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[Xmca-l] Re: Units of Analysis

I agree with Alfredo that it would be easier for people to interpret your
note, David D,
if you included either the relevant chapter or a written precis of the
material in it.

As you can see, the range of sources of peoples' ideas here exceeds the
limits of all mortals here present, so starting with a Topic 101 summary
locating the ideas is never a bad idea.


On Sun, Aug 20, 2017 at 12:56 PM, David Dirlam <modesofpractice@gmail.com>

> It looks like I finally got my blank-emails problem fixed, thanks to Andy's
> kind notification of what was the cause. I did a little off-line
> corresponding with him in the meantime and plan to share some of it and add
> some to it.
> I found Andy's current and 2010 articles on Vygotsky's unit of analysis to
> be fascinating and his comments during my xmca blackout very helpful, even
> after spending 50 years work on the problem. I hope to join this discussion
> of what I believe is one of the most central social science problems of our
> age. So below I've put a brief synopsis of what I think people on xmca
> might find most useful from that work and invite comments.
> One of Andy's useful comments about units came through an xmca in response
> to David Kellogg's suggestions. The introduction of features (father's job,
> sibling number, etc.) reminded me of the attempts to evaluate higher
> education in the U.S. using graduation rates and job placements, a tendency
> that I have been fighting for decades.
> Also, during my offline discussion with Andy, I mentioned a chapter from my
> book that used biology as an analogy to define 11 levels of a nested
> hierarchy of practices. That was a project that I had been imagining for a
> decade by tagging articles in Science that I thought would be useful for
> the purpose, especially in the context of many additional articles
> generated from library databases (though I wrote this chapter not even a
> year ago, it has had much value in helping to identify and talk about what
> people do). The 11 levels ranged from an analog to the gene at the bottom,
> which was quite similar to Vygotsky's sign-mediated action, since it
> combined activity with artifacts and social context. The next level up (the
> cell analog), I called actuations, which add short-term memory to the
> bottom level, Luria's *Human Brain and Psychological Process *has many
> examples of both levels. Procedures that use several actuations (like
> recipes) were the next level. The units continue in similar nested fashion
> up to the biosphere analog, that I called praxosphere.
> Andy replied that units do not have to be nested, and I fully agree. In
> fact nearly all the units I discussed have both defectology and social
> situation aspects. Since they are not nested like the ones in the chapter,
> they need to be different sorts of units. The same occurs in biology where
> competition and pathology occur at least at levels ranging from cells to
> biomes. Actually, Luria's book just mentioned would be a great place to
> identify examples of the first two or three levels of the hierarchy of
> practice I proposed in my book. His amazing observations of simple acts of
> brain-damaged patients have been an inspiration to me for decades.
> The mid-level units (the analog to biology's species) that I proposed are
> modes of practice. I found these by studying dimensions of competing modes
> of practices in children's drawing, student writing, and developmental
> researchers' methods. The first publication of a dynamic analysis of the
> drawing study was in *Mind Culture and Activity *in 1997. My language has
> changed during two decades of use of the ideas, but the kernels were there.
> Dimension is the next more complex level of units above the modes of
> practice. The modes of practice in each dimension get sequenced by four
> parameters: their endemicity (initial prevalence), acquisition rate (growth
> in frequency), and commitment (competitive strength), and their resource
> level (social acceptance or limited artifact availability). One pattern is
> especially common: *beginning* modes are endemic, *exploring *modes are
> acquired very quickly but are not competitive, *sustaining *modes grow
> slower with more commitment, and *inspiring *modes have the highest levels
> of commitment. Sometimes a *destructive *mode appears instead of the
> sustaining or inspiring mode -- these grow faster than exploration, but
> overshoot the resource level so much that they eliminate the whole
> dimension (drug use is a good example for persons). To transition from one
> mode of practice to the next requires transformative learning, a concept
> that has benefited much from Mezirow's writings. A study with some friends
> of 500 hour long sessions with individual students revealed that Mezirow's
> 10 phases occurred in 4 time periods. The phases of commitment and modes of
> commitment, therefore, became the fourth and fifth levels.
> An interesting aspect of the sequence for modes of practice is that it lays
> out zones of proximal development for each dimension. I watched teachers
> use them that way 40 years ago with amazing results, especially for student
> writing. I've had a harder time getting academics to do so. It makes me
> wonder how Vygotsky's discussion of zone of proximal development might fit
> with the modes and phases of commitment.
> We can tell when we have two different dimensions, because all modes of
> practice within one dimension can occur simultaneously with any mode of
> practice in all others (i.e., there is no competition between them). So,
> when I have given this model to experts (300  altogether so far) and asked
> them what people do who are learning in their area of expertise, over 99%
> readily describe the four or five modes of practice in 6-12 dimensions of
> their expertise. They often comment that it is an interesting way to
> organize their thinking about their field. My interest is that each
> interview results in somewhere between 15,000 (6 dimensions) and a quarter
> billion (12 dimensions) patterns of practice but uses only 24-48 terms.
> When I did this for the entire faculty of a liberal arts college and
> combined dimensions that were similar, I ended up with 25 dimensions with
> 100 terms (these are detailed in the appendix of my book). They are
> incredibly more interesting and meaningful than graduation and
> job-placement rates. But, and this is what keeps me at it, they also have
> the potential to emancipate teachers and learners from the sort of
> bureaucratic hegemony that demands simple minded measures like job
> placement and graduation rates.
> Text analysis of the 25 dimensions (a technique I started working on at
> Mike's suggestion during my 1997-98 year at LCHC) also grouped dimensions
> together into clusters that resembled specialties (analog to biological
> communities) and these into disciplines (the analog to ecosystems). The
> next levels came from interviews of some 80 designers in 20 different
> disciplines at the Savannah College of Art Design. I never thought of
> design as a methodology as progressive as science, but those interviews
> convinced me. Now, it seems obvious: scientists record their progress in
> papers and equipment, designers in services and products. Interviews of 60
> rabbinical scholars at Hebrew Union College then convinced me that
> interpretation was also progressive, but now recorded in precedents. So the
> level above discipline (the analog to biome) became progressive
> methodology. Human knowledge, then, becomes the praxosphere or analog to
> biosphere.
> I'm not sure what Vygotsky would think about all this (I am sure that many
> on this list know better than me about that), but I don't think he would be
> nearly as upset as he seems to have been with reducing a child's
> environment to parent occupation, age, housing, sibling numbers, etc.
> Thinking about Vygotsky and Andy's papers does give me the idea that I
> should look back through all my interviews to see what meaningful objects
> and social environments they imply.
> I hope this adds to the discussion, and even more that it proves useful for
> progress in studying what people do in ways that thwart simplistic
> reductions to graduation and employment rates. I'm off to read Yrjo's paper
> next.
> All the best,
> David Dirlam