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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. 

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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. 

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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.” 

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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). 

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Haydi