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[Xmca-l] Re: Fate, Luck and Chance

When I learnt "Marxist Psychology" in the 1970s, many years before a friend kindly gave me a photocopy of "Thought and Language" (as it was called) in about 1997, it went something like this: human beings objectify their powers, e.g., the hand is objectified in the stone axe, etc., and then these human powers are perceived as objectively existing things, reflected in the mind as concepts, etc., etc., and on this basis one builds a kind of anthropology of labour. When I read Thinking and Speech, obviously my mind was thrown into turmoil. Here was a *far* more productive approach to understanding psychology.

So I gather that when Vygotsky is making a big deal of the distinction between word and action and between sign and tool (and other mediating elements) he is doing so under conditions where the dominant view was that signs are a subordinate *type* of tool, a derivative of tool.

As you have no doubt observed with your keen eye, David, I have lately become much more sensitive to relation between tool and sign and the inherent dangers which flow from using a category like "artefact" in which the two are lumped together. But as you know, in this connection Vygotsky also said: "With full justification, Hegel used the concept of mediation in its most general meaning, seeing in it the most characteristic property of the mind."

You also know that I come to Vygotsky from Hegel and Marx and that my specific interest is in an interdisciplinary theory of activity, not psychology or linguistics. So for my specific interest, so long as I understand the relation of word-use to action in the nuanced sense in which Vygotsky it in that section "Word and Action", that is, the complex genetic relation between the development of means of acting on matter and means of acting on mind, as opposed to the simple and erroneous typology which may be implied in the category of "artefact" or in the anthropology of labour, I can work across a wide, interdisciplinary field using Vygotsky's ideas. The interconnection of politics and social class (for example) necessarily entails all kinds of artefact mediation.

Now David, you doubtless have a view on why it was wrong to entitle Vygotsky's book "Thought and Language." As I see it words (i.e., uttering stuff when you speak) as what people *do*, that is, are actions, and Thinking and Speech needs to be read in that sense, as opposed to considerations of the contents of a dictionary. (Like everything else, I am making a distinction not a dichotomy here). And also, it is important as I see it to understand that words (those little packets of sound) are material objects and in that specific sense a part of the whole material culture of a people. All I am saying is that while the distinction between word and action, and between sign and tool, is every bit as important as the distinction between action and activity or any other such distinction, the relation between them is also fruitful. But the unit of analysis Vygotsky uses in "Thinking and Speech" is not artefact mediation, it is word-meaning. That has never been at issue.

*Andy Blunden*

David Kellogg wrote:
... I am always surprised that he is ready to mash
together tools and signs as "artifacts", since this is a purely
genetic category and has nothing to do with either function or
structure. It is true that all explanations are in the final analysis
genetic and not functional or structural. But that is only the final
analysis: in the end the thing that a genetic analysis has to explain
is precisely function and the thing that function has to explain is
precisely structure.