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[Xmca-l] Memorial tribute for Paula Towsey

Hello Colleagues

Here is the text which was presented at the funeral of Paula Towsey - a
force in CHAT - on 12th August 2014:

Tribute from the XMCA Community

Paula Towsey was one of us. In fact, she was one of a very few of us who
have not just read Vygotsky's major work, *Thinking and Speech, *but tried
to get inside it, to bring it back to life and remake it with living and
breathing, thinking and speaking children of our own times. None of us in
the XMCA community outside of Africa know much about her life before she
began her research. We have heard that she was a teacher, that she rejected
teaching under apartheid and spent at least part of her career in exile in
Botswana, and that somewhere along the way she must have learned lots about
music and South African wine and Milan Kundera and wildlife.

But mostly we know that she knew an awful lot about one chapter of
Vygotsky's book, the chapter which describes a series of experiments in
which children are encourage to form concepts in order to solve a puzzle.
In Vygotsky's original experiment in the Soviet Union of the 1920s, the
children used blocks of various sizes and colours. More playfully, Paula
used a set of trolls, which varied in hairiness and whether they were right
handed or left handed to extend these experiments. But Paula also went to
unbelievable lengths to recover in the most unimaginable detail all the
conditions of Vygotsky's experiment all those years ago, and to replicate
them in present-day South Africa. Even clue and every source, however
remote, was tracked down and interrogated. Her success in reproducing
Vygotsky's results in the completely different cultural and historical
conditions of present-day South Africa is of considerable importance. For a
postgraduate student to have achieved this is remarkable. And her passion
for defending and advocating for the significance of these experiments, in
the face of criticism from prominent figures in our community was
outstanding. Her article on these experiments was published in MCA in 2009,
and this paper ranks the *third highest* of any article in our journal for
the number of times it has been downloaded.

Several of us participated in the production of an on-line video, which
Paula directed, discussing these experiments. She used PowerPoint to create
a vehicle for Mike Cole and David Kellogg to explain their interpretation
of these experiments in dialogue with each other and her. Her role as
producer involved the collection of graphics and a voice over which gave
the otherwise amateur production a BBC quality which was striking. And
showing the same spirit that she had displayed in chasing down the details
of Vygotsky's experiments in Soviet Russia, a glitch which Paula came
across in combining the audio files with PowerPoint - an imperfection which
thousands before must have tolerated - she chased down and badgered
MicroSoft until they put it right.

Any of us who had the chance to visit Johannesburg will almost certainly
have enjoyed Paula's hospitality, for Paula was a compulsive hostess who
put the same attention to detail, ebullience and care into her role as
hostess as she seemed to put into every one of her endeavors.

For those of us who want to continue Paula's work on concept formation,
Paula is a hard act to follow. But she was one of us. Of course, that means
that without her we are all one fewer: our work is going to necessarily be
poorer for her passing.

Carol A  Macdonald Ph D (Edin)
Developmental psycholinguist
Academic, Researcher,  and Editor
Honorary Research Fellow: Department of Linguistics, Unisa