From ancient wisdoms to modern mediated places/spaces: Relationship between meaning and action

Panel to be presented at the 11th East-West Philosophers’ Conference (opening reception May 24 – May 31 closing banquet) at the University of Hawaii Manoa.


Dongping Zheng, Ph.D., Department Second Language Studies, University of Hawaii,


David McCraw, Ph.D., East Asian Languages and Literatures, University of Hawaii

Brett Oppegaard, Ph.D., School of Communications, University of Hawaii

Yuanfang Dai, Ph.D., Department of Philosophy, Michigan State University

Dongping Zheng, Ph.D., Department Second Language Studies, University of Hawaii

Yang Liu, MA candidate, Department Second Language Studies, University of Hawaii

Daniel Holden, MA candidate, Department Second Language Studies, University of Hawaii

Jared Tomei, MA student, Learning Design and Technology, University of Hawaii


Peter Shaindlin, Author and COO, Halekulani


This panel collects works from four disciplines: literature, journalism, and philosophy and language education. Yet when place is “superimposed” on these projects, we are immediately transcended into a common space where time and place, ancient and modern, the East and West flow in a continuum between past, present and future that breaks the boundary of disciplines. The four papers seem to be in agreement on the notions of: 1) time/space coupling; 2) soft boundaries of meaning-making constrained and afforded by modern developments and technology advancement; 3) seeming correspondence between ancient Chinese philosophers and Marx and Heidegger’s concepts of time and being, even though Chinese philosophers’ yin-yang balance on place implies both being and moving. Another underlying notion implicit in the emergent theme is the notion of care: 1) Tuan’s notion of “fields of care”, 2) Hodges’s theory of language as “caring system”, and 3) Heidegger’s Dasein as “Being is carried out and guided by the care of to be”. To relate care to Chinese philosopher’s “highest good”, Dao/the way implies the incessant being and becoming with the world. The four papers explore being and becoming with the world and relationally tie place within and with other things through Chinese classics, geolocation media, identity construction, and values realization.

Our discussant embodies the philosophy of the panel in that his identity speaks to what the four paper tries to reveal: A Dasein being/philosopher in action in place. Peter Shaindlin: though not an academic is an autodidactic philosopher, cultural critic, novelist, photographer, musician, poet and COO.

Metaphors of place in Pre-Han Chinese thinking

David McCraw

Ancient Chinese texts, like the Lunyu, Mengzi, the Laozi and Zhuangzi, inscribed quite distinctive notions about place. Their notions about place involve metaphors that would prove central to their explorations of philosophy, social structure, and political organization. A careful (textual) archaeology can uncover some salient metaphorical foundations for much that still seems distinctive about old Chinese thought. A full account of these must await completion of our “excavation”; however, we can sketch a few preliminary observations:

*These texts do not support a hard-fast distinction between time and space; instead, you find a continuum.

*They do not support a hard-fast distinction between dwelling-in and movement-between; action and rest got conceived off as mutually entailing.

*As a result, the metaphorical uses of place get bound up with those of moving along a way, so that place becomes an essential part of the central Chinese preoccupation with ways and waymaking. In a seminal phrase like the beginning of the crucial text “Way of Higher Learning,” we read: 大學之道…在止於至善. The process of learning, then, “comes to lie in alighting upon highest good.” While the ways of cultivation have no endpoint, they will necessarily involve resting-places, and ancient texts quite often depend on visualizing progress as developing gradually through a series of stages, which they conceived of as places, or, roughly, “sites of instruction.” Unearthing these sites will help us retrace and better understand the intellectual journeys they undertook, despite the vast gulfs of time-and-space that seemingly separate them from us.

How media lost its place and found it again: Proximity issues from the penny press to the smartphone

Brett Oppegaard

Our places can be conceptualized as our information interfaces, increasingly integrated with overlapping digital worlds through mobile technologies. These juxtapositions of digital media and physical environments can generate deep, complex, and personal meanings to us, and consumers suddenly can’t get enough of mobile news and geolocated content that enrich our places. Media organizations, though, generally have been befuddled and unable to align the potential of locative and contextual information much with their current business models. Academics meanwhile have been struggling to find ways to empirically study the related emerging media forms, with their complex dynamics. Through medium theory and historical perspectives, this presentation will describe how journalistic media lost its connections to place during the time of the telegraph and railroad – when Marx and Heidegger warned of ramifications caused by the annihilation of time and space – and recently has been reconnecting to place again through experimental prototypes using geolocation technologies, such as smartphones and tablet computers. To illustrate the increasingly important intersection of technology and place, several field studies and case studies will be shown, focused upon the growing importance in media today of tailoring information by proximity and the emerging genres.

A relational space for language learners’ mobility between built and natural environments

Dongping Zheng

Yang Liu

Daniel Holden

Jared Tomei

Language learning in classrooms can imply the reinforcement of abstract rule-learning first and language use in its aftermath. “Place” is a secondary phenomenon, rather than a lived and functional space that is relationally and temporally meaningful.

This paper aims to rethink the function of classrooms, a conventional learning space, to expand the ecology of language learning to natural and sociocultural places where learning while doing on the fly is of a normative practice. In place-based learning, learning materials are used as resources. Learners are brought out of the safe haven as protected by well-defined textbook boundaries, teacher expectations and classroom norms. Learners are forced to encounter strangers, odd things, and texts not written for language learners. The same place offers different features to natives vs. non-native speakers. Perception of place results from cultural experiences, which gives rise to different action potentiality (Chemero, 2009). Being in places extends language to things, signs, actions, and a sense of normativity (dialogical third parties in Linell’s sense (2009). Taking action in places cultivates and attunes learners’ affectivity to care for the world and themselves.

We use examples of language learners’ play of a mobile game, Guardian of Mo‘o locating Hawaiian culture within UH campus diversity and cultural artifacts along the East-West Road. The game was designed using concepts of place, and never-ending perception and action cycles with the affordances of virtual and real world spaces for action taking; and therefore to demonstrate the technologically enabled meshed spaces for language learners’ wayfinding.

The “place” of identity construction

Yuanfang Dai

Dongping Zheng

Yang Liu

In this paper we to address learning experiences via mobile technology that take place where social space and school space meet. Using a different dataset sampled from the same project as in the third paper, Guardian of Mo‘o, we argue that this meeting place is also a place of identity construction that can accommodate the multiplicity of identity. We draw on the idea of “genuine pluralist categorization”(Marilyn Frye 1996, 2005) to interpret language learners’ identity and agency shifts as they move between game space and built environments such as the Japanese garden and Korean center on UH campus.

According to Frye, a category is constructed by working differences into structure, rather than sorting things according to a list of properties and attributes.

The structure requires that the elements that it arranges be in a significant variety of relations with each other and that they have internal complexity, thus difference of any specific kind is preserved and organized. For instance, the category of “women” should be demonstrated by images such as an individual woman located in “a correlational density in a multidimensional quality space” (2005). In a similar vein, the category of “language learners” should be constructed through multilayered correlations, which involve surprise, satisfaction, confusion, struggles, and conflicts. In a sense, this is a matter of overlapping clusters of similarities and differences among language learners. An identity of a language learner is constructed in the multidimensional space where the past self meets the present self, the Western culture meets the Eastern culture, and the social space meets the school space.


Chemero, A. (2009). Radical embodied cognitive science. MIT Press.

Frye, M. (1996). The Necessity of Differences: Constructing a Positive Category of Women,” in SIGNS: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 21(3), 991-1010.

Frye, M. (2005). Category Skepticism and its Cure: A Comment on José Medina’s ‘Identity Trouble: Disidentification and the Problem of Difference’,” Symposia on Gender, Race and Philosophy, 1(1).

Linell, P. (2009). Rethinking language, mind, and world dialogically: Interactional and contextual theories of human sense-making. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

Heidegger, M. (1954). The question concerning technology. New York: NY: Harper &  Row.

Marx, K. (1993). Grundrisse. London: Penguin.

Tuan, Y.-F. (1974). Space and place: humanistic perspectives. Progress in Human  Geography, 6, 211–252.

Tuan, Y.-F. (1977). Space and Place: the Perspective of Experience.            University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.






Virtual Seminar: Human Interactivity and the Ecology of Problem-finding and Problem-solving


Sune Vork Steffensen
Centre for Human Interactivity
Institute of Language and Communication
University of Southern Denmark

As part of SLS 750, Social media, agency, and languaging (Instructor: Dr. DongpingZheng),  a virtual guest lecture will be provided by Dr. SuneSteffensen, Thursday Feb 28, 8-9:15pm Hawai’i time. Log in 15 minutes ahead of time in case of any technical problems. Email Dr. Zheng at or Twitt at @zhengdo on Twitter if technical support is needed. You will need to download the transcript in order to make sense of the virtual talk.

Those interested may attend the lecture and participate in discussion virtually by logging in to a virtual room in Blackboard Collaborate. This system can handle up to 100 viewers.

Click this link to log in: (no need to register, just type your name)

In case your computer does not have Java installed, you can download it from (it works best if you run this java download first)

This talk presents an interactivity-based approach to human problem-solving in the wild. It introduces the notion of ‘interactivity’, defined as sense-saturated coordination that contributes to human action. On this view, interactivity is an ontological substrate that can be studied as interaction, as cognition, or as ecological niche production. While theoretically arguing in favor of a unified, anti-disciplinary approach to interactivity, it turns its attention to the cognitive ecology of human problem-solving. It does so by introducing a method of Cognitive Event Analysis that leads to a detailed analysis of how a problem in the wild is being solved. The analysis addresses the cognitive dynamics of how two persons in a work setting reach an insight into the nature of a problem, including the spatial organization of the workplace, the interbodily dynamics between the two participants (especially in relation to gaze and the manual handling of papers), and verbal patterns that prompts them to simulate how the problem appears to a third party. It is argued that human problem-solving is far less linear and planned than assumed in much work on the topic in cognitive science. Rather than problem-solving, it appears as solution-probing in a real-time. The cognitive trajectory to a viable solution is thus self-organized, unplanned, and on the edge of chaos.


Sune Vork Steffensen is Ph.D., Associate Professor, and Director of the Centre for Human Interactivity at the University of Southern Denmark. His field of research includes ecological linguistics, distributed cognition and human interactivity. For more than a decade he has contributed to the development of ecological linguistics through numerous publications, including joint work with Claire Kramsch. His current research combines interaction analysis, ecological linguistics and situated, distributed and systemic approaches in cognitive science. He is one of the pioneers of Cognitive Event Analysis, i.e. the study of how short-scale interbodily dynamics, constrained by large-scale, evolutionary, developmental and sociocultural patterns, enable agents and systems to achieve results. His main empirical interest is interactivity in organizational settings (primarily within the health sector), e.g. expertise, decision making and problem solving in complex sociocultural environments.