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[Xmca-l] Re: Units of Analysis

Thanks Alfredo and Mike for suggesting the Chapter. I've written to my
editor at Routledge / Taylor & Francis for permission to make it available
to xmca. I should know about that in a few days. I have some shorter
versions for different audiences, but that chapter was written for scholars
and the whole book is more complete than anything else I've written on the
unit of analysis in the last few decades. Even with the introductory
chapter on units, the work on the 11 level nested hierarchy for the Chapter
11 of the book greatly expanded my thinking in ways I didn't expect before
I wrote the chapter. So there is also a relatively inexpensive e-edition of
the whole book at


On Sun, Aug 20, 2017 at 8:19 PM, mike cole <mcole@ucsd.edu> wrote:

> I agree with Alfredo that it would be easier for people to interpret your
> note, David D,
> if you included either the relevant chapter or a written precis of the
> material in it.
> As you can see, the range of sources of peoples' ideas here exceeds the
> limits of all mortals here present, so starting with a Topic 101 summary
> locating the ideas is never a bad idea.
> mike
> On Sun, Aug 20, 2017 at 12:56 PM, David Dirlam <modesofpractice@gmail.com>
> wrote:
> > It looks like I finally got my blank-emails problem fixed, thanks to
> Andy's
> > kind notification of what was the cause. I did a little off-line
> > corresponding with him in the meantime and plan to share some of it and
> add
> > some to it.
> >
> > I found Andy's current and 2010 articles on Vygotsky's unit of analysis
> to
> > be fascinating and his comments during my xmca blackout very helpful,
> even
> > after spending 50 years work on the problem. I hope to join this
> discussion
> > of what I believe is one of the most central social science problems of
> our
> > age. So below I've put a brief synopsis of what I think people on xmca
> > might find most useful from that work and invite comments.
> >
> > One of Andy's useful comments about units came through an xmca in
> response
> > to David Kellogg's suggestions. The introduction of features (father's
> job,
> > sibling number, etc.) reminded me of the attempts to evaluate higher
> > education in the U.S. using graduation rates and job placements, a
> tendency
> > that I have been fighting for decades.
> >
> > Also, during my offline discussion with Andy, I mentioned a chapter from
> my
> > book that used biology as an analogy to define 11 levels of a nested
> > hierarchy of practices. That was a project that I had been imagining for
> a
> > decade by tagging articles in Science that I thought would be useful for
> > the purpose, especially in the context of many additional articles
> > generated from library databases (though I wrote this chapter not even a
> > year ago, it has had much value in helping to identify and talk about
> what
> > people do). The 11 levels ranged from an analog to the gene at the
> bottom,
> > which was quite similar to Vygotsky's sign-mediated action, since it
> > combined activity with artifacts and social context. The next level up
> (the
> > cell analog), I called actuations, which add short-term memory to the
> > bottom level, Luria's *Human Brain and Psychological Process *has many
> > examples of both levels. Procedures that use several actuations (like
> > recipes) were the next level. The units continue in similar nested
> fashion
> > up to the biosphere analog, that I called praxosphere.
> >
> > Andy replied that units do not have to be nested, and I fully agree. In
> > fact nearly all the units I discussed have both defectology and social
> > situation aspects. Since they are not nested like the ones in the
> chapter,
> > they need to be different sorts of units. The same occurs in biology
> where
> > competition and pathology occur at least at levels ranging from cells to
> > biomes. Actually, Luria's book just mentioned would be a great place to
> > identify examples of the first two or three levels of the hierarchy of
> > practice I proposed in my book. His amazing observations of simple acts
> of
> > brain-damaged patients have been an inspiration to me for decades.
> >
> > The mid-level units (the analog to biology's species) that I proposed are
> > modes of practice. I found these by studying dimensions of competing
> modes
> > of practices in children's drawing, student writing, and developmental
> > researchers' methods. The first publication of a dynamic analysis of the
> > drawing study was in *Mind Culture and Activity *in 1997. My language has
> > changed during two decades of use of the ideas, but the kernels were
> there.
> > Dimension is the next more complex level of units above the modes of
> > practice. The modes of practice in each dimension get sequenced by four
> > parameters: their endemicity (initial prevalence), acquisition rate
> (growth
> > in frequency), and commitment (competitive strength), and their resource
> > level (social acceptance or limited artifact availability). One pattern
> is
> > especially common: *beginning* modes are endemic, *exploring *modes are
> > acquired very quickly but are not competitive, *sustaining *modes grow
> > slower with more commitment, and *inspiring *modes have the highest
> levels
> > of commitment. Sometimes a *destructive *mode appears instead of the
> > sustaining or inspiring mode -- these grow faster than exploration, but
> > overshoot the resource level so much that they eliminate the whole
> > dimension (drug use is a good example for persons). To transition from
> one
> > mode of practice to the next requires transformative learning, a concept
> > that has benefited much from Mezirow's writings. A study with some
> friends
> > of 500 hour long sessions with individual students revealed that
> Mezirow's
> > 10 phases occurred in 4 time periods. The phases of commitment and modes
> of
> > commitment, therefore, became the fourth and fifth levels.
> >
> > An interesting aspect of the sequence for modes of practice is that it
> lays
> > out zones of proximal development for each dimension. I watched teachers
> > use them that way 40 years ago with amazing results, especially for
> student
> > writing. I've had a harder time getting academics to do so. It makes me
> > wonder how Vygotsky's discussion of zone of proximal development might
> fit
> > with the modes and phases of commitment.
> >
> > We can tell when we have two different dimensions, because all modes of
> > practice within one dimension can occur simultaneously with any mode of
> > practice in all others (i.e., there is no competition between them). So,
> > when I have given this model to experts (300  altogether so far) and
> asked
> > them what people do who are learning in their area of expertise, over 99%
> > readily describe the four or five modes of practice in 6-12 dimensions of
> > their expertise. They often comment that it is an interesting way to
> > organize their thinking about their field. My interest is that each
> > interview results in somewhere between 15,000 (6 dimensions) and a
> quarter
> > billion (12 dimensions) patterns of practice but uses only 24-48 terms.
> > When I did this for the entire faculty of a liberal arts college and
> > combined dimensions that were similar, I ended up with 25 dimensions with
> > 100 terms (these are detailed in the appendix of my book). They are
> > incredibly more interesting and meaningful than graduation and
> > job-placement rates. But, and this is what keeps me at it, they also have
> > the potential to emancipate teachers and learners from the sort of
> > bureaucratic hegemony that demands simple minded measures like job
> > placement and graduation rates.
> >
> > Text analysis of the 25 dimensions (a technique I started working on at
> > Mike's suggestion during my 1997-98 year at LCHC) also grouped dimensions
> > together into clusters that resembled specialties (analog to biological
> > communities) and these into disciplines (the analog to ecosystems). The
> > next levels came from interviews of some 80 designers in 20 different
> > disciplines at the Savannah College of Art Design. I never thought of
> > design as a methodology as progressive as science, but those interviews
> > convinced me. Now, it seems obvious: scientists record their progress in
> > papers and equipment, designers in services and products. Interviews of
> 60
> > rabbinical scholars at Hebrew Union College then convinced me that
> > interpretation was also progressive, but now recorded in precedents. So
> the
> > level above discipline (the analog to biome) became progressive
> > methodology. Human knowledge, then, becomes the praxosphere or analog to
> > biosphere.
> >
> > I'm not sure what Vygotsky would think about all this (I am sure that
> many
> > on this list know better than me about that), but I don't think he would
> be
> > nearly as upset as he seems to have been with reducing a child's
> > environment to parent occupation, age, housing, sibling numbers, etc.
> > Thinking about Vygotsky and Andy's papers does give me the idea that I
> > should look back through all my interviews to see what meaningful objects
> > and social environments they imply.
> >
> > I hope this adds to the discussion, and even more that it proves useful
> for
> > progress in studying what people do in ways that thwart simplistic
> > reductions to graduation and employment rates. I'm off to read Yrjo's
> paper
> > next.
> >
> > All the best,
> >
> > David Dirlam
> >