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Re: [xmca] established fact: x per cent of people are happy

Reminds me a little, David K., of the problem of cultural relativism that Mike has put a lot of work into. I think Sylvia Scribner's article "Vygotsky's uses of history" in "Culture Communication and Cognition. Vygotskian Perspectives" (1985) deals with it very well. She defends LSV's practice of comparing specific functional systems, but never whole persons or whole societies. I think this restriction on what can be compared could be extended to this issue. You can compare performance in a well-defined task which carries with it an immanent basis for measurement, but any combination of even more than one such task (or state), is mathematically incomparable.


David Kellogg wrote:
This is an issue that is rather close to my heart, because of course motivation and attitude is considered to be the key to understanding the almost universal success rate in FIRST language learning and the quasi-universal failure rate in FOREIGN language learning. For many researchers taking this approach, the correct--nay, the ONLY--way to measure attitude is, you guessed it, the questionnaire survey. As you point out, asking about global attitudes towards a very general phenomenon makes little sense even for adults; asking CHILDREN what they think/feel about English, or English-speaking culture, or even English class might seem a colossal waste of time. Either the kids are too young to have any clear self-consciousness at all, or they are old enough to realize that they are being quizzed on a topic close to the researcher's heart, and they'd better sound positive. But the method persists. You ask why. Well, here is a cynical answer: it helps a lot of our grads, and their supervisors, to report, yet again, that although the particular method that they are investigating has no clear effect on language learning (whose causality is, as we know, rarely clear and never direct) it DOES produce very satisfying gains in motivation, attitude, and general predisposition towards learning English. That's why. There is a less cynical answer, though. Obviously, asking children how they feel about English as a culture, language, class etc. makes no sense. But asking them if they can see the blackboard makes a lot of sense, and in between we have a number of questions which may or may not make sense. So my question is WHERE and WHEN introspective judgements become relevant. It's really not so easy to figure that out, and so it's not so surprising that it's been a while. Wundt drew a distinction between reflective self-observation on higher processes (of the sort that Kant and then James employed) and experimental inner perception on lower level processes (e.g. studies on reaction times and apperceptive responses which he himself carried out). I think of this distinction as being a little bit like asking children about how they feel about English on the one hand and asking them if they can see the blackboard on the other. He rejected the former, saying that higher processes where cultural and could only be studied through ethno-psychology. He claimed that the lower processes could all be described in terms of sensations (perceptions), feelings (emotions) and images (thoughts).

But then one of his former students, Külpe, established a laboratory in Würzburg to study higher psychological processes through introspection.

This school included Narziss Ach and Karl Bühler, much discussed in Thinking and Speech. Within a few years they claimed to have discovered a number of psychological processes which were not describable as sensations, feelings, and images. These were “conscious sets”, “conscious awarenesses” and Gedanken, or “thoughts” which were collectively termed “imageless thoughts”.

Vygotsky considers and rejects their findings in Chapter Five, where he discusses the Ach’s “volitional set”, and Piaget’s “conscious awareness”, as well as heaps, complexes, and concepts as examples of verbal thinking. For Vygotsky, the reason why introspection does not give us direct information about psychological processes and the reason why higher functions are not linked in an immediate fashion to lower ones is one and the same: both take place through language.

Introspection is the product of language, and the kinds of experiences we are thinking about in the higher processes are really not separable from language. That certainly goes for Wurzburg's conscious sets, conscious awarenesses and Gedanken, none of which can really be said to exist separately from language. This point is also made in Volosinov's critique of Freudianism, where he points to the curious contradiction that the "unconscious" is nevertheless discoverable and describable through words. As Volsinov puts it, it isn't the case that experience gives shape to expression; it's a lot truer to say that expression is what "realizes" (in both senses of the word) experience.

David Kellogg

Seoul National University of Education

Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov, Ilyenkov $20 ea

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