[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Behaviourism

Yes, that was my take on it too! Yaroshevsky is rather harsh, though. On p. 124 of his biography "Lev Vygotsky", he's writing about LSV's critique of the "zoological" school of child development (citing Voltaire's famous criticism of Rousseau, he remarks that the behaviorists have the child standing on all fours). 
"Vygotsky himself, if we are to judge from his Pedagogical Psychology, was at first close (despite various reservations) to the on-all-fours position, insasmuch as he believed the conditioned reflex concept to be the scientific basis of teaching."
I guess I have a rather different idea of what constitutes "clarity" on this question than Andy or Steve. I don't really find the lists of yes-no questions that Andy sends around to catechize us to be particularly clarifying, and that for two reasons.
First of all, yes-no questions tend to have an answer already hidden in the question. This is why priests, lawyers and cops are so fond of them. 
Secondly, my automatic impulse (honed during years of talking to lawyers and cops) is to say "no" rather than "yes". After all, "no" is an open syllable (that is, consonant-vowel) while "yes" is a closed one (consonant-vowel-consonant). No wonder Sasha tells us that development takes place through negation.
But on reflection (er, let me rephrase that--on thinking it over) I realize that I should have answered Andy's last question YES rather than no. I don't think that simply naysaying is a valid position, not when you have teachers to teach and seven million homeless children to take care of. I think that when behaviorism is what's on offer, then that's what you start with.
So here's MY idea of what a clarifying discussion on this question might consist of. We KNOW that there are some rather important places where Vygotsky HIMSELF indicates there is a break. For example, try the preface to Thinking and Speech, p. 40:
"This book is the product of nearly ten years work. Many of the questions which emerged in the investigation were not apparent to us when we began. We were frequently forced to reconsider our positions during the investigation. Consequently, the results of a great deal of hard work had to be discarded. Much of the remainder had to be redone, restructured, or rewritten."
There are some rather more SPECIFIC breaking points that I am interested in right now that have to do with the gap that Wertsch notes between the concept of "concept" in Chapter Five and the concept in Chapter Six.
I'm interested in two in particular. First of all, there is the problem of p. 142, where he writes this (I'm using the Prout translation found in the Vygotsky reader, but the Minick translation and also the French and Italian ones are substantially the same):
"Objections could be raised to the effect that our use of the conditional case speaks
rather against than in favour of this experiment. For, after all, in reality a child is
not free during the process of development of meanings which he acquires from
adult speech. But we are able to counter this objection by pointing out that what
this experiment teaches us is not limited to that which might occur if the child were
free from the guiding influence of adult speech, and were to work out his own
generalizations independently and freely. The experiment reveals to us the real
continuing active discipline the child employs in the creation of generalization,
which is not easily apparent to a superficial observer and which does not disappear,
bur only conceals itself and acquires a very complicated means of expression due to the
guiding influence of the speech of people around him."
Now, my question is, why isn't this ALSO a valid defense of Piaget's idea that the clinical method can be used to PARE AWAY the adult's contamination of the child's thinking, an idea which Vygotsky attacks on pp. 174-175? This is not a yes-no question.
My second problem is not a yes-no question either, but perhaps there is an answer implicit in the question anyway. Actually, it's about whether the answers that Vygotsky reaches in Chapter Five were implicit in HIS questions. 
(I apologize for the use of caps below; I am very bad at philosophy and it somehow seems to help if I capitalize the items I need to offset and juxtapose).
On p. 229 LSV takes Chapter Five to task for ignoring the fact that the child's functional equivalents for concepts (heaps, complexes) are actually related to EACH OTHER by a process of generalization. It's not the case that after each attempt the child simply starts over from scratch.
On p. 231, he complains that Sakharov's experiment treats each error by the child as a new stage and doesn't take enough account of the fact that each generalization is a generalization of PREVIOUS stages. "This would, of course, be a truly Sisyphean labor!"
We can see, if we read very carefully, that this criticism is accurate. The relationship between the different functional equivalents of the concept in child thinking (heaps, complexes) is NOT one of generalization. It's much more complex: the different conceptual equivalents are related by a complex process of NEGATION and SUBLATION.
For example, the spatial heap is a NEGATION of a random heap, because the randomness of the "anything goes" principle is set aside in favor of spatial criteria. 
But the two-stage heap is a  a SUBLATION (a "setting aside", both a negation and a synthesis) of the previous two stages. The two stage heap represents a NEGATION of the random heap and the spatial heap because they are physically disassembled by the child. But the two step heap also represents a SYNTHESIS of the random heap and the spatial heap because they are reassembled as something new.
Now, if we read carefully, we can find the same kind of processes in the complexes. For example, the complex-collection represents a NEGATION of the associative complex, because the principle of SIMILARITY or RESEMBLANCE which is the basis of the associative complex is negated, and instead blocks are grouped according to  DISSIMILARITYand functional DIFFERENCE within some kind of general functional similarity (e.g. fork, knife, spoon, and plate are functionally complementary, that is, individually different but all generally similar with respect to a more general purpose, namely eating). 
The chain complex represents a SUBLATION. On the one hand, functional complementarity and general similarity, the basis of the collection-complex, are both negated; each new block is chosen because of a specific trait rather than a general resemblance and all other traits are negated. On the other hand, the principle of similarity is preserved in that trait. 
If we look at the chain complex from the point of view of the associative complex we see the same sublation (negation and preservation). On the one hand, the use of a specific model (the construction of a set as a kind of expanded version of the model at its core) is negated because each old model is flung aside as soon as there is a new member of the chain. On the other hand, the PRINCIPLE of using a model is preserved. 
The principle of sublation is clearest of all in the diffuse complex. On the one hand, we've got a clear negation of the "last item is the model" chaining principle: each new element of the complex is linked not to the last element but to a common trait. On the other, that trait is treated as an unbounded chain; it is allowed to vary almost without limit.

We can see that the emphasis in Chapter Five is on NEGATION, perhaps exclusively so. Of course, it's important to realize that there is negation and sublation as well as imitation and generalization. But we can't lose sight of imitiation and generalization either. 
In at least two senses each new functional equivalent of the concept really IS a result of imitation: on the one hand, the child imitates adults, and on the other, the child imitates the strategy used in a previous functional equivalent but raises it to a higher level.

My father says that an aspect of Soviet physics he noted in the early sixties was that they tended to be "very economical" with experiments and rather lavish with paper and pencil or chalk and talk, and the result was that a lot of what they did was really the empirical working out of a theory rather than the kind of thing we would call research. 
So my question is whether the categories of functional equivalence to concepts that we see in Chapter Five are to be taken as emergent from the data or simply taken more or less as is from Hegel's Logic and then "confirmed" by the data. The method seems VERY Hegelian to me.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education


xmca mailing list