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RE: [xmca] RE: CHAT/SCT - A voice from the past
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- Date: Sat, 27 Nov 2010 21:35:26 -0500
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Dear Mike and everybody?
Thanks, Mike, for your VERY helpful and interesting replies. It looked like
I was more committed to my turkey than you to yours! Hahahaha. So, let me to
reply now, two days after long and multiple eating… J
See my bluish text below, please.
From: mike cole [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, November 25, 2010 5:56 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] RE: CHAT/SCT - A voice from the past
The family was delayed, the turkey is in the oven and in my text below in
response to Eugene I have tried to supply plenty of questions. My guess in
response to Jorge is yes, there are more differences. One way to externalize
them for examination would be to compare them both with Dewey. I keep hoping
for one of those easy to remember lists about all the ways in which they are
the same and different!
I have placed each of my replies/questions between lines marking it off from
1) You seem to suggest that the differences between CHAT and SCT as
have emerged in the "West" (i.e., outside of former Soviet Union) have been
historically rooted in the Soviet debates. Am I right in understanding of
your point? If so, I'm not sure that it is true or fully true. I want to
hear more from you about your reasoning connecting these two debates.
I was speaking at a conference of people for whom it was true of most
participants (I would say the Editors and all of the plenary speakers) that
tensions around USSR-derived discourse was a central organizing issue. This
included, of course, discord among non-Russians connected with their
relationship to different lines of Soviet thought, from NATO or
Two important early points of general difference among attendees I know were
related to Marxist ideas of history as progress and the relative
marginalization of voices from the southern hemisphere. Issues of cultural
domination and diversity in two guises.
It is also the most interesting issues for me (but not necessarily for
others). But I would also add issues of situated cognition and
There are other issues, but those two stand out. Both remain relevant to
What is your sense of the relations of events within Soviet social
sciences/humanities to the development of ideas at the time of that
Do you mean the 1992 Sociocultural conference in Madrid? I do not remember
debates there, sorry….
2) I think in your original message, you were alluding that, at least,
in part the disagreements among the Soviet scholars were caused by their
political squabbles within the "Stalinist science" (the term that was coined
by Krementsov, I think) or in the "post-Stalinist science". In any case,
what makes you think that way? Also, do you think that there was any
"substance" in these debates or not? For example, you wrote, "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)." It can be a fluke, but I have noticed that
some former behaviorists
became Vygotskians. Mike, can you, yourself, be an example of this pattern?
Three questions there. Hmmm. I need some clarification this time. What do
you mean by “in any case”?
Sorry for the confusion. By “in any case”, I meant in either it was
“Stalinist science” or “post-Stalinist science” (my tentative term). In
my view, both you and I know Soviet science, as participants and observants,
in its “post-Stalinist” time. In my view, and I wonder if some Russian
historians of science disagree, it is useful to divide Soviet science to
pre-Stalinist, Stalinist, and post-Stalinist. Recently I had a discussion
with one interesting Russian educationalist who claims that even now the
educationalist social science in Russia must be characterized as Stalinist.
What do you refer to when you write “in your original message” ? snippet
from the article or the context setting message?
I believe there were political/religious-ideological/careerist/and regional
contributions to disputes in Soviet psychology that often displayed
themselves and their alignments.
So, you deny the scientific substance in these debates, don’t you? I
respectfully disagree with you. From the fact that it can be seen
ontological basis (that you mentioned) for scientific debates, it does not
mean that these debates do not have scientific substance.
I have never been able to understand that complex of relationships except in
simplified terms. The “signocentricism” vs “behaviorist” mud slinging
behaviors (or were those pies?) have some substance to them. And they have
some blood curdling terror to them.
>From my perspective, it is unhelpful parody to depict Vygotsky as not
concerned with the world “beyond” or “behind” the sign although it is
fair to say he did not investigate this relationship in great detail. It is
equally unhelpful to parody Leontiev as a behaviorist.
This can be a cultural misunderstanding as well (as a possibility). Often,
Russian way of talking is dramatic based on extreme contrasts and is usually
not concerned about its focus on accuracy and nuances that are so important
in the mainstream Anglo way of expression. For example, among Russian
scholars, I may say that “Leontiev was a behaviorist!” and my interlocutor
may understand well what I mean. And I mean that Leontiev was a reductionist
because of his reductionism of all complexity and diversity of human life to
activity. Since behaviorists were extreme “vulgar materialists”, by
comparing Leontiev with behaviorists, I’d emphasize this tendency in him.
Again, in Russian this trope is culturally legitimate to do as a good claim
and argument but it sounds at odd in English translation. As famous Russian
poet Tyutchev wrote, “Expressed thought is a lie” (“Мысль изреч
енная есть ложь”), so truth cannot be found in words (and the
authors’ attempts to be accurate and nuanced) but beyond the words, in
I do not understand what you are by pointing out when you talk
about me starting as a behaviorist and ending with using Vygotsky to think
with. You think that has some bearing on Leontiev/Vygotsky relationships? Or
are you making a general point that SCT is structuralist, clean of all taint
of functionalism and CHAT vice versa? That does not seem possible. What did
Oh, no! I was referring to factual, not judgmental, point. As far as I
remember (and my “mature memory” can betray me!), several years ago at
AERA you presented the history of your professional development and you
seemed to say that you started as a behaviorist by training before going to
the Soviet Union where you worked with and studied from Alexander Romanovich
Luria. Am I right? If not, I am very sorry. Another important Vygotskian
scholar with behaviorist training is Roland Tharp (I hope my “mature
memory” does not fail me in this case either!)….
If my observation is correct, it can suggest some interesting affinity
between behaviorism and Vygotskian family of approaches (e.g., both are
Whereas …..?? (what is the contrast?)
I already wrote about similarities in my reply to Jorge. Of course, there
are huge areas of the contrast! I do not mean to say that Vygotskian family
of approaches is behaviorist, not at all. But I do see some affinity among
them and common oppositions to structuralism, mentalism, and so on.
3) I have noticed, and I can be wrong, that you want to diminish
differences in Vygotskian family of approaches rather than explore possible
differences and differentiations among them. For me, even this posting goes
along with this tendency. Am I right about that? If so, can you elaborate on
that? Basically, I want to ask you if you PREFER that there are no
differences rather than you do simply do not see any differences but would
be EQUALLY HAPPY if the differences really exist.
Here the premise is wrong so there is no point in answering the rest. I
specifically DO want to explore possible differences and differentiations
between them. That is what this discussion is all about!! What are those
differentiations? (we are talking here of the P&L article focused on L2 but
the point is general). What is the significance of differences? Are there
any empirical consequences for the presumed differences? If so, how can
people productively understand themselves better by better understanding the
other? Or, would you prefer to disown the fictive family and join with those
for whom culture is no more than the glove that fits on the hand?
For me, difference in scientific approaches, especially paradigmatic
differences, are not only empirical but also ontological. For example, many
debates in language art education between so called “whole language
approach” and “phonics” are not about empirical evidence and efficiency
of a particular language instruction, but about differences in cultural
values and definitions of literacy that are rooted in institutional and even
What do you think?
On Thu, Nov 25, 2010 at 1:38 PM, Jorge Fernando Larreamendy Joerns
Do you see any other similarities between Vygotskian approaches and
behaviorist ones besides being functionalists? I wonder.
Jorge Larreamendy-Joerns, Ph.D.
Profesor Asociado y Director
Departamento de Psicología
Universidad de los Andes
On Nov 25, 2010, at 2:38 PM, Eugene Matusov wrote:
> Dear Mike and everybody-
> Here is my two cents on this interesting topic besides minor correction
> the Sociocultural conference in Madrid was I think in 1992, not in 1994 (I
> 1) You seem suggest that the differences between CHAT and SCT as they
> have emerged in the "West" (i.e., outside of former Soviet Union) have
> historically rooted in the Soviet debates. Am I right in understanding of
> your point? If so, I'm not sure that it is true or fully true. I want to
> hear more from you about your reasoning connecting these two debates.
> 2) I think in your original message, you were alluding that, at
> in part the disagreements among the Soviet scholars were caused by their
> political squabbles within the "Stalinist science" (the term that was
> by Krementsov, I think) or in the "post-Stalinist science". In any case,
> what makes you think that way? Also, do you think that there was any
> "substance" in these debates or not? For example, you wrote, "At the same
> time, they criticized Leont'ev for placing too much emphasis on activity
> external conditions, likening him to a behaviorist (Abulkhanova-Slavskaya,
> 1980)." It can be a fluke, but I have noticed that some former
> became Vygotskians. Mike, can you, yourself, be an example of this
> If my observation is correct, it can suggest some interesting affinity
> between behaviorism and Vygotskian family of approaches (e.g., both are
> functional approaches).
> 3) I have noticed, and I can be wrong, that you want to diminish
> differences in Vygotskian family of approaches rather than explore
> differences and differentiations among them. For me, even this posting
> along with this tendency. Am I right about that? If so, can you elaborate
> that? Basically, I want to ask you if you PREFER that there are no
> differences rather than you do simply do not see any differences but would
> be EQUALLY HAPPY if the differences really exist.
> What do you think?
> Eugene Matusov, Ph.D.
> Professor of Education
> School of Education
> University of Delaware
> 16 W Main st.
> Newark, DE 19716, USA
> email: firstname.lastname@example.org
> fax: 1-(302)-831-4110
> website: http://ematusov.soe.udel.edu <http://ematusov.soe.udel.edu/>
> publications: http://ematusov.soe.udel.edu/vita/publications.htm
> Dialogic Pedagogy Forum: http://diaped.soe.udel.edu
> Description: Journey into dialogic pedagogy Matusov, E. (2009). Journey
> dialogic pedagogy
> Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.
> From: mike cole [mailto:email@example.com]
> Sent: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 2:37 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity
> Cc: Luis Moll; Eugene Matusov
> Subject: CHAT/SCT - A voice from the past
> 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
> 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
> 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
> complicated because, insofar as I can understand, contemporary followers
> Leont'ev continue to adhere to the major principles articulated by
> 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
> object-oriented nature of activity than on processes of mediation in his
> work (Engestrorn, 1987; Hyden, 1984). Followers ofRubinshtein, on the
> 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,
> At the same time, they criticized Leont'ev for placing too much emphasis
> 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,
> I am not certain how productive such attempts will
> be for non-Russian psychologists. From existing historiographical
> 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
> 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
> not yet been close cooperation on an international scale among
> who work under the banner of activity theory and those who use some
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> to address the difficult intellectual issues and staggering national and
> international problems facing humanity in the post-Cold War era.
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