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[Xmca-l] Re: Current takes on the 'later' Vygotsky

Dear Helena,

thanks for your careful reading/commenting on the Theorizing with/out mediators article.

We were indeed concerned that readers may be going to take us as saying that 'tools,' artefacts, etc, no longer were relevant, or that they made no special attention. This is why, through the last two​ pages, we warn the reader ​NOT ​to take us in that sense. I (we) cannot but agree that the QRH in our study, or the labor contract in your example, are integral to whatever social phenomenon we are trying to explain, as we argue in the article.

But it is also important to note that the critique concerns mediation as a concept for the (social) scientific inquiry into ​​human activity, and not *every* use of the term outside that program of inquiry​. As you, I also find it useful to say that a labor contract 'mediates' between employees, workers, and unions. Some may want to say that the USS Carl Vinson is 'mediating' in the US-North Korea relations. Still, that will not *explain* the social phenomenon, for contracts and aircraft carriers are just parts (however important) of much larger fields of semantic organisation.

To me, the problem comes when the social inquiry is closed or concluded by saying that this or this other thing mediates this or that other thing; which is very often the case. If anything, that should be a start; and perhaps not the best start. For if you were to take the QRH out, then we may still ​find that 'language' mediated between the pilot and the examiner; or that their present relation mediates between their past relation and their future relation. What in every case we would be trying to do is ​specifying just how practices are organised so that social change can be accounted for.

You mention that unit analysis vs analysis by elements does not really make a difference in practice. Our critique, however, is built on the assumption that it does indeed make a difference. You agree that the extended excerpt in p. 10 does show the event from a unit perspective. To me, becoming aware that words inherently belong to (at least) two persons, ​rather than 'mediating' between them, really makes a difference. For such a 'belief' may have deep implications for they way attributions of *responsibility* may be drawn in practice. For if I am hard-wired on the belief that I am I, and that you are you, and that we are 'using' words that mediate between us , my orientation and attitude (and my way of being responsive to and therefore responsible) towards solving any conflict will be very different than if I were aware that I am we, and you are we, and that these words are as much ours as they are not.

Glad that this conversation is going on!


From: Helena Worthen <helenaworthen@gmail.com>
Sent: 11 April 2017 01:46
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Cc: Alfredo Jornet Gil
Subject: Re: [Xmca-l] Current takes on the 'later' Vygotsky

Sorry, message got pasted in twice. Please ignore previous message.

Helena Worthen
Berkeley, CA 94707
Blog about US and Viet Nam: helenaworthen.wordpress.com<http://helenaworthen.wordpress.com>

On Apr 10, 2017, at 4:41 PM, Helena Worthen <helenaworthen@gmail.com<mailto:helenaworthen@gmail.com>> wrote:

hi -

In an effort to get back in the conversation, I have read the Roth-Jornet paper, Theorizing Without Mediators, and have some comments. As usual, I like to see ideas tested agains concrete examples. I like it even better when the ideas seem to have some useful, practical applications.

Roth and Jornet argue that the well-worn familiar term, “mediation,” leaves sociocultural theory open to charges of dualism, and that Vygotsky himself was abandoning the term (and perhaps the concept) in his late years

I agree that the English word "mediation" has some problems. Tools and signs are said to “mediate” but they are not themselves active; they are objects, they don’t initiate anything. They have a function, however.  While a text does not actively do anything, someone does something with it. So “mediating” looks like a verb (a gerund) but really isn’t.  Nor does mediate simply locate something in the middle, or between two things. To extend Roth and Jornet’s metaphor, a river does not mediate its shores; it may lie between them, but a bridge, if there is one, would mediate.

 This vocabulary problem affects other words that are terms of art in sociocultural theory. “Affordances” is one. The phrase “activity theory” is a little awkward. When introducing someone to sociocultural theory, I always have to warn them that there is a kind of private language involved. I don’t know where it came from – translations?

But does the concept of mediation lead to dualism, as Roth and Jornet suggest?        `

I have tried to collect the pairs that are referenced when we talk about “mediation” or “artifact mediation”?  Some that are mentioned in the first couple of pages of this article are:

Individual/(collective or group) – this is my addition
Inner mind/outer world
Developing individual/social practice

 So are these dualisms or dialectical partners?

 The idea that a tool or a sign “mediates” between all of these does not seem problematical to me. I can think of concrete examplesThe idea that a tool or a sign “mediates” between all of these does not seem problematical to me. I can think of concrete examples for all of them. Schools mediate between nature and culture. Writing a poem mediates between one’s inner mind and the outer world; same for intrasubjective/intersubjective. A teacher mediates between a developing individual and a social practice. An agenda mediates between an individual and a group.  The document drafted by Jimmy Carter and amended sequentially by Rabin and Sadat mediated that phase of the negotiations, etc.
 This does not seem to lead to the quote from Mikhailov in line 46 on page 1, about ‘from the perspective of the soul, there are no mediators.” I am also not convinced that if tools, technology and signs mediate every activity, “mediation would explain nothing.”  I can see that in numbers, this is true – 4ab x 6a = 24ab is really 4b x 6 = 24b, right?- but not in communication.  Nor do I really understand the quote from Spinoza on line 25 of page 2, “being is transparent in its determination . . . in that it excludes every mediation that would produce the determination.” Being as existence?  And the thalidomide baby example is striking but it does not earn its place by being clear.  What is the sign or tool here? What is the activity?
 Overall, the jump to Spinoza confuses me. Spinoza wrote in Latin, in the 1800s; does he mean what Vygotsky means by “mediation”?
Spinoza aside, I’m willing to accept that Vygotsky, according to Mikhailov, supplanted “mediation” with “the intersubjective speech field.” We can still look at what is in the middle of the intersubjective speech field and see what’s going on. If “intersubjective speech field” is a new way of talking about mediation, so be it.
 Now we go to the concrete case provided by Roth and Jornet, one that might seem to be an example of mediation, to see what is different if we look at it as an example of a speech field. The authors indicate that this concept will be different because it “includes time and social relations as irreducible aspects of the unit of analysis.” I am not convinced that this is different: the famous Engestrom triangle places a tool or sign as the mediator between categories that are embodied in people (history, customs, rules etc. on the one side and an object/outcome on the other), all in dynamic whole that changes over time.  So time and social relations are irreducible aspects of that unit of analysis, too.
 But on to the case: page 5, with images of a Quick Reference Handbook (QRH), script of an interaction between an examiner and an airline pilot. The pilot has made a mistake and the examiner is quizzing him about how it happened. The QRH shows a checklist of what was supposed to happen; it is the authority to which both refer. I think that the discussion illustrated with variations of the famous triangle is summarized in the paragraph in the middle of page 7: ‘To identify the QRH as a mediator, the subjectivities of pilot and examiner must be assumed to pre-exist the relation, and the tool be placed in between. It also functions to “mediate” between the different (subjective) “meanings” and as a tool in the “construction of” intersubjectivity. Alternatively, however, and in line with a unit analysis, it is possible to consider the QRH to be an aspect integral to the field in which the two participants are also constitutive parts. The QRH then is integral part of the common ground in and to the sequentially organized turn taking of examiner and pilot. Such is the approach we work towards in the sections below.’
 So we are looking for a unit analysis (analysis of a whole unit, not unit of analysis) rather than an analysis into elements. I am not yet convinced that in practice there is really any difference.
 On the other hand, the expanded script on page 10 does certainly show how the words of the conversation exist for both the pilot and the examiner, and thereby creates a shared social space. In other words, “intersubjective speech field” makes sense – a moment in time when the words of each person (subject) are alive in the hearing and consciousness of the other – “I hear you and you hear me.” And it does not leave a crack by which it could be opened to the charge of dualism. Instead it is a whole, a coherent unit of analysis. But “intersubjective speech field?” - another term of art!!
Finally, while I have had trouble with the term ‘mediate’ and can see that it is open to misunderstandings, I have always found that these misunderstandings melted away quickly when I was working with something very concrete.  When a union steward, for example, is defending a worker who has been disciplined, the text of the contract definitely mediates the relationship between the worker and the employer. No doubt about it; take that text away, and the relationship changes abruptly.
What would the “intersubjective speech field” have been like if the QRH had not been available?  Would the pilot have offered a different defense? That would be a way to have tested what mediating role it played.
On Apr 9, 2017, at 4:53 PM, Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com<mailto:lpscholar2@gmail.com>> wrote:

Alfredo, Amelia, and Pablo,

Your hope that we will cover this ground by reference to a wider literature by ‘expanding ’ the field, may have the unintended consequence of also ‘abbreviating’ the focus on ‘with/out mediation,  at the core of your paper.

This notion of abbreviation and expansion and when each direction is appropriate.
This speaks to your article’s notion of “accented”. When contents are accented by some reference [I.e. deictic, body orientation, verbal indication] then, the semantic, sense-giving *field* changes.  The contents no longer have to be said because the presence of the contents in the *field* goes ‘without’ saying, being an aspect of the integral co-inhabited space.

Following this line, I notice Amelia and Pablo’s article explores five usually overlooked aspects of Vygotsky’s work. The first overlooked aspect is:

“the understanding of the mediational system as a trans-organic, EXTENDED branch of the psychological system.

This first aspect explored by Amelia and Pablo  may or may not share a family resemblance to your and Michael’s exploration of theorizing with/out mediation?

I hope Amelia and Pablo read through your article so that we can read each article through the perspective of the other article thus expanding our notion of ‘mediation’? I am referring to the title of Amelia and Pablo’s article [Vygotsky and beyond: Horizons for the Future of Psychology]. This is a theme of ‘extending’ with/out premature abbreviation. May require a middle path?

I will re-send your and Michael’s article in the hope of engaging both articles with the potential to  open possible new horizons  through engaging with the ‘later’ Vygotsky [1932-1934] and his re/thinking his life’s work and this new direction’s relevance for our current moment in time. I am referring to the title of Amelia and Pablo’s article
Also recognizing this is contested ground.

Searching for a new con/sensus

Sent from Mail for Windows 10

From: Alfredo Jornet Gil
Sent: April 9, 2017 10:50 AM
To: lpscholar2@gmail.com<mailto:lpscholar2@gmail.com>; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [Xmca-l] Current takes on the 'later' Vygotsky

Thank you Larry for sharing your reading of our article, which I think is a very sensible read. I hope that by posting Amelia and Pablo's article, we can cover the ground by reference to a wider literature as well. Obviously, ours is only one among other takes in current literature that point in the similar direction; and there are yet others quiet critical to these 'revisionist' takes. As you anticipate, getting these into dialogue would be a great xmca accomplishment.


From: lpscholar2@gmail.com<mailto:lpscholar2@gmail.com> <lpscholar2@gmail.com<mailto:lpscholar2@gmail.com>>
Sent: 09 April 2017 14:21
To: Alfredo Jornet Gil; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [Xmca-l] Current takes on the 'later' Vygotsky

I have been slowly reading (and digesting) your and Wolff-Michael’s article (Theorizing – with/out mediators) that joins the current ‘takes’ on the later Vygotsky.

My impression (and appreciation) of this emerging tradition is significant as  an enlarging of the scope and ‘re-working’ of the Vygotsky who was known in the process of moving into the West European  and North Atlantic form of theorizing.

I am reading your article in relation to the notion of ‘playworlds’ and ‘spielraum’ (translated playrooms).

A key re-working of (mediation) has to do with re/thinking triangle diagrams as static (with mediation at the apex).
This generates a PREsumption of two variables at the base of the triangle assumed as (elements, essences, things) that inter/act through an ‘intermediary’ third (element, essence, thing).
Your article indicates this is the classical or canonical version of (mediation) as the third thing/element through which the other two things/elements become changed or develop.

Your re-working of (mediation) adds the temporal, duration, and (unit of analysis) and implies it is not the elements or parts that each individually change or develop (classic intermediary model of elements transformed by going through a third element IN a triangle with an apex mediator)
But rather
There are only relation of (within UNITS).
When a tool, technique, sign, word, artifact) develops then the ENTIRE UNIT (not elements) develops.

Alfredo, I personally believe your approach (currently re-working classical and Western canonical versions) deserves to have its own (place) as a subsection on the XMCA site. To become more clear on this ‘later’ Vygotsky.
Then a conversation may generate that puts in question this re-working
In a spirit of ‘play’ in rooms.
A movement back and forth, oscillating, spiralling, developing, and never reaching a determinate conclusion, once and forever.

Putting in play triangles with mediators at the apex as static diagrams.
More open, fluid, theorizing with ANDA WITHOUT ‘mediators’ as we play with these notions.

I recommend others read the article ‘Theorizing with/out mediators’.
Reading the (/) to mean interval where we tarry awhile in a spirit of re-working theorizing with/out mediators.

I believe we need to create a subsection on XMCA to let these notions percolate and permeate the more classical boundary markers.

My way of saying your article is a pro-found re-working of the notions of (within) and (without) and (mediation) at the core of this re-working PRE-assumptions.

My morning muse

Sent from my Windows 10 phone

From: Alfredo Jornet Gil
Sent: April 8, 2017 10:20 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Current takes on the 'later' Vygotsky

Hi Esteban,

yes, things have been a little quiet lately, but there have been few threads going on, perhaps most importantly the one discussing Jang's (this issue's) paper on multi-ethnic issues on Second Language.

Other threads have seemed to resonate on recent articles/works attempting to re-work (or work further) some of Vygotsky's key concepts, in particular ZPD and Mediation (with a couple of articles having been circulated).

Connecting to the latter, it seems that several of those efforts are making emphasis on Vygotsky's later period, suggesting that much of the prior and current uptakes have focused almost exclusively on the instrumental aspects that were more salient in his middle period, and not so much on the lines of inquiry that the psychologist was opening never had the chance to pursue.

I attach yet another such work, this time by del Río and Álvarez. Much is being written about how and to what extent Vygotsky was revising his own prior work. This one tells as more about that, and does so both in English and in Spanish.

I wonder how do xmca'ers (who likely are busy reading world news as things are getting more and more perplexing) feel and think about this tendency/prospect in cultural-historical theory literature.

From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu<mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu<mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu>> on behalf of Helena Worthen <helenaworthen@gmail.com<mailto:helenaworthen@gmail.com>>
Sent: 09 April 2017 03:11
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Playworlds, Performance, Perezhivanie,    Apophasis ... and TRUMP'S speech!

Hi, Esteban -

Things have been a little quiet recently. I suspect my co-xmca-ers in the US are either mid-semester or digging in on big projects that will have some significance, hopefully, given what we’re dealing with here.

You may or may not be aware that our new Secretary of Education is the sister of Erik Prince, http://www.ibtimes.com/who-betsy-devos-brother-erik-princes-involvement-blackwater-chinese-money-laundering-2493834

Just a hint of what is happening to education, top to bottom, in the US.


Helena Worthen
Berkeley, CA 94707
Blog about US and Viet Nam: helenaworthen.wordpress.com

On Apr 8, 2017, at 3:15 PM, Stephen Diaz <EDiaz@csusb.edu> wrote:

Hi Bruce,

Don't know if you are still the one for xmcc but I am not getting any emails from that list serve.  Can you please check on that.  I still want to continue on it if possible.  Thanks.

Esteban Diaz

From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of Bruce Jones <bjones@ucsd.edu>
Sent: Sunday, February 5, 2017 3:23 PM
To: mike cole; Andy Blunden; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Playworlds, Performance, Perezhivanie, Apophasis ... and TRUMP'S speech!

On 2/5/17 2:39 PM, mike cole wrote:
Bruce's email is not bouncing from san diego.
Perhaps there is only one c in unsubscribe?

Spelling mistakes will not cause bounces.  I do the unsubscribes by hand
in order to make sure they are removed from the database.

Bruce Jones
Sys Admin, LCHC