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[Xmca-l] Re: In defense of Vygotsky
- To: Andy Blunden <email@example.com>, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: In defense of Vygotsky
- From: Annalisa Aguilar <email@example.com>
- Date: Wed, 22 Oct 2014 06:28:48 +0000
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- Thread-topic: [Xmca-l] Re: In defense of Vygotsky
I hope this is received in the spirit it was intended, however to aid in my learning, I'm listing the eight charges in my own language, using your paper as my scaffold. I realize I am sticking my neck out, but I am motivated to jump into my zone of proximal discomfort because I would like to be clearer about the disparities between ANL and LSV once and for all, and perhaps in my stumbling I shall be caught by others who see this more clearly than I do, including you, of course. I hope there will be something good at the end of this exercise.
My process was to go down your prosecution list, which is made of 11 points (not 8). I've picked out what I detect to be these eight charges, but I am not sure if I have captured them correctly. Please take question marks set inside parens to mean the level or force of my cringing. In fact, the subject line of this post should be "One Big Cringe On a Tuesday Evening."
_1st charge_: Environment as productive force
ANL states that the relationship LSV claims a child possesses with the environment is based actually upon _productive forces_ the child has with the environment. I am guessing that this translates to what the child can do to transform the environment, or how the environment motivates the child to act? You make the observation that if ANL means "society" to be defined as "nation-state," then in the case of an adult, the relationship is not only with the environment, but with a society of others, and in mediation with them, in concert.
Your contention with this line of thought is that we cannot supplant the Vygotsky's outline of the problem of the environment by analogy of the Soviet political system of historical materialism because... [doubt sets in] LSV is talking about the development of children who's minds have not yet formed. (???)
_2nd charge_: It is activity, not perezhivanie, to which the child relates
ANL in his assertion of the child relating to her environment, claims she can only relate to the environment (that is, nature) via objects available to her, and by acting upon those objects. For this reason, ANL challenges LSV's definition of perezhivanie as a unity of the subject and the object. Specifically, personality factors in the child and those "actionable" objects in the environment.
(I think you are crying foul here because perezhivanie as a theory had not yet been fully formed (?) or perhaps not fully understood by LSV's students, ANL being one of them.)
_3rd charge_: Perezhivanie is a faulty circular construct
ANL pushes against the legitimacy of perezhivanie as a _determining cause of development_ in the child, one of LSV's major claims, largely because it is circular. ANL claims perezhivanie in the definition actually takes the place of the personality, but how can perezhivanie both develop personality and be the personality? Therefore, ANL asserts that there must be _an activity_ external to the personality that exerts force for transformation upon the personality, making perezhivanie an activity, and not a relationship between the subject and the object/environment. ANL is saying the only pathway for the subject to relate to the environment is through nothing other than activity.
_4th charge_: "Sense and meaning" really means consciousness, which really means intellectualism
For LSV, in order for perezhivanie to "happen," there is a dependency on the level of sense and meaning in the child in order to detect what presents in the environment. Well, ANL counters, sense and meaning present in the child is really consciousness present in the child. Consciousness is just another word for intellect, as interpreted by ANL, and this is problematic, I think because it implies... [doubt sets in] this is hereditary- or biologically-driven alone. (??)
_5th charge_: The unit of analysis is activity - perezhivanie doesn't exist in the world, while activity does.
ANL poses: Is the matter really about unity of the subject and the environment, or the relationship between the subject's consciousness and activity among objects in the environment (i.e. objective reality)? Thus LSV has failed to see the problem clearly, it is _activity_ that is the appropriate unit of analysis, not perezhivanie.
_6th charge_: The fallacy of word-meaning
ANL believes that the mental representation in a child's awareness must _correspond_ directly to the object in reality, and not just perceptually, but also how the object may relate and associate to other objects and their meanings. The example is a table. Because of this definition of, what I will call here for convenience (i.e., my laziness) "object-awareness", ANL takes exception with LSV's rendering of a _single word_ to stand as a generalization to reference the meaning of the word and as an independent unit (word-meaning). Furthermore, ANL disagrees with the existence of these word-meanings, _as units_, but he also disagrees that they are what construct consciousness as a whole. ANL can say this because he considers consciousness and intellect to be synonymous.
I'm not sure if this next is the same charge, if not, it is the...
_7th charge_: Over-complexity of concepts and projection of idealism
ANL attacks LSV's notion of concepts (scientific and everyday concepts) because the theory is too complicated (???), the reason being (per ANL) that LSV claims meaning is created through verbal communication --not speech, but communication-- of concepts alone (and not activity). This claim is in conflict with what you indicate is ANL's dogmatic concept of truth (as laid out in para above). The theory as posed by LSV can't involve material dealings, but "merely" communication using language. All this abstraction, according to ANL, effectively removes the child from the environment, rendering the child to be an "ideal subject" and the environment to be an "ideal environment," which, in interaction through communication, is supposed to develop the mind of the child. This is how it is ANL brands LSV an idealist and where the entire "bourgeois psychology" charge is derived.
_8th charge_: Reversion to subjective psychology
In a coup de tête (pun intended), ANL makes a last charge that LSV has shifted any "problem of the environment" onto an abstract level of the psyche, and as such, this move reverts to the realm of the subjective practices rampant in psychology studies of the day, making it, not only removed from the material methods vital to Marxist thought, but essentially unscientific and specious.
In my first run down the "prosecution line", I had seemed to miss two charges, that is, if I used your prompt for the "first charge" in your text. However backing up and going over it a second time, I tried to pull out the missing two from higher up the list. I'm fairly confident I did not do this correctly, and that I have failed spectacularly. I anticipate I shall be disabused from what I've set out here, which will make me glad.
For what it is worth, this exercise was somewhat painful to do, if only because of my inner speech was screaming, "YEAH, BUT..."
From: firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com> on behalf of Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 5:32 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: In defense of Vygotsky
Responding to your questions, Annalisa:
1. I counted 8 distinct charges. All of them are argued in theoretical
terms, not politically, even if we all believe they were politically
2. Activity Theory does add a few insights relevant to psychology,
especially to do with motivation, which are additional to what Vygotsky
had done, but mainly, it opens the way for the theory, grounded in
Psychology, to a wider domain of investigation, that is, not only to
study the development of the person in connection with their social
situation, but also the formation of the social environment in which
that situation is located.
3. Yes, why should the difference in UoA be controversial, indeed? ANL
introduced new UoAs, and they give insight into new problems, but that
in no way invalidates the insights provided by other UoAs such as those
that Vygotsky used.
4. It was the shortcomings in ANL's understanding of UoAs which risk
making AT reductionist. A UoA has to be an individual entity (by
"individual" I do not mean personal, I mean "single"), but for ANL,
"activity" is actually particular, rather than single ("a type of
activity"). Also, the motive/goal of an activity is external to the
activity, and this is where the whole "unit" approach breaks down and
tends to an environmental reductionism. AT actually fails to deliver on
its potentiality to deliver an interdisciplinary theory, that is, a
means of bridging between psychology and social theory. But I believe
these shortcomings are fixable and worth fixing.
5. The question of political freedom, or rather the lack of it, ought to
just make us a little more forgiving in assessing the work of these writers.
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,