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Re: [xmca] Does "Obuchenie" Have Two Sides?
Thanks for this really interesting conversation. As a neophyte I'm
taking a deep breath here and nervously jumping into a conversation
amongst giants. I am currently attempting to use obuchenie as a central
concept in my PhD research, arguing that perhaps using a 'new' word with
teachers makes it easier for them to think about teaching and learning
in a new way (as a conjoint practice that both teachers and learners
engage in together).
I have argued that it is difficult to assign new conceptualisations to
existing terms we have traditionally conceptualised in different ways
and that perhaps using teaching/learning still provides an image of
simply bringing together the two contradictory practices of teaching and
learning (as understood in their old way) rather than helping teachers
think about it in a new way as a dialectical unity which has its own
unique properties (more than the sum of its parts).
I then go on in my proposal for confirmation of candidature paper to
spend nearly 6000 words trying to explain what the unique properties of
obuchenie are. In a nutshell I talk about the ZPD (although taking a
holistic approach to development recognising the importance of the
affective dimension alongside the more typical cognitive approach);
intersubjectivity and perezhivanie; authentic meaning and motives for
participating in the activity; and recognising that all of this occurs
within a particular cultural-historical context that both determines and
is determined by the interactions of the participants.
I would be interested to hear what others think are the unique qualities
of obuchenie and why/whether translations as even teaching/learning or
teaching-learning may be inadequate for generating new understandings
Pressing send before I lose my nerve...
----- Original Message -----
From: David Kellogg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 10:12 am
Subject: Re: [xmca] Does "Obuchenie" Have Two Sides?
To: email@example.com, Culture ActivityeXtended Mind <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Before anybody else carefully reads my carelessly written note, let
> me rap myself across the knuckles first. (Jon, I went to elementary
> school in England and in the USA and was rapped across the knuckles
> in both countries. In England the instrument was called "pandybat"
> and in the USA it was a ruler; strangely, it felt exactly the
> The penultimate sentence reads:
> " 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."
> This is a terrible mistake. I mean that the ZPD is really the
> hyphen in the middle of "learning-development", not "teaching-
> learning". I think there is a zone in the middle of "teaching-
> learning" but it is a microgenetic zone, and we should call it a
> zone of proximal learning.
> I think that distinguishing between a zone of proximal learning and
> a zone of proximal development is one of the major leaps forward
> that Vygotsky makes in Thinking and Speech and in the unfinished
> work on Child Development, and the lack of this distinction in
> Educational Psychology is why I often confuse the "social
> environment of learning" with the "social situation of development"
> and make stupid mistakes like this one.
> Jon is right to point towards (but not point to) other
> inconsistencies. I begin by saying that the issue of adequate
> translation is ONE issue and that the issue of what Vygotsky meant
> is ANOTHER. I then proceed to hopelessly mix them up in my hurry to
> answer each question with my usual Carlylean everlasting NO.
> Jon's right; "teaching/learning" probably IS an adequate
> translation from everyday Russian (Valsiner and van der Veer seem
> to think so). One thing we learn from Tolstoy's pedagogical diaries
> and Vygotsky's discussion of them is that everyday Russian really
> does treat "teaching/learning" as a two-sided process, like
> "lend/borrow" or "sell/buy", where the object which lent or sold is
> in every way identical to that which is borrowed or bought and is
> in no way internally reconstructed or transformed by the process.
> This misunderstanding is also common in linguistics. One of the
> reasons I have a soft spot for Roy Harris' "integrationist"
> critique ofl linguistics (though I secretly agree with everything
> that Greg Allan Thompson has said about Harris) is that he DOES
> take the linguists to task for the idea that "listening" and
> "speaking" or even "listening" and "understanding" or "speaking"
> and "saying" can be similarly understood, as a kind of symmetrical,
> two-sided, language-mediated telepathy (or "telementation", as he
> calls it). Verily, words are not coins, except in the sense that
> people are inveterate coin clippers. No linguistic transaction is
> perfectly two sided.
> If you watched the old Star Trek series (of my now distant youth,
> not the many remakes) you will remember that the denizens of the
> Starship Enterprise had two different modes of egress from the
> spaceship. One was to travel in the "shuttle" (a kind of lifeboat).
> But the other was a "transporter" which didn't actually transport
> anything (or rather, any "thing"). To be transported to a place was
> to be actually dematerialized (technically, put to death) and then
> reconstructed on the surface of the planet using local materials.
> Unless you are a behaviorist, and you believe that phonemes are
> physically present, actually in the air, then you have to accept
> that language works as a transporter and not as a shuttle. There is
> absolutely no reason, therefore, to assume that teaching, which
> when we get right down to it is basically a form of talk, works
> like a shuttle and not a transporter. Yet that is of course what
> "teaching/learning" and even "teaching-learning" suggests.
> That's just why the issue of what "obuchenie" means to Vygotsky
> really has to be treated as a separate issue from what it means in
> the dictionary. What might be good enough a translation for
> everyday users of Russian may be wholly inadequate for rendering
> Vygotsky's meaning. Vygotsky believes that the word is only ready
> when the concept is, and he goes for pages and even whole chapters
> using terms that are quite inadequate to his purpose (e.g.
> "obuchenie", "egocentric speech", "phasal properties of language",
> "semantic", "pseudoconcept", "complex") before he will spring the
> fully formed concept on you (roughly, learning-for-development,
> self-directed speech, syntagmatic properties of language,
> pragmatic, and preconcept).
> This is completely Hegelian rather than Euclidean or Aristotelian.
> Vygotsky is a little like the fox in "The Little Prince".
> "Come and play with me," proposed the little prince, "I am so
> "I cannot play with you," the fox said, "I am not tamed."
> "Ah please excuse me," said the little prince. But after some
> thought, he added: "What does that mean--'tame'?"
> "You do not live here," said the fox, "What is it you are looking
> "I am looking for men," said the little prince. "What does that
> "Men," said the fox, "they have guns, and they hunt. It is very
> disturbing”“They also raise chickens,” said the fox. “Are you
> looking for chickens?"
> The author uses the "outside story" (that is, the reporting
> clauses) to split each turn of the "inside story" into two parts:
> a response and a reinitiate. Saint-Exupery captures perfectly the
> idea that REAL conversations usually have turns that have (at
> least) two parts: responding and reinitiating; we don't just
> relentlessly initiate unless we are conversational psychopaths.
> Yet the fox captures perfectly the idea that although every
> conversation contains some give and some take, there are things
> which cannot be lightly given away to strangers. Some questions,
> often questions about concepts, cannot really be answered until the
> end of the book, upon which the book itself constitutes the answer.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> PS: Jon, we are positively devoted to your 1990 piece on peer
> collaboration here in Seoul!
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