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Re: [xmca] Intensions in context and speech complexity ; From 2-?: Zinchenko on internalization and externalization
I want to pick up on a very interesting comment by Dot regarding
internalization in her July 23 response to Peter:
"It is the development of psychological functional organs (as opposed
to morphological organs) that can be studied as the result of
internalization, not internalization itself (although a number of
neuroscientists are doing very interesting work)."
I happen to be reading an article by V. P. Zinchenko, "From Classical
to Organic Psychology: In Commemoration of Lev Vygotsky's Birth,"
based on a talk he gave in 1996. It appears in the 2002 collection
edited by Dot and Anna Stetsenko, Voices Within Vygotsky's Non-
V.P. Zinchenko's article touches on the psychological functional
organs idea touched on by Dot, and how it relates to internalization.
I will be sharing VPZ's thoughts on this and other aspects of
internalization in a series of quotes from the article.
VPZ explains that **internalization** is best understood in terms of
the process of **externalization**. This is a potent concept Anna
Stetsenko promoted in a 2005 paper in the MCA Journal, which we
discussed here on xmca at the time.
In my opinion, VPZ's article sheds rather more light on the core
questions involved in the cultural-historical exploration of
internalization than Peter's little "romp" seems to. See what you
My selection of 12 or so quotes and combinations of quotes of various
lengths touches on topics such as:
1. what are functional psychological organs
2. mediation and the construction of functional psychological organs
3. how internalization is intertwined with externalization
4. the basis of internalization
5. some of the limitations of Soviet activity theory
6. some historical reasons for the limitations of Soviet activity theory
7. replacing the concept of "internalization" with "differentiation of
8. the relationship of subjectivity and externalization
9. Vygotsky's concept of the sign and externalization
10. word and deed as equal partners in psychological processes
11. the problem of the naturalistic interpretation of internalization
12. Vygotsky on thinking and action
1. VPZ explains the concept of the functional psychological organ,
first by referring to Ukhtomsky (1978).
"Ukhtomsky believed that subjective, mental entities are objectivized
in the "body" of the functional organs of an individual (i.e., virtual
organs as particular skills, as opposed to morphological organs such
as an arm). These functional organs are just as real as the usual
morphological ones. Ukhtomsky (1978) defined functional ogans as "any
temporary combination of forces that are capable of achieving a
specific outcome," p. 95) or as activities distributed in time and
space. He wrote that an individual's functional organ is similar to a
dynamic mobile agent. As exampls of functional organs Ukhtomsky
mentioned psychological phenomena, such as memories of the past,
intentions, and an integral view of the world. He emphasized that
these are novel formations [*novoobrazpvaniya*], which arise when
individuals interact with the environment, in their activity, as they
actively come forard to meet the demands of their environment." pg 7.
"Scholars such as N.A. Bernstein, A.V. Zaporozhets, A.N. Leontiev, and
A.R. Luria broadly used and developed the concept of functional
organs, or an individual's novel formations. They believed that an
individual's functional organs have certain bodily properties, for
example, they have a biodynamic sensuous affective "tissue."
Functional organs or psychological functional systems should be viewed
as matter (tissue) that eventually constitutes the spiritual organism,
the anatomy and physiology of the human spirit itself." pg 8.
"In Vygotsky's writings, the term *psychological functional system* is
analogous to the notion of *functional organ*." pg 8.
2. VPZ goes on to relate functional psychological organs to
mediation, and how mediators or psychological tools enable the
construction of these organs.
"Meditation constitutes the very core of cultural-historical
psychology. Meditational acts (now being intensively studied by B.D.
Elkonin and his colleagues) contain the secret of development, the
secret of how real forms are transformed into ideal ones, and vice
versa. When objects, tools, and signs are incorporated into natural
psychological forms (to retain Vygotsky's term, which he was
repeatedly criticized for), the latter are transformed into ideal
cultural ones. These forms then acquire an object, tool, sign, word
or symbol - related to the instrumental, mental capacity of
operations, actions, and activity in a broad sense.
"What does the concept of *transformation* actually mean?
Transformation is the process in which novel functional organs are
constructed. This process is performed by means of mediators that
Vygotsky called "psychological tools," or "psychological
instruments." pg 9.
3. VPZ sees that part of the problem with discussions of
internalization is how the naturalistic interpretation of the internal
(which, of course, Vygotsky directly opposed) tends to dominate
discussions of internalization. The process of internalization
involves not just moving **in** but also moving **out**.
"As long as we are bound to a naturalistic understanding of what the
internal is (that is akin to the Freudian naturalistic understanding
of the unconscious), internalization will continue to be viewed as
*growing into* emptiness, into *nowhere*. Leont'ev was aware of the
flaws of such a naturalistic interpretation, and in his later work he
insisted that in the processes of internalization the internal plane
is born, that is, it emerges for the first time. However, Leont'ev
did not study this process. Nonetheless, what he said is sufficient
to conclude that internalization involves simultaneous *growing into*
and *growing out*. In other words, internalization should not be
taken to mean that activity is plunged into some "depths" of the
internal plane. Internalization should not be likened to the Freudian
mechanism of repressing memories into the unconscious." pg 15
4. VPZ offers the following summary of internalization, which
parallels Vygotsky's concept of the sociocultural transformation of
lower mental functions into higher:
"With regard to internalization, the crux of the matter is that in
order for a process to grow, and for it to be able to then generate
anything new, this process must first exist and go through certain
transformations." pg 16.
5. VPZ suggests that Soviet activity theory's concept of
internalization was inhibited by a naturalistic interpretation of
internalization that caused researchers to ignore some key insights by
Vygotsky into internalization.
"A naturalistic interpretation of internalization delayed research
into object-related activity and object-related actions as such." pg 16
"Orientation, memorization, decision-making and the like happened to
be viewed as representing a higher level, whereas execution and
performance were reduced [by activity theorists such as AN Leont'ev,
A.V. Zaporozhets and others, see pg 15 -sg] ] to elementary, lower,
even primitive processes. Naturally, everybody wanted to do research
at the higher levels and abandon the "lower" ones as quickly as
possible. Many did so in their pursuit of the theory of
internalization, according to which practical actions connect with
concrete, rough, visible objects *growing into* a subtle ideal matter
[culturally meaningful material -sg], and are then transferred into an
internal plane. This view was partly inspired by Vygotsky's division
of mental processes into natural and cultural, or lower and higher
ones. What was ignored in this approach was that Vygotsky viewed
movement exactly as a higher process, similar to the process of
perception, memory, and attention, and he also linked movement to the
development of symbolic activity (Vygotsky, 1984, p 54 [Collected
Works, (Vol 6): Scientific legacy. Moscow: Pedagogy.])." pg 16.
6. VPZ offers an explanation for this narrow naturalistic approach to
internalization in Soviet activity theory.
"It is not the fault but the misfortune of Soviet psychology that the
concept of "object-related activity" has never been theoretically
developed. Pyatigorsky has recently drawn attention to this fact.
This task was tackled by E. Ilyenkov [Russian philosopher; 1924-1979]
and V. Davydov [1930-1998], and E. Yudin [1930-1976]. Yet, the
philosophical concept of object-related activity, as well as the
concepts of external and internal, remain [continue -sg] to be
implemented in psychology in a quite naturalistic manner. Indeed, why
did psychologists (including S.L. Rubenstein [1889-1960] and A.N.
Leont'ev [1903-1979]) prefer such concepts such as "object-related
activity," "object-practical activity," "object-sensuous activity," to
that of "spiritual/mental-practical activity," which would be in line
with Hegelian and Marxist philosophy? The answer to this rhetorical
question is quite clear from a sociological perspective. These
psychologists simply had no choice. In the hostile Soviet ideological
climate, the issues of spirituality (i.e., immaterial aspects of
reality) were not on the agenda. Instead, practice was placed at the
center of everything and was regarded as the origin of knowledge, as
the criterion of truth, and as the highest value. During those times,
to even introduce the concept of object-related activity was nearly a
heroic deed, a kind of challenge to society, a protest against an
epoch that entailed a bizarre combination of slavery and empty
activism on the one hand, and true enthusiasm and creativity on the
other. This concept, however, lost many of its important spiritual/
mental, and ideal dimensions. The "soul" of objects of activity was
lost, as well as the symbolic functions enshrined in them in the
process of their creation. Even works of art had to meet the criteria
of socialist realism and other ideological requirements. As a result,
activity had to be characterized not in spiritual/mental, but in
material terms." pg 17.
7. VPZ suggests that the concept of internalization can be replaced by
the concepts of differentiation of movement, joint action and social
activity (which I would like to see more explanation about, by the
way). He says that this "differentiation of movement" is not just
about **internalization** per se, but also needs to include
"Returning to object-related activity, if we assume from the very
beginning that *material* is as much ideal as it is material, as much
object-related as it is mental (and even spiritual/mental); and if we
assume that movement lives not in its external form, but also in its
internal form; and, if we admit that object-related action is not only
mediated by external instruments or semiotic menas, but also contains
within itself, in its internal form, an image, purpose, intention,
motive, word; and ultimately, if we assume that the object-related
activity is itself a kind of ideal form - then in this case, the
concept of internalization will become unnecessary for theoretical
psychology. One should not, however, be too zealous in rejecting this
concept even though it is already beginning to be replaced with the
concept of *differentiation* of movement, object-related (or joint)
action, and object-related (or social) activity (see Gordoyeva, 1995;
Zinchenko, 1995a). In such differentiation, the germ cells of mental
formations that are present from the start in object-related activity
are not internalized *to* anywhere; but, on the contrary, are
objectivized and externalized; that is, they grow outward and become
independent of object-related activity." pg 18.
8. After quoting Rubenstein, VPZ continues his discussion of the
limitations of reducing activity to its components. He points away
from this narrower application of activity theory toward the richer
prospect of researching subjective, internal forms via
**externalization**. He explains that subjective, internal forms of
activity can generally only be conceptualized by the person and
observed by others **after** they have been externalized.
"Thus, one should not focus so much on reducing activity to its
components, but focus on how the external forms are elaborated and how
internal forms of activity and its constitutive actions are
developed. It is important to note that internal forms represent the
realm of the subjective, and yet they resist being described as
internal. This is like the situation with a myriad of emotions and
feelings, shades of color, smells, and so on, which are so hard to
conceptualize. Such things can be conceptualized only after they have
been objectivized, externalized." pg 18
9. VPZ continues, relating this idea of externalization to Vygotsky's
"Such an interpretation sits well with Vygotsky's assumption that
through the use of mediators, higher mental processes are brought
outwards, transformed into external activity, and that a person's
behavior is transformed into an object that can then be mastered.
Vygotsky's idea that signs move from the inside outwards should not be
taken literally. It is just such literal interpretations that gave
rise to the commonly accepted notion of internalization. However, the
core of Vygotsky's view is that by means of signs, the mental
functions are brought outwards, are objectivized, and transformed into
external (more exactly, into observable) actions and activities." pg 18.
10. Turning to the question of word and deed, and thought and action,
VPZ suggests that Vygotsky viewed them as equal partners.
"To discuss the problem of how word and deed are interrelated, one
does not need to reflect so much on what is at the beginning and what
is at the end. Rather, one needs to consider Vygotsky's line of
reasoning, according to which the word (thought) and deed (action)
appear as equal, both of which are struggling on equal terms. The
passages from Vygotsky, cited above, on the relations between thought
and action, tell the same story." pg 21
11. A key problem with the naturalistic interpretation of
internalization is it does not take into account creativity.
"The largest problem is that the logic of internalization-
externalization [in the common, naturalistic interpretation -sg]
eliminates the creative nature of the developmental process, without
which new formations cannot arise. This logic leaves no place for
intuition, insight, and ultimately, for revelation." pg 21
12. I will finish off this long series of quotations with some of
VPZ's comments that themselves include some relevant quotations from
Vygotsky. The essential idea here is that the internal and external,
thinking and action, the word and the deed, are are inextricably co-
mingled co-partners in psychological processes, all of which are
inherent aspects and products of human activity. The Vygotsky (1983)
quotes are from the Vygotsky's Collected Works (Vol.5): Foundations of
defectology. Moscow: Pedagogy.
(VPZ:) "In essence, my argument has been the following: External
(object-related) and internal (mental) activities are equally
psychological, equally related to objects, equally ideal and cultural,
equally deserving of psychological scrutiny. The differences that
exist between them can in no way be related to the philosophical
problems of what is primary and secondary, or to the fundamental
problem of the origins of mind. Vygotsky (1983) was aware of this
(Vygotsky:) "We also know that both types of activity - thinking and
real action - are not separated from each other by an impassable gap;
actually, in reality, at each and every step, we observer how thought
is transformed into action and action is transformed into thought.
Hence, both of these dynamic systems - the more dynamic one related to
thinking, and the less dynamic one related to action - are not
isolated from each other. In actuality, the transition of the fluid
dynamics of thought into the more rigid, solid dynamics of action and
vice versa ... should and actually occur all the time. (p 249)"
(VPZ:) "Vygotsky (1983) then went on to make this statement even more
(Vygotsky:) "As Schiller says, ideas readily live in harmony with one
another, yet they violently collide in space. Therefore, when a child
begins to think in a given situation, this not only means that the
situation changes in how it is perceived and interpreted, but above
all, that the whole dynamic changes. The dynamics of a real
situation, when converted into the fluid dynamics of thought, reveal a
situation's new features, new opportunities for movement, association,
and communication among subsystems. However, this direct motion of
dynamics from the actual situation to thought would be quite useless
and unnecessary, if the reverse, the backward transition from the
fluid dynamics of thought into rigid and firm dynamic systems of real
action also did not exist. The difficulty of implementing a set of
intentions is directly related to the fact that the dynamics of an
idea, with all its fluidity and freedom, must be transformed into the
dynamics of real action. (p. 250)" pg 19.
(VPZ:) "It should be noted that in these excerpts we find nothing
about external and internal, or internalization and externalization.
And the opposition between object-related and psychological actions is
not mentioned either.
(VPZ continues:) "Leont'ev went to great lengths to show that the
external and internal planes are characterized by structures that are
fundamentally similar. Some of his followers transformed this careful
formulation into the claim that external and internal forms of
activity are identical. Vygotsky (1983) had no illusions with this
(Vygotsky:) "The dynamics of thinking do not simply mirror the dynamic
relations that rule in real actions. If thinking changed nothing in
dynamic action, it would be absolutely useless. Certainly, life
determines consciousness. Consciousness arises from life and
represents only one of its varied aspects. But having emerged,
thinking itself starts to determine life, or, more exactly, thinking
life determines itself through consciousness. As soon as we separate
thinking from life, from dynamics and needs, as soon as we deprive
thinking of its agency - we thereby close off any possibility of
revealing and explaining thinking and its most fundamental purpose,
that is, to define a mode of life and behavior, to vary our actions,
to direct them and release them from the power of particular concrete
situations. (p. 252)" pg 19-20.
<end of quotes>
On Jul 23, 2009, at 8:23 PM, Dot Robbins wrote:
Dear Peter, David, Andy, Mike, and all,
Thank you Peter, for opening a discussion on internalization. It is
an extremely difficult discussion. Thank you Mike, Andy, David for
Well, in being very honest, I am disturbed by many of the claims/
accusations regarding Vygotsky, such as : “Crudely put, the
internalization model assumes that the signhood of language units
has already been established by ‘society’ and that these already
signifying units then implant themselves into the individual’s
psyche.” So many points I hope more people will have time to
discuss. I am not sure why the word “linguistics” was used. I have
never heard of a Vygotskian linguistics before as such….and, the
words “language theory” and “semiotics” have taken on an incredibly
polarizing position for many….
Clearly, viewing certain aspects of Vygotsky’s thoughts on language
within a fragmented framework is something that needs to be
discussed in general….it is very sad for me to often see ideas
within polarized debates, where, for example, activity is dislocated
from signs; or internalization is subordinated to appropriation (in
some cases), etc.
Here, I was especially discouraged to read the few words on
Luria….I felt so sad that Luria’s approach to language was not
considered in a deeper fashion….I am not trying to simply
criticize….but, we must be aware that a very extended reading of
Vygotsky in context is so extremely important….it would be helpful
to place his thoughts within the history he lived in and was
influenced by….W. von Humboldt, A. A. Potebnya, up to the semiotics
of Sergei Eisenstein….to then include art, aesthetics, poetry,
For me, understanding Vygotsky must take place on a higher
metacognitive, metatheoretical level….to solve any problem, as I
understand Vygotsky, we must stand higher, taller than the problem.
There will never be a clear explanation of internalization, nor
consciousness, etc. within concrete thinking alone, and certainly
not within linguistic theory. I would think that the attack would be
Western linguistics, not Vygotsky.
If we want to understand Vygotsky’s thoughts on language and
semiotics (people do not need to be so opposed to semiotics, because
it is not used as a single explanatory theory….however, there is no
cultural activity without the meaningful use of signs, etc.), we
cannot overlook the theories of A. A. Leontiev. For those
interested, please check the Journal of Russian and East European
Psychology (Vol. 44, Nrs. 3 and 4, 2006).
Regarding internalization…..many have written on that, and I have as
well (2001, 2003), and we need to re-read many ideas of many people.
Most of all we must transcend 3-dimensional thinking. There are many
levels of internalization (Andy stated this), just like the ZPD, etc.
…..And, until we start to view Vygotsky’s thoughts on language from
a metacognitive perspective, then fragmented, concrete dialogue
will be simple arguing for the sake of argument, in my opinion…it is
what we do
with these theories that matter.
If we want to get closer to some understanding of “internalization,”
I would think that linguistics would not be the place to go to for
It is the development of psychological functional organs (as opposed
to morphological organs) that can be studied as the result of
internalization, not internalization itself (although a number of
neuroscientists are doing very interesting work).
I will close with a quote from E. V. Aidman and D. A. Leontiev :
(“From being motivated to motivating oneself: A Vygotskian
perspective. In Studies in Soviet Thought, 41,1991): “It is
stressed that the interiorization process is not merely a move of a
function from without, but rather the process of building the inner
(mental) structure of consciousness. The word ‘interiorization’
should be thus considered as a metaphor depicting the result rather
than the process of development of higher psychological functions” (p.
Again, I want to stress the need to read A. A. Leontiev and A. R.
Luria when speaking of language theories....I have attached an un-
published, old paper on Luria, with no time to re-read it, and with
no references....the reason I am sending it (and feel free not to
look at it) is to simply see the overall complexities needed in a
discussion of language theories within the Vygotskian framework.....
I agree with Peter that so little has been written on this important
aspect of Vygotsky....and, I appreciate Peter's attempt to push us
all in this direction.
With warm regards to all,
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