A Commentary on Charles Goodwin’s Co-Operative Action for Learning Scientists

Danielle Teodora Keifert, Ananda Maria Marin

University of California Los Angeles

**Accepted book review manuscript published here prior to print publication.

…building action by accumulatively incorporating resources provided by others creates a distinctive form of sociality: it is one of the ways in which we inhabit each other’s actions, including those of no longer present predecessors. (Goodwin, 2017, p. 31)

The use of video in the Learning Sciences, as a tool for examining the detailed nature of learning processes, is widespread (Goldman, Pea, Barron, & Derry, 2014). This ubiquity makes Charles Goodwin’s analytical approach and theoretical concepts highly relevant. Learning scientists have engaged with the cumulative work of Goodwin, both methodological and conceptual tools, to examine participants meaning-making, learning, and professional practice in formal and informal settings. For example, researchers in the Learning Sciences have conducted analyses similar to Goodwin’s to attend to how participants position each other as teachers and learners (Stevens, 2010), how participants create discursive spaces in discipline-specific ways (Stevens & Hall, 1998; Warren, Ballenger, Ogonowski, Rosebery, & Hudicourt-Barnes, 2001; Gutiérrez, 2008), and what people are up to when they coordinate their bodies to accomplish shared activity (Enyedy, Danish, DiLema, 2015; Ma, 2017; Marin, 2013; Shapiro, Hall, & Owens, 2017; Taylor & Hall, 2013). Furthermore, several researchers have drawn upon Goodwin’s conceptualization of professional vision to support teachers learning to notice student thinking (Sherin & van Es, 2009; van Es & Sherin, 2010; Santagata & Guarino, 2011).

In his new book, Co-Operative Action (Co-A), Goodwin synthesizes a large portion of work over his career, making a broader argument that is only possible through the breadth of instances and depth of analyses presented. He examines theoretical constructs he developed in prior work such as co-operative action, substrates, lamination, and professional vision (e.g., Goodwin, 1994, 2000, 2003, 2013; Goodwin & Goodwin, 2012; Mogk & Goodwin 2012). Goodwin also presents a series of tools upon which he built this work. Goodwin’s new book presents a theory of learning that is grounded in analyses of interaction-in-the-environment that informs ongoing conversations in the Learning Sciences about the contexts and places, as well as the socio-cultural and historical aspects of learning.

In this commentary, we begin by orienting the reader to our relationship with the work and persons of Charles (Chuck) and Marjorie Harness (Candy) Goodwin including the data sources that inform this commentary. We then summarize Goodwin’s argument. Next, we position this work in relation to ongoing conversations in the Learning Sciences exploring Goodwin’s theory of learning and teaching, and reflections on human and more-than-human relations with the world. We also explore how Goodwin’s approach can inform ongoing conversations in the Learning Sciences about issues of power and privilege in studying and designing for learning. Finally, we step back to comment upon the legacy that Goodwin presents through his book and the relationships he has formed with many in our field.

Our Relationship with Chuck & Candy Goodwin

We were introduced to the work of Chuck and Candy Goodwin through our graduate school training at Northwestern University in a course with Reed Stevens on Conversation Analysis (CA) and Interaction Analysis (IA) approaches to the study of learning in interaction. Since that time, we each have drawn upon Chuck and Candy Goodwin’s work in different ways. We have also both been privileged to attend Co-A Lab meetings at UCLA with both Chuck and Candy since we arrived at UCLA in the fall of 2016. When we agreed to write this commentary, we also asked for an interview with both Chuck and Candy. We hoped to explore theoretical concepts such as lamination and substrate, especially as they are related to education and the learning sciences. Moreover, we hoped to better understand his take on the relationships he describes in the book with those he represents in its pages. That first interview took place on September 7, 2017. After finishing a nearly-complete draft of this commentary, Chuck and Candy gave us detailed feedback on March 23, 2018. Our argument is based upon both the book and these exchanges (represented with dates in parentheses), and explores the importance of researcher positionality, as well as fine-grained examinations of action for better understanding the scales, contexts, and socio-cultural aspects of learning.

A Summary of Goodwin’s Argument

Co-operative action is the process of participants building action by using and transforming the resources that were created in prior actions, either by the participants in the current action, or by predecessors no longer present. Goodwin introduces co-operative action by drawing upon Candy Goodwin’s work with African American children playing together; after a child utters “Why don’t you get out my yard”, the other child replies “Why don’t you make me get out the yard” (p. 2; Figure 1, emphasis added). Although this may seem like one child is simply imitating the other, Goodwin, through his method of annotating transcriptions (as displayed in the figure below), illustrates the ways participants draw upon existing resources in the environment to accomplish co-operative action.

Figure 1. Our take on Goodwin’s Figure 1.1 (p. 3) showing re-use and transformation.

The second child re-used the structure of the prior utterance, decomposing it and inserting “make me” to provide a new meaning. Goodwin calls the first utterance part of the substrate—the “local, public configuration of action and semiotic resources” (p. 32) including verbal, gestural, and material resources, amongst others that unfold in time. Participants draw upon this substrate as a resource for meaning-making and the accomplishment of co-operative action. Human action is therefore built through decomposing and reassembling prior utterances as a public process. In this case, the second child takes apart the initial utterance, and transforms it to present a challenge to the first child.

Critically important to the type of video analysis found in our field, Goodwin reminds us that co-operative action draws upon actions beyond talk. Goodwin says “a substrate need not in any way consist of talk or language structure” (p. 33), but may consist of many kinds of actions and materials. For example, Goodwin examines the role of the body arguing that although “omitted in orthodox [Conversation Analysis],” in interaction we must look “at each other’s bodies in order to have this deep knowledge of the forms of co-participation that are happening with others” (C Goodwin & MH Goodwin, Personal Interview, September 7, 2017). This process of re-use and potential transformation with more-than-talk is present in everyday interaction as well as the work of professional communities such as archaeologists using a Munsell color chart, or oceanographers drawing upon a technology developed previously in their lab to take measurements where the Amazon meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Expanding the analysis beyond the content of talk is important as participants may laminate their talk with additional semiotic fields to create shared meaning and coordinate their activity. For example, as archaeologists use a Munsell color chart to name a sample of dirt, they may gesture to the chart in coordination with their talk to make an argument for one color name or another. Goodwin describes lamination as the process where action is built by “joining together unlike materials with complementary properties” (p. 105). Such lamination of semiotic fields (in this case gesture and talk upon a material) is ubiquitous in interaction. Lamination as a process occurs as different participants contribute to a single action (e.g., one person gestures to a color on the chart while another speaks its name). Goodwin’s conceptualization of lamination gets to the heart of his argument about Co-A—that participants are simultaneously building action together, and through that action producing new resources for future action.

Goodwin analyzes interactions with a broader conceptualization of context than some in traditional Conversation Analysis and Interaction Analysis. First, as we have already argued, Goodwin examines more than talk-in-interaction, a traditional focus of Conversation Analysis (9/7/2017). Goodwin’s analyses draw upon body position and action, talk, prosody, gaze, and gesture amongst other semiotic resources as they are arranged in particular combinations to achieve shared understanding of specific meaning. Second, Goodwin considers materials including the physical environment in new ways. For example, his analyses take into account the ways that participants make meaning of hopscotch grids and the archaeological traces of fences in the dirt. These materials are remnants from prior activity that can be indexed in the ongoing organization of action. Moreover, material structures shape the interaction (e.g., consider the ways that cooking is shaped by the organization of a kitchen). Finally, Goodwin attends to the ways that predecessors—those not present in a given interaction—may help to shape an ongoing interaction based on their prior activity. For example, Goodwin examines the prosody of an actor playing Orlando in As You Like It, who “makes the action his own, entirely through his prosodic lamination of” Shakespeare’s words (p. 130). Goodwin continues:
Here, the laminated organization of human action, the way in which its simultaneous parts can be decomposed and assigned to different individuals, makes it possible for a single action to be constructed through the intertwined activities of people living four hundred years apart from each other. (p. 130)

Goodwin’s examination of this actor’s prosody is critical for understanding how the actor speaking Shakespeare’s lines provides a specific meaning; the actor is able to show that Orlando is falling in love with Rosalind in that moment. Goodwin argues that Shakespeare’s works are not stable reflections of his intention, but in fact are given meaning through both his words and the laminated actions of others engaged in speaking those words. Thus, the actor joins together his own actions (prosody and speech) together with Shakespeare’s text. Goodwin’s methods examine the ways that these multiple resources are taken apart, built upon, combined, sedimented, and re-used with transformation in interaction.

These approaches require careful consideration of what to include in each analysis. Goodwin does not attend to all semiotic fields, materials, landscapes, and predecessors’ contributions. Rather, Goodwin begins with the analysis of a moment, and systematically examines those resources that are made relevant in interaction by participants. Goodwin examines how participants “join different materials together within a single action” to create a “matrix for diversity” of potential meanings (p. 120). Through this process Goodwin is able to examine multiple scales of time and space as they are relevant to a given interaction. Goodwin demonstrates through analysis of many different kinds of settings how co-operative action provides a mechanism for systematic accumulative change within an interaction, across a community such as professional science fields, and even across human culture. Goodwin argues this process is tied to the development of tools and cultural diversity found in the human species, and the subsequent need for forms of pedagogy to teach cultural practices to new generations (e.g., to teach professional vision—“socially organized ways of seeing and understanding events that are answerable to the distinctive interests of a particular social group”; Goodwin, 1994, p. 606). In this way, Goodwin’s analysis reminds us of work in cultural psychology, particularly Cole’s (1996) discussions of phylogenetic, ontogenetic, and microgenetic development. We argue later in this commentary that Goodwin’s methods and theoretical constructs provide a path for learning scientists to ground examinations of these broader scales of space and time within moments of interaction in ways that remain true to CA/IA approaches while also attending to the socio-cultural aspects of learning.

In summary, Goodwin’s central argument is that co-operative action is a fundamental part of interaction and the development of human meaning. Goodwin uses co-operative action to better understand the development and use of language (specifically the development of Peircian symbols), the development of complex tools and artifacts, the diversity of human cultures, distinct forms of learning and pedagogy, and social action across groups dispersed in time and space in ways that shed light on social and cultural change over time. Goodwin’s broad claim that these diverse phenomena can be understood through the lens of co-operative action is possible because of his close analysis of a great variety of settings and interactions.

Goodwin’s Relevance for the Learning Sciences

Goodwin’s approach is driven by “a deep interest in human interaction” and a desire to demonstrate “how intelligent people are in the midst of their ordinary lives” (9/7/2017). For Goodwin, the “excitement of being in the middle of this world and trying to figure it out, trying to figure out how people put together the incredible things they do” is equally about how he approaches the analysis of people’s everyday and professional activity as it is about how he approaches collaboration and sharing of ideas with colleagues (9/7/2017). When we expressed how Chuck’s work has influenced our own analyses, Goodwin said, “For a legacy, I don’t think it should be people just repeating my ideas” but instead emphasized that he loves that people from many different intellectual traditions and fields come together to learn with and from him and then take his ideas and build upon them in productive ways in their own communities. We hope to do honor to his legacy by sharing with you how we see Co-Operative Action addressing current questions and conversations in the Learning Sciences.

Although Goodwin spends a great deal of the book developing an argument about the evolution of human language, thought, and action through Peircean symbol use, we’ll leave it to scholars who focus on symbols to comment on that aspect of the work. We would like to focus instead on arguments that run throughout the book regarding substrate, lamination, professional vision, and positionality that we feel inform ongoing conversations in the Learning Sciences of which we have been a part. Before we introduce Goodwin’s take on learning and the need for pedagogy, we want to examine substrates as a construct more closely as it bears on several questions currently being discussed in the Learning Sciences. Specifically, we think that Goodwin’s formulation of substrate can be repurposed/appropriated to address questions about learning across and through space and time, including the socio-cultural and political dimensions of both learning and the design of learning environments at multiple scales. We begin by examining substrate more closely, then present Goodwin’s ideas about learning and pedagogy, reflect on nature-culture relations, and finally work to articulate ways forward for researchers studying and designing for learning-in-interaction.

A Closer Look at Substrates

Goodwin provides multiple examples of Co-A throughout the book. Accompanying these examples are definitions of substrates that demonstrate the robustness of this theoretical concept. These definitions are critical for understanding how Goodwin thinks about learning and pedagogy, and can provide potential ways forward for learning scientists examining social change as grounded in analyses of particular moments. All of them are built on the basic definition of substrate as follows:

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a substrate as “a thing which underlies or forms the basis for another.” The Apple Dictionary defines it as “a substance or layer that underlies something, or on which some process occurs,” one specification of this being “the surface or material on which an organism lives, grows, or obtains its nourishment.” Such a view of a substrate fits well with how, in the phenomena being examined here, the substrate, the utterance being operated on, provides an actor with a trove of resources, precisely fitted to the current context, that can be used to build relevant next action. (p. 39)

In Table 1, we present an array of how Goodwin has populated the concept of substrate for the purposes of understanding Co-A. These definitions help us to understand Goodwin’s perspective on tracing multiple semiotic resources, including historically sedimented resources within the environment, both backwards and forwards from the interaction being examined.

Table 1. A Non-Exhaustive List of Goodwin’s Definitions of Substrate

We find these definitions useful in understanding how co-operative action is accomplished, particularly for explicating the collaborative nature of the creation of substrates and the temporal scales relevant for understanding substrates. Like traditional analyses in CA and IA, sequential analysis of the “dynamic, complex, and temporal unfolding organization” of interaction (p. 33) is critical to Goodwin’s exploration of participants’ co-operative action as evidenced when he describes substrate as “whatever utterance, or other public source, was being used as the point of departure for the operations used to build a subsequent action” (p. 38). In this way, Goodwin aligns with turn-by-turn analytical approaches that examine how an interaction unfolds forwards in time.

But Goodwin also defines substrate as the sedimented outcome of earlier action. Although a substrate is something participants use and transform in the interaction being analyzed, it is also “used to point to the earlier utterance, or another kind of sign complex (a hopscotch grid, for example)” (p. 3), and “has been given its current shape through the transformative sequences of action that culminate, at this moment, in the current action” (p. 39). In the interaction being analyzed, we first recognize a substrate as it is engaged with by participants in that moment, but its existence is necessarily created from the visible possibilities inherent in the prior actions. We must therefore trace backwards to understand the ways in which prior action are at play in current action. As Goodwin says, “Substrate is both the sedimented outcome of earlier action, and the source of subsequent action” (p. 32, emphasis his). In pushing to examine prior activity as relevant to current unfolding interaction, Goodwin argues for sequential organization starting with the interaction and moving backwards in time and outward in corresponding space. Goodwin maintains the central need to make clear how analyses are relevant to current unfolding activity in a given interaction, but explicates how doing so requires broader temporal and spatial scales of analysis. Tracing substrates back through time and out in space allows us to examine the prior co-actions of actors in the moments being analyzed and the actions of predecessors. Goodwin does not argue analysts should take a socio-cultural or political lens to analyze all instances of learning, but rather argues that as analysts examine interaction and trace substrates backwards and forwards in time, socio-cultural aspects of the interaction (and we argue political aspects) “reveal themselves as relevant” (3/23/18). As you will see in the next section exploring The How of Learning, these multiple scales of space and time are relevant to understanding Goodwin’s take on learning and pedagogy.

The How of Learning

Co-operative Action and the Role of Substrates in Sequential Analysis

We said above that Goodwin demonstrates the role of co-operative action across many scales to understand the how of learning. Specifically, Goodwin’s analyses start by examining interaction at a scale common to CA/IA. Goodwin’s brief examination of a mother and daughter making pancakes together illustrates how a young child is apprenticed into a practice for cooking through shared grip on the spatula, and collaborative looking (Figure 2).

Daughter: Should pop it? (0.2)
Mother: *hh (0.6) Let’s peek. (1.6)
Mother: Yeah. It’s ready.

Figure 2. A take on Goodwin’s Figure 16.1 (p. 247) showing mother and daughter making pancakes.

Both mother and daughter hold the spatula, which allows the mother to guide the child as they “peek” to see if the pancake is ready to “pop.” Talk, physical action, and the material resources that are historically sedimented, and which participants work to make a part of their current world, are critical in understanding the accomplishment of this form of apprenticeship in everyday practice. Other scholarship, drawn upon by learning scientists, engages in similar examinations of the apprenticeship of everyday activity (e.g., Lave, 1988; Rogoff, 2003; Rose, 2004), as well as looking at the apprenticeship that happens in formal schooling including experiences of children navigating relationships between everyday and schooled-ways (Erickson, 2004; Nasir, Hand, & Taylor, 2008; Bell, Van Horne, & Cheng, 2017).

In this same analysis, Goodwin makes the case that “what they are doing together, and the organization of their interaction, is in no way adequately, or even accurately, located within the exchange of talk that occurs” (p. 246-247). Throughout the book, Goodwin’s analyses of interactions emphasize the importance of the existing substrate, a substrate that is certainly built within the moment of interaction, but also draws upon prior action. In the example of mother and daughter cooking, Goodwin writes:

What they are focusing on together to accomplish their action – the spatula and the frying pan – were created by others, indeed people mother and daughter have never met. However, the properties of these objects, which constitute solutions found by others to systematic tasks and problems that emerge in the preparation of food, shape in fine detail the organization of the co-operative actions now being pursued together. The spatula and frying pan are part of a large sedimentation of equipment gathered together in a particular place, a kitchen, to provide resources that can be drawn upon as needed to accomplish a daily task: cooking. (p. 247)

This notion of sedimentation makes Goodwin’s analysis relevant to analyses of cognition and instruction, both in and out of school, as he makes the case that predecessors’ solutions to problems faced when cooking resulted in a particular sedimentation of substrate, in this case the frying pan and spatula placed within a kitchen (and arguably the stove as well). Not only is the daughter being apprenticed into a particular way of cooking, she is apprenticed into a way of cooking that draws upon particular sedimented resources created by predecessors. Although those predecessors are not present, the consequences of their prior actions (in creating spatula, frying pan, stove) shape the mother and daughter’s activity together. Goodwin’s use of predecessors includes those that lived many years ago as well as those currently living who are simply not present in the moment of interaction being analyzed (imagine if mother and daughter used a friend’s recipe for pancakes). This along with a multitude of other instances in Goodwin’s book make his case for expanding analysis of interactions beyond the temporal and spatial scales of the interaction itself. Because the historically sedimented resources created by predecessors shape participants’ unfolding activity in interaction, we must attend to these historical, cultural resources.

Creating Competent Members and the Need for Pedagogy

Goodwin makes clear that co-operative action, situated in particular contexts and environments, leads to the need for pedagogies—“distinctive practices for learning from others” (p. 308). Particular ways of solving problems, and ways of “actively arranging and rearranging” (p. 322) the body in relation to the environment results in the creation of practices for engaging with the world unique to each cultural community. Goodwin described this in our interview in relation to his perspective on education:

My perspective on education in the broadest sense is that human beings, through what I call accumulated diversity, are always building different worlds. And therefore, every society faces the task of creating new competent members in that society, people who can see the world in just the ways required to carry out the signature activities of that [community]. (9/7/2017)

Goodwin articulates the ways that people in interaction create different worlds through the accumulative re-use and transformation of substrates, and the resulting need to support newcomers to become competent members in the cultural practices that are accumulated and valued in a given community. In order to understand how this is accomplished, Goodwin argues you need an approach that:

…will take into account the interdependent relationships between other actors, the language that they’re producing on a local and historical time scale, the way their bodies are changing things, as well as the historically sedimented material organization of their setting, the tools they’re using. (9/7/2017)

Goodwin’s description of different worlds relates to “both the perception of the environment…and skills required for acting within that environment” that “are shaped within frameworks of co-operative action” (p. 316). Thus, each community must engage with newcomers to support their learning to perceive and engage with the environment in valued ways.

Goodwin’s theory of learning articulates the importance of particular pedagogies within particular cultural communities. Co-A may take a diversity of forms across different cultural practices. We wonder, what configurations of people in relation to practices, the material environment, and land we might find as we in the Learning Sciences step away from analyzing dyadic, table-top, or screen-based interactions. How might analyzing learning in and across contexts help us understand learning through co-operative action?

For instance, the particular pedagogies created by a young child and his mother to explore his own riddle (Keifert, 2015) are different than those created by families on walks in a forest preserve (Marin, 2013), though both include children being frogs. We explore these two examples briefly to highlight how Co-A and participants’ pedagogies might look different across these instances.

Jamie (age 4) explores what it would be like to have four feet on the back of your head by showing his mother how to move with four feet. He does so by hopping around on all four limbs (Figure 3A). As he does, his mother comments that he looks like a frog.
A. B. C.

A.  B. C. 
Figure 3. Jamie shifts to hoping and swimming like a frog. A. Jamie moves with four feet. B. Jamie shifts to hopping like a frog. C. Jamie swims like a frog.

Jamie then shifts to embodying a frog first by bending his knees and putting them under his hips, then by saying “Ribbit Ribbit” and finally exclaiming “Yeah! I AM a frog!” (Figure 3B). Mom then asks if he is an amphibian. When Jamie asks, “What?” she explains an amphibian as living on land and water. This comment leads Jamie to shift his embodiment again. At first he says, “I’m an amphibian…I live in water and land” and then moves from hopping to diving onto the carpet and swimming as a frog (Figure 3C).

As Jamie explored his riddle through imaginative embodiment, itself a particular inquiry practice for coming to understand the world (Keifert, accepted; Ogonowski, 2008), Mom shaped his inquiry in particular ways by encouraging Jamie to shift from an imagined creature (human with four feet on the back of his head) to a real creature (frog) and then further to incorporating ideas about frogs as amphibians. Jamie responded by building on the substrate of amphibians provided by his mother. Both Jamie’s imaginative embodiment and his mother’s definition of amphibians resembles Candy Goodwin’s occasioned knowledge exploration—“when children and parents extemporaneously connect new knowledge to existing knowledge in collaborative endeavors” (MH Goodwin, 2007, p. 97). Occasioned knowledge exploration is a pedagogy for helping children learn, and this instance of occasioned knowledge exploration was sandwiched by Jamie’s pedagogy of learning through pretending.

In this next example, an Odawa (Native American) mom, and her two sons Jason (age 7) and Sam (age 4) are on a walk in a forest preserve. They were asked to go on a series of walks, five in total, as a part of a case study on how families coordinate attention and observation as they learn about the natural world.

On the family’s third walk they make their way into the forest canopy where they notice trails which Jason declares are made by an animal. A few minutes later, Jason says, “Mom, remember we went back here? And there used to be…like a pond right here.” Just after saying this he notices “fresh tracks.” Jason, who is amazed by the size of the track, says, “Ah, there’s no such thing as an animal that bigga foot.” His mom asks what made the footprint and Jason responds by saying, “some animal.”

The layering of these resources (water, trails, prior experience with the pond, animal tracks), including moving bodies, talk, and the land itself, made the next organization of action possible.

As they again move to find their way, Jason uses a stick he had picked up earlier to point out frog prints (“Hey look it, frog prints, these are…”). As he does this, his younger brother orients his body so that he is facing Jason and looks down at the ground, using a stick to point to the prints (Figure 4A).

A.  B.   C. 

Figure 4. Images of Jason and Sam’s unfolding action from the mother’s wearable camera.

Jason then reorients and begins walking along the trail again (Figure 4B). His younger brother is behind him as he says, “I think there’s frogs living in here.” Sam, then says, “I, go” as he bends his knees getting ready to jump. He jumps three times, each time saying “jump” before running ahead of his brother (Figure 4C). Meanwhile, Jason is still making sense of the foot prints. In a low voice, almost as if he is speaking to himself, he exclaims, “And the coyote caught it. Dropped it a couple times. That must be the story of the footprints.”

If we begin with this interaction and trace backwards over time and place, it becomes clear that the building of action was made possible by sedimented resources in the near past (prior sentences). Because the family went on multiple walks and captured their interactions with each walk, we know that a more distant past (the family’s first and second walk) was also serving as a substrate. For instance, during the first walk the family stopped where the river had overflowed the bank and Jason and Sam examined “squiggly things”—tadpoles. On the second walk Jason and mom arrived at the same location where the water had receded, Jason declared, “this is where it was,” meaning the location where he and his brother had looked for tadpoles. He declared that the small prints that they had seen a few minutes ago were in fact frog prints. He reasoned, “I guess all the tadpoles turned into frogs.” Toward the end of their second walk, Jason also noticed a tree that had fallen over and suggested that “it’s like a lil coyote den” (providing a substrate for the coyote catching the frog in “the story of the footprints”). All of these experiences on prior walks shaped Jason’s interpretations of his observations in the third walk and “the story of the footprints.” In fact, storying observations was a practice that Jason regularly engaged in across the family’s walk. With each walk he, along with his mother and brother, built upon his previous narrations to create these stories as he did in this moment. This storying is illustrative of a tendency in Indigenous communities to organize knowledge in ecological frameworks that attend to life cycles and seasonal cycles more than taxonomies (Medin, Waxman, Woodring, & Washinawatok, 2010).

In each of these examples, the two boys, Jamie and Sam, embodied frogs. However, the substrates that these boys built upon to engage in embodied action were quite different. Jamie was at home in the living room with his mother. Jamie’s embodied exploration took place in a context where the actor of interest—the frog—was not present. Sam, was walking in a forest preserve with his brother James, and his mother Jackie. His brother had just pointed out what he thought were frog prints. Sam, laminated his embodied actions (jumps) upon Jason’s environmentally coupled gesture (using a stick to point to tracks in the ground). Examining learning across these contexts, helps us as analysts, better understand how diverse resources are used to accomplish co-operative action that may on the surface look similar (imaginatively embodying frogs). In each case, the activities that are unfolding are also nested in practices that have particular histories within cultural communities—pretend play and “telling the story of the footprints.” Examining the unfolding of action within these practices, helps us to understand the resources that families draw upon as they organize their worlds. A different kind of historical analysis might be required if we are to think about ontogenetic development. We might need to be in relation with families across stretches of time, or think about data collection in different ways, bringing together family narratives, video of interaction, and historical documents.

Human and More-than-Human Relations with the World

While Goodwin believes that “All living things, plants, everything use iconic and indexical forms of semiosis” (9/7/2017), throughout the book Goodwin also makes a case for the uniqueness of the human species in our ability to use Peircian symbols in more sophisticated ways than animals. While Goodwin does not attend to the ways that more-than-human organisms (e.g., plants and nonhuman animals) use iconic and indexical forms of semiosis, he does provide tools for exploring the ways that human-cultural and natural worlds are interconnected in meaning-making processes. For example, he emphasizes the importance of highlighting and transforming features of the natural world (e.g., different color dirt) to identify phenomena as relevant to a community’s practice (e.g., archeologists naming a portion of dirt as a post mould). In the above example, the substrate of prior experience and frog-prints on the ground is highlighted by Jason’s talk and gesture, similarly making relevant a natural phenomenon to ongoing activity so much so that Sam later embodied the frog. Goodwin’s work has been helpful in demonstrating how land is an important semiotic resource for shaping “relations as well as the conceptual and epistemic ecologies of human sense-making” (Marin & Bang, in press). Arguments for epistemic heterogeneity grounded in nature-culture relations go a step beyond this, deliberately drawing attention to how studies of human learning have often been conducted in human segregated environments reflective of western cultural formations. These formations have “typically positioned humans as distinct from and a part from the natural world” (Bang & Marin, 2015, p. 531). Centering scholarship on Indigenous knowledge systems (e.g., Cajete, 2000; Deloria, 1979; Kawagley, 1990, 2006), Bang and Marin (2015) have made the case that reciprocal nature-culture relations, where more-than-human relatives are viewed as agentive and capable of communication in their own right, is an alternative and important worldview to be considered in studies of human learning and development. Designing studies of everyday activity, such as the forest walks described above, positions researchers to recognize relations with land and more-than human relatives (Marin, 2013). More specifically, Bang and Marin have asked how conceptions of communicative capacities, based in Indigenous ways of knowing, may shift substrates and the building of possible next actions.

Drawing on Co-operative Action to Address Pressing Questions in the Learning Sciences

Socio-cultural Approaches, Scales of Analysis, Power, and Privilege

The political nature of learning, and related issues of power and privilege, are increasingly being foregrounded in the Learning Sciences. For example, in a recent call to broaden the benchmarks of our scholarship, Philip, Bang, & Jackson (2018) emphasize the need to attend to the “how,” “for what,” “for whom,” and “with whom” in research on and design for learning. Furthermore, Power and Privilege in the Learning Sciences, an edited volume by Esmonde and Booker (2017), calls on learning scientists to engage with critical theory in studies of human learning and development. Lee’s foreword to this volume emphasizes the importance of examining how issues of power operate with regard to how, what, and where people learn (Lee, 2017, ix). Like Goodwin, we believe his work can be a resource for learning scientists who attend explicitly to issues of power and privilege. For example, Goodwin attends to the unique ways communities engage in sharing knowledge. This aligns with socio-cultural approaches in the Learning Sciences that attend to learning to engage in repertoires of practice within cultural communities. Nasir, Warren, Rosebery, & Lee’s (2006) foundational conceptualization of learning as a cultural process states culture is:

…the constellations of practices historically developed and dynamically shaped by communities in order to accomplish the purposes they value. Such practices are constituted by the tools they use, the social networks with which they are connected, the way they organize joint activity, the discourses they use and value (i.e., specific ways of conceptualizing, representing, evaluating and engaging with the world). (p. 489)

Both Goodwin and Nasir et al. recognize the historical nature of cultural forms, and the ways that these forms are constituted within joint activity. Furthermore, both Goodwin and Nasir et al. articulate that each community may have different pathways towards becoming a competent member. We believe that Goodwin’s approach can be drawn upon to examine multiple pathways within communities. More specifically, his approach provides an analytic framework for examining which sedimented resources are recognized and drawn upon, and which are ignored or explicitly devalued in learning interactions. Goodwin articulates that as participants draw upon sedimented resources created by others during an interaction, those others have power to shape present actions. Once a substrate is identified, analysts can begin to trace these substrates both forwards and backwards, and potentially develop a narrative about the history of the activity. Such an approach is different than previous approaches in that socio-cultural and historical aspects in Goodwin’s approach are only investigated if the case can be made for their relevance within the moment; therefore, Goodwin’s approach begins on the inside of an interaction rather than with the history of a kind of interaction or practice. We explore both approaches, as well as consequences for how participants, including children and educators, build action together.

Nasir et al. (2006) articulate the challenges faced by learners from non-dominant communities who must engage in learning across settings that may have approaches to learning and pedagogy that vastly differ from their own cultural practices. Moreover, some settings systematically devalue learners’ cultural practices. Understanding these challenges and responses to them requires examining how youth learn, are apprenticed into, and take up socio-cultural practices. A key question for Nasir et al. is how socio-cultural practices are nested within systems of power and what this means as youth navigate both practices and communities. Related is the question of how practices are taken up, reused, transformed, and shared with others. In other words, “how are substrates stabilized or destabilized, and how do new substrates spread” (R. Hall, personal communication, March 14, 2018)? “If for example ‘English only’ is part of a substrate, refusals of that language ideology may destabilize an enforced substrate,” creating potential for transformation towards a new substrate (S. Vossoughi, personal communication, March 23, 2018). All of these questions are central to issues of power, privilege, and equity in learning.

Goodwin’s body of work and much of his analyses address the ways in which some participants are constructed as more or less competent. One focus of Goodwin’s research has been the ability of his father who, left with a three-word vocabulary after a stroke, continued to be able to say rich, new, complex things. Goodwin made the case in our interview that attending to competence of individuals and groups is an important step in attending to issues of power (9/7/17). In addition, his framework around professional vision, which has taken hold in studies of teacher thinking and learning, is in part developed from an analysis of the trials of Los Angeles police officers accused of violating Rodney King’s civil rights. Goodwin conducted an analysis of the hearing and the ways in which video was used as evidence. Goodwin demonstrates how the lawyers defending the police officers constructed the illusion that Rodney King was the aggressor by providing “the jury with ethnography about police practices and with a coding scheme to be used to analyze the events on the tape” (p. 410). This coding scheme, as presented in a moment-by-moment review of the video in court, supported the jurors to read the bodily movement of Rodney King as a justification for escalated acts of physical force and violence upon King by police. In effect, one might read this analysis as an example of how rights are produced, affirmed, and/or negated through situated, interactional moments (Espinoza & Vossoughi, 2014). Further analysis of the tools the Los Angeles police officers used to enact violence on Rodney King demonstrate how the use of tools across time (decades), including ways of seeing, are in fact sedimented resources and substrates that individuals draw on to build action. In addition, the accumulated use of tools also becomes a resource as people become members of communities by learning “socially organized perceptual frameworks” (p. 410) for constructing the world in a relevant fashion.

Goodwin’s conceptualization of lamination sheds light on identity as a dimension of learning and co-operative action. In our interview, we asked Goodwin about how lamination and the notion of sedimented activity might help us to account for the cultural nature of learning, especially for those concerned with issues of privilege and social justice. Goodwin responded by first noting that as humans, we are “thrust into a world that’s been shaped by the activities of those who went before us” (9/7/2017). Importantly, by attending to lamination, or the process of pulling apart and reconstructing by layering diverse materials (which allows participants to draw upon the relevant parts of prior action), it becomes apparent that the organization of human action is accomplished within a complex of diverse relations. As Goodwin explains,

With multi-modality, if you want, and with lamination, it’s not just different media, but the intrinsic organization of human action as something accomplished through the work of structurally different kinds of actors. So in one sense, it’s not just that you’ve got different media, which I think is at least what multi-modality focuses on, but simultaneously you’ve got different kinds of actors… (9/7/2017)

Here, Goodwin links the process of lamination to more than the layering of diverse media. These media include issues of being, or doing a particular role. Identities, as “relevant to the participants themselves,” are being done through Co-A in the diverse particulars of interaction. “So it’s not just a cop in the abstract, but it’s a policeman…recognizable as a policeman” (9/7/2017). In interaction, these multiple sources of information are layered upon each other and available to all the participants to understand the “unfolding body and what does the unfolding body tell you about a projected course of action” (9/7/2017). Lamination therefore supports understanding of how different layers of diverse materials, including those that help shape what roles people are inhabiting in interaction, are taken apart and put together to accomplish particular ends. Rather than lump everything together, lamination helps us see how these “diverse particulars…are being used to build an action” (9/7/2017).

We are inviting learning scientists to return to these analyses and consider how the theoretical and conceptual tools that Goodwin has developed (professional vision, substrates, lamination, contextual configurations, pedagogy as practices for learning with and from, etc.) might be used to analyze historicity, power, and privilege in teaching and learning interactions. These tools, and his expansion of spatial and temporal scales for analysis of moments of interaction, prepares us to recognize cultural histories in new ways within CA/IA approaches to the study of learning.

Relationships with Participants and in Collaborative Design

Goodwin’s work provides insight into the nature of relationships between researchers and participants. Whether participants are observed during everyday interactions, or serve as collaborative partners in the design of learning environments, Goodwin’s writing prepares us to consider issues of competence, power, privilege, and equity. We first explore long-term relationships with participants, before examining relationships in the context of design research in the Learning Sciences.

Trusted relationships and endogenous representations of in-situ experience.

Goodwin’s extensive writings about his father Chil demonstrate the complex ways in which participants build meaning through lamination in co-operative action, and the ways in which Chil continued to be co-operative as a powerful actor despite the devastating restrictions caused by his stroke. Furthermore, Goodwin argues that because thinking is “not a hidden process” but is a part “of the public structure of our interaction” (9/7/2017), analyzing interactions with Chil allowed him to articulate Chil’s competence as a thinker. As Goodwin mentions in his book, and talked more extensively about during our interview, Chil wanted Chuck to share video and analysis of his daily interactions with others. Although Chuck hesitated at first because he didn’t want it to seem like he was “exploiting” the situation, he thought it was really important. Chil wholeheartedly agreed. Goodwin went on to describe how Chil went so far as to direct where the camera would be located to ensure his activity was captured. Chil’s trust in Chuck’s representation of his actions was possible in large part because of Chil’s trust in Chuck, built over Chuck’s lifetime. Both Chuck and Candy approached their research in relational ways. In most cases, this meant building long-term relationships with participants. They always approached wherever they were “with a deep sense of respect and interest and curiosity” based on an interest in “showing how intelligent people are in the midst of their ordinary lives” (9/7/2017). In the case of Chil, Chuck was proud of sharing the video of Chil’s activity (as was Chil) because it demonstrated what competent co-operative action can look like for someone with aphasia. While we do not argue that all participant-researcher relationships must be built over the scales of lifetimes as Chuck’s relationship with his father, we do believe that trust and intimacy can be productive tools for understanding the competence of participants’ everyday activity. Such relationships position researchers differently as they begin work to explore phenomena in the world. As Chuck said, “The deal is my analysis took off from my long-term relationship with Chil rather than my long-term experience with literature on aphasia. The point of departure was [Chil’s] experience rather than theoretical work on aphasia” (3/23/18).

Furthermore, strong relationships are built over time while researchers dwell with participants in their everyday settings. Thus, over time researchers can gain ‘insider’ knowledge and familiarity with those settings and develop the kinds of relations that allow participants’ knowledge to centrally shape representations of their activity. In our interview, Goodwin argued the analytical importance of being able to claim a members’ perspective on his participation with Chil and the family. He says being immersed in a situation allowed him to take an insider perspective on how they were working together to make sense, allowing him to observe how the family revealed to each other what was important for shared understanding. Such experiences with participants can be accomplished through long-term relationships as well as spending time observing (and re-observing) video of participants’ activity.

In-situ encounters with situations new to the research begin to “reveal an ensemble of phenomena” not previously available (3/23/18). Early on, the researcher is likely to experience a “gnawing sense of not being able to adequately understand what’s happening.” Goodwin discussed how this “sense” drove his inquiry throughout his career:

This sense of basic, recognizable interactive organization running smack into an opaque wall, a domain of phenomena which seems absolutely crucial to what the participants are doing, but which I don’t understand simply by speaking the same language or living in the same country, is what has struck me almost every time I’ve done fieldwork in a new professional or scientific workplace. (p. 192)

Goodwin’s recognition of the challenges he faced as a newcomer to a cultural community highlights for us the importance of recognizing failure to make sense of participants’ activity as lying with the researcher, not the participants. Goodwin makes clear that the only way to understand participants’ activity is to have in-situ encounters with a situation wherein the researcher must work to make sense of “how participants themselves make action relevant to each other” (3/23/18). The “cultural particulars” of situations are only made apparent “through accurate description of the actions” of community participants (3/23/18). Only through long term participation in or observation of communities can researchers hope to develop local competence or see relevant phenomenon over appropriate timescales to understand the substrate upon which participants act during unfolding interactions.

Collaborative design.

Collaborative, design-based work is a key context for engaging in co-operative action. Relationships between researchers and educators, families, and communities in such contexts are necessarily powered. The cultural particulars of collaborations demand that researchers engaged in design work with learners, educators, families, and communities carefully construct opportunities for learning with and from those participants in and for the settings that matter to them. Here we consider how concepts in Goodwin’s framework for co-operative action could support meaningful reflection and ongoing theorizing of such work to address issues of power and privilege.

Design-based research (DBR), a common methodology in the Learning Sciences for designing learning contexts, has been theorized in many ways (Design-Based Research Collective, 2003; Barab & Squire, 2004; Brown, 1992; Cobb, Confrey, DiSessa, Lehrer, & Schauble, 2003; Collins, Joseph, & Bielaczyc, 2004; Sandoval & Bell, 2004). Some learning scientists have repurposed DBR to reimagine design research tools and the kinds of research relationships that are possible with families and communities. Community-based design research (Bang, Faber, Gurneau, Marin, & Soto, 2015) and social design experiments (Gutiérrez & Vossoughi, 2009; Gutiérrez & Jurow, 2016) are two examples of this kind of repurposing. More recently, participatory design research (PDR) projects centering the transformation of pedagogy toward more just forms have been foregrounded in ongoing conversations (see Bang & Vossoughi’s special issue in Cognition and Instruction, 2016). Goodwin’s conceptualization of substrate can be a powerful mediating artifact for examining the forms and scope of DBR/PDR studies, specifically regarding concerns about historicity, power, and privilege.

As a method DBR/PDR, requires attending to designing the intervention itself and designing contexts and processes for engaging in cooperative decision-making. If equity in decision making is a goal, then attending to tensions around historicity, power, and privilege is necessary when creating contexts for co-operative design. For instance, Taylor and Hall (2013) have engaged in social design experiments that created opportunities for youth to critically reflect on the design of spaces and routes (e.g., city bike paths, museum exhibits), their own movement across and through spaces, and possibilities for re-designing or re-imagining the opportunities for learning and decision making that are made available by participation. In this work, youth are positioned to make key decisions about their activity, and to inform decision-makers in their community about their experience in meaningful ways. Importantly, the neighborhood was a substrate in this social design experiment: the youth knew it well because they lived there, Katie Headrick Taylor knew it well because she worked there, and the youth-serving organization was situated there.

Goodwin’s substrate may provide a theoretical lens for examining and carrying out DBR/PDR work. We wonder how the field might draw upon Goodwin’s notion of substrate to both capture and analyze the unfolding of design research projects. Such analyses might aim to better understand and reflect upon the process of decision-making in participatory design work, both at the scale of face-to-face interaction in particular moments and at larger scales. Moreover, we might also ask how we design for substrates? In other words, how do we design pedagogical beginnings, that form the basis for collaborators to co-operatively build action in a design context? How do these substrates, or pedagogical beginnings, become sedimented resources (Marin & Bang, 2015)? What gets sedimented? How are these substrates appropriated and/or disrupted? What does this mean for transformation? These questions are particularly important as we think about partnerships with multiple communities. We suggest communities have their own set of substrates, or sedimented resources, as well as repertoires of practice for engaging in processes of lamination. In other words, communities have relevant ways of knowing, being, and doing that shape how diverse resources are brought together and layered upon one-another to co-operatively build action. As a beginning step in any DBR/PDR project, it may be fruitful to create contexts for sharing the multiple perspectives of those engaged in collaborative design by making known substrates that are familiar and valued within communities (not just the valued resources of the research community). Reflecting on how these multiple substrates operate simultaneously toward the building of action in design contexts is crucial. This involves analyzing both the substrates that are brought into design processes (e.g., the material resources that are shared as well as revoicings of the ideas of predecessors no longer present), and those created in the midst of design. Goodwin’s co-operative action supports attending to these issues because it forces researchers to acknowledge and build ton they ways humans engage in co-operative action together. Drawing upon Goodwin’s co-operative action therefore positions researchers to work with community collaborators in more relational and equitable ways.

Chuck Goodwin’s Legacy

Candy and Chuck met at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic. Chuck originally visited the Clinic because he had found out that people who worked closely with Bateson were also working at the Clinic. Candy was doing fieldwork with the people the clinic served. Chuck, when discussing Candy’s work during her time at the clinic, recognized the importance of that work for showing the competence of young African American children. Specifically, Chuck argued to us that with He Said – She Said, Candy makes a political argument by demonstrating the “intrinsic competence of African American girls” who had previously been considered as “imperfect adults” (9/7/17, 3/23/18). Candy demonstrated the rich linguistic and social competence of the girls that “had traditionally been dismissed” and most importantly she did this “through the voices of the children themselves rather than the analyst’s gloss” (3/23/18). In addition to developing representations of youths’ competence, Chuck also credits Candy with “using the endogenous sequential order of action to create a new form of ethnography” (3/23/18). Candy’s work demonstrates the importance of an insider view, developed by spending extended time with youth, and working in precise ways to understand how one community (girls) differed in language practices than another (boys).

Both Candy and Chuck learned to attend with joy to everyday activity and to show people’s competence through rigorous close analysis. Hall calls this kind of attending to everyday ordinary activity a form of resistance:

I’m reminded as well of being asked, many many times, why study ordinary activity. It is out of respect and trust in the sensibility of people and their life worlds that it is worthwhile to study learning in ordinary activity. It is of vital importance and even a form of resistance to ask, “What sense do people make of this activity?” “Do they think they are learning, etc.?” “What relation do they think this has to schooling, if any?” (R. Hall, personal communication, March 14, 2018)

This resistance of working to see the sense in everyday activity helped to bring Chuck and Candy together as a couple. As Chuck said, “we were both interested in kind of looking at human interaction and doing field work” so there was “a deep sharing in the intellectual things that most animate our lives between the two of us…[and] she is the most important person in my life intellectually as well as in other ways” (9/7/2017). Their commitment to celebrating ordinary activity through painstaking analyses has allowed them to highlight the complexity of everyday activity, allowing the ordinary to be seen as extraordinary. By asking a simple question of “What’s going on here?” the Goodwins attend first and foremost to the intelligibility of everyday activity.

Chuck believes that part of what made his and Candy’s work different was not taking theory as a point of departure but “looking at people in interaction” (9/7/2017). They both credit Gail Jefferson with teaching them this approach. “Gail was a genius, and so my- m- our real intellectual influences were Gail, not only, or even so much in the body of her literature, but in terms of her teaching us how to think and work” (9/7/2017). This approach, learned from Gail Jefferson and taught in turn to researchers across many fields, supports researchers to recognize participants’ competence at home and in the neighborhood, in schools, and in professional settings. Among learning scientists, there are deep tensions about the kinds of research questions that are asked and privileged in relation to everyday activity. For instance, while there is a tendency to ask, “What sorts of STEM can we find here? Is it STEM yet?” we suggest it is important to first ask, “What is going on here? What are people up to?” By attending first and foremost to “What is going on here?” for participants, Chuck and Candy’s work allows us to recognize the competence of individuals in everyday interaction, and to build theory from the unique experiences and rich practices of individuals that have been traditionally dismissed. As Chuck said, Gail pushed them to avoid domesticating “something into your existing theories, your existing project” but instead to be “in love with the details and what the details could reveal about phenomena that you didn’t yet know existed” (9/7/2017). Gail’s approach to working with others has also influenced their collaborations and work to apprentice new generations of scholars.

Chuck credits Gail Jefferson with an approach that demands you be “alive to the uniqueness [of a moment]” and he attempts to do that with other researchers. As he said, “I think that’s one of the things I perhaps do in seminars, and in looking at other people’s data. I can see interesting things in there that are not just what we’ve seen before” (9/7/2017). Chuck and Candy have apprenticed generations of scholars in ways of being researchers of everyday activity, and delighted when people from diverse fields joined their seminars and lab groups.

For a legacy, I don’t think it should be people just repeating my ideas. But I’ve had loads of people, loads of students, and loads of people participating in seminars, instead of developing a single field like CA. They go off in many different directions, and I’m happy about that. You know, it- because it’s- it’s an encounter with the world that I hope will lead to other kinds of things and- and that goes on all levels, not just students, but colleagues. (9/7/2017)

Whether newcomers (graduate students, early career scholars) or advanced scholars, conversation analysts or learning scientists, presented in lab, Chuck and Candy attended to the scholars’ work with an unbridled enthusiasm of seeing new data, exploring to new phenomena, and puzzling out “What is going on here?” They give credit to predecessors, contemporaries, and students alike, and talk about engaging with colleagues as a source of joy. They describe the pleasure of opportunities to attend seminars with researchers across multiple fields (e.g., anthropology, archeology, linguistics, education including the learning sciences) when as Candy said, “we all supported each other’s work” (9/7/2017). Chuck explained the “excitement of being in the middle of the world and trying to figure it out” as he talked about “engaging in a community where you get deeply excited about the phenomena you’re able to work with, [and] to appreciate the diversity of possible ways that people might be open to working” (9/7/2017). For Chuck, it’s not simply about the phenomena, but the joy of exploring with scholars the variety of theoretical and analytical approaches to examining these phenomena. In one of his final messages to participating (past and present) members of his lab, Chuck wrote:

One of the great pleasures in my life has been getting to know and work with all of you. I love learning from you as we go over data…I have always talked and enthusiastically exchanged ideas, etc. I hope some of these will continue to grow in their own ways in your work, not copying and citing me, but as part of a continuing dialogue and exchange. I want all of you, from whom I have learned so much, to continue in your own diverse paths, and hopefully approach both the materials you are working with, and the lives of people in them, with a sense of awe and wonder and joy at discovering the richness of what they are doing…No one could inhabit a better world, with a more stimulating and interesting group of others. Thank you. (C. Goodwin, personal communication, February 27, 2018).

This joy is apparent to all those who have attended lab groups with Chuck and Candy. Their intellectual generosity and support is legendary, and greatly appreciated by the many who have benefited from it.


We thank the following colleagues for reading drafts of this commentary and for providing valuable suggestions and comments including Megan Bang, Noel Enyedy, Rogers Hall, and Shirin Vossoughi. We also thank the Goodwins for sitting down with us to be interviewed and for offering their thoughts on this commentary. The data included of Jamie were supported by a National Science Foundation grant to the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments Center (Award Number SMA-0835854). Data of Jason, Sam, and Jackie were supported by collaborative research grants from the National Science Foundation (Award Numbers 1109210, and 1205758). Additionally, all data were supported by a pre-doctoral training grant from the Institute of Education Sciences to Northwestern University (U.S. Department of Education Award Number R205B080027, R305B080027), and Northwestern University School of Education (Dissertation Year Fellowships). The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent NSF, IES, or Northwestern University.


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