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[Xmca-l] Re: CHAT Discourse


This is an interesting question for me, in part because I've tried to apply some theory to practice in a non-educational environment, and not particularly successfully, in part because it sounded like abstract philosophy to my interlocutors.  

I'd be interested in hearing what people here, who know these things more deeply than I do, think of what I see as a thread of continuity, leading from the interaction between Russian psychologists and German psychologists in the 1920s and early 1930s, to Lewin and Action Research, with its strong emphasis on human freedom, and from there to Deming, Juran, and the Total Quality (TQ) movement. The TQ instrumental method of management combines a certain degree of what looks a lot like sociocultural ideas to me, mixed in with the instrumental technology of statistical measurement. In some sense, though the idea of human development and freedom is significantly diminished, I think the TQ movement is at least a--what should one say--adopted orphan child, perhaps; a lost child borne of a social science movement greatly troubled by premature deaths and adverse sociopolitical situations, but a sturdy child adopted by Capitalism because it produces statistically
 measurable results of greater worker satisfaction and productivity. This is most famous in its industrial applications, but also is there in more professional applications, as I think Engestrom has been trying to show. If there is a thread there, then how could that thread be built upon and expanded? 

TQ is not what you would want, I am sure; but to make more of an applied science of CHAT research, I would think that giving a thought or two about how TQ has moved into the canon of business practice might be valuable, as well as pointing out similarities and continuities of known successful practice. From my standpoint as at least a semi-failed bricoleur of applied practice, speaking too much of innovation, philosophy and conceptual models is counterproductive in the conference rooms where schedules, measurement, and ostentatious pragmatism are worshiped. I don't think it's an accident that CHAT has its strongest cases of application in the educational field, where an affinity to theory inherent in the field makes applying theory to practice a much easier case to make. In the instrumental world of business management, which is where applications of theory might be most powerful, you have to speak in dialogue with fiduciary duty. 

To make an applied science out of philosophy, you need to have experiments, with controls; this is something that Lewin does beautifully in his Action Research work, and there is a good deal more than pragmatic utilitarianism in that early Action Research work as well. I wonder if a little organizational and institutional barriers might be broken down to reclaim a portion of that lost legacy for CHAT, and to see what tools of practice might be applied. And what experiments might be done to make the case that this is not just academic woolgathering, but vital, serious, and powerfully productive practice? 

I just have questions and no answers, and now I'll go away and wonder to myself...


 From: Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu> 
Sent: Tuesday, September 16, 2014 10:37 PM
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: CHAT Discourse

I am sure that in this long thread, *someone* must have already said 
that philosophy (i.e., critique of concepts) and psychology (critique of 
data) both stimulate and challenge one another. Two independent 
processes which interact with one another, surely? Some currents of 
psychology remain content with the concepts of common sense and focus on 
observation, others are eternally dissatisfied with the concepts they 
use. But essentially it's the same process.

What has driven me along the road to developing my approach to Activity 
Theory are both the (to me) obvious degradation of  Vygotsky's concepts 
in the move to Activity Theory, *and* pressing problems like two halves 
of the country which seem to believe in mutually exclusive sets of  
facts about the world, like the fact that so many well-educated people 
believe the world was created 10,000 years ago by a Christian God, why 
countries which were well on the way to modernity 50 years ago have now 
confined their womenfolk indoors and behind veils, why priests abuse the 
children in their care and are protected by the hierarchy, why asbestos 
workers would not believe that the stuff was killing them even when half 
the town was dying of it, etc. - These kinds of situation are *data* for 
social theorists and it seemed to me that Vygotsky's ideas were the best 
thing going, but they had not been satisfactorily developed by Activity 
Theorists for social theory. The facts I am concerned with are pretty 
well, if not universally, recognised, but probably half the world has 
noticed. The problem is mainly the *concepts*. Some successful projects 
which have changed minds on a mass scale are the only way of getting 
more data, but even then the situation is not qualitatively different 
because the kind of projects I am interested in are real, not isolated 
in a laboratory, so as much open to contested interpretation as any of 
the facts I mentioned above and are not the kind of thing one 
experiments with.

*Andy Blunden*

mike cole wrote:
> If others agree, Andy, then it provides a context within which to make 
> judgments about the kind of enterprise CHAT has become, in its various
> instantations, which are certainly multiple!
> On the other hand, maybe I am just being dull, the problems have been 
> solved. 
> mike
> On Tue, Sep 16, 2014 at 9:14 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net 
> <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
>     I think Vygotsky spoke optimistically about resolving the crisis
>     in Psychology because he was writing in the wake of the successful
>     Russian Revolution. Alas it was not to be so. But as a Marxist he
>     would know that without the resolution of the crisis of humanity
>     there could be no resolution in the crisis of any of the special
>     sciences. Which is all the more reason to tackle the disciplinary
>     boundaries inhibiting the development of both psychology and
>     social theory.
>     Andy
>     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>     *Andy Blunden*
>    http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
>     <http://home.pacific.net.au/%7Eandy/>
>     mike cole wrote:
>         ​Complicated discussion about CHAT and whether its a science
>         or not.
>         One thing to keep in mind, perhaps:  Vygotsky said he was
>         seeking  to
>         resolve the crisis in psychology as he diagnosed it a century
>         ago. In my
>         view, he did not resolve it. I made the argument at the end of
>         Cultural
>         Psychology and can post a draft of the chapter here if it
>         needs rehearsing.
>         I believe, to the extent that it can be solved, it requires
>         one to take
>         seriously the fusion of theory and practice. Seems like
>         Vygotsky said
>         something along these same lines, too, about practice being
>         the crucible of
>         theory.
>         The question of what can be learned from an analysis of
>         projects such as
>         those present in Andy's collection seems an important one. I
>         am biased. I
>         would hate to think that i learned nothing from the past 30+
>         years of
>         involvement in the 5th Dimension!
>         mike
>          ​