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Re: [xmca] Vygotsky's Plural Discourse!!

To tell you the truth , I still don't know the weight , height , and place of AT within the whole CHAT . Is there , in principle , such a thing as AT within the works of Vygotksy ? Where is it ? Where are they ? Apparently , if the division is right whether with Jussi or with David , whoever , Vygotsky III said a irreversible good-bye to the AT . Then why CHAT ? Don't you think Faith overshadows Reason when supporting Sign-Belief ? You might ask me the same question vis a vis Leontiev : OK ! I'm not yet in the position to say for certain if Vygotsky went wrong at some point and if he did , where exactly was it ? I really need to read more . But with Leontiev , I don't see so many things wrong . Just I know Leontiev here occupies a very lower case UNFORTUNATELY as Marx does . One very good respectable learned active participant once wrote to me Leontiev was one of those whom he should stay away from . Now , I sent you the article/lecture by Ilyenko
 on Alexandr Meshcheryakov , which now will be sent to others . This and these we owe to Dot Robbins . I'm not so indeterminate over providing sort of a discussion ; however , when I read the writing , for a moment I thought as if Ilyenko were alive and knew about the discussion , so he aimed at this article . Most and majority of the lines are direct responses to the Sign-Belief . The secondary , derivative position of sign and all semiosis vis a vis real object , artificial objects , actions with them etc.etc. is so clear in this writing which leaves no doubt as to the rejection of the supremacy of SIGN over ACTION (within bounds of AT) when compared one to the other . 
When reading Jussi's paper , I marked as usual the points I liked to think about afterwards , but after reading Ilyenko's writing , which is also marked , I saw they could be seen as contrasts . And there is always the option of * delete * for non-enthusiasts . I , as one , always say * welcome * to whatever is sent to us from comrades , let alone getting annoyed . 
--- On Fri, 1/30/09, Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch@me.com> wrote:

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch@me.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky's Plural Discourse!!
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Friday, January 30, 2009, 2:47 PM

Some comments on Jussi's very interesting paper.  Semiotic mediation,
socio-behaviorism, epistemological breaks.

First, on semiotic mediation.

Jussi's discussion of Vygotsky's theory of semiotic mediation being the
basis of consciousness, formulated late in Vygotsky's short career, and how
it transitioned from an instrumentalist concept, seems to be his paper's
strongest aspect, where Jussi assembles the most persuasive quotes and
arguments.  I believe this assemblage adds up to an unfortunately narrow
assessment of Vygotsky's overall approach to psychology and consciousness,
but Jussi makes a strong case that needs to be taken very seriously.  I applaud
his scholarship and work on this.  He offers a worthy argument.  It appears that
his work dovetails very nicely with many of David Kellogg's insights into
Vygotsky's last and most important work, Thinking and Speech, including
David's emphasis on semiotic mediation.

I owe Sasha a serious response to his recent comprehensive post, which replied,
among other things, to my objection to what I perceived as an erroneous
reduction of Vygotsky to a theory of sign mediation.  Again, as above, I claimed
that reducing Vygotsky - meaning, Vygotsky I, II or III, to use David's
terminology - to his 1932-34 theory of semiotic mediation, is a narrow
assessment of his approach to psychology.  Have I managed to climb my way out on
a limb?  We'll see ...  :-))

My question at this point, since Jussi has spoken so well, is to Sasha - what
is your evaluation of Jussi's take on Vygotsky's theory of semiotic or
sign mediation?  Do you agree, for example, with Jussi's description of
Vygotsky's views on sign mediation, for example, in the section "Sign
and Meaning" (pg 11) where Jussi says things like:

"If the lower forms of activity are characterised by the immediacy of
psychological  processes, the higher psychological functions are characterized
by sign-mediation."

"It is clear for him [Vygotsky] that the sign mediation ʽis the most
important distinguishing characteristic of all higher mental functions.ʼ (L.
S. Vygotsky, 1999b, 41)."

"The use of signs results in a completely new and specific structure of
behaviour in man, a structure that breaks with the traditions of natural
behaviour and creates new forms of cultural-psychological activity. (L. S.
Vygotsky, 1999b, 47)."

"There is no sign without meaning. ʽThe formation of meaning is the main
function of sign. Meaning is
everywhere where there is a sign --- meaning is inherent in the sign.ʼ
(Vygotsky, 1997h, 134, 136)."

Also, Sasha, if you would, please repeat, even if ever so briefly, what you
find incorrect about Vygotsky's views here, as Jussi has expressed them.

Second, on socio-behaviorism.

Another theme in Jussi's paper is that Vygotsky went through three stages,
the first, behaviorism.

David sees Jussi's three stages as overlapping quite a bit with his
Vygotsky I, II, and III, which he bases on Norris Minick's analysis. 
Similar how?  They strike me as quite different, except for perhaps seeing
1932-1934 as a specific phase.  I like Minick's analysis myself - it is a
good starting point for a very important study.  Certainly, Vygotsky was in
constant transition his whole career.

But was there really more than one Vygotsky?  Were there enough Vygotskys to
satisfy both David's and Jussi's sequences?  Are there enough LSV's
for each of us to have several Vygotsky's of our very own?  :-))  Anyway,
Plenum CW Vol 1 is on Google Books (yay!) and here is the Minick article. 
"The Development of Vygotsky's Thought: An Introduction"  I see no
discussion of a behaviorist phase by Minick, btw.


Jussi does well discussing the aspects of the transition from an instrumental
to semiotic viewpoint, from early to late CHP, but I find his discussion of
Vygotsky's so-called "socio-behaviorist" phase unconvincing.  His
focus on pg 3-5 in his paper on a 1925 essay by Vygotsky, found in Plenum CW Vol
3.  Jussi offers a reading of that essay that is, in an important way, the
opposite of mine.  I appreciate that Jussi's paper got me to take this close
look at Vygotsky's 1925 essay. I had looked at it before, but somewhat
quickly.  This time, I read it with great interest.  In some passages, Vygotsky
does sound like a behaviorist.  And it is true that in this essay Vygotsky
restricts himself to the terms of the behaviorism-reflexologism of his time,
which was dominated by Pavlov (and according to Minick, Bekhterev) in the Soviet
psychology of the time.  My reading, which is certainly somewhat speculative,
not having done the thorough study of Soviet psychology in the 1920's that
this kind of inquiry requires, is that Vygotsky was doing everything he could to
prove, using Pavlovian terminology and his persuasive writing abilities, that
the central subject of psychological research should be consciousness, not
reflexes, and that behaviorism was simply dead wrong about that and a lot of
things.  My reading is that Vygotsky was attempting to **defeat** behaviorism in
that essay, using its own terms.  Or more precisely, relegate it to the study
only of animal and human reflexes, which it indeed was making important
discoveries in.

I think Jussi is right on a very important observation: Vygotsky is certainly,
from our point of view looking back, being somewhat contradictory at this point
in his career, in 1925.  But rather than assess Vygotsky as "committed to
behaviorism," I would assess him has committed to **anti**-behaviorism and
**anti**-reflexology, but still not having found sufficient arguments and
evidence to fully dismiss and move beyond them, that is, replace them.  So, as
part of his searing  critique (and Vygotsky sure could cook, one of the things
we love about him), he is forced to use behaviorism's own discoveries and
terms to try to defeat them as serious contenders for hegemony in Soviet
psychological research.  At the time, this was a David and Goliath endeavor..

For that moment in time, the behaviorist approach was one of the most advanced
materialist psychology's available, but hopelessly and erroneously committed
to denying the importance or even existence of consciousness and will.  It was a
materialist counterpoint, but a badly mistaken one, to subjectivist psychology. 
Vygotsky, to my knowledge, was unwavering in this assessment of behaviorism -
its objectivist materialism was equally erroneous in its approach to human
psychology as was the subjectivist idealism of other schools.  One understated
mind and ignored it, the other overstated and isolated it.  That 1925 essay may
have been, in fact, LSV's goodbye letter to behaviorism, his funeral address
to it.  He was going to go study consciousness, and so should all psychologists.
 'Nice knowing y'all.  'Bye!'

In other words, my take on the 1925 essay Jussi cites is that Vygotsky was
using dialectical thinking to challenge and stretch this mechanical materialist
trend to its extremes, to force it over the boundaries it refused to cross, with
a very deliberate intent on breaking its back in the process.  His 1924 speech
that started his Moscow career was in that spirit, as was his 1926-27 Crisis
monograph wherever it mentions behaviorism, and to my knowledge, everything he
ever said about behaviorism was also written with these intents.  No one
confuses cultural psychology or cultural-historical research with behaviorism in
any way today.  The record shows Vygotsky always opposed it.  It does not appear
historically supportable to characterize Vygotsky as a behaviorist, a
socio-behaviorist, a reflexologist, or a reactologist, even for a month, let
alone from say 1917 through 1927.  He was a die-hard opponent, and never an
advocate of those schools.  Yes?

I should add that I don't think discarding this aspect of Jussi's paper
takes away from the insights he offers in the above-discussed portions.  If
anything, it removes a distraction.

Something that is always hard to do from a distance, and especially from the
future, let alone a different country, is fully grasp the rhetorical issues and
contexts that drive a given piece of ideological writing.  Vygotsky in 1925 was
still establishing his own turf, still even getting his doctorate, still
integrating himself as a psychologist.  Things were changing very fast in the
USSR, and all over the world.  These observations are only indicative, and of
course don't prove that my reading is "better" than Jussi's.
My point is that there can be much more going on than meets the eye when one
studies the meanings of quotes.  To understand the quotes Jussi offers, we need
to look at them historically for their full meaning.

One interesting viewpoint on this 1925 essay and Vygotsky's view of
behaviorism, is that of AN Leontyev, who wrote and introduction to the Russian
version of this volume of the CW, "On Vygotsky's Creative
Development," where he discusses this essay and Vygotsky and behaviorism on
pg 14 of the Plenum Vol 3 of the CW.  There is no hint from Leontyev that
Vygotsky went through a behaviorist phase. (Btw, what is
"socio"-behaviorism?)  I am interested in who else has offered
commentary on the relationship of Vygotsky and behaviorism.  I know I for one
would benefit from others that have looked into this.  And Jussi may have more
insights and views in addition to those he shared in his paper.

Finally, on Vygtosky's supposed epistemological breaks.

Here, Jussi, in my opinion, is on very thin ice.  I am afraid that neither
Althusser nor Foucault are much help to Jussi's thesis, since neither were
discussing Vygotsky.  Just because it might rain in London does not mean it is. 
The biggest problem with Jussi's thesis is that Vygotsky never claimed or
observed he underwent a change in outlook of the magnitude of an
"epistemological break."  (Or am I wrong? Please correct me on this if
I am!)  The second biggest problem is that Vygotsky was very clear, from at
least the early 20's, that he was ontologically and epistemologically a
dialectical materialist.  From this he never budged - in fact, he consistently
grew more confident and capable as a Marxist theoretician. He consistently
applied the methodology of dialectical and historical materialism to psychology.
 As a matter of fact, he made some significant improvements to Marxist
methodology, making him one of the preeminent Marxist theoreticians of the 20th
Century.  In my opinion, no epistemological assessment of Vygotsky makes sense
without fully assessing him as a Marxist philosopher and methodologist.

This is part of the content of those sharp words, "narrow,"
"one-sided," I have used in this regard.  For me, to view Vygotsky as
first and foremost a semiotic mediationist, a theoretician of sign mediation,
would be like regarding Marx as first and foremost an economic analyst with an
interesting theory about labor.  This would be a narrow, one-sided assessment of
Marx's work, as I think it is Vygotsky's.

At the same time, Jussi's chart and discussion of "The development of
Vygotskyʼs theory of signs as semiotic mediators" needs to be scrutinized
closely and given serious consideration.  He suggests not one but two
epistemological breaks, one between LSV's supposed socio-behaviorism phase
and instrumentalist (early CHP) phase, and another, which he puts a question
mark over, between early CHP, and late CHP, when LSV solidified his his semiotic
approach to consciousness.  I like, by the way, the way Jussi looks for
"explanatory concepts" and "methodology of inquiry" to make
his analytical comparison.  Thumbs up to the thinking that went into that.  It
does not demonstrate epistemological breaks, in my view, but it does suggest
ways to look at the development of many of Vygotsky's ideas, in addition to
his theory of signs as semiotic mediators.

But restricting one's view of Vygotsky's overall trajectory,
ideological development, research work and discoveries to just his work on signs
- and judging "epistemological breaks" therefrom - to me loses sight
of far too many other important contributions by Vygotsky - and this is very
important - the contributions of Vygotsky **and his associates**.   Vygotsky was
the leader of something much bigger than himself, something which was broken up
by the Stalinist machine - but by no means killed off.  Just delayed.

What is this something?  As I hope I emphasized above, Jussi makes some
valuable contributions to better understanding some important **parts** of this
something.  But, I think, one has to step back and look at much more than just
Vygotsky's innovative ideas about the role of semiosis (sign use) in human
consciousness and meaning-making to evaluate his work epistemologically,
methodologically, and above all, as the founder of this "something,"
place-named for the time being cultural-historical psychology.  Much more.  Yes?

- Steve

On Jan 29, 2009, at 10:42 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> David, I am being quite frank when I said I know nothing of this topic. I
responded because I was asked to. But in any case, re Vygotsky vs. Behaviourism,
I think I was basing myself on the Introduction to "Mind in Society"
so perhaps Mike could clarify for me.
> Andy
> David Kellogg wrote:
>> In defense (!) of Louis Althusser. He is really talking about the
youth of a science being the SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS of newness, and as such it's
a pretty good metaphor. It's in the context of Althusser's essay on
Freud and Lacan (in Lenin on Philosophy and other Essays).  My dear Andy,
behaviorism was the official psychology of the USSR in 1923, when they barely
even had an official army? When the Commissar of War, Leon Trotsky, was a fan of
Freud's writings? And Vygotsky "trashed" behaviorism in a paper
that claimed that consciousness could be explained as the structure of behavior?
Doesn't seem likely, does it?
>> Unlike Andy, I agree completely with Jussi's point on semiotics.
Why else would LSV say that word meaning is a microcosm of human consciousness?
When Vygotsky says that the mind is made of semiotic material, he is explaining
exactly how it is that it becomes possible to internalize social relations as
psychological ones and exactly why it is that human minds develop from the
outside in rather than from the inside out.
>> In Hegel's Phenomeonology of the Mind (section 157) he discusses
the "inverted world", the moment where two modes of existence are
mapped on to each other (e.g. being onto concept). We find this particular trope
throughout Vygotsky whenever we pass from (e.g.) the phylogenetic
semiohistorical timescale to the sociocultural one, or from the sociocultural
semiohistorical timescale to the ontogenetic one. (And also from the ontogenetic
to the microgenetic.)
>> In the inverted world, the first shall be last and the last shall be
first. (Or, as Mike says, the only thing we really know for sure about the
mirror is that right is left is right is left.) For example, on the phylogenetic
timescale sex differentiation is late emerging but on the sociocultural
timescale it's very early.  This, and not some purely functional difference,
is why tools are different from signs. Tools are late emerging in phylogenesis,
but they are very early emerging in sociocultural history, but the mastery of
tools is late again in ontogenesis, and on the other hand comparatively early in
the microgenetic mastery of a skill. Signs (in the form of signals) are very
early emerging in phylogenesis, but very late (in the form of written symbols)
in sociocultural history, and again very early in ontogenesis. The SIGNIFICANCE
of signs (that is, there signifying as opposed to their indicative function) is
late emerging in microgenetic development.
>> It seems to me that THIS more than anything accounts for the CRITICAL
differences we find in development when we change time scales. Of course, on one
level, it's a little like comparing weather and climate (or climate and
global warming). We are always talking about time and the changes wrought
>> But the changes wrought are qualitatively different and not simply
quantitatively so. When we change semiohistorical timescales (when ontogenesis
erupts into sociocultural history, as when children grow up and create social
progress, or when sociocultural progress changes the course of evolution, as
when clothes replace fur and houses replace caves), the very order of things is
>> At some point the first must BECOME last and the last must BECOME
first. That critical tipping point is not a matter of smooth development;
it's a moment of violent crisis. In ontogenesis, signs do not replace tools
in a gradualistic, benevolent, Biblical manner after the beatitudes; they must
lay violent hands upon them and overthrow them by force.  The same is true of
microgenesis, at least from what I've seen. The transition from a first
language to a foreign one is a profoundly uprooting experience and only much
later liberating (In first language learning, we find that deliberate control of
phonemes is very late, but in second language learning it's at the very
beginning; conversely, in first language learning, fluency occurs almost
immediately while in foreign language learning it comes late if at all.)
>> Contrary to what Foucault says (and what Stalin thought), discourse is
part of the SUPERSTRUCTURE of society. That is the very opposite of what
Stalinist linguists like Ya Marr (and also Stalin himself) claimed. It's
also AGAINST what Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan say today (they believe that
language is the base and not the superstructure of society).
>> Of course, if we say that language is part of the ideological
superstructure and not part of the productive base of sociocultural progress
(that is, cultural historical change), this does not mean that it is
insignificant. But it DOES mean that it is not causative, at least with respect
to cultural history. Language does not by itself bring about a transformation in
the relations of production.  On the semiohistorical timescale of cultural
history, language cannot create or destroy state power; it is a result and not a
reason, a consequence and not a cause. Of course, as we know, results can become
reasons, and consequences can become causes. But when that happens, there is a
qualitative change in the very domain, the timescale, of history.
>> But late Vygotsky, Vygotsky III, knows that ontogenesis is special,
distinguishable, distinct from cultural history. It's distinct precisely
because in ontogenesis (but not in cultural history) language IS a reason and
not just a result, word meaning IS a cause and not just a consequence. In fact,
verbal thinking and imagination (and of course play) are precisely the result of
the INABILITY of object oriented human activity to provide for the child's
wants, needs, and desires.  Here, actually, there IS a parallel with cultural
history, for throughout sociocultural change, man has created literature and art
precisely as a result of the INABILITY of human labour to provide from man's
wants, needs, and desires for a harmonious society without the exploitation of
man by man. But of course in sociocultural history, play is late emerging and in
ontogenesis it's quite early, because the first shall always be last and the
last shall be first.
>> I also agree with Zinchenko's point on two paradigms: the paradigm
of mediated action at the core of activity theory is NOT the paradigm of word
meaning at the core of a cultural historical psychology. I think that Mike and
other founders of CHAT founded it as a loose federation between two rather
incompatible Vygotskies, the Vygotsky of mediated action and the Vygotsky of wod
meaning, with the assumption that a common tradition and a set of common
practices would hold it together.  That assumption has proved quite justified.
In China, we say that a good marriage is the same bed and different dreams.
Otherwise, what do you talk about over breakfast?  David Kellogg
>> Seoul National University of Education
>>      _______________________________________________
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> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/ +61 3 9380 9435 Skype
> Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:
> http://www.marxists.org/admin/books/index.htm
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