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Jaan Valsiner “The Semiotic Construction of Solitude”

April 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Valsiner, Jaan 2006. The Semiotic Construction of Solitude: Processes of Internalization and Externalization. Sign Systems Studies 34(1): 9-33

It is through semiotic self-regulatory mechanisms that persons can overcome their immersion in the field of social relations (Gertz  et al. 2006), and develop their own private worlds in the middle of the public ones. (9)

Human life proceeds through negotiation between the perception and action that unite the actor and context, and the suggestions for feeling, thinking and acting that are proliferated through communication. Semiotic Demand Settings (SDS) are human-made structures of everyday life settings where the social boundaries of talk are set (Valsiner 2000: 125). (11)

Any human life context — including that of school — becomes culturally guided by some socio-institutional focusing of the person’s attention to it in three ways. First, there is the realm of no-talk — the sub-field of personal experiences that are excluded. The rest of the field is the  maybe-talk. Experiences within that field can be talked about — but ordinarily are not, as long as there is no special goal that makes that talking necessary. Most of human experiences belong to maybe-talk. The third domain of talking — the  hyper-talk  — is the socially (and personally) highlighted part of maybe-talk that is turned from a state of “ordinary” talking to that of obsessive talking. (12)

Such socially guided feeling and talking (as well as non-feeling and not talking) leads the processes of internalization and externalization. In order to consider these processes as theoretically relevant we need to assume that there is basic difference between the person and the social context. We consider this difference to be  inclusively separating the two — the person  is distinct from the social context while being a part of it. This — separate-yet-nonseparate — state of affairs allows for any Subject-Object distinction to be made, which in its turn can lead to reflection upon the relationship of the two. Thus, a person completely immersed in the social context — be it by trance, dance, or complete devotion — cannot reflect upon oneself in that context. (13)

The capacity to construct imaginary worlds proves the centrality of person in any social setting. The person is both part of the here-and-now setting (as it exists) and outside of that setting (as it is re-thought through importing imaginary scenarios, daydreams, new meanings). Creativity becomes possible thanks to such duality of contrast between the “as-is” and “as-if” fields that the person lives through in each setting. (13)

It can be said that the human mind func-tions “wastefully” — it produces many versions of subjective reflec-tions in (and in-between) the layers of internalization. Only some of them survive the sequential selection and reconstruction system. (16)

In settings of constant uncertainty of the impending future, the best adaptation strategy is abundant production of generative materials under the established expectation that the overwhelming manifold of those is shared by biological evolution and psychological develop-ment. (17)

However, the selecting agent who makes these “semiotic inputs” available to the internalization/externalization system is the person him or herself. What we call “the role of social interaction” is a actually person’s boundary-regulatory semiotic act (Valsiner 1999; 2004). The person opens (and closes) oneself to the varied forms of “social influence” — through semiotic self-regulation. (17-18)

The complex task for any educational system is the coordination of external (to the pupils) action limitations and the promotion of their internalizing of socially desired symbolic materials. If an educational system relies only on one of these two mechanisms — limiting  or (exclusive ‘or’ here) promotion — it necessarily fails. (19)

All social development is based on the united opposition of Self <> Other, acted out in constant relating by the Self with the Other. The profoundly social experience — made possible through semiotic mediation — becomes deeply private one […] (30)

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