in relation to specific uses and discourses,
the term becomes increasingly rich, even slippery. For instance, in the
psychological literature, a memory of an event may be false, illusory, sup-
pressed, distorted, accurate/inaccurate, or subconscious, and there is a
whole literature on what is referred to as flashbulb memories (Conway,
1995), a particular kind of vivid and emotionally charged memories. But
distortion or suppression of memories may appear also in the case of col-
lective remembering, where a political event, a scandal, or a genocide may
be transformed into something else to serve specific political ends or to fit
into dominant narratives (Schudson, 1995).
A similar analysis may be made of how we use the term learning. Learn-
ing is one of the most researched topics in the history of the behavioral
and human sciences. At one level, this is not surprising since learning is
an important issue connected to central social practices and values, such
as those involved in bringing up children and reproducing knowledge
and skills. But the term is embedded in different discourses with different
assumptions. In most of the literature, especially in the experimental tra-
ditions, learning is seen as an intent phenomenon, something that takes
place through concerted efforts such as reading, listening, or focusing
on something to be learned. The outcome of such processes is generally
described in terms of what is retained in memorythat is, how much infor-
mation that is recalled. The general assumption then is that the more a
person recalls, the more successful the learning experience has been. But
other traditions construe learning differently. In sociocultural, situated,
and pragmatist perspectives, for instance, learning is a potential outcome
of all human activities. Some would even argue that it is an unavoidable

feature of everyday life; people in a sense cannot avoid learning through

the practices they are involved in. It is as much a part of life as is breathing
and eating, as Wenger (1998) puts it. Even the most trivial event such as
shopping or driving to work may, on occasion, offer learning experiences.
In these traditions, learning is not seen as a phenomenon that is captured
in an interesting way by studying recall of discrete pieces of information.
Rather, learning happens through changes in patterns of participation in
social practices, through transformations of identities, and/or through the
appropriation of cultural tools.
Hidden within these theoretical discrepancies, there is the problem of
levels of inquiry in research. In the various literatures, learning may be
described as something that happens at a neurochemical/biological level,
as changes in behavior, as memorizing of information or acquisition of
concepts, or as the development of identities. But not only do individuals
learn, so do companies, institutions, and even societies. Science may
be said to be a form of collective learning, and for decades politicians,
policymakers, and researchers all across the world have tried to imagine
how we could convert societies into what is talked about as learning societies
(Edwards, Raggatt, & Small, 2013).
Another observation in this context, this time at the level of sociology of
science, is that even at the level of psychological inquiry into such closely
linked phenomena as learning and memory, one finds two very different
fields of research, each with their own subfields, theories, journals, dis-
courses, and debates. Thus, scholars may be specialists in memory research
while at the same time claiming to know very little about learning. But, it
is of course legitimate to ask, can there ever be learning without memory
and vice versa, and, thus, is it possible to study one phenomenon without
the other?



The conceptual problem we are facing here is that there are many dis-
courses about learning and memory. Furthermore, all of them make sense
in some context and are backed up by extensive scholarly work. This, in
turn, implies that we cannot appeal to unequivocal facts that will give
us the truth about what these phenomena are in some down to earth,
primary sense. For research, this implies that there will be a number of dif-
ferent objects of inquiry. In other words, scholars who claim to be studying
memory and learning operate at different levels, and they observe very
different phenomena. The shift from neurochemical processes to changes
in behaviors and cognitive processes, and further on to collective forms

of remembering and learning, implies that conceptual and philosophical

problems appear of how to bridge gaps between levels of inquiry, including
how to handle the classical problem of the distinction between brain and
mind. For neuroscientists, learning and memory are material features of
changes in activation patterns in the brain or in the firing of synapses in
the nervous system. Other scholars deal with meaning-making, remember-
ing in conversations, and discourse practices in society. Still others explore
the phenomenology of learning and remembering. When spanning such
diverse fields of study, it is important to consider exactly what a particular
level of inquiry implies in terms of the object of inquiry studied and the
philosophical and ontological assumptions made. In other words, how is
the object of inquiry construed, and, given this, are the claims to knowledge
made in a particular line of research legitimate?
Every object of inquiry presupposes some kind of reduction, since we
cannot study the world, or people for that matter, in all their complexity.
Research relies on reductionist strategies in which complex processes and
objects are converted into entities that are possible to study in a laboratory
or observe in the field. Still, when scholars reduce complexity, and even if
they are well aware that this is what they do, they often have an interest in
maintaining links to the more general questions that their work is triggered
by and that resonate with how phenomena such as learning and memory
are talked about in everyday settings, including media. Tallis (2011) dis-
cusses these problems at length when he argues against the assumption
in neurophysiology that a memory of something can be in connections
between synapses or be seen on brain scans. He argues that in neurosci-

[T]he word memory is used very loosely and covers a multitude of phenom-
ena, ranging from an acquired habit (which may not even be conscious) to an
explicit recall of a unique event. Neurophysiologists of memory trade on this
profound ambiguity. The slither from memory as you and I understand it (as
when I recall your smile last week at London Waterloo) to learning (as when
I get to acquire expertise or knowledge); from learning to altered behaviour
(as when a sea slug acquires a conditioned reflex); from altered behavior to
altered properties of the organism (as happens in the synapses of a sea slug
conditioned to withdraw into its shell when water is disturbed), and (Bingo!,
there we have it) the materialization of memory. (p. 131)

Thus, even though a memory, in the sense of something remembered, is

not a material entity, such connections between remembering as referred to
in an everyday sense and features of a biological and material structure in
the brain are rhetorically important for neuroscientists. The slithering, as
Tallis puts it, keeps the research within the realm of well-known and inter-
esting phenomena that attract attention and that people have a relation to.

If the research would be described as explorations of the neural correlates

of human activities, with the added comment that the relationship to what
we talk about as learning and memory in everyday life is very ambiguous,
the interest in this work would be much lower. It is, as Tallis and others (see
Satel & Lilienfeld, 2013, for an extensive discussion) point out, by arguing
that colorful fMRI-images1 of brain activation are pictures of allegedly
real mental activities such as learning and remembering that the impact
of this research in society has spread. The metaphorical connotations of
such terms thus support such moves between localized physical and mate-
rial objects/processes, on the one hand, and experiences and information,
on the other hand. But a memory or an insight, as we normally understand
such phenomena, has no physical existence. There are correlates, but the
smile of a friend, to borrow Tallis example, is not in the brain, nor is there
any copy of it.
An important reason why scholars are able to make such leaps between,
on the one hand, events, experiences, behaviors, and, on the other hand,
material objects is language and the metaphorical qualities of terms such
as memory and learning, as I have alluded to. The role of metaphors when
referring to human psychological functioning, and in the study of learning
and memory, has been examined in depth by many scholars from different
disciplines such as psychology, linguistics, history and history of ideas,
anthropology, and archaeology (Draismaa, 2000; Hallam & Hockey, 2001;
Leary, 1994; Yates, 1984). Roedigers (1980) seminal analysis of memory
metaphors in history and in contemporary cognitive psychology clearly
shows how spatial metaphors, often inspired by technologies, have served
as models when it comes to conceptualizing memory and processes of
remembering and forgetting. Thus, memory has been conceived as a
wax tablet (a metaphor used already by Plato and Aristotle), as a house, a
storage, a library, an archive, a writing pad, a switchboard, a record player, a
tape-recorder, a hologram, a computer program, and a hard disk (Roediger,
1980), to mention but a few examples. A prominent feature of several of
these metaphors is the idea of memory as impressions or engravings on a
physical material, where traces are left through a needle, pen, or other
sharp object operating on the surface of a material. These traces, in turn,
may later be searched (Roediger, 1980, p. 233) for information, and as
the traces decay or decompose, forgetting occurs.
In cognitive psychology, the role of this kind of metaphors is obvious.
In this tradition, information is encoded, processed, stored, and
retrieved, a language that developed during the 1950s and 1960s in
symbiosis with the rapidly advancing computer technology, the new source
of metaphors replacing record players and other recording devices. An
obvious tendency in this line of work has been the stipulation of differ-
ent memory systems, where the various steps in the life and conversion

of information take place. Concepts such as attention span, short-term

memory, intermediate-term memory, long-term memory, auditory
memory, visual memory, iconic memory, working memory, episodic
memory, semantic memory, and many others have been introduced to
account for the intricacies of how our memory processes information (cf.
Pramling & Slj, 2011). Other terms with a similar metaphorical back-
ground have also been launched: for instance, buffers, loops, and
registers. Many scholars explored the details of each of these memory
systems further. Baddeley and Hitch (1974, 1994) suggested that what
was originally called short-term memory, but later referred to as working
memory, could be further specified as containing slave systems such as a
phonological loop and a visual(-spatial) sketch pad, and to co-ordinate
these slave systems they postulated the existence of a central executive
(Baddeley & Hitch, 1994, p. 86) in charge of the operations. Later an epi-
sodic buffer (Baddeley, 2000) was added as a separate processing system
to this influential model. Other scholars have suggested that we need to
assume the existence of a long-term working memory as well to account
for complex kinds of processes such learning from text (Ericsson & Kintsch,
1995; Kintsch, Patel, & Ericsson, 1999).
Today, the metaphorical nature of these constructions seems obvious to
most of us; they clearly are children of their time. But, of course, we have
to rely on metaphorical constructions when studying learning and memory
unless one subscribes to a realist perspective where memories and learned
experiences are held to exist in biological structures (which some phi-
losophers and others argue; cf. Churchland, 1989, 1996). But a problem
with the influential cognitive tradition is that the terminology used reifies
human thinking and the understanding of memory. The tradition and its
concepts systematically convert processes and mental activities to things
(various memory systems) and mechanical operations (of searching, scan-
ning, and so on). The term working memory suggests a mental mechanism
struggling hard with the problems of sorting out all the sense impressions
that allegedly overwhelm us in contemporary society in order to avoid
information overload, brain stress, mental fatigue, and psychological col-
lapse. Following this interpretation, to cope with these problems we have
to improve our working memory through training, for instance by using
specific computer programs that promise to expand its capacity (Klingberg,
2008). Just as the gym is a place for keeping your body in shape and build-
ing muscles, daily exercises with the working memory software will expand
your mental capacity.
A common feature, even intellectual strategy, of such approaches is
characterized by what Shotter (1993) refers to as a things ontology (cf.
Slj, 2002, p. 78). Human cognitive activities are seen as residing in and
produced by a machinery with different components, each doing its own

job. At a general level, this may be seen as a modern version of machine-

inspired metaphors that we have seen since antiquity, and this mode of
reasoning also testifies to the fact that our understanding of the still very
mysterious functioning of the mind, both at the everyday and academic
levels, does seem to draw upon our much more clear understanding of how
machines work (Boivin, 2008, p. 62).
This long-standing tendency to reify human mental activities by pos-
tulating entities of dubious ontological status, such as various kinds of
memory systems and search functions, continues. The research on working
memory, for instance, is enormous. In recent decades, this line of research
has also joined forces with neuroscience by intensifying the search for the
biological basis of working memory and other memory systems (cf., e.g.,
Goldman-Rakic, 1995; Smith & Jonides, 1998). These traditions nest onto
each other since their metaphorical constructions are seen to provide a
conceptual fit of complementary levels of inquiry. Repov and Baddeley
(2006) sees three of the disciplines involved in a joint effort to understand
memory in the following manner:

While neuroscience provides a glimpse into the structural underpinnings of

the cognitive system and computational cognitive neuroscience addresses
the question of how the information processing is actually carried out, the
role of cognitive psychology is to provide a detailed description of the prop-
erties and the capacities of the system, to map out a model of its functional
components and the way they relate to each other. (p. 5)

But this way of addressing memory and learning has not been without its
critics. Even within psychology and the behavioral sciences, dissatisfaction
with this Cartesian and heavily mentalistic model has been voiced by many
traditions and scholars over the years.



There are many ways to disagree with this modeling of cognitive systems
and its dualist premises. The arguments are theoretical, methodological,
and ontological. Henri Bergson (1912), the influential French philosopher,
argued, as others have done, that memory and remembering are funda-
mental constituents of existence and of the flow of consciousness. Memory
is always present and an element of whatever we engage in from perception
to reflective thought:

But, then, I cannot escape the objection that there is no state of mind, how-
ever simple, which does not change every moment, since there is no con-

sciousness without memory, and no continuation of a state without the ad-

dition, to the present feeling, of the memory of past moments. (Bergson,
1912, p. 44)

Other critics can be found within pragmatist traditions, ecological psy-

chology, phenomenology, situated approaches to cognition, and other
perspectives. We will not go further into these general conceptual problems
here, but rather return to the issue of how research objects are constituted
in the study of memory/remembering and learning.
One of the classical areas of conflict has been that between studying
memory as a faculty vs. studying the activity of remembering (cf. Wagoner
& Gillespie, this volume). The significance of recognizing this important
distinction we owe to Bartlett and his classical study, Remembering (1932).
This is an experimental study of how participants recall a story and how
their recalled versions undergo change: for instance, they become more
conventionalized over time and adapted to the cultural background of the
participant. Bartletts study was groundbreaking in several senses, concep-
tually as well as methodologically. Among other things, he searched for a
social-psychological account of remembering by understanding how the
background of people co-determined how they remembered and retold
a story over time and over several repetitions. Thus, he did not study
memory as a faculty but as an activity that people engage in. This also
implied that he distanced himself from the tradition in the psychology of
memory where, for the sake of method and measurement, nonsense syl-
lables had been used as stimulus material to be memorized. The inventor
of this tradition, the German psychologist Ebbinghaus (1885), created
this technique to avoid the problem of how the previous experiences of
a person interfered with what they could recall. But this was precisely
the object of inquiry that Bartlett and other psychologists of his time, for
instance those in the gestalt (Koffka, 1921; Wertheimer, 1945) and pragma-
tist (Dewey, 1910; James, 1890) traditions, saw as the baseline for studying
how people remember. How is, in more recent parlance, meaning-making
in the present related to previous experiences?
Another line of argumentation against mainstream approaches is that
remembering and learning typically are interactional phenomena (a per-
spective further developed in several of the contributions to this volume).
Thus, the assumption that such phenomena can be studied in labora-
tory-like conditions, when people are instructed to learn and remember/
memorize specially designed materials, cannot be taken as ecologically
valid. Remembering generally occurs in collective practices as part of con-
versations and joint activities where the purpose of the activity is something
else; a mealtime situation, watching television, or playing a game (Middle-
ton & Brown, 2005; Middleton & Edwards, 1990). Here memories emerge

when stories unfold through the contributions offered by the participants.

Even what someone may claim not to remember may emerge through the
dynamics of interaction where interlocutors trigger each other by provid-
ing elements of a story (Roth, this volume). In interaction, remembering
is also often emotionally charged in manners that can hardly be captured
in experimental settings. In healthcare interviews, family reminiscence, or
police interrogations people remember as part of situations that may be
positive, painful, or even threatening (Murakami & Jacobs, this volume).
A similar argument about emergence can be made for learning, which can
take place in any kind of situation in everyday life and not just in situa-
tions arranged to reproduce knowledge or information (Lave, 2008). The
methodological and theoretical challenges of researching learning and
remembering in such situations are very different from those that apply
to laboratory settings, as is argued in many of the chapters in this volume.
Institutionalization of social activities is an important constituent of
remembering and learning both at the collective level and for individuals.
Developing categories and narratives is what makes it possible for institu-
tions to think, as Mary Douglas (1986) put it in her widely cited analysis.
Public and private institutions such as healthcare, schools, insurance com-
panies, research institutions, and various kinds of authorities and agencies
have to keep records of their activities in order to deliver their services, and
how they design such memory practices will play an important role for how
we understand, discuss, and analyze society and social problems (Bowker,
this volume; Mkitalo & Slj, this volume). We live in document societies
(Thomas, 1992), where records are constantly used for collective and indi-
vidual reconstructions of past events. In contemporary society, giant and
easily searchable databases provide us with increasingly information-rich
resources for individual and collective learning and remembering. Social,
natural, and historical events are analyzed by attending to texts, tables, dia-
grams, and other representations, and statistical calculations are produced
to understand and compare patterns of social change. How this is done, in
turn, will have implications for how individuals learn and remember. When
discussing political conflict, unemployment, or the weather, the categories,
narratives, and documentation practices of institutions appear as resources
for individuals to understand and argue (Bowker & Star, 2000; Mkitalo &
Slj, 2002). And when learning about nature and society, the conceptual
frameworks to be appropriated have their origin in the collective insights
of societies formulated within institutions (cf. Andre, Wickman & Lager-
Nyqvist, this volume; Koschmann & Derry, this volume).
A feature of learning and remembering closely linked to institutional
practices concerns the role of artifacts. Our learning and remembering,
and cognitive activities in general, are increasingly intertwined with tech-
nologies. Learning to write using a paper and pencil or a computer implies
10R. SLJ

mastering both intellectual and physical technologies; the artifacts are both
ideal and material, as Cole (1996, p. 117) puts it. Many of the technical
devices we carry with us in our pockets and bags serve memory functions of
daily significance: smartphones, tablets, diaries, notebooks, post-it notes,
navigators, and so on. We offload what we have to keep in mind to such
external memory systems, where metaphorically speakingmemories
are to be found in exograms rather than in Lashleyan engrams, to
use Donalds (2010) expression. And, in fact, in contemporary society we
cannot manage life without such devices; what we see are increasingly
sophisticated mergers and coalitions (Clark, 2003, p. 3) between minds
and artifacts in many activities.
Even though everyone realizes that learning and remembering take
place in coordination with artifacts, this has been hard to integrate into
research. The classicaland modernmemory experiment becomes
meaningless if people are allowed to make notes of what they are sup-
posed to remember. As soon as one would allow that, the whole edifice
of cognitive psychology would erode. The remembering will no longer
be pure in the Cartesian sense of reflecting capacities of an intracra-
nial cognitive system processing information on its own. In much research
there is an inherent resistance towards accepting an object of inquiry that
expands to include the artifacts andin Vygotskian languagecultural
tools that mediate our thinking and physical actions. The dualism of the
mental and the material is a fundamental assumption in our culture and a
taken-for-granted premise that survives and keeps popping up in spite of
attempts to avoid it. But all through history, people have been advancing
their intellectual skills by interacting with technologies (Malafouris, 2013).
Technologies, thus, are important mediators in processes of learning and
remembering (Musk & ekait, this volume; Melander & Aarsand, this
volume); they support our reasoning and remembering, but they also offer
hurdles that have to be overcome in order to master an activity. Learning
emerges through interaction with artifacts, all the way from the attempts to
master toys among toddlers to the kinds of learning that go on later in life
when we encounter a range of activities that require bodily and intellectual
adaptation (cf. Broth, Cromdal & Levin, this volume, for an illustration of
learning how to drive).
Thus, exploring phenomena such as memory/remembering and learn-
ing requires awareness of how objects of research are designed. In most
psychological inquiry with a focus on individuals, exact reproduction is
the criterion used for ascertaining memory functions (what Wertsch, 2009,
p. 122, refers to as the accuracy criterion). In many, if not most, con-
texts of remembering, collective as well as individual, approximation to
accurate representation (Wertsch, 2009, p. 123) at an exact level is not
relevant, nor expected. Stories of the past will generally be told differently

without necessarily being incorrect or inexact. The fields of memory and

learning are replete with metaphorical constructions and methodological
assumptions that unwittingly creep into, and co-determine, how research
problems are formulated and converted into empirical studies. It makes
as little sense to talk about learning as one irreducible phenomenon as it
does to think of a general faculty of memory (Boyer, 2009, p. 20) as the
locus where remembering takes place. As Boyer (2009) puts it, memory
systems are diverse (p. 20), and they exist in many configurations involv-
ing humans, communicative practices, and artifacts in collaboration. What
is of interest is, as Boyer continues, to further our understanding of the
functionalities of the diverse ways in which the past is present in what we
do and think as individuals and collectives. This is one of the ideas pursued
in the chapters that follow.


The chapters in this volume are organized into four different sections.
The first four chapters report studies of the dynamics of remembering in
conversationsthat is, the locus of the activities is in interactional prac-
tices. Brady Wagoner and Alex Gillespie return to Bartlett and his studies
of remembering. They do so in a literal sense, since their empirical study
utilizes the same famous story to be recalled that Bartlett used in his work
many decades ago. But remembering here takes place in a different social
situation in the sense that Wagoner and Gillespie had participants recall
the story in a conversation. Thus, the individual task was converted into
a collaborative task where two participants jointly recalled (in talk and
in writing) the story shortly after reading it and then again a week later.
The point of this design was to gain access to the processes of reconstruct-
ing the story as the participants interact to achieve a common end. In
Bartletts original study, he only had access to the product of remembering:
the version that the individual participants had produced. When we have
access to significant elements of the processes that generate outcomes, the
results show how remembering is a dynamic process in which elements
of dialogues such as questions, gestures, and other moves contribute to a
process of reproducing the story, its gist, and its parts. Thus, remembering
cannot be conceptualized as direct reproduction of what was the original
story. Rather, the collaborating parties trigger each other through sug-
gestions that they articulate and that their partner will use to go on by
agreeing, disagreeing, adding, and/or reframing. This social process of
talking a memory into being by means of suggestions and communica-
tive work applies to the individuals themselves as well, as they sometimes
respond to their own suggestions as they do to those of their partners. The
12R. SLJ

analyses confirm and extend the perspective on remembering suggested

by Bartlett.
In the second chapter, Ann-Carita Evaldsson and Fritjof Sahlstrm
report a study of learning and memory as elements of everyday interac-
tion among children. The ambition of the analysis is to shed light on how
children in a multiethnic setting encounter, become familiar with, and
appropriate categories and sociocultural distinctions when talking about
themselves and others and when engaging in collective remembering in
joint activities. Thus, these are invisible forms of learning and remember-
ing where social life is constituted and reproduced as categories are invoked
and put to use in talk. The authors focus on how children through such cat-
egorizing practices negotiate social bonds between themselves and within
social groups more generally. The empirical data come from a case study
from a large research project documenting childrens everyday activities
through video recordings. The focus is on a girl of Rwandan origin, Sara,
going to preschool in Finland and later moving to Sweden to go to school.
This implies that her experiences of social relationships and multiethnicity
derive from different cultural settings, where, for example, the language
situation is different. The analyses show how otherness and immigrant-
ness are produced and maintained through the use of what Sacks (1992)
refers to as inference-rich categories, which in this case index features
such as country of birth, cultural origin and membership, skin color, and
other attributes. Sara and her friends learn to talk about their experiences
through narrative frameworks where they negotiate belonging and the
meaning of categories such as language, color, and race. An interesting
comment made by Evaldsson and Sahlstrm is that there are parallel dis-
courses. The institutions adhere to colorblind ideologies and categories,
while children explore their relationships, and social reality more generally,
by means of color-based categories.
The third chapter, by Maria Andre, Per-Olof Wickman, and Lotta
Lager-Nyqvist, analyzes issues of remembering as part of instructional
work of teaching and learning. The traditional assumption of instruction as
a practice where teachers teach and children learn and remember individu-
ally does not offer a productive perspective on the role of remembering
in the collective practices of classroom interaction and collaboration. A
point of departure for this analysis is that remembering is important in
instruction. The research questions for the empirical analyses concern how
remembering is situated in the classroom, and how students, sometimes
through teacher support, draw on experiences from previous activities but
also from other contexts. The transformational, rather than simply repro-
ductive, function of remembering is also attended to. The context is that
of teaching science at grades 1 and 2 about solubility of different kinds of
food substances in water. The analyses show how the teacher encourages

students to remember as part of the instructional process. This is done, for

instance, by trying to get students to talk about what they did at home (in
the kitchen) and explain how that is relevant for understanding solubility.
The study also illustrates the subtle, but very important, difference between
what Bruner (1996) refers to as paradigmatic (i.e., scientific) and narra-
tive rationalities. The pupils in this case remember and reconstruct events
within a narrative rationality but are not aware of the paradigmatic ratio-
nality in which a particular case of solubility is intended to be understood.
A classical issue in psychological research, since its modern incarna-
tion in experimental laboratories in Germany, concerns transfer. The
list of famous scholars who have struggled with the problems of how to
conceptualize and promote transfer is long (Perkins & Salomon, 1994).
Transfer is the idea that, when learning and remembering, such processes
are facilitated by what we previously know; what is learned and preserved
in memory isor should beavailable for use in similar situations. This
seems logical and in a sense it is a premise on which much of schooling
builds. But an interesting point is that transfer has often been difficult to
demonstrate in an empirical sense (Slj, 2003). In the fourth chapter,
Timothy Koschmann and Sharon Derry address the issue of transfer within
the context of learning about isomorphism in mathematics. Or, rather, they
explore how commonalities and similarities between mathematical tasks
appear to a student as she moves between tasks and mathematical con-
cepts, representations (equations, Pascals triangle, physical artifacts), and
operations. The authors do not premise their analysis on the expectation
that there will be transfer when learning about combinatorial problems;
rather, they study the details of how features of problem-solving situa-
tions that the student goes through connect to what she has encountered
earlier. The case study is taken from a longitudinal material where students
mathematical learning has been examined over long periods. Through the
design of the study, the interviewers conducting the conversation know
that the student has been exposed to, and learned about, combinatorial
problems on earlier occasions, and the interviewee is also clear about this.
In this sense, she remembers and is able to reapply some of what she has
encountered earlier. In the interview analyzed, the student moves between
mastering and remembering previous insights and not mastering and
remembering them. The learning/understanding of something significant
about isomorphism (which the student does demonstrate) emerges from
the use of artifacts, representations on paper, and a shared history of con-
versation about mathematical reasoning.
The second section of this volume deals with the issue of how learning
and remembering involve collaboration with technologies. Thus, here the
locus of such processes is in coordination with external artifacts serving spe-
cific purposes of reminding how actions are to be performed or problems
14R. SLJ

are to be understood. The chapter by Mathias Broth, Jakob Cromdal, and

Lena Levin reports an analysis of a learning experience that most adults
have been through and will remember well: the struggles of learning how
to drive. Learning to drive involves the coordination of bodily, perceptual,
and cognitive activities with pedals and other pieces of technology. A par-
ticular feature of a learning project such as this is that instructions have to
be converted into bodily and practical actions. The authors, working in a
conversation analytic tradition, analyze the very early phases of this process,
and they do this from a members perspective. In particular, they focus on
how the participantsthe instructor and the learnerorient to each other
during this initial training when the car is set in motion, how instructions
are given and taken, and how the participants build up a shared history of
experiences that they later refer to and make use of. Following the interac-
tion over a sequence of starts, the instructions initially are quite explicit
and detailed, but as the activity continues, they become more indexical
and general, since they are now given against the background of a shared
history of interaction. Eventually, the how features of how to use pedals
are not addressed, and instead the instructions focus on more general
aspects such as where to drive. The reflexivity inherent to these practices
illustrates how learning and remembering are intertwined in the concrete
activity rather than appearing as two separate cognitive processes as one
would be led to assume by reading the dominant literature in these fields.
In the chapter by Nigel Musk and Asta ekait, the context for the anal-
ysis is learning English in grades 8 and 9. The interest is in how students,
while writing and learning in a foreign language, mobilize digital resources
to solve linguistic problems and to be able to go on with their work. Thus,
learning and remembering are conceived as distributed between the stu-
dents and between the students and the technologies that they rely on
and that serve as prosthetic devices for their reasoning. The students
were video-recorded while engaging in technology mediated work, and
the authors use an ethnomethodological approach for analyzing the data,
which implies attending to language, gestures, gaze, and uses of tech-
nologies. The detailed analysis demonstrates how online resources, such as
dictionaries, become integral parts of the problem solving when students
attempt to find suitable expressions in English. But the technologies are
not just external devices; they actively mediate how the students struggle
with both form and content in their writing, and they co-determine how
they search for and evaluate alternatives for how to write. It is also obvious
that in order to be able to use dictionaries productively, students need
to know a lot about language, and there is a need for meta-knowledge
with regard to the conditions under which terms and expressions must
be understood. The authors illustrate how the students move between
the results they get on the screen, on the one hand, and what they know,

or claim to know, by remembering or through consulting books, on the

other hand. The activity of collaborative writing in a school situation is an
interesting type of communicative project (Linell, 1998) when it comes to
learning and remembering, since the students know they will be evaluated,
and they are thus morally accountable to each other for the efforts they put
into the work and the results they achieve.
Helen Melander and Pl Aarsand also take issues of remembering and
learning into instructional settings, in this case early mathematics learning.
Two children were video-recorded in class (Grade 1) and in their homes
during one week. In class, the children work with artifacts such as com-
puter games and puzzles. The authors pay particular attention to instances
in which remembering is explicitly oriented to: that is, when pupils are
expectedindividually or collectivelyto remember. Such activities are
frequent in this environment. Students are accountable for remembering
what they did yesterday or earlier during the lesson, and they are con-
stantly questioned about mathematical terminology and operations, thus
making clear to them what they should remember from a given activity. The
authors discern three different types of remembering, or, put differently,
three different types of activities that may be referred to as remembering.
They also show how remembering is a joint product of individual activities,
social interaction, and the uses of artifacts. The software records, scaffolds,
and stores the activities of the students. For instance, through the fact that
the software serves as an external storage of the work process, activities may
be interrupted and then resumed on a later occasion. The software also
serves a memory function by producing a document, a diploma, by means
of which the students have a record of what they have done that they can
show to others.
The chapter by sa Mkitalo and Roger Slj explores learning and
remembering as elements of studying economics at university. The repro-
duction of economics, its theories, methods and forms of argumentation,
is an important element of contemporary society, since such knowledge
plays a significant role in many activities. It is used in politics, policymak-
ing, media, and for decision making in public and private organizations.
Concepts and models play important roles in economics, and learning
how to model and make relevant arguments on the basis of such models is
an important feature of what it takes to think like an economist. Artifacts
such as texts, diagrams, formulae, and tables, are, and have been through
history, significant for the ability to document economic transactions and
subject them to increasingly sophisticated and abstract forms of analy-
sis. Texts and textual resources literally make it possible to see economic
transactions since they appear as entities organized for visual inspection.
At the next level, events and transactions are dealt with in what Bakhtin
(1986) refers to as secondary genresthat is, abstract intellectual genres
16R. SLJ

that absorb primary genres (where, in this case, economic transactions

have been documented), and where analyses can be made and arguments
tested. The deeply social nature of learning and remembering is obvious as
students struggle to understand one of the basic concepts of introductory
economics, the Gross National Product, and its various representations and
appearances. Learning about this concept is a lesson in what is, and what
should be, visible in argumentation in economics as a secondary genre.
One of the interesting struggles of this intellectual work for students is to
distance themselves from how they construe monetary transactions as they
encounter them in everyday life. Thus, students have to unlearn, or, in
phenomenological parlance, bracket premises and modes of reasoning that
are characteristic of our everyday relationships to money and economic
The contributions to the third section of the book deal with issues of nar-
ration and the production and reproduction of institutions, societies, and
identities through discourse practices in everyday conversations as well as
in textbooks and media. This means that learning and remembering will
have to be sought in complex and extended interactions and interdepen-
dencies between collective and individual practices. The chapter by James
V. Wertsch focuses on the role of narrative tools as symbolic resources that
mediate, and, in Wertschs terms, co-author national narratives. Using
the Vygotskian conceptual framework of the role of mediation and cultural
tools in human thinking as a point of departure, the ambition is to connect
psychological and sociocultural inquiry to issues of how national memory
and identities are produced and reproduced over time. Symbolic media-
tion through language and other forms of communication shapes, but does
not determine, our ways of thinking and reasoning. In addition, the tools
both enable and restrict our perceptions of the world. They foreground
certain ways of conceptualizing events while at the same time hiding, or
even counteracting, alternative perceptions. This perspective is put to
use in order to understand current political conflicts about Ukraine. The
author analyses the narrative tools of the Russian mnemonic community.
These narrative tools have a long history in Russian society and build on
certain templates, for instance that the country is under constant threat
of foreign occupation. Wertsch raises the question of why these narrative
templates continue to exercise such power in spite of the dramatic changes
of Russian society, and he also analyzes how they play into how current
Russian leaders view and respond to what is happening in Ukraine. And
how do these templates clash with those utilized by leaders in the West?
Thus, the psychological level of inquiry, focusing cultural tools and com-
municative habits, has something to offer when attempting to understand
international political crises.

In chapter 11, Rauf Garagozov analyzes the role of collective memory

as a force in social mobilization and political conflicts with ethnic ele-
ments. His chapter is both a theoretical scrutiny of how to conceptualize
collective memory and a case study of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict
over Nagorno-Karabakh. In the theoretical analysis, Garagozov connects
to the ideas about the role of schematic narrative templates (Wertsch,
this volume), which may be instantiated to account for the dynamics of
political developments and conflicts. Garagozov argues that as people are
exposed to specific such templates, there will be implications for the for-
mation of mentalities and attitudes in relation to ethnopolitical conflicts.
Garagozov reviews literature on social psychological experiments where
people have been exposed to various narratives with different templates,
for instance blaming a particular ethnic group or country for a conflict.
The studies show that emotions are affected by such exposure. The author
then suggests a model of how collective memory operates in ethnopoliti-
cal conflicts, the functions it has of activating a particular perspective on
events and of making narratives conform to culturally dominant schematic
narrative templates. The analysis of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over
Nagorno-Karabach, and how it eventually developed into war, illustrates
the differences between the narrative templates and histories of the two
countries. Garagozov concludes with a claim that attempts to create peace
and stability in this region of Caucasus should take into account the decisive
role of collective memory and recognize the need to counteract the impact
of existing narratives.
In chapter 12, Golda Kosisochi Onyeneho analyzes the issue of national
identity in the case of Nigeria, a young, postcolonial state where the percep-
tion of belonging to a nation is not obvious to all citizens. As an analytical
tool, the concept of nation is problematic, as has been extensively discussed
in the literature. Nevertheless, it plays an important role in many contexts,
not just in a psychological sense in the local community and as a basis for
political action, but also in geopolitics where nations are recognized as the
basic building blocks of international collaboration. Onyeneho discusses
the cultural technologies by means of which national identities are created.
She reports observations from an empirical study in Nigeria, conducted
in urban and rural settings, about the countrys past and how participants
construe the background of the country. What stands out for many of the
informants as characteristic of the present state of the nation of Nigeria
is expressed as complaints about the legitimacy of the political system.
Onyeneho argues that nations are not necessarily built through grand and
literate narratives; there are other ways in which people identify with a
nation and express some sort of belonging.
The family is an important social institution in most societies. In chapter
13, Kyoko Murakami and Rachel L. Jacobs report a study of family reminis-
18R. SLJ

cence as a particular form of remembering where, for instance, a younger

generation may learn from older family members. Such reminiscence
involves creating an emotional environment in which significant identity
work of a family will take place. The analysis focuses on the discursive
devices that are used to position events and members of the family in
family history. The authors show what is topically prevalent in such remi-
niscencefor instance, experiences of hard times in the past and how they
were overcome. By telling stories about specific eventsreferred to as dots
by the authorsthe fragments are woven together in a meaningful and
emotionally charged story about where the family has been and where it
may be heading. In this sense, family reminiscence is something very dif-
ferent from just talk about the past.
The chapters in the fourth section raise fundamental theoretical and
conceptual issues in the study of memory, remembering, and learning.
Wolff-Michael Roth analyzes reminiscence as a specific form of remember-
ing or memory work. Roth points out that the active work of reminiscence
typically, following, in chapter 14, Paul Ricu, takes place in conversations.
Roth analyzes an empirical material consisting of interviews with students
who had taken part in an extensive environmental project at school. The
interviews were conducted one year after the project had finished. The
focus of the analysis is how students account for and formulate remember-
ing (or not remembering) during the interviews. Such discursive moves of
accounting and formulating are essential features of reminiscence. The
results show that societal and personal relations play an important role
in remembering, both in terms of the narratives by means of which lived
events are formulated and in the sense that what the participants formulate
will serve as triggers for continued joint remembering in the interview.
Even someone who claims not to remember an event will remember some-
thing when the conversation continues. In this sense, memory work in the
context of reminiscence is very much about the emergence of an account
of an event.
In chapter 15, Giuseppina Marsico and Jaan Valsiner address the issue
of how borders and boundaries divide and connect human activities, and
how they may be seen as central to the capacity of making distinctions
in fluid environments of ongoing activities. Remembering and what the
authors refer to as constructive re-cognition take place in the border zone
between the present and the future, and remembering involves anticipa-
tion of a future. In these border zones, we engage in psychological work of
imagining a future and reimagining the past. The authors exemplify sites
of memory practices and learning in society, such as schools, museums,
and cemeteries, and they analyze how they set stages for remembering and
learning through their physical design, through the inclusion of symbolic
markers such as monuments, and through the introduction of various kinds

of boundaries. Such institutions also support remembering and reimagin-

ing. Museums help us reconstruct an imaginary past that we may never
have experienced, while schools are directed towards imaginary futures
that we may or may not encounter.
In the final chapter, Geoffrey C. Bowker offers an overview and inter-
pretation of how memory practices have developed and the role they have
played in generating singular natures and societies out of complex and
diverse realities. Central to this project of coordinating nature and society
has been the management of time and our attempts to understand histories
of various kinds along timelines (cosmological, geological, human) moving
in a specific direction and at a particular pace. In recent times, human
time has dominated our conception of the world, even though the forward
motion has been questioned by crises that imply that we are running out
of time, for instance with respect to how we manage nature and natural
resources. It is when we bring together the natural and the social that new
documentary practices give rise to a mentality of collecting data about
almost everything, including the behaviors and capacities of citizens and
the status of natural resources. Memory practices such as statistics, surveys,
censuses, and their classificatory practices order the world. In this way it
becomes possible for states and their infrastructure of rapidly expanding
private and public institutions and bureaucracies, doing work of sorting
things out (Bowker & Star, 2000), to manipulate information for efficient
management. In contemporary society, digital technologies and databases
are parts of global communication structures where we do not have to
worry about individual entities. Instead, we can think and make decisions
in terms of generic categories on the basis of which technologies operate.
In the midst of this, Bowker asks, what are the rooms and niches for learn-
ing that allow us to step outside these tightly woven information structures
and their logic?
Thus, and as the reader will find out, the contributions to this volume
place issues of remembering and learning at the intersection of individual,
interactional, institutional, and material practices; the what and how of
how we learn and remember will not be found in biological structures,
nor in mental faculties or technologies. Rather, remembering and learn-
ing are emergent processes occasioned by human activities and capacities
for appropriating and externalizing experiences, for documenting them
in symbolic and physical form, and for sharing them across contexts and
time scales.


1. fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a neuroimaging tech-

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various regions of the brain.
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Brady Wagoner and Alex Gillespie


It is has been widely demonstrated that memories are formed, shaped,

and recollected in social interaction (Middleton & Brown, 2005; Wagoner
& Gillespie, 2014). However, the dominant assumption in cognitive psy-
chology, which goes back to Ebbinghaus (1885/1913), is that other people
are little more than stimuli, cueing something already internal, with the
substantial work of memory being an individual cognitive feat. This cogni-
tive approach, we will argue, vastly underestimates the relational qualities
of remembering and ignores the wider cultural background against which
memories are reconstructed. Sociocultural psychology, in contrast, concep-
tualizes social others and cultural artifacts as directly participating in and
being constitutive of remembering (Cole, 1996). It moves away from the
notion of separate internal and external storage of memory to consider
the properties that emerge in the interaction between the two. The core
concept is that of semiotic mediation, whereby the person dynamically

Memory Practices and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. 2544
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 25

regulates their own conduct with the use of signs (Valsiner, 2007; Vygotsky
& Luria, 1994). Memory becomes a social and cultural process (instead of a
cognitive faculty or thing) that takes place with the use of cultural and semi-
otic tools in a context that is both physical and social (Bresc & Wagoner,
2015; Wertsch, this volume).
The main problem with conceptualizing remembering as a process is
that methodologically it is much easier to study it as a faculty, to monitor
inputs and outputs at various time points. Taking seriously remembering
as a process entails more subtle methodologies for unpacking the process
of remembering in real time (Gillespie & Zittoun, 2010; Wagoner, 2009). In
the current chapter, we will use data from a replication of Bartletts (1932)
classic method of repeated reproduction with the Native American folktale
War of the Ghosts to explore remembering as emerging through genuinely
social processes. The method of repeated reproduction entails having an
individual remember the same stimulus at various time points such that the
decay and transformation can be systematically studied. Bartletts method,
however, only gave him access to snapshots of the process of remem-
bering: namely, the outputs at each time point. Thus he had to infer the
semiotic processes underlying the reconstruction (Wagoner & Gillespie,
Our methodological innovation is to have participants produce the
reproductions in pairs in order to make visible (or rather audible) the social
processes that construct remembering. When in dyads, the conversation
is naturalistic, and participants thoughts are easily externalized, which
provides us a window on the way in which the two participants thoughts
interact in the production of remembering. Our analysis focuses on how
participants creatively weave together diverse influences in the ongoing
process of remembering. We identify and elaborate two forms of emer-
gence, where memories and their meanings emerge through time in the
interaction between participants and cannot be said to belong to either
participant individually. The first is a form of social emergence, which
comes about through each speaker prompting the otherthe combination
of their responses becomes the remembering. The second describes how
material already remembered can take on new meaning by shifting the nar-
rative frame, thereby changing the significance of the parts. Both kinds of
emergence will be shown to be genuinely social and usually conversational
characteristics of remembering (Roth, this volume).


Our starting point for this chapter is the seminal work of Frederic Bartlett
(1932; see also Wagoner, 2016), who is credited for the insights that
Emergence in Conversational Remembering 27

remembering is reconstructive, rather than simply reproductive ( la Ebb-

inghaus, 1885/1913), and that social-cultural factors play a primary role
in it. Moreover, Bartlett (1932) consistently used the gerund remembering
over memory, to highlight that we are dealing with a complex process
rather than a mental faculty. According to him, the distinctions between
perceiving, imagining, thinking, and remembering will always be some-
what arbitrary, as we are dealing with a whole person who must make a
unitary response in a lived environment, not simply a stimulus that causes
an isolated response. Notably, he describes remembering as an imagina-
tive reconstruction or construction, built out of the relation of our attitude
towards a whole active mass of organized past reactions or experience,
and to a little outstanding detail which commonly appears in image or in
language form(Bartlett, 1932, p. 213, emphasis added).
Contra Ebbinghauss (1885/1913) method of using nonsense syllables,
Bartlett used complex cultural material in his experiments, such as unfa-
miliar folk stories and images from foreign cultures, which participants
related to through their previous experience and social conventions. He
also developed what he called the method of repeated reproduction, whereby a
single participant repeatedly wrote down what they remembered at increas-
ing time delays, such that he could analyze qualitative changes through a
series of reproductions (Wagoner, 2009). Most famously, he showed how
the Native American folk story War of the Ghosts (see Appendix) was system-
atically transformed when remembered by English participants: Hunting
seals became fishing, the foreign proper names disappear, the super-
natural elements are rationalized or omitted, and the whole story is made
more regular and familiar from an English perspective. This clearly demon-
strated that remembering takes place through the wider social background
to which his participants belonged. In remembering, participants strive
to make the unfamiliar familiar and in so doing conventionalize the
material (Bartlett, 1932). Today these ideas have become commonplace
in sociocultural psychology (i.e., Middleton & Brown, 2005; Moscovici,
2000; Roth, this volume), but in the early 20th century, they were seminal
To theorize these findings, Bartlett further developed Heads (1920)
concept of schema, which he defined as an active organization of past
reactions, or of past experiences (Bartlett, 1932, p. 200). Bartletts
concept highlights the active and dynamic relating to the environment in
irreversible time through accumulated past experience. It is against this
background (which has irreducible social dimensions) that memories are
constructed, and as such, memories tend to become more generalized
into familiar cultural patterns over time. We tend to remember the details
of earlier and more recent events within a particular context (e.g., catch-
ing a bus) more than those in the middle, such that memories for details

of familiar settings form a U-shaped graph. This is rather different from

concept of schema subsequently developed by cognitive psychology, where
schema becomes a static knowledge structure, composed of different nodes
or slots used to store memories (Wagoner, 2013). It also misses the idea that
reconstructive remembering is an active, dynamic, situated, and temporally
organized process in which multiple schemata may come into play. In other
words, remembering is a creative, goal-oriented process that can produce
novel products and interpretations.
Bartlett, however, was not himself able to methodologically access ongoing
constructive processes. We are left guessing by what pathways participants
changed, for example, hunting seals into fishing or something black
into his soul, as well as the process by which accurate recall was achieved.
His method of repeated reproduction captures a series of outcomes (i.e.,
the outcome of each episode of remembering) and leaves the researcher
to make inferences about the processes involved from the outcomes, obser-
vations of participants, and their occasional comments during the task.
He would also probe participants recollection of the process by follow-up
questions. In fairness to Bartlett, he was constrained by the technology of
his time (viz. paper and pen) to record processes of remembering. Today,
researchers can record and scrutinize audio and video data to explore the
processes of remembering as they occur, moment-to-moment. However,
the researcher still needs to find a way of externalizing and objectifying
these processes, which are usually intrapsychological, because audio and
video devices cannot capture private thoughts.
Our idea was to extend Bartletts method into a conversation task, in
which two participants who have read the same story must recall it together
(after 15 minutes and then again after a week). In so doing, the participants
would have to verbalize their thoughts to each other, thus making visible
at least some spontaneous processes of remembering. This methodologi-
cal strategy converges with the think-aloud protocol in which speech can be
seen as a window into psychological processes (see Ericsson & Simon, 1993;
Gillespie & Zittoun, 2010; Valsiner, 2003). However, because Ericsson and
Simon (1993) asked participants to verbalize their thoughts when they were
ostensibly alone, they were creating an artificial scenario. Our participants
were never asked to verbalize their thoughts as such, but, simply by virtue
of being in dyads, this is what they spontaneously did.
After having had the participants read the story twice at regular speed
and waiting 15 minutes, we gave the following instructions: As a pair
discuss and write down the story you read earlier as accurately as pos-
sible. If you decide to change what you have already written, put a single
line through the portion you want to delete and rewrite your correc-
Emergence in Conversational Remembering 29

tion next to the deleted portion. The conversation task taps into the
familiar, everyday activity of remembering an event and some material
together with others. As Middleton and Edwards (1990) earlier found,
participants in our experiment approached the task in a much freer and
jovial way than in an individual paper-and-pencil task, which tends to be
done as if it were a school exam. Even though we gave explicit instruc-
tions to write down the story you read as accurately as possible, the
participants could still be found to deviate from the task, making jokes
and associations to the story.
This methodology, tapping into spontaneous and everyday remembering,
thus allows us to unpack and illustrate the process by which transformations
and conventionalizations identified by Bartlett come about. In an earlier
article (Wagoner & Gillespie, 2014), we used this methodology to identify
several sociocultural mediators of remembering, including imagery, narra-
tive coherence, deduction, repetition, gesture, questioning, and the social
process of deferring to ones partner. In the present chapter we focus on
two mediators not covered in that article, which we will call social emer-
gence and frame shifting. Social emergence describes how remembering
is directed through the interplay between each participants suggestions for
giving form to a vague memory. Emergence through frame shifting identifies
where the parts remembered do not in themselves change but rather take
on new meaning as a result of being seen within a new gestalt, such as a
change in the recollection or an external narrative frame. The key to emer-
gence through frame shifting is that what has already been remembered is
reassessed from a new perspective.


In this section, we will explicate the first form of emergence with illustra-
tions of the process involved in key transformations earlier identified by
Bartlett (1932)for example, hunting seals to fishing, the change
and disappearance of foreign proper names, foggy and calm to sympa-
thetic weather, and so on. From our data we can see that transformations
are not entirely unwitting, as Bartlett implied, but can actually be cor-
rected through a process of self-suggestion and other-suggestion. Let us
begin with a simple example from participants we will call Bill and Henry.
Their interaction was somewhat short, yet they recalled slightly more than
average (compared with the sample of 10 dyads). Excerpt 1 shows how
initial conventionalization (i.e., the reworking of material into a famil-
iar framework) is overcome and the correct phrase is remembered. The
process is one of social emergence:

Excerpt 1

The original text:

One night two young men from Egulac went down to the river to hunt seals
Written reproduction:
2 guys hunting seals from Enudan.

Participants dialogue:
3 Henry: Ok, so, there were two guys hunting
4 Bill: No, no, no. There were two guys looking for seals
5 Henry: They were hunting seals
6 Bill: Hunting seals. Two guys hunting seals
7 [writing]. Ok, so there are two guys
8 hun-

One of Bartletts (1932) most frequently cited examples of conven-

tionalization was the transformation of hunting seals into fishing,
which over half of his subjects did by the second reproduction. A similar
pattern was found in the present study (4 out of the 10 dyads turned
hunting seals into fishing by their second reproduction). Bill and
Henrys first written reproduction is correct, but analyzing Excerpt
1 reveals that they initially engaged in conventionalization and then
corrected themselves. Thus here we can zoom in on the process of cor-
recting conventionalization.
Henry recalls hunting and Bill recalls, looking for sealsneither is
correct, though both are in the right general semantic field. They arrive
at the correct phrase hunting seals (lines 56) together, through dis-
agreement and mutual suggestion. This seems to illustrate Merleau-Pontys
(1945, p. 413) point: [T]he objection which my interlocutor raises to what
I say draws from me thoughts which I had no idea I possessed. Suggestions
do not lead to passive adoption. Rather, the alterity of the others sugges-
tion becomes a dialogical counterpoint, calling forth a new response. One
participants response stimulates an opposite but related idea in the other
which transcends and integrates the former (see Markov, 1987).
In Bill and Henrys written reproduction we also see that they have
transformed the proper name Egulac to Enudan. Bartlett (1932,
p. 82) found that such transformations were common (e.g., Emlac, Eggulick,
Edulac, Egulick), before the name disappeared entirely, which happened
in all but one out of his 20 participants reproductions. This finding was
also present in our data. In Bill and Henrys case, this change comes about
immediately and is not further corrected in the conversation. With other
Emergence in Conversational Remembering 31

participants, however, we find a microgenetic process of elaboration taking

place in the conversation. This occurs clearly in Ingrid and Michaels first
conversational reproduction:

Excerpt 2

The original text:

One night two young men from Egulac went down to the river to hunt seals
Participants written reproduction:
Two men went down the river from Ejunah to hunt seals.

Participants dialogue:
1 Michael: Okay, begin. I dont remember the name of the first town.
2 Ingrid: Starts with an E
3 Michael: E, E
4 Ingrid: J
5 Michael: E Ebowler or something [laugh]
6 Ingrid: Ajew, e junar
7 Michael: Yeah E G U N A H, or something
8 Ingrid: E G U N A H ?
9 Michael: Yeah
10 Ingrid: What was the first sentence then?
11 Michael: Two men went down the river from [0.5] Ejunah to hunt seals.

In this excerpt we see the proper name gradually emerging between

the participants. As Brown and McNeil (1966) described in relation to the
tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, the process of activating the latent word
tends to happen from the first to the last to the middle part of the word.
Ingrid immediately remembers the first letter/sound [E] (line 2). Michael
repeats the sound twice in an attempt to stimulate further recall (line 3),
a strategy of remembering widespread within our participants conversa-
tions. In this case, it triggers Ingrid to recall the next sound [j] which is
close to the original [g] sound (line 4).
Michael then makes the first attempt to articulate the whole word and
does so in a way that comes close to the familiar word Ebola, as in the
Ebola virus. He was likely aware of this connection because he does a small
laugh after saying it. Ingrid makes two more attempts to articulate the full
word (line 6), the last of which is recognized by Michael as correct, leading
him to spell out the word (line 7). Although they write ejunah in their
written reproduction, their oral articulation of the proper name actually

has a slight [k] sound in it (lines 7 and 8), revealing the closer approxima-
tion. However, accuracy is not central to the point. The key point is that
the process of emergence is fundamentally social in the sense of emerging
through the process of interaction. We find a process of elaboration hap-
pening between the participants, where different versions are produced,
some incomplete, on the way to a final form.
In their conversation, Ingrid and Michaels proceed to touch on another
major transformation Bartlett earlier commented on: a feeling for the
vague atmosphere of the weather during recall. In Bartletts (1932) experi-
ment, only eight ever reproduced [foggy and calm], and five of these
speedily dropped it from their later versions (p. 80). However, he notes
his participants did tend to evoke a weather scheme which is consonant
with a given mood, but no detailed weather conditions (p. 80). As in our
experiment, descriptions such as dark, cold, misty, and hazy were
common. Let us consider how Ingrid and Michael arrive at foggy and

Excerpt 3

The original text:

while they were there it became foggy and calm.
Participants written reproduction:
Soon it became foggy and hazy.

Participants dialogue:
14 Michael: I remember the word hazy and foggy or foggy and dark,
15 and dark, it became foggy
16 Ingrid: I forgot all about that
17 Michael: Yeah.
18 Ingrid: Hazy rings a bell, erm
19 Michael: Definitely foggy
20 Ingrid: Definitely foggy and hazy.
21 Michael: Foggy and hazy.
22 Ingrid: Foggy and hazy?
23 Michael: Yeah

The excerpt can be seen in microgenetic terms: From a vague atmo-

sphere of feeling emerge definite articulations, which in turn are integrated
with one another (Werner, 1956, 1957). Both Michael and Ingrid have
a general impression of the weather in the story, as Bartlett had found,
though only Michael remembered that there was a line in the story about it.
Out of it, Michael articulates two possibilities hazy and foggy or foggy and
dark (lines 14 and 15). Both dark and hazy are additions that nonethe-
less fit the atmosphere of the storythe story begins One night which
tends not be remembered as a specific phrase, but is remembered as a back-
Emergence in Conversational Remembering 33

ground condition against which other phrases are constructed. Michael

repeats foggy and dark with the extension it became; however, it is
hazy that Ingrid recognizes from the three words articulated by Michael
(line 18). Michael asserts that foggy was definitely in the phrase (line 19),
followed by Ingrids assertion that it was both foggy and hazy (line 20).
It is interesting that in their second reproduction, Ingrid first remembers
dark and foggy and hazy as Michael had done in the first reproduction.
Both then agree that it did become dark in the original story, but that
they had not remembered this in their first reproduction. In this we see
how the previous co-construction sets the stage for the second reproduc-
tion. Even though they accurately remember what they wrote down, they
attribute Michaels suggestion of dark in the first reproduction to the
original story. The reading of the story and the first reproduction of it
become blurred, and the latter exerts a greater influence on the wholein
Bartletts language, they are part of the same developing schema. This
seems to support the findings of memory suggestibility researchers (e.g.,
Loftus, 1975) that suggestions by others during the act of remembering
feed-forward into future remembering of the event. We will, however, take
a more radical perspective, in which the suggestion by one participant
becomes the stimulus for a second suggestion, which builds upon the first,
incrementally guiding the dyad towards a recollection that the dyad takes
as satisfactory. Thus the emergent recollection (regardless of whether it is
accurate or distorted) cannot be attributed to the cognitive process of either
participant, but, instead, must be conceptualized as emerging through the
social process of their interaction.
The last example of the first form of emergence can also be interpreted
as a microgenetic process, in which definite contents are articulated out of
a vague feeling. However, in this case, the integration must be done such
that events fit into a narrative sequence. The participants Bill and Henry
remember close equivalence to the phrases in the original He told it all,
and then he became quiet and something black came out of his mouth,
but are stuck by what happens between them. They have a vague sense of
there being a transition from night to day but precisely what that some-
thing is requires a constructive effort to fill in, which involves coming up
with a number of possibilities and selecting between them (see Excerpt 5).
From their vague memory for the original phrase when the sun rose he
fell down, Bill and Henry construct four possible contents: the sun sets,
he goes to sleep, stood up, and woke up. On the one hand, these
suggestions imply a transition between night and day, with temporal marks
(i.e., the sun sets) and with conventional activities associated with those
periods (i.e., he goes to sleep and [he] woke up). On the other hand,
the suggestions express a feeling for vertical movement, both of the sun and
of the main character. The latter is given meaning through an orientation

Excerpt 4

The original text:

He told it all, and then he became quiet. When the sun rose he fell down.
Something black came out of his mouth.
Written reproduction:
People look at him strangely. He became quiet after telling his story. He woke up.
Something black came out of his mouth.

Participants dialogue:
93 Bill: He told his story and then became quiet. Right?
94 And then the sun sets [pause] or something
95 Henry: Well, he goes to sleep
96 Bill: It didnt say anything about sleep. In the
97 morning he stood up and died
98 Henry: Woke up and died
99 Bill: All right, so he became quiet after telling the story. Ahh, a
100 photographic memory would be awesome right now. Ok now
101 were to the point where he woke up. Did they say he woke up?
102 Henry: I dont think he stood up
103 Bill: I thought he
104 Henry: I dont think he stood up. I think he did wake up
105 Bill: Ok, so he woke up [writes]. Something black
106 Henry: Came out of his mouth

metaphor (see Lakoff & Johnson, 1980), in which unconsciousness is down

and consciousness is upthus we fall asleep and wake up. Thus, the
schematic features of the original story remain and are accurate at a general
level, even though the precise contents change to something novel at the
level of their particular articulations. The two participants never dispute the
fact of there being a transition from night-to-day and vertical movement;
rather, these set the stage for their mutual discussion. In the next section, we
will consider what happens when the frame is shifted. What is important for
our point about social emergence is that the resultant recollection, which is
only partially correct, cannot be reduced to the cognitive apparatus of either
participant; rather, the recollection that is written down emerges through
a social process, in which there is a stepwise refinement of the recollection
with each turn in the interaction.
But before moving on to the second form of emergence, it is worth
pointing out that there is an aspect of balancing the contributions of both
participants in the above conversations. In Excerpt 3, foggy and hazy is
written down not so much because both believe it is fully true, but rather to
have equal representation in the final written reproduction; each thought
Emergence in Conversational Remembering 35

one of the words was correct, so they combine them. In other words, it is
more the result of a compromise in the interest of social equity than each
participants belief that the end result has the maximum truth-value. Like-
wise, in Excerpt 4, the written reproduction he woke up is the result of
each participant firmly rejecting one idea proposed by the other. We see
that this tacit agreement of creating equity of contribution in remember-
ing can create conditions for the process of social emergence, as can be
seen in the above cases. Thus, we should be careful not to strictly separate
cognition from the social practice in which it occurs (Middleton & Edwards,


While in the first form of emergence we see a memory in the process of

formation between participants, the second form entails taking a new per-
spective towards something that has already been recalled by situating it
within a new gestalt. That is to say, the remembered events significance
within the wider story changes as a result of a shift in narrative framing
of it. In this way, emergence through frame shifting is a kind of second-
order process, which involves managing and manipulating contents that
have already been remembered. A clear example of this can be seen in
the conversation between Nick and Ellen. After having remembered and
written down the first line of the story, Ellen goes on to suggest that the
protagonists were hiding and to describe an image of the young men
sort of crouching down. She is, however, not sure if this was in the story
or if she imagined it. Nick does not validate it so they move on, but the
suggestion still lurks in the background of their conversation, which leads
to some confusion about what the protagonists heard and what they saw
(see Excerpt 5).
As the narrative frame changes new details of the already remembered
actions (e.g., hiding) emerge as significant. Ellen and Nick remember three
actions (saw, heard, and hid) but they do not know what they mean
within the story. To situate them in a sequential narrative they repeat the
words in varying orders, in an interaction that moves seamlessly between
the participants. Through repetition the actions become increasingly articu-
lated (e.g., something becomes noise and then a worrying noise), but
also take on new meaning by becoming part of a coherent narrative. They
hid because they were frightened by the worrying noise (line 6768).
This causal attribution (Semin & Fiedler, 1991) provides the link to make
the three actions meaningful within the broader narrative. This is another
case of social emergence, as described above. But, it is also a case of a shift
in the frame of reference leading to an emergence. Specifically, Ellens

Excerpt 5

The original text:

Then they heard war-cries, and they thought: Maybe this is a war-party.
They escaped to the shore, and hid behind a log. Now canoes came up,
and they heard the noise of paddles, and saw one canoe coming up to
Participants written reproduction:
They heard a worrying noise so they hid. Soon a boat appeared
Participants dialogue:
49 Ellen: Yep, hmmm, I seem to think that they
50 were hiding or something but I
51 cant remember. They were, I have this
52 image of them sort of crouching
53 down [Ellen moves her body as if crouching]
54 Nick: Yeah
55 Ellen: Next to the log
56 Nick: Yeah
57 Ellen: You know sitting there but I may have just imagined
58 Nick: I didnt pick that up
59 Ellen: No, I probably imagined it then. But then
60 next, I can remember that they saw a boat
61 Nick: But they heard something
62 Ellen: They heard a noise
63 Nick: They heard something and then they hid
64 Ellen: They saw, they hid that was right that was -
65 Nick: - They heard something and then they hid
66 Ellen: Yeah, so they heard some -
67 Nick: - They heard a noise. What happened was it was
68 terribly frightening or something because they hid
69 Ellen: Yeah
70 Nick: So what can we put for that? Heard a worrying noise?
71 Ellen: Yeah
72 Nick: I dont know [both laugh]
73 Ellen: Thats why I thought of him sort of crouching
74 down. Cause thats why they were hiding

earlier embodied feeling of crouching, which was dismissed as merely

imagined, becomes significant as the frame shifts towards the protago-
nists hiding. Indeed, Ellens feeling of crouching is not only validated, but
it provides validity to the emerging recollection of the protagonists hiding.
One of the most interesting cases of frame-shifting that happened persis-
tently in our sample (in five out of the ten pairs), but nowhere in Bartletts
(1916, 1920, 1928, 1932) data, was the idea that the main character (i.e.,
the Indian or young man) was himself a ghost. This idea, however, only
appeared in the conversations and was not incorporated into their written
Emergence in Conversational Remembering 37

reproduction. There were two reasons for this: First, the participants saw
it as implied rather than explicitly stated in the original story and second,
their conversation partner often did not validate the idea. Excerpt 6 is a
typical example of how the idea came up in the conversations. It is from the
pairs first reproduction and begins after they have remembered that the
people came down to the water and began to fight, and many were killed.

Excerpt 6

The original text:

But presently the young man heard one of the warriors say, "Quick, let us go home:
that Indian has been hit." Now he thought: "Oh, they are ghosts." He did not feel sick,
but they said he had been shot.

Participants dialogue:
97 Joan: So, at some point he thinks theyre ghosts;
98 he decides theyre ghosts
99 Emily: Well, I think he might be a ghost
100 Joan: Yeah, but in the story
101 Emily: But cause he has been referred to as an Indian, hes an Indian.
102 Hes the only person -
103 Joan: Yeah, they say the Indian has been shot -
104 Emily: - but I did not feel sick

Joan remembers that he thinks theyre ghosts (line 97), which leads
Emily to assert that he might be a ghost (line 99). This same pattern can
be seen in their second reproduction, where Joan comments, He realizes
that theyre ghost or he says theyre ghosts, which is followed by Emilys
statement that I think that the point is that he is a ghost. In both cases,
Joan afterwards refocuses the conversation on the task of recalling the
specific statement in the original story, which she does with the help of
Emilys insight that he has been referred to as an Indian (line 101). It is
interesting to note that Emily is at this point justifying why she thinks he is
a ghost but ends up triggering Joans recall of the target phrase that Emily
seamlessly completes.
Their conversation continues on this line, but later Emily tries two times
again to attribute ghost status to the Indian: first when they are recalling
when the protagonist conveys, I had been shot to the people and second
when recalling that something black comes out of his mouth. In both cases
Joan again puts the issue aside. The issue of the protagonist being a ghost
comes up when discussing in other conversations as well when the pair

comes to the issues of him being shot but not feeling sick, his thought that
they are ghosts and the ending in which something black comes out of his
mouth and the line he was dead. These were all puzzling events for the
participants of this study that can partly be familiarized through the addi-
tion of the new idea.
In 2006, when this study was conducted, a common narrative template
(Wertsch, 2002) was being used by Hollywood films about ghosts. These
films, such as the Sixth Sense and The Others, involve a protagonist who
comes into contact with ghosts. There is then a surprise ending in these
films which we realize that the protagonist him- or herself has been a ghost
all along as well. This ending explains earlier events of the film and gives
the story narrative closure. When this narrative template is applied to War
of the Ghosts, some of the puzzling aspects just mentioned become intel-
ligible, though it does not necessarily change the manifest content. Thus,
it is our conjecture that over 80 years after Bartlett conducted his experi-
ment, we find participants using a new set of narrative frames to familiarize
it. So, although the outcome is different due to different cultural narratives
in circulation, the process is the same. Again, the finding affirms the need
to consider the wider social-cultural world to which participants belong to
understand their processes of remembering. The interesting thing about
this last case of frame shifting is that the emergence which occurs comes
not out of the interactional process per se, but from an interaction between
the narrative-to-be-remembered and the narrative templates circulating in
the wider cultural milieu.


The emergence of memories in conversation offers a radical reconcep-

tualization of remembering. What the data indicate is not that people
report memories as such, but rather that they work to generate sugges-
tions, based on feelings, images, expectations, and narrative templates,
which they simply put out there as a way of stimulating remembering
as a social process. Rather than being finalized outputs, they are better
conceptualized as stimuli that, through the response of either self or other,
it is hoped will lead, by degrees, towards a memory. The participants in
our study could be described as prompting, joking, and even goading each
other towards a reasonable reconstructiona process that is also a social
negotiation. That is to say, what is often being called a memory is actu-
ally just a phase, or a cross-section, of remembering as a process. People do
not output memories. They dance around, cajoling themselves and each
other towards a reconstruction that will work for their present purposes.
Emergence in Conversational Remembering 39

The reason this conceptualization of conversational remembering is

potentially radical is because suggestion has long been associated with
inaccuracy, contagion, and distortion (Motzkau, 2009, 2011). The more or
less implicit assumption in much contemporary research is that the most
accurate remembering occurs when the individual is protected from social
processes, which are seen to be distorting. The majority of these studies
create specific conditions for distortion to take place (such as suggest-
ing entirely probable occurrences) and only consider specific quantitative
outcomes that result from these conditions (e.g., how much distortion
occurs). For example, in her classic study, Loftus (1975) shows how the use
of the article the instead of aas in did you see the broken light?
causes more subjects to remember the broken light than those who were
asked about a broken light. Nowhere in these kinds of studies do we
find an examination of the microgenetic process by which these outcomes
are reached. Instead, analysis is done purely at the level of outcomes and
aggregates. The assumption is made that one variable has a direct causal
influence on another.
Research on the so-called contaminating effects of social suggestion
chimes with the long-standing association between social processes and
negative outcomes such as conformity, obedience, de-individuation, and
irrational behavior (Greenwood, 2003; Moscovici, 2000). It also conforms
to prevailing assumptions about the primacy of the individual (Farr, 1996).
But more recent research has shown that people are not the dupes of sug-
gestion that researchers originally made them out to be. People can and do
resist suggestions from others if they are given reason to believe they are
not reliable. This occurs even if the experimenter tells participants they
were subjected to some leading questions some time later (Blank, 1998).
The misinformation effect can even be reversed by informing participants
of the nature of the questions they were exposed to during an earlier recall
(Oeberst & Blank, 2012). These later interventions could themselves be
thought of as further suggestions, which people use to neutralize, coun-
terbalance, juggle, or synthesize earlier suggestions. Thus, people are not
simply passive victims of suggestion but use it as resource to remember.
An even more radical point, espoused in the present chapter, is that
even an individual alone engages in suggestion, except in this case it is
self-suggestion. Individuals, in our study, were seen to make proposals and
then disagree with themselves, or to ask questions, and then answer those
same questions. The social process, and specifically prompting and sugges-
tion, we argue, cannot be extracted from remembering. Indeed, we argue,
suggestion is at the core of human remembering.
From a developmental perspective, adults suggest memories to children
before they are able to remember by themselves (Nelson & Fivush, 2004a,

2004b); later in development, children apply the same kinds of sugges-

tions to themselves that they learned by socialization with adults. This is,
of course, Vygotskys (1978) famous law of cultural development, whereby
higher mental functions begin as relations between people (intermentally)
and only latter reappear in the child herself (intramentally). The internal-
ized mechanism for remembering we argue is suggestion. Describing an
episode from memory involves applying the same sequence of suggestions
and questions to oneself as one would to another within the group. The
child only becomes able to remember on her own through utilizing the
technique of suggestionthus, fitting her memories to conventions of
narration found within the group. This also explains why foreign stories
are conventionalized: People in the receipt community make suggestions
about the story based on their own conventions in remembering it, as can
be seen in the above data.
The role of suggestion is also clear in data in relation to its use by par-
ticipants to turn recall into recognition. It is much easier to recognize
something than to recall it (Freund, Brelsford, & Atkinson, 1969; MacDou-
gall, 1904; Postman, Jenkins, & Postman, 1948). The method of repeated
reproduction is a recall task. But by making suggestions to themselves and
each other, participants are effectively turning it into a recognition task.
They make reasonable suggestions and then see whether they recognize
the suggestion, thus leveraging the power of recognition for a recall task.
Moreover, at some level participants seem aware of this strategy, and as
such, they are, as our data show, quite skeptical about their suggestions.
Thus, again we see that suggestions are not merely passively accepted but
actively used, manipulated, interrogated, and even doubted in the process
of remembering. Moreover, we have talked about frame shifting as one
form of suggestion in which already remembered pieces of the story are
placed in new gestalts. This harks back to Bartletts concept of schema.
While contemporary schema theories conceptualize schema as a static
structure that distorts memory, in Bartletts account, schema were actively
manipulated and reflected on by people (Wagoner, 2013, 2016, in press).
For him, it was this characteristic that gave remembering its distinctive
human qualities.
As a final methodological note, we have argued that conversational
remembering is a window on the microgenetic process of remembering.
It reveals the profoundly social nature of remembering, not just because it
is occurring in a social interaction, but because the ways in which remem-
bering emerges seem to be deeply social: through a process of suggestion
and counter-suggestion. This ebb and flow, we maintain, also occurs within
participants, when they respond to their own suggestions and questions.
Emergence in Conversational Remembering 41

That is to say, individual recollection is, we suggest, social in just the same
way, with suggestion and counter suggestion mediating the ongoing recon-
struction. In other words, individual recollection often exploits internal
dialogue (cf. Linell, 2009). The conversation task shifts the boundary
towards greater visibility of the mediation process for the researcher to
record and scrutinize. This is not to say that remembering in conversation
is the same as remembering by oneselfclearly, there are certain con-
ventions of talk, such as coming to consensus, that are not found on the
individual level. But the process of suggestion and counter-suggestion is
basic to the emergence of remembering at both intra- and inter-individual
levels (Billig, 1996).


One night two young men from Egulac went down to the river to hunt
seals, and while they were there it became foggy and calm. Then they heard
war-cries, and they thought: Maybe this is a war-party. They escaped to
the shore and hid behind a log. Now canoes came up, and they heard the
noise of paddles and saw one canoe coming up to them. There were five
men in the canoe, and they said:
What do you think? We wish to take you along. We are going up the
river to make war on the people.
One of the young men said, I have no arrows.
Arrows are in the canoe, they said.
I will not go along. I might be killed. My relatives do not know where
I have gone. But you, he said, turning to the other, may go with them.
So one of the young men went, but the other returned home.
And the warriors went on up the river to a town on the other side of
Kalama. The people came down to the water and they began to fight, and
many were killed. But presently the young man heard one of the warriors
say, Quick, let us go home: that Indian has been hit. Now he thought:
Oh, they are ghosts. He did not feel sick, but they said he had been shot.
So the canoes went back to Egulac and the young man went ashore to
his house and made a fire. And he told everybody and said: Behold, I
accompanied the ghosts, and we went to fight. Many of our fellows were
killed, and many of those who attacked us were killed. They said I was hit,
and I did not feel sick.
He told it all, and then he became quiet. When the sun rose he fell down.
Something black came out of his mouth. His face became contorted. The
people jumped up and cried.
He was dead.


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Category Memberships and Practices of
Ethnic Othering in Childrens Multiethnic
Peer-Group Participations

Ann-Carita Evaldsson and Fritjof Sahlstrm

In this chapter, we use a peer language socialization approach to account

for how children make use of language and the body as cultural resources in
everyday peer language practices for invoking and creatively transforming
social boundaries and category memberships in culturally and ethnically
diverse communities (Garrett, 2007; Goodwin & Kyratzis, 2014). Based on
a large video ethnographic study of multilingual peer group interactions
in two urban school settings in Finland and Sweden, we explore in detail
the everyday peer group participation of an immigrant girl, Sara, with
a Finnish-Swedish-African background (Evaldsson & Sahlstrm, 2014).
In particular, we are interested in how category memberships, evaluative
stances, and subject positions associated with ethnic otherness become
resources for children in multiethnic peer group settings to position
themselves vis--vis others and differentiate themselves from certain
groups of children (Evaldsson, 2005; Garci-Sanchez, 2014; Goodwin,
2006; Goodwin & Alim, 2010). During the last few decades, several

Memory Practices and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. 4573
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 45

researchers have shown that language plays a pivotal role in the articulation
of otherness in ethnically diverse communities, whereby in the context of
social and linguistic hierarchies and hegemonic ideologies, immigrants
and other minorities may be marginalized and categorized as out-groups
(cf. Garci-Sanchez, 2014; Goodwin & Alim, 2010, for an overview). Little
is known, however, about childrens agency in social practices of othering
in terms of childrens ability to appropriate and negotiate as well as
perpetuate broader cultural frameworks of social and ethnical hierarchies
and inequalities in multiethnic settings.
Our foci of interest resonate here more generally with a sociocultural
view on collective remembering as organized within the appropriation,
use and creative production of culturally evolved resources (cf. Wertsch,
2002). In principle, we approach processes of collective remembering here
as synonymous with how children become familiar with and appropriate
group memberships and cultural distinctions within specific communities
of practice, to which they contribute continuously in their interactions with
others. For this purpose, we take as our starting point a discursive approach
to remembering as socially organized within communicative actions as ways
of accomplishing particular activities in the present by invoking the past
for certain practical purposes (cf. Edwards & Middleton, 1988; Middle-
ton & Brown, 2005). In order to account for how children make use of
membership categories and evaluative stances as discursive resources, we
also draw on inspiration from Halbwachs (1980, 1992) work on collec-
tive memory and his concern with language, especially proper names, as
devices for ordering and classifying images and ideas from the past that
are continously put to new use. As Middleton and Brown (2005, p. 56)
note, for Halbwach proper names constitute a form of social action that
reconstructs past event by evoking categories and relationships held in a
collective framework (Middleton & Brown, 2005, p. 56). From his perspec-
tive, collective memory consists of a series of images and meaningsthat
is, categories, qualities, evaluative criteriathat provide a common frame-
work around which recollections of the past emerge and are reviewed and
renewed in the present (Halbwachs, 1992). Seen in this way, the activity
of remembering is a dynamic and intersecting practice that draws on the
culturally evolved resources (i.e., images, categories, models, examples,
etc.) that become available when people (here children) place themselves
or are placed by others between sometimes competing prior frameworks,
and have to deal with the challenges of forming new collectivities.
The aim of this chapter is to discuss and explore a number of catego-
rization practices and communicative resources that young children with
immigrant backgrounds draw upon as they deal with often heterogeneous
cultural experiences, while handling processes of social differentiation
and out-group memberships. We will, for example, demonstrate how the
Naming the Other 47

children make use of and comment on commonly held categories such as

native versus non-native as they discuss and evaluate one anothers
cultural backgrounds in terms of language proficiency, geographical territo-
ries, family relations, and skin color. In most of the peer group interactions
that will be analyzed, the acts of remembering are more or less inbuilt in
the childrens use of names, categories, and evaluative commentaries and
do not become explicit topics of communicative concern. As Billig (1990,
p. 61) notes, speakers using common sense discourses and categories may
not even refer to the past or recognize what they are doing as memoriz-
ing. However, the fact that children with immigrant backgrounds claim
experiences of multiple locations as crucial for their group membership
in turn demonstrates the importance of viewing collective frameworks as
dynamic and vowen into one another in a network of social and collective
experiences that extends both spatially and temporally (cf. Middleton &
Brown, 2005, p. 55). Of importance is therefore also Halbwachs (1980)
more philosophical discussion of the dynamic and intersecting nature of
collective frameworks and his notion of the multiplicity of selfhood. We
aim to highlight here how a peer language socialization approach may
contribute to an empirical grounding of how children engage in practices
of remembering as they try to make sense of intersecting and, sometimes,
conflicting cultural frameworks (actual/imagined/projected) in ethnically
diverse settings (Garrett & Baquedano-Lopez, 2002; Goodwin & Kyratzis,


In line with the basic assumptions of a peer language socialization paradigm,
the focus here is on childrens collective agency in terms of how childrens
categorization practices and evaluative language practices provide for
the appropriation and linguistic creativity, and even transformation, of
ideologically informed cultural distinctions in particular sociocultural
contexts (Evaldsson & ekait, 2010; Garrett, 2007; Goodwin & Alim,
2010; Goodwin & Kyratzis, 2014). The term language socialization refers
here directly to Ochs and Schieffelin (2014, for an overview) and their
work on how the use of language is integral to how children learn culturally
appropriate ways of acting, feeling, knowing, and maintaining relationships
that help them become competent members of particular sociocultural
groups. In addition, a peer language socialization research privileges
childrens peer group interactions as an ethnographic site of observation
(Goodwin & Kyratzis, 2014, for an overview). Moreover, the use of the
term socialization here draws on Corsaros (2005) closely related term
interpretative reproduction, which underscores childrens collective agency in
peer group interactions and their creative appropriation of the adult world.

As Evaldsson and Corsaro (1998, p. 379) point out, children are in the
process of making it their own by actively reconfiguring, transforming,
and extending the cultural practices of their community, rather than
passively reproducing an already established social order. In this sense, a
peer language socialization approach shares with sociocultural perspectives
on collective remembering the idea that children become members of a
particular social group or culture through their appropriation and use
of the culturally evolved resources that have shaped and constitute that
culture. Seen in this way, remembering becomes more or less a routine
feature of childrens everyday language practices.
A peer language socialization approach opens up the possibility of doc-
umenting the interactional process through which children accomplish
membership in a particular social group or culture (Goodwin & Kyratzis,
2014). Several studies have shown how children in the midst of every-
day peer group interactions negotiate and appropriate the forms of social
categorizations, affect, and knowledge claims that are relevant to their
social group (see Goodwin & Kyratzis 2014 for an overview). In particular,
Goodwin (1990, 2006), in her ethnographic research on everyday interac-
tions in culturally diverse peer groups, demonstrates how girls make use of
a range of communicative modalities, including evaluative stances, insults,
and culturally specific categories to police their social landscape (see
also Evaldsson, 2007). Long-term ethnographic work showed a group of
middle-class girls agentive use of transmodal stylizations and embodied
category-bound activities indexing cultural representations tied to Ameri-
can White upper-middle-class statuses in the activity of co-constructing
an African American working-class girl as marginal (Goodwin & Alim,
2011, p 180). Garci-Sanchezs ethnographic work (2014) also details the
subtle exclusionary language practices through which native-speaking
Spanish children directly or indirectly negatively depict and sanction their
Moroccan-born peers. In contrast to explicit racist behaviors, the referred-
to exclusionary practices were not achieved through explicit labeling but
more subtly organized through the use of locally relevant, category-bound
activities and interactional alignments, strengthening social bonds and
indexing Otherness. Lewis (2004a, p. 4), in her ethnographic study in
three elementary schools in the United States, shows as well how children
learn about the rules of racial classifications and their own classification
and of their own racial identity through both explicit and implicit forms
of racial positioning. In addition, subsequent ethnographic research in
multiethnic suburban schools in Sweden demonstrates how children in
multiethnic peer group settings both invoke and play with features from
multiple languages in ways that challenge binary cultural representations
indexing social barriers between us and them (ekait & Evaldsson,
2008; Evaldsson, 2005; Evaldsson & Sahlstrm, 2014).
Naming the Other 49

Although the peer language socialization studies reviewed here are

not primarily concerned with practices of remembering, the perspective
reveals how children orient to broader cultural frameworks and language
ideologies in the midst of their peer group interactions, in turn providing
common frameworks for childrens appropriation and playful negotiations
of ideologically informed distinctions, and in particular, peer contexts of
use (see, for example, Evaldsson & ekait, 2010; Garrett, 2007; Kyratzis,


Societal and Local Educational Ideologies of Otherness

The analysis is focused on a case study, targeting one girl, Sara, with an
immigrant background from Rwanda, in her everyday multiethnic peer
group participation, first in a Swedish-speaking preschool in Finland and
then as she moves to a school in Sweden located within a multiethnic sub-
urban area (Evaldsson & Sahlstrm, 2014). The case study draws from a
larger data set of childrens everyday peer group interactions in urban
school settings mainly in Finland, but also in Sweden, collected by the
second author and his research team. Compared to the Swedish school
system, which promotes immigrant childrens mastery of the one official
Swedish language, Finland has for a long time had a bilingual parallel
school system promoting the use of both official languages, Finnish and
Swedish. Although immigration during the last few years has increased
in Finland, it has not reached the level of cultural and language diver-
sity that characterizes Swedish society. Despite these and other cultural,
political, and historical differences, the contemporary discourse that has
dominated the political debates in the two countries, as well as in other
European countries, is that of a crisis of integration reflecting an increas-
ing segregation and a racialization directed especially towards Muslim and
African immigrants. Simultaneously, the educational practice in the two
settings at hand can best be seen as informed by a colorblind (Talmy,
2008) approach, which implies that children, independently of their cul-
tural, ethnic, and linguistic background, are supposed to learn the official
language(s) to become a member of the society. Thus, despite a growing
diversity, especially in Swedish society, the educational practices in both
Finland and Sweden can be seen to be about implicitly accentuated cul-
tural homogeneity in attitudes and values (ekait, 2012, p. 648; ekait
& Evaldsson, 2008).
We will now explore in greater detail how forms of stratified cultural
frameworks, associated with cultural homogeneity, racialization, and ethnic
otherness are also actively oriented to by children in multiethnic peer

group settings as they organize peer group relations and position them-
selves vis--vis one another, strengthen in-group relations, and differentiate
themselves from certain groups of children.


Sara was one of a few children with a non-European and African back-
ground who attended the Swedish-medium preschool class in Finland (a
one-year transitory education from kindergarten to first grade). In every-
day school life, Saras ethnic and linguistic experiences placed her outside
the group of children who were experienced Swedish-Finnish bilingual
speakers with parents born in Finland (Sahlstrm, 2011; Slotte-Lttge,
Prn, & Sahlstrm, 2013). While most of the children spoke both Finnish
and Swedish in school, Sara had limited language competence in Finnish.
She mainly used Swedish and English in everyday interaction with her
peers, combined with some Kinyarwanda at home. In a previous study,
we have demonstrated how Sara made repeated attempts to learn to use
Finnish in culturally appropriate ways to become a member of the bilin-
gual (Finnish-Swedish) peer group. However, the fact that Sara did not
speak Finnish fluently made it difficult for her to become a member of the
Swedish-Finnish bilingual peer group at hand (see Evaldsson & Sahlstrm,
2014, for more details).
We will now explore in greater detail how the childrens interactionally
occasioned claims of peer group participation make relevant broader cul-
tural frameworks indexing images of ethnic Otherness. We start with an
example where one of the boys in class bluntly rejects Saras attempts to
access the bilingual peer group. In this sequence we will focus on how Sara
becomes rejected in terms of how her bodily attributes and linguistic com-
petence are cast as deviating from the cultural standards at hand, thereby
justifying and normalizing social exclusion (see Excerpt 1).
As shown, Jannes recycled use of the emotionally charged derogatory
expression youre called big nose with only the derogatory part in Finnish,
targets the actions and physical attributes of Sara as different (lines 36).
Sara responds with a code-switched counter, effectively turning the insult
back on the boy, Janne. In doing so, she manages temporarily to strengthen
her in-group position and also effectively to refuse the derogatory labelling
big nose. Simultaneously, her notably lowered voice and averted face show
evidence of her emotional stance towards the pejorative bodily descrip-
tion as being humiliating. In what follows, Janne forces Sara, in a stepwise
fashion, to state in Swedish (stor nsa) the code-switched negative person
descriptor youre called big nose (lines 710). The sequentially accom-
plished unfolding of the code-switched event displays Saras subordinate
and emotionally vulnerable position in the bilingual peer group.
Naming the Other 51

Excerpt 1: Youre called big nose (words in bold are said in Finnish)

The attention given to Saras bodily attributes and linguistic compe-

tence as deviating from the norms of standards within the peer group
demonstrates how cultural representations of ethnic otherness are filtered
and renegotiated through the childrens everyday peer group interactions.
Bilingual expertise emerges on the surface as the salient, oriented-to cat-
egory in the exchange between Sara and Janne. Simultaneously, through
the code-switched naming of Saras bodily attributes, Janne manages to
hide a potentially discriminatory action that would fit into the boundar-
ies of what culturally is recognizable as a racial insult. The two childrens
different epistemic rights to counter the insult and define what counts as
appropriate linguistic conduct highlight how broader societal frameworks
and language ideologies are consequential for the emergence and consoli-
dation of immigrantness as a problematic membership category. In this
sense, the insults directed towards Saras embodied ethnic attributes and

linguistic experiences as deviant invoke an inherently ethnocentric bias in

respect to what it means to be (or not to be) a native Finn in the school
context at hand.

Membership Categories as Resources for Relocating


We will now show how children with immigrant backgrounds such as

Sara are not simply passive victims of the other childrens marginalizing
attempts but draw on their multifaceted experiences to renegotiate out-
group memberships. In her everyday school life, Sara usually hangs around
with two other girls, both of whom also had a peripheral position in the
bilingual Finnish-Swedish peer group. One of the two girls, Hanna, was
born in Thailand and adopted by parents from Finland, while the other
girl, Maja, was born in India and moved to Finland with her family at a
time not known to the project.
The lived multiethnic experiences of the three girls serve as a dynamic
common framework for reconstituting a shared past in which they distance
themselves from the other Finnish children with whom they share some
experiences (compare with Halbwachs, 1992, p 54). When we first meet
the three girls, Sara, Hanna, and Maja are standing together in the hall
doorway on their way out to the schoolyard. To start with, Sara brings up
a hypothetical future event, asking Hanna if she would like to come with
(me) to Africa (lines 45). Through the question, Sara indirectly locates
her experiences within a specific geographical location outside of Finland,
indexing a complex cultural affiliation, including both Finland and the
African continent. The invitation in turn warrants a series of upcoming
questions (if not the realization of the offer) that turns the conversation to
the subject of homelands, geographical territories, and cultural origin, in
turn invoking contrastive collective frameworks of us and them (see
Excerpt 2a).
Maja expands on the inferred topic of going to Africa by posing a ques-
tion that makes an explicit reference to Saras geographical origin: What
country did you born (line 8). As can be noted, Majas question about
Saras background narrows and restricts the space of action available for
the respondents. Questions about geographical backgrounds can be seen
to give to a notion of homeland an exclusive emphasis treating individual
experiences as merely representative of collective (and imagined) experi-
ences, here of nationhood (Evaldsson, 1998; Sacks, 1992, pp. 4048). As
Gilroy (1987) notes, such questions are based on a notion of ethnic abso-
lutism that hides all other social categories or actions that people orient
to or make relevant in their everyday life. The conversational analytic work
Naming the Other 53

Excerpt 2a: What country did you born.

by Sacks (1992) on membership categories is also useful on this issue. In

Sacks terms, membership categories and the category attributes assigned
to them are inference-rich, in the sense that there are strong expecta-
tions and conventions about them. Thus, a great deal of knowledge that
members of a society have about the society is stored in terms of these
categories (Sacks, 1992, p. 40). Consequently, the assignment of a person
to a category ensures that conventional knowledge about the behavior of
people so categorized can be invoked or cited to interpret or explain the
actions of the person (Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998, p. 214).
As demonstrated, Sara immediately expands on the question by locat-
ing her past within a distinct territorial site outside of Finland, that is
from Rwanda (line 9), indirectly casting her as a non-native. In overlap,
Hanna (line 10) displays her familiarity with Saras complex cultural back-
ground. Instead of providing any further details, Sara contrasts her cultural
category membership with that of Hanna: Hanna was born from Finland
(line 11). The projected category membership implicitly casts Hanna as a
native Finn (line 12) in contrast to Sara. Maja then expands on a contras-
tive version of Hanna as born in Thailand (line 13). The three girls now
take up a series of argumentative stances where they localize their complex
cultural experiences within different geographical territories outside of
Europe. The supportive stance taken by Maja (lines 13 and 16) towards
Hanna, shes of Thailand (line 16), can be seen to make inferentially

available a more general reference to a collective framework of shared past

experiences of being born from outside of Finland in which Hannas per-
sistent resistance and Majas subsequent claim can be understood.
Through the recycling of arguments, the girls intensify, sustain, and
provide the local topic of not being native born in Finland with greater
emphasis. The distinct geographical territories oriented to in the girls
use of national categories provide common frameworks for the girls to
both renegotiate their complex cultural experiences and to take control
over their own pasts. Interestingly, the distinct geographical territories
made relevant in the girls discussion do not refer to any of the girls more
complex and fluid cultural experiences such as, for example, Sara being
born in Rwanda and having moved to and grown up in Finland. In this
sense, the girls can be seen as juxtaposing and overlooking their multifac-
eted cultural experiences that in the least derive from two intersecting and
conflicting collective frameworks.

Claiming Embodied Authority and a Common Cultural


In the continued discussion in Excerpt 2b (which immediately follows

on Excerpt 2a), there is a shift in footing where the girls themselves draw
upon their embodied cultural experience to lay claims to an implied shared
collective history of not being from Finland. To begin with, Maja uses an
attention getter, look at our skin, while she takes off her glove and holds
up her hand (line 18). The embodied demonstration makes publicly visible
embodied cultural inscriptions displayed through the childrens dark skin
color. Cultural distinctions and shared cultural identifications are now dis-
played by reference to the girls own bodies, which in turn provides further
evidence of how the girls distance themselves from the others (i.e., the
natives) with whom they are sharing some lived cultural experiences (see
Excerpt 2b).
Majas use of an inclusive our in Line 18 when referring to her own and
Hannas skin color functions to retrospectively provide embodied evidence
and add epistemic authority to the argumentative stance taken earlier that
Hanna is not from Finland but of Thailand (see Excerpt 2a, line 16).
Majas embodied demonstrations invite Sara to participate in a series of
matching embodied stances (lines 1920). Rather than being simple repeti-
tions, the embodied matching makes visible the alignments of the two girls
actions in ways that function to invoke both a shared collective memory and
a group membership in the present in which skin color plays an important
role for mutual embodied support. The shift in footing towards embodied
inscriptions in the form of the girls reference to skin color implies as well a
Naming the Other 55

Excerpt 2b: Look at our skin.

shift in categorical membership to that of being Colored as a shared col-

lective ethnic and racial identity marker. Simultaneously, the girls shared
attention to their own skin colors as differentiating themselves from the
others strengthens their positive category affiliations and creates in-group
boundaries. In this way, the girls manage to retrospectively distance them-
selves even further from the normative ethnic and national categorical
in-group membership of being a native Finn.
However, the references made to the color of the skin (line 20 and 21)
also target Sara as different from the other girls and evoke cultural distinc-
tions and images of ethnic otherness within the culturally heterogeneous
peer group. The fact that Sara is configured as more colored than the
others we would argue indicates that the girls orient to racial distinctions
for reorganizing peer group relations. As Lewis (2004a) notes in her study
of racial positioning in schools in the United States, a reference to skin
color brings forward cultural distinctions based on a racial division on the
grounds of physical characteristics. Most importantly, the embodied cul-
tural distinctions made in the girls talk imply that Sara is now positioned

on the margin of the multiethnic peer group (Goodwin & Alim, 2010). As
demonstrated, the embodied category ascriptions serve both as discursive
resources for making references to personal experiences and for access-
ing common sense knowledge within the practical, local circumstances of
action (Bergmann, 1998).

Localizing Experiences and Claiming Geographic


The observations made so far bring into focus how the cultural references
that are being appropriated and co-constructed in the girls peer interac-
tions draw more or less upon common sense notions of homogeneous
cultural identities, thereby casting children with more complex cultural
backgrounds as the Other. For example, the teachers routinely organized
school activities in which all the children worked on specific assignments
where they discussed and envisioned their cultural background in relation
to homelands, national identities, and geographical locations. As Hall
(1994, p. 394) notes, such cultural images evoke almost an eternally fixed
essentialized past. Although anthropologists do not any longer consider
culture as homogeneous, bounded and static (Ochs & Schieffelin, 2014,
p. 8), such images, however, are passed on in educational settings including
the preschool setting at hand.
Despite their more fluid and complex cultural backgrounds, Sara and
her two friends in the multiethnic peer group had learned the centrality
of displaying a more stable culturally homogeneous identity localized to
a specific place. In what follows, we will demonstrate how the three girls
invoke cultural representations of national identities as they probe and test
their geographical expertise in respect to what counts as a country of birth
and a homeland (see Excerpt 2c).
The fact that Hanna in line 23 claims that Rwanda is in Africa provides
the basis for localizing homelands within continents. Sara can be seen
to confirm that Africa is her claimed national identity as she immedi-
ately responds with ah yes the country (line 27). As Billig (1995, p. 8)
notes, images of cultures as homogeneous evoke a form of nationalism that
typically comprises taken-for-granted notions of being situated within a
homeland, which itself is situated within the world of nations. However as
demonstrated in the girls unfolding interaction, cultural representations
of national identities do not privilege only those children whose identity
is tied to specific homelands (in this context native-speaking bilingual
Finnish-Swedish children). For example Sara not only identifies herself as
having a homeland, which is Africa, but also places the two other girls,
Naming the Other 57

Excerpt 2c: I have Africa and you have Asia

Sara and Hanna, within cultural communities localized to distinct physical

territories such as Africa and Asia (lines 2528).
Some turns later, Sara recycles her evaluative stance now embracing the
third girl Maja in a jointly constructed notion of a physical location where
they are born as crucial for their nationhood (line 29).

Excerpt 2d: My country is called Africa

The playful epistemic stances taken in the recycled category ascriptions

your country is called Asia (line 36) and my country is called Africa
(line 39) index the value of a homeland bound to a distinct geographical
territory. Saras use of the personal pronoun your and mine is effective
as it ties both of the two girls cultural experiences to specific geographical
locations. In this process, Sara also displays her specialized knowledge of
the cultural value of having a cultural identity linked to one specific and
clearly defined geographical location.
The girls cultural category memberships are expressed here in ways that
reproduce cultural identities as homogeneous and fixed entities based on

collective images of nationhood. In this process, commonly used catego-

ries such as country of birth (2a), cultural origin (2b), and geographical
location (2c) become important resources in the girls attempts to create a
coherent and relatively unchanging cultural identity. Simultaneously, the
three girls can be said to distance themselves from their location in one
given collective frameworkthat is, the Finnish school contextin which
they are put in a position of being different. Seen in this way, the girls are
appropriating and renegotiating established cultural resources indexing
identities as coherent and stable, and in so doing they are strategically
reproducing what counts as acceptable cultural experiences in the school
context at hand.

Comparing Recollections and Invoking Imagined


In our last example (see below) from the Finnish school setting, the
two girls Sara and Hanna again bring up and renegotiate their cultural
backgrounds. Once again, the topic is set off by Sara, who now asks Hanna
about her reasons for not accompanying her on her trip with her family
to Africa (line 1). This time, the topic of talk shifts into a playful interac-
tion in which Sara and Hanna compare and negotiate different versions of
their family relations and at the same time make up the multiple locations
that these occupy. The topic of family relations is brought forward as Sara
offers Hanna to meet with her cousins in Africa (line 3) (see Excerpt 3a).
An imaginative and creative stance towards their respective family
backgrounds and their placement is taken as Sara and Hanna together
construct transnational family relations through playful improvisations.
This time Hannas humorous verbal response in line 6, ah I have someI
have super many cousins to Saras repeated questions shifts the activity
frame from a serious discussion into a playful comparison of the numbers
of cousins they have. The girls playful interaction entails various features
of verbal improvisation (Duranti & Black, 2014). Through a change in
footing into a joking relationship, Hanna aligns with Saras previous contri-
bution while shifting to a new and playful topic (here about the number of
cousins) that in turn evokes a different stance with respect to what was said.
Instead of responding to the propositional content of Saras proposal in
line 8, you have one Thailand-cousin, Hanna upgrades her playful argu-
mentative stance through a metacognitive formulation in line 9, I have
so many that Ithat I dont remember, thereby referring to the process
of remembering itself (Middleton & Edwards, 1990, pp. 1011). Hannas
claim of not remembering becomes here a way to distance herself from the
idea that the version presented of her past is not a direct recollection but
may contain details that are not really true.
Naming the Other 59

Excerpt 3a. You have one Thailand-cousin

In what follows, the two girls shift in footing into a hypothetical and
imaginative framework in which Hannas family constellations become
playfully reinvented and transformable.

Excerpt 3b: I have Thailand-cousins and Finland-cousins

The change in footing into an imaginative framework plays a crucial role

in the projection of blurred and transnationally localized family relations
from both outside and inside of Finland. In lines 1214, Hanna aligns with
Sara and claims, I have Thailand-cousins and Finland-cousins. In Halls
(1994) terms, the two girls participate in a process of imaginative produc-
tion of identity. By playfully recalling Hannas family relations as tied to
a set of different transnational locations moving across countries, the two
girls assert and playfully reconfigure their own hybrid family backgrounds
(here Thailand and Finland). Simultaneously, they take on playful and
imaginative stances towards one anothers family relations, in which they
exaggerate the numbers of their cousins, which render in turn the event
vivid and captivating (lines 1316). In so doing, the two girls manage to

strengthen in-group solidarity while they playfully transgress dominant

and collective images of cultural identities, including family relations, as
necessarily bounded to one specific geographical locations.
The various excerpts that have been examined so far demonstrate how
the three girls take up different and shifting stances towards their own
and others cultural experiences, drawing both on their hybrid cultural
backgrounds while simultaneously appropriating and negotiating features
from the dominant cultural framework in the school community at hand.
Simultaneously, as they rediscover their own cultural past in the midst of
peer interactions, they position themselves in relation to one another in
the multiethnic peer group. This in turn highlights how children affiliate
themselves in the presence through talking and acting in ways that are
recognizably bound with relationship categories (Pomerantz & Mandel-
baum 2005, p. 213). Thus, what was initiated as a way of making sense of
taken-for-granted notions of cultural memberships as coherent and stable
is used by the girls to achieve a shared understanding of their complex
cultural family backgrounds.

Contesting Racial Membership in Multiethnic Peer

Groups in Sweden

We will now demonstrate how Sara, as she moves with her family from
Finland to a multiethnic school setting in a suburban area in Sweden,
makes use of her hybrid and heterogeneous cultural and linguistic experi-
ences from immigration both from Rwanda and from Finland (Evaldsson
& Sahlstrm, 2014). At the time of the second data collection, Sara had
attended the school in Sweden for approximately three months. Compared
to the previous excerpts, one year after the first data collection period
Sara had grown, from being seven years old to being nine years old. In
the Swedish school setting, Sara attended a school class where most of
the immigrant children had in common that they had spent almost their
whole life in Sweden, except Sara who had recently moved from Finland
to Sweden. When socializing with her friends, Sara mainly spoke Swedish,
but also some Finnish with Finnish immigrant children. Several of the
immigrant children in her new school class had ethnic and linguistic back-
grounds from non-European settings (mainly families from the Middle
East and Somalia). In this suburban school setting, children from families
with an indigenous Swedish background were in the minority. Compared to
the Finnish school setting, in the Swedish school setting, Sara more easily
became a member of the multiethnic peer group. However, similarly as the
case was found to be in the Finnish school setting, visible bodily attributes
Naming the Other 61

such as dark skin color indexed a potentially problematic ethnic and racial
position in the multiethnic Swedish school context at hand.
In this first excerpt, we focus on how cultural images of otherness are
brought forward by one of the boys in class, through category ascriptions
differentiating Sara from the other children. When we meet Sara she is
participating with the other children in textile handicrafts. The transcript
begins with Sara and Johan comparing how far they have proceeded with
their knitting (lines 89). Johan claims to be ahead (line 8), while Sara
justifies her work in line 9 by claiming that Johan has begun before her.
Thereafter, there is a shift in topic as Johan in lines 1114 makes a dis-
claimer, starting off with depicting Sara as an immigrant from Finland,
which then immediately is expanded with a color category, but YOU: like
from (.) uh- Finland and like dark- (0.4).

Excerpt 4: From Finland and colored.


As demonstrated, Johan makes a case in lines 1315 for continuing

to consider colored persons as a social collective with certain category
attributes differentiating those individuals from people in general. More
specifically, he argues for an ethnocentric understanding of the group-
ness of dark or colored people as particularly skilled in manual work.
The membership category ascribed to Sara, we would argue, implicitly
brings forward ethnocentric collective representations about race in terms
of how race, as Lewis (2004b, p. 624) argues, for many Whites, is about
othersminority groups generally, and often [B]lacks in particular. At
the same time, the repeated corrections made by Johan indicate a morally
problematic form of reference that in turn indirectly displays his aware-
ness that the use of racial stereotypes in particular may be regarded as
problematic and treated as an activity that in itself may be challenged in
moral terms (Bergmann, 1998, p. 287). At first, Sara does not react to the
cultural stereotypes indexing a relationship between her immigrant and
racial category membership and her knitting ability. When Johan seems to
hold on to his previous claims in line 20, Sara now more explicitly ques-
tions his argumentative stance: who said that (line 21). Thereby Sara not
only questions Johans right and authority to categorize her behavior in
cultural and racial terms but also his cultural competence. Simultaneously,
she displays her vulnerable position, showing that the racial stereotyping
has affected her negatively. The fact that Johan responds with an account,
making reference to old movies, works to downplay the links made between
manual skills and race. In what follows he juxtaposes the category of race
with age, here in terms of old people who as a collectivity become cat-
egorized as good at manual work: that is, knitting. The juxtaposition of
categories allows both Johan to downplay his derogatory category depiction
of Sara as Colored and Sara to ultimately agree with the argumentative
stance taken by Johan.
Similarly, as was found in the Finnish school context, childrens bound-
ary-drawing efforts towards non-European immigrant children with visible
ethnic identities such as Sara and her friends can be said to demonstrate
how children also orient to ideologically informed collective frameworks
indexing people as either natives or non-natives.

Accounting for and Co-Constructing Shared

Experiences of Immigrantness

We will now further explore how Sara and her new friends in the Swedish
multiethnic school setting co-construct shared cultural experiences and cat-
egory memberships, as they talk about and reflect upon their collective and
individual experiences of immigration. In Saras case, this means physically
Naming the Other 63

moving with her family, who have emigrated from Rwanda to Finland and
then to Sweden. In the previous excerpts, the girls playfully appropriated
and negotiated commonly held membership categories invoking homoge-
neous cultural images and collective frameworks mainly mediated through
the adults in school and at home. In what follows, we will show how the
girls reconstruct personal experiences through storytelling, in which they
engage in joint social actions of remembering (cf. Middleton & Edwards,
1990, p. 39; Middleton & Brown, 2009, p. 85). The ways in which the girls
co-tell narratives of peer group events and family scenarios and memories
strengthen social bonds and position them as agents and in control of their
narrated past (actual/imagined/projected).
In the ensuing excerpts, Sara socializes with Maria, a girl with her family
background from Somalia. The two girls are seated next to one another in
class and often hang around with one another both in and out of school.
The two girls families also have got to know one another recently. In what
follows, Marias question, Why did you move to Sweden (Excerpt 5a, line
4), brings up shared cultural references with respect to personal experi-
ences of immigration both in terms of how the girls make sense of their
family problems and expected language competencies. (see Excerpt 5a).
Sara responds in lines 89 to Marias question by providing her version
of her parents reasons for immigrating to Sweden, providing details both
of their economic situation and their lack of language competencies in
Finnish. The detailed account given by Sara demonstrates as well the agen-
tive side of how children make sense of and pick out certain elements in
regards to their family history in order to make sense of their present
situation (cf. Edwards & Middleton, 1988). Saras narrated family experi-
ences of immigration demonstrate how children appropriate and negotiate
recognizable types of elements from stories told by adult immigrants.
In this sense, the girls display their awareness of how broader collective
frameworks with respect to societal hierarchies and dominant language
ideologies may inevitably constrain personal experiences of immigration.
Jaffe (2009) calls such displays of positions, taken towards the assumed
connections between language and identity with respect to hierarchies and
ideologies, a meta-sociolinguistic stance. Such meta-sociolinguistic stances
are enacted by children in peer group interactions through the use of both
implicit and explicit forms of evaluations and social categorizations, affect,
knowledge, and agency as they orient to others and make claims regarding
particular sociolinguistic matters (Evaldsson & Sahlstrm, 2014).
The reference made to language proficiency in Finnish makes inferen-
tially available a more general reference to a common cultural framework
where knowing Swedish is important for people who immigrate to the
Swedish society, through which Marias subsequent question in line 11, do
they know Swedish can be understood. In the girls ensuing exchange in

Excerpt 5a: Why did you move to Sweden?

lines 1117, the importance of knowing Swedish becomes commented on

and reproduced through the use of more implicit forms of evaluations and
social categorizations. The two girls co-construct the language competences
of Saras parents through authoritative stances and detailed description,
which in turn provide a warrant for confirming the stances taken towards
the importance of language proficiency in Swedish. The claimed and con-
tested knowledge in relation to Saras parents language competencies in
Swedish becomes in turn important resources for both strengthening the
girls within-group alignments and for reproducing dominant language

Invoking Racial Distinctions and Transforming In-Group


The positive evaluative stance taken by the two girls towards their fami-
lies shared immigrant backgrounds in terms of how the girls give meaning
Naming the Other 65

to and exert agency over their co-narrated experiences is further developed

in the next excerpt. In what follows, Sara shifts the topic of talk and the
two girls together begin to negatively evaluate a particular girl, Maimouna,
with Somalian immigrant background, whom Sara usually hangs around
with (beginning in line 1).

Excerpt 5b. She is brown like you

Supported by Maria, Sara distances herself from being affiliated with

Maimouna and with the category of being a good friend. Sara builds up her
narrated experiences by providing negative details about her relationship
with Maimouna, we used to always fightlike she is my friend but she is
tiresome (lines 67), characterizing the girls friendship as problematic
through the use of an extreme case formulation (always fight) combined
with a negative category attribute. Saras narrated relational ascription can

be heard as telling problems (Buttny, 1993, p. 71) because it points to

a deficiency in the two girls relationship given a taken-for-granted moral
order in which intimate friends should not always fight (Evaldsson, 2007,
p. 386). In response, Maria first aligns with Sara and then she suddenly
shifts footing by making a reference to the two girls skin color. The refer-
ences made to skin color by Maria and then endorsed by Sara, indexes here
an intimate relationship between Sara and Maimouna. Of interest here is
the fact that this time Sara does not openly resist the implicit racial frame-
work inferred through the category depiction and color attributions made,
but instead primarily objects to the assumed friendship bonds. Through
requests for information, detailed descriptions, extreme case formulations,
tag questions, and categorizations of skin color, the two girls align with
one anothers version of Maimouna as a bad friend. The two girls affiliate
themselves with this friendship position, within which common racial and
ethnic distinctions are implicitly invoked, as Sara is configured as having
the same skin color as a talked-about absent bad friend with a Somalian
However, the color distinctions made between brown and turd color
indicate a morally problematic form of person reference. Marias silenc-
ing, ssh in line 13, and Saras whispering in her uptake, I dont think
she hears and her glance at the camera carries with it an awareness that
negatively valorized social and embodied distinctions are problematic and
even unacceptable to bring up in public. It also evokes common sense
notions that skin color is noticed but should not be acknowledged or given
a negative meaning in the Swedish school community at hand (compare
with Lewis, 2004b, p. 635). Simultaneously, the ways in which the two girls
talk about their own and others skin color in affective terms indicate that
race might matter in the school context at hand and that acknowledging
blackness may have negative consequences.

Constituting Group Memberships and Projecting

Friendship Affiliations

In this last excerpt, following directly on Excerpt 5b, we will show how
elements related to immigration, linguistic competence, skin color, and
racial experiences at the childrens disposal in the cultural community
at hand provide powerful resources not only for evoking the past in the
present but also for reconstituting friendship bonds and strengthening
childrens own interactional histories. In what follows, Sara recycles her
prior narrated experiences about Maimounas conduct, providing more
details of the problematic nature of the two girls relationship (Excerpt 5c).
This time the negative person depiction of the absent girl shifts from color
Naming the Other 67

references, indexing racial distinctions, into vivid descriptions invoking

age and gender-appropriate norms of conduct, portraying the particular
girl not only as a bad friend but also as a bad girl.

Excerpt 5c belief ourselves teens

Maria elaborates on the negative person description of Maimouna by

employing what Pomerantz (1986) refers to as extreme cases, that is,
always, really tiring and just begins to scream, thus describing the
bad relationship with Maimouna as long-standing and consistent. The neg-
ative person description gains further credibility as Maria not only aligns
with her version (line 17) but also displays her eagerness to participate in
the project of remembering (Middleton & Brown, 2005, p. 93) through
her orientations to the exact details of Maimounas prior actions: did she

say that (lines 22, 24, 26, 28). To start with, Sara provides a warrant for
the girls negative category depiction of Maimouna through an account
that is sensitive to and renders detailed descriptions of the incident talked
about. The use of connectives such as she says and did she say that
charges the talk being quoted as belonging to Maimouna, the cited figure
(Goffman, 1981). The ways in which Sara enacts what Maimouna has said
demonstrates how the retelling provides opportunities for the girls (the
tellers) to comment on past events in present time. It also highlights the
intertextuality in terms of how voices of others become embedded within
ongoing talk in the present (Goodwin 1990). Through the use of quotes
and repetitions, the two girls align with each others versions of the extraor-
dinariness of Maimounas reported activities and builds them up into a
moment of climax. The use of repetitions such as did she say that high-
lights the key elements of their retelling. Moreover, it indicates the girls
preoccupation with an appropriate age- and gender-based membership,
did she say we believe ourselves teens, showing that the girls claims are
not mainly oriented to an understanding of what happened in the past.
Rather, the retelling provides an opportunity for the two girls to reinterpret
Maimonas identity claims and to distance themselves from her actions,
while policing the boundaries for what constitute common frameworks of
gender- and age-appropriate conduct in the peer group at hand.
The shifts made in the girls talk from ethnicity and race into age-
and gender-appropriate category memberships through the unfolding
interaction (Excerpts 5a5c) demonstrate the local interactional work
accomplished through the use of multiple and intersecting categories, as
the girls take up stances and position themselves towards self and other
in the midst of peer group interactions. In this way, the girls interactively
orient to the relevance of shifting and dynamic collective frameworks as
they co-construct complex forms of memberships (friendship, ethnicity,
age, gender, class, ethnolinguistic) and loyalties, towards informal friend-
ship groups, families, and the institutional settings at hand.


Our memories remain collective, however, and are recalled to us through others even
though only we were participants in the events or saw the things concerned. In real-
ity, we are never alone. Other men need not be physically present, since we always
carry with us and in us a number of distinct persons. (Halbwachs, 1980, p. 23)

Inspired by the ways in which Middleton and Brown (2005) use Halbwachs
work (1980, 1992) in their discursive approach to remembering, we have
tried to show how a girl with an immigrant background appropriates and
Naming the Other 69

negotiates a great range of social memberships in terms of her participa-

tion in multiple and dynamic collective frameworks. In moving between
different locations and engaging with different groups of peers, teachers,
and the family, children with immigrant backgrounds such as the focal
girl Sara learn how to draw upon a range of culturally salient resources
for making sense of and playfully renegotiating social memberships in the
present. As Middleton and Brown (2005) note, the greater the range of
memberships held by an individual, the more complicated the nature of
personal experiences and memories becomes.
In this chapter, we have tried to account for how a peer language
socialization approach with its strong focus on childrens peer language
practices and agentive work may be combined with Halbwachss (1980)
more philosophical understanding of collective memory. Although
Halbwachss understanding of categories, including names as common
frameworks around which recollections are shaped and produced, have
helped us to analyze childrens categorization practices in multiethnic peer
group settings, his more philosophical work does not provide any examples
of how such settings engender different forms of experiences. As we have
demonstrated, nonetheless, Sara and her friends in the multiethnic peer
group from an early age made use of a range of locally relevant embodied
resources including names of places, categories, and narrated versions of
events to position themselves in respect to one another, strengthen in-group
alignments, and create social barriers towards other children. And yet,
as demonstrated, Sara and her friends, all claiming diverse multiethnic
experiences, are not just victims of an overall institutional collective
framework overlooking heterogeneous aspects of social identities. The
ways in which Sara and her friends jointly acknowledged their own and
others multiple category memberships as they played with and negotiated
their diverse cultural and linguistic experiences from multiple locations,
we would argue, also display the childrens awareness of ethnical and
racial positions in the particular cultural context (Kyratzis, Reynolds, &
Evaldsson, 2010). All too often, colorblind institutional ideologies, as
in the two educational settings at hand, which overlook and dont pay
attention to young peoples ethnic or racial backgrounds as variables in
interactions, nonetheless insinuate themselves both implicitly and explicitly
into childrens everyday school lives (Goodwin & Alim, 2010; Lewis,
2004a). We found that discriminatory comments, ethnic stereotypes, and
references to skin color whether positive or negative were used by both
native and non-native-born peers in the two school settings to reject certain
immigrant childrens peer group participation while strengthening out-
group boundaries. For example, when Sara approached one of the bilingual
boys in the Finnish preschool class, she was bluntly rejected and insulted
for her lack of linguistic competencies and bodily attributes in implicit

racial terms (see Excerpt 1). As Garcia-Sanchez (2014, p. 416) notes in

her study of exclusionary practices towards Moroccan immigrant children,
[E]thnographic work has begun to show that children have very sophisticated
understandings of ethnic marginality.
While the school communities at hand did not acknowledge the salience
of visible ethnic attributes and racial group membership in the childrens
everyday practices of otherness, our analysis illustrates how culturally
homogeneous collective frameworks do influence the ways in which
immigrant children with non-European backgrounds become positioned
as the Other. The ways in which Sara and her friends renegotiated in-
versus out-group memberships as they constructed different versions of
their past illustrate as well how children in culturally diverse and stratified
settings draw upon child-oriented local ideologies to negotiate, juxtapose,
and appropriate more hybrid forms of ethnic memberships. Such an
account underscores an endless relationship between individual and
collective experiences and how the past (their own and others) enters into
and becomes appropriated and renegotiated by children in the midst of
everyday peer group interactions. As Middleton and Brown (2005, p. 117)
argue, [T]he relationship between past and present is then in some sense
already punctualized and canalized in advance. The ways in which the
focal girl appropriated cultural images of ethnic otherness in the midst
of peer group interactions points to the fact that wider sociocultural and
political processes provide inevitable frameworks for how children organize
multiethnic relationships, which in turn may take on new directions in
endless processes of becoming.


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Naming the Other 73


:: prolonged syllable
[no] : overlapping utterances
(.) : micropause, i.e. shorter than (0.5)
(2) : pauses in seconds
YES : relatively high amplitude
X: inaudible word
(xx) : unsure transcription
what : translation into English
(()) : comments of the transcriber
?: rising terminal intonation
.: falling terminal intonation

Maria Andre, Per-Olof Wickman, and Lotta Lager-Nyqvist


Do you remember what we did yesterday? Today, we are going to do things

a bit differently. This imagined teacher introduction to a lesson illus-
trates that remembering is a salient aspect of teaching when it comes to
establishing how the here and now is related to the past as well as the
future. In this chapter we explore the functioning of shared remembering
in the institutional setting of a science classroom and how students and
teachers share and make past experiences available for joint reflection in

Remembering From a Sociocultural Perspective

Memories are often treated in education as entities being stored in the

brain and which can be retrieved on demand. The famous quotation, If I

Memory Practices and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. 7592
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 75

had to reduce all of educational psychology to just one principle, I would

say this: The most important single factor influencing learning is what
the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly of
Ausubel (1968, p. vi) illustrates this. To teach, teachers need to assess the
memories students have before teaching, and then again teachers need to
assess them at the end to see what they have learned. Teachers teach and
students learn and remember is the credo.
When approached from a sociocultural, situative, and pragmatic per-
spective, memory does not come ready-made. Moreover, it is acknowledged
that remembering is a verb, that learning is socially shared, and that it
is part of a setting in terms of an activity, a practice, and an institution.
From this perspective, remembering is an organized social activity that
is contingent on the direction and purpose of talk in a particular setting
(Middleton & Brown, 2005; Slj & Wyndhamn, 1993). This means that
what is remembered, how it is remembered, and what is not remembered
is not just a function of what is stored from the past in the brain, but of the
emerging transactions between people as part of the settings. We make
selections from prior experiences and assemble them in new ways to make
them bear on our current activity in ways so that we can proceed with what
is at hand. From an educational perspective, when memory function is
understood in this way, it should be an important part of any classroom
activity, and its functioning as a shared transaction between the teacher and
student requires closer scrutiny.

Remembering as Instructional Work

Our focus on remembering as instructional work emphasizes the inher-

ently interactive nature of remembering and directs the attention toward
remembering as collective social action contingent on social, material,
and cultural aspects (cf. Ekstrm, 2012). In an educational setting, the
specific characteristics of instructional work include an orientation toward
continuity and change, or a trajectorial orientation, related to the content
of learning (Melander, 2009). Thus, connecting past and current experi-
ences to contribute to the continuation of an activity according to a purpose
becomes a central aspect of instructional work (Wickman & stman, 2002).
The aim of this chapter is to illustrate shared remembering as instruc-
tional work in science classroom practice. We ask how shared remembering
functions to make current teaching experiences in science available for
teachers and students continued reflection. We do this by drawing on an
episode of science teaching where students in second grade primary school
report their homework. The episode is part of a lesson with the aims to
teach students about the solubility of different everyday substances, to
Remembering as Instructional Work in the Science Classroom 77

make scientific observations, and to draw conclusions from observations

regarding solubility.
The research questions are:

How is remembering a situated activity in classroom practice?

Resituating from the home situation (remember what did you
do, what did you observe) and earlier lessons (definitions, etc.) to
the current classroom situation (what is relevant to report of what
you remember you did and what you saw)can we find situations
where this happens?
How is remembering a transformational activity? Can we find situ-
ations where transformation is necessary from what the children
remember (from home and earlier lessons) and where transforma-
tion occurs (of what is remembered)? How are memories selected
and assembled in those situations to help children proceed with
the learning at hand (i.e., continuity, for example through concep-
tual use and about the relation between observations and conclu-
How is the teacher, together with the children, situating and sup-
porting transformation of childrens memories to establish conti-
nuity in the learning process so the memories may serve as access
points for scientific literacy to the children?


The Study Setting

The corpus of this study comes from a participant-oriented action

research study, conducted in collaboration with one teacher teaching
science in primary school (grades 1 and 2) in one Swedish compulsory
school over one school year. The participating teacher was a classroom
teacher who had recently supplemented her formal qualifications to
include teaching primary school science. She had a longstanding experi-
ence in teaching both primary and preschool children. Data were collected
in this setting throughout the school year by using audio and video record-
ings of collaborative teacherresearcher meetings, classroom work, and
collecting artifacts (e.g., work plans, lesson plans, and student work). Here,
we draw on a six-week chemistry project in grade 2 (the students are about
8 years old) including whole-class sessions, teacher-/researcher-led group
conversations, and inquiry homework. Every second week, the students

were given an inquiry task to do at home (on the topics of melting and
Here, we analyze one particular episode from a teacher-led group
conversation where students report their inquiry homework on the water
solubility of different kinds of food. This episode is an example of a ped-
agogical arrangement with a purpose to make inquiry aspects (making
observations and drawing valid conclusions) of scientific literacy as well as
conceptual knowledge about solubility available to students, content that
is part of the curriculum for these classes. The participants in the episode
are the class teacher, four girls, and three boys. The participants are seated
around a round table in a small group-room close to the classroom. In this
particular episode one student, Jessica, reports her inquiry homework to
the group. The episode begins at 1:40 minutes into the lesson and is closed
after 5:55 minutes.

Data Analysis

Through the group work, the teacher and the students engage in a sort of
collaborative remembering. In research on storytelling in out-of-school set-
tings collaborative remembering has implied that two participants combine
their memories to complete a personal narrative (Norrick, 2005). In this
teacher-led small group work, students experiences of doing inquiry at
home are made available to the group and accessible for joint reflection.
In the joint construction of accounts of solubility, the teacher and the stu-
dents collaboratively build an understanding of solubility on the basis of
experiences made available in the group. The teacher and the students
struggle to find translations of solubility and solution that make sense to
them. Here, the focus is not whether the simplifications of these complex
concepts are correct or not, but rather on how memories are made avail-
able and shared.
In our analyses, we discern teacher strategies for organizing collabora-
tive remembering as part of an educational activity. The analytical units
are (1) utterances where references of the past are made explicit, and (2)
utterances calling for someone to share past experiences. These utter-
ances are conceptualized as constituents of collective classroom activity.
The analyses draw on the distinction made by Bruner (1996) between
narrative and paradigmatic rationality. The narrative rationality concerns
humans and their doings in particular situations, whereas the paradigmatic
rationality concerns the logical ordering of events and physical objects. The
rationalities have operating principles of their own and their own criteria
for well-formedness and verification. To illustrate how the teacher together
Remembering as Instructional Work in the Science Classroom 79

with the children is accomplishing what is asked for, we have imported

theoretical analytical tools from the literature on narrative knowing and

1. There is a story (a narrative) to be told about what happened at

home. This narrative aspect of remembering relates to the mean-
ingfulness of an utterance or a sentence according to their contribu-
tion to a plot (cf. Polkinghorne, 1988). Here different strategies for
producing a narrative are relevant:

Organizing a plot. Polkinghorne (1988) identifies plot as the

organizing theme that identifies significance and the role of in-
dividual events of the narrative as the plot. Without a plot, each
event would appear as discontinuous and separate. Different plot
organizations change the meaning of individual events as their
roles are reinterpreted according to their function in a plot. The
creation of a plot for collective remembering in classroom prac-
tice might thus be pivotal to student learning.
Setting the scene. Part of the work done in constructing a narrative
includes setting the scene. The scene is the place where the ac-
tion occurs, where characters are formed and live out their stories
(Connelly & Clandinin, 1990). In the episode we have chosen to
analyze here, the place at hand is at Jessicas home. The work
done throughout the production of the narrative will include the
positioning of the story in Jessicas kitchen.
Defending tellability. According to much literature on conversation-
al narratives, a story must be tellable, and this tellability usually
appears in the preface (Norrick, 2005; Sacks, 1992). This means
that the coming story is defended as relevant and newsworthy.
Strategies for transitions. Prefacing and closing: In everyday sto-
rytelling, a preface signals a transition from turn-by-turn talk or
topical commentary to a narrative mode. Talk about remember-
ing generally marks transitions (including story openings and
closings) (Norrick, 2005). In particular, expressions of forget-
fulness and uncertainty have been shown to have interactional
consequences and function as invitations for co-production of
the story from the listeners (Goodwin, 1987; Middleton, 1997).
Expressions of failure to remember along with speaking about
remembering and forgetfulness may help a narrator constitute a
personal identity through storytelling and thereby function as a
way to authenticate and personalize stories (Norrick, 2005).

Authorship and representing voices. The question of authorship is

somewhat complicated in any storytelling (Johnstone, 1987). In
a narrative, an author may construct dialog for another person
that is, fiction that the person represented as speaking where the
actual authors of the words put in their mouths while the author
simultaneously needs to maintain his or her own authorial voice
(Johnstone, 1987).
Choice of tense. One of the resources a storyteller may draw on is
the choice of tense and alteration of tense. The choice of tense
contributes to the contextualization (location) of a story (John-
stone, 1987).

2. In the classroom, there are concepts and skills to be learned; this is

the paradigmatic aspect of remembering as situated in classroom
practice. Teaching of science is closely related to the paradigmatic
rationality as formal science is regarded as a paradigmatic type of
discourse organized on the basis of formal logic (Bruner, 1996). In a
paradigmatic rationality, objects and phenomena may be explained
and identified as an instance of a law. Narrative explanation, on
the contrary, explains by clarifying the significance of events that
have occurred on the basis of the outcome that has followed (Polk-
inghorne, 1988). The paradigmatic aspects of remembering would

Defining concepts
Initiation-response-evaluation (I-R-E) patterns (formative assess-
Summing up conceptual key points

We analyze how these different aspects of remembering are used to make

the narrative continuous, regarding both its narrative and paradigmatic
content. The notion of continuity originates from John Deweys thinking of
how past and current experiences can be seen to be connected when they
contribute to the continuation of an activity according to purpose (Dewey,
1938; Wickman & stman, 2002).



In the following, we will examine the teacher strategies for co-constructing

an educational narrative of water solubility with the group of students.
Remembering as Instructional Work in the Science Classroom 81

Prefacing the Story of Jessica

The episode began when the teacher introduced to the group that they
were about to take part in the story of Jessicas homework.

Excerpt 1

1 Teacher s tnkte jag att vi skulle brja hra p

Jessica. du ska f bertta om hur det gick
till hemma hos dig nr du gjorde din lxa

then I thought that wed begin listening to

Jessica. youre going to tell about how it went
at your home when you did your homework
2 Jessica ja, det gick ju jttebra

yes, it went like really good

3 Teacher tnk p att prata s det hr hrs nu hri

think about talking so that it is audible in here

4 Jessica ja eh m matvaror

yes ehum f food

In turn 1, the teacher encouraged Jessica to tell the group about her
homework. In retrospect, the turn functions as a preface to the upcoming
story. According to much literature on conversational narratives, a story
must be defended as relevant and newsworthy, or tellable, in order to
evolve as a story, and this tellability usually appears in a preface (Norrick
2005; Sachs, 1992). In this episode, the tellability was justified by reference
to reporting homework. More specifically, the teacher encouraged Jessica
to tell the group how she did her homework at her home. The teacher
thereby located the story to Jessicas home and the particular time when
she did her inquiry homework on the solubility of food stuff. By means of
prefacing, the teacher positioned Jessica as the owner of first-hand infor-
mation of what went on in her home, which also added to the tellability
of the story.

Reminding of Preconditions, Displaying Forgetfulness

and Insecurity

In the next phase of the episode, the teacher elicited background

information concerning the task and what the concept of solubility should
refer to.

Excerpt 2

5 Teacher hur? Jessica! vad, hur tnkte du nu? du skulle

ta fram tre saker som inte lser sig

how? Jessica, what, how did you think now. you were
to take out three things that do not dissolve
6 Jessica ja

7 Teacher och tre saker som lser sig

and three things that do dissolve

8 Jessica ja

9 Teacher vilka valde du som inte lser sig? som
inte kommer... vad var lsning fr det
frsta? vi mste ju veta det... Erik?

which ones did you choose that do not

dissolve? that wont what was solution first
of all? we need to know that too, Erik?
10 Erik att det frsvann

that it disappeared
11 Teacher ja, s man inte sg nn skillnad, mellan de
hr tv fremlen. man sg ingen skillnad
alls, det frsvann det som man lste.

yes, so one didnt see any difference, between

these here two objects. one saw no difference at
all, it disappeared that that one dissolved

In turn 5, the teacher made a transition into elaborating the story of

Jessica by displaying an interest into the thoughts of Jessica while con-
ducting her homework (how did you think now). The teacher thereby
added to the tellability of Jessicas story, but, by using now, apparently
also reminded her of the continuity of what she recalls and its role in the
plot of the story to be told. In the following utterances (turns 57), the
teacher reminded Jessica of the task (You were to take out three things
that do not dissolve) and offered a plot for reconstructing what Jessica did
when she conducted her homework at home. The plot provided a means
to transform a chronicle or listening of events into a schematic whole by
highlighting and recognizing the contribution that certain events make
to the development and outcome of the story (Polkinghorne, 1988, pp.
1819). By using past tense in turn 5 (how did you think and you were
to), the teacher reemphasized the scene, the time and location, of the story.
Remembering as Instructional Work in the Science Classroom 83

In turn 9, the teacher turned from the story of what went on in Jessicas
kitchen, to recall what had previously been agreed upon as the definition of
solubility in a prior lesson. In an educational context we may conceptualize
this as a teacher question (in other words, What is the proper definition
of solution?). However, as Goodwin (1987) has shown, expressions of inse-
curity, or displayed forgetfulness, are social phenomena, frequently used
in storytelling as means for marking a particular detail as problematic and
inviting participation (cf. Middleton, 1997). The teacher confirmed the
response given by Erik by an utterance in past tense (turn 11, one didnt
see any difference), and through this comment she confirmed solubility
as a shared past experience of the group. The question thus served to draw
the group of students into the narrative (cf. Norrick, 2005) and to ensure
the students understanding of solubility. Here, the displayed forgetfulness
could thus function as a means to establish continuity between the narrative
and paradigmatic rationality.

Establishing Continuity Between the Kitchen and the

Science Classroom

In the following excerpt Jessica begun telling her story.

Excerpt 3

12 Jessica eh, s hr. en som inte lste sig var mjlk. jag
kom p jag tog ljummet vatten och la i mjlk och
d var det fortfarande vitt och blandade ordentligt

euhm, like this, one that didnt dissolve was milk.

I realized I took lukewarm water and put in milk
and then it was still white and mixed thoroughly
13 Teacher ja, man skulle rra med en sked, man skulle
rra med en sked, vad hnde d?

yes, one was supposed to stir with a spoon, one was

supposed to stir with a spoon, what happened then?
14 Jessica det gick inte bort, det stannade
dr s det lste sig inte.

it didnt go away, it stayed there

so that did not dissolve
(Excerpt continues on next page)

15 Teacher okej... det lste sig inte. men, men, men nr du

hade haft i mjlk och vatten shr sg du nn
skillnad att dr... uppe lg mjlk och drnere
lg vatten? eller var blev det blandat?

okay it didnt dissolve. but, but, but when you

had had milk in and water like this did you see
any difference that there was milk up there and
water down there? or where did it get mixed?
16 Jessica jag blandade

I stirred/mixed
17 Teacher ja, och d blev det, d blandade det sig?

yes, and then it got, then it mixed?

18 Jessica ja

19 Teacher d lste det sig. d kallar man att det lser sig
om det blandar sig och man inte ser ngon skillnad
p... vattnet och mjlken. men sg du skillnad?

then it dissolved. then you say that it dissolves if

it mixes and you cant see any difference between
the water and the milk. but you saw a difference?
20 Jessica inte riktigt, men det lste sig inte

not really, but it didnt dissolve

21 Teacher nej, du tyckte inte det lste sig

no, you didnt think it dissolved

In turn 12, Jessica introduced a first example of what did not dissolve.
She concluded that milk did not dissolve because it was still white. In turn
13, the teacher recalled in past tense how the task was to be performed
(one was supposed to stir) and asked Jessica what happened then. Jessica
(turn 14) reformulated her previous observation stating that it didnt go
away. There is an implicit reference to the definition proposed by Erik and
confirmed by the teacher (turns 10 and 11) that something has dissolved if
it has disappeared. The teacher was not satisfied with the accounts given
by Jessica of milk as nonsoluble in water. In this sequence, the teacher
negotiated what experiences may qualify as examples of solubility. The
teacher attempted to translate nonsolubility of milk in water to the kitchen
setting in turns 15 and 19, thus establishing continuity between the par-
ticular event of dissolving milk in water and the paradigmatic concept of
Remembering as Instructional Work in the Science Classroom 85

However, Jessica insisted that the milk was nonsoluble and referred
to her actions in the kitchen (I stirred, in Swedish jag blandade). In
Swedish, the verb blanda refers to stir or to mix and the noun blandning
refers to mixture. In the exchange Jessica referred to her stirring the milk
and water, whereas the teacher referred to the liquids becoming mixed.
In an attempt to close this part of the narration and proceed to the other
food that Jessica had investigated, the teacher concluded that the milk had
dissolved (turn 19). The definition of solubility referred to in turn 19 is that
one cannot see a difference between the liquids. When Jessica repeated her
objection (turn 20), the teacher closed by framing the objection as Jessicas
personal opinion (turn 21).

Creating Transitions

In the following sequence, the teacher prefaced a transition to remem-

bering other things that did not dissolve in water.

Excerpt 4

22 Teacher d fr vi hra p ngra fler saker

som inte lste sig, fr dig

then may we listen to some more things

that didnt dissolve, for you
23 Jessica ktt l- lser sig inte, ja, det
visste man ju, det sitter ju

meat, doesnt dis- dissolve, yes, that

you knew too, its stuck [sits] like
24 Teacher hur visste du att kttet inte skulle lsa sig?

how did you know that the meat wouldnt dissolve?

25 Jessica det r fast form

its solid state

26 Teacher okej

27 Jessica och det r ktt, och is kunde ju
lsa sig, men det gr inte ktt

and its meat, and ice could dissolve,

but meat doesnt do that
(Excerpt continues on next page)

Excerpt 4

28 Teacher nej, men sockret var sockret en fast

form? sockerbiten r den i fast form?

no, but the sugar was sugar a solid state?

the sugar cube is that in solid state?
29 Jessica ja, den r fast form och den lser upp sig

yes, its solid state and dissolves

30 Teacher och den lser upp sig, men ktt lses inte. rknade
du ut det innan att kttet kommer inte lsa sig?

and it dissolves, but meat doesnt

dissolve. did you figure that out beforehand
that the meat wont dissolve?
31 Jessica (nickar)

32 Teacher okej, s du blandade runt och det lste sig inte,
nej. vad hade du mer d som inte lste sig?

okay, then you mixed around and it

didnt dissolve, no. what more then did
you have that didnt dissolve?

In turn 22, the teacher prefaced a transition over to another sequence

of the narrative by requesting Jessica to share what she considered as not
dissolving. By adding to you, the teacher again created a space for Jessica
to enact authorship and tell her story. In this sequence, compared to the
previous one about the solubility of milk, the recollections made by Jessica
appeared less problematic in relation to the science content to be taught
and the style of narration changes (cf. I-R-E patterns 28-29-30 and 30-31-
32). The teacher acknowledged the accounts made by Jessica by asking
her to elaborate on how she knew that the meat would not dissolve (turns
24, 30).
In the consecutive conversation, Jessica accounted for her investigation
of corn and sugar. The teacher participated in the narration by confirm-
ing the account (okay, turn 26), summarizing what Jessica said (okay,
then you mixed around and it didnt dissolve, turn 32) and establishing
transitions (what more then did you have that didnt dissolve, turn 32).

The Teacher Giving Voice to the Student in the Kitchen

In the following sequence the teacher placed herself at the scenein the
kitchen, in the position of Jessica doing her homeworkand gave voice to
Jessica (now Ill pick out those things here, turn 33).
Remembering as Instructional Work in the Science Classroom 87

Excerpt 5

33 Teacher okej. sen skulle du hitta tre saker som du

trodde skulle lsa sig. hur, hur tnkte du?
nu ska jag plocka fram dom hr sakerna,
hur, hur tnkte du d? visste du redan
innan vad som skulle lsa sig, eller?

okay, then you were to find three things that

you thought would dissolve. how, how did you
think? now Ill pick out those things here,
how, how did you think then? did you already
know beforehand what would dissolve, or?
34 Jessica man kan ju prva olika och kolla om
det lser sig eller inte.

one could like try different and

see if it dissolves or not
35 Teacher ja, och vilka tog du d? vilka tre tog du?

yes, and which did you take then?

which three did you take?

After having established the event Jessica-conducting-homework-at-

home, by means of giving voice to Jessica in this event, the teacher asked
questions to Jessica about how she reasoned in this event (turn 33). Jessica,
however, responded on a general level using the indefinite pronoun man
(one, turn 34). The teacher then reposed the question, continuing to use
the pronoun du (you, turn 35), thus calling for particularities of the event

Summarizing and Closing

The following excerpt constituted the closure of the episode:

Excerpt 6

36 Jessica ja. saft lser sig ocks

yes, syrup dissolves too

37 Teacher saft ja. hur prvade du gra d?

syrup yes, how did you try [test] to do then?

38 Jessica ja, ja, jag tog ljummet vatten s la jag i saft

yes, yes, I took lukewarm water then I put in syrup

39 Teacher s la du i saft och s rrde du med skeden

then you put in syrup and then you

stirred with the spoon
(Excerpt continues on next page)

Excerpt 6
40 Jessica det lste sig

it dissolved
41 Teacher och d blev det en blandning, en lsning. okej.
och den sista du tog... vilken var det?

and then it became a mixture, a solution. okay.

and the last one you took... which one was that?
42 Jessica en enda tesked lser sig av salt. men inte fjorton
som vi prvade, det var en tesked, bara en tesked.

one single spoon dissolves with salt,

but not fourteen like we tried, it
was one spoon, just one spoon
43 Teacher ja, du prvade det ocks? vad kul!

yes, you tried that too? how fun!

44 Jessica och det funkade

and it worked
45 Leon varfr har du skrivit nnting p baksidan?

why did you write something on the back?

46 Teacher och det lste sig bra? vad roligt!

and it dissolved [sorted out] fine

[well]? thats great.
47 Jessica men det funkade ju inte

but it didnt work

48 Teacher var det dom som inte funkade?

was it those that didnt work

49 Jessica jo jag tog ju efter om frn det
dr om det inte fick plats

yes I took like after if from that

there if it wouldnt fit
50 Teacher okej, men prvade du ngra fler saker n dom som du
berttade om nu? prvade du andra saker ocks? nej.

okay, but did you try any more things

than those that you told about now? did
you try any other things also? no.
51 Teacher Leon. d fr jag hra hur ni hade det
hemma hos dig nr du gjorde lxan

Leon. then let me hear how you had it at

your home when you did the homework
Remembering as Instructional Work in the Science Classroom 89

In turn 37, the teacher confirmed the choice of liquid and asked for
details about how Jessica tested if syrup was soluble in water. The teacher
then added to the telling by reformulating and suggesting what Jessica did
next at home (then you put in syrup and then you stirred with the spoon,
turn 39). In turn 41, the teacher confirmed that this memory qualified as
an example of a solution. In turns 43 and 46, the teacher energizes the
conversation by invoking expressions such as how fun! and thats great.
Aesthetic judgments like these are commonly used by teachers and students
in moments of fulfillment and closure to emphasize relevant distinctions
(Wickman, 2006). Here these expressions seem to operate as markers to
make Jessica appreciate what she saw and had done as legitimate and rel-
evant instances of solubility. In turn 46, the teacher confirmed the work of
Jessica with the utterance and it dissolved [sorted out] fine. This utter-
ance is ambiguous in Swedish, and may be understood either as it dissolved
fine, or as things sorted out well. The utterance might have functioned as
a closure had not Leon interrupted and queried about what Jessica had
written on the back of her worksheet. Jessica expressed that the table for
recording her observations was not functional (it wouldnt fit, turn 49).
In turn 50, the teacher ensured that Jessica had finished telling the story
of her inquiry homework and turned to prefacing the upcoming story of
Leon (turn 51).


Throughout the episode, the teacher takes on a role of initiating remem-

bering (eliciting the telling of a story about investigations of solubility of
different food): for example, Then I thought that wed begin listening to
Jessica. Youre going to tell about how it went at your home when you did
your homework. In the episode as a whole, the teacher draws on a broad
repertoire of ways to construct a collective narrative of inquiry including
prefacing (as in the quote above), asking questions (e.g., how did you
think), reminding of the given task, reminding of the space, summing
up what has been said, and connecting the story of one student to that
of another. This does not mean there is a predefined story to be told, but
that a repertoire that can be described in narrative terms is used for the
instructional work of establishing continuity between the past, the here-
and-now and the future on the topic of solubility.
The remembering involves joint negotiation of what, how, and for
what purposes something is to be remembered. This joint negotiation has
conceptual consequences in that it is also a negotiation of what instances
qualify as examples of the phenomena of solubility and of what is necessary
to make explicit in order to reflect upon the qualities of inquiry. Thus, the

collective remembering becomes a negotiation of paradigmatic and narra-

tive rationalities (cf. Bruner, 1996). In some interactions, tensions emerge
between the paradigmatic and narrative rationalities. The most obvious
tension concerns the solubility of milk, where the teacher seeks to classify
milk as a soluble (a paradigmatic rationality) whereas Jessica is telling her
story about what she did and saw in the particular situation when doing her
homework (a narrative rationality). In terms of verification and truth, the
teacher attempts to escape the tension by drawing on earlier memories of
the class about what it looked like when something dissolves. In doing this,
she introduces additional narrative memories to support a paradigmatic
definition hopefully applicable also to what happened in Jessicas kitchen..
The episode illustrates how the instructional work of the collective remem-
bering in the science classroom is directed towards establishing continuity
between paradigmatic and narrative rationalities.
In the episode, it is the teacher who introduces the story to be told and
shapes the remembered materials into a narrative suitable to the purposes
of the lesson. The students participate as tellers and persons who remem-
ber within the overall story orchestrated by the teacher. Outside formally
organized educational settings, people engage in storytelling for a range
of purposes. Norrick (2000) describes how a teller needs to introduce the
story to secure the listeners interest, to shape the remembered materi-
als into a verbal performance designed for the current context (p. 1),
adjusting to comments and interruptions from listeners. In the episode,
the teacher enacts principal authorship of the overall educational narrative
and how the personal memories of the students are made collectively rel-
evant in terms of paradigmatic scientific knowledge (cf. Middleton, 1997).
Polkinghorne (1988) writes that:

When a human event is said not to make sense, it is usually not because a
person is unable to place it in the proper category. The difficulty stems, in-
stead, from a persons inability to integrate the event into a plot whereby it
becomes understandable in the context of what has happened. (p. 21)

In the studied episode, the teacher draws on a range of strategies to enable

the incorporation of the life events of the students inquiry homework into a
collective narrative about processes of inquiry and solubility. Indeed, these
strategies seem necessary to help students understand what is relevant
to recall in relation to the plot. But at the same time, narrative strategies
alone apparently are not sufficient in making the paradigmatic concept of
solubility useful to organize students earlier experiences. As can be seen,
language as understood and used by students (e.g., the Swedish words cor-
responding to mix and solution) repeatedly mediates other meanings than
the paradigmatic meanings suggested by the teacher. Hence, the fact that
Remembering as Instructional Work in the Science Classroom 91

students remember earlier uses of words as part of the plot, but different
from their paradigmatic use, necessitates that the teacher must also handle
the problem of placing words in the right category to help students make
sense of science.
For educational research, a scrutiny of shared remembering and how
shared remembering contributes to temporal cohesion (cf. Mercer, 2008)
contributes to an understanding of teaching and learning processes both
as situated and transcending specific practices. More empirical studies of
the significance of situative remembering and how teachers could handle
remembering as a pedagogical resource to provide access points to scien-
tific literacy are needed.


We wish to acknowledge the value of the invitation of Professor sa Mki-

talo to partake in the symposium Access Points to Scientific Literacy:
Learning Arrangements and Students Meaning Making at the EARLI
conference 2013, for the writing of this chapter. We also wish to acknowl-
edge the contributions made by the participating teacher in the design and
implementation of the classroom intervention.


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Isomorphism as an Instructable Matter

Timothy Koschmann and Sharon Derry


It would seem that no exploration of memory practices and learning would

be complete if it did not in some way address the question of how past
learning is recovered and made relevant for current needs and purposes.
This is a form of memory practice both specialized and ubiquitous. It is
also crucial, for without it, learning would be of little practical use. Indeed,
the ability to reapply skills and knowledge acquired in the past might seem
to be exactly what we mean when we say something has been learned. So
it is not at all surprising that this issue has commanded the attention of
psychologists and educators for well over a century. The phenomenon has
been studied under a variety of names including knowledge transfer, trans-
fer-of-training, and transfer-of-learning (see, for example, Detterman,
1993; Lave, 1988; Marton, 2006; Royer, Mestre, & Dufresne, 2005; Tuomi-
Grhn & Engestrm, 2003). Thorndike and Judd, two leading learning

Memory Practices and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. 93110
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 93

theorists of the last century, developed influential theories concerning the

factors that facilitate transfer. Transfer, for them, was an empirical matter
measured as the difference in the rates at which experimental subjects
learn a trial task subsequent to performing a training task compared with
subjects who receive no prior exposure. Thorndike and Woodworth (1901)
demonstrated that the probability of facilitative transfer increased with the
number of elements held in common between the training task and the
target task. Judd (1908), on the other hand, posited that nontrivial trans-
fer depends upon developing an appreciation of a tasks deep structure.
Extensive subsequent work has built upon and elaborated these two theo-
ries. Despite the massive attention it has received over the years, efforts to
identify ways of improving transfer have been, for the most part, less than
successful (Detterman, 1993; Lave, 1988).
More recently, various authors have attempted to talk about transfer in
new ways. Bransford and Schwartz (1999; Schwartz, Bransford, & Sears,
2005), for example, sought to expand the consideration of transfer beyond
simple reapplication of past training to something they termed prepara-
tion for future learning (PFL). By this they meant that prior experience
can contribute to interpretive knowing (Broudy, 1977), even if there is
no clear evidence of reapplication. Marton (2006) also called for a broader
and more inclusive conceptualization of transfer. Arguing that all learning
has a perceptual or attentional aspect, he wrote: Seeing one thing affects
how the learner sees another thing subsequentlynot because of the same-
ness of the two, but because of both similarities and differences (p. 532).
Lobato (1996), in a similar vein, saw transfer as hinging on the occasioned
recognition of similarities and differences. Responding to Laves (1988)
charge that traditional treatments of transfer fail to adequately address the
socially situated character of human activity (p. 43), Lobato proposed
that the paradigm for studying transfer be extended to include studies
into just how recognition is mediated attentionally and perceptually in
instructional settings.
Pursuing this suggestion, we will examine how aspects of a situation are
produced as having some recallable connection to prior experience/train-
ing. Recognizing connections to prior learning is clearly a potent form of
memory practice. Our interest is in how such connections are produced as
what might be termed instructable (Zemel & Koschmann, 2014) matters,
as things worked out locally using the resources at hand. By examining
the specifics of how this is done contingently and sequentially, we hope to
develop a better appreciation of the practical work through which learning
and teaching are accomplished.
If Green Was A and Blue Was B 95



We base our study on materials from the Kenilworth Longitudinal Study

(Francisco & Maher, 2005; Maher, 2005; Maher, Powell, & Uptegrove,
2010). In 1989, researchers at Rutgers began compiling videos of students
doing mathematical problem solving in a first-grade classroom. To docu-
ment the development of the students mathematical reasoning over time,
follow-up meetings were conducted with members of this original cohort
at different intervals throughout their education and, in some cases, into
early adulthood. The result is a long-term, longitudinal examination of
the development of mathematical ideas over time. Video recordings, tran-
scripts, and related exhibits are available to researchers and teachers from
a public website.1
In the 19951996 school year, researchers conducted a series of after-
school interviews with Stephanie, an 8th-grader who had been affiliated
with the project since the 1st grade (Maher & Martino, 1996). Each was
approximately 90 minutes in length and was designed to probe the stu-
dents mathematical understandings. The interview to be examined here
focused on connections between the mathematics Stephanie was doing
at that time in her introductory algebra class to the things that she had
learned through her participation in various study-related activities over
the years (Speiser & Maher, 1997). In this interview, Stephanie was seated
at a worktable and engaged in discussion with two interviewers. Their
interaction was recorded from two perspectives, one capturing Stephanie
and the lead interviewer, the other providing a close-up shot of their work
on the table. A total of eight interviews were conducted over the course of
the year. Our analysis will focus on the first half-hour of the sixth.2

Combinatorics, Manipulatives, and Inscription

The interview begins with CM, a principal investigator for the study, and
RS, a visiting scholar, asking Stephanie about what she recalled from the
previous session. The tenor of the activity, therefore, is that of a review of
past accomplishments, with Stephanie chiefly responsible for constructing
the account. CM, who had been the lead interviewer in a previous inter-
view, sits by.
Since the early days of the Kennilworth Study, the students had been
working on combinatorial problems, problems that involved working out
the number of unique combinations possible under specified conditions

(Maher & Martino, 1996). For example, in the 3rd grade the students were
given the four-tall tower problem:

Your group has two colors of Unifix cubes. Work together and make as many
different towers four cubes tall as is possible when selecting from two colors.
See if you and your partner can find a way to convince yourself and others
that you have found all possible towers four cubes high. (Francisco & Maher,
2005, p. 363, FN1)

For the current interview, Unifix blocks of two colors, blue and green
are available on the table (see Figure 5.1). Utilizing the blocks, Stephanie
demonstrates for RS how they could be used to generate the combinations
for four-tall, select one. In this case, there are four unique towers that
she constructs and lays out on the table before her.

Figure 5.1. Using Unifix cubes to solve combinatorics problems (Interview #6).
The lighter colored blocks are green and the darker blocks blue.

In the prior meeting, CM had shown Stephanie two different notations

for representing combinatorial problems. Now, Stephanie writes C14 and
torepresent 4 select 1, the number of possible combinations that
have only one occurrence of the thing which is being selected. At RSs
prompting, Stephanie then builds the towers that would satisfy 2 , of
which there are six. By ordering the towers in a certain way, Stephanie is
able to determine by inspection that there are no other possibilities. As she
does the same for ,
RS notes that she appears to have a different way
If Green Was A and Blue Was B 97

of ordering the towers when she is generating new towers than when she
is checking to see if the set is complete [Interview #6, Clip 3 of 11, item
45].3 He asks, How would you organize the next row, so that it makes more
sense? [Interview #6, Clip 3 of 11, item 65]. The ability to reorganize the
towers at will is one of the advantages of using manipulatives like Unifix
blocks instead of paper-based representations. The towers are actually more
than a representational convenience, however. They are, for the students
adept at their use, a tool for both generation and justification. Stephanie
subsequently uses the towers to work out the combinations of r where r
could vary from 0 to 4. She demonstrates that there are 16 possibilities.
Stephanie then reports that she had learned in the previous session a
different way of determining the number of combinations. The alterna-
tive method utilizes a representation known as Pascals triangle (Speiser
& Maher, 1997). Figure 5.2 shows two versions of the triangle taken from
Stephanies notes from Interview #5. The version shown at the top of the
figure shows a simple table that represents a number series. The first entry
is [1], the second [1 1], the third [1 2 1], and so forth. Written in this way, the
array assumes the shape of a triangle because each successive row is longer
by one than the row before. Pascals triangle can be written in another way
that shows its relationship to combinatorial problems. As shown in Figure
5.3, also from Stephanies notes, each of the individual elements of the
triangle represents a specific combinatoric expression.4 So, having the tri-
angle in hand, it is possible to simply look up the number of combinations
4 4
for 2 or sum across a row to compute the combinations for r . Another
advantage is that Pascals triangle can be easily extended by adding the two
nearest numbers from the row above to form the new elements in a row (see
Figure 5.2, lower half). Stephanie demonstrates this by building the first
few rows of the triangle [Interview #6, Clip 3 of 11, item 10].
RS then asks Stephanie how Pascals triangle relates to the towers that
she had generated previously [Interview #6, Clip 3 of 11, item 25]. By
clustering the relevant towers for the two-tall problem, she shows how they
relate to the third row of Pascals triangle. She does the same showing the
connection between the three-tall problem and fourth row. They return to
the issue of how the towers are ordered for different purposes. When Steph-
anie is generating all combinations, the towers are ordered one way; when
asked to show their correspondence to the elements of the triangle, they
need to be organized in a different manner. CM asks Stephanie if there is a
single way of organizing the towers that will serve both purposes [Interview
#6, Clip 3 of 11, item 181]. Stephanie does not believe that there is.
At this point, Stephanie mentions that they had also worked with bino-
mial expansions in the prior interview [Interview #6, Clip 4 of 11, item 7],
and it is here that we begin a more detailed analysis.

Figure 5.2. Pascals triangle in two forms: one the typical format showing the
series and the second showing how the elements of each row are related to the row
before (from Stephanies summary of Interview #5).

Figure 5.3. Pascals triangle written in combinatorics notation (from Stephanies

summary of Interview #50).
If Green Was A and Blue Was B 99

Figure 5.4. Stephanies homework from Interview #4, binomial expansions from
(A + B)0 to (A + B)6.

Pascals Triangle and Binomial Expansions

A transcript of the next portion of the interview can be found in Excerpt

1.5 As mentioned previously, part of what takes place in the after-school
interviews is a relating of what the students are currently doing in school
to the mathematics that they had encountered earlier in the Kenilworth
Study. It so happens that Stephanie has been doing binomial expansions
in her introductory algebra class, and she writes a simple example on her
worksheet. She recounts that she had once thought that (A + B)2 simply
expanded to A2 + B2, but now realizes that there is a missing cross-term,
2AB. As can be seen in a page from Stephanies notes (see Figure 5.4), these
cross-terms become more numerous as the binomial is raised to higher
As she moves from explaining the expansion of (A + B)2 to the more
complex (A + B)6, Stephanie begins to develop the connection to Pascals
triangle. Though she does not mention it by name, the topic is broached
through a point to the representation on the worksheet coordinated with a
reference to with the numbers (l. 22). But she confesses, however, to not
quite remember how this relationship workssee this is where I forgot
(l. 21). She is unclear about how to utilize Pascals triangle to construct the
expansion upon which she is currently working.
If Green Was A and Blue Was B 101

Her account to this point has largely been delivered in the first-person
plural (e.g., What did we do next? [Interview #6, Clip 2 of 11, item 2]),
but now she begins referencing CM in the third person (I think (0.3)
sh-she figured out the exponents? [lines 3637]), in effect placing herself
outside of the action. Her suggestion, so modalized, is formatted as a guess.
Thus begins a succession of gradually escalating appeals for assistance,
starting with a glance and progressing eventually to a direct inquiry, Is
that what you did? (l. 45) supplemented with a gesture of uncertainty. In
so doing, Stephanie issues an invitation to CM to join her in the work of
reconstructing what had occurred in their prior meeting.

CMs Question

Moving now to Excerpt 2, CM professes not remembering just what

happened in the previous meeting (line 49 and lines 5152). Her denial,
however, needs to be understood in terms of what it accomplishes. By
claiming a failure of memory, she declines Stephanies invitation to help
with reconstructing what they had done previously and effectively brings
that activity to a close. At the same time, it opens a door on a new one.
CM initiates this activity by posing a question of her own or, to be more
precise, she pre-announces that she has a question (l. 52) and then under-
takes some necessary arrangements preliminary to the asking. While before
it was RS and Stephanie reviewing past work with CM looking on, now they
are launching a new enterprise with CM playing a much more active role.
She begins by placing a blank piece of paper in front of Stephanie. The
sheet, in a certain way, symbolizes both a fresh start and the reorganized
participation structure. The introduction of a shared writing space and the
posing of questions has the feel of a familiar and well-practiced routine for
these participants.
CM directs Stephanie to transfer the equation she had written earlier,
(A + B)2 = A2 + 2AB + B2 , to the top of the new page. All the relevant
entities, [1] the towers employed in earlier discussion, [2] the equation for
the expansion of (A + B)2 and, beneath it and partially exposed, [3] Stepha-
nies reconstruction of Pascals triangle, are now stacked in front of her in
plain view. CM utilizes these resources while posing her question: can that
[pointing to the top worksheet] at all be related to the triangle [pointing
to the second worksheet] or what [pointing to the towers] you built with
your (0.5) your ca- with your cubes? (lines 6270). When a response from
Stephanie is not immediately forthcoming, CM reformulates the question:
If Green Was A and Blue Was B 103

Can you take each of those terms in that expansion A squared, two AB,
B squared and see any relationship to the towers? (lines 7475). When,
again, no response is heard, CM expands the range of possibilitiesOr
any of those lines of the triangle or any parts of the triangle, columns,
lines, diagonals, anything? (lines 7778). While the first question asks if
she can see a relationship between the equation and either the triangle or
the towers, the second inverts the disjunction.
Here the question is left to hang and, after a long, 6-second pause,
Stephanie finally ventures an answer. But her apparent befuddlement
continues and she begins to evidence some frustration (like I dont see
how). CM encourages her to say what she can see (l. 85). And now, finally,
Stephanie appears to see the light. She notes that the middle terms of the
expansion both include a single A and B (l. 86) and then points to the
towers with mixed-color blocks. CM presses her to be more specific (l. 91)
and Stephanie offers the proposal, If green was A and blue was B (lines
9293), an expression we have adopted as a working title for the chapter.
Stephanie notes that they have two towers with one A (green) and one B
(blue) (l. 95 and l. 98). She goes on to note that they have one tower with
all As (greens) and one with all Bs (blues). This might seem to create all the
necessary links, but something appears to still be missing.

What About the Triangle?

This line of questioning continues in Excerpt 3. CM presses Stephanie

to be explicit about what all A could actually mean (l. 105) and when
Stephanie responds A A, pursues this further by asking Whaddaya
mean A A? (l. 110). After another long pause, we get a change of state
token (Heritage, 1984) from Stephanie. She asks, would AA be like A
squared? (l. 94) and both CM (l. 116) and RS (l. 117) agree that this
might be a possibility.6 CM then asks, How many of those do you have?
(l. 118). Stephanies well-prefaced response, suggests that she might find
the question a bit queer. The next, So wheres the one? I dont see the one
in there, would seem even more puzzling. Again, Stephanies answer is
well-prefaced. She responds as if reporting the obvious, the ones um I- its
there (l. 122). As every student of algebra knows, any term can be written
with a one in front of it, but, as every student of algebra also knows,
these are almost never shown. Here, by pressing Stephanie to make
the one explicit, CM
If Green Was A and Blue Was B 105

highlights the presence of this otherwise taken-for-granted part of the

expression. In mathematical terms, the one is a coefficient, though CM
does not introduce the term here. Indeed, coefficients never comes up in
the entire discussion, even though they were mentioned by name several
times in the previous interview and are centrally relevant to what they are
currently discussing.
CM does introduce another term of art, however, and it was one that
had also made an appearance in Interview #5. When Stephanie reports
that there is one tower with two As (l. 129), CM revoices (OConnor
& Michaels, 1993) this as Two factors of A? (l. 133). When Stephanie
further reports that Theres two with AB one A and B (l. 134), CM, this
time, overtly other-corrects with One factor of A and one factor of B (l.
137). When Stephanie says Like AA or A squared (l. 111), CM asks Two
factors of A? (l. 112). Finally, Stephanie demonstrates recognition when
she offers and theres one with two factors of B (l. 134). So, what we find
is a lovely little instructional sequence with escalating correction leading
eventually to uptake.
And now, we are ready for the capstone: CM asks, What about the tri-
angle? (l. 120) and Stephanie replies without hesitation, One two one.
Stephanie has at last located the coefficients in Pascals triangle but there
is something elsethe two factors of A is represented in the terms of the
binomial expansion as an exponent, so, though Pascals triangle does not
provide exponents, exponents are equally important in understanding the
terms of the equation as describing a certain kind of combination.
CM receipts Stephanies answer (l. 148), but in an audibly neutral way.
But, as we know, in classroom talk, moving on can constitute an implied
positive assessment (McHoul, 1978). We end the analysis here, but their
discussion continued.


Speiser (1997) wrote: Stephanies choice to center, in the present inter-

view, directly on binomials strongly suggests that Stephanie now grasps
the isomorphism between Pascals Triangle, which she had built, at first, to
summarize her towers cases, and the array of coefficients for her polynomial
expansions of (A + B)n, for variable n (p. 219, emphasis in the original).
Isomorphism is a term used in mathematics to denote a mapping across
two or more entities that preserves the relevant structure of those entities.
Isomorphism was omni-relevant within the Kenilworth Study. The various
combinatorial problems encountered within the program (e.g., the Tower
problem, the Pizza Problem, shirts & jeans, the World Series Problem)
were, by design, isomorphic (Francisco & Maher, 2005). Also, as we saw in

the current interview, Stephanie demonstrated an isomorphism between

the tower generation procedure and Pascals triangle. Isomorphism might
be thought of as what gets learned in meaningful transfer of mathematical
ideas and, to the extent that the preservation of structure involves a kind
of matching, isomorphism has a parallel in Thorndikes theory of common
elements. The challenge, of course, with isomorphism, as with transfer, is
one of making the mapping across entities manifest. The challenge in the
current case was one of finding a way to allow Stephanie to discover the
mapping between the entities mentioned by Speiser.
Even though combinatoric notation and Pascals triangle were just intro-
duced in the previous session, Stephanie displayed mastery of both in
Interview #6. One can see why this might be the case. Combinatoric nota-
tion supplies a formalism for describing exactly the kinds of problems
Stephanie had been working within the Kennilworth Study since elemen-
tary school. Pascals triangle was also readily understandable for her in the
light of her past work with towers. The array constructed by successively
generating two-high, three-high, four-high, and so on, towers also pro-
duces a triangle of sorts. And it is one that has a mathematical connection
to Pascals triangle.7 In the spirit of Bransford and Schwartzs (1999) notion
of PFL, we could say that Stephanies early experience in the Kennilworth
Study helped prepare her to later learn these new things.
Late in Interview #5, CM predicted the expansion of (A + B)6, reading
the coefficients off the corresponding row of Pascals triangle [Interview
#5, Clip 9 of 10, item 59]. This made a great impression on Stephanie who
had, the night before, worked out the expansion by hand algebraically (see
Figure 5.4). But, in spite of this graphic demonstration, Stephanie was not
able to recover the procedure when called upon to do so in Interview #6.
One might wonder why the years of practice with combinatorial problems
which seemed to so powerfully prepare her to later learn about combina-
toric notation and Pascals triangle failed to provide the same benefit in
this case.
The fragment captured in the three excerpts might be characterized as
a sequence designed to remediate Stephanies failure to transfer from the
previous session, but what exactly is the problem that the sequence serves
to remediate? One might gloss it in a variety of ways. One could say, for
example, that Stephanie had forgotten what a coefficient was or maybe
that she had forgotten how to locate them within a binomial equation.
Alternatively, one could say that she did not understand the difference
between coefficients and exponents. Presumably one might remediate the
problem differently, depending on how one chooses to characterize it.
Also, forgetting and not understanding in the first place would seem to
be based on quite different memory mechanisms and, as a result, would
involve different kinds of memory practice.
If Green Was A and Blue Was B 107

We have evidence that Stephanie was confused from the outset regarding
what could be read off of Pascals triangle. Recounting CMs demonstration
in Interview #5, she wrote in her notes, Without even looking at my paper
Dr. Maher told me all of the exponents in one of the problems, using only
the numbers in the triangle [Interview #6, Student Work, p. 9, emphasis
added]. To understand, on a deep level, the relationship between Pascals
triangle and binomial expansions, she would have to see the terms of the
expansion as n-tall choose r expressions. In a sense, her failure to transfer
represents a problem of attending to the wrong aspect of the situationshe
is worrying about exponents when she should be focusing on coefficients.
We might say, following Marton (2006), that it is a perceptual or attentional
problem. She was able to overcome it, however, over the course of the
analyzed episode.
We might further say that the isomorphism between Pascals triangle
and the coefficients of a binomial expansion was the instructable (Zemel
& Koschmann, 2014) or instructed object (Koschmann & Zemel, 2014)
within the episode. It is something to be discovered by the participants,
contingently and for current purposes using the resources at hand.
Stephanie was obliged to interrogate the three items on the tablethe
expansion equation, the towers, and the triangleto see what relationship
might exist between them. Remember, the relationship between the
triangle and towers had already been worked out earlier in the interview
and, so, by including the towers as part of the puzzle, they offered a clue
as to the nature of the connection between the other two entities. The
towers, in this way, played an instrumental role in mediating the discovery,
but so did the representations on the worksheets, as did the participants
long-established routines of working through the mathematics together.
Stephanies discovery, then, can be seen to have built upon a shared history
of problem solving and was mediated through local tangible artifacts and
well-established forms of inscription.
To say that we find an instructional organization being enacted within
this episode is not to say that it was necessarily CSs purpose to instruct
Stephanie. Instructing, as we are discussing it here, gestures toward a much
broader set of concerns than how it is taken up in everyday parlance. We
are treating it as a ubiquitous phenomenon, as an omnipresent feature of
all social interaction (cf. Garfinkel [2002] on instructed action). Though
classroom teachers are often seen doing instruction, so too can students,
as can persons in all walks of life and in every setting. Indeed, in the ana-
lyzed episode it is easy to see both Stephanie and CS initiating sequences
of instructing.
What comes to the fore in an analysis like the one presented here is
how difficult it can sometimes be for learners to apply past learning. Close

analysis of situations like these can help us develop a better understanding

of the practical work of reapplication and of learning itself. CMs ques-
tions are probing and diagnostic. By understanding her struggle to make
sense of Stephanies confusion, we are also provided with rich insight into
the practical work of teaching. We have need of more studies of this kind,
studies that explore at depth memory practices in the classroom.


1. Materials from the Kenilworth corpus can be accessed at: http://videomosaic.

2. For a different account of this same interview, written from the perspective of
a mathematician, see Speiser (1997) and Speiser and Maher (1997).
3. Citations of this form provide pointers into the transcripts provided on the
VideoMosaic website.
4. This relationship can be very concisely presented, if one knows the nota-
tional conventions for combinatorial expressions. Inscription, in this way,
provides useful scaffolding for appreciating the conceptual connections be-
tween combinatorics and Pascals triangle.
5. The transcript was prepared using standard CA (conversation analysis) nota-
tion. The full set of conventions is described by Jefferson (2004). In brief,
brackets are used to mark talk or other forms of action produced in overlap.
Use of standard punctuation marks such as periods and question marks de-
notes delivery with falling (or rising) intonation resembling that ordinarily
heard at the end of a sentence (or question). Numbers enclosed in single
parentheses represent periods of silence measured to a tenth of a second.
Periods of silence reported at the end of a turn represent time elapsed to the
next turn of talk. Colons are used to display sound stretching. Text enclosed
between degree signs represents talk delivered at diminished volume. An-
notations supplied by the transcriber are enclosed in double parentheses.
These are most often used to describe visible action occurring in conjunction
with the talk. The column appearing on the left side of the transcript pres-
ents the times, measured in hours, minutes, seconds, and frames at which
the actions, either talk or embodied conduct, began. Line numbers are add-
ed on the far left to simplify reference in the text.
6. By not providing a direct assessment here, CM takes the exchange outside
the normal teacherly register; that is, they are not doing typical classroom
recitation where teachers ask known-answer questions (Mehan, 1979).
7. The length of each successive row in a tree of n-high towers is twice as long
as the one that came before it. The length of each successive row in Pascals
triangle increases by one, but the sum of the elements in each row is equal to
the length of the corresponding row in the tree of n-high towers.
If Green Was A and Blue Was B 109


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Progression in Instructed Pedal Work

Mathias Broth, Jakob Cromdal, and Lena Levin


This chapter is about learning a procedure for handling a complex tech-

nological artifact. Taking the example of a driving instructor teaching a
trainee driver how to start a car over a series of trials, it demonstrates how
progression in an instructional activity can be observed and analyzed as
a members phenomenon, and how both driving instructors and trainee
drivers actions are performed with reference to a joint history of previous
trials, thereby invoking an aspect of remembering.
In order to make a car move forward, a driver must master a complex
procedure, centrally involving the feet and the car control pedals, that
needs to be performed in a particular way. The analysis shows, over a series
of starts, how this procedure is at first unpacked by a driving instructor
(henceforth DI) and a trainee driver (TD) as a series of basic steps. These
steps are then gradually reformulated in a way that observably builds on
the TDs new competence. In other words, this chapter demonstrates how

Memory Practices and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. 113143
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 113

progression is accountably built as a relevant feature of the participants

activity through the details of giving and receiving instructions.
In the field of education, research in ethnomethodology (EM) and con-
versation analysis (CA) has amply shown how instructable phenomena
are irremediably tied to [their] local interactional realisation (Hester
& Francis, 2000, p. 17). Thus, analyses of instructional activities in, for
example, language classrooms (Hellerman, 2008; Majlesi, 2014; Majlesi &
Broth, 2012; Seedhouse, 2004; St. John & Cromdal, 2016), craft education
(Lindwall & Ekstrm, 2012), surgery training (Zemel & Koschmann, 2014),
math instruction (Koschmann & Derry, this volume), dance classes (Broth
& Keevallik, 2013), aviation training (Melander & Sahlstrm, 2009), and
driving instruction (Deppermann, 2015; De Stefani & Gazin, 2014; Levin
et al., 2017) highlight the in-courseness of instructions, instructed actions,
and relevant objects. These studies begin to show how instructions and
instructed actions are responsive to each other and to other situational
contingencies, such as a projected recipients availability or attention, the
visibility of or access to the space of the instructed action, and time-space
considerations in mobile contexts.
As a form of social action, instructions have occasionally been described
as interactionally challenging, in that they encompass the idea that accounts
of actions can be transformed into practical actions. Indeed, Amerine and
Bilmes (1988) propose that instructions are particularly hazardous, engen-
dering diverse, unforeseen, and quaint difficulties (p. 328). In the course
of the analysis, which highlights the retrospectiveprospective dimension
of instructions and the ensuing responses, we offer a glimpse of the in vivo
stream of practices (Garfinkel, 2002, p. 209) that comprise instructions
and instructed actions in learning projects.
Cognitive activities, such as feeling, understanding, knowing, or
indeed, learning and remembering, have traditionally been thought
of as mental or inner states and processes. By showing in detail how
instructions and instructed actions in learning projects change over the
course of a driving lesson, we will arguelike several scholars in ethno-
methodology and conversation analysis have done before us (e.g., Coulter,
1989; Edwards, 1998; Heritage, 1984; McHoul, 1978; Mehan, 1979)that
learning and remembering can be respecified in terms of manifest
and locally organized social conduct. Along this line of reasoning, partici-
pants to any occasion, private or public, are taken to require in situ displays
(by others or self) of relevant actions to tell whether some skill is indeed
mastered. This we take to be a general aspect of learning, knowing, and
This approach insists on rigorous analysis based on members orienta-
tions. It contrasts radically with the mainstream literature on learning,
where observed forms of behavior are used to make claims about par-
Starting Out as a Driver 115

ticipants inner states and mental processes. Typically, studies hold a

longitudinal design, allowing researchers to observe how forms of behavior
change over time. However, observing behavior does not provide access to
the inner world of individuals, and so these kinds of longitudinal studies,
however skilfully designed, can not yield direct evidence of mental phe-
nomena (cf. e.g., Heap, 1982).
In contrast, this chapter approaches what we may call members longi-
tudinality, where participants demonstrably orient to a problem at hand
as being the same, for all practical purposes, as on some previous occasion.
Members bring their shared history of prior events and draw on it, often
explicitly, as they accomplish the current action. Moreover, observing per-
formance over time allows members to make judgments about increased or
otherwise changed competence. This, we propose, constitutes a members
perspective on learning.
Through a close study of a series of five consecutive car starts, the
chapter aims to demonstrate how progression materializes not only in
improved student driver performance, but notably also in the way instruc-
tions change over time as they embody new assumptions about current TD
competencebefore such competence has been displayed. The chapter
thereby demonstrates how progression can be found in the emergent and
contingent details of human interaction. Throughout the analysis, we will
therefore be particularly attentive to what is specified and what is taken
for granted in particular DI instructions, as well as what is treated as not
yet mastered by the TD performing the instructed action.
The following excerpt shows the 22nd time the TD, an absolute begin-
ner taking her very first driving lesson, starts the car. After a long series
of trials, she is now able to start the car without any instructions from the
DI. The participants are currently in the middle of a repeated series of
starts and stops focusing primarily on smooth stoppings (see Appendix
for transcription conventions):

Excerpt 1. Start 22 [31:13-31:32]


Whereas the stopping of the car is explicitly treated in this Excerpt (13
and 67), the starting procedure is not (45). In fact, this is the very first
time that the TD starts the car receiving neither instructions nor evalu-
ations of her starting performance from the DI; her competence in this
respect now is taken for granted. In the remainder of this chapter, we will
show just how the TD and DI arrive together at a beginning competence in
starting the car over the initial five trials.


The study is based on video recordings of a female teenager and her father
as they practice driving. Two cameras were used for the analysis, capturing
the interaction between DI and TD and relevant aspects of the inside of the
car (Figures 6.1 and 6.2). The recordings document their very first driving
lesson, which takes place on a deserted airfield, thus in a vast flat area with
relatively few obstacles.

Figure 6.1. Front camera view Figure 6.2. Ceiling camera view

During slightly less than an hour, the TD makes the car move forward
more than 40 times. The analysis is narrowed down to the first five starts
and involves transcription of the participants embodied activity (talk,
gesture, gaze, handling of the car, etc.), to be able to attend to the unfold-
ing interaction at a level of detail that is not currently imaginable but
demonstrably relevant to the participants (cf. Sacks, 1984, p. 25). Five steps
crucial to the starting procedure are repeatedly practiced during this single
driving lesson: (1) pressing the brake pedal, (2) disengaging the clutch
by pressing the clutch pedal, (3) igniting/putting in a gear (not dealt with
here), (4) setting the gas by pressing the accelerator, and (5) engaging the
clutch by releasing the clutch pedal.1 Our analysis particularly focuses on
how the way to operate the pedals is instructed and learned just prior to
Starting Out as a Driver 117

and including the moment when the car starts to move. The five times
that the car is started thus form a collection of starting procedures, where,
each time, different pedal actions need to be carried out in identical order.
At a more encompassing level, these five sequences are also temporally
organized relative to each other, as the participants, demonstrably take
their shared recent history of previous trials into account when designing
and timing their current activity. In this way, we may also think about the
five starting occasions as constituting a small longitudinal data set. As we
will see, the participants actions change quite notably over the five trials.
We argue that this change is what manifestsfor participants and analysts

Figure 6.3. The pedals.

The skills that are crucially involved here directly relate to the pedals. In
all standard manual gearbox cars, the clutch pedal is on the left side, the
brake pedal in the middle, and the accelerator pedal to the right (Figure
6.3). The left foot should be used for the clutch, and the right foot for the
brake and the accelerator. However, the way that the TD actually handles
the pedals is not visible in any of the recordings. In fact, it is hardly ever
visibly available to the DI either. Instead, the DI, and we as analysts, needs
to reconstruct the TD pedal actions by observing their effect on the car.
The TDs pedal work is thus mediated through the car, and it is mainly
on this mediation that the DI acts in instructing the TD how to proceed.
The TDs pedal actions constitute one of the main loci for responding to
DI instructions.

The analysis below examines a key aspect of the starting procedure

releasing the clutch pedal with a sufficient level of gas so as to engage the
first gearshowing how it is instructed and learned during early parts of
the first driving lesson. We will start from the beginning.


The first start requires a great number of instructions of distinct steps of the
starting procedure. For clarity, we have divided it into five excerpts, and will
consider them in turn from the DIs first instructions to the moment when
the TD actually manages, for the first time, to make the car move forward.
Initially, the DI gives very detailed step-by-step instructions regarding
how the pedals should be handled:

Excerpt 2. Start 1 [02:26-02:38]

The DIs instructive turn categorizes the next action as the beginning
of the (routine) procedure to start the car (1). This first step is told to be to
push down the brake pedal, and its location between the other two pedals
is also specified (24). Once the TD does this, the DI formulates the next
step, which is to disengage the clutch using her left foot (6). Maybe as a
response to insufficient pushing by the TD (or reflecting the lack of DI
inspectability), the DI specifies that it should be pushed all the way down
(8). Note that rather than just prompt the TD to brake or disengage the
clutch, both these instructions involve detailed descriptions, specifying
which pedal and which foot to use and how far to push the pedal. They
therefore demonstrate that the DI does not assume any knowledge of even
these very fundamental aspects of the pedal work in car driving by treating
Starting Out as a Driver 119

the TD as a complete beginner. Further, the proper relative order between

braking and disengaging the clutch is clearly part of the instruction: the
first action is treated as what you (usually) begin with (1), and the second
action is preceded by the transition marker sen (an then) (6), which
formulates its position as following the first action. The transition to
the following step, to get the engine running, is likewise clearly marked
verbally, by an accepting and closing s (there) (Lindstrm & Heineman,
2009; Lindwall & Ekstrm, 2012) and a nu: (now) (9) that opens for
the continuation of the instructed procedure, which, the first time around,
concerns how to start the engine.
Following the instruction about how to push the key to start the engine
(not shown due to space constraints), the instruction again focuses on the
way that the pedals should be handled. Once you have the engine running,
the crucial procedure to actually start the car involves releasing the brake
to make the right foot available for giving starting gas, and then to slowly
release the clutch pedal. In Excerpt 3, however, the DI first instructs the
TD in a way that provokes the engine to stall, to make her experience what
happens when things are not done properly.

Excerpt 3. Start 1, continued, 9 s omitted [02:47-03:04]

(Excerpt continues on next page).


Once the DI has told the TD to let go of the brakebriefly explaining

why this is possible in this case (they are on flat ground)and to move her
foot to the gas pedal (1416), the DI introduces the project of showing the
TD what happens if one were to do things the wrong way. He thus elicits a
TD mistake, giving the TD an opportunity to physically experience, in a safe
environment, the consequences of a failed starting procedure. Following
the instruction not to give any gas and to quickly release the clutch pedal,
the TD soon causes the engine to stall (2426). This event is responded to
as a laughable by the TD (28), which displays some understanding of what
should properly not happen when starting off from a standstill.
As the sequence continues, because the engine has stalled, the instruc-
tion has to be resumed at a point before several of the steps of the procedure
that were previously taken up to the engine stallingthat is, from the initial
braking and up to the letting go of the brake to make the right foot avail-
able for giving gas. We are thus in a situation where some instructed steps
are now done for a second time around. This is also accountably displayed
in the formatting of the non-first instructive turns, which are significantly
more indexical than the first time around.

Excerpt 4. Start 1, continued [03:04-03:21]

(Excerpt continues on next page).

Starting Out as a Driver 121

Initially, the TD tries to start the engine, but fails (30). Presumably,
this is because she has not yet performed the necessary preparatory steps;
importantly, she has not yet disengaged the clutch. Braking, disengaging
the clutch, and restarting the engine is then instructed and performed in
a rather efficient sequence of instructions and compliance that does not
involve any explanation of how to do these actions, just a specification that
this should be done (3135) (cf. Lindwall & Ekstrm, 2012, p. 31). We
argue that such truncated formatting of the instruction invokes informa-
tion specified in the previous attempts and thereby assigns a certain level
of competence on the part of the TD. Moreover, having started the engine,
the TD offers a description of what the next relevant step will be, displaying
an awareness of where she is in the procedure that she is now being taken
through for the second time.
As it happens, the TDs turn involves a lexical mistakegas instead
of brake, which is also picked up by the DI (3638). The repair of this
mistake (4042) temporarily halts the progression of a new explanatory
project, which however reappears as soon as the last of the second time
around instructions (to shift the right foot to the gas pedal, 43), has been

Excerpt 5. Start 1, continued [03:21-03:37]

(Excerpt continues on next page).


As the DIs explanationconcerning the quickness required of the pro-

jected footwork had they been parked in a slopeis reaching its end, the
sound of the engine increases rather sharply (49). Clearly, the TD is press-
ing the accelerator, and the DIs next instruction appears to be sensitive
to this event. Because the instruction is stressing the restrained character
of setting the gas following what can be heard as already excessive gas, the
instruction may be considered as also involving an embedded correction
(51) (Jefferson, 1987). While the sound of the engine continues to increase,
the DI explicitly tells the TD that it is too much (53). The TD now lets go
of the gas somewhat, as the DI again tells her that it is too much. She then
seems to release the gas completely, for the engine soon goes into idling
again (5457).
The sequence just described, which could be seen as an initial failed
attempt of finding the starting gas, is followed by an explanation: the DI
Starting Out as a Driver 123

informs the TD about how to understand when the starting gas is properly
set. There is no need to look at the tachometer, he says, it should be just so
that you hear the engine working (60). The DIs turn verbally and gestur-
ally (61, Image 5.1) invokes the particular method of listening to the sound
of the engine for knowing when the gas is at the right level. After a pause,
the TD now begins to give gas again (6263). As the TD presses the pedal,
ever so lightly, the DI ongoingly and carefully monitors and assesses the
sound that the engine produces, telling her to give a bit more gas (64)
and soon states that she has reached an appropriate level of gas (s (.)
nnting., there sort of, 66), thereby closing this part of the sequence.
Beginning with a stressed boundary marker ( nu, and now, line 68
below) the DI instructs the TD to slowly release the clutch pedal:

Excerpt 6. Start 1, continued [03:37-03:56]

(Excerpt continues on next page).


The first instruction of how to release the clutch pedal focuses on the
fact that it has to be done very slowly. The instruction of the slowness of
the movement is embodied verbally, prosodically through slowed down
speech and by the use of a hand gesture in the shape of a palm slowly
raised backwards (6873, Images 6.16.2). We also note that the slowness
is carefully specified before the relevant object to be acted onthe pedal
is made explicit (73), which arguably serves as a precautionary measure
against premature and possibly dangerous TD action. Using his hand
rather than his foot to embody how the pedal should be lifted, the DI
displays his instruction in a way that is visually available to the TD (cf.
Goodwin, 2000). This instruction seems to be taken very seriously by the
TD, because at first literally nothing happens to the car (75). The DI says
that she could release it a bit quicker (77), and, as still nothing happens
(78), insists that the clutch pedal should be released (79). There is thus, up
to this point, a clear and oriented to problem of progressivity of the action
of engaging the clutch. Just as the car finally begins to move (82), the DI
warns the TD, as the sound of the engine is rising, not to give any more
gas, and soon acknowledges the TDs successful accomplishment of the
first start (81). After a brief calibrating instruction about the gas level (86),
the DI concludes the instructed starting procedure by acknowledging the
success again (japp, yup) and, in a way, also celebrates the fact that
the TD is indeed now driving (88).
At the end of this close analysis of the first start, some general obser-
vations can be made. First, in producing his instructions about the pedal
work, the DI mainly used talk and hand gestures, whereas the TD primarily
accomplished her instructed actions by physically acting on the car. The
Starting Out as a Driver 125

DIs monitoring of the instructed activity involved reconstructing the TDs

car actions based on their mutually available outcome, that is to say their
effect on the car: the clutch pedal being released too quickly as it provoked
a stalled engine; the amount of gas given based on the sound of the engine;
and the speed at which the clutch pedal is released based on the position
of the car in conjunction with the sound of the engine. In terms of the
ongoing learning project, the DIs instructive moves not only instruct, in a
finely tuned way, the TD on how to act on the car; in an important sense,
they simultaneously identify for the TD such outcomes as relevant, assess-
able, and accountable, for the purposes of the ongoing accomplishment
of starting to drive the car.
Second, we have noted that already on the second trial the instruc-
tions were radically truncated compared to the first attempt, containing
only the directive and not the explanation. This suggests that elements of
the previous instruction are being invoked and, by that token, that some
competence is already being ascribed to the TD. In the remainder of the
chapter, we will continue to argue that the way in which instructions are
built is a key locus for observing progression in competence as a members
phenomenon, and not, for example, through simply comparing how the TD
manages starting the car on the first and second occasion, respectively.
We now turn to consider the subsequent moments during which engag-
ing the clutch while simultaneously letting go of the brake and giving the
right amount of gas is elaborated on and gradually mastered, both as sepa-
rate actions and as part of a coherent and structured procedure.


The second start of the car follows a couple of minutes after the first start.
It begins as the DI asks for a verbal account of how the TD will start the car,
a practice we will refer to as doing checklist. This aspect is already radically
different from the first start, during which the DI gave extensive instruc-
tions for every step of the procedure. It treats this start as a non-first one,
and the TD as potentially an already competent actor. Crucially, it offers
her an occasion to verbalize what she may already have learned and what
she does not yet master.

Excerpt 7. Start2 [07:07-08:00]

(Excerpt continues on next page)


When the TD has described and simultaneously also performed braking

and disengaging the clutch, the first and second steps of the procedure
(27), the DI asks about the reason for doing these two actions in that
particular order (8). This opens up a side-sequence oriented to unpacking
the logic of braking before disengaging the clutch. This logic was indeed
offered by the DI as part of the instruction about the first start (see Excerpts
35 above), but it soon appears, despite some laborious attempts by the TD
to formulate it, not to be understood yet (913). So, the DI explains this
again: The car could start rolling if one disengages the clutch in a slope,
and that is why braking first is the proper thing to do (1420).
After this rather elaborate explanation by the DI in response to a dis-
played lack of knowledge, it is no longer the TD who goes on to formulate
what the subsequent step should be, but the DI:
Excerpt 8. Start2, continued [08:00-08:22]
Starting Out as a Driver 127

Following a fairly complex explanation by the DI amounting to the fact

that, despite having disengaged the clutch, the TD can let go of the brake
on this sitewhere there is no slopethe DI instructs the TD to let go of
the brake and set the starting gas (2428). After a substantial silence, the
sound of the engine begins to increase (2930), indicating that the TD is
acting on the gas pedal. The DI soon produces a heavily stressed deictic
pronoun (d:r, there), which is then explained to identify and refer to,
via the sound level, the appropriate amount of gas to qualify for starting gas
(31). The precision required is further stressed in an added two-part con-
struction, warning about giving either more or less gas than what the TD is
currently giving (3334). This is followed by a renewed confirmation of the
appropriateness of the amount of gas that the TD is currently giving (35).
Compared to the first start, here the TD acts on the gas pedal in a
more restrained and thus more competent way, resulting in a slowly rising
motor sound. The DIs explicit assessment (31) nevertheless treats the TD
as not yet fully competent with respect to handling the gas pedal. Also,
the instruction offers more precision than during the first start: the deictic
pronoun and the subsequent rule that the DI goes on to formulate based on
their shared perception now identify an exact sound level. This increase in
granularity of the instruction, we argue, ascribes to the TD increased pedal
skills, by treating her as capable of applying this precision to her driving,
something that was not aimed at during the first start.
Having established the appropriate level of gas, the DI instructs the
TD to perform the next step, to engage the clutch by releasing the clutch
pedal (36 below). After insisting on the fact that the clutch pedal should
be released slowly (as during the first start), this action is soon also further
specified as being producible as two parts. Again, this amounts to an
increase in granularity and this time the instruction is produced verbally
as well as gesturally:

Excerpt 9. Start2, continued [08:22-08:37]

Starting Out as a Driver 129

Following a first directive about releasing the clutch pedal, nothing

happens to the car initially (3637), which indicates that the clutch pedal
has not yet been released sufficiently for the engine to get into gear. This
provides the opportunity for the DI to add a specification to the directive
that treats the time lag between the directive and its compliance as too slow,
and that may be designed to remedy this. The specification now formulates
the releasing of the pedal as producible in two parts: the first part can be
done fairly quickly (so as not to lose time unnecessarily as the clutch is not
near getting into gear) but the second part should be done slowly (to allow
time for the mechanical process of getting into gear) (3743). The two part
structure is also embodied in the gesture that co-constitutes the instruction:
what was previously done as a single backward flip is now composed of a
first quick backward flip and a subsequent horizontal pulling back of the
raised palm (Images 9.59.7). Also note the finely tuned use of modals
(kan, can (41) vs ska, should (42)) to distinguish between preferable
from necessary aspects of the releasing movement. Again, nothing happens
to the car (44). The DI redoes his previous directive about the two-part
releasing movement, now categorized as an important initial part and a
less important subsequent part (4446). Also this time, he produces the
two-part gesture (Figures 9.59.7). At the end of the first part of the direc-
tive utterance, and as the second part of the gesture reaches completion,
the car finally begins to move forward (4648).
This last part of the second starting sequence shows how the specified
instruction about a particular pedal maneuver is transformed from a single
verbal and gestural unit into a two-part structure. Just like subsequent
instructions about the starting gas, this structure emerges as a contingent
and situated response to a manifest (and persistent, cf. the first start) TD
problem, which is now to find the biting point reasonably quickly. The
new instruction is more elaborated than how it was delivered during the
first start and can thereby be seen to index higher expectations on driver
performance: It is no longer enough just to make the car move forward,
the TD also needs to do it in a time-efficient and smooth manner.

Just like the second start, the third attempt to start the car begins by the
TD detailing and performing the procedure:

Excerpt 10. Start 3 [11:23-11:46]

Starting Out as a Driver 131

Beginning by saying that she should first of all brake, the TD soon adds a
qualifying expression, all the way (6). Already in the second start, she pro-
duced a qualifying utterance (Excerpt 7, line 3) regarding braking that was
at that time however not taken up by the DI. So, just how hard to brake has
not yet been dealt with explicitly, and by adding this specification after DIs
acceptance of the first item on the checklist, the TD exploits the sequential
organization to front the DI with this issue (cf. St. John & Cromdal, 2016).
This time around, the DI addresses it, explaining that there is no need to
brake very hard (812). To this, it is now the TD who verbally introduces
the hypothetical alternative of being parked in a slope (14) (treating this
telling/knowing as part of the procedure). As the conclusion is not produced
immediately (1415), her turn is collaboratively completed by the DI, who
embodies a claim, verbally and using alternating hand gestures to refer to
the foot pedal action, that she will feel if the car is moving or not (1618,
Image 10.1) and that she will instinctively brake harder if the car begins
to move (1921, Images 10.210.3). There is thus no need to discuss the
pedal pressure to be used any further. The DI ends with a conclusion that
opposes the TDs previous formulations (that she should brake fully in
Excerpt 7, and all the way in Excerpt 10), a conclusion that also involves
a gestural contrast between the dramatic forward gestural thrust that is
now produced with the just previous instructive gestures: there is no need
to press excessively hard (2425).

The above sequence shows instructional specification regarding braking,

a third type of pedal action in addition to setting an appropriate level of
gas and releasing the clutch pedal at a proper speed. Once again, the
specification was contingently touched off by a student action, this time
by the TDs checklist description of her own actions that provided the DI
with an opportunity to confirm or disconfirm each step of the procedure.
Excerpt 11 shows how the TD formulates and produces the next few steps:

Excerpt 11. Start 3, continued, 3 s omitted [11:49-12:00]

Following the discussion about how hard to brake, the TD gets through
the next few steps in a straightforward manner. Her performance, as well as
account, of the procedure is being approved by the DI, who confirms each
step of the TDs checklist (2829; 3235; 3739). The sequence continues:

Excerpt 12. Start 3, continued [12:0012:10]

Starting Out as a Driver 133

The TD begins to describe the next step, but soon hesitates slightly, and
the DI instead inserts the formulation grundgas (starting gas, 42). The
TD repeats this term, then presses the accelerator, thereby displaying that
she understands what this means for all practical purposes, until the DI
states that the amount of gas is enough (48). The DI then moves on (49)
to instruct the TD about the next step, thereby choosing not to develop
details about setting the gas further at this point.
The step dealing with how to engage the clutch is now produced as a
single directive phrase ease off quickly at first an then slower an slower
(4952). This talk and the now familiar flexing gesture with the raised arm
index and refer to an action on the clutch pedal. For our purposes, we can
note that as the DI doesnt say this explicitly (here for the first time), he is
acting on the assumption that the TD knows the relevance of releasing the
clutch pedal to engage the clutch at this point in the overall procedure. Also
the two-step gesture and the action it indexes seem to be treated as known,
as the two distinct parts of the previous version of the gesture are now less
clearly and more quickly produced (5052, Images 12.112.2). This gives
it the character of a reminder rather than an original instruction. We can
thus, once again, see how the emergent competence of the TD and their
recent shared history materialize through the ways in which the procedure is
instructed, although the TD is clearly not yet able to perform the procedure
entirely by herself. Next, the TD approaches the biting point:

Excerpt 13. Start 3, continued [12:1012:34]

(Excerpt continues on next page)


Anticipating that the car will begin to move, DI now invites TD to

feel how the car begins to do something, presumably dra (pull) (55).
However, before he finishes this turn, he initiates correction of the
excessive amount of gas that the TD is now giving. This initiates a
side-sequence where the TDs response is constituted by reducing gas
(5658). As in the second start, DI again uses a stressed deictic pronoun
for identifying the moment when the TD has reduced the gas to an
appropriate level.
At this point, the DI resumes his earlier project of inviting the TD to
feel the beginning movement of the car as she reaches a certain point
(61) releasing the clutch pedal, once more using the two-part lifting
gesture, that then transforms into a pulling gesture (6264). Very close
to the moment when the car is actually beginning to move, the DI asks
the TD if she can feel it, which the TD confirms (6972). The reference to
feeling is a new aspect compared to previous starts and can be considered
a further specification of the instructions for the proper use of the clutch
pedal. It invites a perceptual analysis of how the vehicle responds to the
TDs pedal action. This specification is contingent on the TDs capacity
for being able to actually produce the feeling, otherwise there would be no
such thing. Therefore, it indexes some prior basic competence in using the
clutch pedal. As soon as the car has started to move, the DI instructs the
TD to fully disengage the clutch again (7374), thereby aborting further
driving as this third starting procedure has just been completed.
Beginning the fourth start, the TD again verbalizes, step by step, her
ongoing actions:
Starting Out as a Driver 135

Excerpt 14. Start 4 [12:4813:06]

Beginning the fourth starting procedure, the first two steps (braking,
disengaging the clutch) are unproblematically described and produced
(48). However, the next step is mistakenly assumed by the TD to be
letting go of the brake pedal (9) so as to make the right foot available
for setting the gas. The step of getting the engine running is thereby
omitted. Following a sequence where this is corrected (1115), the DI
then recognizably reproduces the beginning of the starting procedure,
by detailing the first steps in quick succession: braking, disengaging the
clutch, and starting the engine (1719). The quick and efficient way in
which the first two steps are now delivered, in a rather seamless way
(arguably for the first time, as a single unit), further indexes them as
now known in common.
The next fragment shows the end of the fourth starting procedure. After
a sequence instructing the TD how to push the key (omitted for space and
clarity), the pedal procedure is resumed. It is again the DI who verbalizes
each step:

Excerpt 15. Start 4, 12 s omitted [13:1813:31]

Here, the TD begins to set the starting gas well before the DI verbally
identifies this as the next relevant step and reaches a stable engine sound
just before the DIs instruction about the starting gas ends (2023). We then
get a 2-second pause in line (24). This pause constitutes a slot where, for
the first time in our series of starts, the TD is offered an opportunity to con-
tinue the procedure without instruction. This reveals the DIs expectation
that the TD may be capable working out the next step on her own. However,
as the TD takes no initiative, the DI then redoes the two part instruction
about just how to release the clutch pedal, using the now familiar first
quickly and then more slowly procedure (2528). This soon resultsa bit
more quickly than in previous trialsin the car moving forward. When
the car has just begun to move, the DI again directs the TDs attention to
feeling what is happening to the car at this precise moment, categorizing
this feeling as draglget (the biting point, 3032). The TD again agrees
with feeling the biting point, and the fourth start ends with a positive
assessment and an instruction to let go of the clutch pedal completely, then
to disengage fully again in preparation of the fifth start (3335).

Excerpt 16. Start 5, 21 s omitted [13:5214:14]

Starting Out as a Driver 137

The fifth time around, and for the first time, the footwork as such initially
receives little attention. Rather than starting with the checklist procedure,
the DI just gives his instruction through a reference to the previous trial,
and then goes on to specify where the TD will take the car once she has
started (45). The ability to start the car is more or less taken for granted
in the way the instruction is produced, as it is focusing on the outcome of the
start (to go somewhere) rather than on the procedure itself.
To a significant extent, the TD is also able to live up to the ascribed
competence, as she is demonstrably able to perform the first steps in an
autonomous manner: clearly and fully on her own, she performs the steps up
to beginning to set the gas (6). Interestingly, as the TD then ceases to press
the gas pedal, which brings the engine into idling again and practically halts
the begun procedure (8), the DI does not address this. He instead focuses
on releasing the clutch pedal (910), a step that is actually contingent
on the prior achievement of the starting gas for it to become relevant.
This instruction about a non-next but more future action trades on the DI
trusting that the TD knows that she needs to set the gas prior to engaging
the clutch and also that she is able to do this. Further, the instruction

about the two-step movement to engage the clutch is now done, for the
first time, without the accompanying gesture (see Image 16.1, showing
the DI with his arms folded), which reduces the qualitative density of
the instruction. During the second part of the two-step instruction, the
TD starts giving gas again (11). And then, just as the sound of the engine
stabilizes, the DI assesses it as a good starting gas (14). He thereby treats
the TDs pressing of the pedal as a competent and purposeful action and
in a way that is relevant to the current project of starting the car. Without
further instruction, the TD then engages the clutch and makes the car move
forward smoothly, and this fifth start ends in a closing assessment by the
DI (1517). And as the TD for the first time starts the car to go somewhere
(18), the analysis ends.


This chapter has sought to address the issue of learning by examining the
very first steps in becoming a driverhow to set the car in motion. While
the literature offers numerous theoretical accounts of the mutual develop-
ment of action and skill, accounts of driving are scarce.
A compelling exception may be found in Leontyevs (2009; cf. Linell
& Mkitalo, this volume) work on activity and consciousness, in which he
makes a conceptual distinction between what he termed actions and opera-
tions. Actions, he proposed, have their own specific orientational basis,
while the term operations refers to the transformation that occurs when an
action is put in the service of another action. Using the example of driving,
Leontyev points out that for the early learner driver, shifting gears com-
prises an action with a goal in itself. With increased skill, however, shifting
gears loses its own rationale and becomes a means towards more complex
actions in driving, such as changing the speed of the car, jump-starting
the engine, or remaning stationary when parking in a hill. In Leontyevs
account, the action of shifting gears has now become an operation towards
some other action.
Another, somewhat related, conceptual pair was introduced in Ryles
(1949) work in the philosophy of mind, in which he explains the distinc-
tion between intelligent vs. habitual practices: It is of the essence of merely
habitual practices that one performance is a replica of its predecessors. It
is of the essence of intelligent practices that one performance is modified
by its predecessors. The agent is still learning (p. 30).
Admittedly, our analysis of the interaction between the DI and TD has
not been overly informed by these concepts, as they seek to elaborate the
development of individual skills. In contrast, our focus remains in the
Starting Out as a Driver 139

intersubjective realm showing how teaching and learning how to start a car
are interactionally accomplished. The different orientations notwithstand-
ing, the theoretical concepts proposed by Leontyev as well as Ryle may
surely have a bearing on the phenomena that have caught our interest.
For not only would it seem reasonable to assume that the emerging pedal
skills we have examined will soon become a habitual practice (Ryle) and
serve as operations towards some other, broader as well as more complex,
projects in driving (Leontyev)this is precisely what is shown in Excerpt
1, where on the 22nd occasion of starting the car, we find that none of its
constituent steps is being attended to by the parties. Their focus is now on
the procedure involved in bringing the car to a smooth halt. In fact, one
could argue that there is evidence already in the fifth trial (Excerpt 16) that
the starting procedure is being transformed into a means to a larger goal.
The DIs instruction to start gently like you did before and then you drive
around (lines 45) and the responsive TD question where do you want
me to go now? (line 18) suggest that starting the car is no longer a goal
in its own rightit is a prerequisite to driving around. It seems that some
modest, yet nonetheless crucial, instructional distance towards the TDs
becoming a driver has already been covered by the two parties.
Seeking to demonstrate at some empirical detail just how they got there,
we have examined, over a series of five consecutive trials, how the TD acts
on the car control pedals, while being constantly monitored, assessed, and
corrected by the DI. Describing how the starting skill is gradually mas-
tered and recognized in subsequent instructions and feedback, the analysis
underscores the relevance of the relative order of trials, accountably pro-
duced as part of a lived history between the parties.
The pedal work examined here makes up a complex procedure of moves
that need to be performed not only in the correct order but also in skilled
ways sensitive to such features as amount of pressure, speed of movement
and coordination. We may roughly summarize the manifest progression of
the different parts in the following terms (start number in parentheses):

Brakinglocalizing the pedal (1), what foot to use (2), just how hard to
push (3), formulated as next step (4), not topicalized (5)
Disengaging the clutchwhat foot to use, pressing the pedal all the way
down (1); formulated as next step (24); not topicalized (5)
(Igniting not considered in the analysis)
Setting the gasshifting foot from brake to accelerator, calibrating
exact level of gas through listening (1); formulated as next step,
identification of good gas level (2); formulated as next step, calibration
and confirmation of good gas level (3); formulated as next step (4);
confirmation of good gas level (5)

Engaging the clutchthat the pedal be released slowly + gesture (1);

quick-slow operation + gesture (2); implicit reference, quick-slow
operation + gesture, feel the biting point (3); quick-slow operation +
gesture, feel the biting point (4); quick-slow operation (5).

As this overview suggests, some aspects of the pedal procedure involved

more work than others. Whereas the initial steps of braking and disengag-
ing the clutch ended up being taken for granted after quickly turning into
off-tickable items in the checklist routine, the setting of the gas level and
the technique for engaging the clutch continued to be insisted on through-
out the five trials analyzed in this chapter, although in ways that, we argue,
revealed the DI ascribing ever-increasing competence to the TD.
In other words, our analysis points to some specific structural positions
in the emergent starting procedurenotably setting the gas and clutch-
ingwhere the TDs pedal skill progression became observably relevant
to the participants conduct. Having introduced, on the first trial, the full
procedure identifying the steps in a fixed order, subsequent instructions
were contingently tailored in response to a displayed TD performance.
This responsive production is central to our tracing of the TDs progres-
sion. The DIs decisions concerning what to include and what to leave out
in a particular instruction were subject to his judgment of the TDs current
level of competence. In this sense, Ryles (1949) proposal that one per-
formance is modified by its predecessors (p. 30) would seem to apply just
as well to the DIs instructions, as to the TDs pedal work.
Furthermore, the analysis also showed that just how some of the pedal
actions should be performed was taught as based on an analysis of the
vehicles status. Relevant sensory information was introduced, levels were
calibrated, and analytic skills relevant to the maneuver at hand were taught
by the DI. Crucially, as this part of the instructional work involves sharing
sensory experience that may not always be easy to convey through talk
alone (e.g., what counts as releasing the clutch pedal rather a lot (Excerpt
9) or a tad slower (Excerpt 15) is not a matter of course to someone with
no driving experience), the instructions typically rely for their sense on
several modalities operating in concert.
Studying how a same series of pedal taskstogether constituting the
starting procedureis done over a series of trials involving the same
persons provides us with an opportunity to observe what these parties treat
as relevant in situ progress. As such, it is oriented to by the parties them-
selves in the course of the unfolding stream of instructions and instructed
actions. Over time, the participants come to share a lived history regarding
how previous trials played out, design their actions in a way that is account-
ably fitted to their shared experiences, and in so doing index them. Thus,
already in the second trial, the TD is not only expected but also required to
Starting Out as a Driver 141

know some of the things covered in the first trial. This history is manifest
in the quickly increasing indexicality and complexity of the instructions:
During the first start, the DIs instructions are very detailed, unpacking
each step of the starting procedure. But from the second trial, these basic
instructions are more indexical and glossing, as they assume that the
TD will understand them with reference to previous shared experience.
Instead, other features of the pedaling maneuvers are introduced, elabo-
rated and explained, enabling an increased skill in handling the pedals.
Later still, the instructions begin to take the how for granted, focusing
instead on what to do, and, eventually, where to go. In this way, progression
is built into the embodied design of instructions: just how instructions are
designed on a particular occasion registers and reflexively constitutes the
level of the TDs competence with regard to the procedure to be learned.
This, we propose, offers an empirically viable way of approaching progres-
sion as a members phenomenon.


We thank the editors for their generous feedback on an earlier draft of this
chapter. The research presented here is part of a broader programme of
work on driver training funded by a grant from the Committee for Educa-
tional Sciences of the Swedish Research Council (grant #721-2012-5367).


1. The clutch is a mechanism for engaging and disengaging the engine and
the transmission system in a vehicle. Since, in ordinary English, the noun
clutch can not only be used for referring to this mechanism but also serve as
a shorthand for referring to the clutch pedal by which the driver acts on the
clutch to engage with or disengage it from the engine, confusion may easily
arise. For clarity, we will therefore use the verb (dis)engage for referring to
the resulting action on the mechanism and its changing connection with the
engine, and spell out clutch pedal when referring to the object acted on by
the drivers foot, as in the wording here.


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Verbal aspects of talk have been transcribed according to conventions developed by Gail
Jefferson (Jefferson, 2004; Melander and Aarsand, this volume). An indicative translation
is provided line per line, in italics. For transcribing multimodal details, the following
conventions, developed by Lorenza Mondada, were used:
& & delimit descriptions of one participants actions
+ + delimit descriptions of another participants actions
&--> action described continues across subsequent lines
-->& action described continues until the same symbol is reached
&-->> action described continues until and after the end of the excerpt
>>-- action described begins before the beginning of the excerpt
,,,, retraction of the action
ins participant doing the action is identified in small characters
im image; frame grab
# indicates the exact moment at which the frame grab was recorded

Nigel Musk and Asta ekait


By now, project work has become a regular feature in the English as a

foreign language (EFL) classroom. It began to gain favor in the mid-1970s,
not least on account of its compatibility with the burgeoning communicative
approach to foreign language teaching (Hedge, 1993). Besides espousing
collaborative learning, it also advocated learner autonomy (Hedge, 1993;
Stoller, 2006), whereby learners should be freer to search for and select
their own (preferably authentic) target language sources and then synthe-
size information from these sources in their own texts. Understandably, the
greater degree of linguistic freedom afforded by project work gives rise to
frequent problems of different kinds, which learners then need to solve
in the course of their writing. This study focuses on the role of social and
public practices of remembering and knowledge management in solving
such problems in language-related episodes (LREs; Swain & Lapkin,
1998; cf. also learnables in Majlesi & Broth, 2012)that is, where pupils

Memory Practices and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. 145174
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 145
146N. MUSK and A. EKAIT

talk focuses on aspects of linguistic form (grammatical correctness) or lexis

(vocabulary) in Swedish EFL classrooms.
Here we interpret practices of remembering in broader terms than
simply drawing on the memory of the individual. Indeed, the memory
resources that pupils draw on in LREs may be internal and/or external,
insofar as they can be socially distributed between peers, as well as distrib-
uted in external artefacts (artificial memory systems, cf. Slj, 2012), such
as books and searchable digitised databases. Solving emergent problems
in pupils collaborative project work highlights what Linell calls the dia-
logical action-basis of remembering (2009, p. 242), situated in discourse
and subject to the contingencies of the interactional organization of social
When a pupil comes across an immediately unsolvable language obsta-
cle, it can regularly occasion a recognizable project of remembering that is
designed to establish the pupils degree of epistemic access, that is, the dis-
tribution of knowables, insofar as they ascertain who knows what or who
is expected to know what (Heritage, 2012; Pomerantz, 1980), and in cases
of unknowing (Goodwin, 1981), who knows where and how to retrieve
the information from artificial memory systems. In the service of jointly
producing a textual product to be graded by the teacher, coordinating their
current knowledge and bridging possible gaps also brings issues of moral
accountability to the fore. It is therefore the aim of this study to investigate
how projects of remembering and knowledge management unfold sequen-
tially turn-by-turn and action-by-action. In other words, how do pupils
collaboratively and publicly mobilize various internal and external memory
resources, and how do they hold each other morally accountable for solving
the problems that they attend to in their language-related episodes?
The data for this study consists of video recordings of three pairs and
one group of three from grades 8 and 9 in two Swedish secondary schools,
while they are carrying out collaborative project work in an EFL classroom.
Tracking the trajectories of pupils remembering practices in language-
related episodes requires fine-tuned multimodal analytical tools. For this
purpose, we use ethnomethodological conversation analysis, which sets
great store by capturing the sequentiality of actions and approaching a
participant (emic) perspective.


The dominant research paradigms on memory, for example, within

cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience, have tended to limit
attention to the neural activities of the individual brain or mind (Michaelian
& Sutton, 2013; Slj, this volume). Furthermore, mainstream memory
Mobilizing Distributed Memory Resources147

research has frequently been carried out under laboratory conditions

far removed from the contexts of peoples everyday lives, such as the
English language classroom at center stage of this study. Understandably,
therefore, there has been a burgeoning critique of focus on the individual
mind as a hermetically sealed black box, as well as a problematization
of the ecological validity of purposely contextually restricted laboratory-
based studies. The latter emerged with the publication of Neissers book
Cognition and Reality in 1976, which highlighted that theory and findings
tended to ignore a critical component of human cognitionnamely that
human cognition takes place in everyday environments and interacts with
those environments (Conway 1992, p. 439). Critique of the former arose
around the same time, for example with the emergence of ideas about
distributed memory in the disciplines of cognitive psychology, sociology,
and psychology, which then gained greater currency particularly through
the ground-breaking work of the cognitive anthropologist Hutchins
(e.g., 1996) in his studies of decision-making practices, for example in
maritime and aviation navigation (Michaelian & Sutton, 2013). Drawing
on the distributed cognition framework, a philosopher of cognitive science,
Andy Clark (2003), also highlighted the importance of external as well as
internal cognitive resources: What best explains the distinctive features of
human intelligence, is precisely their ability to enter into deep and complex
relationships with nonbiological constructs, props, and aids (p. 5).
In his innovative history of the development of human culture and cog-
nition, Donald (1991) posits the development of external symbolic storages as
the latest stage in the evolution of the human mind, albeit a nonbiologi-
cal hardware change (p. 17). External symbolic storages (ESS) or artificial
memory systems (AMS) possess very different properties from human bio-
logical hardware in that they are virtually unlimited in their capacity, often
permanent, publicly available, and they may be accessed and reformatted
relatively easily (Slj, 2012, p. 7). The significance of the integration of
ESS/AMS with biological hardware is expounded by Donald (1991) thus:

[T]he external symbolic system imposes more than an interface structure on

the brain. It imposes search strategies, new storage strategies, new memory
access routes, new options in both the control of and analysis of ones own
behavior. It enables new skill-complexes (like reading or programming) in
which the locus of memory is partly or mostly external. p. 19)

Although ESS/AMS can be seen to enable new skill-complexes, it also

requires new kinds of meta-knowledge about how the external memory field
is organized (Donald, 1991), as well as new application-specific skills for
how to access and manipulate information (Slj, 2012, pp. 9, 14; see also
Mkitalo & Slj, this volume). Of particular relevance to this study, Slj
148N. MUSK and A. EKAIT

(2012) exemplifies the implications of such skills and meta-knowledge for

the foreign language learner:

Thus, my proficiency in a foreign language that I have some basic familiar-

ity with is much improved by the presence of artifacts such as a diction-
ary, a thesaurus and a grammar, and by my knowledge of how to use such
tools productively when searching for translations, synonyms or information
about the syntax. Grammars and dictionaries are not self-explanatory, but
require relevant epistemic practices to function productively in the hands of
the user. (p. 9)

Increasingly, these external memory storages are being adapted and

transformed by the availability of digital devices that may facilitate access
and therefore be more convenient to use, but they frequently require similar
levels of skills and meta-knowledge to use productively (cf. ekaits [2009]
study on the use of spell checkers and Musks [2014] study on the use of
Google translate). Moreover, understanding the use of external memory
resources (digital or otherwise) in everyday settings requiring different
configurations of skill complexes necessitates a view of remembering as a
process and practice.
Remembering in the wild (cf. Hutchins, 1996) is not only a process of
retrieving relevant material, but it has a dialogical action-basis insofar
as it is situated in social discourse and subject to the contingencies of
interactional organization as Linell expounds: Remembering amounts
to active constructive work; it is an active assembling of various pieces
and traces from the past. Thus, remembering has an action-basis, and like
other sense-making projects it has both backward- and forward-pointing
dimensions (Linell, 2009, p. 242), that is, remembering is responsive to
local situations and [does] not emerge ex vacuo, and it also sets the scene
for conditionally relevant upcoming activities (Linell, 2009, p. 1801). It is
worth pointing out that the purposive use of memory occasioned by the
contingencies of communicative projects (Linell, 1998, p. 232) in which
participants are engaged has also been largely absent from mainstream
memory research (Conway, 1992).
The action basis of remembering resonates with the view within discur-
sive psychology (DP) of remembering as social action (e.g., Billig, 1999;
Edwards, 1997; Edwards, Middleton, & Potter, 1992; Middleton & Brown,
2005), that is, as accomplishments that occur in the course of commu-
nicative action, whether this be talk or text. Memory, in this account is
something that speakers/writers perform rather than simply possess in
the course of routine interaction (Middleton & Brown, 2005, p. 85). Fur-
thermore, the view of talk as social action is shared with the neighboring
discipline of conversation analysis (CA), which concerns itself particularly
with uncovering the social organization or interactional architecture of
Mobilizing Distributed Memory Resources149

talk-in-interaction (cf. Seedhouse, 2004). Both CA and DP can be seen as

empirical approaches to describing practices as they unfold including
rememberingwhich are thick with complicated actions and interac-
tions (Lynch, 2006, p. 1012). Furthermore, both regard sequentiality as
a central feature of all interaction; that is, each action (and turn at talk)
displays responsive and projective aspects (Linell, 2009, p. 181), in that
they regularly respond to previous actions and set up expectations for
ensuing actions. Naturally, this also applies to discursive acts of remem-
bering (cf. Linell, 2009, p. 242, cited above). This brings us to another
notion shared by CA and DP, viz. co-option, as Middleton and Brown 2005
explain: [G]iven this sequential organisation, we may analyse how it is that
speakers co-opt one another into projects of remembering and forgetting
(p. 86). Indeed, it has long been shown within the normative architecture
of turn-taking, how a next speaker can be selected by the current speaker
as one of the options at so-called transition relevance places of a turn3
(Sacks, Schegloff, & Jefferson, 1974). It follows, therefore, that in projects
of remembering, the current speaker can position someone else as the
next speaker and thereby co-opt them into participation. It is also highly
pertinent to the current study that the meta-cognitive discourse of joint
projects of remembering frequently arises at problematical points, where
the process of remembering, perception or problem solving runs into dif-
ficulty (Middleton & Brown, 2005, p. 92).
Co-option presupposes that participants projects are public and recog-
nizable as such. In Goodwin and Goodwins (1986) study of word searches,
which draws on a conversation analytic framework, both the interactional
architecture of co-option and problem orientation come to the fore. Word
search activities can readily be seen as projects of remembering, which can
include participants trying not only to recall a suitable word for communi-
cative purposes but also names. What Goodwin and Goodwin (1986) also
clearly show in their study is the embodiment of such activies: [S]earching
for a word is not simply a cognitive process which occurs inside a speakers
head but rather is a visible activity that others can not only recognize but
can indeed participate in (p. 52). Not only do they show how participants
recognize the category of word searches through features of talk, such as
pauses and nonlexical speech perturbations4 in incomplete turn construc-
tional units that project a continuation (Goodwin & Goodwin, 1986), but
they also highlight the importance of gaze, facial expression, and gesture.
The recognizability and public problem orientations of practices of
remembering are closely linked to the purposive action basis of these
practices. Part of the project of accessing and mobilizing the available
memory resources is establishing how knowledge is publicly distributed.
In this regard, Goodwin introduces (2010) and later develops (2013) the
notion of epistemic ecology (drawing on his previous work on epistemics
150N. MUSK and A. EKAIT

going back to 1979 and 1981), which Melander (2012) glosses as a notion
that encompasses the public distribution and organization of knowledge
and the dynamic relationship between different participant positions
(p. 233). Moreover, Melander (2012) and Goodwin (2013) highlight the
laminated nature of epistemic ecologiesthat is, how a variety of semiotic
fields with quite different properties work co-operatively with each other
simultaneously to build evanescent actions that might endure for only a few
seconds (Goodwin, 2013, p. 12). Thus the laminated concept of epistemic
ecologies analytically frames how human bodies interact in a material
environment and build action in concert with each other through bring-
ing together resources of different kinds (Melander, 2012, p. 233). There
are obvious parallels here between the distributed layers or laminations
of knowledge and the ideas of distributed cognition, in that remember-
ing involves the retrieval, (re)assembling, and management of knowledge
available from different sources to meet the purposes of the current com-
municative project. For example, if one pupil initiates the need to make a
correction or revision, they may bring to mind, try out, and reject a number
or of solutions. If they cannot resolve the problem between them, they may
then refer to external resources (e.g., an online dictionary).
In order to clarify how epistemic ecologies are established and oriented
to in interaction, it is useful to refer to the three dimensions of epistemics
put forward by Heritage (2012) and by Stivers, Mondada, and Steensig
(2011) within a conversation analytic framework: epistemic access, epistemic
primacy, and epistemic responsibility (p. 9). Epistemic access refers to partici-
pants states of knowing/not knowing (K+ or K respectively; cf. Goodwin,
1981), as well as how certain they are of knowing/not knowing. In situated
projects of remembering, this would mean that the initiator might presup-
pose or ascertain the degree of epistemic access of others, while revealing
his/her own degree of access on an emergent turn-by-turn basis. Epistemic
primacy presupposes potential asymmetries of knowledge, to which inter-
actants orient themselves. More specifically, epistemic primacy means the
relative right to know something, the relative right to claim knowledge of
something and the relative authority of the knowledge itself (Goodwin,
1981 p. 9). Finally, epistemic responsibility refers to how interactants treat
each other as responsible for knowing what is in the common ground
(Clark, 1996; Enfield, 2006), and for retaining what they have come to
know (Goodwin, 1981, p. 18). As the word responsibility suggests, there
is an inherent moral dimension here with important implications for man-
aging social relationships (Stivers et al., 2011, p. 19) and social identities
(cf. Melander, 2012). Indeed, in their interaction participants are obliged
to manage any tensions between public remembering (or not remember-
ing/knowing) and contribute to solving any emergent problems, as well as
managing face and other aspects of their social identity (Goffman, 1967).
Mobilizing Distributed Memory Resources151

Furthermore, the data of this study come from an educational setting,

where pupils are assessed and held jointly accountable for the quality of
their collaborative writing. This, in turn, means that pupils also hold each
other morally accountable for contributing to the quality of the product-
in-the-making. Indeed, one of the arguments in favor of collaborative
writing is that co-ownership of a text should encourage learners to be
more receptive to peer suggestions and feedback comments with a view
to improving the final product (Storch, 2005, pp. 168169). It follows,
therefore, that pupils expect each other to know and remember different
aspects of language, such as spelling, ascertaining the correctness of lan-
guage, and knowing grammatical rules and vocabulary. These expectations
are publicly displayed in both their talk and embodied actions (e.g., gaze,
gesture, and body posture).
Even though the moral implications of knowing/not knowingor here,
remembering/not rememberingare absent in the following, Michaelian
and Sutton (2013) manage to portray here many of the manifold com-
plexities of situated projects of remembering, which have been highlighted

While some people just immediately remember the relevant material all by
themselves, others will ask for help, either relying entirely on their peers
or hoping to cross-cue each others recall; many will consult external aids,
whether general-purpose technologies or idiosyncratically-organized per-
sonal systems; in turn, others may not manage the task at all until they put
themselves back into the right context, or re-enact a certain procedure or
sequence of actions. In ordinary thinking about memory, the notion that the
processes of remembering can be thus hybrid, involving differently-balanced
deployments of internal and external resources, can seem unproblematic.
(p. 2)

Clearly then, remembering in the wild is a far cry from the socially
decontextualized memory experiments of the laboratory, where there are
no social stakes and where remembering serves very different purposes.
It is precisely such naturally occurring purposive practices of remember-
ing that come into focus below, in the case of this study as they emerge in
problem-solving language-related episodes of collaborative project work
where pupils make use of a range of memory resources and at the same
time hold each other morally accountable for solving their problems.


The empirical data for this study consists of approximately 19 hours of

video recordings of year 8 and 9 pupils doing collaborative project work
152N. MUSK and A. EKAIT

in the English as a foreign language classroom in two different Swedish

compulsory schools (grundskolan). The pupils make up three pairs and one
group of three. Apart from the one group of three (excerpt 1), the pupils
are sitting at computers. All of the excerpts are taken from the writing stage
of the process, but there are differences in the way that they are working;
in excerpt 1 and 3 the pupils are working individually on different parts of
a joint text, whereas in excerpt 2 they are writing their text collaboratively.
In order to analyze the data, we have used ethnomethodological con-
versation analysis (CA), which views talk and interaction primarily as social
action (e.g., Atkinson & Heritage, 1984). CA endeavors to investigate the
methods that participants (here pupils) use to interpret each others actions
(a participant or emic perspective) (Hutchby & Wooffitt, 2008; Seedhouse,
2004) and, in the present study, solve their language-related problems as
they unfold in real time. In order to aid the analysis, CA makes use of tran-
scriptions that capture some of the fine-grained detail of their actions and
interactions. The transcription conventions follow those generally used
to transcribe talk (cf. Jefferson, 2004), but with the addition of italics to
indicate code-switching (switching to English or Swedish depending on the
context) and with important features of gesture and gaze in double paren-
theses. In order to capture other modalities than talk (which is indicated
by a talking head icon), there are additional lines in the transcription to
indicate the use of the computer (indicated by a computer icon) and the
use of the instruction sheet (indicated by a paper icon) (cf. Musk, 2011).
The additional icons appear in all excerpts except for the first one, where
there are no computers or instruction sheets involved. Shared line numbers
indicate what actions occur simultaneously (e.g., talk and typing), as shown
in the example below.

1. Tilde: <he was grown up>,

Ebba: Gro

A full key to the transcription conventions can be found in the appendix.

The following excerpts and accompanying analyses take up three different
language-related episodes that arise in three different groups (one group of
three and two pairs). These episodes are occasioned by emergent language
problems, two of which are of a grammatical nature (excerpts 1 and 2) and
one of which is to do with vocabulary (excerpt 3). They also illustrate how
different memory resources are brought into play, either through co-option
or through recourse to external memory storages (ESS)/artificial memory
systems (AMS), most notably the use of online resources in excerpts 2 and 3.
Mobilizing Distributed Memory Resources153

Collaborative Remembering in Peer Group Interaction

In the first excerpt, we look at how memory resources are mobilized

to solve whether to write the theater was finished or the theater were
finished and focus on how shared referential history (school educational
activities) and metalinguistic knowledge are solicited and relied upon in
peer group interaction. The grammatical problem arises when one of the
girls, Anna, is working on a translation of her Swedish text about the Kodak
Theater into English.
1. Was and were

Participants: Elise (E.), Anna (A.) & Sara (S.)

(Excerpt continues on next page)

154N. MUSK and A. EKAIT
Mobilizing Distributed Memory Resources155

The focus of this language-related episode is a sentence about the Kodak

Theater and when it was built. As indicated above, Anna runs into a gram-
matical problem as to which verb form (singular or plural) is correct in her
translation Kodak theater was finished in 19 xx. Initially, her problem
is individual and is marked by her sotto voce verbalization that flags it as a
language production problem and/or an individual problem of epistemic
access (lines 12).
She seeks assistance by posing a question about the verb form to her
classmates when do you use w- was when do you use were again now? The
design of her question shows the transition from a solitary writing activity
to a collaborative problem solving activity: Anna shifts the direction of her
gaze from looking at her paper to directing her gaze at her classmates. The
adverb again in her turn in lines 67 indicates that the issue has been
dealt with on some prior occasion. It ties back to the pupils shared refer-
ential history (cf. Clark, 1996), thus indexing their joint epistemic access
and responsibilities.
While Sara responds by initially disclaiming her knowledge by using
the epistemic marker I dont know (line 13), Anna still tries to mobilize
joint memory resources and refers to a shared learning event: didnt we
have a test on that was and were? (lines 1516), thus asserting and upgrad-
ing their epistemic responsibilities. Her formulation can be seen to frame
the object of their remembering efforts as something they have rights
and obligations to know (Pomerantz, 1980, p. 187). Sara even engages
in several publicly visible displays of remembering (verbalized in public),
such as what is it now again (line 19). The problem is thus not that of not
knowing, but of not recalling the required information. During this recall
attempt, Anna uses gaze and body posture to indicate the variouscollab-
orative vs. solitaryremembering practices. For instance, she establishes
mutual gaze with Sara, who is actively assisting her in the search for the
correct grammatical form. At times, she also looks down, thus engaging in
a solitary recall attempt, while publicly displaying her epistemic primacy
(authority) in trying to solve the problem by herself.
In lines 21 and 23, Anna deploys yet another way of solving this memory/
grammar problem. She produces candidate solutions in English and evalu-
ates the correctness of the grammatical constructions by using the oral
modality of language production (sounds better, line 23) as a mnemonic
device. In lines 2527 and 31, Sara uses yet another mnemonic resource
by conjugating you were, he was, probably using a rote learning formula
akin to the typical verb paradigms frequently found in English teaching
It seems that this publicly produced conjugation you were, he was...they
were, we were is one of the resources that assists in making a decision about
which verb formwas or wereis appropriate here. Anna then publicly
156N. MUSK and A. EKAIT

comes up with a possible solution in line 31: theater was but then it should
be was cause, at which point Sara chimes in with: it was. It is also signifi-
cant here that in line 29 Anna refers to a remembered English grammar
rule (probably one of the most commonly cited ones) about the third person
singular -s (usually for the present simple), but it also happens to be relevant
here too (cf. was vs. were). Saras and Annas collaborative remembering
resources seem to contribute to the correct solution here by gradually, and
publicly, narrowing down the choice. In line 40, Anna verbalizes her writing
of the solution the theater was when she proceeds to write down her English
translation. This solution seems good enough for Anna, who turns down
Saras repeated initiations to fetch the English book (an epistemic authority;
cf. epistemic primacy in Stivers et al., 2011) in order to check the correct-
ness of the solution (lines 42 & 51).
Throughout the episode, the pupils collaboratively engage in problem
solving. An individual problem of recalling relevant linguistic information
is transformed into an episode of distributed cognition, where a range
of mnemonic/memory resources (prior knowledge of the conjugation I
was, you were and various language production modes) are deployed,
and where assistance is enlisted (cf. co-option) by invoking shared interac-
tional and referential history (testing and learning situations) (Clark, 1996;
Linell, 2009).

Collaborative Remembering With the Help of Online


In the next case, the problem that arises is also a grammatical one,
ascertaining first whether he was grown up is grammatically correct and
then finally correcting it to he grew up. However, unlike the previous
case, these two pupils are unable to recall any rule to help them or even
use any sophisticated metalinguistic language to help identify the problem.
Also unlike the previous case, these two girls are writing their text together.
Furthermore, the pupil who is composing the text is not the one to identify
a trouble source; indeed, here we have an other-initiated correction. More-
over, because they do not initially agree whether there is a problem or then
how to solve the problem, the problem-solving trajectory ends up being
an extended one, whereby they also resort to using an online dictionary.
To pinpoint the probable source of the initial problem, we need to
examine where the troublesome item first arises. In the following excerpts
(2ac), Ebba and Tilde have started working on their project about Johnny
Depp, which is to be written with the help of the Internet. In the first source
they consult, the Swedish Wikipedia entry for Johnny Depp, Ebba (who
is in charge of the keyboard and mouse) translates the first sentence into
English, as we join their interactional exchange in line 1.
Mobilizing Distributed Memory Resources157

2a. I know that its grew up

Participants: Ebba (E), Tilde (T).

Looking at Ebbas first attempt to render the Swedish into English,

we can see that she produces an incorrect form of the verb, as regards
tense, voice, and inflection. Firstly she uses the present passive, which
otherwise would have been correctly conjugated, that is, if the passive
were possible here in English, but she also gives the preposition a
regular past participle inflection upped [pt].5 After a long pause,
Tilde initiates and attempts to correct in the same turn what she per-
ceives to be incorrect, repeating only the offending part in line 3.
This corrects two of the incorrect features: It changes the tense from
the present to the past and removes the additional inflection from the
preposition. At this stage, both pupils seem satisfied with this correction;
Ebba endorses Tildes correction in line 5, and concludes by noting the
similarity with the noun grown-ups in an amused fashion. Before we
proceed to look at what happens when Ebba writes this formulation, let
us consider the probable source of the problem, by comparing and con-
trasting the Swedish and English constructions:

Swedish text: Depp r uppvxt i Florida.

Verbatim translation: Depp is grown up in Florida
Idiomatic translation: Depp grew up in Florida.

As we can see, it is likely that Ebba drew closely on the Swedish

construction to render her English version. The present tense of the
Swedish verb to be r is rendered as the contracted third person singular
[he]s and the adjectival past participle uppvxt (literally up-grown) is
rendered as the past participle in English, which would otherwise correctly
form the present passive in English. In other words, these constructions
closely mirror each other. This kind of error would traditionally be labeled
158N. MUSK and A. EKAIT

a case of interference (though this would not account for the inflected
Ebba then proceeds to set up a Word document and she has started
typing the beginnings of a text when we join the pupils again two and a
half minutes later in excerpt 2b.

2b. I know that its grew up

Participants: Ebba (E), Tilde (T).

Mobilizing Distributed Memory Resources159

In lines 12, Tilde and Ebba suggest competing formulations for the
continuation of their text, which is resolved in line 4 by Ebba evoking the
epistemic authority of the instruction sheet. When she restarts her formula-
tion he was grown up at the beginning of line 4, it is already aligned with
Tildes previous correction from a couple of minutes earlier (excerpt 2a,
line 3). Both Ebba and Tilde then repeat this formulation as Ebba goes on
to type it. However, in line 13 Tilde changes her mind about her previously
corrected version and initiates a new correction, substituting the irregular
past participle grown up for a regular one growed up.6 Although the
modal particle ju projects preferred agreement (a little like the tag question
is it? with falling intonation), Ebba disaligns with Tildes second correc-
tion. Interestingly in doing so, she also produces an alternative Swedish
version (line 16), which actually mirrors the correct English construction:

Swedish text: Han vxte upp

Verbatim translation: he grew up
Idiomatic translation: He grew up.

Even so, Ebba does not appear to notice this, since she immediately
repeats the version they have both previously said and which she has also
written. After a noticeable pause during which Ebba turns to Tilde for
her response, Tilde delivers an account for her renewed correction (line
18). However, Ebba rejects Tildes translation of grown up in line 21, by
providing an alternative (both of which would actually be correct in differ-
ent contexts). Tilde does not let the matter rest, however, and initiates a
new correction sequence in line 23, which Ebba immediately responds to
by providing an alternative continuation (T: he was + E: growing up).
After weighing up the new alternative, Ebba rejects it outrightalbeit sotto
voce in line 28.7
What transpires next (in the intervening lines between excerpts 2b and
2c) is that Ebba searches for the English Wikipedia entry for Johnny Depp
by typing johnny depp in the Google search engine.
160N. MUSK and A. EKAIT

When she is about to do this, Tilde suggests for the first time that she
should resort to the epistemic authority of, a bilingual online dic-
tionary, but this suggestion is easily overridden, since Ebba is in charge
of the keyboard (which affords her greater rights to decide, cf. ekait,
2009). When they jointly find the right entry in the Google search list, Tilde
downgrades her claim to epistemic access, by saying ja vet inte du kanske
har rttI dont know you might be right. Despite concerted attempts to
identify the equivalent phrase to Depp r uppvxt i FloridaDepp grew up
in Floridafrom Swedish Wikipedia, they cannot find it. In fact, it is not
in the English version, the text of which is otherwise much more extensive.
Hence, after failing to solve their grammatical problem between them,
because they cannot agree on what is correct, the first of the two sug-
gestions to draw on external sources also fails to yield a solution. In the
following excerpt (2c), Tilde now relaunches her previous suggestion.

2c. I know that its grew up

Mobilizing Distributed Memory Resources161

On this occasion, Ebba takes up Tildes suggestion to check in the online

dictionary. She also types in Tildes suggested search word uppvuxen (line
52), which is a parallel adjectival form to uppvxt. However, when the entry
is displayed, the dictionary has found the infinitive uppvxa together with a
list of its conjugated forms, but all that is shown in English is the infinitive
162N. MUSK and A. EKAIT

grow (see image in line 52). Whereas Ebbas ooh seems to signal dis-
appointment (line 53), Tilde takes this dictionary translation at face value
and suggests he grow up (line 55) embedded in a Swedish question with
a preferred positive response. In this case of using an online dictionary
(see also Antons initial problems in excerpt 3b, lines 2029), the need for
meta-knowledge and skills to use these external memory devices success-
fully comes to the fore.
After a long pause with no uptake from Ebba, Tilde then repeats her
suggestion backed by what she perceives as the greater epistemic primacy
of the online dictionary. All the same, this time Ebba rejects her sugges-
tion, replacing grow with grew, though the turn-final nj (no) reduces
the epistemic certainty of her correction (line 59). Ebba then produces
a meta-comment on why he grow up is not correct, by giving a direct
translation into Swedish, han vxa (he grow, i.e., the personal pronoun
plus the infinitive). By repeating the incorrect infinitive in the same turn,
she clarifies which element is the trouble source (line 61). At this point,
Ebba is prepared to give up and delete the troublesome part (which she
highlights in Word) and replace it with what she had read aloud from
Wikipedia between excerpts 2b and 2c. Tilde then repeats at a faster pace
Ebbas proposed replacement text, but adds and grew up in, which also
appropriates the form that Ebba produced in line 59 (line 66). Tildes
meta-comment in Swedish also makes a strong claim of epistemic access:
jag vet att det heter grew up (I know that its grew up). Ebba accepts Tildes
claim verbally (line 69) and proceeds to type the text that she suggested in
line 66, simply checking that she has got the first part right in line 73 and
the spelling of grew in line 77.
To summarize, what we find over the whole trajectory is the follow-
ing transformation to the verb forms (in boxes). The spoken versions are
written in ordinary script, but the typed versions are written in bold.
Mobilizing Distributed Memory Resources163

This transformation over a rather long trajectory shows how much

interactional effort can sometimes be required to correct what is
identified as a grammatical error and to then jointly contribute to
remembering what the correct form is. Neither pupil has the complete
or correct answer from the beginning, but instead by taking different
epistemic stances towards each others suggestions (cf. Wagoner & Gil-
lespie, this volume) and that offered by the external memory devices,
they are able to scaffold their way, step by step, to the finalgrammati-
cally correctsolution. Even though the Internet sources do not provide
the correct answer, not least because of the pupils deficient meta-knowl-
edge of this ESS/AMS device, these resources nevertheless play a part in
jogging their memory so that Tilde is able to produce the correct verb
form verbally and Ebba is able to spell it correctly.

Remembering With the Help of Online Resources

The language problem that arises in the final excerpts (3ab) is to

do with vocabulary. Once again, here we have an example where the
pupils are not able to solve their problemin this case translating the
verb kmpa p (struggle on)by asking each other (co-option). Instead,
external memory resources are not only suggested (as in excerpts 1
and 2), but also consulted (as in excerpt 2). In this case one of the two
boys makes use of the online bilingual dictionary available through the
Swedish national encyclopedia (Nationalencyklopedin).
Where we join the two boys, Anton and John, Anton is typing a text
in Word about the American ice hockey team, the Dallas Stars. John
is sitting busy at another computer next to Anton. 8 The translation
problem arises in line 1.
164N. MUSK and A. EKAIT

3a. Kmpagld Fighting spirit

Participants: Anton (A) & John (J).

As is often the case when pupils are composing a text (especially for
joint purposes), Anton is verbalizing the text in the language in which he is
typing it (Cromdal, 2005). However, when he gets to the troublesome item,
kmpar p, he switches to Swedish after a brief pause (line 1) and even types
this phrasal verb in Swedish, only to delete it again after having repeated
the Swedish more quietly followed by a long silence (lines 25). This rep-
etition in both oral and written modalities seems to serve as an (albeit
unsuccessful) mnemonic device to jog Antons memory. As in excerpt 1,
Mobilizing Distributed Memory Resources165

the next strategy is to turn to his partner physically and co-opt him into
the project (line 7). Although John is busy with something else, Antons
question what do you say then? presupposes that John has been listening.
Antons question makes an answer conditionally relevant as well as imply-
ing an epistemic responsibility, which is played out by John suspending his
own activity for an extended period of about 10 seconds and assuming an
attentive and pensive poseor, in Goodwin and Goodwins words, a think-
ing face (1986, p. 57)with his chin cupped in his hand and looking at
Antons screen (see image in line 7), as well as by giving analbeit almost
whispered and unknowingresponse (line 8). Although John attempts
to resume his own activity, Anton does not let him off the hook; indeed,
he upgrades Johns epistemic responsibility by asserting that the English
translation is something they should both know. The upgrade is achieved
with the help of the Swedish modal particle ju (line 11), which is used to
show that this should be shared knowledge (Lindstrm, 2008). Since John
does not now offer this matter the same degree of attention as before (and
may even be ironizing Antons epistemic assumption slightly through his
quiet and muffled minimal response (fine) in line 12), Anton gives up
on John, finishing his turn with slight exasperation, indicated through an
extended outbreath (line 14).
After failing to enlist Johns help, Anton proceeds to solve what has
been treated as a memory problem, by resorting to alternative external
resourcesin this case, the online Swedish encyclopedia. This is shown in
excerpt 3b, which is the direct continuation from excerpt 3a.

3b. Kmpagld Fighting spirit

Participants: Anton (A) & John (J).

166N. MUSK and A. EKAIT
Mobilizing Distributed Memory Resources167

Interestingly, even though John has already turned his attention back
to his own computer screen, Anton continues to verbalize what he is doing
(lines 17 & 19), which sustains the word search as a potentially joint project.
What ensues is that Anton types in his search word, which immediately
occasions a series of new problems. Firstly, by typing the conjugated form,
Kmpar (fights/struggles), instead of the infinitive kmpa, an extended
search is activated, which yields 133 hits. By selecting the translation button,
the hits are limited to the entries in the bilingual Swedish-English diction-
ary. Even so, the dictionary cannot locate the exact word because Anton has
not keyed in the infinitive. Instead a list of hyperlinked words appears (line
22), but Anton first selects the wrong one (krmpa/ailment) by mistake
(line 29) and has to return to the original list and make a new selection.
This highlights the need for meta-knowledgethat is, knowing how to
make productive use of the external memory systems available and how to
find, extract and transform the relevant information (Slj, 2012, p. 10).
When Anton makes a correct selection, two entries now appear: (1) the
verb kmpa and (2) the compound noun kmpagld (fighting spirit) (line
31), which entails searching through the different alternatives. Although
the cursor rests for just under 6 seconds by the item that Anton is looking
for, kmpa p (vidare) (rub along), he shows no signs of recognition or
uptake. Indeed, the translation offered here is hardly a high-frequency
lexical item and no doubt affords him no help in jogging his memory.
Instead, Anton continues to the second entry (indicated by the movement
of the cursor) and rejects his original formulation in Swedish in favor of a
new wording involving fighting spirit, which he then types into his docu-
ment: the fighting spirit is always whit [sic] them. In the following lines
(3239), Anton interrupts John again and enthusiastically informs him
168N. MUSK and A. EKAIT

of his solution to the initial translation problem, pointing at his screen to

what he has written while producing an exact verbal word-for-word Swedish
translation of the English, by repairing and substituting the wrong item:
fortfarande (still) for alltid (always) (line 39).
What excerpt 3 demonstrates is how a range of distributed memory
resources are mobilized to solve this vocabulary/translation problem. After
Antons initial failed attempts to co-opt John to help remember what the
English equivalent to kmpa p is, where Anton upgrades the epistemic
responsibility to supply an answer, he resorts to external memory resources,
seemingly in a bid to refresh his memory. However, the translation offered
for kmpa p does not trigger any greater degree of epistemic access.
Instead, Anton adopts an alternative and creative strategy, which occasions
him to change his original wording. Hence the online dictionary does not
offer readily available resources; indeed, they have to be fine-tuned and
adapted to the problem and context at hand.


As demonstrated in the present study of social and public remembering

and knowledge management practices occurring in the context of foreign
language learning (in language-related episodes, Swain & Lapkin, 1998),
pupils drew on a range of internal and external memory resources to
solve specific language problems individually and in collaboration. These
involved both simple mnemonic practices such as testing the sound of lan-
guage items (audio memory) in the context of use, as well as using external,
so-called external symbolic storages (ESS) or artificial memory systems
(AMS), such as online dictionaries and translation tools. Furthermore, the
pupils recurrently engaged in public epistemic practices such as calling for
peers assistance and soliciting shared interactional and referential history,
for instance by referring to and invoking particular past learning events
(excerpt 1).
Yet remembering was not simply an integral part of the process of amass-
ing and collating factual information and reassembling it in written project
work. It also took place in an educational setting where pupils are assessed
and held jointly accountable for the quality of their collaborative writing.
This, in turn, means that pupils also held each other morally accountable
for contributing to the quality of the product-in-the-making. Indeed, one
of the arguments in favour of collaborative writing is that co-ownership of a
text should encourage pupils to be more receptive to peer suggestions and
feedback comments with a view to improving the final product (Storch,
2005, pp. 168169). It follows, therefore, that pupils expected each other
to know and remember different aspects of language, such as spelling,
Mobilizing Distributed Memory Resources169

ascertaining the correctness of language, and knowing grammatical rules

and vocabulary.
The public epistemic practices examined in the present study thus
demonstrate that remembering or not remembering, as well as being
able to discern and choose appropriate information is a value-infused
social process that involved the participants (pupils) social and moral
positionings and identities as and where they were made relevant in each
particular activity. Indeed, the moral implications of knowing/not knowing
permeated the organization of learning activities in the classroom settings,
contributing to the ways in which the relevant and appropriate knowledge
was discussed, negotiated, and agreed upon.
The analysis of the interactional organization of collaborative remem-
bering and learning shows that social identities and face work are at play
in collaborative problem-solving activities. They involve embodied and
publicly observable practices such as acting out not knowing, indexing
uncertaintyas signaled through epistemic markers, embodiment (gaze,
gesture, and body posture), and the features of speech production. These
epistemic resources and epistemic ecologies are oriented to and estab-
lished in social interaction, contributing to the dynamic character of the
pupils problem solving and learning. As demonstrated, the public project
of accessing and mobilizing the available resources is closely related to
the pupils epistemic responsibilities, according to which the participants
manage the inherent moral dimension of knowing/not knowing (especially
pertinent for pupils in educational settings), as well as managing various
aspects of social identity (excerpts 13).
Detailed analysis of the problems discussed in language-related episodes
also demonstrates that activating previous knowledge is rarely sufficient
since using language items requires a fine-tuned sensitivity to new contexts
of use (cf. Andre et al., this volume). Even drawing on external memory
resources such as a net-based dictionary calls for activating, re-examining,
and re-assembling previous knowledge in order to adapt the new items
to the specific context. This process thus requires the pupils to take an
active stance on the appropriateness and correctness of the technologically
invoked solutions, thereby attesting the manifold complexities of situated
projects of remembering and learning (Michaelian & Sutton, 2013; Slj,
2011). When translating a particular lexical item, for example, one has to
select a particular suggestion, as well as be prepared to adjust the initially
planned sentence/context of its use as in the case of fighting spirit in
excerpt 3. Furthermore, using an online dictionary to look up the forms
of irregular verbs implies that the pupils have to rely on their previous
grammatical knowledge because the information provided by the digital
resource does not necessarily cover the full range of grammatical forms (cf.
growgrew in excerpt 2). Thus, while ESS/AMS resources can be seen to
170N. MUSK and A. EKAIT

enable new competences and provide easier access to information, they

also necessitate the development of certain types of meta-knowledge and
skills in order to be used productively and engage the users in a particular
kind of epistemic practices. Mobilizing such meta-knowledge and skills
(where they can) and collaborating with one another around the use of
digital and other material artefacts, the pupils laminate different modal-
ities in the course of discursively reassembling and remembering socially
distributed knowledge. This process can be seen to provide affordances for
new insights and learning.


1. Here Linell is referring to responsive and projective aspects of communica-

tive initiatives in general, but it also aptly pertains to the more specific
activity of remembering.
2. Lynch is describing CA and ethnomethodology, but his words could equally
apply to DP, which shares many analytic tools.
3. A transition relevance place marks the boundary of turn-construction unit,
where there is the possibility for legitimate transition between speakers
(Hutchby & Wooffitt, 2008, p. 50).
4. Schegloff, Jefferson, and Sacks (1977) note that non-lexical speech pertur-
bations, e.g. cut-offs, sound stretches, uhs etc.,signal the possibility of
repair-initiation immediately following (p. 367).
5. For greater clarity, IPA symbols are used here to show the pronunciation
(International Phonetic Association, n.d.).
6. It is less clear, however, why Tilde repeats he was grown at the end of this
7. Ebbas no with rising intonation in line 24 might also signal rejection, but
it coincides with the closing of a formatting dialogue box that appears as a
result of her selecting the n in grown, so the no could also be a direct
response to the dialogue box. It might have been the case that she selects
the -n inflection to activate an alternative ending in Word, but there is no
further evidence for this interpretation.
8. Since there is only one video camera focused on Anton for this sequence, it
is unclear what John is doing.


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174N. MUSK and A. EKAIT



Organizing Math Activities in a
First Grade Classroom

Helen Melander and Pl Aarsand

In educational settings, the notions of remembering and learning are often

interlinked. Students are continuously required to show and prove that
they have learned something. Such procedures rest on the idea that the
learner should individually be able to remember for example procedures
or correct answers. This means that the outcome of learning can be
observed, described, and evaluated in terms of preservation and loss (Slj
& Pramling, 2011). In this chapter, a different perspective is adopted in
which remembering is conceptualized as a social accomplishment and
analyzed as a practical concern for participants in situated activities. We
will analyze practices of remembering in a math lesson in a Swedish first-
grade classroom. Focus will be on the social use of memory in pedagogical
discourses: on the social, communicative, and material resources that
students and their teacher draw upon when doing remembering in
classroom activities (cf. Goodwin, 1987, 2000; Middleton & Brown, 2005).
Drawing on ethnomethodological and conversation analytic perspectives
(e.g., Goodwin, 2000; Schegloff, 1996), our interest is in processes of

Memory Practices and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. 175200
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 175

remembering. We will investigate how remembering is oriented to and

accomplished in classroom interaction, with the aim to describe and
analyze the social and material organization of remembering in math
activities. As we will demonstrate, practices of math in this school involve
social interaction among students and teachers; they involve interaction
with different artifacts such as computers and games, and interaction of the
present with the past and the future (cf. Goodwin, 2013; Hutchins, 2006;
Middleton, 2002). Thus, a learning environment such as this classroom
constitutes a perspicuous site for the exploration of how practices of
remembering are accomplished in situ.


Remembering is here understood as socially organized activities in cul-

turally constructed environments. Highlighting the social dimension,
remembering can be seen as performance made relevant in the course
of interaction. We are thus interested in the performative nature of the
discourse of mental and intersubjective states (cf. Edwards, 1997, p. 283).
Studying remembering as a social and situated activity implies an
analysis of how practices of remembering are organized in interaction
and of how other humans and artifacts figure into the organization of
such practices and constitute an intrinsic part of processes of remember-
ing (Slj, this volume). In the context of narrative analysis, Edwards
(1997) claims that narrative accounts can, on the one hand, be studied
as acts of remembering (i.e., what people do when recalling events) or,
on the other hand, by focusing on participants situated rhetorical use of
cognitive categories such as remember and forget. Focus is thus on
the public use of these words where the issue at stake is what people are
doing when they use such cognitive categories rather than a focus on the
words as representations of inner mental processes. In short, we depart
from a perspective in which participants reports of remembering
and so on are viewed as interactionally motivated rather than as accu-
rate representations of cognitions (e.g., Goodwin, 1987, 2000; Hutchins,
2006; Kitzinger, 2008).
Middleton and Brown (2005) suggest a similar approach to the analysis
of remembering, and they identify four key issues that need to be taken
into account. First is the sequential organization of remembering and how the
participants use different resources in the accomplishment of remember-
ing like tags and requests such as I remember the time and do you
remember. In addition, there are overt agreements and ratifications where
participants confirm one anothers stories and meta-mnemonic formula-
tions. These are all linguistic devices that contribute to the unfolding of
Practices of Remembering 177

remembering where the contributions relate or refer to the former one.

Second, we need to highlight how speakers co-opt one another into projects of
remembering and forgetting in social settings: that is, participants efforts
to actively engage others in acts of remembering (cf. Musk & ekait,
this volume). Third, co-option into such projects involves a realization of
memberships made relevant in the social occasioning and organization of
remembering and forgettinghow participants make up and sustain what
it means to be an accountable member of a specific group. Finally, Middle-
ton and Brown (2005) argue that we need to pay attention to the manner
in which the participants interactively commit others to the individual and
collective relevance of the experience claims within the contingent pragmat-
ics of communicative action. For instance, when a school class that previously
has been taught how to solve a particular problem is given yet another
lecture, it builds on the assumption that the students share this experience
and knowledge.
Processes of remembering concern how the past is built into activities
in the present and a presumed future (Linell & Mkitalo, this volume).
Middleton (2002) asserts that dilemmas of succession and change are live
issues in communicative action. Focusing on continuity and change, he
argues that these phenomena are established as communicative concerns,
and therefore as something that matter to the participants. Continuity
and change are displayed individually as well as socially with regards to
how the participants produce accounts of experience and the positioning
of experience as both incidental and intentional. This is seen in the way
people create trajectories of participation where experience is considered
both individually and collectively relevant. Acts of remembering always
concern a creation and a display of a version of a previous event that may
be questioned and discussed. Seeing remembering as social action makes
it subject to moral judgments and evaluations. As Middleton and Brown
(2005) put it, [P]erformances [of remembering] are informed by cultural
understandings of what is to be counted as adequate and felicitous recall
(p. 85). Within educational settings, memory is often described, evalu-
ated, and judged with regard to the outcome: as good or bad, incorrect or
correct, as not remembering, and so on.
In addition to viewing remembering as a social activity, we see material
objects, (i.e., artifacts) and technologies as parts of a distributed mind that
extends into body and environment (Hutchins, 1995). Speech, writing,
images, graphs, and other symbolic resources are seen as elements of
human repertoires for externalizing and objectifying experiences and for
communicating about them (Slj, 2005). In the next section, we will direct
attention to how materiality can be understood as a part of remembering.


Viewing remembering as an activity includes people but also different

artifacts in culturally and materially constructed environments (Hutchins,
2006). An artifact can be described as an object made for production or
reproduction of social and cultural practices (cf. Wartofsky, 1979). Arti-
facts are created to fulfill particular tasks within a practice, which means
that they can be seen as objectified knowledge and experiences. In other
words, the structure of a task can be built into the structure of an artifact
(Hutchins, 2006). More precisely, human beings create knowledge and
skills by producing artifacts that simultaneously constitute and change
their practices (Slj, 2005). It is often claimed that the artifact itself has
a potential for use (e.g., Linell, 2009), where it is inscribed with meaning
potentials, or affordances. Affordances, however, are relational phenom-
ena, not static properties of objects; they have opportunities for use, or
potentialities, selected and realized by human agents, who deploy and
understand them in particular ways. As Slj (2004) points out, technolo-
gies always encounter habits, routines, and taken-for-granteds that already
exist in society and within institutions. These traditions will be influential
in guiding people about what is an expected and a reasonable mode of
engaging with whatever tools are offered (p. 491). Consequently, it could
also be argued that activities, practices, cultures, and social constellations
co-determine the way people understand and use the artifacts.
Recently, studies have highlighted the function of pictures, pen and
paper, and computers in regards to memory and remembering (e.g., Mid-
dleton & Brown, 2005; Slj, 2011; van Dijck, 2008). These are objects
that intentionally have been used to store information, also called external
memory systems (Slj, 2005). Within educational settings, these systems
have a central part in processes of remembering. For instance, as mentioned
above, a math lesson consists of the social interaction between students and
teachers, but it is also a practice that takes place in classrooms that are
equipped with different artifacts such as black- and white boards, comput-
ers, books, games, pens, and paper. In Hutchins (1995) words, Memory
processes may be distributed among human agents, or between human
agents and external representational devices (p. 284) where memory tasks
in situated activities may be accomplished by functional systems that tran-
scend the boundaries of the individual actor. In order to theoretically and
analytically comprehend this distribution between actors and their mate-
rial environment, Goodwin (2010) introduces the notion epistemic ecologies,
a notion that encompasses the public distribution of knowledge and the
dynamic epistemic relationships between different participant positions.
Within epistemic ecologies, actions are organized in ways that help to
create and sustain socially organized ways of knowing, seeing, and acting
Practices of Remembering 179

upon the world. These encompass not only categorizations of the world
and relevant events, but also the bodies and relevant knowledge of others.
Goodwin (2013, p. 9) writes that [t]hrough the progressive development
of, and apprenticeship within, diverse epistemic ecologies, communities
invest their members with the resources required to understand each other
in just the ways that make possible the accomplishment of ongoing, situ-
ated action (see also Melander, 2012).
Connected to the understanding of math activities in the classroom as
social, material, and cultural achievements is the concept of participation
that theoretically and analytically frames how human bodies interact in
a sociocultural environment and build action in concert with each other
(Goodwin, 2000). Participation involves not only social interaction but
also interaction with artifacts and the material environment, in which
[p]articipants build actions by performing systematic operations on a
public substrate which provides many different kinds of resources that can
be reused, decomposed, and transformed (Goodwin, 2013, p. 8). Human
action has a combinatorial and cooperative structure that is recognized by
how it brings together actors and different types of artifacts within a social
and cultural environment (Goodwin, 2013). In face-to-face interactions,
participants thus put different multilayered contextual configurations
into play (Goodwin, 2000). From this perspective, actions are laminated
(Goodwin, 2013), meaning that they consist of layers of modalities such as
language, body (e.g., gaze, gestures, pointings), and material world (e.g.,
technologies/computers, texts, images) that are used by, in our case, the
children and their teacher when participating in math activities.
In sum, we conceptualize remembering as an activity where social, com-
municative, and material resources are combined in the accomplishment
of action. Central to how we understand processes of remembering is that
they are built through laminated actions where previous experiences are
made relevant in the social and material organization of the activity. We
will now continue by introducing the research setting in which fieldwork
was conducted and the video recordings of the math activities were done.


The data analyzed in this chapter originate from a study that was con-
ducted in a Swedish elementary school located on the countryside in the
vicinity of a medium-sized city. Two target children, a girl and a boy, and
their activities were video recorded during the course of one week, both at
school and at home. The target children participated in their first year of
elementary school. The class consisted of 19 students (8 girls and 11 boys),
one teacher, and one teacher assistant.1 The first graders were located in

a building of their own. One of the reasons for choosing to conduct the
study at this particular school was that the teachers were actively working
to incorporate new technologies into their teaching practices and everyday
work in the classroom. In the back of the classroom, there were two com-
puters that were available to the children: one laptop and one desktop.2
We will analyze extracts from video recordings of a math lesson when the
participants are setting up the activities of the day as well as working with
a computer-mediated math task. In line with our theoretical perspective,
our analyses encompass the participants use of linguistic, embodied, and
material resources in situated interaction (e.g., Goodwin, 2000, 2013; Sche-
gloff, 1996). This framework puts special demands on the representation
of interaction. The sequences chosen for analysis have been transcribed
following conventions developed within CA (e.g., Jefferson, 2004; see
Appendix for symbols used here). Line drawings of video frames are
used in order to capture and highlight the analytically relevant embodied
actions and the participants orientations to the material environment. As
will be shown, the participants continuously analyze each others actions in
relation to an interactional context in which social and material aspects are
made relevant (Goodwin, 2000). Our analyses take their point of departure
in investigating how remembering is oriented to in different ways and how
it is constitutive of the organization of action in the analyzed activities. In
the analyses, we are particularly interested in the linguistic, communica-
tive, material, and cultural resources that the participants draw upon when
participating in acts of remembering. How does remembering figure into
the social organization of math activities? How does remembering work in
the interplay between artifacts, teachers, and students?

Mathematics in the studied classroom consists of several different tasks and
activities. We will begin by analyzing how a math lesson is organized and
framed in this classroom, and how remembering figures into this organiza-
tion. We will then continue by focusing on one of the math activities that the
children engage in: a computer-mediated math task that is of specific inter-
est in the exploration of practices of remembering within this classroom.

Continuity and Change in the Organization of Math

In this first part of the analysis, we will show how discursive constructions
of remembering are used to position activities within the classroom in a
Practices of Remembering 181

temporal order. This order extends beyond the present thus constituting
the lesson as one out of a number of math lessons.
In the beginning of the lesson the teacher introduces what they are
going to do: what artifacts (games, math cards, computers, etc.) will be
used and when, and how the activities will be done and with whom. Doing
mathematics is framed as a material as well as a social activity.

Excerpt 1a: Just like yesterday


When the teacher Margareta has introduced that they are going to begin
with the games, she states that the games are exactly the same as yester-
day. She thus links the present to the past, what they did yesterday (precis
som i gr. just like yesterday 3 in line 4) with what they are going to do
today (which is moreover initiated with a contrastive men nu but now
). What will be new is, first, the friend you will work together with and,
second, the game that you will do.4 The teacher sets up a conditional in
that one can do the same games as before although it is more fun, and thus
normatively better, to do new games (lines 67). This is underscored by the
fact that the <in:te> not in line 8 is clearly emphasized both through
markedly slower speed than the surrounding talk as well as a stress on the
first syllable. The use of the epistemic particle (PRT) ju indicates that the
said is something that is or should be shared knowledge. The teachers
utterance man kan ju gra dom spelen som man har gjort (one can [PRT] do
the games that one has already done) opens up for the possibility that
there may be children who want to do the same games again and that this
also could be allowed. However, it is then followed by a second partfast
de e ju roligare om man hittar snna som bda <in:te> har gjort (although its
[PRT] more fun if you find some that both havent done)in spite of the
slightly hedged format, it is clear what the preferred choice is, and it is
moreover something that the children are supposed to recognize (a conse-
quence of the use of ju in this part of the utterance as well).
In overlap with the teacher, one of the children, Edvin, is talking to
another child. The teacher summons his name, points her right index
finger up in the air and then says that she will tell him who he is going to
work with (line 12). Through summoning Edvins name and producing the
utterance in a slightly quieter voice, we see that the turn is designed for
Edvin. However, as it is produced within the whole-class context, it also has
overhearers. Earlier, the teacher told the children that they would get a new
play friend (lines 45). In the interaction with Edvin, the teacher makes
explicit that she is the one who will decide who will work with whom and
she thus positions herself as the orchestrator of the social organization of
the math activities.
In line 14 the teacher says nu kommer ni ih:g (now you remember).
Through this discursive construction, the activity is resumed after the
inserted sequence with Edvin, reorienting the participants to the games.
The construction expects the children to indeed remember the games and
how to work with them. Moreover, through the use of the second person
plural ni (you) the children are addressed as a collective and they are
expected to remember something together. Several children acknowledge
that they remember through a rather quiet m. How the games are to be
done is treated as something that the children should know: s de e ju bara
h:mta h:r sen. spe:lpjs snt som man behver ha:. (so its [PRT] just to
Practices of Remembering 183

come and get (them) here later. pawns and things that one needs) (lines
1718). Again, the use of the epistemic particle ju presupposes that this is
a routine that the children should be used to; it is nothing new although it
reminds the children of what and how to do.

Excerpt 1b: But then I found

The activity now changes focus and becomes more future-oriented. The
teacher instructs the children that when they have done two games (indi-
cated by the teacher holding two fingers in the air during the part of the
turn represented in line 21), they should move on to a next task. This is
announced with a men sen frstr ni (but then you see) (line 20), indicat-
ing that they will then be doing something different. It turns out that

they are going to work with math cards. What the cards are and how to
work with them is treated as knowledge-taken-for-granted; the cards are
not explained, just indicated through the teacher putting her hand on a
pile of cards, saying that they should do two. The teacher quickly moves
on to present the next task, and she also starts walking toward the back
of the room, when a child, Joel, interrupts to ask how many math cards
they were supposed to do (line 24). The child thus confirms that the math
cards are indeed shared knowledge and that the only instruction in need
of clarification is the number of cards to be done. The teacher answers tv
(two) as she again puts two fingers in the air, displaying the number two
with a handshape. As Goodwin (2000) writes, co-occurring gestures like this
one could wrongly be understood as semiotically redundant. However, the
gesture is organized with reference to a specific embodied configuration
that includes not only the speaker but also a specific addressee. The hand-
shape is positioned so that Joel can see it; the teacher opening up her body
and holding her hand in Joels gaze direction (see picture). In comparison
to talk that is ephemeral, immediately dissolves, and needs to be attended
to at the time it is created, a gesture can be seen for a longer time, thus
providing a visual representation of the number of times that the math task
should be accomplished that is more durable than the aural representation.
When the number of math cards to be done has been clarified, the
teacher recycles s (and then) (from line 23 and recycled in line 25),
saying that she will pick the children to work on a math quiz on the com-
puter. Through using temporal indicators such as men sen (but then)
(line 20) and s (and then) (lines 23 & 25), a future-oriented temporal
order is made relevant. The teacher positions herself as the one who will
be orchestrating not only the social organization of the activities, but also
how the children will move through the activities.
As the teacher is talking in line 25, she is moving through the classroom
to the bookshelf in the back where she is standing when telling the children
about the math quiz at the computers. That she is not standing in front of
the class when talking underscores the task as expected to be known to the
children, and the enthusiastic, overlapping yes (in English) also displays
that not only is this a known task but it is also appreciated. The teacher
leaves this without comment, but she has picked a pile of puzzles from
the bookshelf and starts walking back to the front of the classroom as she
announces that she has found something that is also quite fun to work with
(line 29). Talking about the puzzles in terms of fun positions them as the
same kind of activity as the computer-mediated task. However, it turns out
that the math puzzles are new to the children. This is displayed in how the
teacher in line 31 summons the children to come up to the desk to then
instruct them about how to work with the puzzles.
Practices of Remembering 185

In the instructions, three aspects of the organization of the upcoming

lesson are made relevant. First, what artifacts the children are supposed to
use and when: They are supposed to start by playing games (lines 12),
they will move on to doing math cards (lines 2123), they will use the
computers (line 26), and then they will do math puzzles (line 30). Second,
the teacher tells the students how the activities will be organized socially.
They will work together with one of their classmates, although this should
be a different person than the one they worked with yesterday (lines 45).
Third, the teacher explains how they should accomplish the activities.
They know how to do the games from previous math lessons and hence
no further explanation is given, but at the same time they are expected to
choose games that they have not played before (lines 68). How to handle
the math cards and the computer is taken for granted, indicating that
the children are expected to remember how these are used (lines 2526),
whereas the puzzles are treated as completely new (line 31).
In the activity, we see examples of acts of remembering as well as an
explicit reference to the lexical item remember in line 14 (Edwards, 1997;
Middleton & Brown, 2005). As we have seen, the teacher asks the chil-
dren for confirmation that they remember the math games (lines 1415),
something that is also confirmed by the children (line 16). Remembering
is constituted as a social and collective activity where the students display
that they recognize what the teacher is talking about. When the students
confirm that they remember, it becomes possible for the teacher to move
on in the organization of math activities in the classroom. Here the explicit
reference to remembering thus works to close one part of the activity in
order to move on to a next.
When Margareta refers back to similar game activities in the past to
organize future activities, the participants engage in acts of remembering.
Through referring to yesterday, and then highlighting what will be differ-
ent now, the present activities are located on a larger, more global, time
scale of math lessons conducted in the first grade. But also locally, within
the math lesson: What are we doing today? Moreover, a temporal ordering
of the different tasks is constituted, where the different games and puzzles
are to be done in order, one after the other, with the computer-mediated
task cutting across as the teacher will pick them two at a time to work on
the computers.

Remembering as an Individual and a Collective Activity

The fact that the teacher is talking about math when she presents the
games is taken for granted in excerpts 1a and 1b. What the participants
focus on is rather the different artifacts that they will be working with. In
the next excerpt, the teacher switches from a focus on form to content

through framing what they are about to do as a math activity. Remember-

ing is simultaneously oriented to as an individual and a collective activity.
All children have gathered around the teacher as she shows them how to
work with math puzzles (see excerpt 2a).
The teacher picks up a piece of puzzle, turns it toward the children, and
asks if they know what the arithmetic operation is called. The children raise
their arms into the air, displaying a readiness to take the next turn. The
organization of the childrens bodies around the table, the display of the
piece of puzzle to the students, together with the question de hr e d: (.)
vilket rknestt d:. (and this is then (.) which arithmetic operation) (line
1), which addresses the whole group of children, frame the situation as a
social and collective activity of remembering. The teacher then repeats her
question, but this time orients to the childrens individual remembering as
she asks e de nn som kommer ihg va rknesttet he:ter? (is there someone
who remembers what this arithmetic operation is called) (line 3). The
lexical item remember indexes that this is something that they have
talked about before. The teacher is not introducing something new, but
rather it is something that they are expected to be familiar with. It also indi-
cates to the children that they can search for the answer to the question in
something that they have done together rather than something in general.
The first child to be allocated a turn is Olle. He starts up an answer but
then retracts through a quiet nej (no). Rather than to immediately turn to
another child, Margareta first asks Olle if he has come up with something
(line 5), thus orienting to the possibility that he might have succumbed
a temporary lapse of memory. Another child, Lukas, exploits this gap
between turns and in a very quiet voice asks the teacher a question about
whether he can work in his math book when they have finished what they
are doing now (line 6). The teacher does not treat this as an interruption
but answers Lukas. Through producing the utterance in a quieter voice,
the sequence is constituted as an inserted adjacency pair that is not part
of the main, collective, activity but as directed to an individual child. Next
Margareta summons one of the girls by her name and repeats the question:
Mia. va heter rknesttet? (Mia. whats this arithmetic operation called)
(line 8). Mia begins her turn by simultaneously displaying what she knows
and accounting for why she may be wrong: nu kommer inte ja ihg om de va
minus eller plus som hette de (now I dont remember if it was minus or plus
that was called that) (line 9). Thus she displays that she remembers that
they have talked about the arithmetic operation and that she knows there
is a difference between how minus and plus are labeled. She is moreover
here doing the work of concretizing the abstract arithmetic operations
into the everyday concepts minus and plus. At the same time, she is
downplaying her epistemic claims and announcing the answer to come as
a good try. With this hedge she goes on to suggest <se:pptratio:n> (line 10).
Practices of Remembering 187

Excerpt 2a: Is there someone who remembers

The act of remembering is here simultaneously an individual and a

collaborative activity. The children raise their hands and the teacher
picks individual children who provide candidates for the asked for
arithmetic operation. Individual remembering within a collective can

be a risky activity in the sense that you may not remember at all, and
if you do remember, you may remember wrong or in a different way
compared to others. However, when answering, the children build upon
each others utterances. When Mia suggests sepptration, Leo follows
along the same line as Mia but recognizes that the notion is slightly wrong
and suggests subtraktion (subtraction), which is a correct mathematical
concept but not for adding two numbers. The teacher confirms that it is
a correct concept, but for minus (line 13). Then Joel suggests attrak tion
(attraction); the word is similar to the previous one in regards to what
it sounds like and it is indeed close to the correct label: addition. The
children use each others actions as resources, building upon each others
suggestions, modifying and changing parts of the concept, thus building
new action by selectively reusing resources provided by a prior action. In
line with Goodwins (2013) reasoning, the children build actions through
performing systematic operations on a public substrate which provides
different kinds of resources that are reused, decomposed, and transformed.
The teacher encourages the children in their collaborative exploration
of possible answers through responding with ne:::? (line 11) and n::j?
(line 13). The negative responses are prosodically produced in a way that
indicates that the answers are within the right domain but not entirely
correct and thus invite more tries. Remembering is hence constituted as
a joint action in which Mia, Leo, and Joel develop what they remember
with regard to the teachers question about arithmetic operations (lines 10,
12, 15), and the teacher encourages further attempts by avoiding to turn
down suggestions that are not quite accurate (lines 13, 16). In this process
they simultaneously preserve structure provided by the activities of earlier
actors while they systematically modify that structure to build something
new (Goodwin, 2013, p. 9).
Confirming the partial correctness of Joels answer, the teacher says that
it was almost right before she provides the correct answer, emphasizing the
part that was wrong in Joels answer and replacing it with the correct item
<ADDition.>. When the children do not remember correctly but have col-
laboratively produced several good candidates the teacher addresses the
whole group and requests that they say the word addition out loud (line
16). In overlap with the request, one of the children (probably Mia) says
jus::t de ja (thats it yes). This could be compared with the change-of-state
token oh that has been described by Heritage (1984) through which
participants display that they now know something that they did not pre-
viously know. However, through the utterance in line 17, the child claims
that she now remembers something that she did not previously remember.
In other words, the information is not new but the child is displaying that
she is reminded of something that she did know but was not able to recall
at the moment when the question about the arithmetic operation was pro-
Practices of Remembering 189

duced. That saying something out loud in chorus is a recurrent routine is

displayed in the way the children immediately and enthusiastically engage
in saying addition all at the same time. Talking in chorus works to rein-
force a collective remembering as well as an individual remembering. The
fact that the children remember some things and not others becomes a
resource in framing the lesson as mathematics through focusing on the
correct usage of a mathematical terminology.

Excerpt 2b: Very good to remember

When they have established addition as the correct mathematical term,

Margareta provides an example of what the notion implies. When you
have six and seven and there is a plus sign between them, d sjer ama- att
man (.) <adde:rar> talen. (then you say that you (.) add the numbers)
(lines 2021). She emphasizes the mathematical term, highlighting it as a
crucial part of the turn, and then reformulates in an everyday terminology:
man lgger ihop dom d. (you put them together then) as she simultane-
ously moves her hands together, visually representing how two become
one (see picture) . Mia now adds more information, saying that you take
the largest number first. This is actually most important when subtracting
the numbers, but the teacher supports Mias claim of knowledge describ-
ing it as a smart thing to do (line 23). Olle fills in strst e frst (biggest
is first), and again the teacher supports the children saying strst frst e

jttebra komma ihg (biggest first is very good to remember). The partici-
pants thus collaboratively invoke and remember a rule that they have been
talking about and establish it as something that should be remembered for
future math activities.
The teacher and the children together frame the activity as a math activ-
ity by using mathematical terminology. The children are held accountable
for remembering something that they have talked about before, and to be
able to use the correct mathematical terminology. All participants orient
to the knowing of the arithmetic operations in terms of something to be
remembered. Remembering is framed as related to participation in activi-
ties such as the one analyzed here.

Using Artifacts for Remembering

In what follows, we will focus on one of the math activities that the par-
ticipants engage in and that is of specific interest for issues of remembering
in this classroom. It is a computer-mediated task in which the children
work with software called Matteknep (Math quiz). In the activity that we will
analyze, two of the children in the classSandra and Pelleare sitting
by the two computers working. Sandra sits by the desktop computer and
Pelle to her left by the laptop. The Matteknep is organized such that the
children choose a quiz, such as Tiokamrater (Friends of ten). In the quiz,
there are 30 problems that the children answer one at a time. The design
of the software is very similar to the organization of math books, where
each page contains a number of problems to be solved. One of the layers
of the software is thus the traditional math book, but the decisive differ-
ence is that the children receive immediate evaluative feedback from the
software. Examples of other layers are curricula (learning addition in terms
of friends of ten) and ideologies regarding the learning of math in terms
of, in this case, rote learning and repetition. The position of a teacher is
also present in the software, where IRE-sequences between student and
software/teacher are formed. In such ways, historically shaped structure
[is] instantiated in artifacts and the physical environment (Goodwin, 2000,
p. 1517). When we enter into the activity, Sandra is about to finish her math
quiz, whereas Pelle still has more than half the problems left.
Sandra summons Pelle by his name to attract his attention and then
announces that she is going to try and see the results (line 1). Through this
announcement she makes public that she has finished the task. She clicks
the result button on the screen and a page with her results appears. Pelle
does not respond and Sandra raises her arm to attract Margaretas atten-
tion. After 18.5 seconds, Sandra first again summons Pelle followed by a
rather quiet ja fick (I got-) and then with a louder voice she states that she
got zero mistakes (line 3). Keeping her arm raised, she leans toward Pelle,
Practices of Remembering 191

looking at his screen. She asks him in a very soft voice hur mnga fel, (how
many mistakes), but Pelle does not reply and is instead deeply engaged
in his math quiz. However, the screen makes publically visible his progress
through the quiz and although Pelle has not yet finished, Sandra spots that
he has (already) made two mistakes (line 6). The computer-mediated task
is included within the flow of activities in the classroom where the children
are working in pairs, but the computer-mediated task is an individual activ-
ity. The children, however, incorporate it into a social network through
looking at and commenting upon each others results and through talking
about the activity in terms of something that you play, thus reenacting pat-
terns from other game activities.

Excerpt 3: Shall we save

(Excerpt continues on next page)


Pelle still does not reply, and Sandra sits back, keeping her arm raised
and waiting to attract the teachers attention. When Margareta does not
come, Sandra instead turns her attention toward Pelle. In a squeaky voice
she calls his name and then asks va gr du Pellis (what are you doing Pellis)
as she looks at him. Pelle is solving the arithmetic problems through count-
ing on his fingers, using the fingers as a mnemonic device that permits a
conceptual task to be implemented by a perceptual process (see picture).
Sandra orients to the use of fingers for counting as a dispreferred action,
that is, as an inappropriate way of doing the math quiz on the computer
(line 11). The diminutive form of his name PellePellisalso works to
belittle him, something that is underscored when another child with a voice
with laughter repeats the diminutive form of his name (line 12).
Eventually the teacher arrives at Sandras place. The first thing she does
is to look at the screen and to state that Sandra has finished du e klar d:r
(you have finished there). In other words, Margareta immediately orients
to a saving of the results, producing an online commentary following her
actions, ska vi spa:ra? (shall we save), as she without displaying an expec-
tancy that Sandra should answer either verbally or nonverbally instead
immediately stretches her hand toward the mouse and clicks save (lines
1314). To save the results is thus oriented to as a crucial aspect of the task
by the teacher, even more so than the result in itself, which is what Sandra
has hitherto primarily oriented to. Rather than instructing Sandra how to
save her results, the teacher, as we have seen, takes the mouse and clicks
the save button. She thus takes command over the activity in progress. An
intrinsic and crucial aspect of the computer-mediated math task that is
made relevant by the teacher is thus the possibility of saving the results
that have been accumulated in a here-and-now for a future. This is further
underlined by the fact that the children need to always change between the
Practices of Remembering 193

tasks and move along to a next one, and that there are no possibilities of
doing the math quiz over again at the present time.
When the saving is completed, the teacher orients to the amount of
points, saying hundranittisex pong (one hundred and ninety-six points)
(line 15). This number refers to what Sandra has left in order to get a medal.
The teacher also comments upon how many points Sandra has achieved
todayfyrahundratjufem den hr gngen (four hundred and twenty five)
(line 16)a much larger number than the missing 196, and thus there are
good chances that Sandra will get a medal next time. The primary orienta-
tion is to the accumulation of points (and knowledge) over time and how
this is projecting what will happen next. Sandra responds with noll fe:l
(and zero mistakes), thus orienting to another aspect of her accomplish-
ment of the task: that she has managed to finish the task with only correct
answers. However, the teacher does not respond to this but instead she
puts Sandras result in relation to a projected future diploma. As we have
seen, when the children have solved all the math problems, they arrive at
a result page. On this page they can see the result they have scored for the
particular quiz in question, where the answers are organized in two verti-
cal bars: one representing correct and another incorrect answers. At the
bottom of the first page, each answer is transformed into a bar where the
children get points not only for correct answers, but also for the amount
of time that they have used when answering. The quicker and the more
correct answers, the faster the child will get a medal. This means that chil-
dren who know the arithmetic problems well move quicker through the
tasks whereas children who take time and/or make many mistakes have to
do more quizzes in order to get the medals and diplomas. There are also
three horizontal bars, where the accumulated points from each quiz are
added. Each bar represents a medal, where they first get a bronze medal.
At the far right there is an image of a medal: the most highly valued medal
that the student has obtained so far.
The answers to the arithmetic problems that the children enter into the
software are thus gradually transformed into different kinds of graphic
representations forming chains of mediation, displaying a status as
hybridized text-objects (cf. Leander & Lovvorn, 2006). The way in which
the results are stored in the computer makes relevant the software and the
computer as mediating artifacts by means of which the past is rendered fit
for future remembering. The properties of remembering (and forgetting)
are thus transferred to a mediating artifact (cf. Middleton & Brown, 2005)
that functions as an external memory system (Slj, 2005).
Approaching levels that generate a diploma is an integrated part of the
task. Pelle now enters into the interaction asking what kind of diploma that
Sandra will get, something that is responded to by the teacher in terms of
what the software says: brons sger programmet frst, (bronze says the soft-

ware first) (line 22), thus attributing agency to the software. Pelle says that
he got a bronze diploma already yesterday, and in other words he claims
that he has reached farther than Sandra. Initially the teacher acknowledges
this with a quiet ja::. (yes), whereas Sandra objects, saying that she has
not played the math quiz before. In other words, she talks about the
computer-mediated math quiz as something that you can play, thus allud-
ing to the math quiz as a kind of game, which could be contrasted with how
Margareta in excerpt 1a said that they were going to do games. The teacher
supports Sandra and coming in early, in overlap with the final parts of San-
dras turn, says nej. du har inte gjort s mnga gnger. (no you havent done
it so many times) (lines 2627) in a decided tone of voice as she turns her
head and looks at Sandra. The teacher thus aligns with Sandra and resists
the comparison between results that Pelle has made relevant.
The teacher orients to the results as an individual act with the computer
as a prosthetic device, accumulating the childrens individual results. The
design of the software as well as the computer affords a saving of results
over time, and it could even be understood as built around the concept of
accumulating results. When a certain number of points are achieved, the
child gains a medal that is transformed into a diploma. The final stage of
transformation in this particular math task is the diploma, where the results
that are saved and accumulated over time are fixed in the form of written
text on a paper. The childrens answers and results on the test thus move on
from and provide an account of them as students that is transformed into
further texts (e.g., the diploma). This represents a type of displacement in
that difficult to move objects are rendered mobile in texts, which function
to fix particular facts and forms of knowledge (Leander & Lovvorn, 2006,
p. 300). The symbolic value of the document is reinforced through writing
the students name on it together with the teachers signature. The diploma
incorporates processes of remembering; it simultaneously represents what
the child has hitherto achieved and constitutes a starting point for the next
time that the child will work with the math quiz on the computer.


In this chapter we have explored how remembering figures into the social
and material organization of math activities in a first-grade classroom. In the
analyzed examples, remembering is oriented to and drawn upon in various
ways. Through analyzing processes of remembering as communicative
action (Edwards, 1997; Middleton, 2002), we have shown how the
participants use different linguistic devices (e.g., now you remember)
but also engage in acts of remembering in which they draw upon not only
linguistic but also embodied, material, and cultural resources.
Practices of Remembering 195

Remembering as a linguistic practice and the discursive mobilization

of the lexical item remember has been found to work in three different
ways. First, the reference to remember in nu kommer ni ih:g (now you
remember) (excerpt 1a, line 14) works to reconnect to the main activity
after an inserted sequence, in a here-and-now, but also to close one part of
the activity (talking about math games) and to move on to a next (talking
about math cards). Second, the utterance e de nn som kommer ihg (is there
someone who remembers) (excerpt 2a, line 3) requests that the children
come up with an answer to a question, thus co-opting the children into a
project of remembering (cf. Goodwin, 1987; Middleton, 2002; Middleton
& Brown, 2005). The construction of the utterance indicates that what is
being asked for is something that they have talked about before. Thus they
can search for an answer to the question in previous activities in which they
have participated together. Rather than reconnecting to something that
the participants have just done, this linguistic construction refers back to an
earlier lesson. This fact is drawn upon when one of the children attempts to
answer the question, framing her answer with nu kommer inte ja ihg (now
I dont remember) (excerpt 2a, line 9), something that hedges the answer
to be delivered and downgrades the epistemic claims made by the child in
question. Third, references to remembering can also be future-oriented.
When the teacher says jttebra komma ihg (very good to remember)
(excerpt 2b, line 25), this works as an assessment of an answer as particu-
larly good but it also points forward in time in that the said is underscored
as something that is important to remember for future use.
Remembering mathematics also concerns being able to display that one
is familiar with and able to use a mathematical terminology correctly within
the social and cultural setting. In our data, remembering is simultaneously
an individual activity of recollection (is there someone who remembers,
excerpt 2a, line 3) and a collective activity in which different actors jointly,
through different suggestions of how to label the arithmetic operation that
the teacher has asked for (excerpt 2a, lines 10, 12 15), collaboratively work
to recall the concept through building upon each others utterances. The
social and collective aspect of remembering is also made relevant when
the teacher says nu kommer ni ih:g (now you remember) (excerpt 1a, line
14). Through the use of the second person plural ni (you), the teacher
addresses the children as a collective and indicates that they (are expected
to) remember the same thing, not only as individuals but as a group.
The collective aspect of remembering is moreover visible when the
teacher requests that the children say the correct mathematical term in
chorus. Through saying the same thing together out loud, the term is
reinforced as something particularly important to remember and works as
a kind of mnemonic device that draws upon oral and aural resources for
remembering. The teacher also adds a gesture, putting her hands together

thus visually representing addition in terms of two parts becoming one

(excerpt 2b, line 21). In this respect we can also understand the way the
teacher holds two fingers in the air displaying how many math cards that
the children should do (excerpt 1b, line 25) as a way of facilitating future
remembering, highlighting the words spoken through a gesture. In other
words, these are examples of how participants rely upon not only linguistic
but also aural and embodied resources in practices of remembering. More-
over, mathematics is established as a linguistic and embodied practice.
Continuity and change is built into the communicative ordering of our
lives (Middleton, 2002). Through acts of remembering, links between past,
present, and future math activities are established, positioning the current
lesson as one in a sequence of many others. For example, continuity and
change are oriented to through referring to what it was like yesterday and
contrasting that to what it will be like today: precis som i gr men nu (just
like yesterday but now) (excerpt 1a, line 4). Particularly interesting with
regard to how continuity is oriented to is the use of the epistemic particle
ju (excerpt 1a, lines, 1, 6, 7, 17), which works to establish what is said
as shared knowledge, as something that the participants know together.
It occurs rather frequently during the part of the activity in which the
teacher is setting up a framework for todays activities, thus framing what
they are going to do as something that they have previous experiences
of. Remembering is used to organize math activities in the present with
respect to what the children should know and recognize and to what is
new to them. The referrals to past activities provides the children with a
backdrop against which it is possible to discern what is new, thus setting
up future trajectories of significance. The teacher departs from what the
children know and then formulates what will happen next: s sen (so
then) (excerpt 1a, line 17), men sen (but then) (excerpt 1b, lines 20 &
29), s (and then) (excerpt 1b, lines 23 & 25). In such a way, remember-
ing not only is about what has happened but also about what will happen
and works to create a timeline, a temporal order, of similar and different
math activities. In organizing the activities in a local here-and-now, previ-
ous math lessons are drawn upon, both with respect to remembering how
to play games and mathematical terminology (arithmetic operations). The
future is oriented to in terms of what to do during this particular lesson,
but also in terms of what is worth remembering for the future (e.g., strst
frst [biggest first] excerpt 2b, lines 2225). In sum, in the analyzed math
lesson acts of remembering create continuity and frame the ongoing activi-
ties, through establishing a shared point of departure for the lesson to
come. They simultaneously form an interactional ground, based on previ-
ous shared experiences, for future changes with regard to how to perform
math and what artifacts to use and when.
Practices of Remembering 197

Processes of remembering are not restricted to linguistic resources but

are constituted in the interplay between artifacts, teacher, and students.
Remembering works to build upon, create, and modify ongoing activi-
ties and takes different shapes depending on the resources that are used.
Remembering is thus a constituent part of the accomplishment of a com-
puter-mediated math task where it is distributed over students, teachers,
software, and computer. The design of the software functions as a pros-
thetic device, storing the history of the students results and progression,
thus linking the present to the past as well as preparing for future activities.
Storing the individual childrens results creates an external memory system
that makes it possible to return to the same place and begin from there.
The diploma incorporates remembering as it documents the childs pro-
gression, substantialized in a paper that can be stored and brought forward
in new situations (e.g., showing friends or parents).


Transcription conventions adapted from Jefferson (2004) and Mondada


{DCL}[ ] Overlapping talk

= Equal signs indicate no break or
gap between the lines.
(0.8) (.) Numbers in parentheses indicate silence. A
dot in parentheses indicates a micropause
less than 5/10 of a second.
. , ? The punctuation marks indicate intonation. The
period indicates falling intonation, the comma
continuing intonation, the inverted question
mark slightly rising intonation and the question
mark indicates a rising intonation.
:: Colons are used to indicate prolongation or
stretching of the immediately prior sound.
- A hyphen after a word indicates a cut-
off or self-interruption.
word Underlining indicates some form of stress
or emphasis. The more the underlining the
WOrd greater the emphasis. Especially loud
talk is indicated by upper case.
The degree signs indicate that the talk between
them was quieter than its surrounding talk.
The up arrow marks a sharp rise in pitch.
< > Left/right carats indicate that the talk
between them is slowed down.
(Appendix continues on next page).

APPENDIX (continued)

.h .hh Audible in-breaths are shown with a .h

the more hs the more in-breath.
wo(h)rd Laughter particles
(( )) Double parentheses are used to mark
transcribers descriptions of events.
( ) Empty parentheses indicate that something is
being said but no hearing can be achieved.
* * Gestures and actions descriptions are
delimited between two identical symbols (one
symbol per participant) and are synchronized
with corresponding stretches of talk.
> Gesture or action described continues
after excerpts end.
Gesture or action described continues
>* across subsequent lines

until the same symbol is reached.

MARGARETA Name in upper-case indicates teacher
Sandra Name in lower-case indicates student
sandra Participant doing the gesture is identified
when (s)he is not the speaker.


1. Informed consent was obtained from the students and their parents as well
as from the head teacher, class teachers, and the teacher assistant. All par-
ticipants have been given pseudonyms.
2. Fieldwork was conducted in 2008. Since then technological development has
obviously been substantial.
3. The participants are speaking Swedish, and translations into English are in-
cluded in the representations. The translations are done with the aim of stay-
ing as close as possible to the Swedish word order and ways of expression.
4. It is interesting how the teacher talks about doing rather than playing games.
Possibly this could be understood as a way of framing the games as school
tasks rather than leisure activities.


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Cognitive Socialization When Learning to
Reason as an Economist

sa Mkitalo and Roger Slj



A defining element of a sociocultural approach to human communication,

cognition, and social action is the idea of mediation and the role of arti-
facts as mediational means in human activities (Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch,
2007). Just as physical, or technical, tools extend the powers of the human
body in practices such as digging (spades, excavators), hunting (rifles,
snares), or when moving from one place to another (bicycles, cars), mental
or psychological toolslanguage, concepts, number systems, alphabets,
and so onplay a decisive role in human cognitive activities. This idea

Memory Practices and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. 201229
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 201
202. MKITALO and R. SLJ

of the role of intellectual tools for human thinking is clearly expressed in

Vygotskys (1981) famous essay, The Instrumental Method in Psychol-
ogy, where he analyzes how tools are constitutive of what he refers to as
instrumental acts. In the instrumental act, artifical formationsthat is,
human-made signs and sign-systemsreorganize mental functioning and
introduce several new functions connected with the use of the given tool
and with its control (p. 139). Such an artificial tool also generally abol-
ishes and makes unnecessary a number of natural processes, whose work is
accomplished by the tool (p. 139).
Vygotskys notion of psychological tools is meant to be taken as an
analogy (1981, p. 139) to how technical tools operate in physical activity.
The idea, accordingly, was not to make a distinction between the material
and the conceptual, but to argue that the signs and sign-systems we develop
as cultural beings serve as instruments for mastering mental processes.
As has been pointed out by Cole (1996), tools are simultaneously ideal
(conceptual) and material, and

they are manufactured in the process of goal directed human actions. They
are ideal in that their material form has been shaped by their participation
in the interactions of which they were previously a part and which they medi-
ate in the present. Defined in this manner, the properties of artifacts apply
with equal force whether one is considering language/speech or the more
usually noted forms of artifacts such as tables and knives, which constitute
material culture. (p. 117)

The idea that the material form of concepts and artifacts emerges as a
function of the historical contexts in which such resources have been used
points to the importance of understanding their sociogenesis, and how
they have been integrated into, and simultaneously have contributed to
shaping, social and intellectual practices.
In this chapter we will use one example, namely the concept of GDP
(gross domestic product). This concept, with a long history in economics, is
usually defined as a measure of the value of what a nation produces during
one year. We will demonstrate some features of how this powerful cultural
tool is appropriated and the obstacles that learners struggle with. While the
meaning and use of GDP have shifted over time, and the term, thus, has
accumulated increasingly rich meaning potentials (Rommetveit, 1974), it is
usually stripped of most of these when introduced in economics education.
In its most common material appearance, Y=C+I+G+X-M, it presents
several challenges to students who try to make sense of GDP. Our ambition
is to point to the fundamentally social nature of human reasoningthat
is, how concepts and intellectual tools are anchored in, and contribute to
reproducing, what Goodman (1978) refers to as ways of world-making.
Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications 203

The formula of GDP, that is, its material-textual form as above, has
emerged as a result of a long and discontinuous trajectory, where several
institutional actors have taken active part. In order to understand current
learning and meaning-making among students as adaptations to institu-
tional modes of structuring the world and remembering, we will briefly
discuss some features of institutional as well as individual uses of texts as
sociocultural artifacts and memory devices.


When studying learning and memory practices in society, texts form a
particularly interesting class of objects of analysis. Texts, in a very obvious
manner, are both ideal and material; they rely on sign systems and inscrip-
tions (scripts, pictures, diagrams, etc.) as instruments of semiotic mediation,
and they may be implemented in various material forms. Writing emerged
as a memory practice in early Mesopotamia when societies and economies
became more complex and documents were needed for social coordina-
tion (Schmandt-Besserat, 1996). Receipts, contracts, tax registers, and
other records were necessary elements of a more diverse economy, where
transactions took place between parties who did not know each other, and
where documents began to serve as resources for registration of people
and goods, for contracts, for taxation, and for solving disputes (Kramer,
1963, 1981).
The complex and intricate relationships between literacy and society
have been the subject of much research and intense debates during the past
half-century (cf. Olson, 1994; Olson & Cole, 2006). Literacy practices are
interesting in the sense that they exist at the intersection between individu-
als and institutions. Writing, for instance, is both an internal, psychological
process of committing thoughts and ideas to a visuographic form, and,
at the same time, writing is out there; it exists along with other social
artifacts of culture, and forms part of a broader social context (Barton
& Hamilton, 1999, p. 799). This intriguing duality of texts and literacy
practices was also at the heart of Jack Goodys extensive analyses of the
consequences of literacy for social change. He pointed out that [s]ystems
of communication are clearly related to what man can make of his world
both internally in terms of thought and externally in terms of his social and
cultural organization (Goody, 1987, p. 3).
The transformative power of systems of inscription and textsat the
individual as well as collective levelis obvious through the manners in
which they have contributed to the building up of what Donald (1991) refers
to as external memory fields, where human experiences and insights are
codified in reified form. Writing made it possible to document information
204. MKITALO and R. SLJ

and human experiences and to preserve them over time in external

symbolic storages (ESS) (Donald, 1991). Following this development, the
human mind must be construed as a hybrid that operates largely through
mergers and coalitions (Clark, 2003, p. 3) with artifacts, where intellectual
tasks such as remembering to a large extent are outsourced. In document
societies (Thomas, 1992), emerging in Mesopotamia, developing further
in ancient Greece and in other places, texts became central to many
institutions such as the legal system, bureaucracies, commerce, schools,
religion, and so on: institutions that to a large extent built their authority
and power on the capacity to document and process information, and
where the hybrid nature of remembering and reasoning are obvious.
At the level of cognitive practices, the spread of literacyin its many and
diverse formsimplied a particular form of socialization of human minds.
Scripts are complex and generally have to be taught through explicit peda-
gogy. The emergence of schooling some 5,000 years ago was a significant
social invention in the sense that the activity of studying was introduced in
society. Texts were becoming increasingly central elements of the epistemic
practices of hybrid minds relying on ESS. Thus, human experiences do
not simply end up in external symbolic storages; nor can they be retrieved
without extensive cognitive and communicative socialization. Documen-
tation and retrieval of information clearly require cognitive adaptation.
To serve as elements of instrumental acts, the use of texts presupposes
systematic intellectual training that concerns how to read, how to write,
and how to use a range of conventionalized symbolic resources such as
lists, tables, and algorithms. In addition, one must learn about the genres
of communication, argumentation, and meaning-making that are relevant
for various practices. A user and producer of texts equipped with such
skillsgeneric as well as domain-specifichas resources for learning and
remembering in collaboration with the technology that go far beyond what
is possible for an individual stripped of such social and material means for
intellectual work. She or he also has access to external memory fields in
new manners; information may be looked up and human experiences may
be retrieved as part of an ongoing activity. In the words of Nickerson (2005,
p. 6), texts are perhaps the most prominent example of how tools function
as cognitive amplifiers.
In the following, we will situate this line of reasoning about the inter-
twined character of meaning-making and remembering with texts and
conventions for writing and studying within the social practices of instruc-
tion in economics in the context of higher education and a course in
introductory economics. But first we will briefly comment on the emer-
gence of GDP as a resource for conceptualizing economic practices and
Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications 205



As we have alluded to earlier, a precursor of todays economic literacy

practices can be found in the pragmatic need for social coordination in
early Mesopotamia. The very first forms of writing that emerged were
inscriptions on stones and clay that served as devices for documenting,
remembering, and regulating economic transactions (Schmandt-Besserat,
1996). Much later, and when studying the development of bookkeeping in
medieval Europe, Thomson (1994) argues that the material possibilities of
visually arranging economic transactions in textual form had important
consequences for establishing the practice of double-entry bookkeeping,
an intellectual technology and documentation practice that was to shape
society. Through the materiality of writing, transactions could be visually
arranged as entries of items in columns, easy for the eye to inspect and
summarize. In addition, the use of Italian (rather than Latin) and the
arrangement of the text served an instructional function about how to
control and account for the flow of economic transactions, while it simul-
taneously shaped a particular calculative rationality. Accounting is, in this
sense, an important cultural inventiona technology, a form of rational-
ity, and an institutional practice that is intrinsic to, and constitutive of, our
social relations.
As accounting became established and stable across time and diverse
local settings, the first attempts were made to calculate what at the time
was called the wealth (or income) of a nation. One such early attempt is
documented in Sir William Pettys Verbum Sapienti (1664/1899). His efforts
to calculate the value of what the country produced had both economic
and political motifs. It was done in order to estimate how much to collect
in taxes during war (a very costly activity). This means that the accounts,
originally designed for regulating concrete economic transactions, were
now transformed into resources for more abstract calculations and analyses.
This transformation can be understood in terms of how primary genres
are transformed into more complex secondary genres in Bakhtinian par-
lance. Secondary genres absorb and digest various primary (simple)
genres (Bakhtin, 1986, p. 62), as they typically combine simpler types of
reports into more complex entities. Such secondary genres serve other
pragmatic needs and reconfigure the position of the user in relation to
what is described. When absorbed by secondary genres, the primary ones
lose their immediate relation to the actual reality and to the real utter-
ances of others (Bakhtin, 1986, p. 62).
Economics can be understood as a complex secondary genre that
absorbs, digests, and combines various accounts or reports of economic
transactions in order to serve some other pragmatic need. Information on
206. MKITALO and R. SLJ

economic transactions is collected regularlythrough account statements,

income-tax return forms, surveys and interviews, customs declarations,
VAT accounting, stocktaking, and so on. Such collected information will
be used for producing sets of statistics that are necessary to analyze eco-
nomic relations, and that, in turn, will inform decisions on how to regulate
the economy at the national level. Aggregated information provides the
data decisive for modelinga practice that characterizes economics as an
academic field. Economic models rely on a set of assumptions and rules
that are applied for specific purposes as one operates on these models.
In a sociocultural perspective, such models are artifacts that mediate,
specify, and respecify the activities within a field of practice. Models are
used as means to analyze complex relations, to make comparisons over
time (economic development) or across places (between countries), while
they continue to shape human thinking in particular ways as they serve as
elements of instrumental acts.
Registration and documentation of economic activities are still very
much a part of everyday life for most people, but the modeling of such
activities in institutional settings is abstract. Economic models are visual-
ized in verbal, graphical and/or numerical form. As abstractions, they are,
by necessity, simplifications, and, accordingly, imply reduction of complex-
ity, which is a prerequisite for reaching informative and intelligible results.
Learning how to reason and argue in the educational context of economics,
thus, implies responding to the tensions and discrepancies of what is con-
sidered relevant and accountable at the everyday and at the institutional
level, respectively. In educational settings, gross domestic product (GDP)
is introduced as a measure of the production value of a nation, usually
over a period of one year. We will analyze GDP and how students struggle
to come grips with this rich, and reified, concept/measurement, but first
we will briefly comment on its meaning potentials as part of a tradition of
argumentation and say something about the tensions it inhabits that are of
relevance to our empirical case.

On the Sociogenesis of GDP

As mentioned earlier, Sir William Petty (1664/1899) argued for the need
to calculate the value of what a country produced in order to estimate how
much to collect in taxes. Of course, at that point in time there were hardly
any statistics ready at hand. Pettys calculations were based on estimates,
some more reliable than others, of the various components included.
An important premise for Pettys calculations was that national income
should equal the expenses in line with already established practices of
accounting. His first calculations from the expenditure side concentrated
Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications 207

on consumption. At the income side, he made a distinction between the

income of capital and work, respectively. Many of the ideas in Pettys work
are still relevant when GDP is calculated. The premise that the income
side equals the expenditure side is still considered valid. Also the more
general premise for doing accounts on a national levelthat is, that docu-
mented information always needs to be supplemented by estimations and
understood on the basis of a set of assumptionsholds true in spite of the
rich and differentiated data available today (Sandelin, 2005, 2006). As we
have mentioned, such premises (i.e., of the production and use of second-
ary genres) characterize economics as a discipline, and this poses some
difficulties for students to adapt to.
As is the case with many indicators of social life, the practice of how to
calculate GDP has been, and still is, a site of contestation. Different argu-
ments have been put forth historically of what to include and exclude
while calculating national income. Materialized through different ways of
calculating, such deliberations constitute the background against which
potential understandings of GDP may arise. Adam Smith and Karl Marx,
for instance, argued that only the production of material goods should be
incorporated into the calculations. This manner of limiting what was to be
included in the calculation of GDP, however, would have concrete conse-
quences in terms of how labor was evaluated, and it would exclude many
sectors of society that are important to the economy. This idea was also
heavily criticized during the 19th century, among others by the neoclassi-
cists Alfred and Mary Paley Marshall. It is interesting to note that what was
accounted for in GDP by now in itself had come into focus. Hence, the
impact and power of the measurement was now evident1 in the discussion
of public affairs. The argumentation of what to take into account eventu-
ally resulted in an expansion of GDP to also include the production of
services in the economy (Marshall & Marshall, 1881). This implied a shift
in the meaning of GDP. The value of national production was now more
likely to take into account the value of services relevant for meeting human
needswhat is nowadays referred to as the market value, thus became a
focus of attention.
This new definition of GDP, in turn, had other consequences. It called
for a differentiation in the included items, in order to avoid double count-
ing (for example, the flour from the farmer that is used when making bread
at the bakery should not be counted twicethat is, as flour and as part of
the value of the bread). The conceptual solution suggested by the Marshalls
was to make a distinction between gross and net production measures. This
suggestion would make visible the intermediate goods needed in produc-
tion. Starting from the sum of all production values, the intermediate
consumption thus had to be deducted to arrive at the GDP. This way of
calculating is still in use and is referred to as the value-added approach, or
208. MKITALO and R. SLJ

GDP from the production side. Their suggestion also implied estimating
the depreciation of fixed capitalthat is, how the value of the investment
in a machine decreases over time as it is used in the production process
(Marshall, 1890/1961). To calculate this implied a need to estimate the time
such an investment would last. If the depreciation of fixed capital value
were to be taken into account (i.e., subtracted) when calculating GDP, one
would come up with a more accurate measure defined as the net domestic
product (NDP).2 These deliberations of how to define a concept exem-
plify how distinctions become powerful elements of world-making, where
decisions about what to include and what to exclude will affect decision-
making and, in this case, public understanding of society and economic
However, as is often the case when exploring how categories and mea-
surements are actually used in social and historical contexts pragmatic
concerns often prevail, since intellectual tools, like GDP, are needed for
different purposes. A shift from calculating NDP to GDP, for instance,
prevailed in the middle of the 20th century, and this shift has been inter-
preted as a consequence of the pragmatic need to politically get a grip on
the economy after the war, especially the production capacity on a short-
term basis (Sandelin, 2006). By this time, GDP had become a concern for
more than a few enthusiastic economic thinkers. In the middle of the 20th
century, it emerged as an established official measurement, an intellectual
tool used regularly by nations to describe their economic state and to follow
it over time. As such calculations were institutionalized and regularly made
by many countries at the national level, GDP was also increasingly recog-
nized as a handy tool for solving other kinds of problems. For instance,
it provided a solution to the pragmatic concern of calculating justifiable
fees for countries participating in a number of international organizations.
With the increasing influence of such international organizations, the ways
of calculating GDP have, in turn, been adjusted and standardized at the
international level. One important international organization at the time,
the League of Nations, quite early saw this potential use of GDP. In the doc-
umentation of the 1928 conference, the League members articulated the
need for achieving international comparability and urged the participat-
ing countries to develop their national statistics in order to meet this goal
(Sandelin, 2006). The idea of international comparability has since then
been a driving force for achieving common definitions and for establishing
systems of classifications. This means that the calculations of each country
have been standardized to enter into a system that is conceived as legiti-
mate for evaluating and comparing the economic development of several
nations. Agencies such as the United Nations, the European Union, OECD,
and the International Monetary Fund have been engaged in the establish-
ment and refinement of a common standard, and this contributes to the
Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications 209

power of GDP in economic and policy discourse. Nation-specific rules

and regulations have been successively abolished. For instance, in Sweden
an already established convention of what to count as investments and
intermediary consumption was adjusted to meet the requirements for
comparability within Europe. In applying a one-year limit3 for what to
count as investments, rather than a three-year limit (which had been the
Swedish convention), GDP increased by 34%.
In a sociocultural perspective, institutionalized measurements such as
the GDP are best understood as intellectual tools that are used for prag-
matic purposes. They are part of a made reality, and they emerge through
argumentation. As we have seen, GDP has been used to address different
kinds of concerns, and it has, accordingly, shifted in definition and gained
new meaning over time. As a powerful intellectual tool, it is obviously infer-
ence rich, and a novice user has to learn to make relevant distinctions as
the concept is put to work. GDP was generated from a need to measure and
estimate the value of what a nation produces in order to decide how much
to collect in taxes. Later, GDP became a tool for making overviews and
economic follow-ups of a nation over time. At an even more abstract level,
it has lately come to be used as a tool for international comparisons, which
in turn requires standardization of definitions and procedures for national
accounting. As such, GDP is thus quite complex. As a secondary genre, it
still depends on accounts of concrete economic transactions, agreements
on what items to include (or exclude), as well as on various estimations and
One of our main points in this chapter is that for students to learn
and make sense of GDP, they should be invited to understand central ele-
ments of its meaning potentials. A tension will inevitably appear between,
on the one hand, seemingly fixed definitions of the concept, and, on the
other hand, the need of recognizing the divergent aspects of the accumu-
lated meaning potentials on the other. The concept of GDP needs to be
unpacked and made relevant in order for students to make sense of it. In
our case, GDP is introduced to students at the university level in an intro-
ductory economics course. The institutional arrangements for learning
about economics in general and GDP in particular will be attended to in
the following.



Current institutional patterns for studying, teaching, and learning

economics at the university have a long history, and in many respects
they follow the traditional cycle of lecturing, self-study, seminar activity/
210. MKITALO and R. SLJ

exercises, and examinations (Hamesse, 2003). Reading of textbooks is still

a major undertaking for university students. Through reading as a personal
mode of meaning-making, the experience of individual students will be
challenged by the lines of thinking presented in textbooks. In economics,
students stand at the threshold of a world within which they have to learn
to disregard, or, at least, reconsider much of what they know about society
and economic practices, and they have to enter into an analytical mode
of thinking where modeling is central (McCloskey, 1994). Participation in
such literate activities and familiarizing oneself with their reified conceptual
frameworks, genres of communication, and modes of meaning-making
are extended processes, and it will take time before students are able to
consider and respond to what is being presented and argued in the texts.
In addition to this solitary activity, lecturing and exercises are prominent
features at the introductory level.
Earlier research in the teaching and learning of introductory econom-
ics has noted an interesting tension between the intentions of students, on
the one hand, and, on the other hand, the intentions of their professors.
It has been claimed that students tend to look for a realistic picture of the
economy, while their professors are preoccupied with the art of construct-
ing economic arguments according to the conventions of their discipline
(Klamer, 2007; Klamer & Colander, 1990). An important concern in
economics as an academic field, and as a secondary genre, is to develop
conceptual models that can be used for particular purposes. Refinements
may be introduced to any well-functioning model, which can make it more
complex, but realism in terms of correspondence with everyday economic
transactions is simply not the point. In an educational context, this implies
that there are clear limitations with respect to how students can draw on
their own experiences when challenged by the difficulties raised by eco-
nomics as a field of study (Caropreso & Haggerty, 2000; Lim & Barnes,
2005). Appealing to a world of well-known transactions will often lead
astray, as we will show.
One example of such partial and recurring miscommunication relates
to the regular use of assumptions. This is a disciplinary technique that is
frequently used in lectures and tutorial sessions but seldom made into a
topic of discussion in its own right. Precisely the lack of such discussion
is claimed to create many problems for students. In Klamers words, the
student of Economics faces the challenge of speaking about the unspoken,
filling in the missing text in economic discourse (Klamer, 1987 p. 175;
Klamer & Colander, 1990), when attempting to realize what is presented
at lectures and in textbooks. Thus, central features of the discourse of eco-
nomics, its assumptions and limitations, are largely assumed rather than
made explicit. The student, then, has to attempt to see through on what
basis problems are described and claims made.
Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications 211

An illustration of how students are instead introduced to this field is

how the notion of a market is presented in its most naked graphical form
(Klamer, 2007; see Figure 9.1). Repeatedly used for pedagogical purposes
in lectures at the introductory level, this graph of a market is often initially
questioned by students due to its simplicity (the two curves representing
demand and supply, with quantity at the x-axis and price at the y-axis).
As this graph is used to discuss a particular market, an instructional lan-
guage is simultaneously introduced that is heavily dependent on the visual
representation. A lecturer would, for instance, ask the students what kind
of factors that would cause a shift of the supply curve to the right, how
movements along the curve can be understood, and in what ways a new
equilibrium will be established. Quite soon, the students seem to have
appropriated this intellectual tool and use it as an integrated part of their
reasoning. They develop a new intellectual habit to use Deweys (1966)
expression when solving exercises and explaining market relations. As a
simple illustration, this is quite typical for Economics as a disciplinary form
of discourse. Economic models are, as earlier mentioned, not primarily
used to represent the economy as it exists out there; rather, they are used
as tools for arguing and thinking as an economist (McCloskey, 1994).

Figure 9.1

Modeling and the use of mathematical operations usually build on avail-

able statistics (i.e., collected data). A typical lecture, accordingly, aims at
introducing such models as means for economic thinking and reasoning,
and the lecturer demonstrates how they are to be understood and applied
by writing on the whiteboard. The format of such lectures in economics has
been referred to as chalk and talk (Becker & Watts, 1996), which typifies
212. MKITALO and R. SLJ

this activity as a specific institutional practice. The role of the students

during lectures is primarily to listen, to follow the presentation, and to
take notes.
After the lectures, the calculation exercises in a tutoring seminar format
follow. Students prepare themselves by working alone or together with
assignments that have been tailored for practicing modeling and these,
hence, are intended to attune their analytical endeavors to this mode
of reasoning and thinking (Figure 9.2). A typical exercise in introduc-
tory economics is to calculate GDP, and in these exercises we can see the
traces of the problems that Petty and the Marshalls struggled with. GDP
can be calculated in three ways, what is referred to as the production, the
expenditure, and the income side, respectively, and these are introduced
in lectures through formulae and then calculated on the basis of a set of
statistics presented. The most common way to calculate GDP is from the
expenditure side, and often this formula is the first one to be presented
to students: Y=C+I+G+X-M. GDP (Y) is the sum of private consumption
(C), investment (I), government spending (G) and net exports (X M).
For the students, the calculations per se are not the difficult part of the
exercise. The formula is quite simple. The most prominent difficulty lies
in understanding and making sense of what is implied by this equation,
what the elements of the formula refer to, and for what purposes it is to
be used. The following comment from a first term student illustrates this
dual nature of the equation: Its so hard to grasp, but at the same time it
feels completely trivial.

Figure 9.2. A group of students are working together. The written assignment,
their own notes and the textbook of Economics are simultaneously used as resources
for meaning-making.

This paradox of, on the one hand, knowing how to proceed, but, on the
other hand, not understanding what conceptual assumptions underpin
what one is to do, is quite common among first-year students. Our brief
exploration of the sociogenesis of GDP as a measurement (its historical
Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications 213

emergence as a secondary genre, its contestability, and its different contexts

of use) gives a background for understanding the difficulties the students
struggle with when attempting to grasp what the concepts and the formu-
lae refer to.
In the next section, we will follow a group of students who are facing
some interesting challenges while trying to make sense of GDP through
collaborative work. We will follow part of their work to illustrate how the
material basis for learning and remembering plays a significant role in
meaning making and in unpacking reified conceptual constructions such
as GDP. Its rich meaning potentials are, as yet, largely unchartered terri-
tory for these students. We also want to highlight how students collaborate,
remember, forget, and make sense through the textually mediated resources
that are available to them while working with the exercise.

Making Sense of GDP as an Educational Challenge

The students we will follow work together with a calculation exercise

where GDP is a central element. The students have been introduced
to GDP, and the three methods have been thoroughly presented in a
chalk-and-talk lecture where the professor (Bill), in a step-by-step
manner, calculated GDP on the whiteboard while the students took
notes. First we will introduce how the two ways of calculating GDP (that
are mentioned in the students task) were presented to them. During
the lecture, the professor first defined the items included in the differ-
ent approaches and wrote them on the whiteboard as formulae, first
expressed in words (Figure 9.3).

Figure 9.3
214. MKITALO and R. SLJ

The professor here provided a concrete example of how to think about

the necessity of distinguishing intermediate consumption (as economists
had struggled with) and subtracting it from the production value. Other-
wise, an ingredient, in this case the flour in the bread, would be counted
twice as we pointed out above. GDP from the production side was not
elaborated further, but referred to as the sum of value-added during a
year. Then the professor continued by introducing the most common way
of calculating GDP. Again the formula was first expressed in words. The
professor gave examples of what could be included in each item as he wrote
them on the whiteboard. When he had finished, he translated his reasoning
into an algebraic equation (Figure 9.4).

Figure 9.4

After the professor provided the students with updated figures from
the national statistics, GDP was calculated on the whiteboard, while the
students did the same in their notebooks. The professor stressed that the
methods he demonstrated should yield the same result, and that they
constitute different approaches or methods for calculating GDP from
different sides of the economy. He also explicitly pointed out that the
distinction between investments and intermediate consumption4 relies
on conventions. He told the students about the example we mentioned
above that Sweden used to have a three-year limit for what should count as
an investment, and as the European one-year rule was adopted, the GDP
of Sweden increased. In his capacity of being a professor of economics,
engaged in introducing students to GDP as the powerful measure it is, he
accordingly makes visible the legal instance (i.e., the principal in Goffmans
1981 terminology) of the new rule, as well as the consequence of its intro-
duction into the Swedish national accounts. That new conventions about
how to define items of this kind can affect the national accounts and the
GDP, however, cause considerable problems for the students.
In the following, we will scrutinize some excerpts in which students,
working in a group, discuss and try to make sense of GDP a few days after
this lecture. The students are preparing for the calculation exercise by
solving a particular task together. In order to solve it, the students need
Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications 215

to remember and draw on what they learned about the value-added

approach and the expenditure approach, respectively. This is a new
occasion for using GDP, and it is challenging for the students, since the
very formulation of the question, and the activity as such, recast GDP in a
new, textured formone from which they are challenged to learn how to
think and reason within the genre of the discipline, which is a very different
literate practice from following a lecture by listening and taking notes. In
the latter case, the storyline, as it were, is given by an experienced lecturer
and framed for the students to be able to follow and understand. On the
new occasion, however, the students need to remind themselves of what
they picked up from the lecture, and they need to remake it in ways that
allow them to act on a specific problem formulation.
As we enter the students conversation, the task formulation is dis-
played on a projection screen to make it visually available to the group.
The students have brought their own lecture notes and books, and Ida,
who initiates their discussion, relies on the written assignment given as she
reads the task aloud to create a shared point of departure.

Excerpt 1. Unpacking the task

1, Ida: how would the items, in calculating GDP from the expenditure
side and the production side respectively, be influenced if one
increases the limit between intermediate consumption and
investment? and how would the GDP level be influenced?
2, Anders: I dont know about that
3, Ida: no (.) thats a bit difficult () but if you have eh (.) its a
question about intermediate consumption and investment
4, Mike: what happens if you have a three-year rule rather than a one-year rule
5, Ida: [exactly]
6, Oscar: [nothing] because the others are-
7. Ida: but the question is from the expenditure side
and production side respectively
8 Oscar: on the production side nothing happens
9. Ida: no cause thats just value-added

What kinds of challenges emerge in this situation and how are they dealt
with by the students? Ida reads the question aloud (turn 1). After acknowl-
edging its difficulty, she starts to unpack the question she just read by
pointing to a central distinction (turn 3): its a question about intermedi-
ate consumption and investment. Mike quickly contributes by addressing
the increased limit mentioned in the question (turn 4): what happens if
you have a three-year rule rather than a one-year rule? (i.e., the problem
given by the professor in the task reverses the situation he described in
216. MKITALO and R. SLJ

the lecture when Sweden joined the EU). In this manner, Mike contributes
to their joint activity by translating relevant parts of the information that
their professor had mentioned during the introductory lecture about con-
ventions in terms of years. This reformulation establishes one of the basic
premises for solving the task, and it also seems to function as a reminder
for Ida, who, when responding, immediately recognizes it as relevant (turn
5). What we see here is an element of what in the literature on learning and
memory is described as transfer (Perkins & Salomon, 1994); the relevance
of an earlier event and concept is recognized as something to be taken into
account. However, in this case, this is not sufficient for the students in terms
of knowing how to proceed with the task.
As Oscar begins to answer the question (turns 6 and 8) by responding to
Mikes preceding turn (4), he claims that on the production side nothing
happens (turn 8)5. His answer is rapidly followed by an agreement and
an account from Ida: no cause thats just value-added (turn 9). This
illustrates an important aspect of how established and recognizable cat-
egories from earlier activities may become too handy devicesthey can be
easily invoked as if ready-made, and will start to function as tools for both
remembering and forgetting in talk. Abbreviations like value-added are
effective tools in the sense that their constitutive elements can be taken
for granted, even if they are not transparent to the userstudents learn
by picking up and beginning to use terms in this manner before they suf-
ficiently master them as inference-rich concepts. To paraphrase Wertsch
and Kazak (2011), students say more than they know, a position that this
kind of exercise often triggers.
Shortcuts like the term value-added play a role as access points to insti-
tutional forms of knowing. However, in order for students to master them
as established intellectual tools, their situated use needs to be challenged,
elaborated, and worked upon. As mentioned earlier, a first description of
GDP from the production side was introduced in the lecture as the sum
of value-added. Such a formulation can of course be readily adopted and
used by the students. However, it does not serve as a sufficient tool for
solving the task, since it does not specify what items are included when
calculating GDP from the production side. Here, intermediate consump-
tion is precisely the relevant item to attend to, which is not noted by the
students. In other words, the expression value-added is used as a reified
term. Since it is mistakenly agreed that GDP from the production side is not
relevant to attend to, the discussion now continues from the expenditure
side. As we enter the conversation, Oscar returns to his text book and finds
the formula (Y=C+I+G+XM), which he senses should be relevant here.
He points to the I which stands for investments.
Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications 217

Excerpt 2. In reality or in the model?

10. Oscar: ((points out the I in the GDP formula)) from the expenditure
side it will- it increases with a one-year rule
11. Ida: so, it would decrease
12. Oscar: investments increase with a three-year rule
13. Ida: but but GDP decreases (.) if you have a three-year rule GDP decreases
14. Oscar: whys that?
15. Anders: No:::
16 Oscar: wha- its not- GDP is not influenced!
17. Ida: yes it is (.) cause thats what he said (.) as Sweden changed
to the one-year rule the GDP of Sweden increased
18. Karin: mm right, cause investments increase or
19. Oscar: no that was only if investments fell and consumption-
how the hell can GDP increase?
20. Ida: but thats what they said thats why
21. Oscar: how the hell can the GDP increase?
22. Ida: dont ask me but thats why-
23. Oscar: you cannot produce more all of sudden just because
you include it differently when calculating?
24 Ida: but GD- the GDP of Sweden increased
25 Oscar: No the change is not in GDP itself the change is between the C and the I

Oscar takes for granted that the value of GDP cannot be influenced
simply by a change of definition of what counts as investment and inter-
mediary consumption. To him this is an absurd claim, since you cannot
produce more all of sudden just because you include it differently when
calculating? (turn 23). In its situated sense, GDP is here drawn upon, by
Oscar, as a determinable and stable entity that can be measured in several
ways. His point of departure for discussing GDP seems to be grounded in
its original meaning and usea calculated and estimated value of what a
nation de facto produces in a year (i.e., the problem that Petty struggled
with). How these calculations are done, and more precisely what items are
included, accordingly, is not attended to as relevant. Also, the premise given
by the lecturer that all methods should yield identical results is temporarily
forgotten. Ida, however, stresses that GDP is influenced by this change of
rule. This claim, however, is not clearly grounded in an understanding of
how such definitions work; rather it refers directly back to her recollection:
but thats what they said thats why (20) the GDP of Sweden increased
(24). As a fact explicitly pointed to by an authority, her argument is that
this is something that has to be considered in the work.
218. MKITALO and R. SLJ

To back up his claim, Oscar now draws on the particular items that
constitute the GDP formula, arguing that the change occurs within the
model without influencing GDP as an outcome: the change is not in
GDP itself the change is between the C and the I (25). Here, it should be
noted that Oscar confuses intermediate consumption (which is an item
included in the value-added approach) with private consumption (which
the C stands for in the expenditure approach). Even though there is a
similarity at the term level, these two categories are distinctly different in
the genre of economics, and they are included in two different methods
of calculating GDP, something the students do not seem to realize. As
items, they are accordingly part of different lines of reasoning as mani-
fested by their occurrence in different approaches for calculating GDP.
Some items are included if we decide to calculate the GDP value from the
logic of measuring what we produce, and others will be included when
calculating GDP from the logic of measuring our expenses. In analytical
terms, you could say that to be knowledgeable within this argumentative
tradition, students need to be able to acknowledge these different ways of
proceeding, and they have to be able to draw on them in relevant ways
for accomplishing the task.
To Oscar and his fellow students, however, such inferences are not yet
available for use. His solution and explanation to the problem that some
change needs to be accounted for is to claim that a shift between inter-
mediary consumption (mistakenly understood as C) and investment (I)
takes place within the expenditure approach. This is an interpretation
occasioned by his attention to the visuographic form as an equation, and as
such it is compatible with his current understanding of GDP as a measure-
ment of concrete production values.
The disagreement about how to understand GDP continues for some
time. Ida objects to Oscars claim again and again by repeating that it did
differ, and that Swedens GDP increased when they adjusted to the Euro-
pean convention and shifted from a three-year limit to a one-year limit.
Oscar rejects this argument several times and argues that there is no real
differenceit is just a matter of how the items included in the calcula-
tion are distinguished from each other; that is, he maintains his previous
argumentative position. As Karin finally finds and reads the notes from
the relevant lecture, however, the significance of the material conditions
for remembering and learning becomes evident in the situation. From this
point on (turn 26, Excerpt 3), it is clear that it is impossible to reject Idas
claim that the GDP level is influenced, and this locally established fact
serves as a premise for the continued thinking.
Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications 219

Excerpt 3. Confronted with institutional facts

26. Karin: ((finds the relevant page in her notebook)) here it is but it was
the other way around (.) like from three years to one
27. Oscar: yes?
28. Karin: fewer- fewer goods will count as intermediate consumption
29. Oscar: m-
30. Karin: so ((reads aloud from her notes:)) intermediate consumption decreased,
value-added increased, and GDP increased ((inaudible)) more eh eh
gross investment and less intermediate consumption gave Sweden
an increase in GDP after the shift from three years to one year
31. Ida: mm hm
32. Oscar: that seems completely illogical!
33. Ida: okay so it wasnt just me who wrote this
((laughing)) that was a relief oh God!
34. Anders: lets make a note of that somewhere at question A then (.) shall we?
35. Ida: yes certainly
36. Oscar: thats completely illogical but as soon as Bill stands
there and tells us well just say ahhhh Bill!

Through the lecture notes Karin is reading aloud, the students are con-
fronted with an institutional voice that they accept as something they have
to come to terms with. If their professor (here referred to by first name)
has said that the adjustment to the European convention resulted in an
increase of the GDP level, the students have to incorporate this in their
reasoning. In a Goffmans (1981) parlance, the instructor takes on an insti-
tutional voice animating a convention that the EU has authored. Even
though it seems completely illogical (32, 36) to Oscar, and probably hard to
grasp for the others, it has to be made sense of in order for them to be able
to solve the task in accountable ways. Accordingly, the notes force them to
make an effort to understand and make sense of GDP in some other way. In
a sociocultural perspective, the students here are clearly in what has been
called a zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978) as they realize
that something has to be explained, and they anticipate that Bill, when
he steps in to guide them, will contribute to an ahhhh feeling of finally
understanding what they are struggling with.
The students now start searching, on a more detailed level, for an
instance where such a difference in GDP level may occur. This means that
they need to start unpacking the different approaches in some detail. The
approaches will now gain instructive as well as directive functions for the
students activities in situ. They now change their point of departure to the
production side again, in order to make sense of the fact with which they
have been confronted. What is now being unpacked more thoroughly is thus
220. MKITALO and R. SLJ

the production approach to calculating GDP that was initially dismissed as

just value-added (Excerpt 1, turn 9). To more thoroughly understand this
way of calculating GDP, the students realize they need to return to their own
resource for rememberingtheir lecture notes (Figure 9.5).

Figure 9.5

Excerpt 4. Altering the strategy: taking the other approach as a point

of departure

37. Oscar: but in that case its its on the production side the change is?
38. Ida: yeah thats what we think
38. Oscar: since its value-added
((students start searching through their note books))
40. Karin: yeah the production side ((searches through her lectures notes))
41. Ida: yeah okay
42. Oscar: ((finds the relevant lecture in his notebook)) on the
production side- yeah okay I see that on the production
side intermediate consumption increases
43. Mike: but value-added has nothing to do with intermediate consumption or?
44. Ida: but- ahh hes right!
45. Oscar [yes if you calculate from the production side]
46. Karin: [as you sit there it is all so obvious that you ] dont write it all down
47. Ida: where is it ehh where did I write it?
Ida ((searches her notebook while the others continue discussing))
48. Ida: oh yes but its so obvious! the ingredients are not as many!!
Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications 221

Since Oscar still seems to assume that on the expenditure side the
change is merely a shift between the C (private consumption) and the
I (investment), the most obvious thing to do when searching for an
explanation to a change in GDP is to suggest it happens on the production
side: but in that case its its on the production side the change is? (37).
This time, however, Oscar notes that there is a change: okay I see that on
the production side intermediate consumption increases (42).
Ida now joins in to support Oscars contribution but- aah hes right!
(44). What Ida has found, and what makes sense to her, is the concrete
example in her notes that was given in the lecture: oh yes but its so
obvious! the ingredients are not as many!! (48). In the following sequence,
Ida tries to use the concrete bread example to make the task more compre-
hensible to her fellow students:

Excerpt 5. Explaining with concrete examples

49. Ida: if we go back to the bread example well get it (.) that GDP
increases from the production side thats what you said eh?
50. Anders: say the bread example
51. Ida: what he ((the professor)) said was that: weve got one hundred and seventy
five kronor bread (.) minus one hundred kronor ingredients so the value-
added is seventy five kronor (.) but if you shift to the one year rule instead
of the three year rule more of the ingredients are suddenly investments (.)
so there are less ingredients like seventy five kronor ingredients seventy five
kronor which means that the value-added is one hundred and GDP increases
52. Karin: Mm
53. Ida: get it?
54. Oscar: yeah yeaah Ill have to think about it
55. Ida: yeah okay
56. ((continues talking))
57. Ida: ((laughs)) okay Ill write what happens in any case bread is
still one hundred but the ingredients are only sixty!
58. Anders: yeah but still, but still I dont get it
((all of them speak at once))
59. Ida: but this is the produ- produ- this is the production side this is the
production side so in other words it ends up like this GDP on the
expenditure side does not change but GDP from the production
side changes so you are probably right that this is-
60. Anders: yeah thats it (.) we changed side, so I was right but from the wrong side
(Excerpt continues on next page)
222. MKITALO and R. SLJ

61. Ida: yes ((laughs))

62. Anders: so everyone was correct
63. Ida: oh God! so our answer to this is that GDP on
the expenditure side is unaltered
64. Oscar: no its not unaltered it shifted within
65. Ida: yeah but GDP is unaltered

As Anders (50) explicitly asks Ida to recapitulate the bread example by

saying it, Ida again invokes the voice of the professor (51) to explain how the
new rule changed the premises for calculating GDP from the production
side. She is using the very simple and concrete example from the lecture
and thus replaces intermediate consumption by the more concrete and
everyday term ingredients. However, she does not succeed to sufficiently
translate between the concrete items in the example to the value-added
approach to GDP. As she checks if the others can follow her line of reason-
ing: get it? (53), it becomes clear that it will take some additional effort
for the others to grasp what is now obvious to her. As Ida goes through
the example again and stresses the premise for their discussion this is the
production side (59), the point successively becomes clearer to Anders
(60). As Ida starts to conclude their discussion, she addresses their previous
disagreement in her summary: so in other words it ends up like this GDP
on the expenditure side does not change but GDP from the production
side changes so you are probably right (59) (which they are not, since Ida
and her fellow students temporarily forget that all methods of calculating
the GDP should give the same result). Oscar, then, revises Idas conclusion
that the expenditure side does not change, by pointing to the shift that he
still argues takes place on the expenditure side between the C and the
I (64). So, while they have arrived at some relevant conclusions, they have
yet to realize and make use of a principle that underpins their taskthat
the three methods are ways to calculate GDP from different sides of the
economy. For this principle to be established as a mediating tool, the stu-
dents need to reach an understanding of economic flows as a model. An
interesting thing to note here, accordingly, is that the students know very
well that the different approaches to calculating GDP should yield the same
result. They have used this knowledge as a premise for their discussions
many times in group work. However, as they are being challenged by this
task, this basic principle is temporarily forgotten and cannot mediate their
thinking and reasoning. This becomes obvious to the students in the sub-
sequent calculation exercise as the professor goes through the calculations
required in the task on the whiteboard (Figure 9.6).
Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications 223

Figure 9.6. The professor goes through the task in the calculation exercise on
the whiteboard. He uses the formulae of GDP from the production side (upper
row) and the expenditure side (below). He points out the items affected in both
methods of calculation and how GDP is affected.

In the calculation exercise, the professor is there to respond to ques-

tions that have emerged from working with this task, to confirm some of
what they have found, and to add to their understanding. The task, as it
was formulated, required a more thorough understanding of the different
approaches and the specific items that are included in the methods for
calculating GDP. Preceded by the lecture, and followed by the calculation
exercise, the task was set up precisely to trigger this kind of intellectual
work among the students. The institutional arrangements, accordingly,
were crafted to position the students in a zone of proximal development
that made it possible to shape their cognitive habits into a specific mode
of economic thinking.
How to make sense of GDP, however, is still a problem for several of the
students, and the concept will remain unstable for some time, until more
examples and tasks that tease out the expected ways of using GDP as a tool
have been established through elaboration and discussion. During such
processes, the audio-visual materiality of discourse plays a decisive role
for processes of remembering and learning. Such forms of remembering
and learning that build on returning to what the professor said and wrote
on the whiteboard are available to the students through the meticulous
notes taken during lectures. These notes, accordingly, stand on behalf of,
or point to, other activities that are salient in the cycle of communication
224. MKITALO and R. SLJ

that constitutes studying as an activity, and in that capacity they are key to
students progress in developing the specific kind of epistemic practices
that characterize hybrid minds engaged in economics scholarship.


The point of our analysis has been to illustrate the fundamental manner
in which learning and conceptual development are social processes where
students appropriate and struggle to use elements of the collective insights
that have emerged over time in society. In such an analysis, the tension
between primary and secondary genres is fundamental. As Bakhtin (1986)
notes, The very interrelations and the process of the historical formation
of the latter shed light on the nature of the utterance (and above all on
the complex problem of the interrelations among language, ideology and
world view) (p. 62).
The social nature of learning is apparent at several levels, both in terms
of what is appropriated and in terms of how the activities are organized
as individual, interactional, and institutional practices. Discussions and
argumentations over decades, if not centuries, in various institutional set-
tings produce conceptual distinctions and categories that label objects and
events in ways that are relevant for social activities. The prominence that
GDP is given as a measure in economics, and in contemporary society
more generally, positions the students in relation to powerful institutional
actors. Students know that this measure plays a central role in economic
discourse. This may explain their loyalty to pursuing the task at hand when
they attempt to make sense of it. When studying economics, the hurdle
presented by the concept of GDP, accordingly, is something they know they
have to overcome.
As a secondary genre, economics relies heavily on modeling, and models
reduce complexity and highlight relationships on the basis of set defini-
tions and rules. The students we have followed are struggling with how to
coordinate the specific conceptual elements of this secondary genre with
the world they are familiar with. In order to reason in relevant ways, they
must often refrain from using mundane interpretations of concepts such
as, for instance, consumption or investment. They must appropriate
the specific conventions that apply to describing transactions when viewing
them from the perspective of economics in order to engage in the expected
kind of instrumental act. An interesting conceptual tension that we fol-
lowed concerned how one of the members of the group (Oscar) forcefully
argued that just by changing a definition, the GDP could not change. His
argument was that you cannot produce more all of sudden just because you
Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications 225

include it differently when calculating, which implies that he construed

GDP as an indicator of what is really produced in a real world.
We also saw that the role and function of intermediate consumption in
calculating GDP seem to be hard to come to terms with for the students.
What to count as an investment rather than as intermediate consump-
tion cannot be established by looking at the product itself. Distinctions of
this kind emerge from discussions and negotiations about how to increase
comparability in analyses of national income. The sociogenesis of these
concepts is not readily visible as they are introduced through ready-made
formulae and expressions. As items in these formulae, their material
features, however, seem to play an important role for learning and remem-
As soon as the students recognize the material form of signs in this sec-
ondary genre, the signs serve as vehicles that may be used across sequential
activities even with minimal understanding (Vygotsky, 1987; Wertsch 2007).
We have, for instance, noted how the term value-added was recognized
but dismissed at first as irrelevant, but eventually it was elaborated and
unpacked by drawing on the example which had been given from the
lecture. Similarly, recognizing the expression that GDP increased, as
voiced by an authority in this context, it became obvious that the neces-
sary understanding to back up this claim was lacking among the students
and needed to be worked on. Within a relevant communicative context,
this is an important prerequisite for learning since such use will be chal-
lenged in situ, and sign meaning develops (Wertsch & Kazak, 2011). What
would seem perfectly comprehensible while reading the textbook alone
or listening to the professors, accordingly, needs to be transformed into
students own means for accountable action. Students anticipate questions
to be posed to them. In this appropriation process the words originally
populated by others voices are being reformulated with their own inten-
tions (Bakhtin, 1986). Useful formulations are adopted and recycled by the
students at an early stage and serve as important means to elaborate and
verbalize understanding during the appropriation process.
Our analyses also illustrate the manners in which hybrid minds (Slj,
2012) operate through the use of a range of semiotic resources. Lecture
notes, notes from the textbook, notes from the tutorial sessions, assignment
questions, and examinations are essential for students mastery of complex
instrumental acts. Written documentation plays a central role throughout
the activities we have studied, and students, when engaged in meaning
making, move back and forth between talk and texts. They draw arguments
from their notes and present them to their fellow students in an iterative
fashion. Textually mediated knowledge and information are thus not exter-
nal to their reasoning or remembering. Rather, they are integrated both as
sources of information and as providers of argumentative positions.
226. MKITALO and R. SLJ

In the process of coming to master and appropriate such semiotic tools,

educational interventions of the kind we have seen are necessary. The stu-
dents are in what Vygotsky describes as zones of proximal development in
the sense that they have an initial understanding of what the relevant dis-
tinctions are, and where they are heading, but they need the support of the
teacher, their books, and lecture notes to get on with their problem-solving.
The process of appropriating economics as a secondary genre requires
unpacking of specific disciplinary assumptions, concepts, and practices,
and here the teacher serves as a bridge into the expected rationality. As the
students were left to struggle alone without direct support, the voice of the
professor was often invoked and used as a concrete resource for formulat-
ing utterances, for giving authority to certain claims, and for explaining
difficult premises for calculating GDP through concrete examples given
during lectures.
Processes of forgetting are equally interesting to note in learning.
As more challenging ways of understanding GDP became necessary to
establish in situ, earlier taken-for-granted ways of knowing and reasoning
seemed to be temporarily lost. The principle they all had learned, that
all approaches to calculating GDP should yield the same result, was not
actively attended to by the students as they struggled to solve the task.
Learning to reason within the disciplinary genre of economics can in many
ways be characterized as an extensive, iterative back-and-forth process,
where the situated sense and use of GDP in one kind of activity might be
both a resource and an obstacle for understanding it in a slightly different
activity. In this sense, learning takes place with each new occasion of use
because new situations, negotiations, and activities inevitably recast it in a
new, more densely textured form (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989, p. 33).
Learning and remembering more dense and complex secondary genres
thus seem to emerge through the very tensions that arise in concrete com-
municative practices where the affordances and limitations of concepts
have to be attended to.


1. This is the case also today. The value of unpaid work, for instance, when dis-
cussing GDP is still a hot issue that teases out certain claims and arguments
(Sandelin, 2006).
2. In Sweden, similar definitions to NDP were regularly in use from 1861, and
up until 1930 such calculations were institutionalized (Lindahl, Dahlgren, &
Kock, 1937).
3. In terms of the estimated life of a good.
4. Note that investments, I, is an item included in the expenditure approach,
while intermediate consumption is included in the value-added approach.
Struggling With Powerful Conceptual Reifications 227

This is something the students fail to take note of in the discussions we are
to follow.
5. His response seems to rely on the idea that a new rule would have different
impact on the different sides of the economy, which is a problematic


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A Mnemonic Standoff Between Russia
and the West Over Ukraine

James V. Wertsch


In 2014, the U.S. and Europe found themselves in a surprisingly tense face-
off with Russia over events in Ukraine. As these events unfolded, it became
clear that what was involved went beyond the kind of realpolitik dispute
over resources or ideology that had long vexed the relationship between
Russia and the West. Instead, it seemed to involve something deeper and
more visceral, something that led many observers to acknowledge they
were at a loss to come up with an explanation for what they saw as aggres-
sive and dangerous moves by Russia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel
reportedly told U.S. President Barack Obama, for example, that Russian

Memory Practices and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. 233248
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 233

President Vladimir Putin was not in touch with realitya sobering obser-
vation, given that she was the Western leader regarded as having the best
understanding of the Russian perspective.
Putins forceful, almost contemptuous dismissal of warnings from U.S.
and European leaders about the dangerous path he was pursuing led to
anxious speculation about what lay behind it. After years of pursuing a
pragmatic geopolitical game that was understandable, though not always
appreciated by the West, Putin seemed to be operating in a different world.
He had spent years courting acceptance in organizations like the G8, whose
meeting he had planned on hosting in the new Sochi Winter Olympics
setting, but in 2014 he seemed to be throwing everything away in pursuit
of some sort of mission that few in the West understood.
In Washington, DC, Politico Magazine devoted the cover story of its
March 13, 2014 issue to putting Putin on the Couch. Some two dozen
journalists, former diplomats, and other Russia watchers speculated on why
Putin blithely ignored the objections of the West and pursued a course of
action that was so baffling. One of the journalists wrote about being befud-
dled by Putins actions and called him crazy, calculating, and somehow
capricious all at the same time. Others attributed his behavior to a suscep-
tibility to conspiracy theories, a cold calculating personality, his pessimism,
paranoia, deep anger at the West, insecurity, hypersensitivity, and a tough
upbringing on the streets of Leningrad.
To be sure, Vladimir Putin brought personality quirks to this geopolitical
encounter, but in the end these were not the main drivers of his actions.
I shall argue instead that much of what he said during the tense standoff
with the West over Ukraine was a straightforward reflection of an underly-
ing national narrative that has been part of Russian culture for centuries.
Catherine the Great, who annexed Crimea to the Russian empire in 1783,
reportedly believed that the only way she could defend her country was
to expand its borders. This rationale continues to play a role in Russian
reasoning today, at the grassroots level as well as at the top. In order to
understand Putins stanceand why it is wildly popular with large segments
of the Russian population, it is crucial to understand the social language
(Wertsch, 2002, p. 64) that they share as members of a mnemonic com-
munity (Zerubavel, 2003). This is a social language built around a set of
narrative tools that shape the speaking and thinking about the past and
the present and that distinguish this mnemonic community from others.


To focus on Putins crazy statements or cold, calculating personality is

to miss a crucial point when trying to understand his actions. Instead of
Narrative Tools, Truth, and Fast Thinking in National Memory 235

focusing on him as though he were an atomistic (Taylor, 1985, p. 187) or

unencumbered (Sandel, 2010) individual, we need to examine the narra-
tive tools that shape his thinking; instead of putting him on the couch, we
need to consider how his thinking reflects his membership in the Russian
mnemonic community.
In this view, narrative tools are a kind of co-author for Putins utter-
ances,2 and to understand what these utterances mean, we must understand
the tools behind them. In many respects, the deep divide that separates
Putin from Western leaders reflects a more general divide between mne-
monic communities and the narrative tools they employ. And it turns out
that this is more than just an academic exercise since understanding these
issues holds an important key to finding ways to rein in dangerous con-
frontations such as that which has arisen between Russia and the West over
The approach that I take to symbolic mediation draws on the writings
of Vygotsky (1978, 1987), but it is important to contextualize Vygotsky in a
broader discussion that was going on in Russia, Germany, and Europe in
the 19th and 20th centuries. This is a discussion heavily shaped by figures
such as Gustav Gustavovich Shpet (1927), a Russian student of Husserl
and one of Vygotskys teachers in Moscow, and the German philosopher
Ernst Cassirer (1944, 1946, 1955). Although Cassirer was often dismissed
by official Marxist-Leninist psychologists of the Soviet era for not being
sufficiently materialist in his orientation, his insights had an important
impact on Vygotsky, Bakhtin (1986), and many others who lived and wrote
in the Soviet context.
The general line of reasoning that guided these figures is that humans
are tool-using animals and that in order to understand discourse and
thought, it is essential to take the contribution of mediation, or cultural
tools (Wertsch, 2002) into account. For Vygotsky and others like Luria
(1976, 1981), this meant turning first and foremost to natural language.
Following in the footsteps of Wilhelm von Humboldt, Ernst Cassirer, and
others in philology and semiotics, Vygotsky and Luria expanded the line
of reasoning by examining psychological methods in a way that allows us
today to incorporate insights from psychology and cognitive science into
the broader picture of national memory.
At several points in his writings, Vygotsky was quite explicit about the
centrality of mediation (oposredstvovanie) in his thinking, and in my view it is
the key to understanding much of the unique power of his ideas (Wertsch,
1985, 1991). Near the end of his life, for example, he asserted, A central
fact of our psychology is the fact of mediation (Vygotsky, 1981a, p. 166).
This had actually been a core part of his thinking for years, and a focus
on mediation, especially as it concerns signs, or psychological tools,
can be found throughout his writings. In a 1930 account of The Instru-

mental Method in Psychology, he included under the general heading

of signs: language; various systems for counting; mnemonic techniques;
algebraic symbol systems; works of art; writing; schemes, diagrams, maps,
and mechanical drawings; all sorts of conventional signs (Vygotsky, 1981b,
p. 137).
Such cultural tools are by their nature ... are social, not organic or
individual (Vygotsky, 1980, p. 137), which means that by mastering them,
our speaking and thinking are socialized into a particular cultural and
historical order. Vygotsky (1981b) emphasized that this mastery involved
transforming rather than simply facilitating social and mental functioning
that already would have occurred:

By being included in the process of behavior, the psychological tool alters

the entire flow and structure of mental functions. It does this by determin-
ing the structure of a new instrumental act just as a technical tool alters the
process of a natural adaptation by determining the form of labor operations.
(p. 137)

Vygotskys ideas echo Cassirers in several important respects, and

drawing on both yields some useful synergies. For Cassirer, a starting point
was the rejection of the nave copy theory of knowledge (1955, p. 75). When
talking about the ways in which science engages with the world around us,
for example, he noted that the instruments with which it propounds its
questions and formulates its solutions, are regarded no longer as passive
images of something given but as symbols created by the intellect itself
(p. 75). From this perspective human cognition and action are deeply
shaped by symbolic forms, which include, but are not limited to, language.
A crucial point where Cassirers line of reasoning goes beyond Vygotskys
comes from his claim that using symbolic forms introduces the curse of
mediacy, meaning that this use comes at a costa cost that often goes
unrecognized. From this perspective, using narrative tools is a double-
edged sword because all symbolism harbors the curse [that] ... it is bound to
obscure what it seeks to reveal (1946, p. 7). Taken together with Vygotskys
analyses of language as mediation in social and mental life, this means
that to be human is to use cultural tools that are destined both to empower
and limit our understanding, including our understanding of the past.
The aphorism by W. J. T. Mitchell (1990) that there is no representation
without taxation comes to mind, and it applies nowhere more forcefully
than in national narratives and memory.
Cassirer developed his insights by outlining how particular symbolic
forms such as myth, art, and science hold the key to understanding the his-
torical emergence and current state of human social and mental life. One
of his most important interpreters, Susanne Langer (1958), summarized
several of his points by noting that for Cassirer:
Narrative Tools, Truth, and Fast Thinking in National Memory 237

[T]he history of thought consists chiefly in the gradual achievement of factu-

al, literal, and logical conception and expression. Obviously the only means
to this end is language. But this instrument, it must be remembered, has a
double nature. Its syntactical tendencies bestow the laws of logic on us; yet
the primacy of names in its make-up holds it to the hypostatic way of think-
ing which belongs to its twin-phenomenon, myth. Consequently it led us
beyond the sphere of mythic and emotive thoughts, yet always pulls us back
into it again; it is both the diffuse and tempered light that shows us the exter-
nal world of fact, and the array of spiritual lamps, light-centers of intensive
meaning, that throw the gleams and shadows of the dream world wherein
our earliest experiences lay. (pp. 391392)

To some degree, this line of reasoning is echoed in the ideas that guided
Vygotsky and his student and colleague Luria as they conducted their
empirical studies in central Asia in the 1920s. Employing oppositions that
echoed those between the syntactical and hypostatic tendencies of lan-
guage, they wrote of how theoretic and practical forms of thinking
differ and how higher forms of mental functioning emerge out of ele-
mentary processes. However, in contrast to Vygotsky, who emphasized that
the achievements of higher mental functioning can be distinguished from
elementary forms, Cassirer focused on how even the most advanced forms
of abstract thinking retains elements of what Langer called the sphere of
mythic and emotive thoughts.
Taken together, the ideas of Vygotsky and Cassirer suggest a world
in which speaking and thinking are fundamentally shaped by the sym-
bolic mediation, or cultural tools provided by historical, institutional, and
cultural contexts. It is a world in which human mental and social life is
socioculturally situated because of its reliance on these tools, including
narratives, and these tools shape our thinking and speaking in multiple
complex ways. And in this context, the double nature of language as an
instrument plays a complicating role in shaping narratives and memory.
On the one hand, what Langer called the syntactic tendencies inject an
element of logic into our understanding of the past, but on the other, these
same narrative tools pull us back to hypostatic ways of thinking associ-
ated with myth.
It is worth noting that in this approach cultural tools do not mechanisti-
cally determine human discourse and thinking. Instead, the very notion
of a tool implies an active user and suggests an element of variability and
freedom stemming from the unique contexts of performance. Bakhtin
(1986) made this point in his account of the speech utterance or text. For
him, any text involves a tension between two poles: a preexisting language
system that provides the repeatable moment of an utterance, on the one
hand, and a particular instance of speaking in a unique setting, which pro-
vides the nonrepeatable moment, on the other. All utterances reflect the

influence of these two poles, but their relative weighting can vary widely.
For example, a military command relies heavily on a language system and
leaves little room for spontaneity, whereas informal discourse in everyday
life relies more heavily on the unrepeatable, spontaneous pole.


Returning to Putins stance on the 2014 events in Ukraine, the first point
to recognize is that what he said was fundamentally shaped by the narrative
tools of his mnemonic community, and as such, it makes sense to include
the power of these tools into our analytic effort. The fact that his speech
after the annexation of Crimea was wildly popular with large segments of
the Russian population provides a reminder of the common narrative tools
that bound him and this population togetherand also set them apart
from members of other communities. So, what kinds of narrative tools are
involved, and why do they have such power?
One of the most important shared narratives that binds the Russian
mnemonic community together concerns repeated invasions by foreign
enemies. In such accounts, the enemies inflict great suffering and humil-
iation but are eventually defeated by the valiant efforts of the Russian
people bound together by a distinctive spiritual heritage. The whole world
saw how this narrative played out in the heroic Soviet defense against
Hitler, but for Russians this is just one iteration of an endlessly repeating
narrative template. For them, the same story has been played out with dif-
ferent characters for centuries, including with the Mongols (13th century),
the Germans (Teutonic knights) from the same period, the Poles (16th
century), the Swedes (18th century), the French (19th century), and the
Germans again (20th century).
This national memory has encouraged Russians to develop habits of
emplotment, or narrative templates (Wertsch, 2002), that lead them to
interpret many events in similar waynamely, as threats; this is the case
even when others see the events as obvious cases of aggressive Russian
expansionism. The long list of traumatic experiences Russia has had with
the Mongols, the French, the Germans, and so forth provides ample reason
for developing these habits, so my point is not that the resulting view of
the past is without grounds or simply a figment of imagination. Russia has
suffered repeated invasions, to be sure. But the way these events have been
interpreted in countless retellings over several centuries has engendered
a more general, schematic narrative template that is widely and automati-
cally employed by members of this mnemonic community. Based on an
Narrative Tools, Truth, and Fast Thinking in National Memory 239

array of evidence (Wertsch, 2002), I have outlined the following formula-

tion of this Expulsion-of-Alien-Enemies narrative template:

1. In the initial situation, Russia is peaceful and not interfering with

2. Trouble arrives, in which a foreign enemy viciously attacks Russia
without provocation.
3. Russia comes under existential threat and nearly loses everything in
total defeat as it suffers from the enemys attempts to destroy it as a
4. Through heroism and exceptionalism, against all odds, and act-
ing alone, Russia triumphs and succeeds in expelling the foreign

This underlying code has been used repeatedly by the Russian mne-
monic community to make sense of events from the past, and it is also
employed when interpreting current events such as those in Crimea in
2014. Rather than seeing their action as aggressive expansionism and
annexation of others territory, Putin and probably the majority of Russians
took Russian action in Crimea to be a reasonable response to an external
threat. From their perspective, European and American actors were clearly
encouraging Ukrainian nationalist groups to break away from Russia, and
the resulting outcome would be having NATO, or at least NATO-friendly
forces, at the border of yet another part of Russia. Similar interpretations
prevailed in Russia in interpreting its war with Georgia in 2008. It was
not Georgia itself that was at issue from the Russian perspective; instead,
Georgia was taken to be just the point of a NATO spear pointed at Russias
southern flank.
Experienced diplomats and leaders understand this reasoning and
the need to take it into account when dealing with Russia. Even the savvy
Angela Merkel, however, had a hard time keeping this in mind when it
came to Russias actions in Crimea. She was used to a Russia that saw
enemies where others did not, but she was also used to dealing with Russian
leaders who could recognize other perspectives and rationally weigh the
consequences of taking a course of action that might be popular at home
but costly in terms of international relations. In this case, however, Putin
seemed to be locked into a perspective that was impervious to input from
all others, and the result was a tense standoff.
What is it about national narratives as symbolic mediation that contrib-
utes to such situations? How do they allow, even encourage, experienced
leaders and the lay public to become so locked into their own perspective
that they are sealed off from understanding others and lose sight of their

own broader interests?3 Two important factors that seem to be at issue are
truth claims and fast thinking.


Tense interpretive standoffs such as the one in 2014 over Ukraine and
Crimea are typically grounded in assumptions about the truth of what
really happened. These mnemonic standoffs (Wertsch, 2009) about
events in the near or distant past are different from other sorts of disputes.
In contrast to confrontations over ideology or opinion, the participants in
mnemonic standoffs all too easily get locked into opposing views about
truth, and these are positions that are very hard to get out of. Instead of
responses such as, Well, I guess we just disagree on what we value or I
happen not to share your opinion on that, we find ourselves saying things
like, I cant believe you really think that is what happened! or You must
be brainwashed! And if we find ourselves saying, You are just lying!, the
conversation is bound to be over.
Such discussions can become heated and even dangerous, especially
when they involve state officials. Speakers in such settings must take
responsibility for their own actions, but at least part of the reason they
find themselves in frustrating standoffs can be traced to the narrative tools
they employ, and this, in turn, can be traced to the ways that two kinds of
truth operateand are often conflated. First, the sentences that make up
a narrative can be assessed for what I term their propositional truth. For
example, Crimea became part of Russia in 2014 is true, whereas Crimea
became part of Russia in 2013 is false, and we have fairly straightforward
means for assessing the truth of such propositions (archives, eye witness
reports, etc.).
But narratives involve more than a simple collection of propositions;
they grasp together (Mink, 1970, p. 547) events at another level or orga-
nization by placing them in a plot or what the Russian formalist Victor
Shklovsky (1965) called syuzhet. The operation of plot in narrative is
perhaps most evidently manifested in the fact that the sense of an ending
(Kermode, 1967) is an essential part of the text that allows us to give
meaning to events and characters that came before it. This narrative logic
assumes that the ending of the story is what gives meaning to all the events
leading up to it. As formulated by Peter Brooks, It is in the peculiar nature
of narrative as a sense-making system that clues are revealing, that prior
events are prior, and that causes are causal only retrospectively, in a reading
back from the end (2012, p. 47).
When thinking and speaking about Crimea, Putin was not simply
listing a series of facts or observations; he was organizing them in line with
Narrative Tools, Truth, and Fast Thinking in National Memory 241

narrative tools of his mnemonic community, and this required the events
to be grasped together into a familiar plot. In his view, Russians were living
through a set of events that had a familiar storyline, namely the series of
events starting with a threat to Russia that could result in great damage
if alien enemies are not repelled. For him and his Russian audience, the
events at hand were events for which they had a shared means for reading
back from the end even before they knew what the precise end would be.
In the case of the Crimean dispute, Putin was able to grasp things
together along the lines of what Frederic Bartlett (1932) might have called
a specifically Russian effort after meaning based on the narrative tem-
plate noted above. His tendencies toward doing this were so strong that for
him the events unfolding there were obviously part of yet another threat by
an alien invader. In a speech on March 18, 2014, he asserted that the new
government in Ukraine was the result of a coup carried out by national-
ists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites,4 and from his perspective
these unsavory actors were clearly urged on by NATO and other Western
agents. While not invokingor even being consciously aware ofthe
Russian narrative template I have outlined, Putin seems to be reading
straight from it in such comments.
It is worth noting that in this case the threat was not at the borders of
Russia as they existed at that time. Rather, the threat was to compatriots
(i.e., ethnic Russians) in what was then Ukraine. From his perspective,
they were being subjected to psychological and cultural, if not physical
violence: Time and time again attempts were made to deprive Russians
of their historical memory, even of their language and to subject them to
forced assimilation. As some observers have noted, this sets a dangerous
precedent of using imagined national borders, as opposed to internation-
ally agreed upon state borders, but Russia leaders and the Russian public
more generally were so locked into their sealed narrative (de Waal, 2003,
p. 140) that they ran roughshod over such distinctions.
In making his case for why his Russian compatriots were in danger from
nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites, Putin pointed
to news reports in the Russian media that documented the statements of
right-wing, strongly nationalist Ukrainian groups like the political party
Svoboda. In terms of propositional truth, it is accurate that some members
of Svoboda were involved in events in Ukraine leading up to the overthrow
of the government in early 2014, and it is also accurate to say that some
Svoboda members have been so strongly nationalist in their statements as
to suggest a kind of fascism. But it is also true that most participants in the
events were not Svoboda members and that Svoboda has disavowed fascism
and anti-Semitism.
Hence, there are many propositional truths swirling around these events,
and the problem is how they are to be emplotted into a story of what really

happened. From the perspective of narrative truth, the issue is whether

assigning the kind of story line Putin used is the best way to grasp together
all the events of Ukrainian political life into an accurate story line. Did a
coup lead to an illegitimate Russophobic government in Kiev that was
likely to harm Russian compatriots in Crimea and elsewhere? Or is the
right story one of a mass, popular uprising by Ukrainian citizens who
wanted nothing more than their independence from Russian interference
and the right to cast their future with Europe?
When we try to decide whether one or another narrative is the right one,
we are making judgments about narrative truth, and we have a different
problem on our hands than is the case for propositional truth. Philoso-
phers have struggled for centuries over the technicalities of assessing the
truth of propositions, but for everyday reports about the past and present,
we have general agreement for what kind of evidence is relevant and how to
go about supporting an argument about the truth of an assertion. Someone
who asserted that Svoboda party members were present at the demonstra-
tions in Kiev in February and March 2014, for example, would likely turn
to evidence in the form of photos, media interviews, eyewitness accounts,
and testimonials.
The problem with narrative truth, on the other hand, is that even if we
agree on the propositional truth of all the components of a narrative text,
we do not necessarily know what the right story is. As Louis Mink (1978)
and others have noted, it is not just a matter of toting up all the truths of
the component propositions, something we often do in logical proofs and
science. Instead, there must be another level of judgment involved, and as
David Cronon (1992) has observed, even professional historians can use
the same set of facts (propositional truths) to arrive at quite different stories
of what happened. If such rational actors using objectively agreed-upon
facts can do this, one can only imagine what we are likely to do when faced
with members of other mnemonic communities in a heated argument such
as one about what really happened in Ukraine or Crimea.
So how do we go about assessing narrative truththat is, whether or not
someone is providing the right story about what happened? Our first incli-
nation is often to invoke propositional truths in support of our claims. Putin
and other members of the Russian mnemonic community, for example,
were likely to say things such as, How can you say this wasnt a coup by
extreme nationalists in Ukraine! Didnt you see the Svoboda party member
there? The problem with such arguments, once more, is that narrative
truth cannot be reduced to propositional truth or a sum of propositional
truths; in this case, even if I agree with the assertion that Svoboda party
members were in demonstrations, that does not mean I agree that the real
story of what happened in Kiev was a coup carried out by nationalists, let
alone neo-Nazis, Russophobes, and anti-Semites.
Narrative Tools, Truth, and Fast Thinking in National Memory 243

So how do we decide whether a narrative is true or not, whether I

have arrived at the real story of what really happened? To be sure, it
is incumbent on those discussing such matters to bring well-documented
propositional truths to the table, but no matter how assiduous they are in
doing this, narrative truth will not be fully determined. Instead, there is an
irreducible element of judgment, and this judgment is heavily influenced by the
narrative template one brings to the exercise. To be sure, the assignment of truth
value for even a proposition often involves some element of judgment, but
this is a process that is much more heavily weighted toward using publicly
available evidence than is the case for narrative truth. What makes the
assignment of truth value for a narrative even more problematic is that the
judgment is typically made with little conscious effort or reflection, and this
brings me to the second factor that makes the adjudication of interpretive
standoffs so difficult: the fast thinking that is involved.



In analyses of national memory, narrative templates are powerful habits

of speaking and thinking that operate in ways, which often escape our
notice. Research in cognitive science on fast thinking (Kahneman, 2011)
and intuition (Haidt, 2013) have produced insights about conscious and
nonconscious thinking that are quite compatible with ideas about how nar-
rative tools are employed by national communities, and they can be put to
good use in analyzing them.
In Daniel Kahnemans (2011) account fast, or System 1 thinking
operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of
voluntary control (p. 20). It contrasts with slow, or System 2 thinking,
which allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand
it, including complex computations [that are] associated with the sub-
jective experience of agency, choice, and concentration (pp. 2021). In
describing the relationship between these two modes of mental function-
ing, Kahneman argues that System 2 can sometimes step in and check the
work that System 1 is doing in its automatic, nonconscious way, but this
requires effort and concentration, and one of [System 2s] main character-
istics is laziness, a reluctance to invest more effort than is strictly necessary
(p. 31). This laziness of System 2 can be a real problem because System 1
decisions can be misleading or even clearly wrong. We tend to be unaware
of this, however, and to make matters worse many people are overconfi-
dent, prone to place too much faith in their intuition (p. 45).
The ideas outlined by Kahneman are suggestive of why mnemonic com-
munities might have so much trouble understanding one another. Along

with encouraging us to jump to conclusions, System 1 thinking is char-

acterized by overconfidence. In this form of mental functioning neither
the quantity nor the quality of the evidence counts for much (2011,
p. 87). Instead, [w]e often fail to allow for the possibility that evidence
that should be critical to our judgment is missingwhat we see is all there
is (p. 87). In short, the associative machine that guides one mnemonic
community may yield System 1 machines for jumping to conclusions that
differ from the associate machine of another group. In the terminology
employed here, each mnemonic community relies on its own set of narra-
tive templates and the fast thinking that goes with them, and when these
differ, intractable opposition over what really happened in the past are
likely to emerge.
From this perspective, narrative templates are habits for making quick,
almost automatic judgments that are not usually subject to the effortful
conscious reflection of System 2. Rather than deliberately and consciously
selecting an item from a stock of stories to make sense of an event, the
influence of narrative templates is so automatic and powerful that they
almost seem to take the lead and encourage us to act with overconfidence
in how we see events unfold in a predictable manner. Taken to an extreme,
this suggests that it may be more appropriate to speak of how narrative
templates engage an agent rather than how an agent uses them.
In this connection, Kahnemans notions about System 2 provide some
reason for hope. They suggest that the active agent can reenter the picture
through conscious reflection and do a more diligent analysis of evidence
than would derive from jumping to the conclusions suggested by a narra-
tive template. Because System 2 tends to be lazy and require significant
effort to become engaged, however, the sort of critical reflection required
to bring a narrative templates interpretation into question is not readily
undertaken. But it is precisely such reflection that is crucial for recognizing
and resolving differences between national mnemonic communities.


The central role of fast thinking and the associated tendency to jump to
conclusions about the truth of ones account of the past mean that mne-
monic standoffs such as that between Russians and the West over Ukraine
may be expected to be the rule rather than the exception. The psycho-
logical processes involved are powerful and lead to overconfidence in our
account in part because they operate below our level of conscious reflec-
tion. The combination of narrative tools and the nonconscious habits of
thought associated with them is so powerful that we can find ourselves
taken by surprise when someone comes up with a completely different
Narrative Tools, Truth, and Fast Thinking in National Memory 245

interpretation of what really happened. The disconnect can be so great

as to give rise to comments about how others are operating in a different
reality or are brainwashed, but such comments may also mean we do not
understand the logic of another partys perspective.
In the end, however, it can be productive to assume that other parties are
operating in accordance with some logicoften narrative in nature that we
simply dont understand. This is further complicated by the fact that logic
is perhaps too strong of a word here. When we talk about logic, we usually
have in mind some kind of explicit, rational analysis, something that would
clear qualify as System 2 thinking for Kahneman. But the logic involved
in narrative templates operates at such a submerged level that that we dont
recognize the power of symbolic mediation and assume we are simply telling
the truth of what happenedanother curse of mediacy.
The origins of how we become so enmeshed in and so committed to
narrative templates of a national community largely remain unclear, and
by way of concluding, I turn to some speculation on this issue. It may be
that our earliest exposure to national narratives in schools or even at a
younger age is characterized by a tendency to make sense of the past using
a single straightforward storyline. After all, before exposing children to all
the complexities, exceptions, and ifs, ands, and buts of history, it is often
argued that they need a simpler, more coherent starting point, and in this
connection we often talk about how students must first learn a basic account
of something before they can start to become critical consumers of it.
Furthermore, despite many teachers best efforts to encourage rational
reflection when teaching history, it is essential to remember that their prac-
tices are shaped by forces larger than themselves. Namely, what is taught
in classrooms everywhere reflects the efforts of the nation-state to educate
good and loyal citizens through the control of textbooks and curricula. In
recent years, this has been part of debatessometimes quite emotional
about what should and should not be taught in classrooms. For example, in
her 2002 book America: A Patriotic Primer, Lynne Cheney starts out with the
example that A is for America, the land that we love. Her book is not a
part of the formal curriculum in the United States, but as former chairman
of the National Endowment for the Humanities and wife of former vice
president Dick Cheney, her ideas have significant weight in many circles.
At the same time that such discussions have been going on in America,
President Putin has criticized what he sees as the muddle5 (The Rewriting
of History, 2007) in Russian teachers heads and has urged textbook writers
to focus on the heroic, patriotic side of the past rather than its dark chapters.
To be sure, he notes that Russian history did contain some problematic
pages (para. 4), but he has stressed that the history of other countries
did too, leading him to conclude, We have fewer of [these problematic
pages] than other countries. And they were less terrible than in some other

countries (para. 4). The upshot is that we cant allow anyone to impose a
sense of guilt on us (para. 4). To be sure, Cheney and Putin may provide
particularly blatant examples of efforts to present patriotic history, but
the spirit that motivates them can be found behind much of the history
instruction everywhere in the world as well, and this begs the question of
how a steady diet of being exposed to such tightly scripted accounts of the
past might give rise to the mental habits associated with national narrative
A second point to consider when trying to account for the genesis of
narrative templates is that research in the psychology of memory suggests
that the first exposure to information or the first discussion or rehearsal
of an event after it happens can have a profound effect on what is remem-
bered. This can be so profound that people sometimes report still having
a memory of an event even though they have information that convinces
them that this memory is inaccurate. Is something like this behind the fact
that we appear to be so locked into stories about past events that we have an
extraordinarily hard time seeing anothers perspective? Indeed, it is even
possible that one can enter formal schooling with an unofficial memory
of the past that is so well established that it overpowers the states efforts to
inculcate an official history? Tulviste and Wertsch (1994) suggest that this
is precisely what happened in the Soviet era in places like Estonia.
My comments at this point are highly speculative, but they may point to
a fruitful place for collaborative investigations that would bring together
scholars from a wide range of disciplines to address some of the most
mysterious and dangerous phenomena we see at work in international
relations today. To be sure, the conflicts that exist between national com-
munities cannot, should not be reduced to issues of mental habits, but too
many discussions among opposing parties are short-circuited because we
dont recognize the power of these habits and the narrative templates that
give rise to them.


1. See Garagozov (this volume) for more on forms of mediation involved in

national narratives.
2. Such co-authoring is part of the larger Bakhtinian question: Who is doing
the speaking? (Wertsch, 1991, p. 53), with the answer always being more
than one voice.
3. For other cases of national narratives and identity as mediated by symbolic
means, see Garagozov and Onyeneho (both this volume).
4. These quotes come fromAddress by President of the Russian Federation.It
is on a Kremlin website:
5. Russias past: The rewriting of history. Economist, 2007. http://www.economist.
Narrative Tools, Truth, and Fast Thinking in National Memory 247


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The Karabakh Conflict

Rauf R. Garagozov


Recent scholarship on social movements, political protest, and ethnopoliti-

cal mobilization emphasizing the role of collective identity as an important
factor contributing to these forms of social behavior has opened the way
through which collective memory has entered the study of social move-
ments (Zamponi, 2013). However, collective memory in social movement
literature is often considered in rather simplisitic form as a process that is
shaped by collective actions and collective representations. For example,
Ron Eyerman (2004) describes this as follows:

Memory Practices and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. 249275
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 249

What social movements provide is a context in which individual biographies

and thus memories can be connected with others, fashioned into unified col-
lective biography and thereby transformed into political force. Social move-
ments reconnect individuals by and through collective representations; they
present the collective and represent the individual in a double sense, forging
individual into collective memory and representing the individual as part of
a collective. (p. 69)

In this chapter I argue that collective memory is not only shaped by

social movements but in some cases it comes out as an independent force
powerful enough to yield mass protest movement. In this connection, col-
lective memory can play a significant role in social movements, especially
in ethnopolitical protest and mobilization, which is often viewed as the
initial stage of ethnopolitical conflict that could lead to ethnic war. This
chapter has two aims: first, to outline theoretically the role of collective
memory in processes of instigating ethnopolitical protests and mobiliza-
tion, and second, to illustrate the possibilities of such a concept using the
Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh as an example. If
collective memory is indeed an important factor, this is especially true of
the Karabakh conflict that emerged in the Caucasus in the last years of the
Soviet Union and immediately after its disintegration. I shall present my
arguments below, but first let me start with a definition of collective memory.



Certain ideas and categories created within the sociocultural approach are
indispensable for the collective memory model, which is suggested in this
chapter. This approach looks at collective memory as a phenomenon shaped
by all types of narratives, but historical narratives in particular (Wertsch,
2002). Historical narratives (annals, chronicles, history textbooks, etc.) are
considered as cultural tools employed to promote collective remembering.
Certain properties of narratives affect the collective remembering process
in a very specific way. James Wertsch (2002, cf. Wertsch, this volume)
identified an abstract and generalized form of narrative as one such
property, which underlies numerous narratives and which he called as
the schematic narrative template (SNT). These SNTs differ from one
cultural setting to another, require special reflection to be identified, and
are used to mold stories about key historic events, even in cases where
historical events do not fit the specific templates. By way of illustration,
the author gives an example of the Russian schematic narrative template,
which he titles as Expulsion-of-Alien-Enemies (Wertsch, this volume).
Collective Memory251

This narrative template, according to the author, may be instantiated

using a range of concrete characters, events, dates, and circumstances, but
its basic plot remains relatively constant and contains the following items:

1. An initial situation in which the Russian people are living in a

peaceful setting where they are no threats to others is disrupted by:
2. The initiation of trouble or aggression by an alien force or an agent,
which leads to:
3. A time of crisis and great suffering, which is:
4. Overcome by the triumph over the alien force by the Russian
people, acting heroically and alone. (Wertsch, 2002, p. 93)

My studies, in turn, have shown that narrative templates are a product

of interaction between various forces and circumstances, which include
political, religious, sociocultural, historical, and even psychological factors
(Garagozov, 2002). The state and the religious institutions, which largely
control history writing and instruction of history, play a particular role
in the process of instantiating of such templates. Being inculcated into
collective consciousness through various forms of cultural and historical
socialization, these templates shape particular mental structures, which
I would suggest to call a pattern of collective memory. It is a kind of cul-
tural pattern (Kroeber & Kluckhohn, 1952), by which I mean a groups
tenacious and structuralized ideas about its past, the actions and motiva-
tions of its heroes, and the deeds of aliens that are abundant in official
history accounts and unofficial histories; are preserved via various cultural
artifacts (literature, art) or social institutions (i.e., museums, memorials,
exhibitions); and are supported by memory politics pursued in a given
society. The pattern may blend with other sides of collective experience
or even become explicated in individual and group behavior, to borrow
an expression from Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952, p. 181). Its ability to
blend with other sides of collective experience explains the narrative tem-
plates amazing tenacity: It has the ability to reproduce itself under new
conditions and in new generations. This explains why the patterns are
steady and inevitable elements of group identities. Departing from these
considerations, I argue that collective memory can play a very important
role in ethnopolitical protest and ethnopolitical mobilization.1 In what
follows further, I shall consider of the possible mechanism mediating the
above-mentioned effects of collective memory.


Collective memory is a rare object of experimental examinations. However,

a number of recent social-psychological experiments provide us with

some insights regarding the possible mechanisms mediating the effects

of collective memory on behavior. Thus, in a series of studies (Lambert,
Scherer, Rogers, & Jacoby, 2009), subjects were reminded in different ways
(by watching an eight-minute clip or writing an autobiographical account
about the 9/11 events) of the 9/11 attacks. Then the experimenter assessed
their emotional mood, attitudes, and judgments.
Compared with a control group, which was not reminded of the 9/11
events, both types of memory activation produced similar effects in emo-
tions: increasing anger or anxiety among participants. These differences
in emotion then produced changes in attitudes and values. Thus, increased
level of anger was associated with rise of militancy, while the increased
level of anxiety was associated with attitudes of tolerance and conciliation
(Lambert et al., 2009).
The effects of collective memory were also observed in my research in
which I sought to understand what types of narratives are more conducive
to attitude change towards reconciliation in the Karabakh conflict and
what are the psychological mechanisms underlying social attitude change
via narrative reconstruction. Attitude effects of narrative intervention were
examined through two types of studies among internally displaced persons
(IDPs)2 and non-IDPs in Azerbaijan (Garagozov, 2012, 2014).
In both studies, subjects were randomly assigned to one of three types of
narratives about the origins of the Karabakh conflict: common suffering
(narrative #1), common cultural traits (narrative #2), and blame the
Russians (narrative #3), or placed into a control group that did not read
a narrative. Then narrative readers and control participants participated in
the assessment of mood, which was based on a battery of self-report items
adapted from the PANAS, a widely used self-report instrument designed
to assess emotional experience (Watson & Tellegen, 1985). In one study,
the subjects were asked not only to read the narrative but also to recollect
their experience and then to discuss a topic for eight minutes in a group
of five respondents. In another study, participants were instructed just to
read the narrative individually, and they were not instructed to recollect
their own experience or to discuss a topic in a group.
Both studies produced similar effects in form of increasing negative
affect among all participants who were exposed to narrative treatment.
However, negative affect among participants who recollected their experi-
ence and discussed the narratives in groups was significantly higher than
in particpants who just read the narrative individually. The analysis of
focus group discussions indicated that the narratives ability to evoke strong
negative affect was mediated by activation of memory, which was defined in
this context as involving the ongoing talking and thinking about the event
by the affected members of society or culture (Pennebaker, 1992, p. 2). In
general, all types of narratives served to activate, especially among IDPs,
Collective Memory253

recollections of conflict scenes and losses caused by the conflict, which in

turn elicited among them the highest indices for emotions of anger and
anxiety. Experimental studies show that collective memories for certain his-
torical events can trigger strong emotions, regardless of whether the event
occurred in the recent or distant past, and regardless of whether the person
personally experienced the event or not. Once activated, such emotion can
have enormously important implications for social behavior. In particular,
some implications can be drawn for the relationship between collective
memory and for such forms of social behavior as ethnopolitical protest
and mobilization. Although researchers mention the role of past collective
experience in generation of strong emotions, they do not specifically dis-
tinguish the role of collective memory in this process. In this regard, I have
suggested my vision of this process by analyzing how collective memory
may contribute to the instigation of ethnic protest and mobilization.



In order to explain how collective memory can play a particular role in the
emergence of ethnic mobilization, I would like to propose the following
mechanism outlined below.
The initial stage deals with what I would call the activation of collective
memory patterns. This activation may take place via the appearance of nar-
ratives that interpret certain events of the present in a specific way. It is well
known that propaganda is most effective in two cases: when it corresponds
to the attitudes of audience, or when it links the new idea with existing atti-
tudes of the audience (Kinder & Sears, 1985). In this connection, the most
powerful in terms of influence are the narratives that follow the schematic
narrative templates peculiar for a given culture since they correspond
well with the already existing pattern of collective memory. Due to this
correspondence, these narratives gain such a power to impact the minds
and feelings of members of ethnic or national groups that never ceases to
amaze outside observers and scholars of ethnic conflicts. In a sense, coming
out of such type of specific narratives in public discourse and mass media
can be a harbinger of future conflicts. There might be different reasons
and forces interested in the emergence of such types of narratives and their
wide dissemination and circulation in public discourse. One of the major
reasons/forces, without doubt, is the turbulent surge of nationalism, which
has a particular interest in such oversimplified historical accounts that
resemble almost a myth. A surge of nationalism is often observed in societ-
ies that have just acquired a freedom of the press and only begin to take the
path of democratization of their communities (Snyder & Ballentine, 2000).

In this connection, the territory of the former Soviet Union or the former
Yugoslavia should be mentioned as recent places for surges of nationalism.
Careful observation of the events in the territories of the former Yugo-
slavia and the Soviet Union shows us that ethnic conflicts were invariably
preceded by the coming out and broad circulation in the mass media of spe-
cific historical narratives. Thus, by way of one example, I can point to the
appearance in the press, in 1986, of a specific victim narrative that antici-
pated the future conflict in Yugoslaviaa memorandum of the genocide
of the Serbs in Kosovo, which was signed by many members of the Serbian
Academy of Sciences (Gagnon, 2000; Snyder & Ballentine, 2000). Political
elites in the former Yugoslavia, via creation, publication, and dissemination
of this memorandum and other kindred narratives (especially popular at
that time were narratives about Serbian defeat in battle in Kosovo in 1389),
obviously reminded their people about the past grievances, atrocities, and
humiliation and certainly stimulated the process of Serbian ethnopolitical
mobilization which eventually resulted in ethnic war. Analyzing the process
of ethnopolitical mobilization, Stuart Kaufman (2001) suggests the notion
of symbolic politics, which is in his view mostly about manipulating
peoples emotions, and symbols provide the tool for such manipulation
(p. 29). In a sense, the specific narratives mentioned above can be con-
sidered as symbols (in terms of Kaufman) that provide powerful tools
for manipulation. To put it briefly, via symbolic politics political elites
can activate collective memory patterns which in turn can yield negative
emotions3 and attitudes with concomitant consequences such as political
mobilization of a population along ethnic divisions. In this connection, I
assume that calls for national action are more likely to resonate among
people if they follow their national narrative, to their schematic narra-
tive templates. I support this thesis by considering the initial stage of the
ArmeniaAzerbaijan Nagorno Karabakh conflict. But before looking into
this conflict, it seems reasonable to describe some major features of Arme-
nian and Azerbaijani collective memory, which, as I shall show, have further
significantly contributed to the emergence of this conflict.



Proceeding from the sociocultural version of collective memory as medi-

ated by different kinds of historical narratives, I assumed that peculiarities
of Azerbaijani and Armenian collective memories can be better described
through the analysis of their historiographic tradition. In what follows, I
will briefly review major Azerbaijani and Armenian historical narratives in
the context of their relations with collective memory. In this regard, the
Collective Memory255

concepts of institutional history and counter history proposed by Mark

Ferro (1984) will be useful analytical tools in examining these relations.
According to Ferro, institutional history is a kind of history that dominates
in a given society. It is supported by the institutions dominant in that society,
such as state, educational system, church, and political party. Counter-
histories that are opposite to institutional history may also circulate in
a society. These histories come from the oppressed and low social status
groups of the population. Ferro suggests that in some cases these counter-
histories (the author calls them institutional counter-histories) may be
maintained by civic organizations that are not dominant, and/or they may
be preserved and maintained in the form of oral accounts and legends
(the author designates them as collective representations or collective
memory). As Ferro (1984) points out, in different countries and societies,
we may find various types of interaction and correlation between these
forms of history. In the context of our research, it is worthwhile to examine
the relation between institutional history, which is grounded on history
textbooks, and collective memory, which is based on histories transmitted
via families at home and via informal groups (Onyeneho, this volume).
In general, the formal history of the Soviet Union, which was based
on a positivist concept of history as containing an objective truth, estab-
lished on the basis of historical facts (Slezkine, 1996) actually was an odd
mixture of facts, omissions, and direct falsifications, aimed at educating a
homo sovetikus. Within the general framework of the Soviet historiography,
a basic set of principles was formulated that provided guidelines how to
write history textbooks for each of the republics of the USSR. The most
important of these principles were the principle of ethnoterritoriality
and primordialism. The main point of ethnoterritorial principle was to
link each ethnonational group to a particular territory (homeland). In
turn, primordialism strived to represent ethnicity as a natural, unchanged
property of individuals and groups and was articulated in the theory of
ethnogenesis, which helped to explain scientifically the existence (forma-
tion) of a given people in a given territory from the time immemorial to the
current period (Slezkine, 1994). By and large, the historical picture for the
peoples of the South Caucasus, consisted of the same elements: ethnogen-
esis in ancient times; the emergence of kingdoms, khanates, principalities
in the Middle Ages; the further development of the peoples under the
beneficent tutelage of Russia; and finally incorporation into the enlight-
ened and liberating Soviet Union (King, 2008). However, for a number
of reasons, the Azerbaijani and Armenian national narratives had some
important differences. Regarding the Azerbaijani historical narratives, the
following should be noted.
The Azerbaijani historiographic tradition is relatively young. For a
long time, the role of repository of the collective memory for Azerbai-

janis was played by the dastans,4 by folklore, folk songs, tales, and legends
that enjoyed exceptional popularity among the people (Altstadt, 1992;
Paksoy, 1989; Shaffer, 2002), which, in the words of the researcher, served
to develop the national tradition of epic account (Niabiyev, 1985). An
important role in the process of collective remembering is played first and
foremost by works of the epic genredastans. These epic stories, which
extolled primarily individual heroism or selfless devotion, even though
they might reflect certain historical events, often rather remote ones, on
the whole did not contain elaborated, fully developed historical interpreta-
tions or what might be called strong ethnohistories (Smith, 1995). This,
in turn, gave rise to significant gaps in Azerbaijani collective representa-
tions about their historical past and opened a broad way for various sorts of
historical reconstructions in accordance with the ideological purposes of
the Soviet regime that was established in Azerbaijan in 1920. However, not
only the lack of an established national historiographical tradition but also
openly anti-Islamic orientation of the official Soviet ideology and its fear
of Pan-Turkism forced historians to resort to such projects of identity
that might have very little in common with the real history of shaping the
Azerbaijani nation (Shnirelman, 2003). Therefore, it is not accidental that
the Azerbaijani historiography was indeed one of the most fabricated his-
toriographies in the Soviet period. To summarize, the formal history that
was presented in Soviet textbooks on the history of Azerbaijan and that was
underpinning Azerbaijani collective memory and identity was constructed
strictly in accordance with the ethnoterritorial principle suggested by the
communist idelogists. In this regard, one historian notes:

This territorial principle was drawn up in close relationship to the so-called

theory of ethno-genesis of the Azerbaijani people and it played a key role
in the consolidation of Azerbaijanis in the twentieth century. An interest-
ing situation arose: recognized as historical heroes were Javanshir, the Chris-
tian king of Caucasian Albania in the 7th century; Babek, the leader of an
insurgent anti-Arab and anti-Muslim movement in Azerbaijan in the ninth
century; and Shah Ibrahim Derbendi, the ruler of the state of Shirvan in the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Introducing these figures from different
epochs with different ethno-religious origins became possible only within
the framework of Azerbaijani patriotism. Within the official paradigm, all
of them served the cause of Azerbaijani statehood. (Mustafayev, 2007, p. 98)

In this connection, it is worth noting that in spite of a territorial

principle, Soviet textbooks on the history of Azerbaijan provided a very
abstract description of historical homeland and did not include maps
(Rumiantsev, 2012).
Unlike Azerbaijani, Armenian historiography has a relatively long
tradition of historical writing with a well-developed schematic narrative
Collective Memory257

template, which can be entitled as a faithful people though surrounded

and tormented by enemies (Garagozov, 2008, p. 6). This narrative tem-
plate, which was created and preserved by the Armenian Church, consists
of the following basic components:

1. The initial situation: (the Golden Age) in which the Armenian

people are living in a time of valor and fame, which is undermined
by hostile intrigues, as a consequence of which,
2. Hostile forces descend on the Armenians, as a result of which,
3. The Armenians experience huge torments and sufferings.
4. If they remain steadfast in their faith, they overcome their enemies;
if they depart from the faith, they suffer defeat.

Based on this template, many medieval Armenian historical narratives

are abundant in the form of so-called texts of hatred directed towards
people of other faiths and representatives of other concessions. The reason
for the production of such texts is quite clear: The Armenian Churchthe
main institution responsible for creation and preservation of historical
narrativeswas striving in every possible way to preserve and increase
its influence on minds and feelings of members of its community. In the
19th century, the baton was picked up by the nationalistically charged
Armenian intelligentsiateachers, artists, writers, and historians, many of
whom came out of religious circles. New historical narratives created by the
Armenian intellectuals were based almost on the same Armenian schematic
narrative template with some minor modifications. These modifications
reflected the onset of a secular epoch of nationalism and were designed
first and foremost to replace the religious component of the template with
a national component. Ultimately, the Armenian intelligentsia, which was
nationalistic in its inclinations, modified the religious ideologeme accord-
ing to which the fate of Armenians is dependent on their devotion to
their faith, into a new, national ideologeme that, from then on, could be
expressedhardly changing the former religious and cultish character at
allapproximately as follows: the fate of Armenians is dependent on their
devotion to their nation. Having gained a powerful instrument for exert-
ing influence on the collective consciousness and behavior of the group,
the Armenian nationalists used it for their own political aims (Suny, 1993).
The Armenian historical narratives that continued to be written later,
during the Soviet era, uncritically accepted Armenian historical works,
once more reproducing the traditional Armenian schematic narrative
template, but this time under changed conditions. Thus, in regard to Soviet
Armenia, Ferro (1984) noted the existence of three different histories: the
institutional history told in Soviet textbooks on the history of Armenia;
histories told to children of the diaspora and to children in Armeniabut

in the home (collective memory); and the history of the Armenians as it was
developed in Western historiographical science. At the same time, as Ferro
goes on to point out, even though the history told in the Soviet Armenian
textbook differed from that told in the home (in particular, the official Soviet
history, in keeping with the atheistic orientation of Soviet ideology, ignored
the role of the Armenian Church), on the whole, both histories were in the
Armenian historical tradition which, as we recall, is characterized by the
content of the Armenian schematic narrative template. Thus, Shnirelman
(2003) characterizes the Armenian Soviet history textbooks as following:

The course on the history of the Armenian people was included into the pro-
gram of general schools in Armenia at the end of the 1930s; ... One of the
peculiarities of the Armenian textbooks was the usage of term the Greater
Armenia.... Armenian textbooks in the Soviet era diligently avoided men-
tioning any religious issue;... the textbooks emphasised more the antiquity
of the Armenian people.... No less important were storylines describing the
Armenian peoples age-old national liberation struggle against various for-
eign invaders. These stories taught that the continuous struggle for freedom
sooner or later yielded its fruits despite of sacrifices that they had to bear on
that road. (p. 76)

In this connection, relations between the institutional history and

the Armenian collective memory were not particularly antagonistic, or
at least they were less antagonistic than the relation between the Arme-
nian institutional history and the collective memory with respect to the
Western scientific historiographical tradition, a relation that was extremely
conflicted.5 The Armenian history textbooks differed from textbooks on
Azerbaijani history textbooks not only by keeping its SNT (Figure 11.1). In
addition, the Armenian history textbooks even during the Soviet period
included a geographical representation of the historical homeland pre-
sented as the Greater Armenia, a large part of which as it taught had
been lost due to hostile actions, including genocide commmitted by
Turks. Unlike the Soviet textbooks on history of Azerbaijani, Armenian
history textbooks contained the maps of Greater Armenia (Parsamian,
Pogosian, & Arutiunian, 1970), which included the territories of several
neighboring states.
Moreover, in opposite to the principle of ethnoterritoriality, the Soviet
Armenian history textbooks presented Karabakh as part of Armenian
historical homelandGreater Armeniaand depicted events that took
place in Karabakh, that is, on the territory of the neighboring fraternal
republic, as events directly related to Armenian people and their history.
For comparison, the Soviet textbooks on the history of Azerbaijan predomi-
nantly narrated events that happened within the borders of the modern
republic with a few references to Southern Azerbaijan that is currently in
Collective Memory259

Source: Parsamian, Pogosian, and Arutiunian (1970).

Figure 11.1. Map of Greater Armenia from the Armenian history textbook for
secondary schools 8th grade.

Iran, and never even mentioned tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis who

lived in their historic territories in neighboring Armenia and Georgia. In
this regard, even during the Soviet period, the Armenian national narra-
tive was more nationalistic than the Azerbaijani. In sum, we can conclude
that if for Azerbaijani collective memory the major constitutive principle
was territorial; for Armenian collective memory patterned by the schematic
narrative template (a faithful people though surrounded and tormented
by enemies), it was an ethnic principle. The Armenian tragedy that took
place in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 only strengthened the ethnic principle
of the Armenian schematic narrative template. Since then, this narrative
template has taken on the following formula: the Christian Armenians
surrounded and tormented by Turkish Muslims. In this regard, it is worthy
to note that while Turks and Azerbaijanis, whom Armenians also counted
as Turks, were perceived by Armenians as their main enemies, Azerbaijanis,
who had no such a pattern of collective memory, for a long time refused
to look at Armenians in such antagonistic terms.6 As a result of this, a
surge of nationalist feelings and territorial claims by Armenians in the late
20th century were largely unexpected and shocking to most Azerbaijanis.
Keeping in mind the peculiarities of Armenian and Azerbaijani collective
memory, let me turn now to the Karabakh conflict. I would like to dwell
on one aspect only, namely, ethnopolitical mobilization of the conflicting
parties. I believe that this is the key to understanding the role of collec-
tive memory in the Karabakh conflict. Let me start with the ethnopolitical
mobilization of Armenians in Karabakh and Armenia.


Of the data reported in the press, seven episodes of the events of 1988 are
known,7 which totally characterize the pace, scale, and dynamics of the
ethnopolitical mobilization of the Armenians that took place.

First episode (the beginning): On February 13, a group of Kara-

bakh Armenians in Stepanakert (then the capital of Nagorno
Karabakh Autonomos OblastNKAO) numbering several hundred
people, held an unauthorized political rally on Lenin Square and
demanded that Nagornyi Karabakh be reunited with Armenia
(the Armenian SSR).
Second episode: On February15, at a meeting of the Writers
Union of Armenia, the Armenian poetess S. Kaputikian gave a
speech defending the demands of the Karabakh Armenians.
Third episode: On February 18, there was a protest rally against
environmental pollution in Erevan (in the opinion of observers, the
political demands were camouflaged under the guise of ecological
Fourth episode: On February 20, 30,000 people rallied in Erevan
in support of the demands of the Karabakh Armenians.
Fifth episode: On February 22, more than 100,000 people rallied
in Erevan in support of the demands of the Karabakh Armenians.
Sixth episode: On February 23, 300,000 people rallied in Erevan in
support of the demands of the Karabakh Armenians.
Seventh episode: On February 25, 700,000 people rallied in Ere-
van in support of the demands of the Karabakh Armenians (Figure

As these data show, the Armenians ethnopolitical mobilization in the

form of ethnopolitical protest reached its maximum intensity in less than
two weeks time (Gurr, 1993). How did the level of ethnopolitical mobiliza-
tion rise to its peak in such a short time, and what is more, not in Nagorno
Karabakh but in hundreds of kilometers away, in Erevan?8 It appears that
many observers are still, to this day, in some form or other, inclined to share
the view of the factors that caused the Armenian demonstrations, which was
expressed in the Central Soviet newspaper Pravda at the dawn of the con-
flict. In a special article devoted to the events in Karabakh, Pravda wrote:

What brought tens of thousands of Armenians out into the streets of Step-
anakert and Erevan? After all, it was not just the desire for territorial uni-
fication with Armenia alone that brought tens of thousands of Armenians
Collective Memory261

Figure 11.2. Rally in support of Karabakh Armenians demands at Theater

Square, February 25, 1988, Erevan, Armenia.

out into the streets of Stepanakert. What brought them out was, first and
foremost, dissatisfaction with shortcomings in the socioeconomic develop-
ment of NKAO and infringements on national and other rights. (Arakelian,
Kadymbekov & Ovcharenko, 1988, pp. A1A2)

In particular, prevalent approaches to the conflict see its cause either in

social, cultural, economic, or political discrimination against the Armenian
minority that inhabits Nagornyi Karabakh on the part of the Azeri major-
ity surrounding it, or as the age-old hatred between the Armenians and
Azeris, as ethnic or religious identities that are not compatible or as some
combination of these factors. For example, Cornell (1997) explains the
occurrence of the Armenian-Azeri conflict by reference to several factors,
which include: a struggle of antagonistic identities stemming from age-old
hatred; outside support from the Armenian diaspora; the absence of dem-
ocratic institutions in the former Soviet Union, which did not give the
Armenian population of Karabakh the opportunity to openly express their
dissatisfaction and complaints; and so on.
Taking Gurrs conception of ethnopolitical action as his basis, Cornell
explains the ethnopolitical mobilization of the Armenians, by reference
to their high level of in-group solidarity. In and of itself, however, a high
level of in-group solidarity cannot constitute a sufficient condition for a
groups social or political mobilization. Moreover, from Cornells work, for
example, the reason for the dissatisfaction and complaints of the Armenian
population of NKAO is unclear. Cornell acknowledges that it is impossible

to claim any severe social, economic, cultural, or even political discrimi-

nation against the Armenian minority, which, in comparison with other
regions of the Soviet Union, enjoyed quite good economic prosperity and
had its own cultural and political autonomy. In addition, it can be argued
that this conflict is not the outcome of some age-old hatred: the Armenians
and the Azeris have much in common culturally; they got along fairly well
with each other and did not fight until the end of the 19th century.
But if it is not socioeconomic factors, and not severe discrimination
against the Armenian minority, can it be instead that the hand of Moscow
is to blame for kindling the conflict? However, in contrast to the former
Yugoslavia, where the ruling communist government in Belgrade was
guilty of fomenting interethnic strife, the central government in Moscow
could hardly be accused of conducting a similar policy during the period
in question. Thus, the question as to what brought about such an ener-
getic ethnopolitical mobilization on the part of the Karabakh Armenians,
once more, remains obscure. We are again still faced with the sacramental
question: Just what brought tens of thousands of Armenians out into the
streets of Stepanakert and Erevan? Thomas de Waal (2003), one of the
first researchers to point out the inadequacy of the above approaches to
interpreting the Karabakh conflict, turned to an examination of questions
such as the conflicting sides differing historical representations of their
past, official hatred propaganda, myth creation, and so on. The author
singles out the following factors that brought the conflict about:

No matter how unpleasant it was for many observers to concede, the mean-
ing of the conflict in Nagornyi Karabakh can only become more clear if we
acknowledge that the actions of hundreds of thousands of Armenians and
Azerbaijanis were heated up by deeply rooted ideas regarding history, iden-
tity, and rights. And the fact that these ideas were dangerous and illusory to
a substantial extent in no way means that people did not believe them in all
sincerity. They blossomed in an ideological vacuum that emerged at the end
of the existence of the Soviet Union, and they gained new impetus during
the war. The darkest manifestation of these views consisted of stories of
hatred, which put down roots such deep that as long as they exist nothing
will be able to change in Armenia and Azerbaijan. (de Waal, 2003, p. 361)

De Waals (2003) conclusion in regard to the substantial role played

by conflicting historical representations, which often have the nature of a
myth, in the origin of the Karabakh conflict, appears significant. It is rea-
sonable to say that de Waal orients his study in the right direction, although
he confines himself to a general conclusion. There are probably three
moments relating to de Waals work that call for critical comment. First,
he has ignored the more extensive context of Turkish-Armenian relations
(e.g., why the Armenian-Azeri conflicts took place at the beginning of the
Collective Memory263

20th century), and without this it is hard to understand why the present
conflict is of such a ferocious character.9 Second, many peoples have bad
histories with each other, but they do not start conflicts. It is likely that
specific bad histories, and also specific conditions, are necessary to start a
conflict, and they must be identified. Third, the stories of hatred de Waal
mentions in his work did not emerge in the final years of the existence of
the Soviet Union, as he asserts, but much earlier. They existed long before
the Soviet Union emerged, or the Armenian and Azerbaijani SSRs.
As the preceding analysis reveals, stories of hatred represent a con-
tinuation of the old Armenian historiographical tradition that preserves
and reproduces the specifically Armenian schematic narrative template (a
faithful people although surrounded and tormented by enemies), which
has its roots in the Middle Ages. I believe that the existence of this specific
pattern of the Armenian collective memory was an important factor that
led to the start of the Karabakh conflict. Below, I briefly present a few argu-
ments in support of this thesis.

Armenian Collective Memory Pattern in the Karabakh


The presence of significant patterns of collective memory makes many

Armenians especially susceptible to fears and apprehensions over their
fate,10 which, in Lake and Rothchilds (2000) concept of intergroup stra-
tegic interactions, are designated as ethnic fears. According to these
authors, what most often lies at the basis of an acute ethnic conflict
are fears that groups have experienced about their future: (1) the fear
of assimilation and (2) the fear of physical annihilation. These fears
become stronger especially during periods of anarchy and weakness in
a state, and they give rise to what are called dilemmas of intergroup
strategic interaction, leading to conflicts. Moreover, ethnic fears can
be generated both by rational factors (choice in a situation of uncer-
tainty) and irrational factors (political myths, emotions). In our case,
ethnic fears, exacerbated by the ever-mounting anarchy and weakness
of the central authorities, have grown out of the characteristics of the
Armenians collective memory, which contains the specific pattern indi-
cated above. In this connection, activation of this pattern of collective
memory could easily lead to evoking of ethnic fears among Armenians.
By activation I mean, first of all, the production and consumption
of narratives that provided interpretation of the events in accordance
with the Armenian schematic narrative template. Such types of narra-
tives were readily picked up and widely disseminated via mass media
and in statements by ethnic enterpreneurs and political leaders. Here,

I cite just one example of such a narrative, which, however, represents

the quintessence of the narratives that arose at that time in Armenian
public discourse and incorporated all of the basic arguments used by
Armenian activists during the period when the conflict started. I refer
to a pamphlet titled Nagorno Karabakh: A Historical Reference (Galoian
& Hudaverdian, 1988), which was specially prepared by the Academy
of Sciences of the Armenian SSR and came out in 1988, with a press
run of 45,000 copies. This small pamphlet consists of five chapters. It is
curious to note that this work, which aspires to be a scientific reference,11
is constructed in full accordance with the basic components of the Arme-
nian schematic narrative template. For example, Chapter 1 (Nagornyi
Karabakh from Ancient Times to 1917 [Nagornyi Karabakh s drevnikh
vremen do 1917 g.]) presents some information about the historical past
of the territory, and its purpose is to prove that the territory belonged
to Armenians and Armenia from ancient times. Moreover, the history
is reconstrued in a manner designed to give the reader a notion of the
glorious historical past of the territory, populated almost exclusively by
Armenians; this is fully in keeping with the first component of the Arme-
nian schematic template (the Armenian people are living in a glorious
and valiant time).
Chapter 2 (Nagornyi Karabakh in 191823 [Nagornyi Karabakh v
19181923 gg.]) gives an account of the events leading to the creation
of the Nagornyi Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) as part of the
Azerbaijan SSR. The events are laid out in a way designed to show the
erroneousness of the decision, the making of which is linked to the sin-
ister figure of Stalin (in full accordance with the second component of the
Armenian templatethe Armenians are fallen upon by hostile forces).
Chapter 3, which is the shortest (The Problem of Nagornyi Karabakh
in the Light of Lenins Conception of the Self-Determination of
Nations [Problema Nagornogo Karabakha v svete leninskoi kontseptsii
samoopredeleniia natsii]) departs slightly from the schema of the Armenian
template. The reason for this may be attributed to the necessity of paying
tribute to communist rhetoric and the traditional ideological clichs and
postulates of Marxism-Leninism in a society that professed the communist
In Chapter 4, however (Certain Questions of the Demographic and
Social-Economic Development of NKAO [Nekortorye voprosy demogra-
ficheskogo i sotsialno-ekonomicheskogo razvitiia NKAO]), there is a new
reproduction, essentially, of the third component of the Armenian sche-
matic narrative template (the Armenians experience enormous torments
and sufferings), which is formulated in theses of economic, cultural, and
social decline, but, most important, demographic decline, specifically the
Collective Memory265

decline in the relative proportion of the Armenian population of NKAO in

comparison with the Azeri population of the territory.12
And finally, the last chapter, Chapter 5 (On the Events in and Around
Nagornyi Karabakh [O sobytiiakh v Nagornom Karabakhe i vokrug nego]),
is fully in keeping with the last component of the Armenian narrative tem-
plate (if Armenians remain steadfast in their nation, they overcome their
enemies). It is asserted in this chapter that the Armenians demonstrations
in Karabakh and in Armenia were not random and were not inspired from
outside, but instead reflected the peoples desire to correct the injus-
tice that had been committed against them (p. 91). Moreover, there is an
emphasis on the high solidarity of the Armenians (including Armenians
abroad), which has not been broken despite the ordeals that have fallen to
their lot, and they are prepared to continue their struggle.
While the Armenian schematic narrative template in this work is decked
out in forms that are more or less commonly accepted in scientific dis-
course, many other narratives that appeared during that period were much
cruder and more straightforward in keeping with the template.13
The publication of narratives that reproduce the specific Armenian
schematic narrative template certainly served to activate the pattern of
Armenian collective memory. In turn, it served to generate ethnic fears
the powerful force that, in an exceptionally brief period of time, led to the
ethnopolitical mobilization of the Armenian population, about which de
Waal (2003) says:

After the acts of protest in Karabakh, Soviet Armenia was swept with a wave
of mass street demonstrations. And even though Armenia was one of the
most homogeneous republics of the Soviet Union, in ethnic terms, no one,
including the leaders of these demonstrations, could predict what a powerful
charge of energy would break to the surface. It appeared that the question of
Nagornyi Karabakhs fate was capable of touching the most sensitive strings
in the heart of every Armenian.... Even those who knew nothing about the
sociopolitical situation in Nagornyi Karabakh empathized emotionally with
Armenians who lived surrounded by Turks (in common Armenian speech,
this word is used to designate both Turks and Azeris). (p. 44)

The following words of one of the organizers of the Armenian national

movement, S. Zolian, cited by an external observer, well illustrate how
Armenians were reminded and gripped by collective emotions:

Zolian, more self-critical than most of his comrades-in-arms, acknowledg-

es that Karabakh was elevated in cause clbre by default. The Armenians
needed a current grievance that would evoke the ultimate past grievance, the
1915 genocide. They remembered, Zolian said, that back in 1965, the anni-
versary of 1915 brought Armenians to streets in a spontaneous display of na-
tional fervor. Karabakh was initially an abstract notion, Zolian recalled.

People said Karabakh, but they really meant was genocide. Karabakh
had the right mix to become a grievance: it was an isolated Armenian com-
munity, separated from the rest of the nation, at the mercy of Turks (as
the Armenians often refer to the Azeris), unarmed, and weak. (Karny, 2000,
p. 389)

Evidently, these imaginary fears of the Armenian population served as a

powerful catalyst that brought about its rapid political mobilization. In this
regard, the observers remark is worth noting as indicative of the difference
between the imaginary fears and the real situation:

Whether the Karabakh Armenians faced a real danger in 1988 is another

matter, Zoilian could not point to one; nor could many Karabakhis to whom
I spoke during my visits to the territory in the 1990s. They had long-stand-
ing complaints of neglect at the hands of the Azeri central government, and
there was little love lost between the two communities. But Armenians lived
in large numbers throughout Azerbaijan, and prior to the events of 1988, no
one suggested that their lives were in danger. (Karny, 2000, p. 390)

Now let me turn to the analysis of the Azerbaijani ethnopolitical mobiliza-

tion, which has emerged as a response to the Armenian territorial claims
to the Karabakh region.



Surge of nationalist feelings and territorial claims by Armenians to

Karabakh gave impetus to the process of mass political mobilization of
Azerbaijanis, which achieved its peak on November 17, 1988that is, nine
months after the first mass Armenian protests had happened (Figure 11.3).
Given that November 17 events may be little known to a wider audience,
I will quote a relatively lengthy excerpt from the book by an American
historian who described these events as below:

On November 17, 1988 a series of mass demonstrations began in front of the

government building on Lenin Square. A broad-based, multi-issue mass
movement had begun in Azerbaijan. The people had come in part because
of anxiety over the Karabakh dispute and the flood of refugees fleeing the
fighting. Other matters were also of passionate concern, notably a scandal
concerning the violation of the Topkhana nature preserve in the NKAO.
During the summer an Armenian aluminum factory brought bulldozers
and construction equipment for construction of shops and vacation houses
for their workers on the reserve near Shusha. Komsomolskaya Pravda
reporters estimated the nighttime crowd on Lenin Square to be around 20
Collective Memory267

000, and during the day a half of million. On November 28 control was
tightened. Baku was closed to traffic from other cities. Central mass media
reported that the demonstration remained peacefulness.The final blow
came on December 3, when military authorities published a demand for
Lenin Square to be cleared because weapons were reported being stockpiled
there. During the night of December 4, demonstrators who remained on
the square were rounded up and jailed. Some of those taken into custody
were transferred to local prisons. The next day there were strikes and
demonstrations throughout the republic. (Altstadt, 1992, pp. 200202

Figure 11.3. Protest rally against the events in Karabakh, November 17, 1988,
Lenin Square (now Azadlig), Baku, Azerbaijan.

This event was so extraordinary (beyond the number of protesters) and

had such a significant impact that later November 17 was included into
the official history of the post-Soviet Azerbaijan as the Day of National
Revival. As one can see, the process of response to the Armenian claims
ripened in Azerbaijani society nine months before it achieved a form of
mass protests. There are several circumstances that delayed the process
of ethnopolitical mobilization of Azerbaijanis. First, Azerbaijanis, due to
certain historical and political reasons, were less united and nationalistic
than Armenians. Second, Baku itself, according to many observers, was
a multiethnic city, in contrast to ethnically homogeneous Erevan. Third,
Azerbaijanis had no strong anti-Armenian pattern of collective memory
and for a long time until the conflict began did not consider Armenians as
their enemy. Fourth, Moscow and local party leaders trying to minimize the
public activity tightly controlled media in Azerbaijan and provided a dose of
information. In this connection, the question of Azerbaijani ethnopolitical

mobilization is rather intriguing. Indeed, how could it happen that, in

spite of the above circumstances, a half-million (by other estimates, about
one million) people gathered on Lenin Square in November 17, 1988?
In what follows further, I shall try to answer this question based on the
information available to me.
Among the factors that eventually led to the events of November 17,
1988 in Baku, one should refer first and foremost to a growing flow of
ethnically Azerbaijani refugees fleeing from Armenia and Nagorno-
Karabakh. According to official data, the number of Azerbaijani refugees
from Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh reached 75,000 people by the
autumn of 1988 (Balance, 1997). Although Azerbaijani authorities sought
to prevent refugees move to the capital Baku and downplayed information
about acts of their violent and forcible expulsion from their homes, the
information somewhow (often in the form of rumors) began to spread
among the population. It was difficult to conceal this infomation as the
people who were forced to flee from Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh
had family ties with the inhabitants of other regions of Azerbaijan. Via
these informal family networks, people were able to get information
about what was actually happening even if the official channels tried to
conceal it.14 In a sense, the family networks were a powerful channel of
information exchange that facilitated the mobilization and consolidation
of the population. Nevertheless, it took several months from the time the
first groups of Azerbajanis were forced to flee from Armenia and Nagorno
Karabakh until the protest rally came out in Baku. Against this background,
it is curious to mention the factor that served as the immediate cause, so to
speak, a trigger for Day of November 17.
On 13 November a number of local newspapers, including the leading
paper Bakinski Rabochii, published an article under a symbolic heading,
Topkhana Call, which reported that businessmen from Armenia, in order
to construct vacation houses for workers of Armenias Kenakert aluminium
factory, were deforesting and destroying Topkhanaa site of historical
significance for Azerbaijanis near Shusha, in Nagorno Karabakh (Furman
& Abasov, 2001). This message had a detonating charge for feelings and
thoughts of the population and turned into a main drive of a massive rally
that began in Baku on November 17, 1988. One observer and direct par-
ticipant in these events described them:

On November 17 rally began on Lenin Square. The letter from residents of

Shusha (Nagorno Karabakh)entitled as Topkhana call which was sent to
the newspaper ... served as a signal for this rally. The letter expressed a pro-
test against the construction of the vacation house for the workers of alumin-
ium factory from Armenia nearby Shusha. (Ali-zade, 2012, translation mine)
Collective Memory269

There are several versions regarding the origin of this letter.

According to one of the versions, Shusha Communist Party district com-

mittee officials which were subordinate to Stepanakert [then the captial
of NKAO] realizing that their appeal to the Central Committee through
Stepanakert regional committee was blocked decided to resort to traditional
party methoddirect workers appeal. Thereto the procedure of signing
the letter by Azerbaijani and Armenian residents of the town was organized.
According to another version, enemies of Vezirov [then the First Secretary
of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan] from his own cirle, when they saw
that people did not raise on mass protests, ordered to organize a call and
pierced its publication in the organ of the Central Committee. In third ver-
sion Vezirov himself decided to stifle the igniting flame of protest against the
amendments to the Constitution by counter fire of grand rally. But among
three versions, the secondthe elite of the republic precluded Vezirov seems
more reasonable. (Ali-zade, 2012, p. 57, translation mine)

All three versions presume the acts of hidden manipulations by party

local authorities or certain groups in power. Taking into account that at that
time there was no other kind of political organization that would be able to
organize the protest movements of such a large scale, the idea of hidden
engagement by authorities sounds very plausible. However, again, as in
the Armenian case I am interested not so much with the issue of hidden
manipulations as with the questionwhat strings of the population were
pulled to produce such a large-scale mobilization. In the literature available
to me, I found only one attempt to clarify this issue.

That the Armenian claims ... to rule over the region from Erevan would gen-
erate such a strong reaction among Azerbajanis can be explained by several
reasons. First, Azerbaijanis were taught to think about their nation in ter-
ritorial terms. It could be perceived by Azerbaijanis as the utter insult, if the
Soviet leaders order them to transfer the territory which they considered as
their inherent riches.... Second, they could not accept Armenian claims as
legitimate whether they are based on history, statistics or politics. Third, they
believed that the outside world taking Armenian viewpoint ... regarded their
refusal to cede the territory as a provocation. Fourth ... the crisis in Nagorno
Karabakh is considered as an instrument of manipulation by certain Russian
groups aimed to reestablish their hegemony in the region. (Dragadze, 1996,
p. 282)

Among the four reasons mentioned, the first reason deserves special
attention. To accept that Azerbaijanis were taught to think about their
nation in territorial terms, then, indeed, Azerbaijanis would perceive
Armenian territorial claims as a real threat to their territorial integrity.
Such a perception could be one of the factors essentially contributing to

Azerbaijani ethnopolitical mobilization. In this regard, Dragadzes thesis

that Azerbaijanis were taught to think about their nation in territorial
terms needs some clarification. In my view, this thesis somehow involves
the issue of Azerbaijani collective memory. The memory perspective
becomes more explicit if we reformulate the authors thesis in a question
Who taught Azerbaijanis to think about their nation in territorial terms?
Though the author did not dwell on Azerbaijani collective memory, she
provides us with some insights. The historical socialization of Azerbaijanis
was underpinned by the territorial principle provided by the history
textbooks. In this connection, a threat to lose territory that is considered
as part of the historical homeland could definitely stimulate the Azerbaijani
ethnopolitical mobilzation. In this regard, the Topkhana call served as
a narrative that activated the territorial pattern of Azerbaijani collective


The conflict that began with a small rally of Karabakh Armenians on Lenin
Square in Stepanakert, on February 13, 1988, turned into a full-scale war
between the newly independent republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan, with
many tragic consequences for both sides. Collective memories peculiar to
parties at conflict in certain ways contributed to the flare up of this con-
flict. The case of ArmeniaAzerbaijani conflict over Nagorno Karabakh
illustrates well that groups are best reminded by specific types of narratives
that activate their patterns of collective memory that lead to the rise of
negative collective emotions. On the Armenian side, it was relatively easy
to get people mobilized through specific narratives as they already had a
correspondent pattern of collective memory grounded in the specifically
Armenian schematic narrative template. It was more difficult to mobi-
lize Azerbaijanis since they had not developed collective memory pattern
similar to that of so many Armenians. But even in the Azerbaijani case,
the type of narrative was found that appealed to their collective memory
and eventually stimulated Azerbaijanis mobilization. In this regard, one
final note: Taking into account the essential role of collective memory in
the conflicts in the South Caucasus,16 any type of peace and reconciliation
projects in this region should include a special program of narrative inter-
vention aimed to manage and neutralize the dangerous memories with
their destructive consequences.


1. Here I follow to the definition given by M. Esman: Ethnopolitical mobili-

zation is a process, in the course of which an ethnic group driven by collec-
tive interests becomes engrossed in political developments and organizes
Collective Memory271

itself into a collective subject wielding resources adequate to political action

(1994, p. 28).
2. Currently, there are more than 600,000 Azerbaijani IDPsthat is, seven per-
cent of the total population (one of the highest rates in the world). They were
forcibly evicted from Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts of
the Azerbaijan Republic by Armenian forces soon after the breakdown of the
Soviet Union. The last and largest forced displacement occurred in 1993
and 1994, when over 500,000 Azerbaijanis living in adjacent districts around
Nagorno-Karabakh were forced to flee in the wake of an Armenian military
offensive (De Waal, Huseynov, & Kharashvili, 2007).
3. In this connection, some scholars suggest a concept of collective and
group emotions (Smith, 1993; Stephan & Stephan, 2000). Both notions
assume that a large scope of individuals may experience similar emotions
not necessarily as a response to their personal life events, but as a reaction
to collective experiences in which individuals are not directly involved (see
Bar-Tal, Halperin, & de Rivera, 2007).
4. Dastan is a term that among the peoples of Central Asia and the Caucasus is
used to designate works of creative oral folklore and written literature that
belong to the epic genre. A distinction is made between dastans that deal
predominantly with heroic themes (heroic dastans) and those that deal with
themes of love (Abbasov, 1987). In the opinion of researchers (Paksoy, 1989),
many dastans date back to pre-Islamic times.
5. The ferocity of this conflict, which turned into accusations lodged against
Western historiography in the field of Armenian studies, is attested, for ex-
ample, by an article in IA Regnum, with the heading Intellectual Aggres-
sion Against Scientific Armenian Thought Is Financed Through the State
Department of the United States. In particular, the article has an excerpt
from a statement by a group of Armenian historians, made public in the
framework of the First International Congress of Armenologists, held in Ere-
van on September 1520, 2003; in it we read: The Intellectual Aggression
that Armenian scientific thought and historiography are being subjected to,
in particular, is being financed by the State Department of the United States
and is reflected in the consistent distortion of fundamental issues concern-
ing Armenian history, starting from ancient times (IA Regnum, 2004)
6. In this regard it should be noted that many of the historical events that were
related to the ArmenianAzerbaijani clashes, including the mass migration
of Armenians from Persia and Turkey to the Caucasus as a result of the Rus-
sianPersian and RussianTurkish wars of the first half of the 19th century,
the ArmenianAzerbaijani clashes in the early 20th century, mass deporta-
tion of Azerbaijanis from Armenia in 19471953 were under taboo or were
extremely distorted by the Soviet historiography and therefore dropped
out from the Azerbaijani collective memory (see, for example, Ismailov,
7. Information is taken mainly from the book by Thomas de Waal (2003) and
verified, as closely as possible, with other sources.
8. Sure, the rallies themselves, especially the beginning ones, were organized
by underground or semi-underground Armenian nationalistic organizations

that had become activized over the span of a number of preceding years
(de Waal, 2003). At the same time, during that period these underground
or semi-underground organizations were not yet able to wield the powerful
organized, administrative, or information capabilities that were necessary
for such intensive mobilization of the population in such a short time. Ac-
cording to another version, these demonstrations were specially organized
by Armenian authorities, including the KGB (Committee for State Security),
which were trying in this way to neutralize the threat that loomed over the
old political elitesthe threat of losing their positions of powerwhich was
occasioned by the policy of perestroika initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev,
the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party
of the Soviet Union (Grigorian, 1989). In that case, of course, it would be
possible to activate much larger administrative, organizational, or financial
resources. But even if we accept this version of a subtle game played by
the republics leadership, it still remained unclear what heartstrings of the
population might be touched in order to prompt such mass demonstrations.
9. This context is well presented in J. McCarthy and C. McCarthy (1989), which
is devoted entirely to the question of TurkishArmenian relations.
10. As is emphasized by one of the Armenian respondents in an interview with
Thomas de Waal: The fear of being annihilatedand not annihilated as an
individual, not individually, but as a nation, the fear of genocidelurks in
the soul of every Armenian (de Waal, 2003, p. 117).
11. It is not my goal to examine the degree of correctness or erroneousness of
the arguments presented in this work. Probably the only thing that needs to
be noted here is that since the works objective is to substantiate the claims
of one side to Nagornyi Karabakh, like any such work, it is characterized
by one-sidedness, oversimplification, tendentiousness, and selectivity in pre-
senting the material and interpreting the events.
12. The only table in the work has the caption Size and National Composition
of the Population of NKAO (Galoian & Hudaverdian, 1988, p. 47).
13. Examples of the crude and straightforward reproduction of the template can
be seen, for example, in a book by Armenian journalist Z. Balaian, Hearth
[Ochag], reminding Armenians about their enemies the Turks; it was pub-
lished in 1984 in Erevan; also, 10,000 leaflets were handed out directly on
the eve of the rallies (February 1213, 1988) in Stepanakert (see de Waal,
14. It is notable that even the November 17 events on Lenin Square in Baku
were first reported in a short paragraph in a local Communist newspaper
only three days later, on November 20, 1988. (Sovet mtbuat meydan hrkat
bard nlr yazrd? 2012)
15. There is also another indication to the involvement of memory perspec-
tive in the conflict. Thus, Azerbaijanis perceived the Topkhana forest not
only just a part of their territory but as a national shrine due to the fact
that a battle against Iranian forces had taken place there in the eighteenth
century (Shaffer, 2002).
16. Though in this chapter we have discussed the role of collective memory re-
garding only one of the several conflicts in the South Caucasus, there is
Collective Memory273

strong ground to believe that collective memory exerts serious influence to

all other conflicts in the region as well (see, for example, Shnirelman, 2003).


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The Nigerian Case

Golda Kosisochi Onyeneho


National identity, like many cultural processes, initially seems rather

ambiguous. Scholars like Anthony D. Smith (1991) and Rogers Brubaker
(2002, 2009) concede that people have provided many definitions for national
identity and yet have come to few conclusions. However, understanding
national identity and where it comes from is critically important. Scholars
like Terrance Ranger, Eric Hobsbawm, Rogers Brubaker, and Dominic
Boyer have argued that elites construct and use national identity, and other
social identities, in politically motivated ways to mobilize others (Boyer &
Lomnitz, 2005; Brubaker, 2002; E. J Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012). This is
not only a process relevant to colonization, referring to work by Ranger
and Hobsbawm, but to other political processes, like those enjoined by

Memory Practices and Learning:

Interactional, Institutional, and Sociocultural Perspectives, pp. 277291
Copyright 2017 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 277

militant groups, contemporary democratic governments, and community

organizers grappling to consolidate and mobilize their neighbors at the
local level in collective action campaigns.
Thus, the fact that there is so much ambiguity surrounding national
identitywhat it is and where it comes fromis a challenge. Cross-cultural
comparisons of national identity would help us better understand what
national identity is and how it manifests in diverse social systems. To aid
our line of inquiry, we follow political anthropologists like Akhil Gupta
(Gupta, 1995, 2005), who blur the distinctions between state, bureaucrat,
and citizen, arguing that people do not necessarily imagine such distinc-
tions when thinking about their nations. We also recognize that nations are
not bounded entities; people imagine them, and other social groupings
are in many instances more relevant to people on the ground. However, it
is still the case that the national group is one with which many individu-
als affiliate, one that they use, and one that they feel is important to their
lives. For example, people often discuss the nation when discussing issues
related to their quality of life. International governing bodies and inter-
national relations also show that people at least perceive nations to be real
and important entities, and the result of these international processes have
physical, real-life consequences for people throughout the world in the
form of wars, aid, and trade. In this volume, Garagozov describes the often
dramatic results of the conflicting collective memories held between citi-
zens of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Wertsch (this volume) explains the shifts
in international policy that resulted from mnemonic standoffs between
Russia and other nations in the Western world. Such examples illustrate
how nations and national identity are crucial points of analysis.
In this chapter, I will discuss a definition of national identity, grounded
in social identity theory. I will then discuss dominant arguments from
collective memory studies about the cultural technologies used to create
national identity and critique these theories by providing examples of
technologies in post-colonial settings that scholars argue create just as
much national identity as those in the dominant paradigm. I will finally
present results of a survey I conducted in Nigeria that supports the work
of these scholars and provides concrete evidence disputing overriding
ideas of how national identity comes about. I also provide interview data
that further support these conclusions. In essence, the study supports the
idea that national identity and other collective identities exist in different
places but that the cultural technologies used to create them are not the
same everywhere. This argument is one in support of human ingenuity.
We understand then, that national identity is important, but how have
scholars sought to define it? Social theorists like Anthony D. Smith define
national identity as a condition in which people experience a shared his-
torical territory, as well as common memories, myths, legal rights, public
Memory and National Identity in a Modern State 279

culture, and economy (Smith, 1991). Others, like Ruth Wodak, say that
national identity is merely a construction that is discursively produced and
dismantled (Wodak, de Cillia, Reisigl, & Liebhart, 1999). Jrgen Habermas
(1990) contends that, historically, scholars conceived of national identity
and citizenship (i.e., political participation) as separate entities. Thus,
many scholars concede that the conversations and definitions for national
identity are varied, to say the least.
Social identity theory, however, provides useful grounding for these
conversations. Tajfel (1981) argues that a social identity is an awareness of
ones membership within a group, partnered with a psychological sense
of attachment to that group. Huddy and Khatib (2007) take this a step
further and define national identity as a subjective or internalized sense of
belonging to the nation (p. 65). The researchers used surveys from three
subject pools in the United States to test how different kinds of national
attachment affected political involvement.
The forms of national attachment they tested were: national iden-
tity (using the definition above), symbolic patriotism (a love of national
symbols), constructive patriotism (a willingness to constructively criticize
ones nation), and uncritical patriotism (an unwillingness to criticize ones
nation). To illustrate, for national identity, they asked participants ques-
tions like, How well does the term American describe you? and asked
participants to rate their answers on a scale. For symbolic patriotism, they
asked questions like, How good does it make you feel when you see an
American flag? For constructive patriotism, the researchers asked people
to rate their level of agreement with statements like, If I criticize the
United States, I do so out of love of country. For uncritical patriotism,
they asked for level of agreement with statements like, The United States
is virtually always right. To measure political involvement, they tested
participants knowledge of electoral politics and current events, and asked
about voter turnout. They used a self-reporting measure for voter turnout.
Their experimental results showed that out of all of the measures, national
identity (a sense of belonging to the national group) was the best predictor
of political involvement (Huddy & Khatib, 2007). Particularly because of its
apparent role in encouraging civic activity, they found that identification
with the national group may be a better explanation for what politicians
and other political actors seek to engender. Such findings correspond with
work on issues such as belonging and place (Ceuppens & Geschiere, 2005;
Davidson, 2000; Malkki, 1995).
We now know how some scholars define national identity. We also now
have a useful and tested definition for national identity: feelings of belong-
ing to a national group. However, how does this feeling of belonging form
in the first place? Predominant theories from collective memory and
nationalism studies argue that elites or government officials are the ones

who create these feelings of national membership in their populaces (Olick,

Vinitzky-Seroussi, & Levy, 2011). According to these commonly accepted
and instrumentalist theories, elites do this by disseminating things called
collective memories and national narratives to the public, often through
written texts.
We can define collective memory as a form of memory that transcends
individuals and is shared by a group (Wertsch & Roediger, 2008, p. 318),
and we can define national narratives as institutionalized, or socially sanc-
tioned, stories relaying a nations history or collective memory. National
narratives are different from investigative history because they are typi-
cally mythic in nature. Wertsch (this volume) describes this in depth in
his chapter. Because many of these theories argue that elites manufacture
them, they maintain that national narratives gloss over events that do not
fit the politically motivated histories the elites want to promote. Schol-
ars such as Ernest Gellner (1983) and Michel Foucault (1980) argue that
governments often distribute national narratives, built around national
narrative templates, and particular collective memories through institu-
tions, like schools, to engender a relationship to the nation that elites
endorse. In this volume, Wertsch explains the staying power of particular
national narratives, particularly in Russia, and Garagozov describes how
the process of state-craft Gellner and Foucault described took place in
Armenia and Azerbaijan.


Reminiscent of Gellner, Benedict Anderson (1991) also focuses on textual

traditionsin his case, the printing press and the expanded use of
vernacular languages in print media, something he calls print capitalism.
In describing print capitalism, Anderson emphasizes the integral role of
supply and demand or production and consumption. Anderson writes
that in 15th-century Europe, national communities began to form when
capitalist-minded elites started publishing messages through mass media
like newspapers, and particularly when they stopped publishing in Latin
and began to publish in more accessible local languages. Anderson argues
that as people consumed or read these print media, they soon realized
that others were consuming it at the same time they were. This helped
create feelings of community, or what Anderson (1991) calls imagined
communities (p. 6).
However, it is feasible to be aware that a community of consumers exists
without necessarily participating or wanting to participate in it. What makes
people decide to consume a product, participate in an imagined com-
munity, and thus gain reminders that they belong? Ethnomethodologists
Memory and National Identity in a Modern State 281

like Harold Garfinkel, Erving Goffman, and sociolinguists more generally

would argue that social pressure and not wanting to be an outsider can
pressure people to belong (Eckert, 2012; Garfinkel, 1964; Goffman, 1956;
Hymes, 1977). This is particularly seen in the consumption and use of lan-
guage. For example, in code switching, individuals switch from using one
language to another when they want to fit in with one social group over
another. Their adept use of a particular groups symbolic language signifies
their group belonging and identity to themselves, other group members,
and outsiders. If individuals fail to use a desired group language adeptly
or at all, they can be subject to embarrassing and even crippling social
sanction or ostracism (Gumperz, 1982). Social pressure at the grassroots
level to conformity is usually intense (Garfinkel, 1964). As people commu-
nicate in this language, they are also producing and consuming a signifying
technologya language form.
Additionally, languages themselves do not necessarily need to come from
elites. For example, the formation of creoles, pidgins, and arguably many
full-fledged languages form naturally at the grassroots level as diverse indi-
viduals form a need to communicate with one another and create bonds
with one another for the purpose of things like trade (Mufwene, 2004).
Additionally, language exists on multiple levelsnot just in the form of
phonology or syntax but on the semantic levelin the form of ideas and
narrative schema. It is possible that, similarly to the syntax and phonology
of new languages like creoles, semantic elements like widely consumed
ideas can also arise from interactions and bonds formed at the grassroots
out of necessity.
Another way to pressure people to use and consume language both
at the semantic and other levels is through force. Anderson (1991) illus-
trates this pressure when he describes the use of vernacular languages
in the creation of modern European nation-states. In the 19th century,
when European monarchs began to experience a decline in political legiti-
macy, they conveniently used the vernaculars of printing presses to create
national languages. Using new administrative policies, they often enforced
the use of these languages and adherence to their nationalist ideologies
from the top-down, often with threat of sanction (Anderson, 1991). In many
cases, monarchs often used public and private school texts and curricula to
broadcast nationalist messages like nationalistic historical narratives and
enforce the use of chosen national languages (Anderson, 1991; Gellner,
1983; Hobsbawm, 2012). Again, this monarchal involvement in national
affairs seemed to be driven by political desperation and self-preservation.
In this volume, Garagozov illustrates how Armenian elites engaged in such
a process to stir up Armenian nationalist fervor. They did this to gain
political popularity. This canon seems to play out in many contexts and

generally argues for the centrality of textual media and elite involvement
in the formation of modern nation-states.


Building upon recent work in anthropology, history, and ethnomusicology

in postcolonial settings, I argue that the consumption of grand and govern-
ment-implemented textual media is not the only way through which people
can feel that they belong to a nation. For example, work by people like
Marissa Moorman, Kelly Askew, and Paul Nugent demonstrate that nation-
hood and national identity can form through the pervasive production and
individual consumption of multiple forms of media and technology, such as
drama, radio broadcasts, urban nationalist music, dress, food, and bever-
ages (Askew, 2002; Ivaska, 2011; Moorman, 2008; Nugent, 2010; Turino,
2000). Many of these media do not necessarily transmit a grand pro-elite,
nationalistic historical narrative like the ones Ernest Gellner describes
occuring in some textbooks, and many do not originate with elites in gov-
ernment or business. Nugent puts it well when he says that more recent
writing has struggled to account for the resonance of symbols and rep-
ertoires precisely in the absence of states with the capacity to engage in
effective social engineering (2010, p. 89). In sum, many countries do not
have state governments willing or strong enough to effect the sort of state-
craft scholars that Gellner or Anderson have described. Work from these
postcolonial settings does support Andersons postulation that belief in the
simultaneous consumption of these media does create imagined national

Nigerian Data

Like some of the countries described in this research, Nigeria is also

postcolonial. Additionally, experts classify it as an oil-dependency or
rentier state. Thus, the government neglects upkeep of public institutions
and has not effectively promulgated a grand mythologizing historical
narrative to the public, and particularly not through curricula in the
under-resourced Nigerian public school system. Nigerians often lament
how their government neglects its citizens and state institutions. Many
scholars, myself included, have experienced that, upon interviewing
Nigerian citizens on any number of topics, they frequently call their
country corrupt and often point to the failure of national leaders (Apter,
2000; Bastian, 2003; Obadare, 2009). For example, Daniel Jordan Smith
(2006), writes, Both Nigerians participation in corruption and their
Memory and National Identity in a Modern State 283

constant complaints, including widespread collective self-criticism about

their own involvement, demonstrate the complex and often contradictory
social realities that ordinary citizens must navigate in order to survive
(p. 231). Chineua Achebe (1984) famously proclaims, Whenever two
Nigerians meet, their conversation will sooner or later slide into a litany
of our national deficiencies. The trouble with Nigeria has become the subject
of our small talk in much the same way as the weather is for the English
(Achebe, 1984, p. 2, emphasis in the original). Nigerian anti-corruption
lament is such a large part of Nigerian society that scholars have dropped
other issues to study it, and commentators continue to write vigorously
about it (Smith, 2006).
During two months of fieldwork in 2011, I administered over 65 surveys,
and also solicited interviews in both the bustling, urban hub of Lagos,
Nigeria and more remote and rural Mbaise, Nigeria. Administering the
survey in schools to students and teachers, and also using snowball sam-
pling techniques to identify adults from different backgrounds, I tested
predominantly literate individuals in Mbaise and Lagos. I asked my infor-
mants to list what they believed were the five most important events in
Nigerian history. I then asked them to circle what they believed was the
most important event and, in a space provided, to explain why they chose
a particular event as most important. Finally, I then asked them to list how
they had learned their Nigerian history.
In this research setting, I found that in a free recall, people struggled
to report even a minimal list of important events in their nations history.
What surprised me was how difficult it was for my informants to complete
the survey. My informants, many of whom were friends, relatives, or oth-
erwise congenial often hesitated and told me that they were not experts
in Nigerian history and pointed me towards cultural historians who they
argued would be better able to help me. They said they did not know what
the most important events were in Nigerian history. Perhaps because of our
social ties, many respondents did agree to complete the survey for me, but
it often took them hours and even days to complete this survey listing the
most important events in Nigerian history.
Given enough time and requests, many could recall a few items, but this
contrasts with findings from other countries. Survey responses showed little
convergence in the events people listed. Out of 69 informants, I received
at least 76 different answers for the five important events in Nigerian
history. I say at least, because there were 76 after I had coded responses.
For example, I received events as divergent as World War I, the inde-
pendence of Nigeria from Great Britain in 1960, the 1995 Sosoliso plane
crash in Port Harcourt, the changing of national currency from pounds
to naira, and Pope John Paul IIs visit to Nigeria in 1982. Thus, in this
postcolonial and oil-dependent context, I found very little overlap in the

historical narratives respondents provided, and thus no clear evidence for

an understanding of a grand government-produced overarching histori-
cal narrative, as Gellner and others have emphasized. Let me emphasize
that people did eventually recall different historical events, demonstrating
knowledge of their nations history.
For example, in listing the most important events in Nigerian history,
one informant listed:

1. The death of a journalist named Dele Giwa who was bomb blasted
2. 1993 June 12 Abiola died the day he was to be declared governor
of Lagos State [note: Moshood Abiola actually ran for president of
Nigeria not governor of Lagos State]
3. 117 people died on plane crash in Ogun state on 27th Oct. 2005
4. Engineer Funsho Williams, the PDP constant for Lagos state gover-
norship, was assassinated on 27th July 2001
5. The deaths of corpers on Election Day through bomb blast that
claimed lives [corpers are Nigerian young adult members of the
National Youth Service Corps, a required national guard program
for recent college graduates.]

The respondent chose 1993 June 12 Abiola died the day he was to be
declared governor of Lagos State as the most important event in Nigerian
history. She explained, writing, Abiola died on 1993 June 12. The day he
died was a memorable day. People were harassed, raped, and killed. Lives/
souls were lost who would have change the future of this corrupt country,
but now souls are been destroyed for just a man. Peoples source of income
were destroyed. This day was a memorable day of the people of Nigeria
till today.
Another respondent listed:

1. 1st October 1960Nigeria gained Independence

2. 21th January 2000Lagos was attacked by bomb blast
3. 6th July 1967the Biafran war started
4. 15th January 1966first military take-over with Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi
in command
5. May 29 Nigeria became a democratic state

The respondent picked 15th January 1966first military take-over with

Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi in command, as the most important event in Nigerian
history and explained, It is the incursion of the military in 1960 that
led to the setback of the Nigeria [and] brought about the darkness in
Nigeria in terms of corruption, lack of infrastructure and also the political
Memory and National Identity in a Modern State 285

A third informant listed:

1. Slave trade
2. Colonial rule
3. Independence
4. Assassination of Gen. Murtala Muhammaed
5. The June 12 election of the best (which arein the country) that
was cancelled

He chose Independence as the most important event and wrote, It is

the day that Nigerians received freedom to rule the largest (by popula-
tion) black nation in the world. This has been the yardstick to measure our
progress, which now it has been a thing of much concern to us. In essence,
I received 69 different historical narratives. However, it took individuals a
long time to recall events, and there was very little overlap.
People reported learning Nigerian history from a variety of sourcesat
least 22 sources of information ranging from school to first-hand witness,
magazines, oral traditions, and pastors. I found that most people (39
out of 69, or 56%) said they learned about Nigerian history in schools.
However, as the national curriculum is not enforced in school settings,
what students learn is likely somewhat differentiated by their particular
classroom experiences.
To provide more data, respondents freely listed over 26 different events
as being the most important event in Nigerian history. We can hypothesize
that this may be due to the fact that the government does not enforce a
statewide history curriculum. In a neoliberal and globalized environment,
clearly respondents learn their history from many sources, and there is no
one specific grand narrative to which they adhere. Without the production
of a grand and unifying national narrative from elites and without knowl-
edge of such a narrative, can Nigerians collectively experience nationhood
or a sense of belonging to their nation?
If an understanding of state-sponsored language like historical myths
were the only path to feelings of attachment to the nation, I would have
concluded that my findings support the idea that no, Nigerians do not
experience a unified national identity. This conclusion would be consistent
with claims prominent scholars of Nigeria, like Michael Watts and Toyin
Falola have made, arguing that as an ethnically divided, conflict-ridden oil-
dependency, Nigeria has no unifying national identity (Falola & Aderinto,
2010; Watts, 2004).
Going back, however, to ideas proposed by postcolonial scholars like
Kelly Askew and Paul Nugent, grand, state-sponsored, and commonly
understood historical mythologies may not be the only tools through which
citizens experience a shared form of attachment to the nation. People can

collectively imagine the nation, and their attachment to it, through a variety
of mechanisms, again such as music, dance, or food. In Nigeria, I argue
that it is not through reading, hearing, or otherwise consuming a grand,
national narrative that people identify with their nation, but through the
cultural and distinctive act of lamenting the governments failure to live
up to independence-era expectations of democratic and fair governance
and also through distinctive Nigerian jokes and storytelling about mythic
government corruption.
I hypothesize that corruption lament is a cultural tool that Nigerians
use to gain a sense of belonging in a Nigerian nation. This lament may
not be enforced or even necessarily manufactured by national elites, since
it takes aim at elites. However, as a form of speech, Nigerians may choose
to participate in corruption lament due to grassroots pressure to fit in with
people around them, and not necessarily due to pressure from generally
uninterested elites. As mentioned earlier, such pressure is classic of what is
described in sociolinguistics and ethnomethodologythe pressure of fol-
lowing social norms. If corruption complaint is used widely to experience
national identity, it is an unexpected but ingenious invention to solve a
basic human desire for belonging. I also posit that in many cases, instead
of placing moral valence on an amoral entity, a country, some Nigerians use
corrupt in a different sensethat the country has been corrupted by politi-
cians or is in a state of decay due to the neglect of national leaders. Finally,
going back to the nonconvergence of the survey responses, it may be that
in other countries with limited government management, one would see
similar survey results to those I found in Nigeria. This is also a point for
further research.
More recent interview data seems to support the idea that Nigerians
rather tend to identify as citizens of their nation through corruption com-
plaint than through knowledge of national history or pro-elite nationalistic
narratives. During fieldwork in Nigeria during 2014, the countrys 100th
anniversary, while conducting interviews specifically about Nigerian history,
many individuals quickly reverted to complaints about modern-day Nige-
rian problems, particularly about members of government. For example,
after asking certain individuals to tell me their versions of Nigerian history,
these are the responses I immediately received. A higher-income mother
residing in my urban site who identifies as Igbo said:

My version? Thats what I want to say. Because one thing one thing with me
is that, as a person, I dont always like to, you know, have much to do with,
Nigeria did this, Nigeria did that, you know, because of what is happen-
ing. In fact, personally, I dont know much about Nigeria. If you ask me why,
I will tell you that it is because of the attitude of our administratorsin fact,
generally what is happening in the country. So, itssomehow one can say
Memory and National Identity in a Modern State 287

that, personally Ive lost interest.... We are not happy about it, anyway, but
all the same....

A higher-income trader from my urban site who identifies as Hausa said:

From my experience, what I know is things are getting worse. So things are
getting worse now, both the suffering, the killing, so we areI dont know
whether we have a government in Nigeria now because they are not doing
their duties. They cannot protect us, even our property. So you cant go
now to church and worship. We dont have, let me say, freedom of worship
or communicating or movement, so we need help. I dont know what else I
can say.

After I asked for his version of Nigerian history, the beginning of a con-
versation with an unemployed young man from my rural site who identifies
as Igbo went like this:

Haha, well, Nigeria is a country I dont know much about it, butthey
are good people. Apart from political problems, you know terrorism,
Boko Haram, militants, like I said. Let me say, bad economics, mhmm.
I dont think they have much problem, so, they are good people (long
pause) So, thats all I can say.
I then asked him, OK. How about the past of Nigeria, tell me about the
history of Nigeria. So the beginning of Nigerian history until now.
The beginning of Nigerian history? he asked.
Yes, so what were doing now is Nigerian history.
Well, I dont do history. Do you think at my age I can know all thatif I
dont read it?

Particularly given that such answers were often the first responses to a
question about Nigerian history, not modern-day Nigerian national affairs,
these data seem to support findings by earlier scholars pointing to the
prevalence of Nigerian corruption complaint. Its prevalence, coupled with
the fact that such complaint typically appears when Nigeria is the subject
matter and that Nigerians tend to speak in this way with one another,
indicates that it may be a way in which Nigerians experience a Nigerian
national identity or belonging.
Jokes about Nigerian corruption also played an important role in inter-
views. Obadare has described the importance of humor in the development
of Nigerian civil society (Obadare, 2009). For example, one of my infor-
mants told me this joke and story at the end of his interview:

There was a journalistthe family father of Newswatch Magazine in Nigeria,

called Dele Giwa.... Hes a pioneer owner of that magazine outfit. Gover-
norship problem is a problem here. So, he wrote in one of his papers.

He said when God created the world, he now summoned the whole nations
for a meeting to share his wealth. There [were] some countries he gave
white vegetation, yellow vegetation, black vegetation, green vegetation. And
vegetation means rich in agriculture. So, he gave Nigeria green vegeta-
tion. There are countries he gave snow. Snow may fall three months in a
year, and if snow is falling, there wont be any grass to grow. He didnt give
Nigeria that type of weather. He gave us seasonal weatherdry season, rainy
season, which is another blessing. Then, he was sharing his minerals. He
gave Nigeria all mineralsgold, aluminum, silvername it. And in Gods
classification, according to the journalist, he said government is the last to
share. Green vegetation was third to the last, oil was the second to the last,
and government was the last. So, when he was doing that, reaching the third,
he gave Nigeria green vegetation, and the other nations started to grudge,
After giving them gold, mineral, aluminum mineral, ore, zinc, youre still
giving them green vegetation?

According to the write-up, God didnt mind their grudges. So, now on
the second one, to share petroleumcrude oil, he gave Nigeria this crude
oil, and the nations around him revolted against God, that they cant have
it. He [had] given Nigeria so many things that, Ah! how can he give them
oil again? Crude oil to add to the blessings he has already. The man
said God called them backthat they shouldnt revolt, that they shouldnt
grudge, he is God, and he distributes his resources according to his will
that they should wait and see the type of government he will give Nigeria.
So, the writer stopped there. And our problem today is the type of govern-
ment we have. Thats the only problem that Nigeria has.

In summary, although many scholars of national identity argue that

grand national historical narratives, particularly in written form, are neces-
sary technologies for the production of national identities, this may not be