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[Xmca-l] Re: units of analysis?

Martin and others,

What Martin wrote here reminds me of important work by Nim Tottenham (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/psychology/fac-bios/TottenhamN/faculty.html).  Unfortunately, I saw a presentation and have not read her work so I cannot include a reference here.  Nim has studied the development of the amygdala and it's role in processing early emotional experiences and trauma.  Her work shows that anatomically, the amygdala of children who were exposed to trauma/deprivation very early in life is larger than other children who have not experienced trauma/deprivation.  What I remember from the presentation was that the strength of the amygdala before the development of the prefrontal cortex with increasing capacity for the regulation of the amygdala meant that children had a very hard time learning to regulate the amygdala - it is as though they have to develop together or one overpowers the other.  Here is a very physical representation of the connection between the emotion and the cognition.  She referred to the amygdala not as the "threat detector" as is common, but as the "relevance detector" but in an emotional sense.  Not exactly perezhevanie, but NOT cognitive or processed in the same way.  What you called "detachment" could be increased capacity to "override" the amygdala's functioning with pre-frontal cortex capacity - a biological component of what LSV saw as higher mental functions, perhaps.

OK - back to report preparation and writing for me...

All these interesting posts are such seductive distraction...

On Oct 13, 2014, at 5:21 AM, Martin John Packer <mpacker@uniandes.edu.co<mailto:mpacker@uniandes.edu.co>> wrote:

Just thinking out loud here!!!!, but could the dialectic involving
perezhivanie be an internal one between the affective-cognitive connection?

It seems to me that when LSV contrasts the consequence of their mother's drinking for the three children, he is precisely sketching the dynamic development of perezhivanie.

In the youngest child, cognition is not yet differentiated from emotion, in fact emotion *is* the child's way of understanding and interpreting the circumstances. Completely dependent on the mother for all needs, the child is overcome by the enormity of what is happening. His reaction is one of extreme emotion - terror - and somatization - he urinates involuntarily and stammers. He loses control of his own body.

LSV writes that the youngest child is "simply overwhelmed by the horror of what is happening to him. As a result, he develops attacks of terror, enuresis and he develops a stammer, sometimes being unable to speak at all as he loses his voice. In other words, the child’s reaction amounts to a state of complete depression and helplessness in the face of this situation."

The second child illustrates perezhivanie that is more developed. The contradiction of the situation becomes an "inner" conflict - an alternation between, and combination of, a positive and a negative emotion towards the mother. Each of these attitudes is more organized than the breakdown seen in the youngest child. Each attitude is still primarily emotional, but it is an organized and focused emotion, not a somatic collapse. The child's love and fear is each a coherent way of grasping the situation, directed towards the mother who is understood first as good, and then as bad. It is, however, the combination, the coexistence, of these two emotions that is so difficult for the child. He is trapped in a dilemma of approach-avoidance. The contradiction in the situation - again, dependence on the mother; her failure to meet her children's needs - becomes a personal conflict for the child, who cannot yet reconcile it. His cognition alternates between two different and incompatible ways of interpreting his mother - she is a mother; no, she is a witch. His cognition is more capable than that of his younger brother, but it is still secondary to his emotion.

LSV writes that "The second child is developing an extremely agonizing condition, what is called a state of inner conflict, which is a condition frequently found in certain cases when contrasting emotional attitudes towards the mother make their appearance, examples of which we have previously been able to observe among one of our children and which, you may remember, we have called an ambivalent attitude. On the one hand, from the child’s point of view, the mother is an object of painful attachment, and on the other, she represents a source of all kinds of terrors and terrible emotional experiences [perezhivanija] for the child. The German authors call this kind of emotional complex which the child is experiencing a Mutter-Hexekomplex, or ‘a mother-witch complex’, when love for the mother and terror of the witch coexist.

"The second child was brought to us with this kind of deeply pronounced conflict and a sharply colliding internal contradiction expressed in a simultaneously positive and negative attitude towards the mother, a terrible attachment to her and an equally terrible hate for her, combined with terribly contradictory behaviour. He asked to be sent home immediately, but expressed terror when the subject of his going home was brought up."

In contrast, the oldest child is able to view the situation with more detachment, because he is less dependent. His emotion of one of pity: of sorrow and compassion, not of love and fear. Sorrow and compassion can coexist; they do not contradict one another. He views his mother not as a bad person, a witch, but as a sick person, someone who is ill, or weak. She acts badly, but this does not mean that she is a bad person. This, then, means that he knows what to do: he has "a special role," with a "duty" to take care of both his mother and his younger sibling.

Here, emotion has become subordinated to cognition. The oldest child has a single, coherent way of interpreting his mother - she is ill. His emotions follow from that cognition, rather than the other way round.

LSV writes that the oldest child "understood that their mother was ill and he pitied her.... And he had a special role. He must calm his mother down, make certain that she is prevented from harming the little ones and comfort them. Quite simply, he has become the senior member of the family, the only one whose duty it was to look after everyone else".

In short, LV illustrates the relationship between emotion and cognition in each of these three children, and so shows how that relationship changes with age.


The youngest child is probably a toddler, the second a preschooler, and the oldest a school-aged child.
On Oct 13, 2014, at 6:41 AM, Robyn Babaeff <robyn.babaeff@monash.edu<mailto:robyn.babaeff@monash.edu>> wrote:

Just thinking out loud here!!!!, but could the dialectic involving
perezhivanie be an internal one between the affective-cognitive connection?
As social mediation occurs cognitive conceptualising moves into a different
realm, but perhaps does not sync with the internal affective position of
the moment in time.  This could also occur vice-versa where there is
emotive movement but the thinking is opposing the feeling. Then as the
cognitive-affective sync - the overall transformation occurs from the
internal crisis of disconnected affective-cognitive.  As the connectedness
takes place the growth/change develops???? And in turn
motive/action/subjective situating is in transforming motion.

On 13 October 2014 22:12, Rod Parker-Rees <R.Parker-Rees@plymouth.ac.uk<mailto:R.Parker-Rees@plymouth.ac.uk>>

Which is  a useful reminder that the same is true of any and every word,
but to differing degrees. We may feel that we are all operating with the
same meaning (znachenie) when we use a word in a context like this
discussion but each of us 'means' something different by it because we each
have our own  sense (smysl) of its significance (which includes our
awareness of how it is fought over, what sort of people can be expected to
use it more or less as we do,  how it may annoy or mislead some people,
etc.). To say we speak the 'same' language can only ever be an
approximation. As I see it, this is why meaning must be negotiated in
discussion rather than asserted by proclamation - we get closer to
understanding how a particular person uses particular words when we get to
know that person as a person and that involves much more than just batting
words to and fro!

From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu<mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> [xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu<mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu>]
on behalf of Patrick Jaki [patrick.jaki@gmail.com<mailto:patrick.jaki@gmail.com>]
Sent: 13 October 2014 12:00
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: units of analysis?

Does perezhivanie have a direct equivalent translation in English?  Is this
not part of the problem that a word in its original language, in this case
Russian, cannot be translated directly into other languages, which adds
onto our problem of making sense and meaning of it.

On 13 October 2014 10:57, Martin John Packer <mpacker@uniandes.edu.co<mailto:mpacker@uniandes.edu.co>>


I agree that it's an example and illustration that cannot capture

But I think you've got the chemistry wrong! If I remember my college
chemistry correctly, H2O isn't a combination of H+ and OH-, because that
would imply an asymmetry that does not in fact exist. Oxygen is strongly
electronegative, meaning it draws electrons from the hydrogen atoms,
leading to a bond between an O+ ion and two H- ions.  This has the
consequence that the water molecule a dipole, which leads to hydrogen
bonding between water molecules, the result of which is that water is a
liquid at room temperature while other hydrides formed from elements that
are close to oxygen in the periodic table are gases.

So, yes, there are tensions and contradictions in the *formation* of
water. My point was that once formed, there are no contradictions driving
further development. That's not entirely true; water does partially
dissociate, into H3O+ and OH-. This means that a body of water is
in constant change, creating and breaking hydrogen bonds, and
and reassociating. A dynamic stasis, if you like. But it doesn't develop


On Oct 12, 2014, at 11:51 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net<mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:

Martin, I think it is nothing more than the limitations of a metaphor -
it can only illustrate one aspect of the target. In this case it is
saying that a quantity of water is just thousands H2O molecules, and
nothing else. No addition is required to manifest all the properties of

You would have to be a chemist to know the forces that bind the H and
together and how they can be separated, H containing a positive charge
OH containing a negative charge - a good old positive/negative
contradiction. All chemicals with the H ion are acids and all chemicals
with the OH ion are alkali, but water is both acid and base and therefore
neither. *If you want* the water molecule is a tangle of contradictions
transformations, along with Carbon, the foundation of the chemistry of
life. :)

*Andy Blunden*

Martin John Packer wrote:
Good question, Mike!  What you're pointing out is that LSV's own
example doesn't quite do justice to his analysis in T&L.  Water is not a
dynamic system: once hydrogen bonds with oxygen the process stops: water
a stable molecule. He should have picked an example in which an internal
tension or clash of some kind provides a continual motor for change.

In somewhat the same way, I'm trying to figure out how a triangle is
dynamic. It's one of the most stable geometric shapes.  :)

On Oct 12, 2014, at 10:26 PM, mike cole <mcole@ucsd.edu<mailto:mcole@ucsd.edu>> wrote:

Martin. What is the contradiction between hydrogen and oxygen such
that two
atoms of hydrogen combined with one atom of oxygen give rise to water
its distinctive qualities? Knowing that should help people to rise to
concrete for their own cases.

On Sun, Oct 12, 2014 at 6:43 PM, Martin John Packer <

   Well, if it works for you, Helena..!  :)

Clearly Yrjo does claim that the triangle represents a dynamic
contradictions. I'm still reading the chapter that Mike linked to,
and I
already some questions. But I'll wait until I read it all before


On Oct 12, 2014, at 6:10 PM, Helena Worthen <

On the contrary.

To me, that very affordance is one of the great things about

theory and the activity system as a unit of analysis. A very simple
is that if you change something in the norms/customs/laws/history
corner of
the triangle (like win a court case that gives you a stronger
bargaining), then your tools also change. Another: if by bringing
members into the community (the base of the triangle) out of which
of labor raises the subjects, you may find yourself with a
that is not all white, or not all primarily English-speaking, which
in turn
will change what tools/resources you have and may, if you're lucky
quick, change your history.

Helena Worthen

On Oct 12, 2014, at 2:54 PM, Martin John Packer wrote:

And what's neat about this way of thinking is that it implies

once one understands the relationships among the components, one can
about changes in one component in the totality by acting on
component of the totality.

The activity system triangle does not suggest to me this type of

relationship among components. Instead, it seems to represent
elements that
are only accidentally brought together.


On Oct 12, 2014, at 2:43 PM, Martin John Packer <

mpacker@uniandes.edu.co<mailto:mpacker@uniandes.edu.co>> wrote:

Seems to me the problem in many research projects is that the

is not formulated in an appropriate way. LSV was exploring a method
analysis that seeks to understand the relationship among components
in a
complex totality. Not the causal influence of one factor on another,
is often how students frame their research interest. And this means
the unit of analysis has to represent, exemplify, this relationship.


On Oct 12, 2014, at 1:31 PM, Helena Worthen <


As someone who uses the concept of "unit of analysis" in a very

down-to-earth, quick and dirty, applied way to shape collective
to a crisis in a labor and employment relationships (like, when a
changes creates difficulties for workers), I would agree with Andy:

The other thing is that discovering a unit of analysis is an

*insight*. It

is not something that can be achieved by following a template,
it is


breakthrough in your research into some problem, the leap. It

usually comes

*after* you've collected all the data for your research using


unit of analysis.

First comes the story, the details, the experiences. The

lying behind the telling of the stories is, "What are we going to
do?" The
unit of analysis gets defined by the purpose we are trying to
Are we trying to get the employer to back off temporarily? Are we
get the rule changed? Example:  In a big hospital system in Chicago,
clerical workers were no longer allowed to leave an "I'm going to be
to work today" or "I have to stay home with my sick kid today and
will miss
work" message on the answering machines of their supervisors. We're
about a workforce with hundreds of employees, most of them middle
minority women -- with grandchildren and extended families to be
responsible for.  Not being allowed to leave a message on a machine,
being required to actually speak to a supervisor in person who would
keep a record of the call, was a problem because supervisors were
away from their desks and the whole phone system was unreliable.
Also, a
lot of workers didn't have cell phones at the time this was
(2004) and pay phones are few and far between, so if someone it out
more asthma inhalers for a grandkid, making a phone call is not

So, exactly what is the purpose that we're trying to accomplish,

here?  To repeal the rule? To fix the phone system?  To educate
members of
the union and other others about how to respond collectively to
that only affects some of them? To make a profound change in society
that middle-aged women are not the primary caretakers of an extended
family?  Pick one. Once you've picked one (hopefully, one that you
carry out) you can define the unit of analysis and then reviewing
Engestrom triangle and evaluating your strategy becomes, as Andy
says,  a
matter of solving puzzles.

From the employer point of view, asking workers to actually
speak to

a live supervisor makes a certain sense. That's why we talk about
system(s), not just one activity system. But they are often in
with each other, which adds to the drama.

Is the data in your study being gathered with some purpose in

Is the purpose the purpose of the children, the purpose of the
the purpose of the PhdD program?  To me, what would be most
would be a comparison between the unit of analysis (purposes of
and unit of analysis (purpose of classroom). I'll bet they're not


Helena Worthen

On Oct 12, 2014, at 10:20 AM, Katerina Plakitsi wrote:

This problem of the ' unit of analysis' is my concern too. I


three PHD students on Science Education in a CHAT context. Two

them on

early childhood science education and one on primary science.


collected log files, children discourses consisted of
scientific justifications, accepted rules, and forms of


They have collected children narratives, and drawings. When

decided to

analyze their data they follow different paths into CHAT


modeling them using Engestrom's triangle. They still doubt

" unit

of analysis".

Στις Κυριακή, 12 Οκτωβρίου 2014, ο χρήστης Andy Blunden <



Katie, picking up on your concern about units of analysis, it

one of

the points I mentioned in my "report" from ISCAR, that this


almost lost to us. A phrase I heard a lot, and which was new

me, was

"unit to be analysed." If anyone knows the origin of this

expression, I'd

be interested in hearing. It seemed to me that what it

was a

"closed system" for analysis, that is, abandoning CHAT


keeping the word. If I am mistaken about this, please let me

The other thing is that discovering a unit of analysis is an

*insight*. It

is not something that can be achieved by following a template,

is the

breakthrough in your research into some problem, the leap. It

usually comes

*after* you've collected all the data for your research using


unit of analysis. In Kuhn's terms, discovery of the unit is
paradigm, after which it is just a matter of solving puzzles.
So for
graduate students to use the concept of unit in their


depends on the wisdom of teh direction they get from their

supervisor. I

don't know how many PhD students I've met who have got to this

point in

their thesis and discover that the data they have is not the

they now

know they need.



*Andy Blunden*

Katherine Wester Neal wrote:

I like Holli's plan to commit some time to reading the two

articles. But,

as usual, I don't know that I'll have much to contribute in


usually get deep in thinking about the posts and don't follow


to write something. The writing is much harder, and I am


trying to keep up with reading!

For me, the thread has been fascinating, probably because I'm


in different units of analysis, what they might be used for,

how they

fit together with theory and conducting research. What are


with units of analysis and why? Or why aren't units of

being used?

If anyone wants to write more in that direction, I'd be very

interested to

read, and I'll try to respond, although the questions might

basic as


Lastly, Andy has basically been articulating my thoughts (in

much more

eloquent way than I would) about action as a unit of


example about driving and thinking and writing, I'd add that

action is

mediated. Together with sociocultural and historical factors
influenced those actions (and which, as has been said here


often difficult to get a look at), the actions create a
picture of


more than just Mike's behavior.

Katie Wester-Neal
University of Georgia

Katerina Plakitsi
Associate Professor of Science Education
School of Education
University of Ioannina
University Campus Dourouti 45110
tel. +302651005771
fax. +302651005842
mobile.phone +306972898463


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