Re: Does no one read [between] Vygotsky's words?

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Mon Apr 19 2004 - 05:56:07 PDT

Dear Steve--

Thanks a lot for your helpful analysis. I agree with you about the
unnecessary sarcastic title of Margaret Gredler and Carol Shields' article
(I overlooked it). As to lack of specifics in their historical criticism, I
saw their draft of the article before it was published and they had a rather
extenisve discussion of the historical context. For some reasons, this
discussion was cut from the final version of article -- I assume they did it
because of space and I think it was done under editorial pressure (too


----- Original Message -----
From: "Steve Gabosch" <>
To: <>
Sent: Monday, April 19, 2004 6:09 AM
Subject: RE: Does no one read [between] Vygotsky's words?

> I found the Gredler/Shields review of the Glassman article very
> interesting. It is a short article and I encourage people to take a
> look. Here is the URL
> again:
> Thanks much to Peter for bringing this up.
> Eugene asks: "I'd like what other people see that makes Margaret Gredler
> and Carol Shields' (and maybe even my?) tone objectable." I offer some
> thoughts below. My essential idea is that insofar as Gredler and Shields
> offer their interpretations of Vygotsky, they are exercising excellent
> scholarship, but insofar as they go beyond critiquing specific passages in
> the Glassman article and offering their own well-supported thoughts on
> Vygotsky, they may be introducing certain features that can be confusing
> a reader.
> Eugene's quotes perfectly capture the main substance of this review, which
> focuses on the authors' interpretation of a number of Vygotsky's ideas,
> and, as Eugene points out, there are many more. They pack a lot into a
> five page review. The reviewers counterpose their interpretations to
> numerous quotes from Glassman's 2001 article, and they back their
> interpretations up with a very high standard of scholarship. They explain
> their central motivation for writing this review, which is to help correct
> "major misconceptions" of Vygotsky's theory which they, following Valsiner
> and van der Veer, feel are widespread. They explain that they believe the
> Glassman article "misconstrues major concept and topics addressed by
> Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development - psychological tools, the role
> of the cross-cultural study, the zone of proximal development, and the
> nature of conceptual thinking." They also believe that the article
> "attempted to force Vygotsky's goals into a Deweyan framework." I think
> they argue these points very well, and hopefully their effort will
> contribute to spawning a deeper and wider discussion about Vygotsky's
> There is another, seconday level that this paper is written on that
> me a little, however. While Margaret Gredler and Carol Shields do a
> job of presenting and explaining the basis of their counterclaims about
> what Vygotsky meant in the above-mentioned topics (and like Eugene, I find
> their positions compelling), they also make a series of claims about
> Glassman's paper that are harder to evaluate. In addition, I find the
> title perplexing, and there are a couple of other small problems that I
> think could be confusing to a reader. I think this is the side of the
> review that Peter, Ana and others are reacting to, and which some might
> find, as Eugene puts it, "objectable."
> The reviewers claim that the Glassman paper has three "general problems" -
> the "omission of relevant historical information," the "assignment of
> concepts to scholars, including Vygotsky, that are not found in their
> writings," and "the use of unsupported inferences as the basis for further
> generalizations." They offer specific examples for each of these problems
> in the article they are critiquing, and do so very well. But what is
> puzzling for me is that they make these assertions not just as specific
> critiques of particular passages in the article, but as descriptions of
> general characteristics of the article overall. However, in following the
> practice of empirically-based scholarship, they can only make their case
> critiquing and characterizing specific examples and offering specific
> counter-examples. This necessary empirical limitation seems to leave the
> reader with having to take their word for the general case about the
> article that they also assert. It is not clear to me why, as a reader -
> least in the case of this particular article - I need to take a position,
> as they seem to hope I will, of being convinced that these problems are
> generalized in the article beyond the specific examples they (rather
> convincingly) cite. It seems to me that critiquing each problem passage
> a specific case is quite sufficient to accomplish the purpose they set for
> themselves, which is to correct misconceptions about what Vygotsky
> said. Asserting that there are "general problems" in the article written
> by Glassman does not seem to be directly relevant to that purpose.
> I also find the sarcastic and somewhat personally focused title puzzling:
> "Does No One Read Vygotsky's Words? Commentary on Glassman." Their
> focuses on supporting their interpretations of certain topics in
> theory of cognitive development over those in a specific 2001
> article. However, this review, at least in my reading, is not at all
> whether anyone actually reads Vygotsky's "words," nor is at all about the
> author, Michael Glassman. The title is certainly an attention-getter, and
> points to Margaret Gedler's and Carol Shields' concern that Vygotsky is
> widely misconstrued, but I don't think it accurately describes the
> substance of their review or does justice to the excellent scholarship
> offer.
> Throughout the review, the writers consistently back up their
> counter-interpretations with a rich supply of relevant quotes - thereby
> formulating positive counterclaims with ample direct evidence in the best
> scientific tradition - but in a small handful of places, the reviewers
> a kind of negative counterclaim, where they assert that certain authors,
> such as Vygotsky, Vygotsky writing with Luria, and Novack, never actually
> said something that Glassman said they did. It seems to me that in
> this is a difficult type of claim to prove, although by no means is this
> kind of claim unprovable. But I think the careful reader needs something
> more than just a counter-assertion such as just saying the author in
> question never wrote such and such. How do Gredler and Shields know
> Vygotsky never said a particular thing? Saying something like 'our
> readings show,' or, even better, 'a computer scan of the entire corpus of
> English translations of Vygotsky reveals' that Vygotsky or whoever never
> said such and such, might be helpful. The quick nod to the empirical
> of scholarship such a qualifying statement offers shows respect both to
> discerning reader and to the difficulty of quality scholarship in
> general. (Perhaps I am making a little too much of this? I'm not sure.)
> A final observation I have concerns the third or fourth paragraph of the
> article (depending how you count them), where they describe the first
> "general problem" of the Glassman article as being the "omission of
> relevant historical information." One would have to read the Glassman
> article itself (is this available online?) to understand this better, but
> my sense of what Gredler and Shields are doing is offering a different
> interpretation than that of Glassman of the circumstances leading up to a
> 1931 resolution of the USSR Communist Party Central Committee that
> "condemned progressive educational practice." Glassman's article, as I
> read this passage by Gredler and Shields, apparently attributed this
> resolution to being the culmination of a rift started by a critique Dewey
> wrote of Russian education. However, rather than counterposing their
> historical interpretation of these events to the one advanced in the
> Glassman article, and of course supporting their own interpretation with
> relevant evidence, the reviewers criticize this passage in the article for
> simply omitting relevant historical information. They make three
> suggestions for information that should be included, which seem to support
> their historical interpretion of the circumstances. Since it is usually
> the case that different historical interpretations will seek support from
> different and often conflicting sets of data, the mere criticism of
> "omitting information" - and just offering some data that they assert
> should be included - rather than offering an alternative historical
> interpretation with supporting data - may seem confusing to the reader.
> I bring all of these secondary items up - the primary items, again, being
> the many well-supported interpretations of Vygotsky on a number of topics
> offered by Gredler and Shields - because, like these writers, I too worry
> that Vygotsky's ideas are widely misconstrued and misconceived. The
> secondary items I mention above could all be rather easily edited
> differently or just taken out of the review. In my opinion, doing so
> strengthen their review, but that is just one reader's opinion.
> As Victor, Eugene and others emphasize, criticism - no matter what form it
> comes in (with gloves, or bare-knuckled) and what levels it is written on
> (analyzing specific points in a paper, or condemning the article in
> general) - is a necessary and normal part of scientific and scholarly
> work. The writing Michael Glassman, Margaret Gredler and Carol Shields
> very much fits into these norms, and it is up to us as readers and writers
> to learn from and build on their work, to take what we think is good, bad,
> right and wrong, and move forward with it. It is pretty cool that xmca
> provides a vehicle for us to do some of this.
> Best,
> - Steve

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