Hors série 2016. Charles Goodwin, “Co-operative time” – en réponse à Chloé Mondémé
Charles Goodwin revient ici sur certaines des propositions avancées par Chloé Mondémé, dans l’article paru dans le dossier Autour de l’anthropologie de Charles Goodwin. Il y explicite notamment son rapport à la théorie de l’esprit (ToM, theory of mind) et ses critiques relatives aux aspects de la vie sociale que ces perspectives invisibilisent – notamment le rapport au temps dans l’expérience et l’organisation située de l’action. La question de l’interdisciplinarité y est aussi abordée, comme une position revendiquée contre la dissociation a priori des phénomènes qu’on se donne à observer (le langage, l’action, la socialité…) et, simultanément, contre la dissociation des perspectives et des formes d’enquête (anthropologie, linguistique, sociologie…).
Pour citer ce billet: Goodwin Charles, “Co-operative Time. Reply to Chloé Mondémé”. Publié sur Tracés le 3 décembre 2016. Lien: https://traces.hypotheses.org/1802.
Reply to Chloé Mondémé: Socialité et co-opération dans l’oeuvre de Charles Goodwin. Ou comment penser les passerelles entre linguistique, anthropologie et sociologie.
By Charles Goodwin
Chloé Mondémé provides an incredible synthesis of the thinking that has animated my work, how it has changed and developed throughout my career, and the importance of the visual diagrams I use to try to show, rather than merely tell, the reader what I am seeing in my materials, and proposing analytically. I was genuinely amazed at her accuracy in describing my work, recognition of the intellectual issues I was working with, breadth, and recognition of how what I was doing did or did not fit with the work going on around me. This makes it extremely difficult to write a reply, or use her excellent analysis as the point of departure for a discussion. There is nothing whatsoever in what she wrote that I disagree with. It is an outstanding summary of my work and ideas.
On p. 67 Chloé Mondémé notes that I do not use as my analytic point of departure traditional mentalistic concepts such as Theory of Mind and psychological and speech-act versions of intentionality. To my knowledge I have not explicitly stated why I don’t, but just proceeded with my own analysis. To contribute something new I will therefore try to briefly describe why I do not see psychological and philosophical work of the type epitomized by Theory of Mind as a fruitful way to investigate human action or cognition. I will focus on one of many topics: the central importance of time, or more precisely what I will call co-operative time, as an irreducible feature of human action, cognition and knowledge. This will also provide one way of demonstrating why she is absolutely correct to describe me as thinking like an anthropologist, though I do not have a degree in anthropology (I was however a professor of anthropology for 20 years). It will also provide one demonstration of why I am in principle opposed to drawing boundaries either within 1) the phenomena we are investigating (for example giving talk a privileged status), or 2) the academic disciplines that organize our inquiry. I believe that such boundaries hinder and distort our ability to get a clear view of human action, cognition and social life.
My purpose in noting the problems I have with TOM, and psychological/ philosophical analysis that uses the human ability to recognize communicative intentions as a point of departure for the study of action is not to re-state objections that have been very well articulated elsewhere (for example, the Cartesian assumptions that guide such perspectives, the problems, well articulated by Ingold (2013), of starting from mental images in the mind, etc.), but instead to show how such perspectives erase and render invisible a host of phenomena that are deeply consequential for the constitution of human action and knowledge.
The analysis of crucial mental abilities that make possible distinctively human action — including joint action, mutual understanding, and shared reference by different individuals — might seem to strongly intersect with my own work. The most simple statement of the problems I find with this research is that it does not include lived unfolding time as an intrinsic, indeed constitutive, feature of the phenomena being analyzed.
For example, within this research tradition the ability to recognize that others have mental states that differ from one’s own is investigated as a crucial, species-specific mental ability that distinguishes humans from (almost all) other animals. This develops at certain ages in young children, and is impaired in certain disorders such as autism. These arguments are demonstrated through ingenious, experimental methodology that rigorously controls all conditions except the response by the subject which demonstrates the presence or absence of this ability. What emerges is a timeless, indeed static, mental state, such as the ability to recognize mental states or communicative intentions in others.
By way of contrast I take seriously the phenomenological argument that we are always, irreducibly embedded within unfolding time, and that it is within this, that our consciousness, experience, and perspectival knowledge of both others and the objects that we focus upon emerges and changes. I do this not from a primary interest in philosophy, but instead because such a perspective seems to provide the most accurate and useful resources for coming to terms with the phenomena I observe in the recordings of human action and interaction I work with. Indeed, until quite recently I had not noticed the genuine relevance of thinkers such as Schutz (in part because such analysis was presented as abstract arguments, rather than through detailed examination of actual action), and had not become deeply familiar with the work of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty (a situation I am now working to correct). From a slightly different perspective research in philosophy (for example Searle 1970; Searle 2010) works from idealized examples. By way of contrast I record sequences of human action and look carefully at the specific practices people actually use to accomplish whatever it is they are doing. My ability to notice relevant phenomena, some of which I had not dreamed existed before I saw them, is a crucial feature of my analytic journeys (my mentor, Gail Jefferson, argued strongly that we should be engaged in a discovering science). The importance of time and transformation emerge in the first instance as something clearly visible in the materials I am working with (and something that would not become visible if the focus were restricted to individual action types in isolation, without their sequential context). Moreover these are phenomena the participants themselves are attending to, and treating as consequential for the ongoing organization of their action. This is not in any way to argue that I look without any preconceptions. I approach the scene with perspectives triggered by reading in many different fields, and by a long history of looking at and thinking about other materials that I have intently scrutinized earlier. However, I try to remain open about what is actually happening in the materials now in front of me, and how that might lead me to see the relevance of new phenomena. This also inevitably shows to me the importance of phenomena beyond the stream of speech (which is why I have reservations about defining the field of investigation as talk-in-interaction). The diversity of the worlds I encounter, both in terms of the richness of different kinds of phenomena that help shape single actions, and by having the opportunity to participate through action in the distinctive worlds of geologists, archaeologists, and an aphasic man, is a great gift since it forces me to think in new ways, while making that process genuinely exciting.
Let me provide a brief, incomplete overview of some of the perspectives on time that I find relevant (some of this is developed in more detail in Chapter 3 of Co-Operative Action). First, each present moment carries with it both a past that has given it shape, and a future that makes visible a range of possibilities for what can now follow. For William James (1890:609)
the practically cognized present is no knife-edge, but a saddle- back, with a certain breadth of its own on which we sit perched, and from which we look in two directions into time. The unit of composition of our perception of time is a duration, with a bow and a stern, as it were — a rearward — and a forward-looking end.
Elsewhere James (1890:609) illustrates this by observing how all the notes within the bar of a song are contained within the present — earlier notes remain present in the perception and understanding of each new one as it appears.
James situates his analysis of the mind enmeshed within unfolding time within the psychology of the individual. Schutz adds a crucial social and intersubjective dimension by drawing attention to how, as we grow older together within the unfolding time of face-to-face interaction, “our respective streams of consciousness intersect” (Schutz 1967:102). Schutz (1967:99) also notes that it is impossible for one individual to know with precision the subjective experience of another*, something vividly illustrated in the interactions of Chil, an aphasic man with a 3 word vocabulary (Yes, No, and And), that I have extensively analyzed in many places in my work, including the article translated in this issue. His interlocutor has no difficulty whatsoever recognizing that Chil is trying to communicate something (e.g., a communicative intention). However, working out together what that something might be can only be can only be accomplished (with a very real possibility of failure) through systematic co-operative time-bound practices, as each actor successively operates on what the other has just done.
[*Schutz’s argument for this is not the inaccessibility of unique Cartesian mental spaces, but rather that as social actors inhabiting through time meaningful worlds, all actors arrive on the scene with distinct, different histories of knowledge and experience.]
Missing from both James and Schutz are public processes of semiosis, and indeed it is these in many different forms (human language, the play of expressions on the face and body, unfolding units within a developing utterance, the continuing flow of Peircian interpretants operating upon and incorporating with transformation what the other has just done, etc.) that make it possible for separate intersecting consciousnesses to build in concert with each other co-operative, multi-party action that emerges and changes through time.
Human language, as something built through different kinds of parts that emerge bit by bit as an utterance is spoken, imposes a punctuated structure on the flows of individual and social experience described by James and Schutz. In Chapter 3 of Co-Operative Action a speaker hesitates after producing the adjective in a developing noun phrase. One of her addressees immediately produces (incorrectly) what she takes to be the upcoming noun. She has used the grammatical organization of the emerging utterance to locate a constrained, but open-ended, set of possibilities for what might occur next (e.g., a contextually relevant noun, a visible though not certain future). Moreover, these horizons of possibilities for the future are constantly changing as new units appear. For participants in the midst of the forms of action created by an utterance as it is being spoken, grammar is not an atemporal set of combinatorial rules, but something that makes visible and relevant a continuously changing matrix of unfolding possibilities for how talk and action will develop in the future*.
[* Subtle analysis of how this process is found as well within the temporally unfolding process of reading a line of poetry can be found in Stephen Booth’s commentary on Shakespeare’s sonnets (Shakespeare and Booth 1977).]
The detailed organization of a language, its grammar, and the forms of unfolding engagement within co-operative time it makes relevant are crucial. Iwasaki (2011) demonstrates that Japanese Turn-Constructional Units are organized into smaller “interactive turns spaces” which are collaboratively shaped one after another within individual turns. This process is constituted through quite different forms of projection than those made relevant by the grammatical organization of a language such as English. Alternative grammars create different possibilities for inhabiting, and working co- operatively within, the unfolding time through which utterances are shaped.
Being able to participate in this process requires mastery of the specific language being spoken. It is an ability that has been shaped, both for the language as a whole, and for individual speakers, by earlier histories on multiple time scales. This is clearly demonstrated by the way in which someone sitting within a group where talk is occurring in an unfamiliar language is not able to fully, or even adequately, participate in the flow of meaning and action occurring around them, resulting in both incomprehension and boredom. What is lost is not simply comprehension, but the ability to participate in the lived time of the currently unfolding interaction. On a larger time scale this frequently isolates older immigrants, but not their children, from the world of mundane meaning and action organized through the language of their new country (Orellana et al. 1998).
A focus on how utterances, actions, actors, objects and understanding are intrinsically time-bound phenomena has been central to most of my analysis throughout my career. Consider the two central analytic phenomena that were the focus of my doctoral dissertation. First, speakers have the ability to change both an emerging utterance (and the sentence emerging through that utterance), and the actions it is performing as it is being spoken, in response to how they analyze their addressee’s actions and knowledge. What changes as the utterance flows through time is not only the sentence and its mutable actions, but also the reciprocal shaping of the actors tied together through it. Even today this raises questions about the argument in much of conversation analysis, and among scholars such as Levinson, that the place where understanding is demonstrated is a subsequent utterance. Within a state of co-presence actors act upon an emerging utterance as a mutable, temporally unfolding process in its own right. Within co-presence there is no time out from inhabiting action as a process that unfolds and is constituted through lived time.
Second, speakers who look toward their addressees, and find through the orientation of that person’s body that they are not being attended to, engage in systematic practices, such as interrupting the flow of their talk, to secure relevant orientation, and only then continue with the utterance. The ability to jointly attend to a common object, and know one’s interlocutor is also attending to it, is argued to be a defining characteristic of the mental abilities that create the human mind (Tomasello et al. 2005). I in no way doubt that there might be something special about a pervasive human ability to share vision and knowledge of the world with others. One can see two dogs animatedly sniffing simultaneously at the same spot on the ground without in any way taking into account that their companion is also doing this. However, for humans, mutual, shared or common orientation is created through systematic practices that have an intrinsic temporal organization. The same applies to recognition of a common object, which remains something to be accomplished, as demonstrated in Goodwin (2014: Figure 1). Here the pointing finger of an aphasic man is only an inch or two above a bowl that contains remains of a grapefruit that has just been eaten. However, despite the close proximity of deictic gesture and target, the addressee is unable to determine whether what is being pointed at is the bowl or the grapefruit.
In all of these examples participants are attending to not only language structure, but also each other’s bodies, and frequently objects in the world around them. Moreover, the body of the other is a changing, meaningful field. For Schutz (1967:101) “bodily movements are perceived not only as physical events but also as a sign that the other person is having certain lived experiences which he is expressing through those movements.”
The map-making sequence at the beginning of Professional Vision (Goodwin 1994) provides a concise example of how much of another’s knowledge, skill, and understanding can be seen in the movements of her body, and how this is relevant to the temporally unfolding constitution of both the actions in progress, and the creation of actors with the skills and professional vision required to accomplish the consequential actions that organize the work of their community. I will only summarize my analysis, with a focus on the importance of time organized through co-operative action for shaping what can be seen in the body of another, and the world that is the focus of scrutiny. To make it easy to follow I will provide Figures showing what is happening.
As can be seen in Figure 1 a senior archaeologist and a new graduate student are working together to make a map showing a line marking the boundary between different kinds of soil in an excavation. The student uses a tape measure and a ruler to measure relevant points in the line, which she reports to her professor who draws them on the map.
In line 1 of Figure 2 Ann, the senior archaeologist asks her new student, Sue, to give her relevant depth measurements along the horizontal line (marked with a stiff ruler in the dirt at the top) “to about ninety”. However, before Sue makes any reply whatsoever Ann, in line 4, treats her response as wrong.
By looking at what Sue’s body does, how she moves her tape measure all the way to 90, instead of taking relevant measurements along the way, Ann is able to to see that she will not produce a proper response to what was asked in line 1. What is seen, in a way consistent with the quote from Schutz (1967:101) above, is not simply changing movements in Sue’s body, but consequential lack of skill and understanding of the type exemplified in Wittgenstein’s (1958:§2) language games. Sue is comparable to one of Wittgenstein’s workers who publicly demonstrates lack of understanding by being unable to produce the right object after being asked to bring a “slab” (note that in this original exposition of a language game Wittgenstein included not only language, but also embodied movements and objects, i.e., a framework quite consistent with what is being argued here)*.
[* “Let us imagine a … language meant to serve for communication between a builder A and an assistant B. A is building with building-stones: there are blocks, pillars, slabs and beams. B has to pass the stones, and that in the order for which A needs them. For this purposes they use a language consisting of the words “block”, “pillar”, “slab”, “beam”. A calls them out; – B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such-and- such a call. — Conceive this as a complete primitive language.” (Wittgenstein 1958:§2)]
Much more is at issue here than a local lack of understanding. Sue demonstrates that she lacks the skill and professional vision to operate on the dirt in front of her that is required to create one of the signature discursive objets of her profession: an archaeological map. Her work as an archaeologist cannot be trusted by others.
As can be seen in Figure 3 Ann immediately sets out to remedy this:
In lines 10 and 11 Ann uses symbolic language to describe what she wants Sue to see — when the line being mapped “stops being fairly flat.” I think that all of us who have taken elementary algebra would be able to recognize when a curve stops being fairly flat. However, what is at issue here is recognizing consequential discontinuities in the slope of the line drawn in the complex visual field actually being worked with here, and Ann has already failed that test. Thus, starting in line 10 Ann moves her body forward and points at an example in the dirt, creating an environmentally coupled gesture (Goodwin 2007) that links an abstract category stated through language, a type, to an exemplar of what counts as that category, a proper token, in the actual materials being worked with. These materials, the dirt and its patterning at a field excavation, are of course the crucial domain of scrutiny and practice for archaeology. In lines 13-15 Ann uses indexical reference alone (“there”, “there”, “the:re”) to create additional environmentally coupled gestures, more exemplars, to create a collection of proper instances of what Sue should be expected to see as a competent, skilled archaeologist.
This reveals another crucial time scale. Because of what I analyze in Co- Operative Action as accumulative diversity — the systematic proliferation through the accumulative organization of co-operative action of path- dependent diversity in social worlds, languages, cultures, settings, tools etc. — every community, including a profession such as archaeology, is faced with the continuous, ongoing task of creating new skilled, competent, members of the community. Indeed, because of the reflexive constitution of actor and environment (e.g., an archaeologist able to both recognize relevant phenomena in the dirt of an excavation, and transform through skilled practice what is seen into the discursive objects, such as maps and categories that animate the discourse of her profession), as well as the historical constitution through time of both such communities and the diverse, consequential phenomena that populate their environments, I prefer the term “inhabitant” to “member.” Here we see how the process of shaping new competent inhabitants can occur in the interstices of the mundane activities accomplished through co-operative action that constitute the distinctive work of specific communities.
In his analysis of the organization of intentional action Searle (1995:31) recognizes the importance of such abilities for the construction of action, but relegates them to a “background” where they can be taken for granted, and ignored analytically. By way of contrast I find that processes such as those that occur here allow us to investigate the constitution of such skills and abilities within the organization of time-bound co-operative action itself, where they matter, as a crucial, oriented-to infrastructure for the actions that constitute the signature activities of a community. Indeed they constitute a major component of what Garfinkel called the ‘seen but unnoticed’ practices that make human action, and the forms of mutual intelligibility that help constitute it, possible. Rather than constituting a distraction to be ignored analytically, in my work such phenomena are what must be focused on to describe central properties of human action, including the accumulative diversification and stability of the unique phenomenal and cultural worlds with their settings (such as an archaeological field excavation), that provide the infrastructure for the actions that simultaneously emerge within them, and sustain through practice their coherence, order and intelligibility.
It may well be that I am tone-deaf to both Theory of Mind, and efforts to analyze human action through analysis of a largely mental infrastructure, such as the ability to recognize communicative intentions. And indeed I find analysis of human intentionality from an anthropological perspective (Duranti 2015) powerful and illuminating. Moreover, I think our understanding of what it is to be human is best accomplished when various communities of inquiry pursue in depth a range of alternative perspectives. However, I have tried to demonstrate here the host of phenomena that become accessible to detailed investigation when we include not only language, especially the narrow part of language that can be captured on the written page, within the scope of what we examine, but also the body, the quite different kinds of materials that mutually elaborate each other to create actual mundane action (language structure, prosody, the bodies of multiple actors, historically structured settings of environments, etc.), time scales from within individual noun phrases to the historical development of communities, settings, tools, knowledge, etc. over generations, etc.
As I understand it (and I admit I may be wrong) both Theory of Mind and the analysis of how we are able to recognize communicative intentions in others, etc., in ways that animals (with limited exceptions) are apparently not able to do, ignore unfolding time in the midst of local action (they do of course recognize that TOM follows a developmental trajectory and only emerges at particular ages). I have tried to argue that this is a very serious omission. We, our actions, and our forms of understanding, are always embedded within flowing time. Indeed, though I have not focused on it here, multiple time scales simultaneously (Goodwin 2002). Thus the participation framework created by the mutual orientation of participants’ bodies endures over multiple utterances and gestures. It might be appropriate to call the organization of time that has been focused on here, co-operative time, the process through which actors build new action by performing systematic operations on what others have placed in a public environment. Such time is not something to be abstracted away, the way that a physicist might ignore friction. Instead the ability to re-use with transformation materials created by others, sits at the center of distinctively human forms of cognition (Newton: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulder of giants”), history, diversification of languages and cultures etc. We not only live and die in time, but it is woven into the intrinsic organization of our most mundane actions. It overcomes the limitations of our individual mental worlds by allowing us to inhabit, re-use and modify the actions of others, and appropriate their resources.
Finally, a brief autobiographical comment on why my research crosses disciplinary boundaries. When we began our teaching careers in 1976 by sharing a single position in the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Carolina, Candy and I found ourselves in small four-field department (Social-Cultural Anthropology, Archaeology, Biological Anthropology and Linguistic Anthropology). There were only 10 to 12 faculty in the entire department and we were geographically isolated, so that guest speakers were a rare and valued occasion. We all attended each other’s talks, irrespective of discipline. I thus sat through a lot of archaeology talks. Moreover, we all talked to each other. Shortly after I arrived I showed the archaeologists some of my video analysis of talk at a dinner (the cigarette utterance, etc.) and was amazed to see that the only things they were interested in were the dishes and garbage. We had long, though quite friendly fights (“we’ve got actual objects that we can measure and hold in our hands”). Initially I saw us as inhabiting completely different analytic and intellectual worlds, which is the way that modern academia is organized. However, after listening to many lectures it gradually began to dawn on me that they were really into something important, and that I could not investigate what was happening in the materials I was working with without taking into account the objects, and settings, that were also shaping interaction there, and that change, not just within utterances, but on massive time scales as well, and which are crucial to trying to figure out what it is to be human. In my teaching I looked at a lot of films of mundane activities in societies radically different from my own, which reinforced such thinking. Through this long encounter my thinking and analytical perspectives were gradually, but powerfully transformed. Rather than an intellectual conversion, this encounter re-shaped me as a thinker and analyst. I am forever grateful. More generally, I think that we should be in constant dialog with not only the findings, but also the practices of colleagues whose fields might initially seem quite different from our own. However, our current division into separate academic disciplines make this difficult or impossible. It is not simply a question of reading, but of long talks with others, while being open to what they are saying, and allowing ourselves to be changed. When we did a multi-disciplinary study of the daily lives of families at UCLA, I was in constant dialog with the archaeologist on the project about the power of space and consumer goods in the houses, etc. I have of course gained immensely from deep immersion in the work of anthropologists from many different subfields.
Because of how they taught me to think and view the world, I do tentatively think of myself as an anthropologist, though I do not have a degree in the field. It is the place where I feel most comfortable, and as a whole, the discipline that offers the greatest range of perspectives for looking intently at both human beings, and other animals. However, in light of what I just said, I don’t see myself specifically as a linguistic anthropologist, but instead as an anthropologist in general, someone who tries to see language, biology, the time frame and material organization of archaeology, the pervasiveness and importance of social organization, the diversity in societies and cultures, etc. as all interdependent, interacting aspects of what we want to investigate. I feel a very great debt to everyone — colleagues from different disciplines, students, archaeologists and geologists who have allowed me to accompany them into the field, all the wonderful colleagues who have participated in my co-operative action lab (including two of the contributors to this issue), etc. — who have shaped powerful dialogic encounters that led me to grow in my research, and stimulated me to discover, with genuine excitement, new aspects of the world we inhabit together.
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