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[Xmca-l] Re: Unit of Analysis

Michael, being an English-speaker is not an explanation for someone's every shortcoming; as it happens I read enough German and French to not be blinded by my native language, but I am also a very mindful user of my own language. I used the words "mind" and "body" because of the cultural history of this word-pair.

*Of course* it is a "thinking body." But all that solves is some medieval problems of ontology.

I have never had the pleasure of talking to you in person, Michael, but I have the impression that you have a mind. Am I right? Do you have a mind? Do you act consciously or are you just a piece of flesh responding to stimuli according to the laws of physics and chemistry? And aren't you able to distinguish between what is in your mind and something that exists independently of you? Where did this remarkable ability come from? I think that that (among others) is a fair question. Responding with truisms of ontology is no answer. Being aware of oneself, being a conscious being, is not a trivial matter or a mistake. As Psychologists we are interested in all the questions the study of the mind throws up


Andy Blunden
On 8/09/2017 10:02 PM, Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:
Andy, about the body, and mind, I think it would be good to re-read the
chapter on Spinoza in Il'enkov's *Dialectical Logic*. He writes about the
thinking body, not about the mediation of body and mind by something else.
These two are but manifestations. THough developed in a very different
tradition (Maine de Biran), the materialist philosopher Michel Henry's
Une Philosphie de la Chair* can be read in the same way.

One of the problems may lie in the English word body, which does not have
the same possibilities as the German and French pairs Körper/Leib and
corps/chair. That is a big problem, as you are stuck with the material
body, always opposed to thought, and then you need mediation to get the two
together. Chair is something like a thinking body.


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 9:02 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

"if something explains everything, it in fact explains nothing" ?
To say that there is always something in between any two things you want
to mention is not "explaining everything."

"If the body is mediating, then between what and what?"
Basically between mind and body. Initially there is no such distinction,
for a new-born, for example. But this distinction arises through practical
interactions with the infant's socio-cultural environment, the same way a
child gets to know that that there is *my hand* and that there is *not me*,
etc. Repeating medieval aphorisms about "no distinctions between mind and
body" and denouncing this as a "Western construct" - things one hears from
time to time - is a waste of breath. We are not born with such a
distinction, but we make one, and after a certain age, almost everything we
do is mediated by consciousness, even if that consciousness is delusional.

Also, we now know that the characteristically human adaptations - our
upright gait, our speech-enabled larynx and our hands are *cultural
inheritances*, just like the landscape, crops, domesticated animals and
tools we use, not to mention our languages, art, religions, etc. All
*artefacts* mediating our activity. You can say that these things explain
nothing if you like, but I am not convinced.


Andy Blunden
On 8/09/2017 1:44 PM, Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:

if everything is mediated, what is the point of doing more research to say
that something is mediated by something? Like the adage goes, if something
explains everything, it in fact explains nothing.

If the body is mediating, then between what and what?

Concerning the "meaning" of mediation in CHAT----this is perhaps an
Anglo-Saxon CHAT that you are referring to?

There are scholars saying that Vygotsky's work is not of much use because
of his instrumentalism, mediation seems to me part of that
(That's why those people say that Bakhtin has a better approach to the way
language works.) The later Vygotsky did not seem to go the route of
mediation, or so say those more familiar with some of the notes that have
become available from the family archive.


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 8:32 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

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.
and having sex, for example, are cultural practices and through
participation in these cultural practices people learn to name and
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
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
conclusion (the body is an artefact) because it was necessary to make
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
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
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
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
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
into Korean. You know that Vygotsky likes to begin at the beginning.
Vygotsky is discussing the way in which the first year of life both is
is not the same as intra-uterine development. He points out that there
three "activities" (and that is the term that he uses) that are

a) Feeding. Although the child now uses animal functions perfectly
(that is, the child responds to hunger and even actively seeks milk)
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,
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
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
and instead depends on mother, just as a marsupial that has a
adaptation for this purpose would.

Vygotsky's point is that these activities are not yet mediated; if
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
("signs") would not have the significance that they do. Ergo,
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
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