RE: [xmca] Historical Development

From: Michael Glassman <MGlassman who-is-at>
Date: Tue Feb 19 2008 - 12:32:30 PST

I'm still trying to get my head around how you get from mastery to free will, or will that leads to freedom. Interestingly enough we were reading crisis in psychology in a graduate seminar yesterday. One of the issues we focused on, among many, in Vygotsky's idea that there are facts, issues in the world that are constant and while not really separate from human activity, constant beyond human activity. Vygotsky asks what I think is one of the most interesting questions of the work, which is why if these natural facts exist in the world do we not know them immediately. I think this is where he is most eloquent about the social moment in discovery. From my reading at least he is saying that the society must be at a point of discovery for the individual to discover something. The example that came up in class was evolution. Charles Darwin and Alfred Llyod Wallace (sp?) and at least a couple of others were working on the idea of evolution simultaneously, even though it had never really come up before (of course Charles Lyell and geological research is one of among many things that allowed this moment to arise). The telephone is perhaps a more mundane example.
When Vygotsky talks about mastery isn't he talking primarily about mastery of the activity at hand, but still the parameters of that activity are controlled to certain extent by sociogenesis. For Vygotsky it seems the individual discovery does not change society, but where society is at the moment allows the individual a - zone of proximal development if you will - to discover things about the world. The process is driven by both the everyday and the scientific educational milieu of the society. If this is true, where is the real creative freedom in this?


From: on behalf of Martin Packer
Sent: Tue 2/19/2008 3:11 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Historical Development


Did I really say 'irrelevant? An unfortunate choice of words. Certainly V
addresses class in Educational Psychology, and writes powerfully about its
costs in The Soviet Alteration of Man. And the Soviet system, as I
understand it, and as you point out, struggled with the definition of class,
and the role of the peasantry. But aren't you contrasting social and
individual, rather than relating them dialectically? I think we agree that V
was centrally concerned with the social conditions for individual (or
'personal' if you prefer) agency, for the development of the will, for the
accomplishment of freedom.


On 2/19/08 1:46 PM, "David Kellogg" <> wrote:

> But Martin!
> I didn't hear Paul say that class was irrelevant to LSV. I heard him say
> that:
> a) the problem of VIOLENT class contradictions could have reasonably been
> expected to disappear because the basic preconditions for socialism had been
> established in the USSR (this is why Leontiev, less reasonably, assumes that
> children need not undergo developmental crises in the USSR, while these are
> inevitable in the West), and that
> b) the problem of conflating cultural and historical differences could have
> reasonably been expected to disappear because the basic preconditions for a
> multi-cultural socialist society had been established in the USSR (this is why
> Leontiev completely rejects the idea that "primitive" societies represented
> less adaptive cultural systems in general; they were only less adaptive with
> respect to the tasks of socialism).
> Class is relevant to LSV in a number of ways:
> a) Directly! The 2004 monograph "Imagination and Creativity in the Child"
> carefully notes the class origins of all the children in the data (see pp.
> 90-92). This does not mean, of course, that LSV endorses the kind of "book
> keeping" of class that psychologists like Zalkind were doing; LSV explicitly
> says (and implicitly shows) that we cannot derive the creativity of children
> from the number of books in the house or the number of multi-syllabic words we
> find in parent-child bedtime conversations.
> b) Polemically. In his numerous and highly varied attacks on bourgeois
> psychology (Freud), individualistic psychology (Piaget), education that
> ignores the social dimension (Thorndike), teaching which requires teachers to
> substitute themselves for the social environment of learning (the "rickshaw
> puller", and the "fountain of sermons"), etc. Particularly the early works,
> Educational Psychology and the Psychology of Art, are rich sources of this
> material.
> c) Culturally and historically. I think that LSV, like most young Marxists
> of his generation, saw clearly that the Russian bourgeoisie (always
> numerically very small and never particularly attached to its homeland) was
> defeated as a social force in the civil war. So they considered that the main
> class contradictions left were not between a large working class and a small
> bourgeoisie, but between a VERY large peasantry and a quite small working
> class. LSV and Luria believed that the peasantry would eventually be socially
> absorbed into the working class (through the collectivization of agriculture)
> but that this process would be gradual and would sometimes lag behind their
> enculturation into the working class. I think that was why they became
> interested in the cross cultural work in Uzbekistan.
> This brings us to a very important point that Paul made. Marx actually KNEW
> that his work was too Eurocentric; his rather inept formulation of an "Asian
> mode of production" and his rather naive remarks about a "hydraulic" system of
> production in India were desperate attempts to suggest that there was not one
> single royal road through history (primitive communism, slavery, feudalism,
> capitalism, socialism).
> Marx DID believe that there would be a common endpoint, because he could see
> that capitalism had powerful homogenizing tendancies. Just as goods of all
> shapes and sizes could be converted into commodities and exchange values, all
> kinds of pre-capitalist social systems could be and were flattened (e.g., in
> the USA, through genocide and slavery) into capitalism.
> Marx knew this flattening was inevitable, but he was ready to support ANY
> social force that was fighting to resist it, no matter how "reactionary" it
> was: the Indian mutiny, the Taiping rebellion, even Abraham Lincoln and
> Ulysses S. Grant. (But it had to be a SOCIAL force. I think Marx would have
> any discussion of "What have YOU done to resist the rise of commercialism
> TODAY?" too close to individualist psychology.)
> I don't think "revolutionary" and "scientist" were different things to LSV
> either; he was a doer and not just a thinker. That's why he says that it's
> better to have other people call the psychology "Marxist". And that's where we
> find his most intense involvement with the class struggle; not so much in his
> fierce-browed defiance of the pointing fingers of bourgeois psychology, but in
> his wholehearted willingness to serve homeless and disabled children. No
> wonder Lois and Fred Newman called their book "Revolutionary Scientist".
> When I first went to China in my early twenties, I was assigned to teach
> English at a cancer research institute in Beijing. My "students" were all in
> their sixties, all of them veterans of the idealistic 1950s and the bloody
> 1960s. Some of them had only very recently returned from decades in Tibet or
> Xinjiang to do scientific research.
> Not ONE of them had been forced to "go to the countryside". They had ALL
> volunteered. Not ONE of them regretted the decision. They were ALL proud of
> the contributions they had made to socialism.
> I asked one of them, who had lost her husband to suicide in the cultural
> revolution, why they went, and why they came back. She looked terrifyingly
> young for a moment and answered, "We went to the countryside because we were
> revolutionaries." Then she smiled, "But I came back because I was also a
> scientist." When I remember how she changed the "women" ("we") to "wo" ("I"),
> I can almost see her eyes disappear in wrinkles.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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Received on Tue Feb 19 12:34 PST 2008

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