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[Xmca-l] Re: Unit of Analysis

Sure, not everyone agrees. I think understanding what we come to know as parts of our body as artefacts makes a lot of things comprehensible. Eating and having sex, for example, are cultural practices and through participation in these cultural practices people learn to name and identify the various parts of our body and the appropriate ways of using them. As David said, we are not born with this ability, but only natural functions. We are born without self-consciousness of any kind or any distinction between mind and body. These are culturally acquired distinctions and the use of our bodies is the cultural means of acquiring these capacities, which ultimately come to be embodied in external objects. I arrived at this conclusion (the body is an artefact) because it was necessary to make sense of the narrative of cultural psychology. But as you say, Michael, not everyone agrees. I don't know anyone in this whole story that I entirely agree with.

Note however that "mediated" has taken on a very specific meaning in the CHAT tradition, it implies artefact-use for CHAT people and in the same tradition bodies are not "artefacts." So there is tons of room for talking at cross purposes here. But mediation is something utterly ubiquitous.


Andy Blunden
On 8/09/2017 1:19 PM, Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:
Not everyone agrees:

(Mikhailov 2001, p. 20) "Hence, the external corporeal existence of other
people, their real-objective behavior, their activity with things, their
voices and gestures and, consequently, the object-related nature
of all the conditions of their lives (all that is other), *is not mediated*
for individuals to become aware of them by the pure meanings
and senses of so many physically external words,26 but are
themselves the reality of affect and sense for each of us."


(Mikhailov 2001, p. 27) Everything
to which the child begins to relate in himself—close adults,
their speech, and consequently the “language” of household objects
addressed to him, the “language” of the whole of nature around
him, in a word, everything that his organs of perception assimilate
together with the subjectivity of adults—all these things are given
to the child *not as an ensemble of mediators* between the child and
nature, but, in fact, as subjectively his own; for all of these things
are subjectively “everyone’s.”

Mediationism has become something like a religion---Alfredo and I have a
piece in Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, suggesting why
we do not need the concept,


Wolff-Michael Roth, Lansdowne Professor

Applied Cognitive Science
MacLaurin Building A567
University of Victoria
Victoria, BC, V8P 5C2
http://web.uvic.ca/~mroth <http://education2.uvic.ca/faculty/mroth/>

New book: *The Mathematics of Mathematics

On Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 7:55 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

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