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[xmca] Mead and Play

Here is something interesting I just found reading Mead that I'd like to ask the play people out there.  In his article "The Psychology of Social Consciousness Implied in Instrruction" published in Science in 1910 Mead seems to take a position on play that is very similar to Vygotsky in some ways (perhaps dissimilar in others).  He argues that play - what I suppose after Piaget will come to be understood as pretense - has a very specific role in society.  Engaging in play prepares the younger members of society to practices the roles of what it means to be an adult in a position of relative safety (his larger argument is that this is where direct instruction fails - it does not prepare children to take their place in society, only to answer questions to which direct instruction speaks).  This reminded me very much of what I remember reading from Vygotsky on this subject.  The one place where they seem to be different is that while Vygotsky seems to see the move from play to adult thinking as being more developmental, Mead seems to see it as more sequential (or at least from his Pragmatic background he is not willing to posit a developmental arc for human behavior).  Going back and reading the passage on the move from Mind, Self and Society on the difference between play and the game I realized that I have been sort of misreading it, that when Mead uses play it is not as a developmental metaphor in relation to the Game but is quite literally children's play.
Anyway my question is that.  This ideas from Mead and Vygotsky seem very close together.  Is there one specific source somewhere from which they are both getting this idea (remember that Mead was writing this in 1910)?  This might speak to how related they are.


From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of Jonathan Tudge JRTUDGE
Sent: Tue 11/17/2009 9:46 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Does "Obuchenie" Have Two Sides?

Hi, David,

I haven't read Mike's critique of the use of "teaching/learning" as a
translation of obuchenie, which obviouisly makes it a little tricky to
respond.  However, those like myself who have used teaching/learning as a
reasonable translation would disagree with Mike's point (or your summary
of it) "that "teaching/learning" is no more adequate than "learning" or
"teaching" on its own."  In English these two words have quite different
meanings, despite the fact that we may actually learn best in the course
of teaching.  In Russian, however, the situation is more complex.
Obuchenie is the noun associated with obuchit' (to teach or instruct) and
with obuchit'cya (to learn).  Take away the prefix "ob" and you're left
with uchit' (which can be translated both as to teach [the first meaning]
and to learn or memorize) and uchit'cya (to learn or to study).

In other words, unlike in English, obuchenie carries the meaning of both
teaching and learning.  How can we best represent that?  I don't think
that it helps to translate the same word, in the same context,
consistently as "instruction" (as in the 1987 Plenum translation of
Thinking and speech) and as "learning" (Mind in society).  Given the fact
that the English language doesn't have a word that captures both teaching
and learning how do we represent the concept?  At least in the places
where I've written about this "teaching/learning" is clearly not intended
to mean "teaching or learning"; as Scrimsher and I wrote: "By contrast,
the meaning of 'teaching/learning' is subtly, but clearly, different from
either of the words used alone" (Tudge & Scrimsher, 2003, p. 212).  At
least from my reading of Vygotsky's ideas about zones of proximal
development being created in the course of interaction, the combined sense
of teaching and learning fits better than either word used alone.

If the "/" has the inadvertent effect of signalling "either/or" (which
thus should presumably be read as "either 'either' or 'or'") I'd be happy
to use "teaching-learning" or some other way of signalling a multifaceted
process for which English has no equivalent.  Use of "obuchenie" itself
probably won't work, as too many people already think that it means
"instruction" (a view that fits nicely with the teacher-dominated view of
scaffolding that too often prevails).

All the best,

Jonathan Tudge
155 Stone

Mailing address:
248 Stone Building
Department of Human Development and Family Studies
PO Box 26170
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Greensboro, NC 27402-6170

phone (336) 256-0131
fax   (336) 334-5076


David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>
Sent by: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
11/16/2009 06:35 PM
Please respond to
"eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>

xmca <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>

[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,

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

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).

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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