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[xmca] Taking the HAT out of CHAT

*Response to Poehner and Lantolf.*

Not being an L2 teacher or any other kind of teacher, I will limit my comments to Poehner and Lantolf’s attack on philosophy. That they can quote Vygotsky in support of their cause is neither here nor there, as Vygotsky’s entire lifetime is testimony to the place he gave to philosophy in his critique of psychology, and /vice versa/, and the great admirer of Spinoza could be quoted in the opposite spirit just as well.

   “... Practice sets the tasks and serves as the supreme judge of
   theory, as its truth criterion. It dictates how to construct the
   concepts and how to formulate the laws.” (Vygotsky, 2004, p. 304)
   Vygotsky concludes that the highest test of a theory is practice and
   that the distinction that had been made between general and applied
   psychology (e.g., industrial, educational psychology) was not only
   invalid but in fact, as he convincingly argued in “The Crisis,”
   applied psychology /is /psychology. This was, for Vygotsky, the full
   implication of Marx’s Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach for the science
   of psychology: “Marx has said that it was enough for philosophers to
   have interpreted the world, now it’s time to change it” (Vygotsky,
   1997b, pp. 9–10).

The claim that “practice is the truth criterion” for theory is the position of pragmatism, not Marxism. This may seem like splitting hairs, after all Marx does say in Thesis 2: “The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a *practical* question. Man must prove the truth ... in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.”

But the passage of 150 years has clarified matters. “Applied psychology /is /psychology,” and the interpretation of Thesis 11, “... it was enough for philosophers to have interpreted the world, now it’s time to change it” makes things clear. Thesis 11 is saying that the point of philosophy is to change the world. In the absence of the socialist utopia, then, philosophy is not done for. The revolution Vygotsky wrought in /philosophy/ is testimony enough to that. The cry that the time for philosophy is past is a call to abandon philosophy.

In this context, L2 theory may be fraught with dualisms, but it seems to me that there is a fashion nowadays to point to dualisms everywhere without justification, so I am not impressed with the claim of 20 dualisms which might just as well be 20 valid distinctions. My suspicions are confirmed when the authors themselves posit a false dichotomy: “mediation through cultural concepts” versus “mediation through social interaction.” This is a new dualism to me; probably it is what lies behind the neologism of “SCT” which the authors use to supplant CHAT. But more of that later.

What on earth is a “/cultural/ concept”? What are “/non/-cultural concepts”? And how is an action to be mediated by a (cultural) concept /other than/ as part of a social interaction.” And what kind of interactions are /not/ social? And what is it that is being mediated other than the (social) use of a (cultural) artefact? Is there any other way of using an artefact other than in the course of a /socially/ meaningful action? How is a “cultural artefact” used without “social interaction”? How is a “social interaction” effected without the use of “cultural artefacts” or some other type of non-cultural artefact?

So this is a false dichotomy. But what end does it serve? Well, it justifies the use of SCT = Socio-Cultural Theory, by (1) inserting “socio-” usually by contrast with “societal,” (2) dropping the “Historical” dimension of development, and more importantly (3) dropping Activity. So we have come full circle. The meaning of the use of Theses on Feuerbach against itself is to reduce Activity to being the test or manifestation of Theory. But the opposite is just as valid: Theory is the manifestation of Activity, a.k.a. Practice.


*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://lchc.ucsd.edu/MCA/Journal/
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Videos: http://vimeo.com/user3478333/videos
Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857
MIA: http://www.marxists.org

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