Re: [xmca] Luria & the USSR

From: Leif Strandberg (
Date: Mon Mar 13 2006 - 23:40:39 PST


The Luria-conversation is great - and important. Important from many

The historical context 1932 when Luria and his team went to
Uzbekistan was not the Great terror - it started 2-3 years later. The
context was The war against the peasants. And the purpose of the Luria
expedition was an investigation of peasants (!) and nomads.

Here comes a team of young and enthusiastic students from Moscow (the
Capital) to the fpeasants. Who paid the tickets? The same rulers who
now killed the peasants.

They came with a lot of logical premises (one of them: Moscow is more
advanced than Tasjkent. Another: The concept (!) of collective farms is
more advanced than working with goats and camels in Bohara). They -
the team - came with The Truth to people with "Lower Mental Functions".
Of course the team was not - as far as I can see - in a subjective
sense against the farmers in Uzbekistan absolutely not! - but if we
look at the expedition from the perspective of Activity Theory it is
easy to see the inequality of the relations between the researchers and
the Uzbeki people.

The use of Aristotelian logic is also surprising - as the team wanted
to explore mind in culture - why use a typical cognitivstic (Platon!
Bucharin!) method?

Inspired by Harold Pinter (the Nobel Prize winner 2005 - You know,
Pinter is always interested in power relations in ordinary
conversations) I wrote down the test protocols (from Making of Mind)
and read them from a "Pinter-angle" trying to see what the farmers
actually said to the researchers. Reading the protocols in such a way
it is - to me - easy to see that the conversation was reciprocal: The
farmers had something to say to the young men (I have not found any
female researcher in the team):

- Do not have illusions! (about what is going on) The farmers did not
only reflected on the Muller-Lyers arrows!)
- Do not have prejudices when talking about other parts of the country
(the cotton- and bear-example)

If we create such a languge-game with the text we will find something
else than the cognitive analysis. It is also clear that Vygotskij did
not gave full support to the expedition of Luria. "It is your
There are so many methodolgical errors in the research (errors - if we
want to explore what mind in culture can be. From a Piagetian
perspective the results are more okay. (But Piaget did often the same
mistakes as Luria did 1932)

I am not saying that the expedition is bad or unintersting. It was and
is very interesting - (the fact that psychologists "came out" from the
Insitutes is per se interesting) - but to me the expediton says more
about the risks when we do investigations on The Other than it says
about peasants' IQ:s

The team members were young, naive and captured in some false premises
and they knew to little about farmers and the history and the great
culture of Samarkand. But they were not racists - which was the common
case in most of the research from that time. In my country - Sweden -
we had a Race-Institute from which "researchers" came to my part of
Sweden - The North - doing research on Sami people - with a very clear
racistic perspective. Compared to their "research" the Luria expedition
is more than great. But, from a cultural-historical perspective there
are many thing to say. I have tried to say some of these things.

Harold Pinter - The Cartetaker (and Pinter's Nobelprize-speech)
Frantz Fanon "Les damnés de terre"
Aleksandr Etkind "Psychoanalysis in the time of the Russian Revolution"
(Eros Nevosmomozjngo" from 1993.
Osip Mandelstam

I am looking forward to read Mike's new book - I have not found it yet
- perhaps some of what I am saying here will be changed after reading
Mike's book.

Greetings from Leif, a peasant from The Arctic Circle in Sweden

2006-03-14 kl. 06.07 skrev Steve Gabosch:

> Mike describes some of the reaction to Luria's research among the
> Kashgars on page 214-215 of his "Epilogue: A Portrait of Luria" in
> Luria's autobiography, The Making of Mind. His research and
> explanations in this work "met with strong, not to say vitriolic,
> disapproval."
> Although Mike does not go into this, I think it is vital to point out
> that this kind of poisonous attack - one that represented a "mixing of
> scientific and political criticism in 1934" - took place during the
> full-scale Stalinization of nearly every aspect of Soviet society,
> including all the sciences. It was not the *content* of Luria's
> cross-cultural studies but its *suppression* that satisfied "Soviet
> doctrine" (whatever "soviet doctrine" was in Stalin's brutal campaign
> to drive out scientific discussion and debate in the USSR beginning
> with Lenin's death, and reaching a fever pitch prior to WWII).
> Excepting Stalin, the entire original leadership of the Bolshevik
> revolution had been killed, imprisoned or exiled by the end of the
> 1930's, culminating in Trotsky's assassination in 1940. In the late
> 1920's and throughout the 1930's, a death grip was being placed on
> scientific work, which included, among much other repression, the
> banning of Vygotsky's writings. Lysenko's quack theories of genetic
> inheritance and his mismanagement of Soviet agricultural research was
> a shining example of the scientific "accomplishments" of this
> Stalinization process.
> This does not mean that Luria's analysis of the Kashgars (how they
> used syllogisms, etc.) is above scientific and political criticism. I
> think ARL did make certain errors (seeking cognitive rather than
> socio-economic, historical and class explanations for his results),
> along with creating brilliant precedents for conducting this kind of
> field research. I also think Luria would have welcomed such
> commentary. But there is no reason to believe that the poison-filled
> reaction to his work - and the suppression apparently of even any
> mention of this work - was an aspect of any coherent doctrine, let
> alone a worthy scientific critique. Rather, as I see it, the poison
> campaign Luria endured was part of the general Stalinization process
> of destroying independent thinking in the scientific community.
> - Steve
> At 05:45 PM 3/13/2006 -0400, you wrote:
>> Dear XMCARs,
>> A class of mine was studying Luria by the last 2 weeks, Mike's DVD
>> included,
>> and one of the questions that arose was that of the conclusions of
>> the Asia
>> studies and whether the way they were skecthed in the book published
>> by
>> Harvard's press in the late 1970s would have been the same in case
>> the book
>> would have been published after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
>> That is:
>> >From all what is said in the book, what can be attributed to the
>> needs to
>> satisfy Soviet doctrine and what can be attributed to the real
>> thinking of
>> Luria. Maybe it would help us to elarn what were the ideas related to
>> that
>> study that kept it unpublished for so many years and whether they had
>> to be
>> sublimated to reach final publication. I know that's a difficult
>> question,
>> but maybe it can be answered by some of you here that knew Luria
>> personally.
>> Feel free to reply to all since I am copying to my students. All of
>> them
>> will be very grateful of your imputs.
>> Thanks!
>> David
>> David D. Preiss Ph.D.
>> Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
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