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[Xmca-l] Medium, Agent, and Range



A lot of Andy's work can be seen as an attempt to rehabilitate the subject,
and to rescue activity theory from a simplistic object-orientation that
inheres in the use of terms like "aim" and "goal" and in the activity
theory tendency to collapse sign and tool. In some ways, the "collaborative
project" is a step in that direction, so long as we accept that
collaborative projects are NOT a step in the direction of
non-differentiation between subject and object but rather in the direction
of multi-variate differentiation: subjects can have objects (goals), but
they can also be themselves the medium of a fairly unbounded process
(agents), or direct activity to within a range (scope).

Compare:

"I'm having a bad reaction to chemo." (goal)

"I'm suffering." (agent)

"I'm feeling like I want to die and nobody cares." (range)

Right now, I'm working on Vygotsky's lectures on the Crisis at Three. There
are two--the first one, which is the one you can read in Volume Five of the
English CW (4 in the Russian CW) is deeply unsatisfactory by Vygotsky's own
standards: he says he's going to tell us the neoformations (critical
neoformations which will "melt into thin air" or at least become dependent
parts of the next stable neoformation, namely play), he's going to give us
the lines of development and above all he's going to tell us the next zone
of development (the ZPD, which of course he measures in YEARS and nobody
else bothers to!)

He doesn't do ANY of this. Instead, he gives us some pop science, on the
level of the "Terrible Twos", which in Russian is really called the "Seven
Stars" (i.e. the Pleiades, or maybe the Big Dipper): negativism,
stubbornness, obstinacy, wilfulness, protest/rebellion, rejectionism, and
despotism/jealousy. That's a set of parent complaints, not a theory. He
does start to analyse the complaints, and he promises two case studies. But
then he simply winds up the lecture with two conclusions that he could have
easily drawn from his analysis of the first two stars of the Pleiades.

Fortunately, there's more--a LOT more--in the Korotaeva manuscript, which
is three times as long as the fragment in the CW. Vygotsky DOES analyse the
first two stars by distinguishing precisely between an object-oriented
negativism and a negativism oriented towards the social situation of
development--towards others in the environment. He does the same thing with
stubbornness. But in order to see him do it, you MUST have Andy's more
complex understanding of subject-object relations. You also have to have a
clear sense of a critical period as one where the child tries to become the
medium and the agent, tries to "turn the tables" on the environment,
becoming, for a brief and unsuccessful period, the SOURCE and not just the
SITE of development.

(I was thinking this morning that this was the great tragedy of the
USSR--when the German revolution failed, people went without shoes and
waited for it to succeed. Until Stalin told them that the USSR would be
the medium and not the beneficiary, the SOURCE and not just the SITE of
revolutionary development....)

David Kellogg
Macquarie University