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[Xmca-l] Re: [Xcma-l] In Defense of Vygotsky [Perezhivanie cannot determine the personality]
What a marvelous muddle of misinterpretations I appear to have made!
As Huw points out, I am always doing this. It's not deliberate, but
nevertheless over the years I have grown rather fond of some of them.
And, as Leonard Cohen says, there is a crack in everything, but that's
how the light gets in.
Point One: Stalinism vs. Marxism, and Lysenkoism vs. Darwinism:
Of course, to most people in Russia and outside Russia, Stalinism WAS
Marxism. But Vygotsky certainly knew better. Take this, from the first
lecture on pedology. Vygotsky is discussing three theories of how
development might take place--the theory that it is preformed, the
theory that it is entirely determined, and the theory that development
must NECESSARILY involve structures that are NOT preformed but also
NOT environmentally determined. He has just disposed of the first of
these, the "personality theory" of Stern (which is the idea that
intellect comes pre-formed in the child, something Vygotsky refers to
as "intellectualism", because it leads to the circular idea that the
explanation for intellect is nothing more than pre-existing
intellect). Vygotsky says:
1-51] Другая, противоположная этой и столь же, мне кажется,
неправильная теория развития заключается в том, что развитие
рассматривается как процесс, обусловленный не внутренними своими
законами, а как процесс, который всецело определяется извне, средой.
Такие точки зрения развивались и в буржуазной науке и имели место и в
советской педологии в течение долгого времени. Полагали, что ребенок
есть пассивный продукт, который получается оттого, что среда
определенным образом воздействует на ребенка, что, таким образом,
развитие заключается в том, что ребенок впитывает в себя, вбирает в
себя, вносит в себя извне такие особенности, которые заключает среда
окружающих его людей. Например, говорят: развитие детской речи
происходит потому, что ребенок слышит, - вокруг него говорят, он
начинает подражать и тоже начинает говорить, он просто усваивает речь,
заучивает речь. Спрашивается, почему он ее усваивает с 1,5 до 5 лет, а
не раньше и не позже? Почему он ее усваивает так, что проходит
определенные этапы? Почему он ее не заучивает так, как заучивают в
школе какой-нибудь урок? На все эти вопросы эта теория не может дать
ответа. Но она до конца развивает свою точку зрения, рассматривая
ребенка, как когда-то рассматривали, не как маленького взрослого (это
теория преформизма), а как "tabula rasa" - вы слышали, вероятно, это
выражение. Старые педагоги, старые философы высказывали такую точку
зрения, что ребенок есть "tabula rasa" - белый лист бумаги, чистая
доска, как они говорят (римляне писали на чистой доске), на которой
ничего не написано, и что вы на ней напишете, то на ней и будет
заключаться; т.е. ребенок есть чисто пассивный продукт, который с
собой не привносит с самого начала никаких моментов, определяющих ход
его развития. Это есть просто воспринимающий аппарат, просто сосуд,
который в ходе своего развития заполняется тем, что составляет
содержание его опыта. Ребенок есть просто отпечаток среды, он внешним
путем из этой среды усваивает и присваивает себе то, что он видит у
окружающих его людей.
("Another developmental theory, opposed to this and equally, it seems
to me, wrong, is that development is seen as a process which is not
due to its own internal laws but as a process that is entirely
determined externally by the environment. Such points of view have
been developed in bourgeois science and have occurred in Soviet
pedology for a long time. The belief that the child is a passive
product arose because of the specific impact of the environment on the
child; thus the development is only that the child absorbs, acquires
and assimilates into himself outside such features that enter into the
milieu of people around him. We say, for example, that the development
of the child's speech is because the child hears what is said around
him, he begins to imitate it and thus also begins to speak; he merely
absorbs it, learning it. The question is, why does he learn it from
1.5 to 5 years, and not earlier or later? Why does he learn it in a
way that goes through defined stages? Why does he not learn it just as
any lesson is memorized at school? None of these questions can be
answered by this theory. Instead, it develops a point of view which
considers the child, not as once he was considered, a young adult (the
theory of preformism) but instead as a “tabula rasa” (Vygotsky uses
the Latin original here—DK), an expression that you have probably
heard: a white sheet of paper, a blank slate, as they say (the Romans
wrote on a clean slate) on which nothing is written and that will take
whatever you write on it; i.e. the child is a purely passive product
which does not bring with him from the outset any of the moments that
will determine the course of his development. He is simply a
perceiving machine, a vessel that, during its development, is filled
with the content of his experience. The child is simply imprinted by
the environment; through the external path of the environment he
acquires and assigns to himself what he sees in the people around
You notice how Vygotsky rather mischievously points out that these
"Marxist" ideas are simplly the equivalent of bourgeois behaviorism
(but notice that, unlike Leontiev, he does not name names, and that he
picks on a trend that is dominant rather than on the dead and the
Similarly, to most people inside Russia, Lysenkoism WAS Darwinism
(Lysenko put forward the Lamarckian theory that learned
characteristics could then be handed down genetically to
offspring--this has been interpreted by people as a statement about
eugenically creating a perfect socialist man within a single
generation, but at the time it had more to do with growing wheat in
winter). But Vygotsky knew better--in Chapter Five of "The History of
the Development of Higher Mental Functions" (p. 100, if you have the
English Collected Works), Vygotsky spends a page or two contrasting
Lamarck to Darwin. ( He doesn't condemn Buhler for trying to combine
them; interestingly, he leaves open the possibility that Lamarckianism
DOES work--for cultural functions, and not for biological ones.
Point Two: Personalism. Vygotsky was NOT in a bubble, and that was
part of his problem; he was living in a country which was trying to
create one. Remember that Vygotsky was a Jew, that is, what Stalin
would later call a "rootless cosmopolitan". Jews in Russia were not
really considered Russians. They benefitted enormously from the
Bolshevik Revolution (Vygotsky was preparing himself for either
medicine or the law, because those were the only professions open to
Jews, but with the Revolution suddenly every door was open to
him--except, of course, for that of physical health and it is somewhat
ironic that he spent his last three years trying to become a doctor
after all). He was ferociously literate (you remember that German was
quite literally his mother's tongue, and so I think Andy's speculation
that he never read Hegel must be taken as both unproven and unlikely).
He was particularly well read in the very latest in German
psychology--which in his time was the very latest on earth--and his
work is full of references to the most obscure writers, including
Realschule teachers in Saxony and Ph.D. students in Leipzig.
So Vygotsky read and actually met Wilhelm Stern, who was creating a
kind of psychology of the personality which later became immensely
popular with the Catholic church (and remains quite dominant in
Germany today). As we saw above, it's a preformist theory: it says the
child comes with a personality and with the idea of speech all
hard-wired (and of course this latter idea is still at the core of
Chomskyan linguistics today). Vygotsky's criticism of
"intellectualism" is that if we want to explain the intellect we need
to start with something that is manifestly NOT intellect, or at least
not intellect in its finished form (e.g. emotion). If you begin with
something that is already intellect, what you have is not an
explanation of development but only a description of growth. The same
criticism can, of course, be applied to the concept of "personality",
and it's why Levitin calls his book about the Vygotsky school "One Is
Not Born a Personality".
Point Three: Most people consider that Vygotsky's August 2, 1933,
letter to Leontiev signals their definitive break-up. I'm not so sure;
it seems to me the parting of ways occurred earlier in some way and
later in others. I prefer to think of it as a geological movement
rather than an interpersonal drama. But you read it and decide!
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
On 29 October 2014 14:18, Annalisa Aguilar <email@example.com> wrote:
> Hi David!
> I was so happy to read your post. Thank you for going through it so carefully.
> Immediate things I have learned from your post:
> 1. Leontiev not only rejected Marxism (for Stalinism) but also Darwinism for Lamarck. I'm not sure what this means at this point, because I am not familiar with Lamarck's work. But dismissing Darwin seems non-trivial.
> 2. "Is personality all that matters?" as a question in psychology at that time. Is that a fair statement?
> 3. I am grateful for your rendering of the events as the split occurred, and I have downloaded the letters and will read these as soon as I can.
> As you say, we must pick up the wreckage to understand the causes. What I think about is how we may have moved forward without the missing pieces without perhaps noticing that there were missing pieces!
> With truth as the baseline, and science as the means, we must filter out the parts that are wrong and not useful, and doing so need not be controversial, but unifying. This seems to be a good thing.
> Anyone is free to correct me, but perhaps what makes this situation so peculiar, is that Vygotsky and his cohorts lived in something of a bubble. We know he did meet some researchers in the West (the train to London), but most of his work was generated from reading the work of others and his experiments were based upon those readings. I seem to recall Piaget did not hear about him until long after LSV's passing (I may not have that exactly right). Then the fact that the texts were banned and everything and everyone associated with LSV was forced underground.
> Fast forward to the future and we have Luria meeting Bruner as the first point of contact in the US. I'm only an armchair historian, so I don't have all the facts. However, I can certainly understand the disruption in the exchange of ideas evident in 20th Century psychology because Vygotsky's work was not available to contemporaries for international peer review and compare this to, say, the disruption in the exchange of ideas in 17th Century physics because Galileo was under house arrest. Somehow I think Galileo had an easier time as did other scientists of his time to access his work, which may not be saying much, or it may be saying a lot, depending upon how ironic you feel when you read this.
> My point is everyone suffers when there is no intellectual freedom. We suffer today for not having had access to LSV's work, as did his contemporaries, who either were forced to disavow it or who did not even know it existed.
> I value intellectual freedom probably more than other kinds of freedoms. I always like to say I will gain more freedom by giving freedom to others. :)
> David, I'd like to reply further to the rest your email in another post, which I hope I have time to address tomorrow.
> Until then...
> Kind regards,
> From: firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com> on behalf of David Kellogg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Sent: Monday, October 27, 2014 3:28 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: [Xcma-l] In Defense of Vygotsky [Perezhivanie cannot determine the personality]
> Dear Annalisa:
> Yes, you are right--there are watchers who are benefiting. In
> particular, I am watching as the discussion gradually seems to come
> over to two points that were initially pared away but which I find
> essential to the whole puzzle. And there too you are right--they are
> historical and theoretical, first of all Leontiev's "politically
> expedient" support for Stalinism (and consequently his rejection of
> genuine Marxism, and even basic Darwinism), and secondly the question
> of whether personality stands alone as the object of psychology.
> First of all, I don't know of the circumstances of Leontiev's writings
> on the environment any more than Andy does. But the split between
> Vygotsky and Leontiev is well documented. We have letters, in which
> Vygotsky first tries to convince "A.N." of the importance of
> consciousness and fails (in 1931), where he remarks to Luria the
> importance of trying to convince Leontiev, the "breakup" of the
> original group in 1931 (a heartbreaking letter) and then Vygotsky's
> much more reserved letters to Leontiev just before his death (May
> 1934). All of this in "In Memory of L.S. Vygotsky: Letters to Students
> and Colleagues", Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, vol.
> 45, No. 2 (pp. 11-60), See also Anton Yasnitsky's Ph.D. work:
> I feel as you do, that under the circumstances, the criticisms of
> Leontiev and P.I. Zinchenko and others were acts of betrayal, similar
> to what Lysenko did to his old professor Vavilov, the would-be founder
> of modern Soviet genetics. But I also think that the best we can do
> now is to try to locate and counter the long term effects upon our
> understanding of Vygotsky's ideas. It seems to me that there are (at
> least) three:
> a) As Kozulin has remarked (and Andy came very close to admitting),
> Leontiev made "activity" into both the object of investigation and the
> explanatory principle. This is essentially what Leontiev himself
> accused Vygotsky of doing with "perezhivanie", and it is indeed a form
> of circular reasoning: activity is explained by activity itself. This
> revisionism is a long term effect because very few people who use
> activity as a unit of analysis realize that although activity is made
> up of action and nothing but, action is not simply a microcosm of
> b) Leontiev and Zinchenko (and later Wertsch) rejected word meaning as
> a unit of analysis for verbal thinking as "idealist". This has meant
> rejection of what to me is Vygotsky's most important and lasting
> contribution, something he shares with Volosinov, which is the
> discovery that the developed mind has a semantic structure rather than
> a "behavioral" or "cognitive" one. This revisionism is a long-term
> effect because it has divided Vygotsky in two, particularly in the
> anglophone world (a Vygotsky of "Mind in Society" which scarcely
> mentions language and one of "Thinking and Speech" which scarcely
> mentions anything without mentioning language).
> c) Leontiev's concept of development is Lamarckian and not
> Darwinian--it cannot involve the nasty surprises of real development
> (e.g. the crisis, which Leontiev explicitly rejects on p. 362 of his
> book Problems of the Development of the Mind).This is a long term
> effect because it has been taken up by the so-called "Neo-Vygotskyans"
> (see Karpov's book, "The Neo-Vygotskyan Approach to Child
> Development", CUP 2005). Leontiev embraced Lysenkoism, and never
> renounced it; and in the twentieth century, you cannot write
> scientifically about development without a scientific understanding of
> modern genetics that is incompatible with Lysenkoism.
> The second, theoretical, issue that you raise actually follows on from
> point a). Why isn't "perizhivanie" a circular construction the same
> way that "activity" is? The answer is that it is--if you use
> perizhivanie to investigate perizhivanie--or even some kind of
> mega-perizhivanie called "personality". But of course that isn't what
> Vygotsky does at all.
> a) First of all, in Vygotsky's essay perizhivanie is a unit of
> analysis for a very specific problem: differentiating the contribution
> of the environment from the contribution of the child in the
> understanding of experience. Perizhivanie includes both in a very
> simplified form: the emotional response of the child to the
> environment. At the same time, however, it is not circular because it
> is an open system--open to the contribution from the child's
> hereditary endowment (which as Vygotsky says in the lecture on
> heredity can actually change as the child develops) as well as open to
> the various contributions from the child's cultural endowment that
> Leontiev and his followers insisted were the alpha and omega of
> b) Secondly, personality is not so much a "mega-perizhivanie" as a
> "meta-perezhivanie", since, as Vygotsky makes very clear in the last
> chapter of the History of the Development of Higher Mental Functions,
> personality is really only half of the unit he posits for child
> development, the other half of which he calls "world outlook". What is
> the difference? It is tempting to say that the difference is that one
> is more subjective and the other more objective, but it's not really
> reducible to that. I think, if I had to point to a single criterion
> for differentiating the two, I would say that "perezhivanie" is
> retroleptic, looking back to emotion and reflecting upon it, while
> "world outlook" is proleptic.
> c) Thirdly, Vygotsky's theory of development is a second order theory:
> the means of development itself develops. So you notice that in the
> lecture on the environment, he begins with a very short passage on
> perezhivanie but then segues almost seamlessly--so that you scarcely
> notice it--into a discussion of sense and signification in word
> meaning. To me, this suggests that the development of personality is
> eventually subsumed (or sublated, if you prefer) by something
> else--the development of verbal thinking. This is rather hard for us
> to accept; we all feel as if we are basically personalities and
> nothing else. But of course the personality must come to the end of
> its useful life sometime, in much the same way that Vygotsky's spoken
> lectures were subsumed by his written speech at the moment of his
> Let me just finish by saying that I was a bit thrown by the ref to the
> Bildungsroman too! But I think Andy is referring to Goethe's "Life of
> Wilhelm Meister" or perhaps to "Elective Affinities" (which is where
> Vygotsky probably got the spiel about the water molecule, though John
> Stuart Mill uses it too). Andy's ref, like his idea that personality
> is the object of psychology, is too narrativistic for my taste--I
> think that the mind does indeed have a semantic structure, but that
> semantic structure is really more like a dialogue than a text. A
> narrative without dialogue is a little like the sound of one sock
> puppet clapping.
> David Kellogg
> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> On 27 October 2014 11:38, Annalisa Aguilar <email@example.com> wrote:
>> Hi Andy,
>> Thanks for some additional information.
>> Yes, "political expediency" (PE) is an understatement to be sure, from the sound of it. I don't know if I can imagine myself to denounce my own beloved teachers in order that I may live and be promoted. The idea makes me quite ill, and certainly more sympathetic to Leontiev.
>> However, the challenge seems to be that we must tease away the PE aspect to try to clear the view to the generation of the theories (or divergence thereof). If that isn't reasonable, let me know. I do not mean to be reductive and minimize the political issues in any way.
>> I am merely attempting to go slowly over this so that I gain a clear picture of the collision of ideas and the apparent wreckage and what pieces were retrieved and extended upon.
>> So I suppose there are a few things I would enjoy clarity about.
>> First is historical:
>> How much do we know that is factual in Leontiev's motivation to deny the theories? What is speculative? This is not a flippant two questions. What I mean is are there contemporary documents (or any other documents that come after Stalin's death, or any other time) that discuss this parting of the ways and motivations for doing so? Is this Leontiev paper all that we possess?
>> What do you mean that the differences show through, despite the PE factor? We cannot fully remove the PE factor, I know, but how much does it explain the "real differences" if it is clouding the view?
>> Second is theoretical:
>> I understand perezhivanie is experiential, specific to the individual in question, based upon the person's genetics, level of development, emotional awareness, and intellectual ability at the time of the situation (event), but importantly that the perezhivanie is also inclusive of aspects of the environment itself and how the environment exerts force on the person (combined or in interaction with the more personal or "internal" factors).
>> [I'm afraid I was lost at the reference to the autobiography. Goethe is beyond the limits of my knowledge at this time. :) ]
>> Furthermore, that the development of the person is not necessarily a "summation of all perezhivanies." If only because a single experience can radically change a person's makeup entirely, whether for good or ill. That a single "unit" can possibly transform the entire whole? (I'm thinking for example the impact of PTSD. I hesitate to resort to a pathological example, it just what seems to illustrate the best about experiences affecting the whole).
>> However I agree that my personality is the manifest expression of the "collection" of all my experiences, I'm not sure if I could say "summation," since this sounds mechanical in nature, rather than systemic.
>> Kind regards,
>> From: firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com> on behalf of Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>> Sent: Sunday, October 26, 2014 7:39 PM
>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: [Xcma-l] In Defense of Vygotsky [Perezhivanie cannot determine the personality]
>> I don't know exactly when the ANL document was written or where/if it
>> was published originally, but it was certainly after LSV's death and
>> before ANL's death (i.e. some time 1935-1975), most likely during
>> Stalin's time. "Political expediency" somewhat understates the issue. A
>> convincing denunciation of a colleague's theory was very often a matter
>> of life and death. Which is not to say that the honourable choice may
>> not have been to speak the truth and take the consequences, rather than
>> lie and enjoy promotion. In that sense, this document, being dishonest,
>> is not the ideal medium for understanding the real differences between
>> these two former comrades. Nonetheless, I think the real differences
>> show through.
>> On the question of units. The idea is that a person's character develops
>> through a series of experiences. Each experiences adds a new
>> sensibility, a new aversion, a new preference, a new insight, etc., so
>> from that point of view a person's character can be understand as the
>> product or sum of a series of such experiences, as for example, when
>> someone writes their autobiography, especially if they follow in the
>> Goethean tradition of Bildungsromanen.
>> *Andy Blunden*
>> Annalisa Aguilar wrote:
>>> Hi Andy,
>>> I must explain: Since I hadn't read the entire paper, I was searching
>>> for the 8 points in the first half of the paper, which is The
>>> Prosecution half. This is to say the "8 charges" you had indicated in
>>> your post, are actually listed in the second half, the Defense half.
>>> So I suppose the structure threw me. (Sorry to create any confusion, all!)
>>> But I'd like to continue my exercise openly, as it appears there are
>>> watchers who are benefiting. So here goes (I will go more slowly and
>>> not flood the list).
>>> #1) The charge by Leontiev (Ad. 4): Perezhivanie, as a manifestation
>>> of the whole personality, cannot be the determinant of personality.
>>> One nagging question: Vygotsky, while living (as I understand), had a
>>> large social group in which they openly discussed all of these
>>> theories. If Leontiev was privy to this community, how could he not
>>> have understood the points concerning perezhivanie? It is not that I
>>> accuse Leontiev as being obstinate or thick (that would be an easy
>>> thing to do), but that I want to understand how could he have missed
>>> this if there were other parties available to discuss the nature of
>>> Vygotsky's perezhivanie? The community must have discussed these
>>> concepts without Vygotsky present, among each other. Am I wrong in
>>> this thinking?
>>> I don't think Vygotsky was like Jesus with confused disciples. It
>>> seemed that he treated his students as equals and that he himself
>>> benefited from their input to the theories.
>>> If I may, I position this question with the imagination as-if Vygotsky
>>> and Leontiev were here on this list discussing various theories, as we
>>> are here. There was a lot of discussion going on, sharing and the like.
>>> Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't these lectures on perezhivanie
>>> happen earlier in the decade of time Vygotsky graced us? Or am I mistaken?
>>> I suppose I am attempting to answer the question, How did Leontiev not
>>> understand perezhivanie as a determinant? And perhaps in gaining an
>>> answer to this question, we might learn something about *teaching* the
>>> concept of perezhivanie?
>>> Of course it is possible that this was entirely caused by political
>>> expediency. But if that is the case, how can we know this?
>>> But to the content of the charge: "Perezhivanie, as a manifestation of
>>> the whole personality, cannot be the determinant of personality."
>>> I am having a hard time discussing perezhivanie as a "fragment of the
>>> whole." If only because fragment means "a part of", and I don't think
>>> "unit" is necessarily a material thing, but also an abstraction like
>>> the whole is an abstraction.
>>> For example: The water molecule metaphor. (I hope we do not reduce the
>>> molecule to hydrogen and oxygen and begin flames on the list). In our
>>> perception, we *imagine* the molecule. We know that molecules exist,
>>> just like we know that the ocean exists. But when we perceive the
>>> ocean, it's also not a perception in its entirety, but completed in
>>> our imagination like the molecule is, and this is why I feel the unit,
>>> seen as a fragment, seems problematic.
>>> If we want to study the nature of oceans we want to study the nature
>>> of water, since water is the material of the ocean. Also, the water
>>> molecule is the unit we must use to understand the behavior of the
>>> water. And so the molecule becomes the unit of analysis.
>>> If the metaphor works, the ocean is the ideal, and final form. Can we
>>> say that the water molecule determines the nature of the ocean? It
>>> seems so, since the behavior of water (as indicated by the nature of
>>> its molecule) will reveal significantly the nature of the ocean,
>>> moreso than dividing the ocean into fragments, and I'm not sure how
>>> one would divide the ocean into fragments, anyway!
>>> BTW, I am proposing this metaphor because we know that LSV used the
>>> metaphor of the water molecule himself, though I don't think he spoke
>>> of oceans, just water. Still, I wonder if it works?
>>> Kind regards,