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[Xmca-l] Re: Unit of Analysis

David, the germ cell of artefact-use is the use of our own body. Our various body parts are essentially artefacts.


Andy Blunden
On 8/09/2017 12:45 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

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 <mailto: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
    - 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 Blunden
    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.


        On Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 10:08 PM, Andy Blunden
        <ablunden@mira.net <mailto: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.
            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
            concept of capital at all, of course.


            Andy Blunden

            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
                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

                just wondering


                    On Sep 6, 2017, at 5:15 PM, Greg Thompson
        <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
                    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
                    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

                    (entire chapter can be found on
        Research Gate at:

                    ​I thought that the water/H20 metaphor
        was a
                    useful one for thinking about
                    unit of analysis.​


                    --             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