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[Xmca-l] Re: Unit of Analysis

I've been on vacation in a spot with no internet or cell phone service --
cut off from civilization, perhaps, but that's not as bad as being cut off
from this fascinating discussion :-)

An idea from each of Alfredo's and Andy's posts generated visceral
reactions in me. Out in the mountains, I spent many hours with a former
student of mine, who has been a licensed clinical social worker in the
western Virginia coalfields for 20 years. We're proposing a book on "Taming
Intelligence" to address the human side of dealing with AI changes in work.
I did a long developmental interview of her (a way of helping people
organize their professional experience) and the 9 needs of Manfred Max-Neef
turned out to be most of the dimensions for organizing her expertise. They
happen to be the topic of one of the 7 chapters we have planned for the
book, but I didn't expect to find them so deeply embedded in the
therapeutic process (my ignorance, probably). Where they fit into modes of
practice are that one of the parameters for describing changes in the
frequency of a practice over time is resources and the 9 needs spell out
the internal effects of resource availability (off the top of my head they
are health-safety, sustenance, leisure, creativity, understanding, liberty,
love, identity, and belonging).

About the usefulness of a complex nested hierarchy, like biology's, it is
essential to the taming intelligence argument. Repetitive practices (up to
procedures and recipes) are those most vulnerable to automation. We toured
a former coal mine that exhibited what happened to the miners when the
"continuous miner" machine was introduced. Two men could accomplish in an
hour what it took a dozen to achieve in a day before it was introduced. The
devastating effect on miners and their families in the mid-20th century was
similar to the effect that the flying shuttle had on weavers two centuries

Adaptive practices require ongoing changes like the sort of learning that
my voice recognition software does, but also like transformative learning
and the development of expertise. They are more resistant to change, but
call-centers, customer-service personnel, and even journalists are being
affected by them.

Finally, collaborative and institutional practices are most resistant. We
don't collaborate well until we begin to understand what others know and
can do that we do not. Group and institution formation begins to work when,
I believe, the division of labor occurs. But that is a topic that others on
this list have more expertise than me (of course I'd love to read more on
how they relate to units of practice from contributors). In any case,
machine discovery of these are farther away than for the simpler practices
that actually occur within them.

Another aspect of the usefulness of multiple levels of units came up during
my interview of my colleague. She is a very versatile counselor, used to
many populations and therapeutic approaches, She mentioned the usefulness
of some behavior therapy approaches derived from animal behavior research
and memory research for helping patients with PTSD begin to fell secure in
public. The examples she used work best at the repetitive behavior level.
When we discussed transformative learning or belonging, the approach
changed to more cognitive and social methods.

I have found network theory's concept of the giant component extremely
useful for thinking about nested units. It starts with random nodes
(envision dots on a paper) and adds links one at a time (lines between the
dots). Little twig compnents appear all over the paper when this is done.
However, when the number of links begins to get close to the number of
dots, there is a sudden change in the size of the linked components that
results in a "giant component" that links nearly all nodes. This giant
component is a model of the next level of unit.

All for now. Thanks much for your thoughts.

David D

On Mon, Sep 11, 2017 at 11:01 AM, Alfredo Jornet Gil <a.j.gil@iped.uio.no>

> Thanks Andy, the sense of 'visceral' is much more nuanced in your text,
> yes, and quite different from what one could grasp from the previous
> e-mail. ​​​And I ​now follow your elaboration on micro- and macro-unit much
> better, so thanks for that. I was hoping, however, that the elaboration
> would lead to some acknowledgement of the role of needs, real needs, as key
> to what the word 'visceral' was suggesting here. I was thinking that rather
> than a 'grasping', we gain more track by talking of an orienting, which is
> how I read Marx and Engels, when Marx talks about the significance of
> 'revolutionary', 'practical-critical' activity, the fundamental fact of a
> need and its connections to its production and satisfaction.
> A
> ________________________________
> From: Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
> Sent: 09 September 2017 03:30
> To: Alfredo Jornet Gil; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [Xmca-l] Re: Unit of Analysis
> Yes, it is tough discussing these topics by email. All the issues you
> raise are treated in http://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/pdfs/Goethe-
> Hegel-Marx_public.pdf
> I am *not* dividing the world into 'immediate, bodily, and sensuous' and
> 'mediated, disembodied, and a-sensuous'. The whole point is to begin by
> *not* dividing. By contrast for example, Newton explained natural processes
> (very successfully!) by describing a number of "forces"; a force is an
> example of something which is not visceral or sensuous (and also not
> discrete so it can't be a 'unit'). The "expression" of a force can be
> visceral (think of the effect of gravity) but gravity itself is an
> invention needed to make a theory of physics work (like God's Will) but has
> no content other than its expression. People got by without it for
> millennia. This is not to say it does not have a sound basis in material
> reality. But it is abstract, in the sense that it exists only within the
> framework of a theory, and cannot therefore provide a starting point or
> foundation for a theory. To claim that a force exists is to reify an
> abstraction from a form of movement (constant acceleration between two
> bodies). Goethe called his method "delicate empiricism" but this is
> something quite different from the kind of empiricism which uncritically
> accepts theory-laden perceptions, discovers patterns in these perceptions
> and then reifies these patterns in forces and such abstractions.
> If you don't know about climatology then you can't guess the unit of
> analysis. Marx took from 1843 to about 1858 to determine a unit of analysis
> for economics. Vygotsky took from about 1924 to 1931 to determine a unit of
> analysis for intellect. And both these characters studied their field
> obsessively during that interval. This is why I insist that the unit of
> analysis is a *visceral concept* unifying a series of phenomena, something
> which gets to the heart of a process, and which therefore comes only
> through prolonged study, not something which is generated by some formula
> with a moment's reflection.
> Each unit is the foundation of an entire science. But both Marx's Capital
> and Vygotsky's T&S identify a micro-unit but quickly move on to the real
> phenomenon of interest - capital and concepts respectively. But capital
> (which makes its appearance in chapter 4) cannot be understood without
> having first identified the real substance of value in the commodity. The
> rest of the book then proceeds on the basis of this unit, capital (i.e., a
> unit of capital, a firm). To ignore capital is to depict bourgeois society
> as a society of simple commodity exchange among equals - a total fiction.
> Likewise, Vygotsky's real aim it to elucidate the nature and development of
> concepts. He does not say it, and probably does not himself see it, but
> "concept" is a macro-unit (or molar unit in ANL's term), an aggregate of
> actions centred on a symbol or other artefact. The whole point of
> introducing the cell into biology was to understand the behaviour of
> *organisms*, not for the sake of creating the science of cell biology,
> though this was a side benefit of the discovery.
> Andy
> ________________________________
> Andy Blunden
> http://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/index.htm
> On 9/09/2017 5:31 AM, Alfredo Jornet Gil wrote:
> Andy, thanks for your clarification on the ​'visceral'. The way you
> describe it, though, suggests to me an empiricist position that I know you
> do not ascribe to; and so I'll take it that either I've missed the correct
> reading, or that we are still developing language to talk about this. In
> any case, I assume you do not mean that whatever our object of study is, it
> is divided between the visceral as the 'immediate, bodily, and sensuous'
> and something else that, by implication, may have been said to be
> 'mediated, disembodied, and a-sensuous' (you may as well mean precisely
> this, I am not sure).
> I do not know what the climatologist's unit of analysis is when discussing
> hurricanes either, but I do think that Hurricanes Irma, José, etc, are
> expressions of a system in a very similar way that ​any psychological fact
> is a expression of the society as part of which it occurs. I was thinking
> that, if we assumed for a second that we know what the unit for ​studying
> of hurricanes is (some concrete relation between climate or environment and
> hurricane), ​'feeling' the hurricane could be thought of in may ways, only
> some of which may be helpful to advance our scientific understanding of
> human praxis. The way you seemed to refer to this 'visceral' aspect, as
> 'immediate, embodied, and sensous' would make things hard, because, are we
> 'feeling' the hurricane, or the wind blowing our roofs away? In fact, is it
> the wind at all, or the many micro particles of soil and other matter that
> are smashing our skin as the hurricane passes above us, too big, too
> complex, to be 'felt' in any way that captures it all? And so, if your
> object of study is to be 'felt', I don't think the definition of
> 'immediate, embodied, and sensuous' helps unless we mean it WITHOUT it
> being the  opposite to ​​'mediated, disembodied, and a-sensuous'. That is,
> if we do not oppose the immediate to the mediated in the sense just implied
> (visceral is immediate vs. ​'not-visceral' is mediated). So, I am arguing
> in favour of the claim that we need to have this visceral relation that you
> mention, but I do think that we require a much more sophisticated
> definition of 'visceral' than the one that the three words already
> mentioned allow for. I do 'feel' that in most of his later works, Vygotsky
> was very concerned on emphasising the unity of intellect and affect as the
> most important problem for psychology for precisely this reason.
> I have also my reservations with the distinction that you draw in your
> e-mail between micro-unit and macro-unit. If the question is the production
> of awareness, of the 'experience of having a mind' that you are discussing
> with Michael, then we have to find just one unit, not two, not one micro
> and one macro. I am of course not saying that one unit addresses all the
> problems one can pose for psychology. But I do think that the very idea of
> unit analysis implies that it constitutes your field of inquiry for a
> particular problem (you've written about this). You ask about Michael's
> mind, and Michael responds that his mind is but one expression of a
> society. I would add that whatever society is as a whole, it lives as
> consciousness in and through each and every single one of our
> consciousness; if so, the unit Vygotsky was suggesting, the one denoting
> the unity of person and situation, seems to me well suited; not a
> micro-unit that is micro with respect to the macro-activity.
> If you take the Spinozist position that 'a true idea must agree with that
> of which it is the idea', and then agree with Vygotsky that ideas are not
> intellect on the one hand, and affect on the other, but a very special
> relation (a unity) between the two, then we need a notion of 'visceral and
> sensous' that is adequate to our 'idea' or field of inquiry. We can then
> ask questions about the affects of phenomena, of hurricanes, for example,
> as Latour writes about the 'affects of capitalism'. And we would do so
> without implying an opposition between the feeling and the felt, but some
> production process that accounts for both. Perezhivanie then, in my view,
> is not so much about experience as it is about human situations; historical
> events, which happen to have some individual people having them as inherent
> part of their being precisely that: historical events (a mindless or
> totally unconscious event would not be historical).
> I am no fun of frightening away people in the list with too long posts
> like this one, but I think the issue is complex and requires some
> elaboration. I hope xmca is also appreciated for allowing going deep into
> questions that otherwise seem to alway remain elusive.
> Alfredo
> ________________________________
> From: Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net><mailto:ablunden@mira.net>
> Sent: 08 September 2017 04:11
> To: Alfredo Jornet Gil; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [Xmca-l] Re: Unit of Analysis
> Alfredo, by "visceral" I mean it is something you know through your
> immediate, bodily and sensuous interaction with something. In this sense I
> am with Lakoff and Johnson here (though not being American I don't see guns
> as quite so fundamental to the human condition). Consider what Marx did
> when began Capital not from the abstract concept of "value" but from the
> action of exchanging commodities . Commodity exchange is just one form of
> value, but it is the most ancient, most visceral, most "real" and most
> fundamental form of value - as Marx shows in s. 3 of Chapter 1, v. I.
> I have never studied climatology, Alfredo, to the extent of grasping what
> their unit of analysis is.
> In any social system, including classroom activity, the micro-unit is an
> artefact-mediated action and the macro-units are the activities. That is
> the basic CHAT approach. But that is far from the whole picture isn't it?
> What chronotope determines classroom activity - are we training people to
> be productive workers or are we participating in social movements or are we
> engaged in transforming relations of domination in the classroom or are we
> part of a centuries-old struggle to understand and change the world? The
> action/activity just gives us one range of insights, but we might analyse
> the classroom from different perspectives.
> Andy
> ________________________________
> Andy Blunden
> http://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/index.htm
> https://andyblunden.academia.edu/research
> On 8/09/2017 7:58 AM, Alfredo Jornet Gil wrote:
> I am very curious about what "visceral" means here (Andy), and
> particularly how that relates to the 'interrelations' that David D. is
> mentioning, and that on the 'perspective of the researcher'.
> I was thinking of the Hurricanes going on now as the expressions of a
> system, one that sustains category 5 hurricanes in *this* particulars ways
> that are called Irma, José, etc. How the 'visceral' relation may be like
> when the object is a physical system (a hurricane and the climate system
> that sustains it), and when it is a social system (e.g., a classroom
> conflict and the system that sustains it).
> Alfredo
> ________________________________________
> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu<mailto:xmca-l-bounces@
> mailman.ucsd.edu> <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu><mailto:xmca-l-bounces@
> mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of David Dirlam <modesofpractice@gmail.com><
> mailto:modesofpractice@gmail.com>
> Sent: 07 September 2017 19:41
> To: Andy Blunden; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Unit of Analysis
> 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
> 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
> )
> ​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://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson
> >