Re: [xmca] déjatel’nost’

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Sun Aug 31 2008 - 20:58:17 PDT

A little over a year ago I was at the American Association of Applied Linguistics in California, and I was trying to talk to Jay Lemke who had just given a long and exhausting talk. There was another fellow badgering him in addition to me, and this other fellow sensed that Jay was pretty knackered, so we ended up talking to each other just to give Jay a rest.
On closer inspection, the other fellow turned out to be none other than Holbrook Mahn, somebody I'd often read and never met. In the course of an extremely interesting talk, he made a remark that I've never quite forgotten, which I'm going to trundle out this afternoon in the heat of our "Thinking and Speech" seminar on Chapter One. But let me try it out on you first.
If you read the Minick preface to "Thinking and Speech" you find that Minick divides LSV's thinking into three phases: the first is the "instrumental act" phase, which lasts until about 1930. During this phase we find LSV as a dissatisfied behaviorist, thinking about mediation as a kind of superstructure on reflex arc, rather the way we see it depicted in elaborated triangles, with the artefact interposing between stimulus and response and providing a possible point at which subject becomes object (if I tie a knot in a handkerchief, that knot is an object when I tie it, but a subject when it reminds me to buy ant traps on the way home).
The second phase is the "interfunctional systems" phase, which lasts until late 1932-early 1933.During this phase LSV discards S-R units entirely as his starting point and instead thinks about the changing relationships between psychological functions such as "memory", "attention", "thinking" and "speaking" and not just fleeting moments of activity like knot tying. The problem is there is no clear motor for development in this phase. I think that Toomela really puts his foot in this gaping hole when he writes that "the development of word meaning" is what causes development! (Huh? OK--so what causes the development of word meaning?)
Minick's "third phase" is at the very end of Vygotsky's life, which is clearly a new beginning of some kind. During this phase (according to Minick) LSV develops two key concepts, neither of which really solves the unsolved business of the second phase, but both of which point the way.
First of all, there is functional differentiation. This is exactly what we've been looking at, of course: my whole point about play is that it becomes functionally differentiated, action and meaning separate out in the form of imaginary situations and rules, and these change places, with first one being central and then the other. It seems to me that functional differentiation is what really puts the "d" in the "zpd".
Secondly, there is "analysis according to units", by which LSV clearly means the same thing that Marx meant: the "unit" is not given a priori, as activity or anything else, but is precisely the thing that must be discovered in the course of analysis. This isn't an answer either, but it's something better: a method that will give different answers to different questions.
What Holbrook Mahn said was this: "analysis into units" is not the same as "unit of analysis". The whole problem is that ANL and the activity theorists assumed that "analysis into units" was simply the discovery of ONE kind of "unit of analysis". 
They had discovered an a priori unit of analysis; and the familiar triangle that Wolff-Michael dissects so deftly in his editorial in the current MCA simply followed on as a matter of course (aided, no doubt, by very strong neo-behaviorist winds which swept through Soviet psychology for several decades after LSV's death).
The fact that ANL and his disciples discovered that the unit of analysis of "activity" could fit almost any kind of development (even drosophilia and daphnia and catfish) should have tipped them off. They had gone back to Vygotsky's first phase of thinking.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education 
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Received on Sun Aug 31 20:59 PDT 2008

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