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[Xmca-l] Re: Unit of Analysis

What do you mean by "unit" David?


Andy Blunden
On 13/09/2017 2:16 AM, David Dirlam wrote:
> 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
> earlier.
> 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>
> wrote:
>> 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