Re: [xmca] Zopeds at the cultural historical level

From: Paul Dillon (
Date: Fri Dec 15 2006 - 09:54:19 PST

  I've just gone back to read some xmca posts -- been computer deprived for a bit and stuck to using internet cabinets in Lima for very brief stuff. I had erased a lot of messages but found that I hadn't read the one you originally posted, to which I'm now replying, probably postponing it until I could read more carefully. Then I went to the xmca website to check the thrread in detail and found it had bifurcated, someone posted a reply, changing the subject name to something about more competent peers. That thread grew a lot and I haven't read all those messages so I'm not sure whether the original thread concerning cultural-historical zopeds continued there.
  The way you phrased the problem was quite clear and Andy's response about conquest and colonization most interesting. resonating with an earlier exchange around the book about native american science. In the 1500s the conquering Europeans were arguably less culturally advanced in many fields of human practices (engineering, mathematics, astronomy, agriculture, institutional administration, just to mention a few) than the people they conquered. They really only had an advantage in weaponry. And there was absolutely no zoped functioning in either direction it seems, just a master-slave relation. For Hegel that relation turns into a pyrrhic victory followed by the esse"Unhappy Consciousness" in which the dominated slave realizes its own nce to be the negation of the Individual and the true universality of consciousness as something trans-individual. The slave realizes that s/he is the truth of the Master. I always recall the scene from the movie Spartacus when the
 Roman general asks: Who is Spartacus? and one by one all of the rebelling slaves stand up and claim to Spartacus. Then they are all crucified, of course. But that transition isn't an example of a zoped so Hegel isn't much help here.
  The problem of more advanced cultural forms is certainly an important one, but when I wrote the query concerning the historical dimensions of the zoped, I wasn't really thinking about the problem in quite the way you phrased it, that is I wasn't really thinking about more or less advanced cultures as defined in terms of specific practices (I don't think it would be possible to specify that one culture is superior to another in any absolute sense, but yes at the level of specific practices), I was really wondering about the transmission of customs and habits that seems to occur without any conscious teaching involved, but which is part of the package when a child is learning the basics, that historical dimension that moves at the backs of people, without their knowledge or awareness. I don't see how we can doubt that this goes on; e.g., learning racism implicitly in nursery rhymes, learning the individualism (looking out for good old number one first) also seems to
 qualify as something that isn't so much taught as a specific skill imparted by a more knowledgeable member of the group, but as a corrolary to learning itself within certain cultures, just as learning that the family comes first is dominant in others. It's very clear to me that there is a big gap between people's real morality and their ideal one and that practicality (living in the world with the skills we've learned) is usually the reason given to explain the difference between the two. Yeah, it'd be great to turn the other cheek but in reality no one does because that's just not the way the world works.
  If such is the case, that these dimensions, primarily moral and ethical ones, are transmitted first in this kind of "blind" way , then the modification of these levels must depend on something other than the kind of direct teaching that characterizes a zoped.
  Perhaps the examples given by Yrjo point in this direction more than I realized and I'll have to go back and look at that: but as I remember, these "expansions" involved breaking out, destroying old structures, and clearing a space for new ones. What bigger space than a raft on the Mississippi River?
Mike Cole <> wrote:
  A while back Paul inquired into the issue of zone's of proximal development
at the cultural
historical level of analysis. I pointed to Yrjo's work in Learning by
Expanding, but Paul has
in mind far wider swatches of time.

In Yrjo's case, in some sense, a generalization of the method of dual
stimulation implemented
as cultural practices by a self-conscious group is the mechanism for
"changing oneself by
changing one's history" (where self may refer to Huck Finn or the Finnish 7
brothers or a group
of workers in some Finnish industry). I like the work a lot, but I agree
with Paul that it does not
answer to the question of Zopeds at the cultural historical level

The problem, for me, is that I am unsure that it is appropriate to seek any
such mechanism of
cultural historical change. A zoped, in my ( ipso facto flawed, mistaken,
and misguided understanding!)
is constituted in joint of activity of people with different resources
(knowledge, experience, courage.......)
for accomplishing a culturally valued task. In Vygotsky's rendering,
provided in the context of
psychological testing and pedagogical practice, the persona involved are a
more and less capable
person, sometimes referred to as more and less capable peers.

The difficulty at the cultural-historical level that bothers me is that it
is even more difficult than in the
ontogenetic case to figure out who the more capable person/social group
might be. For sure versions
of this idea that invoke some version of the "vanguard of the proletariat"
and associate notions of
false consciousness I experienced during the 20th century, did not impress
me as a useful
means for the development of humanity.

I should add that I also believe that uncritical evaluations of who the more
capable person is in the
ontogentic literature ought to be viewed sceptically, or at least bracketed.
In some cases (luria
seeking to help Zasetsky recover his blown-away intellectual functions so
that he can read and write
and live in his home town) the amazing zopeds Luria created seem
unproblematic ethically in terms
of almost anyone's view. In a lot of other cases I am less sure. Yrjo's
critique of unproblematic
"vertical developmentalism" in his "breaking away" article highlights the
dark side of educator's
good intentions even when they are, in some sense good, never mind the cases
in which psychopaths
are in charge of the classroom or the clinic.

But the question at the cultural-historical level remains in several

I am assuming that at the phylogenetic level no one wishes to claim that
there is any question of
the kind of teleology involved in issues surrounding the notion of zoped
within a CHAT perspective,
but this view is clearly in a tiny minority when viewed within the
contemporary ideological landscape.
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