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Re: [xmca] Play: A Really Useful Way to Turn Kids into Cops
Not at all, Mike. It's just that I don't agree, and here in Korea when you don't agree with somebody, the first thing you are supposed to do is to shut up a minute.
But it's been a minute, at least.The airwaves around me are gradually filling with the lugubrious tones of the announcement this morning of Kim Jeong-il's death. Even the announcer reading out the announcement Pyeongyang television found it a little hard to drag out all the sobs through all of the various titles the man had.
I guess I just don't agree that CHAT principles, or anything else I would associate with Vygotsky's psychology, could ever be used in the service of a fascist society, or even a mildly Stalinist government.
First of all, thinkers like Vygotsky are far too subtle and difficult; rulers like Stalin have a deep distrust of anything they cannot understand, and that includes practically everything to do with human psychology (look what happened to poor Bekhterev).
Secondly, Vygotsky was part of that early generation of thinkers who knew and felt and loved the real revolution, rather than the tradition manufactured around it; such men are dangerous, particularly when, as van der Veer says, they have the courage of hopelessness. He knew Trotsky's ideas about literature, and Volosinov's ideas about language, and he wasn't afraid to publish them (or stupid enough to credit them correctly).
Thirdly, the whole orientation of Vygotsky's later work is towards a) a semiotic model of consciousness (rather that the "reflective" one Leontiev is touting in the symposium) and b) human freedom, which is indeed the recognition of necessity but also, at least in part, the recognition that human necessity is human and can be not only understood but remade by humans.
I don't think it is any accident that this later work is precisely what Leontiev rejects in rejecting periodization, the necessity of the crisis, and play as rule-bound rather than simply a rehearsal of social-realist roles. I think Leontiev is deeply suspicious of anything that suggets further revolutionary transformations, whether of people or of societies; I think he cannot accept the idea that signs are a qualitatively DIFFERENT form of mediation from tool-bearing labor, no longer based on object-oriented activity but rather on the recognition of an artefact as the product of the consciousness of a fellow subject. Talk is cheap, and as a result it proliferates; it's dangerous for precisely that reason.
Ánna (Stetsenko, in case anybody out there is wondering) is right, though. These questions are not as yes and no and black and white as they may seem in the comfort of one's armchair. Vygotsky himself criticizes pedology--quite savagely--in Chapter Six of Thinking and Speech, and there are even passages towards the end of "The Socialist Alteration of Man" that (along with the title) savor slightly of Lysenkoism.
But I think that when we set those passages of Chapter Six alongside their equivalents in Leontiev's works, we can see the difference. It is not a difference between yes and no, but rather the difference between a yes/no question on the one hand, and a "why?" question on the other. I think Vygotsky knew that the 1931 campaign against pedology was unjust and unfair, that it was connected with the purge of Krupskaya and the Leningrad opposition, and that ultimately it would bring in a very conservative, pre-revolutionary curriculum based on "concepts". But he probably also felt that the system of complexes was too conservative, that the new emphasis on concepts could be made to work, and that he, rather than anybody else, was in a position to make it work.
Similarly, if we read those passages of "The Socialist Alteration of Man" alongside paeans to "Michurinism"and "Lysenkoism" in "The Important Tasks of Soviet Psychology", It is not a black and white difference, but rather a difference between black/white/gray on the one hand and billions of colors on the other.
You yourself used to protest about Vygotsky's belief that the laws of phylogenetic evolution are somehow "set aside" and rendered functionally irrelevant with the advent of anthropogenesis.
But in retrospect it seems clear to me that this is part of his belief that earlier simpler processes can only play a subordinated, subsidiary, dependent role in the workings of more complex ones (the way that vision plays a subordinated, subsidiary, dependent role in reading and is actually replaceable, in the case of braille).
I think that "setting aside" phylogenesis was simply Vygotsky's line of defense against Lysenko: Epigenesis, absolutely. Exaptation, very definitely. Marxist eugenics, maybe someday, but heritability of ontogenetic change, never.
When I was still in my early twenties in the middle east, I got to know about two very different kinds of Stalinist: Khaled Bakdache, who was the leader of the Syrian Communist Party, and Riyad Turk, who led an oppositional faction.
On paper, they believed in much the same thing: the USSR was paradise, the USA and Israel were the main enemy, and detente was the closest we could get to socialism.
Both were offered a choice: a cabinet portfolio, or life sentence in prison. Bakdache chose the former, and Turk chose the latter. As far as I know, he is still there.
Seoul National University of Education
-- On Sun, 12/18/11, mike cole <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: mike cole <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Play: A Really Useful Way to Turn Kids into Cops
To: "David Kellogg" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: "Date: Sunday, December 18, 2011, 8:24 PM
That url was hiding in plain site.
Too bad that Anna is not part of the discussion at the moment, David. I'll cc her in
hopes that she will join.
Certainly one did not hear this from Leontiev during the 15+ I knew him.
Was my framing of the issues in terms of Phillip's remarks unhelpful?
On Sun, Dec 18, 2011 at 5:49 PM, David Kellogg <email@example.com> wrote:
Don't bother scanning it. It's right HERE:
Anna and I have been having a very sobering discussion of this material off list (she knew Leontiev, and her critiques of his work, although not quite the same as mine, have been far more knowing and thorough).
Anna's view--well worth pondering--is that Leontiev really WAS part of the collective, and that he played the role of the grain of sand in the oyster more than once. I think that some of his contributions are not exactly pearls (e.g. his Lysenkoism, which is simply a mask that grew into his face).
But Elkonin's work on play (which I think unfortunately includes the "leading activity" idea) has a certain lustre, and there is no doubt in my mind that Leontiev had a big influence here.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
--- On Sun, 12/18/11, mike cole <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: mike cole <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Play: A Really Useful Way to Turn Kids into Cops
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sunday, December 18, 2011, 3:36 PM
David et al-
I have waited to comment on the summary of Leontiev's talks in that book on
Soviet Psychology until I could get a look at the book. It took a while,
but we still have interlibrary loan and it arrived yesterday.
Very painful reading. Not just Leontiev, but all of it.
I will try to scan the book tomorrow and post it so that people can get a
picture of what it is about. It was new to me and I suspect, to others as
It seems useful to me to consider the entire book within the context of
Phillip's statement a few weeks ago. Roughly, he said that CHAT could be
used either in support of a society that adopted values concerning a just
society expressed on xmca or in the service of the fascist state. And, as
David's report on the Leontiev paper, "The Present tasks of Soviet
Psychology" makes clear, it could also be used in the service of a
>From the book itself, it is difficult to date the articles or to link them
to a particular occasion. The book was published in 1961 and came from East
Germany. From the introductory material by Hans Hiebsch, an East German
psychologist, it appears to have followed the "Victory of Lysenko in August
1948." It appeared in "Soviet Pedagogy" in Number 1, 1949. I do not have a
Perhaps Anton or someone with the right historical know how can provide
additional publications and information.
I find this very painful reading. As David says, Leontiev is not writing in
the tone of
someone who has a gun held to his head. More, he sounds like Winston at the
end of *1984* getting sloshed in the local pub mouthing the party line. On
what stage in what play was he acting at the time?
Amazing that those psychologists who survived this period in the USSR were
able to re-cover and then re-cover and re-cover again the horrendous
ravages of Stalinism sufficiently to put together that International
Congress in 1966 which
raised psychology from a department in the philosophical faculty to a full
department at MGU and then elsewhere.
On the way home with the book yesterday, I heard Newt Gingrich talking
sound bites. He was pushing this brave new idea. All those federally
appointed judges who turn out to be un-American should be removed from the
judiciary. Meanwhile Putin was on Russian TV likening the white ribbons of
the people demonstrating against his fraudulent command and control
capitalism to condoms.
A chilling introduction to ANL in 1949 that greeted me yesterday evening
when I opened that little book.
On Sat, Dec 10, 2011 at 6:10 PM, David Kellogg <email@example.com>wrote:
> I have been reading, inter alia, "Soviet Psychology: A symposium" (1961,
> Vision: London). It is mostly about Soviet criticisms of the "Two Factor"
> theory (Gesell's idea that child development could be explained,
> ultimately, by reference to heredity on the one hand and environment on the
> However, there are two articles by A. N. Leontiev. The first one I have
> read before in an edited version; it is his defense of Lysenko. But the
> first version I saw read like a confession elicited with a gun to his head.
> In THIS version he is the one with gun.
> "Darwin inaugurated the scientific treatment of these problems. He was
> interested in the importance of instinct in the life of the species and
> reached the realization that the development of the species can only be
> understood by assuming the inheritability of the changes made under the
> influence of new conditions of life that did not correspond to the existing
> instincts." (p. 32)
> (Really? I thought that was Lamarck. Silly me!)
> "The theories of Morgan, Weissmann and Mendel were much quoted and applied
> in the Soviet Union until the Central Committe of the Soviet Union passed
> the resolution of July 4, 1936. this resolution which condemned paedology,
> i.e. the science of the special psychology of the child, also put an end to
> the 'two factor theory' which proclaimed the equal role of heredity
> and environment....' (p. 33)
> (No kidding? I thought it put an end to Vygotsky and cultural historical
> psychology for the next twenty years.)
> "It is even assumed that the most important needs and emotions are
> immutable in man--as is emphasized by John Dewey." (p. 35)
> (Imagine that! Now where exactly does Dewey say this?)
> On p. 44 we learn that paedology is based on bourgeois theories which
> "deny the formative character of education" because they imagine
> development is based only on the natural abilities of children.
> (Surely we are talking about an extreme form of behaviorism?)
> On p. 40 we learn that all attempts to periodize child development are
> "essentially paedological" and thus "pseudo-scientific". "The solution of
> this problem was made possible by the investigations, already mentioned, of
> individual mental processes in the child and by studies of the development
> of various kinds of child activities--play, learning, work."
> (At least Leontiev recognizes that children play and that play has some
> kind of formative quality, though of course we mustn't imagine for a single
> moment that play is based on the natural abilities of chldren. Right?)
> Not quite. Here is what Leontiev says in "The Intellectual Development of
> the Child".
> "Creative play is, as a rule, collective. As the roles are distributed,
> certain definite relations are created between the children which condition
> their behavior towards each other. The accepted role determines the child's
> behavior. 'The daughter' 'must obey 'the mother'; 'the mother' must be
> loving; 'the policeman' strict but courteous. We must not forget that the
> main thing for the children in these games is action and in particular an
> action which comes closest to reality. The children always take seriously
> the content of the actions performed in the play. Therefore, a remark
> thrown in incidentally is sufficient to direct the behavior of the playing
> child. it is enough to say, for example: 'Does it really happen that a
> policeman on duty is uncourteous?', and the quarrel among the playing
> children subsides." (p. 63).
> Notice how ANL transmogrifies the collective activity into a kind of
> animate subject ('"the roles are distributed", "certain definite relations
> are created", the "accepted" role determines the child's behavior). The
> child has a purely passive role, but never mind: the environment more than
> makes up the deficit, assuming the active role of a kind of superhero, or
> super-nanny, or super-cop.
> Play is a really useful way to turn kids into cops. No wonder Gunilla
> Lindqvist hated this stuff.
> David Kellogg
> Hankuk University of Foreign Studiees
> xmca mailing list
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