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[Xmca-l] Re: Happy New Year and Perezhivanie!

Hi Marc, all, 

thanks for joining and for your interesting work, which I follow since I became aware of it. I appreciate the way in your paper you show careful and honest attention to the texts of the authors involved, but perhaps most of all I appreciate that the paper makes the transformational dimension related to struggle and change salient, a dimension all papers deemed central to perezhivanie. And I have learned more about Vasilyuk by reading your paper. But I also see that we have approached the question of perezhivanie differently and I think that addressing the questions that you raise concerning our article may be a good way to both respond and discuss your paper.

I am aware that our use of the term monism may be problematic to some, and N. Veresov, who has recently written about this (see attached article), warns against the dangers of simply moving from dualism into an undifferentiating monism that relativizes everything, making development un-studiable. This seems to be the way in which you have understood our argument, and of course this is not what we are or want to be doing. Probably many will think that *dialectical materialism* rather than monism is the proper term, and I could agree with them; we do in fact use dialectical materialism there and elsewhere. Yet, we wanted to emphasise the Spinozist influence (an influence that also runs through Marx) and so we found it appropriate to use the term monism, a term that Vygotsky uses before arguing that Spinoza "develops an essentially materialistic view" (Collected Works, Vol. 6, p. 124). For us, the aim is working out ways to empirically examine and formulate problems in ways that do not reify a mind-body dualism. 

Although overcoming dualism is foundational to the CHAT paradigm, I would however not say that Vygotsky did get to solve all of the problems that Cartesian dualism had created for psychology, even though he recognised those problems brilliantly as early as in the "Crisis". It should suffice to cite Vygotsky's own remarks, which we quote in the paper (and which A.N. Leont'ev mentions in the introduction to the collected works), where Vygotsky explicitly critiques some of his own prior ideas for failing to overcome dualism. We agree with those who, like F. G. Rey, see Vygotsky's project as a developing rather than as a finalised one. The fact is that  Vygotsky was building a theory on the unity of the affect and the intellect that was to be grounded on Spinoza, and what we try to do is to explore how perezhivanie, as a concept being developed during the same period (but not finalised or totally settled!), could be seen from the perspective of the Spinozist Vygotsky.

As you note, in our article we argue that, if one takes the Spinozist one-substance approach, classical concepts used in non-classical psychology, at least in the way they are commonly used in the current literature, should be revised. One such concept is mediation. And I personally do not have much of a problem when mediation is used to denote the fundamental fact that every thing exists always through *another*, never in and of itself. But I do think that it is problematic to identify MEDIATORS, such as "a meaning", as a means to account for or explain developmental processes and learning events, precisely because it is there, at least in my view, that dualism creeps in. 

For example, I find it paradoxical that you are concerned that our monist approach risks turning perezhivanie into a useless category because it may be used to explain everything and nothing, and yet you do not seem to have a problem using the term mediation to account for the transformation of perezhivanie without clearly elaborating on how mediation does change anything or what it looks like as a real process. How is it different saying that a perezhivanie mediates the experiencing-as-struggle from simply saying that it "affects" or "determines" it? Indeed, if perezhivanie mediates experiencing-as-struggle, does not experiencing-as-struglgle too mediate perezhivanie? And do not both may be said to mediate development, or development mediate them? Is not this explaining everything and nothing? 

I do believe you can argue that there is a difference between mediation and classical psychology's cause-effect relations, but to show this you need to dig into the dialectical underpinnings of the theory. In your paper, you offer a nice analysis of a lovely case of a teacher who, in dealing with a challenge with one of her students, changes her perezhivanie. I think you can rightly argue that there is a semiotic transformation, and I fully support your statement that by studying discourse we can empirically approach questions of psychological development. The contradictions you show as being involved and resolved resonate really well with what I experience as a parent or as a teacher in the classroom. Yet, without unpacking what this "mediation" taking place between one perezhivanie and the next one means as a concrete and real, the same analysis could be done taking an information processing approach: there is an situation that is processed (represented?) in one way, which then leads to a (cognitive) dissonance, and then there is a cognitive resolution by means of which the situation is presented differently in consciousness (indeed, when seen in this way, the term perezhivanie and the term "representation" become almost indistinguishable). How is mediation, as an analytical concept, helping here? And most importantly to the question of perezhivanie, how is this analysis going to show the internal connection between intellect and affect that Vygotsky formulates as constitutive of the notion of perezhivanie?

I believe that the key lies in understanding what Vygotsky means when he says that perezhivanie is a unit of analysis. I will not repeat here what already is written in at least a couple of the articles in the special issue (Blunden, ours), that is the difference between analysis by elements and unit analysis (Vygotsky 1987). A unit analysis approach is consistent with Spinoza, for whom cause-effect explanations were not adequate, requiring instead an understanding of self-development, perezhivanie as a kernel cell for the development of personality. And I think you may be after this in your article in suggesting a form of continuous movement from perezhivanie to experiencing-as-struggle. But perhaps the major difficulty I find is that, in positing Vygotsky's perezhivanie as "a type of meaning" and Vasilyuk's perezhivanie (or experiencing-as-struggle) as a "type of activity," it is difficult not to see here a division between product and process, a division that then is analytically bridged by the addition of a third term, mediation, that should bring back the real movement between the product and the process. 

A different approach involves considering the concrete extension of actual living and lived social relations, and look at them as generative phenomena. What is there in the encounter between Carla and the child that leads to change? For it is not inside the mind, but in real life, in consciousness as the real relation between people, that Carla is changed. How is the semantic structure that you nicely present and attribute to Carla a product of the social relation between her and the child? I think that to rightfully situate perezhivanie as a concept in a Vygotskian framework, we ought to address its relation to the genetic law of development. 

There is much more to disentangle, but this is long enough. I hope I have succeeded in making clear these ideas. Thanks so much for engaging in the discussion!

From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of Marc Clarà <marc.clara@gmail.com>
Sent: 02 January 2017 22:14
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Happy New Year and Perezhivanie!

Hi, all, and thank you so much, Alfredo, for your kind invitation to
participate in this discussion. My paper in the MCA special issue focuses
on a distinction between a type of activity, which I argue that is what
Vasilyuk called *perezhivanie* (experiencing) and a type of semiotic
mediator, which I argue that is what Vygotsky, in The Problem of the
Environment, called *perezhivanie.* I argue, following Vasilyuk, that in
experiencing activities (Vasilyuk's perezhivanie), this type of mediator is
profoundly transformed – in fact, that experiencing activities consist of
the semiotic transformation of this type of mediator.

As Veresov and Fleer argue in their commentary, perezhivanie (as a type of
mediator) is for me a psychological phenomenon, one which is of course
conceptualized from a specific theoretical framework. But the phenomenon is
also visible from other theoretical frameworks as well, as I mention in the
paper. This phenomenon is my main interest, and it is from this interest
that I arrived at the concept of perezhivanie (not the other way around).
Now, the phenomenon is that at least emotion, reasoning, and volition
(formation of conscious purposes) seem to be decisively mediated by
holistic situational meaning. My current research concern is trying to find
ways to study and understand how this mediation occurs and how these
semiotic mediators are transformed and distributed. From this view, I think
that experiencing activities (Vasilyuk's perezhivanie) may provide a good
terrain to study these issues (especially regarding the mediation of
emotion), as I tried to exemplify in the paper.

Studying semiotic mediation, however, is of course not easy. Following
Vygotsky, I assume that extended discourse is the manifestation of thinking
within certain psychological conditions (Vygotsky's Thinking and Speech,
chapter 7), and I also assume the Vygotsky's law of the unity of the
structure and function of thinking (Vygotsky's Thinking and Speech, chapter
6). From these two assumptions, I propose that meaning (and its functions
in human activity) can be scientifically studied by structurally analyzing
the narratives generated by subjects, considering that the discourse
produced in the narrative is the point of departure of this study, but that
considerable analytical work must be done to move from this discourse to
the full characterization of meaning. It is in that point where I find
useful the work developed by Greimas, the usefulness of which I only
suggest in the paper.

>From this background, I found many interesting ideas and questions in the
other papers of the special issue. In this first post I will propose two of
them for possible discussion. The first one was raised by González-Rey,
when he introduces, in connection with perezhivanie, the concepts of
personality, and especially, of sense. So, which is the conceptual (and-or
phenomenal) relation between perezhivanie and sense? González-Rey suggests
that both concepts are somewhat similar (and overcome by the concept of
“subjective sense”); my opinion, partly expressed in my commentary, is that
perezhivanie is a type of meaning, which includes different levels of
depth, and that sense corresponds to the deepest level of meaning (which
can be characterized as a system of semic oppositions). Therefore, sense
wouldn't be in opposition to meaning (as “a microcosm of human
consciousness”, as Kozulin remembers in his commentary), although it would
be in opposition to manifested meaning (the surface level of meaning).

The second issue was raised by Roth and Jornet, and I think it goes beyond
the issue of perezhivanie itself. If I understand them well, they argue
that Vygotsky's core proposal of cultural mediation is influenced by the
Cartesian dualism (mind-matter), and that a promising approach to Cultural
Psychology would be a Spinozist monism. I am actually very interested on
the issue of which epistemological position can best substantiate the
construction of a cultural psychology, and that's why I feel inclined to
take the opportunity to ask for your opinions about that. About the
proposal of Roth and Jornet, I have some doubts. First, I don't see why
Vygotsky's proposals can be seen as dualist (in the Cartesian sense) -I
suspect that it is because of the analytical distinctions?. Anyway, in my
understanding, Vygotsky explicitly assumes a materialist monism (for
example in The Crisis), and in fact he constructs his proposal on mediation
upon reflexology, which also explicitly assumed a materialist monism (e.g.
Sechenov). Would a Spinozist monism be a better point of departure? I don't
know, in my understanding it is a more idealist monism, and I don't clearly
see what could be gained. In my opinion, a scientific psychology which
includes the study of mind is only possible if any type of monism is
assumed. However, in my view, for a scientific psychology, the ontological
nature of the world is perhaps less important (it is an issue for
metaphysics?), and I am inclined to assume a neutral monism (e.g. Russell).
So from this view, a materialist monism and a Spinozist monism wouldn't be
so different, so from both views it could be assumed that all is of the
same nature and all is similarly knowable (including mind) [which is the
ontological nature of the world and to what degree it is knowable are
issues that can be left to philosophy]. However, in my opinion, this does
not mean that, while assuming a monism, analytical distinctions cannot be
done when studying the world. In that sense, I had the impression that Roth
and Jornet tended to dilute analytical distinctions in the name of monism;
I repeat that I don't know if I understood them well, but if this was the
case, in my opinion, analysis would be impossible within the new psychology
suggested by Roth and Jornet, and, regarding perezhivanie, there would be
the danger, noted by Vygotsky in The Crisis and cautioned by Kozulin in his
commentary, that by meaning everything, perezhivanie ends by meaning

Best regards and happy new year,


2017-01-02 9:12 GMT+01:00 Alfredo Jornet Gil <a.j.gil@iped.uio.no>:

> Dear all,
> I would like to join David, Luisa, Ana, Henry and the others to wish you
> all a Happy New Year! May it be full of joy, peace, and opportunity.
> I also would like to begin the year announcing our first ?MCA article
> discussion, ?although in fact corresponds to the last issue of the year we
> just passed, Issue 4 on Perezhivanie. This is a very special *special*
> issue, not only because its topic has raised lots of interest lately in the
> CHAT community but also because, greatly coordinated by Andy Blunden and
> the rest of the editorial team, the issue takes the form of a symposium
> where authors get the chance to present and respond to each others' ideas
> on the subject. In my view, this allows having a rich and multidimensional
> approach to a subject as important as perezhivanie.
> Following with the dialogical spirit in which the special issue was
> assembled, we will focus on one lead article, but hoping to also engage
> ideas and insights present in or relevant to other contributions in the
> issue. ?Marc Clarà's "Vygotsky and Vasilyuk on Perezhivanie: Two Notions
> and One Word" will be our focus. The article very nicely engages the lead
> work of Vygotsky, but also the less known ??(?in educational literature)
> but totally relevant works of psychologist ?F. Vasilyuk and semiotician A.
> J. Greimas, mobilising a number of key concepts including those of semiotic
> mediation and transformation.
> ?In addition to Marc, who will soon join us, I have encouraged some of the
> other authors in the special issue to also join as "relevant others," if
> time and circumstances allow them. Let's hope that this will help keeping
> the symposium spirit up.
> Marc's article is attached to this e-mail and will be made open access at
> the T&F pages as soon as people is back from the holidays. The T&F link is
> this: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10749039.2016.1186194
> The link to the MCA Forum pages, where we announce our discussions and
> other xmca things, is here: http://lchc.ucsd.edu/MCA/
> I wish us all a very productive and interesting discussion.
> Alfredo

Attachment: Veresov 2016 Duality of categories or dialectical concepts?.pdf
Description: Veresov 2016 Duality of categories or dialectical concepts?.pdf