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[Xmca-l] just as food for thought
More generally, in his writings on this issue, Vygotsky was concerned to establish two very important principles. The first was that the intellectual devel-
opment of the individual cannot be understood without taking into account his or her interactions with other people in his or her social environment; as he puts it, “the levels of generalization in [the thinking of] a child correspond strictly to the levels in the development of social interaction” Vygotsky, 19.56, p. 432; quoted in Wertsch, 1983, p. 26). And the second was that this social environment is itself influenced by the wider culture which varies according to the forms and organization of labor activity that are practiced and the material and semiotic tools that are employed.
In one form or another, these tensions are resolved-at least partially-in the dynamics of social action and interaction which involve the use of language and possibly other mediating tools as well; in some cases, the resolution may also result in modification of, or addition to, the culture’s available repertoire of mediating tools. Furthermore, from the perspective of the individual, participation in such collaborative action and interaction provides the opportunity for him or her to appropriate the pro- cesses involved, which, when internalized and integrated with their existing resources, as Vygotsky explains, transforms the way in which they tackle similar problems in the future. However, since internalization always involves a con- struction based on the individual’s existing resources, the process that is inter- nalized may itself be transformed, leading to subsequent innovatory forms of externalization in contexts of social action and interaction which, in turn, may introduce change into the semiotic system.
In this definition, Halliday draws a clear distinction between doing and mean- ing, while seeing them both as forms of semiotic behavior, more generally conceived. Maintaining this distinction, therefore, it seems to follow that, al- though one can talk (i.e., can mean) about what one is doing, did, or might do, the actual “doing”- although a form of semiotic behavior-is not itself “mean- ing,” except in the case of “doing in language.”
That is that this formulation fails to recognize the tool-like function of language in the achievement of the goals of semiotic activity more broadly conceived. In Vygotsky’s terms, meaning linguistically is only one-albeit the most important-form of semiotic mediation, and to understand its significance on particular occasions, one must look at the goals of the activity it mediates. To recall Leontiev’s argument (quoted above, p. 57), “The tool mediates activity and thus connects humans not only with the world of objects but also with other people.” In so&cultural theory, as this quotation makes clear, language is cer- tainly a powerful and versatile tool. However, it is the activity that it mediates that has conceptual and historical primacy; for it is through action and activities that we are related both to each other and to the external world (Minick, 1987).