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Re: Re2: [xmca] Vygotsky's Plural Discourse!!

Hi Jussi. I look forward to more of your posts! I too am a much slower writer and reader than I wish I was. This reminds me of a story a philosophy professor once told me about himself. He said he liked a lot of subjects in college and had not yet made up his mind what he was going to major in. He said he loved reading but was a slow reader, and was having trouble keeping up with the reading pace required in the sciences, and in English literature, subjects he very much enjoyed. He said he read too closely, meticulously, and therefore slowly, and this became a disadvantage. But he noticed that there was one field where it was a BIG advantage to read that way. Philosophy! And so a career was born ...

- Steve

On Feb 3, 2009, at 6:19 PM, Jussi Silvonen wrote:

Hi everybody!

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 discussion.

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 my site:


(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 historical tradition.

Thanks for everybody for thought provoking and inspiring comments - it's a great pleasure to read this discussion. Hope it continues....


Jussi Silvonen
senior researcher, docent
University of Joensuu
Department of Education
P.O. Box 111 (Tulliportinkatu 1)
80101 Joensuu
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