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Re: [xmca] Help? - Microgenesis, Microgenetic, Microgeny?

Mike, in "Tool and Symbol in Child development," Vygotsky goes on at great length and detail in distinguishing between the changes in the child's functioning associated with the use of tools (e.g. a bicycle) and the use of a sign. (and he includes learning by rote under the heading of tool- not symbol-use) I hesitate to try to summarise this discussion. But he makes a distinction between acquiring the habit of using a tool, and adopting a symbol for use in controlling one's own and others' minds. I think this is the distinction which is /underlying /his elusive distinction between learning and development.

Vygotsky's "clear-cut dualism" has to be understood in terms of its basis and the use he is making of it, i.e., to explain a conceptual distinction in understanding tendencies of developmental processes. Ultimately, a dichotomy between tool and sign, or even between tool-use and symbol-use is unsustainable, least of all in our times - one and the same keyboard can be used to control a machine or send a message to the operator. Controlling one's own body has to be counted as tool-use in some circumstances, and symbol-use in others.

Vygotsky does explicitly recognise that use of a tool modifies the mental processes and enlarges the child's sphere of activity, but he wants to focus on what he sees as *voluntary* control of the child's own behaviour, and he does not see learning to use a tool as doing that: you have learnt to ride, but you still need to be on a bicycle to do it, I suppose. It is a bit like the distinction between a "potential concept" and a "true concept." A potential concept can be acquired as a system of actions organised around a tool, but it is still only potential. Once the same activity is organised even when the tool is not present, but by means of a true, semiotic representation of the tool, then you have a "higher psychological function."

I don't think there is any easy way of representing Vygotsky's thought here in English and I suspect not in Russian either. He is not saying that there are two types of psychological activities, higher and lower; there are two types of concept, potential and true; there are two types of artefact, semiotic and material, even though this is precisely what he says on numerous occasions. He is talking about opposite tendencies and sources in *processes*, and the language doesn't offer us many means of communicating this other than saying "there are two types of ..." And because the distinctions he is making are brand new and original, he has to really hammer the distinction to the point of a "clear-cut dualism" in order to make his point, which is, in my opinion, not really about dualisms at all. I think the same goes for learning and development.

That's my take,

mike cole wrote:
Hi David-- Thanks for all the re-minding.

Why does Vygotsky reject bicycle riding (learning a phonetic alphabet to
read for meaning too?) as an example of a developmental change? It is a
qualitative change in the organization of consituent functions, it
reorganizes not only the system of psychological/psychomotor functions, it
is mediated by culture, it brings about a simultaneous change in the
person's relationship to his/her environment.

Seems to qualify. What's wrong here?

On Sun, Sep 23, 2012 at 3:16 PM, kellogg <kellogg59@hanmail.net> wrote:


The funny thing is that in Korean there is an identical expression: "halka
malka". And in Chinese the yes/no question is essentially nothing but an
elaboration of "willy-nilly".

It's hard to imagine that there is NOTHING at the basis of the
legal-juridical model of human action except contractualism, just as it's
hard to imagine that Saussurean linguistics is ONLY based on an infinite
number of curiously non-negotiable agreements about word meanings.

It seems to me that there's just a kernel of truth here. In order to
engage in any semiotic behavior at all, you have to recognize that
something is a sign. And in order to recognize that something is a sign,
you have to recognize that it was intended to stand for something else. And
in order to recognize that sometime was intended to stand for something
else, you have to recognize that there is intelligent life out there after

I guess if I were looking for a single "a-ha!" moment, a moment where one
can point to a hair and see a beard, that would be it!


"Riding a bicycle" is a perfect example of where our bicycle built for two
meets a fork in the road.

Bike riding is actually one of the activities that Vygotsky explicitly
rules out as instances of development (along with typing and playing golf).
It is an instance of learning, but not development. So I thought we ought
to reserve the term "microgenesis" for only those types of learning which
in a given social context (that of education) can be linked to the
ontogenesis of mind. And that meant, after the age of one, those types of
learning that are centrally about language.

Unfortunately, I think that unreadable book review by me in MCA is the
only written record of our conversation on whether microgenesis was a kind
of learning or learning a kind of microgenesis. It was mostly over the
telephone. I had just discovered Mescheryakov's brilliant article on
Vygotskyan terminology (in the Cambridge Companion) and I was looking, in
my usual little-boy-with-a-toy-hammer mode, for ways to over-extend it:

1) Natural functions are acquired before cultural ones, but within
cultural functions...

2) Social functions are acquired before individual ones, but within
individual functions...

3) Extramental functions are acquired before intra-mental functions, but
within intra-mental functions..

4) Spontaneous, everyday functions are acquired before nonspontaneous,
academic ones

I thought all of these could be seen as instances of a very general
principle "Outside-in!" so long as we accept "outside" as referring to
the environmental and "inside" as referring to the semiotic. It could then
be differentiated according to:

1) The phylogenetic zone of proximal devleopment (caves before houses,
hair before clothes)

2) The sociogenetic zone of proximal development (discourse before
grammar, speech before verbal thinking)

3) The ontogenetic zone of proximal development (egocentric speech beore
inner, finger counting before mental math)

4) The microgenetic zone of proximal development (in English--Germanic
vocabulary before Latinate and Greek, in Korean, pure Korean words before
those of Chinese origin)

You pointed out to me that this assumed that microgenesis was a rather
special kind of microgenesis--the kind that linked learning to ontogenetic
development. And you said, correctly, that this was not the way the term is
normally used. You then recommended that I review this book, and I did. I
also wrote an article on the subject (which was indignantly rejected by MCA
but eventually published by the Modern Language Journal).


The problem with the microgenesis book I reviewed was that I didn't really
find the discussions of exactly when a person could be said to have
perceived a dot as a man very enlightening, and I found that some of the
studies in the book were of activities that were clearly not linked to
mental development in any way (e.g. murder and suicide).

Of course, people do tend to prefer their own inventions, and I found
myself sticking to my own understanding of microgenesis, that is, that
microgenesis should really be reserved for the kind of learning that leads
to ontogenesis, just as iin Vygotsky the ontogenesis of mind is really
reserved for the kind of growth that culminates in sociogenesis or
socio-re-genesis rather than simply growth in general (and, of course,
sociogenesis should be reserved for forms of culture which increase man's
mastery of his environment as well as of that part of the environment which
is his own behavior).

Now, I know that this is the kind of selective and directed developmental
view which many people on the list reject. I have been thinking a bit about
why this is so, since it seems to be at the bottom of my inability to
integrate my own thinking with that of people to whom I otherwise feel a
very strong intellectual affinity (e.g. you and Martin). It seems to me
that, since the 2008 collapse in particular, there has been a strong
tendency amongst Western intellectuals to REVERSE the millenium old
assumption that we had about nature and nurture, according to which if
something is natural there is nothing to be done, but if something is
"socially constructed" then it can be easily deconstructed and
re-constructed. Since 2008, we have had almost the reverse prejudice: if
something is natural, it may easily be altered; our tragedy is that we
cannot seem to change our own behavior.

Needless to say, there is a great deal of truth in this insight; I think
it is one of the great insights of our time. The problem is that I seem to
be stuck in an earlier time, when the semiotic behavior of Chinese people
was very  far in advance of their ability to control the environment,
and mass literacy simply meant that large quantities of materials which
might otherwise have been usefully employed as toilet paper, could now only
be read, simply because in order to shit you have to be able to eat.

(My mother-in-law, who survived the famine, still thinks of food as the
only real private property, and then only when it has actually been eaten.)

David Kellogg

Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

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*Andy Blunden*
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts

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