[xmca] Where is the historical dimension of the ZPD?

From: Paul Dillon (phd_crit_think@yahoo.com)
Date: Mon Dec 04 2006 - 12:19:24 PST

Sasha, mike, Mike, all,
  The braid that has developed around the initial issue of empirical evidence for Vygotsky’s ZPD has delved deep into the foundations of CHAT. Throughout I have been wishing that my books weren’t located in various storage spaces 9,000 miles to the north. Although there are internet archives (especially MIA) that contain the materials I wanted to consult, but they are so much more difficult to use than my already-read books with their dog-ears and underlines, highlighted passages and commented margins. I foresee the need to develop a much more digital orientation since dog-ears and underlines are really much easier in electronic/digital formats. But I don’t have that at present so didn’t participate much.
   But I found that several people, especially Sasha, posted detailed discussions of the fundamental theoretical bases and I’ve been content reading what others have posted; in particular, the recognition that Ilyenkov produced the most important body of work for expanding Vygotsky’s dialectical materialist framework.
  But where is the historical dimension? History – tradition – culture. Vygotsky’s ZPD, if anything, is a relation between someone who is being guided to functional competence within a cultural tradition (could be making a guitar, could be learning algebraic topology, could be cooking roasted guinea pig or making a pisco sour) and someone who already knows how to do it. And the person who already knows how to do it, in turn, learned from someone else, who was at one time on the other side of the relationship. And each one, yes, upon learning, added something, maybe in some cases totally transformed what was being learned. This is the historical dimension that extends across generations of human individuals. And this is what seems to be totally missing from the threads that make up the braid of the recent posts.
  Into Spinozan monism Hegel introduced History as an alienated God looking for itself; Marx adopted the Hegelian progression but following Feuerbach in that History had nothing to do with God trying to find itself again but with one class of people exploiting another in the process of dealing with the material necessity that all people experienced and how the oppressed classes’ struggle against its exploitation put a motor into the process: all history is the history of class struggle (could it be possible that Vygotsky didn’t accept this?). But history-tradition-culture is more than just a struggle of oppressed against oppressor, I think.
  Since Marx’s time we’ve come to know a lot more about universal history and consequently also seen that such a dualistic vision of exploiter and exploited is much more complex than Marx depicted it; not as simple as feudal lord v. serf, capitalist v. proletariat, although the underlying insight has never been refuted in history, is still ongoing, as witnessed by the synchronistic agonizing of Pinochet as the emblem of archaic oppression and Fidel as the beacon of the universal liberation. As witnessed by Chavez’ overwhelming and repeated victories in Venezuela.
  I´ve believed for a long time that Marx, not Kant, provided the Copernican revolution, but like Copernicus, needed/needs a Kepler to make the theory fit the experience. Vygotsky, working in psychology, began to provide that, but Ilyenkov put it on a firm theoretical footing. And Ilyenkov, emphasized the historical dimension as the indispensable element:, especially in his discussions of the emergence of the theory of value (Abstract and Concrete, page numbers unknown, but available bedrudgingly upon request) are key in this respect.
  So where is history in how XMCA/CHAT people are dealing with the problem of learning? CHAT=Cultural Historical Activity Theory. A lot is discussed about Activity, a little about Culture, but hardly anything at all about History. In thinking about this, Albert Schutz´s theories of the phenomenological dimensions of history are perhaps more relevant than Arnold Toynbee’s or Fernand Braudel’s or any other scholastic historians´, even Eric Hobsbawm or E. P. Thompson. Lived history, the history in which the ZPD must be situated.
  Some of the best presentations I’ve heard at conferences where CHAT folk present their research have had to do with the dimensions of cultural-historical relevance (eg, la Aula Mágica??) where it is absolutely clear that the historical oppression of one culture by another need be addressed to achieve what Paolo Freire discovered in his own version of the ZPD (<Jasper's 'situation limits'). Hence the importance of retaking the historical dimension . . . not empirically controlled laboratories aimed at generating understanding. (cf. Theses on Feuerbach)
  The fear of being labelled racist has led many to reject Luria’s central Asian studies but something important is lost when the baby goes down the drain with the bathwater. All this might be easier to see in countries where people still live on the material bases of pre-capitalist organization, communities that will go on if/when the world-capitalist-system crashes and burns, tucked high away in the folds of Andean valleys (and other such niches) with intermittent petroleum based connections to Coca-Cola culture. Their resistance is understandable. Can ‘empirical’ implementations of the Vygotsky’s ZPD deal with this? But this is the historical dimension.
  When I begin to learn something it is an object outside of me, like learning to ride a bicycle or play the guitar, it is a struggle against an external object. But once I have learned it, it becomes part of my own subjectivity, that is, part of the way I express my freedom. Subject and object dissolve into each other within a historical dimension of bicycles and guitars and other products of particular and universal histories. And in turn, history absorbs and dissolves the competent and a less competent participant in its processes into the cultures and traditions and struggles of which it composed, passed along from generation to generation. Or so it seems to me.
  Paul Dillon

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