Re: [xmca] neoformation

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Thu Feb 07 2008 - 11:43:41 PST

The main thing that non-XMCAnauts use in their (mis)understanding of the ZPD is pp. 86-89 of Mike et al.'s "Mind in Society". Unfortunately, the ZPD is here presented as an ASSESSMENT tool; that is why it caught on so quickly, but that is why taking it out of this context ONLY means that you are taking it out of context.
  LSV presents the ZPD as an assessment tool ONLY to criticize psychometrics as a "new" science with its back already set resolutely to the future: Thorndike and Binet, although they CLAIM to want to predict the ability to learn, are taking out precisely the thing that learning is made of, namely verbal interaction with others.
  (According to Bernard Spolsky, one of the first uses for the "language aptitude tests" developed along Binet lines was for the US Army to decide who to use clearing minefields and who to train up as interpreters before wasting any verbal interaction on the latter.That was how my granddaddy survived World War I, actually!)
  So the stress has been on the word PROXIMAL in the zone of proximal development. But what Helena really wants, in order to understand why play and schoolwork involve the zone of proximal development but interrogation and confession do not, is to place the stress back on DEVELOPMENT (as Chaiklin has done, and as Mike, Pentti Hakarainnen, and Yrjo did in their November seminar).
  Of course, when police interrogations, confessions, and IQ tests are carried out, it's face to face. But it's also back to back: one back is to the wall, and the other back is to the future. The interrogator is only interested in the past, because only the past is fully predictable. This is particularly true with learning: the future of learning is really by definition unpredictable, because if it were predictable it would be pre-programmed rather than learnt.
  Mike (in Cultural Psychology, but even before that, in Culture and Thought with Sylvia Scribner) has been interested in the overlap between socio-cultural development and ontogenesis; that's how he came up with the (for me, incorrect) definition of the ZPD: "where culture and cognition construct each other".
  The problem I have with this formulation is that I think it is also at least potentially back to the future. When we say "construct each other" we automatically assume that the mutual construction is somehow simultaneous. But what really happens is that culture constructs cognition, and then cognition (through invention and through the selection of individual neoformations by socio-cultural peers and by the innovator him/herself) provides the raw material for FUTURE culture.
  Sometimes. But not very often.That's why so many neoformations are developmentally dead ends, and why we have to distinguish between neoformations that are
  a) developmentally inert (e.g. Caravaggio's obsession with his own decapitated head). These come and go and apparently have no permanent effect all. Words that are learnt and forgotten are like this.
  b) developmental ontogenetically but not socio-culturally (e.g. Caravaggio's obsession with decapitation in general, which was fruitful for him as an artist but not for other artists). These are transformative for the individual, but that is all. When I learn Chinese, it's a revelation for me but the other billion plus Chinese speakers remain curiously unaffected.
  c) developmentally CATALYTIC (e.g. Rembrandt's attempt to paint a disaster painting like Caravaggio's, which ended in a disaster but led him to something much more interesting than disaster painting, namely the psychological portrait). These are like LSV's critical neoformations (autonomous speech at one, "negativism" at three) in that they completely disappear but nevertheless "blaze a trail" for a more lasting neoformation. Another example might be Richardson's epistolary novel "Pamela"; the genre itself died the death almost immediately, but the plot of a poor but honest maid who marries up in the world goes on and on and on and on....
  d) developmentally REVOLUTIONARY (e.g. Caravaggio's innovation of painting with "pointing fingers" made of illumination). These last not only transform ontogenetic development but also FUTURE sociocultural development. The problem is that they only do so when they appear at the right sociocultural moment. Needham writes many volumes on why paper, printing, gunpowder, and compass navigation were all pretty much developmentally inert when invented in China but not when they were reverse-engineered in the West. As Mike says that the trick is not to have an idea but to have it again when other people are watching. (Well, okay, he doesn't EXACTLY say that....)
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Thu Feb 7 11:46 PST 2008

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