RE: Arievitch discussion

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Mon Jun 28 2004 - 12:32:33 PDT

Dear Mike and everybody--

In my view, Gal'perin's framework about "internal plane of actions"
prioritizes "armchair scientists" over people who plan with objects at
hands. What is such fascination with "mental abacus"? My grandma did very
complex and sophisticated cooking without using receipts, measures, and
calculations (being print "illiterate" -- I can't apply the term
"illiterate" to my highly orally literate grandma!). For me, it is more
interesting than "mental abacus" because her cooking dealt with open-ended
and ill-defined problems in contrast to "mental abacus". Production of
speech is much more complex than "mental abacus" for the same reason. Also,
"internal plane" does not recognize how much "external" (read "social", read
"symbolic", read "situational", read "cultural, read "historic", read
"gendered") the "the internal plane" is. The bottom line is that I do not
find the "internal-external" dualism useful for describing people's
participation in sociocultural activities. On contrary, I found this term
misleading -- posing many wrong questions of how "external" becomes
"internal" and how "internal" becomes "external".

As to Jim's framework, again I do not see need to focus on the
"internal-external dualism" in description of people's participation in
discourses on history. Jim talks about believing in some history discourse
(i.e., "internalization") versus "mastering" it but not believing in it.
Theatre has better terminology for that, I think. They talk about "acting
out" ("performing") versus "living out". I do not see what we gain by saying
that a person "internalizes" Stalinism versus a person becomes/joins a
Stalinist or socializes in Stalinism. As to Jim's notion of "mastery", I
prefer descriptor "skillfully pretends" or "skillfully acts": a person
skillfully pretends being a Stalinist. I like the term that reflect
purposefulness of person's action that Jim's terms seem to be missing. Also,
"internalization" treats a person as a container. (However, I like Jim's
terms much more than Gal'perin's ones because I believe that for Jim,
"mastery" and "internalization" are metaphors describing different forms of
(political) participation in history discourses rather than exact/formal
psychological concepts like apparently for Gal'perin).

What do you think?


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Mike Cole []
> Sent: Monday, June 28, 2004 1:49 PM
> To:
> Subject: Re: Arievitch discussion
> Yes, I just tripped over Eugene's article again yesterday looking for
> something else.
> Jim Wertsch goes a different direction, preferring to distinguish
> mastery and internalization -- he is thinking about Russians who mastered
> the version of history they were fed in Soviet times, but disbelieving
> (e.g., not internalizing) it.
> Lets take the summary of the Galperin positions you provide:
> the key feature of Gal'perin's analysis is
> the idea that
> there is a specifically human plane of action that "enables humans to
> act with
> symbolic substitutes of objects without those objects being physically
> present."
> And that this plane is what, for better or worse, is labeled by the
> somewhat misleading
> term "internal plane of action."
> Now, doesn't work of abacus experts with a "mental abacus" (Hatano et al,
> also summarized in a paper by me and Jan Derry on my website about tools
> and intelligence) fit this defintion? An abacus expert, hands folded in
> his/her lap (usually his I suspect in this case) can be given a set of
> 10 digit numbers, say, a dozen, and asked to add them as fast as the
> experimenter can pronounce them. And the expert does so with no abacus
> in site. Of course, the abacus expert is participating in a culturally
> organized activity, although a somewhat odd one. But the actions of the
> expert certainly appear to imply the ability to act with
> symbolic substitutes of objects without those objects being physically
> present."
> mike

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