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

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Thu Feb 15 2007 - 10:36:32 PST


AT present the issue of consciousness is getting a lot of attention in some
neighboring parts of academic such as cog sci. The work of Benjamin Libet
on time and consciousness is hitting the newspapers and there is a journal
of consciousness studies (or some such title) with relevant materials.

I am just delving into this literatures, but the issues the LSV raises in
chapter 1 of T&S seem to be central: interfuncational relations, the
co-constitution of generalization and
social interaction, dynamics of developmental change...... Just a whole lot
to grok there.

On 2/14/07, Martin Packer <> wrote:
> Mike,
> 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
> speak.
> 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.
> Martin
> 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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