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[Xmca-l] Re: how to broaden/enliven the xmca discussion
I'll do my best!
My discussion with Seth began with a presentation by Holbrook Mahn.
Holbrook began by saying that:
a) We do not "borrow" concepts made for one discipline and "apply"
them to another. Not even dialectical materialism can be "applied" to
psychology (or even sociology or economics--Marx didn't do applied
philosophy!). Holbrook then produced a number of quotations from The
Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology to show that Vygotsky
knew this, and countered with other quotations from Problems of the
Development of the Mind to show that Leontiev did not know this.
b) The term "praxis" has been thus borrowed. It doesn't refer to
practical activity: it refers to a unity of thinking and practice.
c) The term "social situation of development" has been thus borrowed;
it does not refer to a "context" but to the child's relationship to
d) The term "unit of analysis" does not refer to a God particle that
is indifferent to the problem of analysis. ygotsky did not imagine a
"unit of analysis" that fit any and all problems in psychology. Each
unit of analysis is specific to a particular problem of unity (e.g.
the problem of the unity of the child and his or her environment in
Problem of the Environment and the problem of the unity of verbal
thinking in Thinking and Speech).
e) The term "verbal thinking" is a mistranslation: Vygotsky is talking
about thinking by language, or thinking through word meanings, and not
some kind of verbalizable inner speech (which does exist, but which is
a distinct layer from thinking).
Most of this has been said before, not least by Vygotsky himself. I
know that Holbrook has been saying it at least since 2007 when I first
heard him at the American Association for Applied Linguistics in Costa
Mesa, and he develops it at some length in:
Mahn, H. (2012). Vygotsky's Analysis of Children's Meaning-Making
Processes, International Journal of Educational Psychology1(2):100-126
It's been said by others too: Mike Cole actually makes many of the
same points in discussing how the Kharkov school deviated from the
work of Vygotsk, and J.V. Wertsch is quite explicit in his revisionism
when he presents "mediated activity" as a unit of analysis in
opposition to "word meaning". But of course since a unit of analysis
must preserve in some shape or form the essential properties of the
whole, the use of "mediated activity" cannot be a unit of analysis for
the mind if we wish to retain the idea that the mind has a semantic
structure (that is, if the "whole" is structured something like a text
or a discourse rather than like driving a car, shooting a gun, or
Now, in the discussion of Holbrook's presentation, this wild-haired
guy who looked a little like Itzhak Perlman rose to argue that
Leontiev's interpretation was really one fair interpretation, and that
it really was addressed towards a specific problem, which is how to
prevent dualism from arising (that is, how to explain how word meaning
could arise historically). He also said that Holbrook was juxtaposing
quotations out of context: the quotes that showed Vygotsky arguing
against a "Marxist psychology" were directed against a very specific
group of vulgar Marxists (e.g. Zalkind) and that is why Vygotsky uses
scare quotes around "Marxist".
I then muddied the waters, first by addressing the wild-haired guy
instead of Holbrook (a major breach of protocol) and then by arguing
that speech really is sui generis, because it is a form of "activity"
(if we must call it that) whose conditions of comprehension are no
longer recoverable from the activity itself (and so the unit of
analysis for verbal thinking cannot be sought in activity). There
wasn't enough time to really develop what I wanted to say, so I went
over to continue the discussion, and it turned out that the wild
haired guy was none other than Seth Chaiklin, who is, we all know, one
of the foremost paleo-Vygotskyans when it comes to the much
misinterpreted concept of the ZPD.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
PS: Holbrook DID get one thing wrong. Stalin did not argue that
language was purely ideal and superstructural; that was Marr's
position. Stalin, or whoever ghost wrote his articles, argued that
language was base, and therefore somehow material, whatever that
means. But Stalin was not really interested in ideas; he was just out
for Marr's blood.
On 6 October 2014 22:21, mike cole <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> Hi David--
> The specific example of your comments on originals and adaptations hits on
> a point it would be helpful to hear more about:
> You wrote:
> 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).
> 1. Could you guide us to a text you recommend where this interpretation
> is laid out?
> 2. What sort of revision was Seth suggesting and why?
> I have been reading Russian discussions around this issue. Clarification
> would be helpful.
> On Sun, Oct 5, 2014 at 12:37 AM, David Kellogg <email@example.com> 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.
>> On 5 October 2014 13:38, Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>> > I found Kaptelinin's article in MCA invaluable, Mike. Bonnie Nardi I had
>> > great pleasure of meeting for the first time at ISCAR, and if she has
>> > written something on "object" that is very good news.
>> > I don't think the problem is intractable, though I don't think one good
>> > or one good article is enough. But for example, for a long while I have
>> > jumping up and down about how people use the word "perezhivanie" without
>> > article (the, a, an some, etc) implying it is some kind of "substance"
>> > whereas in Russian it is a count noun. While there remains outstanding
>> > differences about what perezhivanie means, I notice that almost all bar
>> > now use it with an article. So, however that happened that is a step
>> > forward, and people are aware of the differences in interpretation and
>> > are being discussed. I think if we talk about "object" for a while, maybe
>> > this can be straightened out. I know the task of conceptual consistency
>> > our research community seems to be a hopeless task, but I am optimistic.
>> > Andy
>> > ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> > *Andy Blunden*
>> > http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
>> > mike cole wrote:
>> >> Those certainly seem like lively topics, Andy.
>> >> I had in mind specifically topics that are on peoples' minds that go U
>> >> discussed. I hope that the time spent at ISCAR produces a shower of
>> >> interesting ideas. Isn't that the object of such gatherings? (Whatever
>> >> object means!). :-). The Nardi and Kaptelinin chapter on basics of AT
>> >> one good source, but it seems the problem is intractable!
>> >> Mike
>> >> On Saturday, October 4, 2014, Andy Blunden <email@example.com
>> >> <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>> wrote:
>> >> I don't know, but it's hardly surprising if things were a little
>> >> slow this last week as a lot of xmca-ers are also iscar-ers and we
>> >> were all chatting like crazy in Sydney at the ISCAR Congress.
>> >> Everyone (and I mean everyone, including every passenger on a
>> >> Sydney suburban train as well) has their iPhones and tablets etc.,
>> >> so they could read/write on xmca, but I guess they were
>> >> oversupplied with correspondents and protagonists.
>> >> My impressions of CHAT research:
>> >> On the positive side: very diverse, and at its best, sharp and
>> >> critical in relation to the dominant political forces, and still
>> >> way out in front in understanding the several developmental
>> >> processes which all contribute to our actions (phylogenesis,
>> >> historical genesis, mesogenesis, ontogenesis, microgenesis), and
>> >> not focussing on just one. And I have to say it is a great
>> >> community of research, relatively lacking in the competitiveness
>> >> and jealousy which infects most research communities.
>> >> On the negative side:
>> >> * Most CHAT people still have a concept of "society" as some
>> >> homogeneous, abstract entity which introduces problems into the
>> >> social situation on which they try to focus, i.e., people lack
>> >> viable social theory or the ability to use theory they have to
>> >> analyse the wider social situation in a differentiated way.
>> >> * The idea of "unit of analysis" is almost lost to us. Only a
>> >> minority know what it means and use the idea in their research.
>> >> * The concept of "object" is at the centre of a lot of confusion;
>> >> few researchers using the concept are clear on what the concept
>> >> is. This is related to an unwillingness to confront and
>> >> attempt to
>> >> resolve the methodological differences (I refer to systematic
>> >> difference, rather than accidental misunderstandings) within
>> >> CHAT community; perhaps it's fear of losing the relatively
>> >> relations between researchers - people prefer to let
>> >> just fester without openly discussing them. The old Soviet
>> >> approach is gone, but perhaps we have gone too far the other
>> >> way. :)
>> >> Andy
>> >> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> >> *Andy Blunden*
>> >> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
>> >> <http://home.pacific.net.au/%7Eandy/>
>> >> mike cole wrote:
>> >> Hi-- I assume you grabbed it from my erroneous response to
>> >> someone who
>> >> wrote backto xmca instead of me.
>> >> Had dinner with tim ingold yesterday evening. Such an
>> >> interesting and
>> >> unassuming guy.
>> >> Any ideas about how to broaden/enliven the xmca discussion??
>> >> mike
>> >> --
>> >> It is the dilemma of psychology to deal with a natural science with an
>> >> object that creates history. Ernst Boesch.
> It is the dilemma of psychology to deal with a natural science with an
> object that creates history. Ernst Boesch.