Week 6


Vygotsky, Mead, and the New Sociocultural Studies of Identity
Dorothy Holland and William Lachicotte, Jr.

From: "joanne price" (jprice@activmanuals.com)

In this article, Holland and Lachicotte contrast and compare the theoretical perspectives of identity proposed by Erik Erikson and George Herbert Mead. The authors suggest that current sociocultural research is developing a perspective on identity that integrates these two perspectives.

Erikson Perspective
Although there was a history of literature and research on self and personality, the concept of identity is relatively new, introduced in the 1950s by Erik Erikson. Questions such as “Who am I” and “Where do I belong in today’s society” were associated with this perspective of identity. The focus was on identity development in the individual. “Questions of belonging and of locating oneself in society continue to be core aspects of the concept.”

Mead Perspective
Over time other concepts of identity began to emerge that were more reflective of topics within sociology and anthropology. The best known of these concepts, proposed by George Herbert Mead, highlighted the importance of ‘social types’ and individuals’ development of multiple identities, or ‘senses of themselves.’ According to this perspective of identity, individuals ‘inhabit roles, positions and cultural imaginaries that matter to them, e.g., as a skater, a punk, a radical environmentalist, a theoretically sophisticated anthropologist, a stylish dresser, a good father…” [p. 2]

The authors note that the theoretical school which became known as symbolic interactionism in the 1940s initially used the term ‘self’ and then in the 1960s shift usage of the term ‘self’ to ‘identity.’

Conceptualizing Identity Formation: Mead and Vygotsky

Vygotsky, like Mead, viewed the development of concepts of ‘self’ (identity) as inherently a socially, mutually-constitutive process. Whereas Mead’s focus was on the outcome of this formation, Vygotsky’s focus was on the development process.

Holland and Lachicotte describe three similarities of the perspectives of Mead and Vygotsky:

1. Active Internalization.
This concept, influenced by the writings of psychologist James Mark Baldwin and philosopher Josiah Royce, describes how individuals first imitate the behavior of others, then compare their subsequent behavior to that model, and finally how they internalize a behavior pattern somewhere between the model and the early imitation.

2. Dialogic Selves: Self Authoring in Relation to Others.
Part of the process of active internalization includes comparison of one’s behavior with reactions by others to that behavior. Both Mead and Vygotsky agree with to this viewpoint. Mead’s focus, however, was on how this process influenced the individual’s selection of positions and roles in society. Vygotsky’s focus was more on this process as it affected cognitive and affective development.

3. The Semiotics of Behavior: The Signs of the Other, Signs of the Self
This concept, shared by both Mead and Vygotsky, is that individuals use signs that were initially either directed to others or received them to direct their own behavior.

According to this article, much of the newer literature regarding sociocultural research incorporates ‘Mead-type’ notions of identity – the individual constructs various identities based on various ‘social types’ available from the cultural environment and that these identities provide motivation for action. Further, the integration of these various identities by the individual tends to point back to the Erikson notion of identity.

Reflection on the Reading

This piece made me consider the ways in which the roles and models that comprise the practice of various communities of practice influence the behavior of the individual as well as how the active internalization process by the individual influences the role or model held by that community. A summarizing quote from the article in this regard is:

“The concepts Mead and Vygotsky share—active internalization (self authoring), dialogic selves (self-other dialogues), and the semiotics of behavior, coupled with Vygotsky’s notions of semiotic mediation, higher psychological functions, and agency, constitute a powerful sociogenetic vision of how individuals come to be inhabited by, and yet co-construct, the social and cultural worlds through which they exist.”

Lotman, “The Semiosphere”


From: "joanne price" (jprice@activmanuals.com)

The Semiosphere, Part 1

In this article, first part of this essay, Lotman sets the context and presents a metaphor that will be expanded and refined throughout the essay.

First, Lotman presents a ‘historical fly-over at 30,000 feet’ to provide the reader a quick description of semiotic research terrain. “It is generally accepted that two scientific traditions underlie semiotics.” One tradition has its roots in the work of Pierce and Morris. In this tradition, ‘sign’ is taken as the primary element of the semiotic system. An isolated sign becomes the focus of the ‘semiotic laboratory microscope,’ albeit still in its natural environment. All surrounding signs are then compared and contrasted to this sign, in an attempt to understand the whole semiotic structure.
The second tradition is found in the work of Saussure and the Prague school. In this tradition, the exchange of a message between the addressant and the addressee was the primary element of focus.
In both of these approaches, Lotman notes, a piece (an ‘atomic element’) of the semiotic environment is taken as the primary unit of analysis. In short, “a complex object is reduced to the sum of simple objects.” (p. 42)
Lotman describes the problem of attempting to construct a complex entity by assembling the part of it: “Just as we cannot obtain a calf by gluing together veal cutlets, but can obtain veal cutlets by cutting up a calf, so we do not obtain a semiotic universe by summing up particular semiotic acts. On the contrary, only the existence of such a universe, the semiosphere, makes each symbolic act a reality.” (p. 44)
[As an aside here, I believe Lotman agree that the veal cutlets, taken from the whole, are no longer the calf. Thus studying the parts in isolation always has the problem that you are no longer studying the ‘calf.’ It occurs to me that this is precisely why you must study actions and goals as they are part of an activity system and why the activity system is the primary element of analysis. In the Lotman essay, the semiosphere is the primary element of analysis, a unit which is comprised of many interrelated parts and having various attributes, but which cannot be deconstructed without destroying the object of investigation.]
Lotman compares and contrasts the term ‘semiophere’ with Vernadskii’s use of the terms ‘biosphere’ and ‘noosphere.’ The biosphere is “situated on the surface of our planet and comprises the totality of living matter; it processes the radiant energy of the sun into chemical and physical energy, which in turn is directed toward reprocessing the ‘inert,’ nonliving material of our planet. The noosphere is formed when human reason acquires a dominant role in this process.” (p. 43) Using this foundation, Lotman then describes the semiosphere as the totality of an individual’s semiotic world.
Lotman notes the two primary characteristics of the semiosphere:
1. It is bounded.
2. Semiotic unevenness.


Some drawings early in this article would have provided a quick point of departure for subsequent discussions. Lotman draws heavily on the metaphor of a cell. Drawings seemed to be implied (or at least they were inferred) and could have been ‘translating artifacts’ for integration into our personal semiospheres. (I will bring some of the drawings suggested by his essay to class.)


From: "noga shemer" (nnsevilla@yahoo.com)


In the second half of this essay, Lotman builds an argument that the manifestation of righthandedness and lefthandedness is the basis of dialogue, the foundation of all meaning-generating processes (60).  This conclusion is based on a series of characterizations of dialogue, including:

1.  Since a dialogue consists in mutuality and reciprocity in the exchange of information, it is possible to interrupt the transmission of information – therefore dialogue is “discrete.” (52)  The ability to perceive this discreteness depends on one’s vantage point – processes of development often appear continuous from an immanent standpoint.

2.  “The text to be conveyed should, in anticipation of a response, contain in itself elements for transition into the alien language.  Otherwise, dialogue is impossible” (53). 


Lotman writes that consciousness is the exchange of messages, and consciousness without communication is not possible (54). 


Substructures of the semiosphere interact and only work with mutual support.  These dynamic interrelations form the behavior of the semiosphere.  All of these communicative processes are based upon one invariant principle: symmetry vs. assymetry, “the bisection of some unity by a plane of symmetry as a result of which mirror-image structures are formed – the source of subsequent growth in diversity and functional specification” (54).  The diversity and similarity created by mirror symmetry (enanthiomorphism) enable dialogic relations to be constructed:  “the systems are not identical and produce different texts, but…they are easily converted one into the other, making texts mutually translatable.” Lotman elaborates on the example of reading palindromes to demonstrate how the mechanisms of text formation and consciousness change in the process (56-58).  He argues that the mirror-image mechanism is universal for phenomena defined by the term “text” (58) and these pairs of symmetry-assymetry generate meaning.  Examples include paralled plots, diagonal axes in paintings, and globalization and localization.  Lotman concludes: “Since all levels of the semiosphere, from the human personality or an individual text to global semiotic units, are semiospheres that have invested in one another, so to speak, each of them is a participant in a dialogue (part of a semiosphere) a! nd in the space of a dialogue (the entire semiosphere) at one ! and the same time, and each displays the property of being left or right and contains right-handed and left-handed structures at a lower level” (60).


From: "Mike Cole" (mcole@ucsd.edu)

Seems like here is a case where we badly need part one because otherwise Lotman sounds like a kook and he was definitely not.

From: "Matt Brown" (mjb001@ucsd.edu)

You bring up this great quote:

"Just as we cannot obtain a calf by gluing together veal cutlets, but can obtain veal cutlets by cutting up a calf, so we do not obtain a semiotic universe by summing up particular semiotic acts. On the contrary, only the existence of such a universe, the semiosphere, makes each symbolic act a reality." (p. 44)

Mike pointed out in class the relationship between this and that bit of Faust that he quotes in Cultural Psychology, and also with Dewey's analysis of the reflex-arc and stimulus-response psychology. I think this is a great statement of an important element of Dewey's methodology. Dewey is always insistent on the fact that you can analyze things into parts, but one cannot ever build the whole up out of the parts. This is one of the problems, for Dewey, with dualism, with materialism and reductionism, with realist epistemology, etc.

From: "Mary Bryson" (mary.bryson@ubc.ca)

“Just as we cannot obtain a calf by gluing together veal cutlets, but can obtain veal cutlets by cutting up a calf”

Ok, so this really has to be commented on, even though I am already late running in to work... Actually, as I read it, neither is usefully read literally.

It takes a much more complex set of cultural choices than “cutting up a calf” to “obtain veal cutlets”. And I am not pointing this out in some fevered moment of analytical paternalism. It is a very interesting example of what gets left out — to follow the trail of folks like Bruno Latour and Susan Leigh Star...

A cultural historical analysis of the “veal cutlet” would reveal hundreds of important choices about what is valued --- very white meat
How to obtain it ---- not going to go into details here, as you all likely know the infelicitous story

And so it goes....

To obtain versus to produce, invent, willfully impose... These are worlds apart, and importantly so. There is likely no whole, only holes.


First half of Wertsch Chapter Three

David Leitch

First Half

Puncline: Whereas Vygotsky never fully specifies how particular cultural institutions shape particular forms of action, the work of Mikhail Bahktin offers translinguistics as a way of making just that specification

Wertsch begins this chapter with a contention that Vygotsky has failed in what should have been his central goal, developing stories of precisely how specific cultural institution operate through mediated action. To have done less than this, Wertsch contends, is an especial failure for a Marxist. Vygotsky scholars have usually attributed this to Vygotsky's early death. But little in Vygotsky's later research shows him beginning to head in that direction, with the exception of his research on schoolhouse dynamics.

Therefore, in order to understand mediation and internalization at a more-than-general level, we must turn away from Vygotsky and towards other (Soviet/Russian) writers. Wertsch presents Mikhail Bakhtin as a relevant author in understanding the link between setting and mental functioning.

There is some dispute about which pieces should be included in a study on Bakhtin; living in the Soviet Union under Stalin, he was arrested in 1929 and likely wrote under two pseudonyms: Voloshinov and Medvedev. Wertsch takes the position that Voloshinov and Medvedev were both committees in which Bakhtin was heavily involved, and that we can therefore include their works in an examination of Bakhtin himself.

Bakhtin's unit of analysis was the utterance, an unusual one from the standpoint of standard linguistic theory, because of its lack of abstraction from everyday use. This was the advantage of it for Bakhtin; it could connect the fixed meanings and constancy of linguistic systems to their use in a wide variety of contexts. Thus, it allowed Bakhtin to study, "the specific object of linguistics, something arrived at through a completely legitimate and necessary abstraction from various aspects of the concrete life of the word." (Bakhtin 181 quoted on Wertsch 50) Bakhtin's reliance on utterance so took him out of traditional linguistics that he termed his approach 'translinguistics'.

There are two central categories in translinguistics: voice and dialogicity. Dialogicity arises from Bakhtin's technical definition of voice and the way in which it links the individual to their social context.

Voice is not just the sounds of speech, but rather the idiosyncratic tone of speech from which utterances arise. Utterances, of course, are not unrelated to the world around them. Instead, utterances are based in a relationship between the speaker's point of view and the social context they find themselves in. Thus, voice partially encapsulates both the individual and the social context (making it quite useful for Bakhtin's project and Wertsch's criticism of Vygotsky). Voice partially encapsulates social context because it is only in that social context that a given point of view voices a particular utterance. This social context is composed of other points of view voicing other utterances. Thus, for Bakhtin, voice always implies an audience, because it is addressive.

This leads him to the other category of translinguistics, dialogicity (or, rather, dialogicity leads to voice -- Wertsch reverse the presentation because of our Western Cartesian tradition, in which that which appears most individual, voice, is prior). Since all voices find themselves (?) in addressed utterances, these voices are in dialogue with one another, and have to be understood as coming out of a dialogue. Dialogue is a broad category, as Wertsch admits, encompassing face-to-face conversation, inner speech, and parody.

Wertsch uses parody to show how dialogicity operates. A parent in the mid 1970s in America might tell their child that earlier statements regarding bedtime were 'no longer operative' as a parody of Ronald Ziegler's statements during the Watergate scandal. This works as a parody, because the parents are taking a term given a significant amount of cultural weight by the visibility and importance of Ziegler's statements, and giving it a different accent through their own voice. Thus, they speak with multiple voices: Ziegler's and their own. This is an example of dialogicity that serves to illustrate how a particular cultural institution (the fall of the Nixon administration) affects particular forms of mental action and mediation.

 Wertsch Ch. 4, Part 2


From: "David Mather" (dmather@ucsd.edu)

: Overview of 4 aspects of Bakhtin's approach to meaning:

1. reject disengaged, atomistic self;

2. recognize dialogical function;

3. recognize authority in text;

4. reject concept of literal meaning.

Authority and Text: Bakhtin's view of authoritative discourse is linked to univocal text, and this view is that only certain forms of speech are inflexible, such that the direction of transmission is in one direction (speaker to listener). However, the alternative is Bakhtin's concept of internally persuasive discourse permits speech acts to be analyzed within a dynamic of sociocultural interaction. These two different types of speech correspond with Lotman's concept of functional dualism.

Reported speech is used to illustrate dialogicality at work. Specifically, in direct discourse the speaker's words retain integrity, authenticity and intonation, while in indirect discourse the speaker's words are reported by someone else, which changes their meaning. The reported speech uses analytical categories to convey the meaning of the original speech act, but with a loss of meaning. Also, the reporting of speech eventually infiltrates the speech act through summary and deletion. Reported speech is an example of how multiple voices interanimate each other in speech.

Literal meaning: "The assumption that there is such a thing as the strict and literal meaning of an expression turns out to be an ethnocentric assumption" (Taylor quote). Bakhtin's approach rules out literal meaning as an a priori framework. In place of literalness, Bakhtin uses social languages (speech genres) to account for how meaning can change according to the sociocultural conditions of an utterance.

Illustration and Summary: This example of microgenetic transition in speech of 2.5 year old and her mother illustrates Bakhtin's dialogicality of discourse and also relates to Vygotsky's internalization of speech. There are tree episodes of child-mother conversation about solving a puzzle progress: from multiple guiding questions, to a single guiding question, to the child not needing a guiding question to determine solution. The progress shows internalization of speech, but it is the mother's speech which the child internalizes; the nonverbal communication confirms that the child is in dialogical relation with the mother even when the mother is not verbalizing the guidance. The problem for existing theories of meaning is they cannot address the different degrees of dialogicality in speech acts, as in this example.

The summary restates the main issues of dialogicalization. First, one cannot begin with a concept of the disengaged, atomized self. Second, there is a functional dualism of texts that permits interaction among languages. Third, dialogicality can be internalized, as 'hidden dialogicality', and this links authority (univocality) and internal persuasiveness (multivocality). Fourth, the concept of literal meaning cannot account for microgenetic transitions.


Wertsch – Voices of the Mind, Chs 3 & 4


Wertsch sets forth his agenda for Voices of the Mind in Chapter 1. He notes that attempts at understanding higher mental reasoning vary depending on the focus of interest. The focus of western contemporary psychology has been on universals— universals that transcend time (are ahistorical) and space (are applicable regardless of the social context):

“Many psychologists have concerned themselves with the universals of mental functioning, and this emphasis on mental processes which are assumed to be ahistorical and universal, has dominated research in contemporary western psychology.” (p. 7)

In contrast, Wertsch focuses on what is ‘socioculturally specific.’ He describes the ideas of L. S. Vygotsky and M. M. Bakhtin as particularly important in such an approach.

“The approach I am proposing is indebted to the efforts of many theorists, but I have already mentioned the two that are of particular importance: L. S. Vygotsky (1896-1934) and M. M. Bakhtin (1895-1975).”  (p. 16)

In Chapters 1 and 2, Wertsch describes the sociocultural approach to understanding higher mental functioning as theorized by Vygotsky. In Chapters 3 and 4, Wertsch then introduces the ideas of Bakhtin as an important extension of Vygotsky’s theories.

If Vygotsky provides the skeleton for a sociocultural approach to understanding ideas, then Bakhtin provides the flesh for at least one member of this category. Whereas Vygotsky underscores the concept of mediated action, Bakhtin provides a perspective on the pathways of such mediation.

Wertsch considers Bakhtin’s concept of ‘utterance’ an essential point of departure from traditional linguistic analyses that investigate language form and meaning abstracted from the actual circumstances in which they occurred. Bakhtin’s focus is on language-in-context, both individual and social setting. To make sense of meaning, according to Bakhtin, it is essential to focus on utterances, the things people say in everyday life (as well their inner speech):

“Speech can exist in reality only in the form of concrete utterances of individual speaking people, speech subjects. Speech is always cast in the form of an utterance belonging to a particular speaking subject, and outside this form it cannot exist.” (p. 50)

Utterances have embedded within them both the individual and the community, the social and the cultural, the present and the past. Analyses of meaning therefore must consider these contexts. It follows then that Bakhtin proposes various tools by which these utterances may be analyzed and meaning ‘unearthed.’ These tools include voice, social language, genre, and dialogue. The two essential questions that Bakhtin then holds before us in all analyses of meaning are (1) Who is doing the talking?, and (2) Who owns the meaning?