[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

RE: [xmca] Pre-formism and Post-modernism

Hi David,
Here is some of my understanding regarding the issue you raise. I think talking about the presupposed conditions that make individuals being part of generating new possibilities helps me theorize the mutually presupposing and constitutive relation between individual and collective. Still, I can keep the realization of possibilities as an empirical problem. It is not like that people find new possibilities because they intend to do it. Agency is overly emphasized here, which is a theorization that "deals with the finished product of concept formation, overlooking the dynamics and the development of the process itself" (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 96). Vygotsky points out that "The presence of the problem to be solved through the formation of concepts cannot be considered as the cause of concept formation" (p. 107).
	In the same way, thinking about the heterogeneous nature of language and context helps me keep the dynamics in the categories of cultures and languages. Different activity systems may have their own singular (sub-) cultures and languages. Yet, thinking about the very possibility of crossing the boundaries between different (sub-) cultures and languages raises some need to theorize the boundaries in such a way not to make dichotomies between formal-informal or internal-external.

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: Monday, 20 April, 2009 11:11 AM
To: xmca
Subject: [xmca] Pre-formism and Post-modernism

On Sunday at our weekly seminar on "Thinking and Speech" we need to tackle this part of Chapter Six, section three:
According to the French translation by Seve: But more frequently, this theory takes a slightly different aspect. It begins by acknowledging the incontestable dependence which exists between the two processes. Development creates possibilities, and school learning realizes them. In this case, the relationship between the two processes is represented as analogous to the relations that (the doctrine of—DK) pre-formism establishes between the germ of aptitudes and their development. The germ contains potentials which are realized in development. Thus we find here the idea that development pulls from itself the plenitude of its possiblities, that these are concretized in the process of learning. 
According to the Italian translation by Meccaci: More frequently, however, this theory assumes a somewhat different aspect, in which it begins by considering the indisputable dependence between the two processes. Development creates possibilities, and learning realizes them. The relationship between the two processes is represented as an analogous case of the relations between what preformism establishes between a predisposition and a development: the predisposition contains potentials which are realized in development. In this way it is thought that development itself has within all of the premises of its possibility, that these are concretized in the process of learning. 
As you can see, Seve has “germ” and Meccacci has “predisposition”. The Russian word is actually "задатками"  which I gather means something like "advance planning". 
Perhaps both are correct, but they are focusing on slightly different aspects of Vygotsky’s thinking. At the beginning of “The Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology”, Vygotsky criticizes the “botanical” fallacy; the idea that development is contained in a child the way that a plant is contained in the germ of a seed. According to the botanical fallacy, actions (including acts of school learning) unfold from development the way that puberty unfolds from hormonal changes, or the way Chomskyans believe that the ability to use language unfolds. But the concrete way in which this botanical fallacy was realized in psychology in Vygotsky’s day (for example, in the work of Kulpe and Titchener) was in the form of the idea of a “predisposition” to a particular act. 
Vygotsky points out that this idea of a fixed “predisposition”, or a “germ”, is current in Soviet psychology, and of course he is quite right: it is implicit in Uznadze’s idea of a “mental set”. In fact, it is STILL current in the form of activity theory, because for Leontiev an activity is explained by its motive, an action is explained by its goal, and an operation by its orientation to an object. It seems to me that this too is a form of disposition, an attempt to explain the trajectory of every cannon shell by the aim of the gunner. No wonder Engestrom developed the idea of the "runaway object"!
I think the "runaway object" doesn't really solve the key problem, which is the problem I have with this is the problem which moved Salman Rushdie to write his great book, The Satanic Verses: How does something new come into the world? That is, how do INDIVIDUALS create new potentials for collectives?
I think I complained a long time ago about this quotation from Karpov's 2005 book "The NeoVygotskyan Approach to Child Development" (CUP):
"Vygotsky held that, being products of human culture, psychological tools shold be taught to children of this culutre. Indeed, social progress, in general, comes about when every new generation receives, ready made, the essence of knowledge accumulated by previous generations." (p. 19)
I'd like to set along side that the following quotation from Wolff-Michael Roth's editorial in this month's MCA:
"Culture in general, and personal identity in particular, always constitutes a concrete realization of possibilities that already exist." (p. 112).
The reason these quotations disturb me is that it seems to me that they are preformist in exactly Vygotsky's sense. They are either TAUTOLOGICAL (because if something is realized, that means, by definition, that the possibility of its realization must have existed) or else they are completely FALSE, because they exclude the possibility of indiividuals generating new possibilities. 
Adorno said (it was a propos music, actually), that "collective powers are liquidating an individuality past saving, but against them only individuals are capable of consciously representing the aims of collectivity." What happens when individuals find themselves in a position where culture in general and personality in particular as preformed, and as performed, and as currently constituted become unrealizeable and impossible? Alas, it's not that hard to think of examples, and they are not limited to music.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education 

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list