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[Xmca-l] Re: Unit of Analysis


We're currently translating Chapter Three of pedology of the adolescent
into Korean. You know that Vygotsky likes to begin at the beginning. So
Vygotsky is discussing the way in which the first year of life both is and
is not the same as intra-uterine development. He points out that there are
three "activities" (and that is the term that he uses) that are similar.

a) Feeding. Although the child now uses animal functions perfectly well
(that is, the child responds to hunger and even actively seeks milk) the
nature of the child's food does not depend on these animal functions: it is
still, as it was during gestation, a product of the mother's body.

b) Sleep. Although the child has periods of wakefulness and activity, the
main (as opposed to the leading) "activity" is inactive sleep, and the
child does not keep a twenty-four hour cycle any more than she or he did in
the womb. Even the use of the twenty-four hour cycle is an adaptation to
the circadian rhythm of the mother as much as the establishment of the
child's own circadian rhythm.

c) Locomotion. Although the child now has space to move arms and legs, the
human child doesn't use them for locomotion for many months after birth and
instead depends on mother, just as a marsupial that has a morphological
adaptation for this purpose would.

Vygotsky's point is that these activities are not yet mediated; if they
were, then the child's discovery of her or his own ability to act upon
objects ("tools") and the child's discovery of her or his ability to mean
("signs") would not have the significance that they do. Ergo, historically,
genetically, developmentally there must necessarily exist activity which is
not made up of mediated actions.

David Kellogg

On Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 10:51 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

> "Andy added the notion that experts need basically to be able to agree
> reliably on examples of the unit" ?
> Researchers need to be clear about the unit of analysis each of them are
> using and of course, collaboration is much easier if you are all using the
> same unit of analysis. Exemplars are a way of substantiating a concept
> while a concept remains unclear or diverse, just like lists of attributes
> and definitions - all of which still fall short of a concept. To grasp the
> concept of something, like "unit of analysis," you have to know the
> narrative in which the concept is situated. Narrative knowledge and
> conceptual knowledge are mutually interdependent. The first three chapters
> of the story of "unit of analysis" as I see it are in my paper "Goethe,
> Hegel & Marx" to be published in "Science & Society" next year:
> http://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/pdfs/Goethe-Hegel-Marx_public.pdf
> - Vygotsky is the 4th chapter.
> "What makes water not an element, but a compound, are the relations
> between the subunits" ?
> The idea of a water molecule pre-dates he discovery of its composition as
> H2O and all the chemical properties related to that. As David suggested, it
> is the much more ancient knowledge of the "water cycle" - rain, snow, hail
> and fog ... run-off, streams, rivers, lakes ... seas, oceans ... vapour,
> steam ... - which is expressed in the idea of a "water molecule" - a tiny
> particle which all these things are made of, but which combines in
> different forms of movement to give us the various physical forms of what
> is all water. It is an unfortunate choice for a archetypal example, because
> it appears to contradict my claim that the concept of the unit must be
> visceral. The water molecule is so small it can be held in the hand, tossed
> around and stacked together only in the imagination. Nonetheless, like with
> metaphors, it is our visceral knowledge of particles (stones, pieces of
> bread, household objects, etc) which makes the concept of a "water
> molecule" something real to us, whose manifold physical properties arising
> from its V-shape, and its electrical stickiness, are meaningful. This
> contrasts with the 18th/19th century idea of "forces" and "fields" which
> are intangibles (though of course we find ways of grasping them viscerally
> nonetheless).
> Different phenomena are grasped by the way one and the same units
> aggregate. The unit relates to the range of phenomena it unifies. Different
> insights are provided by different units, *not necessarily in a hierarchy*.
> But a hierarchy of units and in particular the micro/macro pair are a theme
> which runs right through this narrative, the micro in some way "explaining"
> the macro which in turn explains the main phenomena: cell/organism,
> atom/molecule, commodity/capital, word meaning/utterance, artefact-mediated
> action/activity, etc. I am interested in this micro/macro relation but
> personally (despite my interest in Hegel) I am not a fan of trying to
> systematise the world with a "complete set" of units. Just one unit gives
> us an entire science. Let's not get too carried away. :)
> I hold the view, with A N Leontyev, that *Activities are composed of
> artefact-mediated actions and nothing else*. Any move away from this
> destroys the ontological foundation and takes us into metaphysics. If it is
> not an artefact-mediated action or aggregate of such actions, what the hell
> is it???
> Andy
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden
> http://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/index.htm
> https://andyblunden.academia.edu/research
> On 8/09/2017 3:41 AM, David Dirlam wrote:
>> The issues that have arisen in this discussion clarify the conception of
>> what sort of entity a "unit" is. Both and Andy and Martin stress the
>> importance of the observer. Anyone with some experience should have some
>> sense of it (Martin's point). But Andy added the notion that experts need
>> basically to be able to agree reliably on examples of the unit (worded like
>> the psychological researcher I am, but I'm sure Andy will correct me if I
>> missed his meaning).
>> We also need to address two other aspects of units--their classifiability
>> and the types of relations between them. What makes water not an element,
>> but a compound, are the relations between the subunits (the chemical bonds
>> between the elements) as well as those with other molecules of water (how
>> fast they travel relative to each other), which was David Kellogg's point.
>> So the analogy to activity is that it is like the molecule, while actions
>> are like the elements. What is new to this discussion is that the activity
>> must contain not only actions, but also relationships between them. If we
>> move up to the biological realm, we find a great increase in the complexity
>> of the analogy. Bodies are made up of more than cells, and I'm not just
>> referring to entities like extracellular fluid. The identifiability,
>> classification, and interrelations between cells and their constituents all
>> help to make the unit so interesting to science. Likewise, the constituents
>> of activities are more than actions. Yrjo's triangles illustrate that.
>> Also, we need to be able to identify an activity, classify activities, and
>> discern the interrelations between them and their constituents.
>> I think that is getting us close to David Kellogg's aim of characterizing
>> the meaning of unit. But glad, like him, to read corrections.
>> David
>> On Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 10:08 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:
>> ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
>>     Yes, but I think, Martin, that the unit of analysis we
>>     need to aspire to is *visceral* and sensuous. There
>>     are "everyday" concepts which are utterly abstract and
>>     saturated with ideology and received knowledge. For
>>     example, Marx's concept of capital is
>>     buying-in-order-to-sell, which is not the "everyday"
>>     concept of capital at all, of course.
>>     Andy
>>     ------------------------------------------------------------
>>     Andy Blunden
>>     http://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/index.htm
>>     <http://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/index.htm>
>>     https://andyblunden.academia.edu/research
>>     <https://andyblunden.academia.edu/research>
>>     On 7/09/2017 8:48 AM, Martin John Packer wrote:
>>         Isn’t a unit of analysis (a germ cell) a
>>         preliminary concept, one might say an everyday
>>         concept, that permits one to grasp the phenomenon
>>         that is to be studied in such a way that it can be
>>         elaborated, in the course of investigation, into
>>         an articulated and explicit scientific concept?
>>         just wondering
>>         Martin
>>             On Sep 6, 2017, at 5:15 PM, Greg Thompson
>>             <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com
>>             <mailto:greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>> wrote:
>>             Not sure if others might feel this is an
>>             oversimplification of unit of
>>             analysis, but I just came across this in
>>             Wortham and Kim's Introduction to
>>             the volume Discourse and Education and found
>>             it useful. The short of it is
>>             that the unit of analysis is the unit that
>>             "preserves the
>>             essential features of the whole".
>>             Here is their longer explanation:
>>             "Marx (1867/1986) and Vygotsky (1934/1987)
>>             apply the concept "unit of
>>             analysis" to social scientific problems. In
>>             their account, an adequate
>>             approach to any phenomenon must find the right
>>             unit of analysis - one that
>>             preserves the essential features of the whole.
>>             In order to study water, a
>>             scientist must not break the substance down
>>             below the level of an
>>             individual H20 molecule. Water is made up of
>>             nothing but hydrogen and
>>             oxygen, but studying hydrogen and oxygen
>>             separately will not illuminate the
>>             essential properties of water. Similarly,
>>             meaningful language use requires
>>             a unit of analysis that includes aspects
>>             beyond phonology,
>>             grammar, semantics, and mental
>>             representations. All of these linguistic and
>>             psychological factors play a role in
>>             linguistic communication, but natural
>>             language use also involves social action in a
>>             context that includes other
>>             actors and socially significant regularities."
>>             (entire chapter can be found on Research Gate at:
>>             https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319322253_Introduct
>> ion_to_Discourse_and_Education
>>             <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319322253_Introduc
>> tion_to_Discourse_and_Education>
>>             )
>>             ​I thought that the water/H20 metaphor was a
>>             useful one for thinking about
>>             unit of analysis.​
>>             ​-greg​
>>             --             Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
>>             Assistant Professor
>>             Department of Anthropology
>>             880 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
>>             Brigham Young University
>>             Provo, UT 84602
>>             WEBSITE: greg.a.thompson.byu.edu
>>             <http://greg.a.thompson.byu.edu>
>>             http://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson
>>             <http://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson>