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[Xmca-l] Re: Units of analysis

Alfredo, Andy and others interested in the unit of analysis question.

I'm working on getting a downloadable version of Chapter 1 of my book. In
the meantime, Routledge has added a link that will be open until September
15 to my whole book, which is free on line but not downloadable.


That first chapter has a well-developed and reliable definition of unit
("mode of practice") that has worked in over 300 interviews of people in
roughly 100 different disciplines. That's not to say it couldn't be
improved. For example it complements Engestrom et al.'s concept of "germ
cell" in at least some very interesting ways. For one, ascending from the
abstract to the concrete (from sit-to-stand to household mobility actions
like table setting) complements Mezirow's (1991) phases of transformative
learning, so that the results looks more like collaboration between the two
than competition.

In addition to that chapter the link above also gives an opportunity for a
free look at the rest of the book, including another chapter on unis.
Chapter 11 provides a nested hierarchy of units that was defined from
"modes of practice" at the middle down to the kinds of "germ-cell" units
that have been discussed in the last few weeks and up to extremely broad
scale units. The broad end is somewhat reminiscent of Mike Cole's
description of context based on Bronfrenbrenner's *Ecology of Human
Development, *as that which surrounds." Mike goes on to enrich this view as
a unit of culture. In ecology, the "surround" of a species is a community,
but communities are studied as units of ecosystems, much like cells are
studied as units of organ systems. Biology has made enduringly effective
use of its rich number of levels of units. The aim of the chapter is to
show some of the potential that such a rich conception of units might have
for research on practices.

David Dirlam

Author of Teachers, Learners, Modes of Practice: Theory and Methodology for
Identifying Knowledge Development (see www.routledge.com/9781138641181)

On Sun, Aug 20, 2017 at 6:47 PM, Alfredo Jornet Gil <a.j.gil@iped.uio.no>

> Thanks so much David for bringing to the fore your ongoing chat with Andy.
> The levels you describe are interesting. You mention a chapter; any chance
> it could be shared with the list? I look at excerpts of your book online
> and the introductory chapter seems totally relevant to the unit of analysis
> discussion.
> Cheers,
> Alfredo
> ________________________________________
> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu>
> on behalf of David Dirlam <modesofpractice@gmail.com>
> Sent: 20 August 2017 23:38
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: [Xmca-l]  Units of analysis
> 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