“All experience is an arch wherethrough gleams
that untravelled world whose margin fades
forever and forever when I move.”
—Alfred Lord Tennyson
The LCHC Polyphonic Autobiography tells the long story of a research organization, The Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition (LCHC), through the voices of those who have participated in its activities over the years. These voices belong to individuals who were present during the 1960s, before “the Lab” was formed, as well as the many colleagues, students, and community partners who helped to establish the lab in the early 1970s and contributed to its development at various points during the last half century.
In addition to the polyphonic autobiography recounted here, the story of LCHC is narrated through the portals we have created that provide information on seminal concepts, people, and projects. This polyphonic account has been more or less completed up to 2013. But the story of LCHC is still a work in progress.
Readers are invited to be writers and contribute to the discussion that is unfolding in the LCHC Polyphonic Autobiography. If you would like to add content to any of the pages, please indicate your interest by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. A discussion forum will be implemented if there is sufficient interest.
The Origins of this Publishing Project
In 2009, LCHC received the Sylvia Scribner Award from Division C of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and delivered an address at AERA’s national meeting in April 2010 in Denver, Colorado.
Because the award was presented to a research group and not to an individual, the ordinary lecture and ensuing essay seemed an inappropriate mode of communication about the group’s work on culture, development, and schooling. Instead, half a dozen LCHC members, representing several periods in the Lab’s history, now located at several institutions in different academic departments around the United States (U.S.), jointly authored and delivered the address.
To broaden the voices that made up this representation of LCHC, time was set aside for LCHC “alumni” in the audience to come to the microphone and add their voices to the gathering. Former and present graduate students, post-docs, visiting researchers and mid-career faculty from universities and other organizations across the U.S. were in attendance. Senior scholars nearing retirement and current graduate students nearing dissertation completion shared the stage.
There was the usual discussion about publications. Those who had given talks available in written form initially decided to collect them and allow others to add to the conversation in some print publishing form. After still further discussion, it was decided that an online medium, such as the one the reader is encountering here, would be a more fruitful form in which to recount the collective work of the diverse group of scholars who constituted LCHC over the years. It was during those conversations that the idea for this polyphonic autobiography emerged.
Katherine Brown served as the lead editor as we built the narrative, including the initial version of the text that was developed as a wiki. The wiki format evolved into the polyphonic site we present here, as a more suitable and durable medium. Bruce Jones and Laurel Friedman have seen the project through to its present form.
Introducing the LCHC Polyphonic Autobiography
The history of LCHC cannot properly be told in a linear way. Although the events that shaped the direction of the lab could be placed in a chain, the people and social circumstances that shaped its development have intertwined in complicated, non-linear, sometimes ironic, and, in any case, diverse ways. The story of LCHC’s research is a complex amalgam of its distinct fibers and threads: the voices of those who shaped LCHC and were shaped by it. It is a history rich with convergences and divergences that crosscut each other and unfold at diverse time scales.
This hybrid narrative form is, we feel, important to writing the story of LCHC because it encourages a branching of historical lines, and, at the same time, a plurality of voices to co-exist in relation to the same organization. The narrative begins in the cross-cultural research of the 1960’s — before LCHC came into existence as a formal research unit — first at Rockefeller University in New York City and then at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in La Jolla, California. It traces different lines of research that were focal to the group effort and the gradual evolution of the lab into what is now referred to as a “collaboratory.” This distributed form of organizing research serves multiple functions for members, current or once co-located, as well as those who have collaborated with LCHC at a distance.
The interests and pursuits of LCHC members comprise diverse trajectories and career paths. Hence, the chapters presented here are best treated as a starting point for exploration. Each section is designed to link participants to a wide range of intellectual resources about LCHC (its people, projects, concepts, etc.) and the key social, cultural, economic, political, and policy dialogues its work engaged. Within sections, we have divided the text into chapters that highlight one or another of the major project clusters that preoccupied us at the time. We have included links to the pages of individual participants, to long lasting projects, and to topics of continuing concern. We have adopted this format as a means of coming as close as possible to being a “polyphonic autobiography” of an unusual research collaborative.