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[xmca] Units as Objective Divisions

I just read this, the ninth paragraph of the third chapter of Vygotsky's 1931 manuscript, "The History of the Development of the Higher Psychological Functions". 
Нам представляется необходимым рассмотреть несколько ближе новую форму психологического анализа, дальнейшим развитием которой и является применяемый нами способ исследования. Басов выделяет реальные, объективные элементы, из которых состоит данный процесс, и уже затем дифференцирует их. Он представляет себе эти явления самобытными, имеющими самостоятельное существование, но он ищет их составляющие части, с тем, однако, чтобы каждая из частей сохранила свойства целого. Так, при анализе воды молекула Н2О будет объективно
 реальным элементом воды, хотя и бесконечно малым по величине, но гомогенным по составу. Поэтому частицы воды должны, согласно этому расчленению, считаться существенными элементами рассматриваемого образования.
(It seems necessary for us to look a little more closely at this new form of psychological analysis, a further development of which is the method we have used in our own study. Basov identifies real, objective elements that make up this process and only then differentiates them. He sees these phenomena as distinct, having an independent existence, but he is looking for their components, however, only in so far as each part retains the properties of the whole. Thus in the analysis of water, the molecule H2O is an objectively real element of water, infinitely small in magnitude but homogeneous in composition. Therefore the particles of water must, according to this disarticulation, be considered essential elements of the formation in question.)  
Here Vygotsky introduces the “analysis into units” idea that he would later develop in Chapter One of Thinking and Speech. So Minick (and also David Kellogg 2010) are wrong when they insist that this idea belongs to late Vygotsky (after 1932).
However, there are some important differences.
1.     In his later work, Vygotsky distinguishes between ‘units’ and ‘elements’. He makes no such distinction here: the Russian word he uses is элементы ‘elements’.
2.     In his later work, Vygotsky distinguishes between ‘analysis’ and ‘generalization’. He explicitly denies that the molecule as such is a unit of analysis; it is merely a unit of generalization, belonging to all forms of water equally regardless of the specific properties of the water (solid, liquid) or the specific tasks of the analyst (explaining the extinction of fire). He makes no such distinction here 
3.     He stipulates that this unit is homogeneous in composition. This seems to preclude development, at least it precludes development in the unit of analysis. But word meaning is a unit of analysis for the phenomenon of verbal thinking, and word meaning certainly is not diachronically or even synchronically homogeneous in composition. 
Now, what does Vygotsky intend by “objectively real element”? He means that it has to exist by itself in some form; it is not simply created by the process of analysis itself. For example, a quantity of water in a laboratory is really created by the process of gathering water itself. But the molecule is an objective unit, that exists independently of how we measure water.
Similarly, the sentence unit cannot actually be discerned unless you know the grammar of a language, but the turn, the stretch of language produced between two changes of speaker in a conversation, is an objectively real unit, which you can discern even without knowing the language in question. The turn is an objectively real unit in a way that a sentence is not.
It seems to me that this is really the crucial distinction that underlies all the other distinctions: late Vygotsky accepts that there really are no such 'objectively real' units that are independent of the task of the analyst. The molecule, for example, is an element and not a unit for most of the practical work that man has to do with water. Similarly, the turn is objectively real but so general that it lacks a lot of explanatory power in my own work. 
But apparently Basov did believe in the unit as an absolutely objective, self-similar and self-identical, universal unit and he even based the whole idea of 'activity' thereupon.
David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
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