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Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Behaviourism
- To: firstname.lastname@example.org, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
- Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Behaviourism
- From: Mike Cole <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Wed, 4 Feb 2009 20:32:16 -0800
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There is a russian phrase, which, loosely translated, means
"assholes are everywhere."
On Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 8:29 PM, Andy Blunden <email@example.com> wrote:
> Apologies all. :( In typical fashion, after declaring ignorance of this
> topic, I try to "correct" others, then have to "correct myself", then
> withdraw my correction, and now want to correct myself again. :( "Shoot
> first, answer questions later!"
> I have always based my understanding of Vygotsky's entrance into the world
> of psycholgy on Mike's Introduction to "The Making of Mind" referring to the
> speech at the 2nd Congress of blah blah blah in January 1924. That was why I
> objected to the claim that Vygotsky started out as a "social behaviourist"
> or *any kind* of behaviourist.
> Then when I turned to read "Consciousness is a problem for behaviourism" I
> found the style of presentation a bit confusing at times, and then I read
> the translator's (Veresov's) claim that this was in fact *not* the speech
> which caused such a shock in January 1924, which was yet another document.
> So I think to myself "I have been wrong all along!" So I tracked down the
> speech and transcribed it:
> Of course it is almost word-for-word the same as the "Consciousness is a
> problem ..." one.
> So Mike was not misleading me. The difference between the two documents is
> an academic nicety (from where I'm coming from.)
> So I just want to ask teh advocates of Vygotsky I, II and III a couple of
> questions to help me understand:
> (1) By "social behaviourist" do you mean a follower of GH Mead? Or do you
> mean someone thinking along the lines to which GH Mead would come? Can you
> define the central idea?
> (2) The idea of construction of self (I) via Other (me) is not sufficient
> basis for calling someone "social behaviourist" is it? Whether you track
> this idea to Hegel (1807), Mead (1932), Kojeve (1937), or elsewhere?.
> (3) Do you agree that Vygotsky's January 1924 speech is a full-on attack on
> Behaviourism, which was at that time the dominant creed at the Congress? He
> also attack the otehr speakers at the Congress.
> (4) Do you think it makes sense to call someone engaged in a critique of
> all existing views, who knows they do not yet have an adequate theory and
> are just at the beginning of their critique, any "ism" ?
> Serious questions. I'm trying to understand where you guys are coming from.
> Andy Blunden wrote:
>> Mmmm. After re-reading this material myself, I have to now put myself into
>> a "Don't Know" basket. Interesting material, but I withdraw my attempts to
>> make any claims about it.
>> Andy Blunden wrote:
>>> On the question of Vygotsky as a "social Behaviourist before 1929", I
>>> have scanned two pages From the Introduction to "Mind in Society," by Mike
>>> Cole and Sylvia Scribner, pp 4-6
>>> POSTREVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY IN RUSSIA
>>> In the early decades of the twentieth century psychology in Russia, as in
>>> Europe, was torn between contending schools, each of which offered partial
>>> explanations of a limited range of phenomena. In 1923 at the first
>>> all-Russian psychoneurological congress K. N. Kornilov initiated the first
>>> major organizational and intellectual shift in psychology following the
>>> revolution. At that time the prestigious Institute of Psychology in Moscow
>>> was headed by G. I. Chelpanov, an adherent of Wundt's introspective
>>> psychology and a foe of behaviorism. (He had published the sixth edition of
>>> his book, The Mind of Man, a critique of materialist theories of the mind,
>>> in 1917, just before the revolution.) Chelpanov assigned a restricted role
>>> to Marxism in psychology, asserting it could help explain the social
>>> organization of consciousness but not the properties of individual
>>> consciousness. In a talk entitled "Contemporary Psychology and Marxism"
>>> Kornilov criticized Chelpanov both for the idealistic basis of his
>>> psychological theory and for the restricted role he assigned to Marxism in
>>> psychology. Kornilov, who called his own approach reactology, sought to
>>> subsume all branches of psychology within a Marxist framework that used
>>> behavioral reactions as the basic data.
>>> Kornilov's critique of Chelpanov in 1923 won the day. Chelpanov was
>>> removed as director of the Institute of Psychology and was replaced by
>>> Kornilov, who immediately brought together a corps of young scientists
>>> dedicated to formulating and promoting a *behavioral, Marxist theory of
>>> Vygotsky must have produced quite a sensation one year later at the
>>> second psychoneurological meeting when he gave a talk entitled
>>> "Consciousness as an Object of the Psychology of Behavior." Whatever else
>>> one extracted from Kornilov's reactological approach, it quite clearly did
>>> not feature the role of consciousness in human activity, nor did it accord
>>> the concept of consciousness a role in psychological science.
>>> Vygotsky was *dissenting* from newly established authority. He was not,
>>> however, promoting a return to the position advocated by Chelpanov. In his
>>> initial speech and a series of subsequent publications, he made it clear
>>> that in his view none of the existing schools of psychology provided a firm
>>> foundation for establishing a unified theory of human psychological
>>> processes. Borrowing a phrase from his German contemporaries, he often
>>> referred to the "crisis in psychology" and set himself the task of achieving
>>> a synthesis of contending views on a completely new theoretical basis.
>>> For Vygotsky's Gestalt contemporaries, a crisis existed because
>>> established theories (primarily Wundt's and Watsonian behaviorism) could
>>> not, in their view, explain complex perceptual and problemsolving behaviors.
>>> For Vygotsky, the crisis went much deeper. He shared the Gestalt
>>> psychologists' dissatisfaction with psychological analysis that began by
>>> reducing all phenomena to a set of psychological "atoms." But he felt that
>>> the Gestalt psychologists failed to move beyond the description of complex
>>> phenomena to the explanation of them. Even if one were to accept the Gestalt
>>> criticisms of previous approaches, a crisis would still exist because
>>> psychology would remain split into two irreconcilable halves: a "natural
>>> science" branch that could explain elementary sensory and reflex processes,
>>> and a "mental science" half that could describe emergent properties of
>>> higher psychological processes. What Vygotsky sought was a comprehensive
>>> approach that would make possible description and explanation of higher
>>> psychological functions in terms acceptable to natural science. To Vygotsky,
>>> explanation meant a great deal. It included identification of the brain
>>> mechanisms underlying a particular function; it included a detailed
>>> explication of their developmental history to establish the relation between
>>> simple and complex forms of what appeared to be the same behavior; and,
>>> importantly, it included specification of the societal context in which the
>>> behavior developed. Vygotsky's goals were extremely ambitious, perhaps
>>> unreasonably so. He did not achieve these goals (as he was well aware). But
>>> he did succeed in providing us with an astute and prescient analysis of
>>> modern psychology.
>>> A major reason for the continued relevance of Vygotsky's work is that in
>>> 1924 and the following decade he constructed a penetrating critique of the
>>> notion that an understanding of the higher psychological functions in humans
>>> can be found by a multiplication and complication of principles derived from
>>> animal psychology, in particular those principles that represent the
>>> mechanical combination of stimulus-response laws. At the same time he
>>> provided a devastating critique of theories which claim that the properties
>>> of adult intellectual functions arise from maturation alone, or are in any
>>> way preformed in the child and simply waiting for an opportunity to manifest
>>> In stressing the social origins of language and thinking, Vygotsky was
>>> following the lead of influential French sociologists, but to our knowledge
>>> he was the first modern psychologist to suggest the mechanisms by which
>>> culture becomes a part of each person's nature. Insisting that psychological
>>> functions are a product of the brain's activity, he became an early advocate
>>> of combining experimental cognitive psychology with neurology and
>>> physiology. Finally, by claiming that all of these should be understood in
>>> terms of a Marxist theory of the history of human society, he laid the
>>> foundation for a unified behavioral science.
>>> The text referred to above and described on this list as I understand
>>> it, as evidence of Vygotsky's adherence to a variety of behaviourism, is at:
>>> Nicolai Veresov's commentary on it claims errors in Mike Cole's
>>> narrative; but whether Vygotsky's article belongs to 1924, 1925 or 1926, it
>>> is all within what has been spoken of as his "social behaviourist" phase:
>>> For my part, I read this material as documenting that behaviourism was
>>> declared to be the Marxist Psychology in 1923 (coincident with the death of
>>> Lenin and the rise of Stalin to leadership of the USSR) and in the eyes of
>>> the vast majority of "Marxists", within and outside the USSR, remains so to
>>> this day.
>>> As I see it, the counter claim begins from Vygotsky's speech in 1924 (or
>>> 1925 or 1926).
>>> 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
>>>> 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,
>>>> 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
>>>> 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....
> Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/ <http://home.mira.net/%7Eandy/>+61 3 9380 9435 Skype andy.blunden
> Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:
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