Re: [xmca] units of analysis and other matters, including etymology

From: Martin Packer (
Date: Wed Feb 14 2007 - 23:07:51 PST


It's been a busy week and I'm catching up slowly. (And I owe Vera and
Armando relies too.) My reaction to your point (copied below) comes from a
couple of different directions. First, that the choice of phenomenon one
seeks to explain is a choice constrained by theoretical and metatheoretical
presuppositions and commitments. I think American psychology has by and
large presupposed consciousness away, as something unscientific. First
behaviorism, then cognitive science... At the same time, consciousness as
Vygotsky sought to study it is closely linked to action, as is illustrated
by David's points about volition and my point that consciousness arises from
practical activity. So with V one gets two for the price of one, so to

Second, V's interest in consciousness stems from a profound metatheoretical
commitment on his part - he's trying to *raise* consciousness. His
psychology is not just about explaining the phenomenon; it has an
emancipatory interest. I don't think that is incompatible with a dramatist
approach, but it does mean that he is writing a comedy rather than a
tragedy. (I know that will sound obscure; I've been reading an article by
Menke in Rasmussen's reader on the 'tragic knowledge' of critical theory.
Can spell this out more if there's interest.)

Third, Cs really *is* central to T&S, not just at the beginning and end (but
you already knew that). For example, the point (in Chapter 1) at which V
justifies his choice of word-meaning as the appropriate 'cell' for the study
of the relationship between thinking and speech (and by implication the
relations among all the higher functions that constitute the activity of Cs)
is where he points out that to use a word is to generalize, and to
generalize is to think. The clincher in his argument is that when we use a
word our *consciousness* is changed. We move from immediate sensation to
thinking. (He says that 'reality is reflected in consciousness in a
qualitatively different way.' I hate the 'reflection' language, but the fact
that he says the reflection *changes* makes it clear that he's not using a
copy-theory.) I know enough Hegel to recognize the echoes here from the
Phenomenology of Mind. It's a nice illustration of the notion that Cs is the
*relation* among functions. Without consciousness as the focal point, the
different functions would fall apart beneath our analytical fingertips.


On 2/13/07 7:26 PM, "Mike Cole" <> wrote:

> Martin-- for your students-- and all--- for general consideration.
> This week my class is reading Wertsch's book on Mind as Action.
> In reading the book one issue has forcefully struck me that had already been
> gnawing at me. The word, consciousness, which
> is so important at the beginning and end of T&L does not appear in the index
> of the text. And while it may appear somewhere
> (I am now alerted!) it is not obvious so far. Rather, there is a remark on
> p. 12 that comes off of a an interesting discussion
> of Kenneth Burke (I am a big fan of Burke and dramatism approaches
> generall) that reads:
> The starting point of Burke's dramatistic method is that it takes human
> action as the basic phenomenon to be analyzed. This assumption
> provides the groundwork for building links between Burke and those of
> figures such as ..... vygtosky, wertch, zinchenko,, bakhtin, & mead.
> I know that your students have been focusing on the question of units of
> analysis and primal cells, Martin.
> I have been wanting to write something like, "The unit you choose depends
> upon the phenomenon you want to explain."

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