Social Interaction, Social Context, and Language: Essays in Honor of Susan Ervin-Tripp

By Dan Isaac Slobin; Julie Gerhardt et al. | Go to book overview

32
WOMEN'S COLLABORATIVE INTERACTIONS

Vera John-Steiner
University of New Mexico

Creative and intellectual partnerships are motivated and sustained along a variety of dimensions. One of these is the need for affirmation. The hard effort involved in sustained, productive work requires a sense of trust in oneself. The ability to develop such a sense is nourished and sustained in certain effective collaborative partnerships.

Another important dimension of collaborative work is linked to developments in one's domain of endeavor. When scientists or artists are engaged in re-examining theories which are in conflict with new discoveries, insights, or perspectives, they find "thinking together" particularly productive. I have suggested that thinking collaboratively is particularly prevalent in the construction of a new framework. "In this way, researchers can overcome the grip of a dominant perspective" ( John-Steiner, 1992, p. 103). The new jointly constructed framework can become the foundation of each individual's own novel directions of thought. Such a process is effectively described by Vygotsky's frequently quoted notion of the shift from the interpersonal to the intrapersonal level of functioning. In developing Vygotsky's sociogenetic notions further, Van der Veer and Valsiner ( 1991) suggest:

If we were to try to understand the processes of scientific discovery from a purely sociogenetic perspective then we would have to accept that no innovative scientist can create any new ideas independently from the collective cultural processes that surround him, the cultural history in which his life-course is embedded, and the particular interpersonal relationships of his life course. Or in other terms, it is the intellectual interdependency of the scientist or artist that sets up conditions under which novel ideas or expressions can come into being [emphasis added]. (p. 393)

Jointly constructed thinking is particularly important when a governing perspective within a domain of thinking is changing. Conversations which provide thoughtful articulation of new insights become more intense and frequent. This process has been particularly interesting to writers documenting the changes in physics during the 1920s, (cf. Heisenberg, 1971). Less is known of the establishment of discourse communities during periods of paradigmatic changes in the social sciences and of the role of women in these communities.

In thinking about communities of thinkers, I have relied to a great extent on Ludwik Fleck's ( 1979) ideas. He wrote about thought collectives and collaboration as central

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