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[Xmca-l] Re: Unit of Analysis

"if something explains everything, it in fact explains nothing" ? To say that there is always something in between any two things you want to mention is not "explaining everything."

"If the body is mediating, then between what and what?"
Basically between mind and body. Initially there is no such distinction, for a new-born, for example. But this distinction arises through practical interactions with the infant's socio-cultural environment, the same way a child gets to know that that there is *my hand* and that there is *not me*, etc. Repeating medieval aphorisms about "no distinctions between mind and body" and denouncing this as a "Western construct" - things one hears from time to time - is a waste of breath. We are not born with such a distinction, but we make one, and after a certain age, almost everything we do is mediated by consciousness, even if that consciousness is delusional.

Also, we now know that the characteristically human adaptations - our upright gait, our speech-enabled larynx and our hands are *cultural inheritances*, just like the landscape, crops, domesticated animals and tools we use, not to mention our languages, art, religions, etc. All *artefacts* mediating our activity. You can say that these things explain nothing if you like, but I am not convinced.


Andy Blunden
On 8/09/2017 1:44 PM, Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:
if everything is mediated, what is the point of doing more research to say
that something is mediated by something? Like the adage goes, if something
explains everything, it in fact explains nothing.

If the body is mediating, then between what and what?

Concerning the "meaning" of mediation in CHAT----this is perhaps an
Anglo-Saxon CHAT that you are referring to?

There are scholars saying that Vygotsky's work is not of much use because
of his instrumentalism, mediation seems to me part of that instrumentalism.
(That's why those people say that Bakhtin has a better approach to the way
language works.) The later Vygotsky did not seem to go the route of
mediation, or so say those more familiar with some of the notes that have
become available from the family archive.


Wolff-Michael Roth, Lansdowne Professor

Applied Cognitive Science
MacLaurin Building A567
University of Victoria
Victoria, BC, V8P 5C2
http://web.uvic.ca/~mroth <http://education2.uvic.ca/faculty/mroth/>

New book: *The Mathematics of Mathematics

On Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 8:32 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

Sure, not everyone agrees. I think understanding what we come to know as
parts of our body as artefacts makes a lot of things comprehensible. Eating
and having sex, for example, are cultural practices and through
participation in these cultural practices people learn to name and identify
the various parts of our body and the appropriate ways of using them. As
David said, we are not born with this ability, but only natural functions.
We are born without self-consciousness of any kind or any distinction
between mind and body. These are culturally acquired distinctions and the
use of our bodies is the cultural means of acquiring these capacities,
which ultimately come to be embodied in external objects. I arrived at this
conclusion (the body is an artefact) because it was necessary to make sense
of the narrative of cultural psychology. But as you say, Michael, not
everyone agrees. I don't know anyone in this whole story that I entirely
agree with.

Note however that "mediated" has taken on a very specific meaning in the
CHAT tradition, it implies artefact-use for CHAT people and in the same
tradition bodies are not "artefacts." So there is tons of room for talking
at cross purposes here. But mediation is something utterly ubiquitous.


Andy Blunden
On 8/09/2017 1:19 PM, Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:

Not everyone agrees:

(Mikhailov 2001, p. 20) "Hence, the external corporeal existence of other
people, their real-objective behavior, their activity with things, their
voices and gestures and, consequently, the object-related nature
of all the conditions of their lives (all that is other), *is not
for individuals to become aware of them by the pure meanings
and senses of so many physically external words,26 but are
themselves the reality of affect and sense for each of us."


(Mikhailov 2001, p. 27) Everything
to which the child begins to relate in himself—close adults,
their speech, and consequently the “language” of household objects
addressed to him, the “language” of the whole of nature around
him, in a word, everything that his organs of perception assimilate
together with the subjectivity of adults—all these things are given
to the child *not as an ensemble of mediators* between the child and
nature, but, in fact, as subjectively his own; for all of these things
are subjectively “everyone’s.”

Mediationism has become something like a religion---Alfredo and I have a
piece in Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, suggesting why
we do not need the concept,


Wolff-Michael Roth, Lansdowne Professor

Applied Cognitive Science
MacLaurin Building A567
University of Victoria
Victoria, BC, V8P 5C2
http://web.uvic.ca/~mroth <http://education2.uvic.ca/faculty/mroth/>

New book: *The Mathematics of Mathematics

On Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 7:55 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

David, the germ cell of artefact-use is the use of our own body. Our
various body parts are essentially artefacts.


Andy Blunden
On 8/09/2017 12:45 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

We're currently translating Chapter Three of pedology of the adolescent
into Korean. You know that Vygotsky likes to begin at the beginning. So
Vygotsky is discussing the way in which the first year of life both is
is not the same as intra-uterine development. He points out that there
three "activities" (and that is the term that he uses) that are similar.

a) Feeding. Although the child now uses animal functions perfectly well
(that is, the child responds to hunger and even actively seeks milk) the
nature of the child's food does not depend on these animal functions:
it is
still, as it was during gestation, a product of the mother's body.

b) Sleep. Although the child has periods of wakefulness and activity,
main (as opposed to the leading) "activity" is inactive sleep, and the
child does not keep a twenty-four hour cycle any more than she or he
did in
the womb. Even the use of the twenty-four hour cycle is an adaptation to
the circadian rhythm of the mother as much as the establishment of the
child's own circadian rhythm.

c) Locomotion. Although the child now has space to move arms and legs,
the human child doesn't use them for locomotion for many months after
and instead depends on mother, just as a marsupial that has a
adaptation for this purpose would.

Vygotsky's point is that these activities are not yet mediated; if they
were, then the child's discovery of her or his own ability to act upon
objects ("tools") and the child's discovery of her or his ability to
("signs") would not have the significance that they do. Ergo,
genetically, developmentally there must necessarily exist activity
which is
not made up of mediated actions.

David Kellogg

On Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 10:51 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net
ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:

      "Andy added the notion that experts need basically to
      be able to agree reliably on examples of the unit" ?
      Researchers need to be clear about the unit of
      analysis each of them are using and of course,
      collaboration is much easier if you are all using the
      same unit of analysis. Exemplars are a way of
      substantiating a concept while a concept remains
      unclear or diverse, just like lists of attributes and
      definitions - all of which still fall short of a
      concept. To grasp the concept of something, like "unit
      of analysis," you have to know the narrative in which
      the concept is situated. Narrative knowledge and
      conceptual knowledge are mutually interdependent. The
      first three chapters of the story of "unit of
      analysis" as I see it are in my paper "Goethe, Hegel &
      Marx" to be published in "Science & Society" next
      - Vygotsky is the 4th chapter.

      "What makes water not an element, but a compound, are
      the relations between the subunits" ?
      The idea of a water molecule pre-dates he discovery of
      its composition as H2O and all the chemical properties
      related to that. As David suggested, it is the much
      more ancient knowledge of the "water cycle" - rain,
      snow, hail and fog ... run-off, streams, rivers, lakes
      ... seas, oceans ... vapour, steam ... - which is
      expressed in the idea of a "water molecule" - a tiny
      particle which all these things are made of, but which
      combines in different forms of movement to give us the
      various physical forms of what is all water. It is an
      unfortunate choice for a archetypal example, because
      it appears to contradict my claim that the concept of
      the unit must be visceral. The water molecule is so
      small it can be held in the hand, tossed around and
      stacked together only in the imagination. Nonetheless,
      like with metaphors, it is our visceral knowledge of
      particles (stones, pieces of bread, household objects,
      etc) which makes the concept of a "water molecule"
      something real to us, whose manifold physical
      properties arising from its V-shape, and its
      electrical stickiness, are meaningful. This contrasts
      with the 18th/19th century idea of "forces" and
      "fields" which are intangibles (though of course we
      find ways of grasping them viscerally nonetheless).

      Different phenomena are grasped by the way one and the
      same units aggregate. The unit relates to the range of
      phenomena it unifies. Different insights are provided
      by different units, *not necessarily in a hierarchy*.
      But a hierarchy of units and in particular the
      micro/macro pair are a theme which runs right through
      this narrative, the micro in some way "explaining" the
      macro which in turn explains the main phenomena:
      cell/organism, atom/molecule, commodity/capital, word
      meaning/utterance, artefact-mediated action/activity,
      etc. I am interested in this micro/macro relation but
      personally (despite my interest in Hegel) I am not a
      fan of trying to systematise the world with a
      "complete set" of units. Just one unit gives us an
      entire science. Let's not get too carried away. :)

      I hold the view, with A N Leontyev, that *Activities
      are composed of artefact-mediated actions and nothing
      else*. Any move away from this destroys the
      ontological foundation and takes us into metaphysics.
      If it is not an artefact-mediated action or aggregate
      of such actions, what the hell is it???


      Andy Blunden
      On 8/09/2017 3:41 AM, David Dirlam wrote:

          The issues that have arisen in this discussion
          clarify the conception of what sort of entity a
          "unit" is. Both and Andy and Martin stress the
          importance of the observer. Anyone with some
          experience should have some sense of it (Martin's
          point). But Andy added the notion that experts
          need basically to be able to agree reliably on
          examples of the unit (worded like the
          psychological researcher I am, but I'm sure Andy
          will correct me if I missed his meaning).

          We also need to address two other aspects of
          units--their classifiability and the types of
          relations between them. What makes water not an
          element, but a compound, are the relations between
          the subunits (the chemical bonds between the
          elements) as well as those with other molecules of
          water (how fast they travel relative to each
          other), which was David Kellogg's point. So the
          analogy to activity is that it is like the
          molecule, while actions are like the elements.
          What is new to this discussion is that the
          activity must contain not only actions, but also
          relationships between them. If we move up to the
          biological realm, we find a great increase in the
          complexity of the analogy. Bodies are made up of
          more than cells, and I'm not just referring to
          entities like extracellular fluid. The
          identifiability, classification, and
          interrelations between cells and their
          constituents all help to make the unit so
          interesting to science. Likewise, the constituents
          of activities are more than actions. Yrjo's
          triangles illustrate that. Also, we need to be
          able to identify an activity, classify activities,
          and discern the interrelations between them and
          their constituents.

          I think that is getting us close to David
          Kellogg's aim of characterizing the meaning of
          unit. But glad, like him, to read corrections.


          On Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 10:08 PM, Andy Blunden
          <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>

          <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>>> wrote:

              Yes, but I think, Martin, that the unit of
          analysis we
              need to aspire to is *visceral* and sensuous.
              are "everyday" concepts which are utterly
          abstract and
              saturated with ideology and received
          knowledge. For
              example, Marx's concept of capital is
              buying-in-order-to-sell, which is not the
              concept of capital at all, of course.


              Andy Blunden

              On 7/09/2017 8:48 AM, Martin John Packer wrote:

                  Isn’t a unit of analysis (a germ cell) a
                  preliminary concept, one might say an everyday
                  concept, that permits one to grasp the
                  that is to be studied in such a way that
          it can be
                  elaborated, in the course of
          investigation, into
                  an articulated and explicit scientific

                  just wondering


                      On Sep 6, 2017, at 5:15 PM, Greg Thompson

          <mailto:greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>>> wrote:

                      Not sure if others might feel this is an
                      oversimplification of unit of
                      analysis, but I just came across this in
                      Wortham and Kim's Introduction to
                      the volume Discourse and Education and
                      it useful. The short of it is
                      that the unit of analysis is the unit that
                      "preserves the
                      essential features of the whole".

                      Here is their longer explanation:

                      "Marx (1867/1986) and Vygotsky (1934/1987)
                      apply the concept "unit of
                      analysis" to social scientific
          problems. In
                      their account, an adequate
                      approach to any phenomenon must find
          the right
                      unit of analysis - one that
                      preserves the essential features of
          the whole.
                      In order to study water, a
                      scientist must not break the substance
                      below the level of an
                      individual H20 molecule. Water is made
          up of
                      nothing but hydrogen and
                      oxygen, but studying hydrogen and oxygen
                      separately will not illuminate the
                      essential properties of water. Similarly,
                      meaningful language use requires
                      a unit of analysis that includes aspects
                      beyond phonology,
                      grammar, semantics, and mental
                      representations. All of these
          linguistic and
                      psychological factors play a role in
                      linguistic communication, but natural
                      language use also involves social
          action in a
                      context that includes other
                      actors and socially significant

                      (entire chapter can be found on
          Research Gate at:

                      ​I thought that the water/H20 metaphor
          was a
                      useful one for thinking about
                      unit of analysis.​


                      --             Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
                      Assistant Professor
                      Department of Anthropology
                      880 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
                      Brigham Young University
                      Provo, UT 84602
                      WEBSITE: greg.a.thompson.byu.edu