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[xmca] Does "Obuchenie" Have Two Sides?
I just got my copy of MCA and read through Mike's editorial on (re)translating "Interaction Between 'Obuchenie' and Development" again. It seems to me that there are really three quite separate issues here:
a) What does the word mean in Russian? Is "teaching/learning" or "instructed learning" an adequate translation?
b) What did Vygotsky mean by the word when he used it in his earlier writings (e.g. Educational Psychology, and possibly as late as Chapter Five of Thinking and Speech)? For example, is "the social environment of learning" referred to in Educational Psychology related to "the social situation of development" referred to in Volume Five of the Collected Works (the unfinished manuscript "Child Development")?
c) Did Vygotsky mean the same thing by the word when he used it in his later writings, specifically "Interaction" and Chapter Six of Thinking and Speech? For example, is he serious when he suggests that complexes and complexive thinking should be "left at the schoolroom door"? If so, why does he refer to them as "preconcepts" and remark that a great deal of adult thinking is still on the complexive level?
First of all, I agree with Mike that "teaching/learning" is no more adequate than "learning" or "teaching" on its own. Adorno remarks that the "/" punctuation mark has its only real legitimate use in indicating a caesura in poetry. It also suggests "either/or" in English, and clearly "teaching" OR "learning" is not a possible translation. Worse, the idea of "teaching/learning" as two sides of the same process suggests a metaphor with "borrow/lend" or "buy/sell" and this is quite explicitly ruled out in Vygotsky's remarks on Tolstoy's pedagogical notebooks.
So either the slash implies that they are somehow the same phenomenon viewed from two different angles or it tends to built a wall where we need to build a bridge. A process is not like a bottle with an inside and an outside or a piece of paper with a recto and a verso. Even viewed temporally, it is not a machine with an input end and an output end. What goes for processes goes doubly for the relationship between two processes. I suggest, as a provisional measure, we use a hyphen instead, "teaching-learning".
Secondly, I think we have to accept that when Vygotsky uses a word it means what he's paying it to mean and not anything else. Vygotsky eviscerates all kinds of words ("pseudoconcept", "egocentric speech", etc.) and reanimates them with completely new content; he plays with the words of other people the way that a child plays with his blocks, and as a result their meanings develop. So I doubt very much if either "learning" or "development" means what it means in the Large Psychological Dictionary Mike refers to. To pick up David Kirshner's request for assistance on the "Renaissance Man", Vygotsky clearly rejects the Thorndikean view that development is developing the ability to do lots of separate little skills; Vygotsky's "Renaissance Man" is a relentless synthesizer.
So it seems very likely that the "social environment of learning" is a too literal, early, vulgar materialist interpretation of the "social situation of development" referring to the actual environment organized by the flesh-and-blood parent or teacher. The "social situation of development" is a rising to the concrete: instead of "classroom", "nursery", "home", we have "situations" constructed by particular ways in which the child uses language: indicative, nominative, and only at the conceptual level truly signifying.
Thirdly, I think that the English language needs yet another translation of "Thinking and Speech", and this one needs to be thoroughly annotated, in order to explain exactly how Chapter Five and Chapter Six fit together on the issue of learning and development. My own belief is that by the time Vygotsky wrote Chapter Six he was trying desperately to deal with the very unfavorable Stakhanovite wind that had swept away the whole of the pedological career he had built up to 1931. Chapter Six, represents a great deal of trimming and tacking on his part. Alas, this includes some of his writing on the zone of proximal development, because the zone is presented as the answer to the evils of the pedologists who did not consider it when they allowed children to keep fiddling with syncretic thinking in preschools and playing around with complexes throughout elementary school.
But when Vygotsky takes a step sideways, it is only in order to take a giant leap forward. The zone really is the hyphen in the middle of "teaching-learning", at least if we understand that hyphen as an arrow representing a meta-process and not as a single process, still less as a direct link. The zone of proximal development is to microgenesis and ontogenesis what "Origin of Species" is to ontogenesis and phylogenesis (or, perhaps more to the point, what Marx's "Capital" is to ontogenesis and sociocultural progress).
Seoul National University of Education
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