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

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Mon Dec 04 2006 - 15:12:38 PST

You might want to check out Engestrom's Learning by Expanding for a way to
think of zoped's in terms of cultural-historical time, Paul. Its on the web
at lchc.

On 12/4/06, Paul Dillon <> wrote:
> 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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