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Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Behaviourism

Dear all,

I have changed my mind!

I read the first 6 chapters of Vygotsky's 1926 Educational Psychology tonight (written probably around 1921-23 according to the editors), including Davydov's introduction, plus I re-read LSV's Jan 1924 talk (Methods of Reflexological and Psychological Investigation) and 1925 essay (Consciousness as a Problem) and Nikolai's posts and some other materials I have of his (but NOT his book Undiscovered Vygotsky, which I really wish I had) and re-reviewed Jussi's paper again.

I learned a lot! I have been learning a great deal from the whole thread around Jussi's paper. Many thanks to everyone's posts, thoughts, arguments, questions, all very helpful. Lot's of eye- opening stuff. And special thanks to you for joining in, Nikolai.

I now think Jussi is correct, (along with VV Davydov, Nikolai, David, etc.), that Vygotsky did undergo a major intellectual shift in 1927, much more profound than I had realized, or had seriously looked into. I had said Jussi was on "thin ice" but now I see he is on solid ground. I am the one who was all wet about that! LOL

Davydov marks the shift after the 1926 Russian publication of Educational Psychology (1997, CRC Press). VVD writes in his introduction:

"The essential shift in Vygotsky's creative life occurred following publication of the book. This, the most celebrated period of his scientific activity, began in 1927-8, when, working with a group of colleagues that included A. Leont'ev, Alekandr Luria, A. Zaporozhets, and L. Bozhovich, he undertook a large-scale series of experimental investigations. From the results of these investigations, he was subsequently led to formulate the fundamental assertions of *cultural- historical theory*, the theory of the development of those mental functions which are not only specific to human beings, for example, attention, memory, and thinking, but which also possess a social, cultural, and life-history [prizhiznennyi] origin and are mediated by a special medium, called *signs*, that arises in the course of human *history*. A "sign," from Vygotsky's standpoint, is, above all, a social medium for man, a special kind of "psychological tool": "a sign is located outside the organism, as is a tool, it is separated from the individual and is essentially a social organ or social medium" (Collected Works., Vol. 3, page 146)." (pg xxvii)

The above LSV quote Davydov cites, btw, is referenced to the Russian edition.

These ideas do not appear in Educational Psychology, or the 1924 talk, or the 1925 essay we have been discussing.

I am now quite intrigued with Vygotsky's relationship to behavorism, reflexology, and biological explanations in general in his pre-CH Theory period. And how these ideas changed/carried over to the new theory.

I also spent a little time with The Psychology of Art (1971, MIT). LSV defended this book as a dissertation in 1925, but as AN Leontiev's explains in the introduction, chose to never publish the book during his lifetime. Leontiev explains that this book "presents the results" of Vygotsky's work on the psychology of art "in the years 1915 to 1922." (pg vi).

Here is a very revealing look at Vygotsky's overall assessment of behaviorism and the crisis of psychology in these early years:

"The great crisis in psychology today has split psychologists more or less into two camps: One of these has gone further and deeper into subjectivism than even Dilthey et al., obviously leaning toward pure Bergsonism. The other, ranging from America to Spain, is trying to create an objective psychology. American behaviorism, German Gestalt psychology, reflexology, and Marxist psychology are examples of such attempts." (pg 19, in Chapter 1, The Psychological Problem of Art).

What a change Vygotsky's analysis about these different trends in psychology would undergo just a few years later in 1926-1927 The Historical Meaning of the Crisis monograph, (which was also only published posthumously).

Thanks again, everyone, this has been (another) great spurt of learning for me.

- Steve

On Feb 9, 2009, at 7:31 AM, ERIC.RAMBERG@spps.org wrote:

Hello David:

I believe the answer to how it is not the same as Piaget is that Vygotsky is very clear people develop in ever spiraling accounts. One method of
constructing meaning shall not be the cemented stage achieved; whereas
Piaget clearly states that once achieved people remain within that domain
of thought and do not regress.  I believe that Vygotsky's work with
retardates and the like provided Vygotsky the insight that human
consciousness is a continuum of lucidness and fog.  The difference in
concept between 5th and 6th chapter is indeed vivid but when one considers
the vastness of human consciousness and Vygotsky is summarizing his 10
years of research I believe it is very understandable. thank you for the
discussion it is very thought provoking,

                     David Kellogg
<vaughndogblack@ To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
                     yahoo.com>               cc:
Sent by: Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Behaviourism

                     02/06/2009 08:41
                     Please respond
                     Please respond
                     to "eXtended
                     Mind, Culture,


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

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

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
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
generalizations independently and freely. The experiment reveals to us the
continuing active discipline the child employs in the creation of
which is not easily apparent to a superficial observer and which does not
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

(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

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

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

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