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The co-constitutive nature of continuities and discontinuities in situational interests

1.3 Learning, knowledge and agency
Paper in a Symposium (Symp)
9:30 AM, Friday 1 Sep 2017 (30 minutes)
Traditionally, research on interests has been conducted within educational environments and has sought to uncover the conditions to spark students’ interest in disciplinary practices. As such, much effort has gone into understanding the notion of situational (short-term) interests—i.e., one’s contingent, engaged but short-lived participation in ongoing activity (references). At the core, such notions have highlighted the essentially discontinuous character of the experience of pursuing a novel form of activity, such as that expressed by a situational interest. While I believe such discontinuities in experience and quality of participation do exist, I argue that focusing on them blinds us to the larger continuities within which the whole of one’s experience takes on meaning. Indeed, understanding such activity continuities is essential to grasp how new experiences—e.g., emergent, situational interests—are appropriated into one’s existing repertoire of activities and practices. This idea harkens back to Vygotsky’s (1978) formulation of human developmental processes and its various extensions in activity theory (Engeström, 1987) cultural psychology (Cole, 1996), and which sees humans as constantly participating in several concurrent activities—or whole distinct activity systems—all of which bear complex relationships to one another. Seen in this light, ignoring the co-constitutive role of activity continuities and discontinuities misses some of the basic structural aspects of situational interests. As a corollary, framing situational interests as simultaneously continuous and discontinuous experiences provides us a more accountable description of the phenomenology of interests, its “triggering” processes, and eventual uptake and development (or not). To illustrate these points, I use two in-depth case studies of people’s interest-based participation in STEM practices. In the first case, students in an after-school program initiate personal excursions (Azevedo, 2006) into emergent (situational) interests by building off of both continuities + discontinuities available in action. In the second case, I show how a continuities/discontinuities can be used to capture an amateur astronomer’s emergent interests within his long-term hobby participation. Throughout, the focus is on processes and real-time activity of individuals so as to track the sequential, moment-to-moment production of a situational interest.
University of Texas at Austin
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