Re: [xmca] Monism Is Not Reductionist

From: Martin Packer (
Date: Wed Mar 14 2007 - 14:23:49 PST


>From your description it seems to me that the task very much reflects
Vygotsky's insistence that concepts are formed only when they have a
function within a specific task, and also that such a task will always be
socially defined. The task is not designed to study some capacity that is
intrinsic to the child. Rather it sets up the social conditions for the
phenomenon of interest, the development of concepts by child and adult

It seems to me that this highlights for us the fact that every assessment
task is a social situation, even those that are generally considered to be
objective assessments of the individual child's intrinsic abilities. (Did
Piaget consider his tasks to be social?)

This being the case, I wonder how important standardization is - or how
*appropriate* it is. (Or whether it's even possible.) Particularly if the
analysis of such a task would take idiographic form: the study of individual
cases, rather than aggregating data over a sample. It seems to me that the
logic of Vygotsky's position would call for such an analysis. I don't
understand why (or how) he conducted this task, apparently, with 300 people!


On 3/12/07 4:44 AM, "Ana Marjanovic-Shane" <> wrote:

> Hi,
> You are right about interaction being crucial and about the adult trying
> to "figure out" the child at the same time.
> There are million of possibilities.
> As I said in my first e-mail, we used this "test" at the University of
> Belgrade when we made the blocks. Also I used it in one of my research
> on the development of meaning.
> The point is that every one of adult's next moves depends on the child's
> move and vice versa. One may start the same. Our start was to show the
> child the big, tall red cube -- uncover the label (LAG) and say: "This
> is a LAG. Can you give me another LAG?" But we would formulate even this
> question a bit different depending on many circumstances. Age of the
> child can change it: slightly older children might be asked "What, do
> you think, are other LAGs?" Sometimes it was not the age but the level
> of personal knowledge of the child. As everyone else, we did pilots with
> children we knew personally. The better you knew the child the more you
> had to "motivate" this activity -- to find a real explanation to what do
> you want to achieve by either withholding information (not uncovering
> all the tags immediately) and the manner in which you were disclosing it
> (Do you include praise after every guess? How do you "measure" your
> words when you have to say "Wrong!"? Do you act like you know the names
> -- i.e. truthfully; or you act like you are also seeing them for the
> first time??)... All of this will influence the child's next moves and
> therefore the adult's next moves.
> Even from the combinatorial point of view only -- there are 21 possible
> choices the child can offer after shown one of the blocks. The first
> move is both offering the most of the choices and the least certainty as
> to what could be the underlying principle (reason) for the sub
> categorization. Also, at that point, the adult usually does not say:
> "There are four kinds of blocks here: lags, murs, fiks, and sevs..." So
> there is no knowledge of the overall structure. But some children ask
> you about it, maybe even after the first move, or maybe after the first
> "wrong" choice. I will never forget one of the boys who was about 5 and
> 1/2 and a child of my good friends who said something like: "Tell me how
> many different names are there in the first place?" right after it was
> disclosed that he made a "mistake" in his first guess.
> Another child asked me: "How do you play this game after you guess all
> the blocks' names?" -- in other words -- what is the "point" of the
> game??, she wanted to know what would be the purpose of doing this
> exercise of guessing names.
> In other words, the situation is fully social as it is in Piagetian
> tasks or any other testing. The child is trying to "figure out" what is
> the adult's purpose, or what is the motivation. The task of figuring out
> the names of the blocks is a joint activity which is emergent for both
> partners. We tried to standardize the protocols and to standardize
> coding the moves. We did not quite succeed. There were just general
> instructions to be friendly and not to sound punitive in case of
> repeated "failures" to guess. Some children are more "patient" and play
> along even when they are constantly guessing "wrong". Other children are
> less tolerant and get very frustrated when the situation (labels) prove
> them "wrong". That may change the interviewer's responses and overall
> strategy.
> There are more intricacies -- but I also have to run for now.
> Ana
> Mike Cole wrote:
>> Gotta be brief, Martin. Check the text. Also, Sakharov has a long
>> article in
>> the van der veer and valsiner book of readings on vygotsky which goes
>> deep
>> into the rationale. I only had time to skim.
>> I think the interactivity is crucial to the method, but that may well
>> be a
>> superficial reading.
>> mike
>> On 3/11/07, Andy Blunden <> wrote:
>>> Yes, sorry, I meant "Martin". :-)
>>> I am not claiming that there is a "correlation" between a concept and a
>>> thing. e.g. as you say, being a commodity does not depend on a
>>> participant
>>> in exchange knowing the concept "commodity". Such a judgment is possible
>>> from an observer perspective without reference to the participant's
>>> theory
>>> of what they are doing.
>>> But I am saying that the basis for a concept is the ideality involved in
>>> the activity. You can't recognise a commodity by its physical
>>> properties.
>>> Some reference to mind is necessary."Commodity" does not arise as a
>>> concept
>>> until the practice of exchanging products reaches a certain level of
>>> development, which includes products being produced for exchanged, i.e.,
>>> as
>>> ideals. It is impossible to identify a thing as a commodity outside of
>>> consideration of the consciousness of the participants.
>>> For example, a thing produced *for the purpose of meeting the producer's
>>> needs by exchanging it for another person's product* is a commodity only
>>> because of the separation of the producer's needs from the producer's
>>> labour, and the existence of a relation with other producers such that
>>> someone else satisfies the person's needs, and each sees the other as a
>>> means to their own ends. This situation is sustainable only through
>>> forms
>>> of consciousness. It can't happen without appropriate orientation of
>>> people's psyches.
>>> And in fact if this situation were contrived independently of the
>>> consciousness of the participants (e.g., organisation of prison labour),
>>> then I would say that the products are not commodities, even though the
>>> movement of matter is the same.
>>> So "a commodity is a commodity, whether or not I recognize this in my
>>> thinking" but not for example if you intended to consume it yourself,
>>> but
>>> someone exchanged it for something else when you were out of the
>>> room, or
>>> you intended to exchange it, but no-one else wanted it.
>>> Andy
>>> At 07:42 PM 11/03/2007 -0600, you wrote:
>>>> And Andy, when you say 'David,' I presume you mean Martin? :)
>>>> But you're not saying, are you, that our thinking necessarily
>>> 'correlates'
>>>> with the concepts formed in our activity? I mean, a commodity is a
>>>> commodity, whether or not I recognize this in my thinking.
>>>> Martin
>>>> On 3/11/07 6:24 PM, "Andy Blunden" <> wrote:
>>>>> And David, when you say 'practice', I presume you mean purposive
>>> activity,
>>>>> as opposed to simply material action, such as digestion. Material
>>> actions
>>>>> which are not 'practical' in this sense are not a relevantly
>>> necessary
>>>>> substrate of concepts. It is only practice which is part of 'mind'
>>> which is
>>>>> the relevant necessary substrate of concepts.Things that we do that
>>> have no
>>>>> correlate in our thinking, such as the use of meaningful artefacts,
>>> are not
>>>>> the basis for concepts.
>>>>> Andy
>>>>> At 06:03 PM 11/03/2007 -0600, you wrote:
>>>>>> David,
>>>>>> So when Andy writes 'If you mean that concepts do not exist other
>>> than in
>>>>>> connection with human minds, then I agree,' I think what he *ought*
>>> to
>>>>>> have said, perhaps what he meant to say, was that concepts do not
>>> exist
>>>>>> other than in connection with human *practices*. I think wed agree
>>> that a
>>>>>> 'commodity' exists in the social world, not merely in a person's
>>> head. The
>>>>>> 'commodity form' is defined, created, by social practices, not
>>> in and
>>> by
>>>>>> individual minds.
>>>>> _______________________________________________
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