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[Xmca-l] Re: Vygotsky,Marx, & summer reading

My dear Andy--It's already been donkeys' ears since Greg finished his PhD:
I saw him do a presentation on it in Seoul and it was stunning. He did a
postdoc with Mike, and he's solidly on the tenure track now.

I am the only one out here who was struggling to finish a PhD, but the
struggle is pretty much over now, so long as the reviewers agree to agree.
Nevertheless, I apologize if this response is unseemly with joy rather than
with the irritation that befits a late in life doctor of philosophy--my PhD
was, after all, a kind of afterthought to a busy practitioner's career
rather than the usual licence to explore (or ignore).

Let me begin by saying (not to you, but to any bystanders who don't know
the back history) what Andy's contribution really is. Yes, he is the one
who gave us a genetic account of "analysis into units" going back to
Goethe, and yes, that was why I supplied an example (an example, and not a
defining trait) from his contemporary and quandom collaborator Beethoven.
This is important stuff--I would say it is way more important to know this
GENETIC account of the concept than to read Wertsch's very confusing
account of pole vaulting (!) in "Mind as Action". The only really useful
thing about Wertsch's example of pole vaulting is that it explains
perfectly why Wertsch can't get his head around the concept of

But long before that Andy was warning us that activity theory was ignoring
the Subject and become "objectivist", and that "object oriented action" was
part of this problem. When we read Andy's work carefully, we see that a lot
of it is devoted to overcoming this weakness, through a careful reading of
Hegel and through the idea of projects (which can "project" aims and goals
that do not exist in the environment). I would say that this contribution
is even more important than his genetic account of analysis into units, and
more than gives Andy the right to growl and be growchy towards squirrels
like me who would disturb his hibernation (it's winter here in Australia,
and Melbourne, where Andy dwells, is much colder than Sydney).

Having paidgranted that, I can't agree with his characterization of my
tests. The examples I gave were examples, just like Wertsch's valuting pole
and John Stuart Mill's water molecule. They were not supposed to be bundles
of essential traits.The tests I gave were not essential traits either: they
were functional aspects which define the structure of a unit of analysis on
the one and and are defined by the very history that Andy charted on the
other. So for example the maximal simplicity is not simply anchored in
Vygotsky's writing (although the precise phrase is Vygotsky's and not my
own): it is a practical demand of the experimental and teaching work he
proposes to do. To take another example from history, Bichat, who was the
doctor who was looking for cells during Goethe's own time, thought of it as
a "primary tissue"--a tissue that gave rise to other tissues, which in turn
gave rise to organs, which, linked up, gave rise to the human anatomy
(which linked up gave rise to social structures, etc.). This turned out to
lack maximal simplicity: today we know that stem cells are cells and not

Helena--yes,and no. I think that mediated action passes the first two
tests, but it fails the third. That is, mediated action is maximally simple
and minimally complex (for explaining certain things, such as pole
vaulting, or hunting). But it is molar--that is, it has exactly the same
structure as the larger whole it purports to explain. So the explanation
becomes circular: activity is made up of action, and action constitutes
activity. The reason why the "scaffolding" interpretation of the ZPD that
Jerome Bruner proposed has collapsed is very similar: the ZPD is defined by
the child's ability to do stuff with help, and the child's ability to do
stuff with help is how we know he has entered the ZPD. This reduces the
content of the ZPD to "the child is ready to learn whatever the child is
ready to learn". This problem with mediated action has been raised before
by Kozulin, and is also commented on by Bakhurst: the explanans and the
explanadum are one and the same thing. In fact, the general inflationary
trend which attaches to any explanatory principle is predicted (and
amusingly illustrated with one of Krylov's fables, about a bullfrog that
tries to be as big as a bull) in one of Vygotsky's earliest methodological
essays, "The Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology" with respect
to a wide range of explanatory "units": the libido, the stimulus-response
unit, the morbid unconscious, and the personality. Martin Packer did a
wonderful exegesis of this in MCA.

There is another problem with mediated action that nobody has raised. If we
look at this unit the way Andy does, historically, it is not hard to see
that it is derived from language, and in particular from the supposedly
"universal" structure which English shares with many languages:
"Subject-(Verb)-Object". This is the sort of structure we see in

The man (speared) the auroch.
The women (gathered) fruit.

But even English has another form of transitivity: "The auroch ran away",
"the fruit ripened".  Here the participant is simply a medium through which
the process seems to unfold. In many languages, this is actually the main
way in which processes and their participants are represented, and over the
last few centuries it has become increasingly dominant even in English
(especially scientific English). The S(V)O model includes a confusion of
categories (because "Subject" and "Object" are at a different level of
abstraction than "verb"). And of course the whole of transitivity, if you
are Hallidayan, is only one type of meaning.

Which brings me to Alfredo's question (and then it is time for breakfast).

Spear the auroch!                          Let's gather berries!
Did you spear the auroch, dear?   What berries did you gather, mother?
I speared the auroch.                     I have gathered huckleberries,

You can see that the interpersonal nature of the exchange isn't a matter of
"dear" or "mother" or "darling": we can get rid of all those words, and we
still understand that the giver of a bald command has one interpersonal
relation to the receiver of the command and the asker of a question (and
even the giver of a different command, like "Let's...") has another. The
statements seem more neutral as to interpersonal relations. But this is not
a matter of words--it's a matter of wordings.

David Kellogg
Macquarie University

Recent Article: Vygotsky, Halliday, and Hasan: Towards Conceptual

Free E-print Downloadable at:


On Sun, Aug 20, 2017 at 7:16 PM, Alfredo Jornet Gil <a.j.gil@iped.uio.no>

> Yes, I guess, they are different concepts. But, in a way, the two are
> being mobilised here to do a similar job, namely to establish a field of
> inquiry and its methodology. As you've written somewhere else, for a unit
> to be such it has to be a unit of something, right? So, what was that
> something for which Vygotsky or his Western readers were developing 'tool
> mediated action' as unit? And, was there a unit Vygotsky was envisioning to
> account for the semantics of action?
> Alfredo
> ________________________________________
> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu>
> on behalf of Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
> Sent: 20 August 2017 12:03
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Vygotsky,Marx, & summer reading
> Nicely put, Alfredo. But "key" then is quite a different
> concept from "germ cell" or "unit of analysis", isn't it?
> Andy
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden
> http://home.mira.net/~andy
> http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-decision-making
> On 20/08/2017 7:44 PM, Alfredo Jornet Gil wrote:
> > In my e-mail, 'key' was loosely used as 'central aspect'; but if you
> push me a bit, I could also entertain the idea of 'key' as in 'the anatomy
> of man is the key to the anatomy of ape' (the anatomy of the meaning of the
> situation, or semantic field, is the key to the anatomy of human tool use,
> if you will).
> >
> > Alfredo
> > ________________________________________
> > From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu>
> on behalf of Alfredo Jornet Gil <a.j.gil@iped.uio.no>
> > Sent: 20 August 2017 10:38
> > To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity; ablunden@mira.net
> > Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Vygotsky,Marx, & summer reading
> >
> > Was not the early Vygotsky already arguing that, in ontogenesis (not
> phylogenesis) 'properly human forms of using tools'  emerge only 'as speech
> and the use of symbolic signs are included' (From 'Tool and Sign ...')? Are
> not these then not just 'two distinct forms of activity', abut also two
> developmentally different strata (for a lack of a better word)?
> >
> > In the late Vygotsky, we find the argument of a 'transition from the
> dynamics of thought to the dynamics of action, and back', where the sign no
> longer is the key, but 'the meaning of the situation' is. Considering
> this,a good deal of exegesis seems to be needed before one can attribute
> 'tool mediated action' as a unit implicit in Vygotsky's legacy, does not it?
> >
> > David, would your assessment of word meaning be the same if word meaning
> would stand for the 'interpersonal meanings' that you suggest it does not
> contain? For, if we were to follow Vygotsky's own remarks that
> psychological functions are relations between people first, could it make
> sense to pursue 'word meaning' as actual speech, which always is a concrete
> and real relation between people?
> >
> > Also, I wonder how Perezhivanie would fare your (or Vygotsky's own) test.
> >
> > Lots of wondering here!
> >
> > Alfredo
> > ________________________________________
> > From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu>
> on behalf of Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
> > Sent: 20 August 2017 07:23
> > To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> > Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Vygotsky,Marx, & summer reading
> >
> > "Artefact Mediated Action" was a product of the exegesis of
> > Vygotsky especially in the West; people came to the
> > conclusion that it was implicit in Vygotsky's work. But it
> > was also recognised and incorporated by A N Leontyev in his
> > work - indeed, Leontyev's Activity Theory makes no sense
> > without the artefact-mediated action as a unit of analysis.
> > But I don't think Vygotsky never said as much, did he? He
> > was more concerned to counter the tendency to subsume speech
> > as a subtype of artefact-mediated action, and keeping
> > tool-mediated actions and sign-mediated actions
> > qualitatively distinct forms of activity. But his analysis
> > of Sakharov's experiments takes as given that a concept is a
> > system of artefact-mediated actions.
> >
> > Do you see a problem here, Helena?
> >
> > Andy
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > Andy Blunden
> > http://home.mira.net/~andy
> > http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-decision-making
> >
> > On 20/08/2017 2:27 PM, Helena Worthen wrote:
> >> So "mediated action" works as a unit of analysis?
> >>
> >> Thanks -- H
> >>
> >> Helena Worthen
> >> helenaworthen@gmail.com
> >> Vietnam blog: helenaworthen.wordpress.com
> >>
> >> On Aug 20, 2017, at 4:01 AM, David Kellogg wrote:
> >>
> >>> I would like to propose the following tests for a unit of analysis.
> They
> >>> are all based on things Vygotsky wrote in the pedology.The examples,
> from
> >>> biology, political economy, and music, are my own.
> >>>
> >>> a) It must be maximally simple. That is, it must be small enough to be
> >>> manageable in experiments, clinical settings, and observable using
> >>> "objectivizing" methods of research such as the functional method of
> dual
> >>> stimulation or the Zoped. For example, cells can be managed in a petri
> >>> dish, drawn from patients during examinations, and their genesis may be
> >>> provoked and observed with a microscope: the commodity can be
> abstracted
> >>> from an exchange for analysis, observed as it arises in production and
> >>> exchange, and elicited through barter and markets. The four note
> "theme" of
> >>> that opens Beethoven's fifth symphony is simple enough to play on a
> timpani
> >>> as well as a piano.
> >>>
> >>> b) It must be minimally complex. That is, it must contain functioning
> >>> analogues of all the properties which are the object of investigation.
> For
> >>> example, cells have functioning analogues for metabolism,
> reproduction, and
> >>> equilibrium with the environment.Commodities contain, in a coded,
> >>> potential, or "embryonic" form, all the social relations of labor and
> >>> capital we find in a mature capitalist economy. Beethoven's "theme" is
> >>> complex enough to describe the structure of the symphony as a whole,
> and to
> >>> form its coda.
> >>>
> >>> c) These analogues cannot be simple, miniaturized "recapitulations" of
> the
> >>> properties which are the object of investigation. The mechanisms of
> cell
> >>> metabolism, reproduction, homeostasis are not the same as the
> metabolism of
> >>> the human organism. A commodity cannot produce or exchange or invest
> >>> itself; it does not contain productive labour or finance capital in
> >>> anything but a coded form; these must be unfolded through the
> historical
> >>> process and that historical process is not infallibly predictable.
> >>> Beethoven's "theme" did not create its variations and permutations:
> >>> Beethoven did.
> >>>
> >>> Applying these tests to the units that Andy proposes (with one
> exception,
> >>> number three below, they are also based on Vygotsky!) we find:
> >>>
> >>> 1. Word meaning is maximally simple but not minimally complex. It
> doesn't
> >>> contain analogues of interpersonal meanings, e.g. questions, commands,
> >>> statements, requests. It doesn’t contain analogues of textual meanings,
> >>> e.g. hypotaxis and parataxis, Theme and Rheme, Given and New
> information.
> >>>
> >>> 2. The social situation of development is minimally complex but not
> >>> maximally simple: it does construe the ensemble of relations between
> the
> >>> child and the environment at a given age stage, including the whole of
> >>> actual and potential language, but these cannot be managed in an
> >>> experimental or clinical setting, or elicited in complete form using
> the
> >>> functional method of dual stimulation or the Zoped.
> >>>
> >>> 3. Mediated actions are maximally simple and minimally complex, but
> not, as
> >>> far as I can see, structurally, functionally or genetically different
> from
> >>> the phenomena of activity they purport to explain.
> >>>
> >>> David Kellogg
> >>> Macquarie University
> >>>
> >>> Recent Article: Vygotsky, Halliday, and Hasan: Towards Conceptual
> >>> Complementarity
> >>>
> >>> Free E-print Downloadable at:
> >>>
> >>> http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/W7EDsmNSEwnpIKFRG8Up/full
> >>>
> >>> On Sat, Aug 19, 2017 at 10:37 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
> wrote:
> >>>
> >>>> Word meanings for the study of (verbal) intellect
> >>>> Artefact-mediated actions for the more general study of the
> development of
> >>>> activity
> >>>> Perezhivaniya for the study of personality development
> >>>> (Defect-Compensation) for the study of disability or whatever
> >>>> Social Situations of Development for the study of child development
> >>>>
> >>>> See page 9 on https://www.academia.edu/11387923/
> >>>>
> >>>> Andy
> >>>> ------------------------------------------------------------
> >>>> Andy Blunden
> >>>> http://home.mira.net/~andy
> >>>> http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-decision-making
> >>>> On 19/08/2017 10:47 PM, Martin John Packer wrote:
> >>>>
> >>>>> What are the five, Andy?
> >>>>>
> >>>>> Martin
> >>>>>
> >>>>> On Aug 18, 2017, at 9:07 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
> >>>>>> Amazon have it for $38.21: https://www.amazon.com/Vygotsk
> >>>>>> y-Marx-Toward-Marxist-Psychology/dp/1138244813 which is not too
> bad.
> >>>>>>
> >>>>>> My chapter is available at https://www.academia.edu/11387923/ but
> so
> >>>>>> far as I can see other authors have not posted theirs on
> academia.edu -
> >>>>>> maybe elsewhere?
> >>>>>>
> >>>>>> Thank you, Alfredo, for highlighting how I have pointed to 5
> different
> >>>>>> domains in which Vygotsky demonstrated the "method of analysis by
> units."
> >>>>>> To me, it seems useless to identify a writer's methodological
> innovations
> >>>>>> unless you can transport that methodology to a different context,
> and
> >>>>>> pointing to five applications by Vygotsky himself seemed a good way
> of
> >>>>>> showing how portable the method is. More recently, I used this
> method in an
> >>>>>> approach to political science, taking a group of people in the room
> trying
> >>>>>> to decide on what they are going to do together as a unit of
> analysis.
> >>>>>> Personally, I think this method has proved very fruitful and
> original. How
> >>>>>> lucky we are to be inheritors of Vygotsky's brilliant insights,
> still
> >>>>>> generally so unknown to the general scientific audience. What a
> gift LSV
> >>>>>> has given us!
> >>>>>>
> >>>>>> But legacies are always problematic. Alfredo, I think you would be a
> >>>>>> very good candidate to review this book. Beth?
> >>>>>>
> >>>>>> Andy
> >>>>>>
> >>>>>>
> >>>>>> ------------------------------------------------------------
> >>>>>> Andy Blunden
> >>>>>> http://home.mira.net/~andy
> >>>>>> http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-
> decision-making
> >>>>>> On 18/08/2017 10:16 PM, mike cole wrote:
> >>>>>>
> >>>>>>> Peter, Alfredo Et al -
> >>>>>>>
> >>>>>>> It seems that the readers of MCA would appreciate a good overview
> >>>>>>> review of
> >>>>>>> the LSV and Marx book, but so far as I know, no one has proposed
> the
> >>>>>>> idea
> >>>>>>> to Beth, the book review editor. (You seem to have a jump on the
> task,
> >>>>>>> Alfredo!).
> >>>>>>>
> >>>>>>> Also, given the cost of the book, it would be nice if authors could
> >>>>>>> follow
> >>>>>>> Andy's lead and make a draft available. Andy's article on units of
> >>>>>>> analysis
> >>>>>>> is on Academia, a click away. That way the many readers of XMCA
> around
> >>>>>>> the
> >>>>>>> world would not be excluded from the discussion.
> >>>>>>>
> >>>>>>> Mike
> >>>>>>> Happy travels summer readers.  :-)
> >>>>>>>
> >>>>>>>
> >>>>>>>
> >>>>>
> >>
> >