[xmca] Back to the Front

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Sat May 24 2008 - 21:59:46 PDT

In the course of the San Diego-Helsinki-Seoul discussions back in November, we here in Seoul put forward the argument that for much of childhood at any rate (say, between the child's first birthday and the crisis at age thirteen) the social situation of development can be seen as coterminous with the child's speech and with the radius of subjectivity (to use Andy¡¯s felicitous formulation) created by that speech.
  This argument attracted a certain amount of friction from both Mike and Andy. Mike was disturbed by the idea that the there exists only a single social situation of development; the child¡¯s speech must create a very different radius of subjectivity in school and at home. Andy said that identifying the social situation of development too closely with speech excluded a large number of material facts and artifacts (such as guns) which play an even more important role in development than words.
  But here in Seoul we are sticking to our original argument. First of all, the radius of subjectivity created by speech can expand or contract, just as the radius of Spinoza's circle, drawn with string and a pencil, does. So the fact that the radius of subjectivity created by the child a classroom where the child shares the attention of the adult with forty other children is apparently smaller than the radius of subjectivity created by the same child when seated on his or her grandparent¡¯s knee does not necessarily mean a different social situation of development, at least from the standpoint of the child.
  Secondly, for development to take place, there must be internalization, there must be a subordination of social facts that were alienated from the child¡¯s will to voluntary control by the child. Of course, in some societies (for example, Sudan, where I lived in the early eighties, or Liberia during the civil war) these social facts undoubtedly do include guns and various instruments of violence and torture, sexual and otherwise. But do we really want to call the result development, or even childhood? They may (though this certainly doubtful in the cases I've cited) result in cultural and historical change. But can they really be said to contribute to ontogenetic development? It seems to us that processes that so often end in early and violent death are ill-described in that way. The point about the social situation of development is that it does not simply contain all of the social facts in the child¡¯s environment but only those which select and can be selected by the
 child to further the child's development.
  Three passages in the first chapter of Tool and Sign suggest to us that LSV may have thought along similar lines. In the first, LSV gives a snappy precis of the whole argument in the Problem of Age which sparked Mike's consternation in the San Diego portion of the San Diego-Helsinki colloquium.
  'To refer the mastery of the connection between sign and meaning to the very beginning of the cultural development of the child is to ignore the most complex history of this connection that stretches over more than a whole decade. With the turning in, that is, the transition of the function inward, there is a most complex transformation of its whole structure. As experimental analysis shows, the following must be considered as the essential points that cahracterize the transformation 1) replacement of function, 2) change in the natural functions (elementary processes that are the basis for the higher function and enter into its composition) and 3) the appearance of new psychological functional systems (or systemic functions)that assume the function in the whole structure of behavior that was fulfilled earlier by particular functions.' (Collected Works, Volume 6, p. 10)
  Now, the example that LSV uses is (typically!) the replacement of number memory (he means, brute, rote memory instilled by chanting to oneself) by mnemo-technical means (e.g. creating arithematic relationships between number seqences like 24816 to remember them). Luria provides myriad examples of this in his monograph ¡®Mind of a Mnemonist¡¯, but here in Seoul advertisers do this when they ask people to call numbers such as 7979 which sounds like ¡°friend-friend¡± in Korean, and even Western telephone numbers have sequences like 800 for toll-free and 212 for Manhattan which are significant and therefore memorable. Using homophones, my wife has translated our telephone number into a mnemonic saying about the dying out of the male line in our family using Chinese homophones and points out that this is why we pay a lower telephone bill than most families, who choose more auspicious sequences (perhaps it is also why she rarely calls me on the telephone).
  Numbers are a good example for LSV because they can be completely randomized, and therefore entirely unique and unrepeatable relationships between numbers can be contrasted with sequences that are made deliberately repeatable. Linguistic structures at any level you care to name cannot do this (after 'b' we are MUCH more likely to have a vowel than a consonant, and after 're-' we are MUCH more likely to have a free morpheme than a bound one). Still, we can see that what LSV argues about the substitution of less context-bound sequences for more context-bound ones can apply to speech functions.
  In the indicative function, the indicating act is repeated, but the reference varies: a banana, a toy car, and a parent all referred to as 'dis' (because inter-dental consonants are even often more late emerging than the nominative function of language). The relationship between gestures or indicators (e.g. 'this', 'that', 'the') and their referents tends towards the unique and the unrepeatable.
  Now suppose that the child learns to move this variability to the beginning of the meaning-making act: now the child varies the indicating act along with the reference, and instead of 'dis' we have 'nana', 'car', and 'dad'. What has happened is more or less what LSV gave us with numbers:
  a) the indicative function of speech has been replaced by a naming function,
  b) there has been a change in the more natural function which is now subordinated to the new one, and
  c) a new psychological functional system, that of naming, proceeds to reorganize the whole structure of indicative behavior that pre-existed it.
  The child now says things like 'dis a nana' instead of saying just 'dis', and the indicative function is now subordinated to the nominative one.
  A similar argument can be made for the transition to distal signifying, where non-present objects take the place of present ones, and again for the transition to abstract signifying, where the objects themselves are dispensed with. So this would cover a great deal of what we have called child development.
  Sure enough, ten pages after this passage, LSV is discussing the tendency of children to perceive experimental problems of practical intelligence as social situations controlled by the experimenter, and to set about solving them by socially interacting with the experiment rather than over-exercising their brains with matters of what the experimenter considers practical intellgence (this problem dogs Mike and his colleagues throughout their Liberian research). Here's what LSV has to say:
  'Our reports show that even at the earliest stages of the child's development, the factor that moves his activity from one level to another is neither repetition nor discovery. The source of development of activity lies in the social environment of the child and is concretely expressed in those specific relations with the experimenter that permeate the whole stituation that requires the practical use of tools and that introduce a social aspect into it. In order to express the essence of the forms of the child¡¯s behavior characteristic of the earliest stage of development we must say that the child enters into relations with the situation not directly, but through another person. Thus we come to the conclusion that the role of speech, which we identified as the basic point in the organization fo the practical behavior of the child, is crucial for understanding not only the structure of behavior but also its genesis; speech stands at the very beginning of development and
 is its most important and decisive factor.' (p. 20).
  In these experiments the child is neither pointing nor naming; the child is attempting to refer to solutions which do not yet exist. But the child's way of doing this is once again to move the variability towards the front of the action and to make what was a consequence into a cause. Once again, variabiity that was merely a result has become, through removal to the intiating part of an interaction, a reason.
  In indicating, the child repeated the act and varied the reference. In naming, the child learned to vary the naming act (the name) alongside the reference. But by appealing for a social solution to a practical problem, the child is attempting to vary not simply the act but also the ACTOR. Just as the idea of a variable act gave rise to the idea of an object, the idea of a variable ACTOR gives rise to the idea of a subject: a role.
  We can see that in all of this variability (originating in the social situation) is a key motivating force: it's by moving variation to the fore that the child is able to replace the old function with the new, transform the previously dominant function into a subordinate one, and perform with a single new controlling function (eventually, volition) the multifarious roles previously played by individual functions. But these variations are, paradoxically, replicable. Number variations can be repeated exactly, name variations can be reproduced, and in children's games, variations in the role ('it' vs. player, winner vs. loser) are allowed to vary systematically according to rules.
  Mike has criticized LSV's sharp distinction between thinking and remembering: 'for a child, to think is to remember, while for an adolescent to remember is to think'. Mike argues that this over-intellectualizes what adolescents do; even adults tend to remember instead of thinking, at least according to Bartlett.
  Perhaps it also under-intellectualizes what children do; if ALL thinking by the child were simply remembering, then this kind of movement of variability to the origins of action would simply not happen. So maybe the explanation lies in LSV's incisive distinction between the logical structure of planning vs. reflection on the one hand, and the genetic structure of planning and reflection on the other.
  Logically, they are clearly distinguishable using the criterion of time: planning occurs before the act just as reflection occurs after it. But genetically, LSV says, exactly the same socially powered processes of abstraction are at work:
  'The planning function of speech usually is consdered as isolated from its reflecting function and is even opposed to it. Nevertheless, genetic analysis shows that this opposition is based on a purely logical construction fo both functions. In experiments, we noted that there are, on the contrary, various forms of internal connection between both functions, and form this fact it follows that the transition from one function to the other and the development of the planning function of speech from the reflecting function is the same genetic nodal point that connects the lower functions of speech with the higher and explains their true origin. Specifically, because at first it is a verbal model of an action or a part of it, the child's speech reflects action or augments its results and begins later to shift to the beginning of the action and to predict and direct the action, forming it to correspond to the model of former activity that was previously fixed in speech.' (p. 24)
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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