3 Social mediation, identity, and learning

Stressing that knowledge is situated and takes on form and content from the concrete situation prompts the question which role social mediation plays in determining this ‘form and content’. The question becomes all the more salient, given my analytical distinction of context levels at which situational demands are posed. Quite obviously, many or most activity framing contexts involve other people directly. Therefore, the issue of ‘social mediation’ of requirement characteristics needs to be considered. In light of the theorists I have been drawing on until now, the issue becomes all the more pressing: Wittgenstein has been understood by many (e.g. Ayer & Rhees, 1954; Kripke, 1982; Strawson, 1954; P. Winch, 1990) to argue that language is necessarily socially constituted, and Heidegger’s placing of Dasein as always already in das Man bears witness to the primordial sociality of Welt and in-der-Welt-sein24. Merleau-Ponty arguably takes over this view of the world as necessarily a social one, even if he focuses more on highlighting the significance of the body in our being-in-the-world. Bourdieu’s reading of him and his further development of the concept of habitus certainly shows that ‘the body’ may be understood as a socially mediated construct. The situated learning theorists whose empirical findings I have used to corroborate the situated nature of knowledge all argue for the social constitution of practice. The fact that I have been expounding on other sides of Wittgenstein; have followed Dreyfus in his more individualist interpretations of Merleau-Ponty; and have concentrated on the significance of the situated learning theorists’ findings for the analysis of knowledge only makes it all the more necessary for me now to take on the question of the role of social mediation.

Furthermore, linked to this question are additional ones concerning the ‘style of being in the world’ which I have claimed that the action-oriented perspective is and concerning the coming into being of this style: To which degree is the ‘style of being’ a socially mediated one and what significance does negotiation of social relations, including negotiation of expectations for given social positions, play in the development of the style? Is the ontological grounding of e.g. the doctor’s action-oriented perspective – his being in the world as a doctor (cf. above) – a grounding in a socially negotiated identity of ‘the doctor’? If yes, how does a person learn such an identity? In any case, how does a person learn ‘a style of being’? These questions spring quite naturally from the presentation given until now of my view of knowledge as a situated ‘style of being’. They carry particular weight, however, because the situated learning theorists I have been referring to, over the last two decades have become increasingly focused on issues of identity, understood as the negotiation of positions in social space, and of learning, understood as (transformations of patterns of) participation (e.g. Boaler & Greeno, 2000; Greeno, 1997; Greeno & Gresalfi, 2008; Lave & Packer, 2008; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Packer, 2001; Packer & Goicoechea, 2000; Wenger, 1998). As indicated above in the discussion of the relationship between theoretical and everyday concepts, I think some of the situated learning theorists have gone too far in their specific construal of the intertwinement of knowing and being when they claim that the latter is always in priority over the former. Given my utilization of their findings, it is nonetheless high time that I elaborate on my own view of these issues. In so doing, I shall again expand a bit on some points beyond what is explicitly stated in the articles themselves, to ensure clarity and consistency of presentation. In particular, I develop the analytical scheme of context levels presented above by introducing two further context levels.

  1. Dasein is usually not translated in English. Das Man is often translated as the they. Dreyfus has argued, to my mind correctly, that a better translation is the one. Welt and in-der-Welt-sein is translated world and being-in-the-world (Dreyfus, 1991; Heidegger, 1962, 2010).[]