Michael Lynch Marc Berg Yrjo Engeström
In his highly interesting manuscript "Concrete Human Psychology," Vygotsky (1929/1989) commented on Pavlov's comparison of the nervous system with a telephone network. For Vygotsky, this is wrong: "the whole uniqueness of human psychology lies in the fact that the telephone and the telephone operator are combined in him in one being, i.e., the apparatus and the control of that apparatus by man" (p. 64). In other words, "tis not thought that thinks: a person thinks" (p. 65). The point here is that we cannot understand the brain, or any other organ, as a separate stand-alone entity that is additively combined with an equally separate and mysterious human subject. This point applies not only to bodily organs but also to all artifacts and technologies, including sign systems. There is no subject without mediating artifacts, and there are no artifacts without subjectivity.
Vygotsky built his attack on dualism to reconceptualize individual human subjectivity. In this issue, Bruno Latour turns the equation upside down: he attacks dualism to reconceptualize objects. "If you talk with a puppeteer, then you will find that he is perpetually surprised by his puppets. He makes the puppet do things that cannot be reduced to his action, and which he does not have the skill to do - even potentially" (this issue, p. 237). We are surprised and exceeded by our artifacts. Thus, we can only associate mediators, "no one of which is, ever, exactly the cause or the consequence of its associates" (p. 237).
Vygotsky (p. 64) wrote: "a nodal point is a telephone connection made by the telephone operator." Connections are crucial to both Vygotsky and Latour. On the other hand, Vygotsky, in the enlightment tradition, speaks about control, which Latour rejects and replaces with association.
Enough of comparing and contrasting. Latour is proposing an original and provocative approach that invites us to take non-humans seriously. Michael Lynch, Marc Berg, and Yrjö Engeström each formulate critical questions, which Latour eloquently interprets and responds to in his concluding commentary. This is clearly a beginning, not an end of a productive debate. One of the future issues in that debate will certainly be the role of human interventions in research. As Marc Berg asks at the end of his commentary, "what would happen if . . . the inseparable connection between depiction and intervention would be embraced instead of fled from" (this issue, p.256) Here, Vygotsky and his method of dual stimulation becomes relevant again.
In this issue, we are fortunate to have not only a symposium of Latour's work but also an equally eye-opening article by David Dirlam on macrodevelopmental analysis. Dirlam demonstrates a way to conduct rigorous empirical analyses that reveal the non-deterministic, collective, and multidirectional aspects of developmental processes in such diverse domains of activity as children's drawing and developmental psychologists' research. At the end of his article, Dirlam asks who or what plays the role of the expert teacher in such domains as psychological research. He points toward interaction of multiple agents with different roles as the answer. Here, once again, Vygotsky's manuscript steps is: "psychology must be developed in the concepts of drama, not in the concepts of processes" (p. 71).
Vygotsky, L. S. (1989). Concrete human psychology. Soviet Psychology, 27 (2), 53-77.
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A new treatment of long-term developmental data originated from problems in counting categories of free behavior of animals in open fields. Codes for a multidimensional classifier (previously proven mathematically efficient and powerful) of a complex human activity were defined from Lowenfeld's (1957) and Piaget and Inhelder's (1948) descriptions of children's drawing. After removing non-developmental distinctions from codings of 1,222 drawings, remaining patterns (genres) obeyed the generalized gamma probability law. This revealed development as probabilistic, collective, occurring along several paths, and sometimes reversing directions. The probability law also identified genres, which faded in time or emerged for short spans or decades. The generality of this analysis was tested by application to historical genres of developmental research defined from Danziger (1990). Codings of 599 articles revealed the generalized gamma law also fit this context. Since ontogeny did not determine the historiogenesis, similar outcomes imply a cultural interpretation of their development.
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