RE: [xmca] Antirecapitulationism

From: Alexander Surmava <monada who-is-at>
Date: Sun Apr 06 2008 - 19:51:33 PDT


In context of David’s remarks I have to specify my position. I do share LSV’s critical approach to naïve form of recapitulationism, but I find quite inappropriate the total rejection of the very principle of recapitulation. Such rejection is nothing but rejection of the principle of historicism. And I do think that Vygotsky didn’t realize the developmental logic, the genuine historicism. The leap from so called instinctive or based on reflex behavior (better to say – mechanical functioning) to free consciousness is a parody of development.
Indeed the real common root of thinking and speech is an activity. But the fact of the matter is that we must realize what we mean as an activity very accurately. The very term activity is in demand now, but as a rule it is used arbitrarily. Thus from dialectical perspective complex of ideas known as Vygotsky’s or CH theory has nothing to do with the principle of activity. Leont’ev and Davidov tried to reject this statement but I think that in this case they were substantially driven by motive to protect Vygotsky from ideological accusations. Anyhow their argumentation didn’t look considerably.
Listing and even investigation of different forms of child’s “activities” like “reaching, chewing, turning, rolling, dropping” doesn’t make Vygotsky a partisan of principle of object oriented activity (predmetnoi deyatel'nosti).
Out of question Leont’ev has a full right to be considered a founder of this principle in psychology, albeit his own definitions of this principle stays insufficient and contradictory.
The first consistent theoretic definition of object oriented activity we can find in the first two chapters of Il’encov’s “Dialectical logic”. The key to psycho-physical problem as well as theoretic definition of activity consists in Il’enkov-Spinozian notion of “thinking body”. The ability and necessity for some bodies to move not only when they are affected from an external cause, but spontaneously, the ability and necessity for those bodies to collide with an external world and thus to posit it as an object and by the same act, in the same collision posit itself as a subject of object oriented activity, the ability and necessity to repeat this collision again and again so that as a result of all those collisions subject finds itself actively moving according to the shape of its object (=objective field – predmetnoe pole) we consider a thinking. We have to realize that the very term “thinking” in our reasoning is not equal to traditional meaning of “thinking” in traditional psychological = mentalistic discourse. In fact this definition of object oriented activity, or = thinking is equal to definition of life as it is in its opposition to mechanism and chemism.
Wу repeat, this special Spinozian “thinking” is not an equivalent of psyche or consciousness (in this point we differ in opinion with Davidov who directly identified the object oriented activity and psyche). To move from an abstract life to psychical life or simply psyche as it is we have to take into account a special self directed form of an object oriented activity. We call such self directed object oriented activity – a reflecsive activity.
You may ask – what relation has all this stuff to discussed problem of relationship of thinking and speech?
Quite direct.
If we realize thinking as not merely mental, predominantly verbal process of reasoning, but as a real giving birth to a subject spontaneous bodily act assimilating to the objective shape of its object, we have to single out alive creatures who can be active only being reflexive.
In contrast with terribly speculative looking verbal explanation the essence of the explained idea is very simple. There is no consciousness without selfconsciousness. Disable say flexor muscles letting extensor muscle intact and you will block the very ability to act, deistvovat' predmetno.
In zoo psyche the schemas of reflexive relation of the opposite subactive organs in some objective act is something inborn. The principles (the schemas) of say walking = the schemas of reflexive relation of flexors and extensors of horses legs are fundamentally stable. On the contrary the schemas of reflexive relations of the opposite subactive units in human mediated with artifacts activity can be build only with aid of another “cultural” person who knows how to act with the tool. Thus specially human object oriented activity is achievable only in collaboration with another person. Thus the very human life or human object oriented activity is two orthogonal projections, two vectors: the first directed to the object, and the second self directed one. As orthogonalities they are mutually opposite, but as dialectical oppositions they can’t exist outside of this relation. In other words we have the example of dialectical identity of oppositions here.
It’s easy to see that in human collaborative act the reflexive relation can be realized with aid of speech. As well as it is easy to realize that the verbal communication is not an exclusive form of realization of the human reflexivity. Thus say in dance as well in most of “practical” crafts the reflexivity can’t be realized in abstractly verbal form, but includes the direct bodily contact and interaction of two persons.
>From this perspective it is obvious that verbal language is absolutely necessary as a special tool for theorizing. That is why the deaf and dumb are relatively easy to learn some practical crafts, but in contrast with blind stop in their further connected with more theoretic attitude cultural development.
The very possibility of development of some abstractly “theoretic” knowledge is based on the division of labour in human society. But for the condition which opens a perspective for theoretic development we have to pay with a threat of an empty verbalism.

Finally a few words about the second, foreign language learning as a recapitulation of the process of acquisition of the first, native one.
Discussing the validity of such approach we have to realize that the recapitulation process is not something magical. The ontogenetic repetition of the basic stages of phylogenesis is the fundamental law of any development regardless is a “recapitulationist strategy” (???) accepted deliberately or it is deliberately ignored.
A human starts its life as a unicellular embryo not to please Haecle, but because he/she hasn’t a chance to become developed multicellular organism skipping this stage and it can’t repeat one and the same act of development twice in essence.
The differences in learning of the first and the second languages are probably rooted in the differences of practical role of acquired language in subject’s life and in the difference of the subject itself when he starts to learn the second language. It’s impossible to enter one and the same river twice.
Thus I rather think that the case with the second language is not relevant to the problem of recapitulationism as it is. As for acquiring of the first language the process is inevitably recapitulative. We involve a child into collaborative activity and it gives him/her a chance to acquire a language easily, at the first push just as our far ancestors created our language in the process of their common and collaborative life. Anyhow the results of Alexander Mescheriakov in teaching of deaf-blind children supports this idea.

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: Thursday, April 03, 2008 5:37 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [xmca] Antirecapitulationism

I've been thinking about these two propositions, as a way of digesting Sasha Surmava's long (and deep!) posts on Vygotsky, historicism, and Martin. As I understand him, Sasha believes:
  a) LSV correctly rejected all forms of recapitulationism, from Hall to Haeckl.
  b) LSV incorrectly rejected the common root of thinking and speech (presumably action or activity or some form of meta-stable self-preserving subjectivity?).
  Because of the way my mind works, I need a fairly specific issue to go any further. And one of the most burning issues in foreign language teaching today is whether:
  a) it is better to have foreign language learning run the "natural" course of several years of oracy first, or
  b) we need to teach literacy from the very inception of foreign language instruction.
  Grads who hold position a) inevitably fall back on some kind of recapitulationism. First language learning is 100% successful. Foreign language learning is less than 5 or even less than one percent successful (depending on how low you want to place the threshold of success). Ergo, foreign language learning must recapitulate first language learning.
  But if you ask the a) grads whether the same thing is true of listening and speaking, that is, does the development of speaking "recapitulate" that of listening, they will admit that this is not possible. And if you ask whether we can learn written language in exactly the same way we learn oral language, only a few answer that we can (the strong Ken Goodman Whole Language position).
  Grads who hold the b) position usually argue in fairly romantic terms, that the classroom walls create insuperable barriers to the imagination that can only be breached by the written word. In this view, the literary imagination and the here and now do not and cannot have a common root, for one is rooted in thinking and the other in speech.
  But if you ask b) grads where thinking comes from without speech, you are liable to get rather "painterly" answers; the child's thinking is rather like the imagery in Luria's mnemonist which failed to add up to even simple stories (or those marvellous paintings in Cathrene's Powerpoint, which also seem largely unconnected to the text!)
  LSV is completely unambiguous throughout Chapters Five and Six of "Thinking and Speech": he sees graphic thinking as being different in kind from symbolic thinking, different in quality, in function, and even in "root", at least where this may be rooted in practical soil. He also thinks (and this is surely no coincidence) that foreign language learning neither can nor should recapitulate first language learning.
  On the contrary, the great cognitive benefits of foreign language learning in the child (which LSV saw first and better than anyone, perhaps because he too was a multilingual child) lie precisely in the fact that the foreign language builds on the most developed (for LSV this was synonymous with volitionally accessible, context-free) meanings of the first language. A recapitulationist strategy simply wastes these precious gains, and condemns the non-native learner to ride the wake of the native speaker for eternity.
  Foreign language literacy AND oracy grow together, out of something that is NEITHER: out of volitional FIRST language semantics (written and spoken). Now, this seems to me to RESEMBLE (not to recapitulate, but to RESEMBLE) the way in which speaking and listening must develop ontogenetically out of something that is neither (namely babbling). That too seems to me to resemble (not recapitulate) the way in which indicative and symbolic language must have developed phylogenetically out of something that was neither (namely gesture).
  That's why LSV rejects "parallels" between ontogeny and phylogeny, but he accepts "analogues" and even "resemblances" (e.g. Volume 3, p. 278; see also Volume 2, p. 192). It's also why he can accept that instruction and development are independent processes, even though both sometimes (r)evolve together, like the wheels of a cart.
  Instruction and development emerge from something that is neither, namely learning. Even when they DO move in parallel, they stand on opposite sides of interaction. It's this that makes it possible to speak of different roots. Perhaps different hubs might be a more accurate metaphor: even when the wheels are turning in different directions or at different speeds, there's always a common axle.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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