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[Xmca-l] Re: how to broaden/enliven the xmca discussion

Well David, I agree that we should not "fall into the trap of using the same term for the explanandum and the explanans" but I also like Goethe's words: "German frequently and fittingly makes use of the word "Bildung" to describe the end product and what is in the process of production as well."

*Andy Blunden*

David Kellogg wrote:

Yes, I was hoping to talk about this in connection with YOUR
presentation on collaborative projects, but time, as you remember,
didn't really allow us to do this.

I take heaps, complexes, and pseudoconcepts to be the precise forms
that word meaning takes as it develops in the experimental subjects of
Chapter Five. I take it that we can generalize these results to the
actual word meanings that children use outside the laboratory too, but
that they remain forms of word meaning and better understood as modes
of semantic abstraction and generalization than as operations,
actions, and activities. It seems to me that replacing the one with
the other results eventually in abandoning what for me is the key
insight of Vygotsky's later years, the insight that the structure of
the mind is not behavioral or biological but rather semantic; the mind
is structured like a text, or like a dialogue.

Consider the long nominal group produced by Halliday's three year old child:

"Look at those two splendid old electric trains with pantographs!" (p.
364 of Halliday's Introduction to Functional Grammar, M.A.K. Halliday
and C.M.I.M. Matthiessen, London: Routledge, 2014).

So in Chapter Five itself, Vygotsky calls them "functional equivalents
of the concept". That is, they are the form of abstraction and
generalization that the child uses when the adult would use a concept.
That's why I take the heaps to be realized by Deictics like "this" and
"that" and "these" and 'those" and "there" and "then" and even (to a
very limited extent, because of the visiographic limitation of the
heap) "thus". I take the complexes to be realized, at least when the
child is the stage in which affective perception becomes internally
differentiated (i.e. early childhood, roughly age one to three years
old) by Epithets like "good", "bad", color words, size words, etc. Of
course, referring is an act of speech, and an act of speech can
realize an act of thinking in different ways, so complexes can ALSO be
realized by Deictics, and even by words that adults take to be
concepts (e.g. Classifiers, and Things), which is how the
pseudoconcept arises. But I don't see that either the act of meaning
or the act of speech is usefully described, in the context of Chapter
Five, as activity; that was what Ach and Reumeuth were doing when they
used the original "Suchmethode" (because "choosing" is an activity),
and that was why they considered the main explanatory principle at
work to be the "determining tendency" (very similar to Leontiev's
"motive"!). So Vygotsky doesn't use the term activity to describe the
functional equivalents of concepts created by the child (he does use
the term "activity" elsewhere, but it is to describe behavior).

In Chapter Six things change a little, and reconciling the two
chapters is an unfinished project by our late colleague Paula Towsey.
First of all, Vygotsky recognizes that basing concept formation too
narrowly on the blocks results in preconcepts (the term he uses) that
are too much like Things and not enough like processes. Secondly,
Vygotsky recognizes that there are not five forms of complex but a
potentially infinite number of "lines of latitude" along each line of
semantic longitude, depending on the degree of abstraction or
generalization. And thirdly, Vygotsky recognizes that generalization
too is generalizable: children can and do create collections of
associative complexes (imaginary characters are often structured like
this), chains of collections (stories that involve teams of imaginary
characters), and even diffuse complexes of chains of collections of
associations (child drawings can often be analyzed in this way). Here
Vygotsky uses the term "pre-concept", perhaps to emphasize the
teleological aspect of the development of word meaning in dialogue
with an already developed form. I am happy to agree to call the
dialogue itself a form of activity (so long as we make it clear that
it is verbal activity, and that it is therefore a form of subject to
subject activity and not the activity of a subject wielding a tool
against an object). But if we call this dialogue activity, how can we
say that its outcome, that is, the preconcept, is also an activity
without falling into the trap of using the same term for the
explanandum and the explanans?

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

On 5 October 2014 16:49, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
So David, when you read Chapter 5 of Thinking and Speech, what do you call
those combinations of sign-mediated actions which Vygotsky describes with
words such as "complex" or "pseudoconcept" or "heap"?
*Andy Blunden*

David Kellogg wrote:
This morning I had the great pleasure of waking up in my own bed and
listening to Yo-yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Itzhak Perlman playing this:


It's the D Major Cello sonata number two by Mendelssohn, played, as
Yo-yo Ma tells us, on the Davydov (no, that THAT Davydov) Stradivarius
that was probably used to perform the sonata for the very first time
in front of Mendelssohn himself. Now, throughout this concert, Ma has
been something of a stickler for "the original", and Perelman has been
pulling politely but pointedly towards a more personal interpretation.

So at around 6:45 on the clip, Perelman tells Ma that if Mendelssohn
himself had heard the sonata played on that very cello, then he,
Perelman, was sitting in the very seat that Mendelssohn had occupied,
and that therefore his freer interpretation was really closer to
Mendelssohn than any attempt to recreate the sonata with period
instruments. Mercifully, at this point, Ax interupts them and starts
to play.

Back in Sydney, Seth Chaiklin and I found ourselves in a somewhat
similar argument, with Seth in Perelman's chair, and me clinging
rather obstinately to a paleo-Vygotskyan interpretation which actually
rejects "activity" as a unit of analysis for anything but behavior,
and most certainly as a unit of psychological analysis. Seth's
argument was pragmatist: for certain practical applications, we need
new interpretations, including revisionist ones. Mine was an argument
in favor of species diversity: when the revisionist account supplants
the original to such a degree that Vygotsky's original argument is no
longer accessible to people, we need to go back to original texts (and
this is why it is so important to make the original texts at least
recoverable--once they are gone, it is really a whole species of
thinking that has become extinct).

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

PS: Andy, what shocked me about Bonnie Nardi's plenum in Sydney was
not her use of "society" or "object": actually, I think I would have
liked it better if she had used those terms a little more imprecisely,
in their folk meanings. In fact, a little more IMPRECISION might have
made it even clearer to us the sheer horror of what she was

For those on the list who missed it, the plenary focused on a world
without jobs--that is, a world where five-day forty-hour jobs are
replaced by "micro-work". Nardi admitted that this was a rather
dystopian state of affairs--but she also showed us what she called the
"bright side": more leisure, less greenhouse gases, and also human
identities less narrowly tied to work. As one person in the conference
pointed out, and Nardi confirmed, it would also mean more time for the
spiritual side of life.

What was not pointed out was the effect of all this on the "object" of
"society", using both terms in their folk senses. The working class is
being ground down into the economic position of short term sex workers
and atomized into the social position of housewives. Inequality is now
at levels not seen since 1820. Even a cursory study of history tells
us that the result of this is not going to be individual spirituality
but rather more violence. The only "bright side" I can see is if that
force is organized, social, and directed against social equality
rather than against fellow members of the working class.