The illusion of Mediationism

January 23, 2008

To do something, what i wanted to do for a long time, i read the chapter claiming that mediationism is used like a miracle-tool in different theories. Why i was so hopeful – because there are approaches that deny the perceptional and representational way of making the world meaningful. For example, there is a theory of embodied cognition, where the processing of representations is not needed but they claim that persons directly activate the sensory-motor action paths in brain when being imposed to the sensory-motor action potentialities or affordances in the environment.

The Windowless Room:’Mediationism’ and how to get over it
by Alan Costall
pp. 109-123
From Cambridge Handbook of Sociocultural Psychology
Eds. J. Valsiner & A.Rosa

The book is standing on my table for a while, but the only chapter i have managed to take a look is the intriguing one by Alan Costall. I never saw such a lecture-style in a handbook!
His beautiful saying is: ‘making a fetish of mediation’. He describes several approaches how mediationism is used.

He uses the metaphor of windowless room to describe the mediationism. We find us over and over again in a room without windows, with pictures hanging on the walls, which depict other windowless rooms.

His conclusion is that there are so many ways of getting into this windowless room.

He does not want to suggest direct theory of perception or action, but wants to indicate that mediationism seems like a barrier between us and the world.

Within cognitive psychology mediationism has taken the form of representationalism.
Cognition has long been defined in terms of representations.
To deal with situated actions, representationalism gets into trouble because in different contexts the different representations become the second order representations that also involve contexts.
The meaning of representations is obtained when they are mapped onto the world.
It is believed we need to run internal representations to bridge the gap between the perceiver and the real world.

According to the social cognition approach we can only know about other people in an indirect way. Persons’ internal states cannot be observed directly and must be inferred from different cues.

Knowing as a representation or correspondence: knowing is viewing from outside, true knowing is theoretical not practical. Cognitive theory continues to identify knowing with practices of abstraction, such as classification, computing, calculation, logical inference. Our ability to interact approprately with objects depends on the capacity, fundamental of human beings, for categorizing objects and storing information about them, thus forming concepts, and on the capacity to associate concepts with names.

All apprehension of objective reality is mediated through subjective existence, ideas forever interpose themselves between the knower and the, objects which he would know.

In cultural psychology the representations are primary, they are situated in social practices rather than in mental models. But what then do these representations re-present?

In social constructivism the realm of socially constructed imposes itself between us and nature and through which we cannot reach the world itself.

For constructivists it is not material world itself what conveys meanings, but the language system or whatever system we are using to represent concepts. Social actors use conceptual systems of their culture and the linguistic and other representational systems to construct meanings and make the world meaningful and to communicate world meaningfully to others. Culture is about shared meanings. Meanings can be shared through our common access to language. Culture emerges from nature as the symbolic representation of the latter.

He suggest that we need to find a place in our theories for the existence of both meaning and mediation before and beyond the realm of representations and symbols, and take their materiality much more seriously. Mediation is taking place in the world and is changing the world, constituting objects not constituted before.


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