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

I have never understood this supposed distinction, Alfredo, between "mediated activity" and "mediating activity" given that all activity is mediated and all activity mediates. Also, could you spell out what you mean by the "tension" between perezhivanie as meaning and perezhivanie as struggle.


Andy Blunden
On 5/01/2017 6:26 PM, Alfredo Jornet Gil wrote:
Thanks Marc for your careful response.

I am familiar to Vygotsky's notion of cultural mediation and I am aware and acknowledge that it was elaborated as a means to overcome dualism, and that it is not analog to a computational approach.

When I brought the computing analogy, I did so with regard not to the concept of cultural mediation in general, but to the way it can be (and is) deployed analytically. I react to what it seems to me a dichotomy between a "meaning" as something that is static (thereby a form of "representation" or reflection of the relation with the environment instead of ​refraction)​​ and the experiencing-as-struggling, which is described as ​transformation or change. If so, mediation here would seem to be part of a methodological device that first dissects "a type of meaning" from "a type of activity" (or a given state from the process that changes that state), and then unites it by adding the term "mediation." And this may be my misreading, but in that (mis)reading (which perhaps is mostly due to the fact that in your empirical illustration only the initial and end product, i.e., perezhivanie, are described, but not the experiencing-as-struggle, that is, the moving between the two), mediation here seems to do as analytical concept precisely what you were afraid our monism was doing: explaining nothing. Only the end products but not the process of producing perezhivanie are revealed. This may be problematic if one attends to what Veresov argues in the paper I shared yesterday, where he defends the notion of mediation but also specifies that Vygotsky speaks of *mediating activity* (as opposed to *mediated* activity). That is, not mediation by signs as products, but mediating activity as the activity of producing signs (which again is an activity of producing social relations, perhaps what you refer as "holistic meanings"?). What do you think?

I did not think you were trying to deny the influence of Spinoza, and I do not think we ever said that Perezhivanie was primarily a move from Cartesian Dualism to Monism, as you suggest in your post. I copy and paste from my prior post:  "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."

I totally believe that bringing the distinction between perezhivanie as meaning, and perezhivanie as struggle, is totally relevant, and Beth Ferholt's vignettes of Where the Wild Things Are do indeed illustrate this. We really need to address this tension, which as Beth's examples and as our own everyday experience shows, is a tension that matters not just to books and to theories but to living persons (children, teachers), a tension that moreover is present and mentioned in all the articles of the symposium. The papers offer different proposals, and I think is so great we have the chance to discuss them! I too, as you, am very interesting in hearing others about the questions you had concerning sense and meaning.


From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of Marc Clarà <marc.clara@gmail.com>
Sent: 04 January 2017 22:31
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Happy New Year and Perezhivanie!

Thank you very much, Alfredo, for sharing this excellent paper by Veresov,
and thanks also for your responses, which really helped me to better
understand your points. My main doubt about your proposal was/is caused by
the statement that the idea of cultural mediation/mediator implies a
cartesian dualism. This shocks me because, to me, the idea of cultural
mediation is absolutely crucial (in fact, the keystone) for the
construction of a monist (and scientific) psychology that does not forget
mind –that is, a cultural psychology. From your response, however, I
realized that we may be approaching the idea of mediation in different
ways. I talk of mediation and mediators in a quite restricted way. The
starting point of my understanding of mediation is a dialectical
relationship (organic, transactional) between the subject and the world
(Vygotsky departs from the scheme stimulus-response, from reflexology).
This relationship, that Vygotsky calls primitive psychological functions,
would be basically biological. However, in human beings this relationship
is mediated by cultural means: signs and tools; or primary, secondary and
terciary artifacts. These cultural means reorganize the primitive functions
(dialectic S-O relationship), which become then higher psychological
functions (S-M-O) (see for example, The problem of the cultural development
of the child, in The Vygotsky Reader). Now, the subject, the cultural
mediators, and the object form an inseparable dialectical unit, so that the
subject acts on (transforms) the object through the prism of the cultural
mediators, the object acts on (transforms) the subject also through the
prism of the cultural mediators, and the cultural means are themselves also
transformed as a consequence of their mediation in this continuous dynamic
dialectical tension. Here, for me, it is important the idea that the
cultural means are as material (if we assume a materialist monism) as all
the rest of the world; in fact, are parts of the material world which
become signs or tools (and can be therefore socially distributed). This
permits the introduction of the scientific study of mind-consciousness (as
mediating systems of signs), because mind is not anymore something
immaterial and unobservable, but it is as material and observable as the
rest of the natural world. It is from this view that, for me, the idea of
cultural mediation is the keystone of a monist psychology that includes
mind. Thus, when I speak of mediators, I refer to the cultural means which
mediate in the S-O dialectics; I am especially interested in
signs/secondary artifacts. Here, it is perhaps necessary to insist that
when I talk of studying mediators (and their semantic structure), this
doesn't mean that they are taken out from the activity (the flux of live)
in which they mediate (since out of activity they are not signs anymore);
here, I think Vygotsky tries again to overcome another old dichotomy, the
functionalism-structuralism one. I hope that all this makes also clear the
difference between this view and that of computational psychologies (which
in general are profoundly and explicitly dualist and not dialectic).

Back to perezhivanie, I'm not obviously trying to deny the influence of
Spinoza on Vygotsky's thinking (this is explicit in Vygotsky's writings,
especially in “The teaching about emotions”, in the Vol.6 of the Collected
Works). But I have doubts that Vygotsky's introduction of the concept of
perezhivanie is to be regarded primarily as a movement towards monism (from
a previous cartesian dualism), and that this movement questions the concept
of cultural mediation. Instead, and I think that this is in line with some
of González-Rey observations in his paper, my impression is that the
introduction of the concept of perezhivanie responds more to a movement (a
further step) towards holism (something that, in my understanding, can also
be found in Spinoza). Thus, I think that the word meaning is still the unit
of analysis in the last Vygotsky -and therefore, the idea of cultural
mediation is still crucial (in fact, in The problem of the environment, he
connects the concept of perezhivanie, which has just introduced, to the
development of word meaning [p.345-346, also cited in my paper]). However,
in my view, in the last Vygotsky the focus is not anymore primarily on the
word-meaning as formed for things (or collections of things, as in the
ontogenetic research with Sakharov), but the focus is now in the formation
of meaning for holistic situations.

Best regards,


2017-01-03 19:16 GMT+01:00 Alfredo Jornet Gil <a.j.gil@iped.uio.no>:

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

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

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
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
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
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
J. Greimas, mobilising a number of key concepts including those of
mediation and transformation.

?In addition to Marc, who will soon join us, I have encouraged some of
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
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.