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Re: [xmca] CHAT/SCT - A voice from the past

Well I don't know that it is a legacy of the Soviet Union, Mike. It seems to me that the formation of factions gets worse the more the Soviet days fade into the past. My fear is that we will get to the point of academic individualism, where everyone is their own tendency, vying for prestigious appointments and publications.

As I see it, the adoption of a new name or founding-father is a signal meant to mark one's own current of thought off from everyone else so as to recruit people behind one's own banner. This is not always the case though. Correct me if I am wrong but I understand the Mike Cole & Yrjo Engestrom coined the term CHAT as a specific device to *unify* Activity Theorists, other Soviet followers of Vygotsky and American Cultural Psychologists. The function is the same, but times have changed.

An acronym is an artefact. It plays the role of mediating the formation of associations and alliances amongst theorists. The adoption of a new acronym is a signal that you no longer wish to pursue disagreements over points of theory with the aim of reaching agreement, but have decided already that disagreements are fundamental and cannot be resolved. It is the same with political parties. But in the beginning all the founders of our movement belonged to or followed the same party. It is a legacy of Marxism that science had party-like affiliations, and when the times were right this played an important role in organising discussion, because there were common theoretical principles agreed between all the participants. This is the nature of science. But are we still all dedicated to the same social and political program? If we are, then there is no business in raising a new standard.


mike cole wrote:
I know some people who care a lot to distinguish CHAT and SCT. I wonder if
there is any consensus on what the critical differences
are between them. Here is what I wrote at the Sociocultural Conference in
Madrid about 1994 where Jim Wertsch, who edited the 1981
book on Soviet activity theory,  as a major player and lead editor on the
subsequent volume - socicultural theories of mind.

More than 15 years have passed since this was written. I may have been dead
wrong then and making the same argument now
may seem really mistaken. You will see traces of this same discussion in
various messages being posted around the P&L article.

How should I proceed to find out?? Where are all the L2 people here to help
us out here? Other than publishers in applied linguistics preferring SCT,
what's in those names that makes people get irritated with each other? Who
are the bad people? What are the
special virtues of the good people?



For the past several years I have been striving, with rather limited
success, to understand the intellectual issues that divide the Vygotskian
and activity theory approaches, as well as the division between activity

theorists who follow Leont'ev and those who follow Rubinshtein. This task is
complicated because, insofar as I can understand, contemporary followers of
Leont'ev continue to adhere to the major principles articulated by Vygotsky,
Luria, and Leont'ev in the 1920s and early 1930s, arguing in effect that
Vygotsky was an activity theorist, although he focused less on issues of the
object-oriented nature of activity than on processes of mediation in his own
work (Engestrorn, 1987; Hyden, 1984). Followers ofRubinshtein, on the other
hand, deny that Vygotsky was an activity theorist and tax him with
"signocentricisrn," which in the overheated debates of the last decade of
Soviet power seemed to

be roughly equivalent to "idealist," a sin at that time (Brushlinsky, 1968).
At the same time, they criticized Leont'ev for placing too much emphasis on
activity as external conditions, likening him to a behaviorist
(Abulkhanova-Slavskaya, 1980).

I do not want to minimize the possible scientific benefits to be derived
from attempting to understand these disagreements more thoroughly, although
I am not certain how productive such attempts will

be for non-Russian psychologists. From existing historiographical evidence,
debates among Russian adherents of these various positions appear to have
been tightly bound up with the wrenching political

upheavals that racked the Soviet Union repeatedly between 1917 and 1991 (and
which arc by no means over) (Van der Veer & Valsiner, 1991). What I am
almost positive of, however, is that it would not be

productive for adherents of the various positions to carry those battles
into the international sphere except insofar as they have international
intellectual merit.

What most concerns me is that for whatever combination of reasons, there has
not yet been close cooperation on an international scale among psychologists
who work under the banner of activity theory and those who use some version
of the concept of sociocultural psychology as

their conceptual icon. At the first Activity Theory Congress in Berlin in
1986, there was only one major address that took the work of Vygotsky and
Luria to be coequally relevant to the proceedings with that

of Leont'ev, and individual talks that proceeded from a more or less
Vygotskian perspective were relatively rare. At the second Activity Theory
Congress in 1990, there was a far richer mix of viewpoints, but many of the
people prominent in organizing the current meeting in Madrid were
preoccupied with preparatory work for the current meeting and did not

It would be most unfortunate if adherents of the various streams of
psychological thinking whose history I have sketched were to continue their
work in isolation from each other. The common intellectual issues facing
different streams of cultural-historical, sociocultural, activity based
conceptions of human nature are too difficult to yield to piecemeal efforts.
It is time for those who have come to questions about the
socio-cultural-historical constitution of human nature to join in a
cooperative search for their common past and to initiate cooperative efforts
to address the difficult intellectual issues and staggering national and
international problems facing humanity in the post-Cold War era.
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