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[Xmca-l] Re: In defense of Vygotsky

Annalisa, a "unit of analysis" is relative to what you are analysing. So "word meaning" is a unit of verbal thought. Every problem you tackle means discovering the appropriate unit of analysis for *that* problem.

*Andy Blunden*

Annalisa Aguilar wrote:
Granted, and I have not yet read your paper on Defense of Vygotsky, and so I will do that after I send this.

But the questions in me that rise immediately are:

1. What exactly is the critique? (filtering out the political issues, if that is germane).

2. What is "good and useful" in the Activity Theory in relation to Sociocultural Theory? They seem to have different applications. Or is this the point? Or, was this a philosophical difference of what _should be_ THE unit of analysis? Arguing over UOA (in terms of which unit to pick, not the method) seems silly, unless I suppose, one is subject to Stalin's whims.
As they say in Monty Python, "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition."

3. If the UOA is different, should that difference be controversial? The UOA depends upon what is to be analyzed as a whole. So if ANL has a different objective (of the whole) from LSV, which seems to be the case, the UOAs will of course differ.
Respectfully, I am ignorant about the nuanced politics of the time and only know a little, so I hope I am not inadvertently trivializing the matter.

4. I do understand UOA is difficult to conceive if one's method is to reduce things to the smallest parts (Thank you, Descartes). However I don't think ANL was attempting to do this by choosing activity as his UOA, so I'm a little lost when you say:

"Leontyev's Activity Theory is in danger of collapsing to a reductionism that actually explains nothing."
5. Further, I am interested in the way intellectual freedom (or rather, the lack of intellectual freedom) shaped these theories. It seems that if we can separate out the forces that encourage or restrict intellectual freedom, we can be left to see what value is there. Like David Kellogg described, the slender reed of Vygotsky's theories seem to be what we are attempting to retrieve. However, it seems you are saying ANL has his own slender reed, as well.

(I can't help thinking about Spinoza right about now and the way he was marked an atheist. I wonder if it might be worthwhile to compare LSV and ANL with Spinoza and Leibniz. More thinking out loud...)

Kind regards,


From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
Sent: Monday, October 20, 2014 10:11 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: In defense of Vygotsky

Even though we all recognise that the motivation behind ANL's critique
is foul, we still have to deal with the critique. The more so because
many of the criticisms he makes are made by others at other times. And
also, like Haydi said earlier, we need to be able to rebut ANL's
critique, and still retain what is good and useful in the theory ANL
*Andy Blunden*

Annalisa Aguilar wrote:
Hello Andy (and esteemed society of XCMA)!

This is my first post to the list. I hope the waves will be gentle as I wade in. Over the past week or so I've been lurking and I've witnessed some titanic exchanges and I'd prefer to steer around iceburgs, if possible. As you will learn, I like to use metaphors in my writing, so if that is problematic for anyone, I hope you will try to enlist the poet within.

About me: I am a former student of Vera's and a graduate of UNM's OLIT MA program. I am interested in technology design, philosophy of mind, distributed cognition, embodied thinking, ecological mind, JJ Gibson's affordances, metaphorical reasoning (a lá Lakoff & Johnson), Late Wittgenstein, and Advaita Vedanta, among many other things!

Vygotsky directly inspires me to consider how computer tools aid in thinking tasks and how these tools reflect in our society and how, in turn, our society is reflected in these tools and how they influence our cognition (as a two-directional process). I am also interested in patterns and how they might be used to transfer knowledge between disciplines. My BFA is in Photography from the San Francisco Art Institute, and so I am likely to be more artist than scientist, and more likely to view Vygotsky through a lens of affect AND cognition, combined (perezhivanie!!). It is this reason Vygotsky is so important to me and why I believe his work is unique from other experienced thinkers.

So here goes:

As I've explained to Andy in previous emails off-list, I like to read papers at least twice to best understand rhetoric as well as content. I am however feeling overwhelmed by the ANL paper mostly because it is so harsh in its representations of LSV's work. It is almost impossible for me to complete a second reading for this reason! As a rule, I am very suspicious of intellectual bullying because typically one who is an authentic seeker of truth does one's best to communicate in simple, useful, and redolent language, which is one reason LSV is appealing to me and Leontiev is not.

Vygotsky succeeds most times this way, which I believe is what makes him so engaging. Although he himself could wrestle with concepts and puzzles and write about them cryptically, this isn't the same. When he was first encountering a problem, a solution, or a description of a phenomenon the writing is going to be rough, sketchy, and incomplete. It's almost like attempting to read Vygotsky by radio transmission with a faint signal that goes in and out of reception.

But ANL, in form of the critique paper, doesn't seem to deal with truth but with slander (I understand: the more violent he could do it, the more he would be likely to save his own skin in Stalinist Russia). It seems everyone is in agreement on this. Still, it's hard to accept that this slight of hand inherent in the Activity Theory itself is not detected by others who were not in danger to refute Activity Theory. It seems so obvious to me. It seems so obvious to me that I wonder if I should doubt my own thinking about it!

Perhaps my grasp of the points here are tentative and sophomoric, however what I do not like about Activity Theory is the idea of activity being the unit of analysis. Activity as UOA might be appropriate when dealing with how to divide labor on the shop floor of an automobile plant, and the _meaning_ of that division to its workers and managers, but I don't equate this in terms of understanding how we as humans think from the formative stage of childhood, and how we deliberate and develop our selves (as the individual self) in society (many selves) to our fullest potentials.

Are we incorrect to take a theory that discusses the formation of children's minds in their formative environments and conflate that with adult interactions in activity in the world? It seems that that is a huge leap, because children, firstly, do not have to deal with politics, jobs, and life-and-death situations as we must as adults. (Children can, but it is an exception rather than a rule. Think: Malala). Children are, if anything, professionals in _play_. Then, the concept of THE WORLD is completely different from childhood to adulthood. But perhaps this is too philosophical for the environment of the list.

As if I haven't emphasized this enough: I'm not sure in myself if I have intuited this correctly, and whether what I have intuited from my reading can line up with what the others on the list are addressing. I believe perhaps I am thinking about this in a different way, as a process, than the others. And that is fine. :)

 As I considered it, I suppose I'm having trouble with the *activity* of sterile analysis of the texts (Please don't misplace my irony).

Vygotsky was a person who wanted to liberate people to live fuller lives. He cared about people, not ideas in themselves. He wasn't motivated to win prizes or acquire world fame for making discoveries. The theories were to support a larger cause, and this cause seems to get lost in the noise. To my dismay, the affect of the work has been completely removed from the discussion. It is hard for me to separate the man and his wider motivations from the work, which may not be wise on my part.

What do you think? Am I wrong in this?

Thinking out loud...


From: xmca-l-bounces+annalisa=unm.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces+annalisa=unm.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
Sent: Monday, October 20, 2014 6:08 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l]  LSV versus ANL

Returning to Leontyev's critique of Vygotsky, ANL claimed that
perezhivanie, as a manifestation of the whole personality, cannot be the
determinant of personality, because that would be a logical circle. But
it seems to me that ANL failed to understand how Vygotsky’s analysis by
units allows him to avoid the reductionism into which ANL then ventures.
If a complex process is to be explained by something _else_, then its
analysis is _reduced_  to the analysis of that something else. Analysis
by units allows Vygotsky to avoid reductionism because the analysis
begins from a concept of the whole complex process represented in a
unit, not the whole, but a small fragment of the whole, such that the
whole can be seen as being made up of very many such fragments only.
Absent Vygotsky's method of analysis by units, and Leontyev's Activity
Theory is in danger of collapsing to a reductionism that actually
explains nothing.


*Andy Blunden*