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Re2: [xmca] Vygotsky's Plural Discourse!!
First, I'd like to thank Jonna for introducing my paper and starting
the discussion. I'm sorry about the delay of my comments - sometimes
there is life also outside the academy (luckily not too often, as you
know), which keeps us out of the office for few days.
There are already too many issues in this ongoing and extremely
interesting discussion to comment in one e-mail. So I will simply
start by listing some of the issues mentioned so far. After that I try
to a little bit clarify my motivations and point of view, to focus the
Before that, anyhow, I have to make confession. I don't know Russian
and read Vygotsky only in English and in German. I compiled a
bibliography of English translations of LSV's works I know so far
(=102), which shows the textual base of my paper. You can find it on
(I added original dates of LSV's papers in the references and
cross-referenced overlapping versions of translations, hope this
could help those not having the Collected Works in their library).
Comments on the bibliography are welcomed, too. Those reading LSV in
Russia can probably tell, if something (or what) essential sources,
related to my arguments, are missing.
Reading very fast the comments so far, at least following topics or
arguments were represented:
- The question of periods in Vygotsky's work. According to David there
would be almost a consensus about three Vygotskies ( LSV I, II, III),
but this point was questioned. My special contribution to this debate,
however, is not the statement of three periods as such, but the
opinion that Vygotsky was committed to behaviorism in one moment of
his thinking. This point obviously requires more discussion, as Steve
and others remarked.
- The question of the tools by which we should conceptualize the
(possible) periods in LSV. My suggestion was that we could integrate
some ideas / concepts from Althusser and Foucault to our attempt to
understand critically and self-reflective way the development (or
non-development) of our tradition. Some agreed to some degree, but the
idea was strongly criticized, too (at least Andy).
- The problem of semiotics or semiotic mediation in LSV is one of the
key issues in my argumentation, connected to the hypotheses about
epistemological break between LSV II and III. Somebody read my thesis
as a statement about the priority on supremacy of semiosis / sign
mediation. What I actually said, was that Vygotsky always related
different forms of mediation to each other, and that inside this
methodological frame his point of view moved from instrumental
approach to a semiotic one. I agree with most of David's remarks on
this question, but this point requires some clarifications, too.
- In some comments were seen missing contexts in my analysis. No
discussion about Leibnitz, Spinoza, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Hegel,
Goethe and other key figures in Western philosophy (Andy). I agree,
absolutely. The focus of my paper is in the conceptual development in
Vygotsky's work, not in the history of philosophy. And the distinction
between traditional and non-traditional, or Cartesian and
post-Cartesian comes not from Althusser but is a common statement in
Vygotskyan traditon (classical and non-classical in Asmolov, Elkonin
etc). What I try to do is make sense of this distinction , to
conceptualize it someway. Can we do this without a reference to the
long perspective of philosophy, is a good question, anyway.
- One other missing context seen in my paper is Vygotsky's relation to
Marxism and dialectical materialism. It is not possible to understand
Vygotsky outside the Marxian frame, is claimed. This problem is in
brackets, just like the philosophy question, but it is worth to
debate. Some people (f.e. Elhammoumi) really see Vygotsky as a Marxist
per excellence, but I think this is a too limited approach to
Vygotsky. He was not a Marxist at all, if we take Marxism in the form
as it exist in Vygotsky's life time. In my interpretation Vygotsky
took a Marxian position, which was incompatible with the
Marxist-Leninist state-ideology of the USSR This argument requires a
discussion about the concept of dialectical materialism as a
methodology, about Marx and Marxism, even about "the Stalinist
machine" and Marxist philosophy. I'm not sure how many would be
interested in this, but I'm ready to go on this, too.
- The concept of CHAT was also touched. Should we talk about CHAT, or
about CH/AT, or even about CHP vs AT? Or maybe CH?AT would express
best way the state of art ?
- The was also the question of the actual history of cultural
historical school in Russia, the developments after Vygotsky's dead
and so on. My paper is focused on texts only, but can read Vygotsky
without understanding of the context of his work? In brackets, I agree.
- And I could add here for example the inconsistent way I used
Foucault, which nobody, for some strange reasons, mentioned.
I picked up topics above fast without any deep reflection. I guess
any of these topics would be worth of discussion. Before to going on
my own comments, I clarify a little the background and the motivation
of my paper.
It seems to me that some of the comments are based on too fast reading
of my paper, resulting in misunderstanding of what I am trying to do.
My paper is not meant to be an exhaustive description of all aspects
and contexts in LSV's thinking. Many things are consciously put in
brackets to make the problematic I am interested in, more focused and
clear. I am interested in Vygotsky semiotics. But how I became
interested in this topic, then?
One motivation to start a journey through the Collected Works was my
dissatisfaction about the way we express our tradition. Some people
are talking about Socio-cultural research, some others
Cultural-historical psychology. In nowadays Russia they have cultural
psychology debating with activity theory. Other labels can be,
possibly, found out. And then we have the Mike's way to talk about
Cultural-historical-activity theory. I agree with David's evaluation
"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 word meaning, with the assumption that a
common tradition and a set of common practices would hold it
together." I understand, somehow, the motivation behind the label
CHAT. It can be understood as an umbrella like construction, as a
space for discussion and for practices. What's the problem, then?
If you take a look at the footnotes of my paper, you can realize I'm
writing in Finnish context. At least in Finland the CHAT tradition is
very strong in empirical investigations, but theoretical contributions
are rare. Especially works on the history of "CHAT" are missing, and
the possible contradictions between the founders of the tradition are
almost taboos. Consequently CHAT is presented as a coherent theory,
in a way which makes discussion about some methodological problems -
semiotic mediation for example - difficult or even impossible.
When involving in ISCRAT I realized the fragmented state of the
tradition. In Finland we have one coherent conception (CHAT), on the
international plane there are plenty of school and interpretations.
The strange thing was, that everybody seemed to claim to be the real
Vygotskians. After that impression, it was easy to ask the most simple
question: is there something in the founding what could - at least to
some extent - explain the situation. And now I have my hypothesis:
there are not one, but three Vygotskies, giving possibilities to
different theoretical discourses.
If now go back to the CHAT concept, we can see what it problematic in
it. On one hand it is meant to be an umbrella type concept bringing
together different parts of the common tradition. But on the other
hand it is presented as a research theory, as a tool for empirical
research (at least in Finland). We have a common tradition which
prefers the idea of mediation. But the interpretations of the nature
of cultural mediation are incompatible. So it could be reasonable to
talk about cultural-historical approach divided into different -
partly compatible, partly competitive - research theories, having
their own objects and research interests. I will not continue this
discussion about the two levels of methodology. I simply state that it
is impossible to combine semiotic and instrumental mediation concepts
although it is possible to have a dialogical relation between them.
Thus: CH?AT instead of CHAT.
The difference between a tradition (as a form of discoursive praxis)
and a research theory (as a tool) was not clear for me when I started
my project. Anyway, I was sure that by reading Vygotsky (and Leontyev)
from a new angle I could produce some insights explaining the
fragmented situation of CH tradition. To make the moves in Vygotsky's
thinking as visible as possible I concentrated just in one aspect
where the chances are most evident - in the conception of sign
mediation. And I think that the focus of the debate should be about
here - in this question. Of course this problem opens up new questions
and problematics, as have been shown in this discussion, which are all
extremely interesting, too.
Above I have only given a list on some topics touched in the
discussion, and clarified a little bit the background on my
argumentation. There are many important points to comment. I hope I
can do it soon. From practical point of view I can only say, that I am
an extremely slow reader and ever slower writer (that's why I love
Italy, the beautiful country of slow food!). Because of that I will
concentrate on one topic at time: probably first the question of
Vygotsky's behaviorism, after that the question of semiotics and maybe
after that - if the Lord of Research gives me some time - the Vygotsky
Marxism problematic contextualized in the actual history of cultural
Thanks for everybody for thought provoking and inspiring comments -
it's a great pleasure to read this discussion. Hope it continues....
senior researcher, docent
University of Joensuu
Department of Education
P.O. Box 111 (Tulliportinkatu 1)
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