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Re: [xmca] Vygotsky, Leontiev and Luria
Like you, I am very fond of lions, though in a sociogenetically distanced manner, not at all the same way that your lions are fond of zebra and also not the way that Stander is fond of them (I was pretty shocked to read that the identifying marks he used can only be read at less than fifty meters away, and using night vision equipment!).
But what I get out of Stander's article is that the whole argument that Leontiev uses in his famous description of hunting (with its division of activity and motive, action and goal, operation and condition) applies perfectly well to lions. It therefore cannot be used to explain the specifically human character of higher psychological formations; we must find another way.
Recently in this space Anna Sfard argued that discourse is really just a very special kind of activity, an argument that Andy has also made (though I think they mean very different things by "very special"). Professor Surmava is, I think, the only person here who has actually taken this to its logical conclusion, which is to say that Vygotsky is anti-Marxist and wrong to see the explanatory principle of the higher psychological functions in speech. But this Leontievan (leonine?) critique of Vygotsky has really been around since the early 1930s, and it still has currency with many people.
At the end of "Tool and Sign" (in "Word and Act", which is a kind of prequel of Chapter Seven of "Thinking and Speech"), Vygotsky and Luria criticize Lippmann for seeing aphasia as a kind of apraxia. They support Gutzmann's argument that aphasia is sui generis: "To consider speech as a more particular case of action," they say, "means to depend on an incorrect definition of hte concept of action." (p. 66 of the Collected Works, Vol. 6). Speech is not a kind of action or "activity"; it's different in kind.
Actually, I don't think this overly objectivist reading of Vygotsky's work is rooted in simple capitulation to a dogmatic (ultimately: Stalinist) definition of labor as being little more than the waving around of tools. True, Vygotsky and Luria are very conscious that children do not work, and that they cannot, therefore, owe their mastery of social relations to exchanges of labor power. True, Leontiev is anxious to re-establish the primacy of this narrow deifnition of labor, and so he re-defines play as a form of frustrated work (for which he was rightly criticized by Gunilla Lindqvist). True, this probably does have something to do with the horrible inside baseball being played out in the early thirties, over who will acquire the mantle of "Marxist" psychology.
But even Janet, who was the ostensible source of Vygotsky's insight that the child in mastering his own behavior applies to himself the strictures that have been applied to and by others, sees the origins of speech in a kind of lion hunt. The village head is originally just another hunter, barking and yelping in pursuit of the animal. But when he grows old, it becomes easier to simply bark and yelp and let the younger villagers do the actual pusuing. Thus, according to Janet, language, the division of labor, and the social organization of village life, is naturally born.
Too naturally! If we accept this, there isn't any reason why lions cannot develop language, a division of labor, and live in villages. The lionesses in Stander's article even have a form of altruism and a (purely action-based, "in practice" rather than in consciousness) sense of justice, for it's clear that the "ends" perform the actual kill more often than the attacking "centers", yet there must be some form of recognition that the centres are indispensable to denouement or they would not be allowed to eat.
What's really lacking, it seems to me, is the imaginative and symbolic codification of that principle of cooperation between wings and centres as an explicit law, the "rules" of the division of labor. Of course, it's true that the codification would mean nothing without the actual practice that underlies it. It's true that language per se, without the actual social organization that it codifies, is not a demiurge of thinking. But it is equally true that social organization without its explicit, declarative codification is leonine, and not specifically human.
In our discussion of Rey's article I was a little uncharitable about subjectivism. It seems to me now that subjectivist arguments about the role of imagination and creativity do in fact explain what is missing: it's the imaginative reconstruction of the subjectivity of the other and the creation of utterances that explicitly articulate that subjectivity that divides human speech from leonine "activity".
The problem with the subjectivist argument is not the importance given to imagination and creativity. It's that the definition of imagination and creativity is too narrow (hence Professor Rey considers that the middle period, the period of "Tool and Sign", is not at all concerned with either!). This is a little like people who insist that children are far more "creative" and "imaginative" than even the most gifted adult artists: the Tolstoyan argument that no Picasso is as creative or imaginative as a young child.
Of course, the creative leap that the child makes in imagining the subjectivity of the other is enormous; as Piaget points out, it is far greater than the puny imaginative leap managed by Copernicus and Galilei, and it is performed with far fewer resources. But there's the rub: imagination and creativity require resources, and the child has far fewer eperiential resources (and far less mastery of the tools that might compensate for this poverty) at his disposal.
Ribot says somewhere that if France truly wanted to erect statues to its great inventors and artists it would put up a statue of a child in the garden of every Hotel de Ville. But France is France: what is really honored in the jardin de l'hotel de ville is not the inventor, but the wealth and power of the invention. It goes without saying that power has to be rooted in collaborative activity. But it also goes without saying that specifically human collaborative activity does not go without saying.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
--- On Sat, 9/17/11, Ivan Rosero <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Ivan Rosero <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky, Leontiev and Luria
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Saturday, September 17, 2011, 3:22 PM
I find it productive to sequence your email backwards. I ended mine by
asking "whether 'development' and a statement like 'the principle which
explains' can ever be made to be happy with each other --'in principle' so
to speak?". To which I take the last paragraph in your email to be the
"So it seems to me that Vygotsky and Luria are arguing that the previous
view, according to which perception and motor phenomena cannot be teased
apart, applies ONLY to one kind of perception, viz. the elementary,
“natural” and not the higher, sociogenetic function. The laws that govern
this higher form of perception are completely different, and that difference
is really not dependent on the purpose of our analysis at all: it is
perfectly objective, and can be verified both through artificial and natural
experiments, as well as by the very persistence of life on earth and the
proliferation of its historico-cultural forms."
Which is a Yes, because the principle which explains human development in
its higher sociogenetic function captures the fact of sign as organizing
tool of the "societal" as opposed to merely the social
And the sociogenesis of the sign really does fit the bill (though not for
> Leontiev, who cannot accept that it is not simply tools and aims and
> motives, but signs that create the social organizations that define activity
> as human labor).
Differently from animals, for whom
> there is a “primary unity” between perception and motor action, and that
> perception SEPARATE and even SEPARABLE from action "only" exists in the
> analysis of the psychologist
humans can study the function of sign-tools in other humans (as in
Morozova's and Head's experiments) precisely because the primary unity of
perception and motor action ceases to exist (or at least is not the
governing phenomenon) in humans as far as the societal is concerned. This
can be seen positively in the psychic energy "dam" function of ad-hoc
narrative sense making that kids engage in when asked to relate two
difficult-to-relate things, and negatively, in the lack of such narrative
sense in aphasics who cannot "tell themselves a story" in which hitting a
ball as a second, and not a primary, consequence, can exist. Either way, we
It’s not clear why the “functional dam” is so dependent on the immediate
> presence of speech or why it can’t be built up from other forms of symbolic
> representation, but here too you can see that what was supposedly merely an
> artifact of analysis turns out to be much more factual.
And this fact-icity resists my "it depends what kind of explanation you're
after" observation, because the sociogenesis of sign as organizing tool and
its societal function are there there:
> The objective significance of these distinctions [between the merely
> epiphenomenal and the genuinely objective] really does not rest in the
> purpose of our description; it is genuinely objective, in that it touches
> fundamental issues like the survival of the species rather than ephemeral
> issues having to do with the particulars of the way we discover phenomena.
Which is pretty categorical.
But I like Lions, and had them in mind in asking my question. Attached is
an article that I find interesting because it suggests that lion hunting
does elicit a separation of motor action from perception in animals, and, to
my mind, a kind of "feline narrative" about how actions now might best be
organized to get to something more than a few steps removed in the future.
This is not by way of disagreement, but only to wonder about the genuinely
objective and the merely epiphenomenal in regards to development.
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