RE: [xmca] Historical Development

From: Worthen, Helena Harlow <hworthen who-is-at>
Date: Sat Feb 16 2008 - 06:51:59 PST


A few thoughts to get started:

I want to take another look at Mohammed ElHamoumi's article of a few years ago which tried to recapture theMarxist conext of Vygotsky's thought.

And then -- how to transplant what Martin calls "the tool," Vygotsky's sociocultural psychology?

Soviet Russia did not leave capitalism in the dust. Rust, yes -- we're interviewing workers at a power plant where some of the turbines are the original pre-World War II machines. So how to transplant CHAT to this context, where for so many people history is not moving forward (or maybe the contradictions are still sharpening) but individuals, and some social units (groups? workforces? collectives?) still, for their own sanity, try to "master society and the truth of society," or "master the truth of personality"? Last night I interviewed a mechanic who said, "everyone here is on a race between retirement and disability."

Martin's paper is at the very least making me focus on the point in history - the history of production, since I'm looking at work -- when our interviews are taking place, and trying to make explicit for myself the awareness of the people we're interviewing of our point in history. Maybe that's the "social moment of consciousness."

How do others do this transplant? Or try to do it?


From: [] On Behalf Of Paul Dillon []
Sent: Friday, February 15, 2008 9:04 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [xmca] Historical Development


  Congratulations!!! I'm one of those people from the states who does know the marxist tradition, nothing like Andy, but enough to have always thought that Vygotsky was working within the "scientific" framework that Marx established; , not just simulating for political reasons. I've also always wondered whether his psychology was in fact oriented toward the development of the "new moral man" required for socialist society and that he presupposed the absence of internalized class relations, the absence of what Bourdieu might call a class habitus, structures that proceed from the relations of economic exploitation inherent in capitalism. I think you have demonstrated what you wrote: "Vygotsky can be seen as aiming to lessen the birth-pangs of the new socialist Soviet Union byproviding the tools with which to form the “new man” needed for such a society." I also agree that the transfer of Vygotsky's psychology to late-capitalist societies overlooks the absence of class
 structured personalities that he presumed, . I wonder what kind of psychology he would have developed had he been born in Vienna in 1870, he might not even have gotten into psychology.

  I am also very interested to see the second half of the study. In the conclusion of the finished half, you indicated two problems with Vygotsky's general psychology:

  "The first is his treatment of cultural differences as historical differences, and in particular the characterization of “primitive” forms of consciousness. The second is the abstract character of his account of child development, and specifically its lack of attention to social class."

  The second problem disappears if we assume that Vygotsky was working with the presupposition that class distinctions were not a factor in the development process since he was working in a new, socialist, supposedly classless society (state bureaucracies aren't, classes in any sociological sense) or in a society at least moving in that direction, and in the society itself, the classes based on capitalist relations of production were in fact non-existent or disappearing ..

  The first problem, Vygotsky's identification of culture with historical periods, (modes of production?) that represent a process of social evolution, clearly isn't a problem within marxist social theory in which human history is precisely a process of the development of productive forces, an increasing expansion of the realm of human freedom, although in the form of class societies, in which that increased freedom was concentrated in the minority dominant classes..

  The racist interpretations of pre-capitalist societies, especially non-agricultural ones, as perjoratively "primitive", led to the Boasian and structural-functionalist rejection of the 19th century evolutionism. A necessary corrective absolutely especially since the difference between "culture" and "race" wasn't well defined at the time. However, if one lives in a society in which everyone does basically the same thing, (hunt, gather, traditional agriculture, whatever),, in a society in which there are really few activity systems, little economic division of labor , a society in which the "careers" of all members of the community are prescribed (age groups, lineage affiliations, etc.), doesn't it stand to reason that the personalities, formed on the basis of the internalization of these social relations, will be quite different . from the personalities formed in societies in which there are so many different activities, careers, etc. that no individual is aware of them
 all? Is there a difference between capitalist society and feudal society? a difference between ancient slave society and non-agricultural tribal people? Very clearly the social relations, which are the basis of the personality as I understand Vygotsky, are qualitatively different.

  Marx and Engels hailed 19th century anthropologist, Lewis Henry Morgan's, theory of cultural ,evolution as an independent invention of historical materialism. Morgan's historical periods mapped onto the unilinear theory of social evolution M&^E developed on the basis of European history but Marx elaborated a multi-lineal model as well, one involving the much disputed notion of an "Asiatic" mode of production -- as well as various difrferent lines of historical development in Europe.

  There is overwhelming archaeological evidence that illustrates processes of historical transition that replicate themselves in unconnected parts of the worlds; e.g., the transition from hunting/gathering to horticulture to agriculture. Can the varied "cultures" be organized according to the modes of production of the populations who shave those "cultures", not everything about the cultures, but the dynamics of the social relations by which they organize their reproduction as a society?

    The moral connotations of social evolutionism have long been overcome (except maybe by the Watson gang). It's not a question of whether a culture is higher or lower in a moral sense. Personally I think I would have been happy living in the Late- neolithic. But it's overwhelmingly evident that, as an indiv idual, the horizons of the cybernetic globalized world I live in at present are much broader than those of an Akwe-Shavante hunter-horticuulturalists. And those horizons are not separate from the way I think about them.


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Received on Sat Feb 16 06:53 PST 2008

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