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[Xmca-l] Re: Отв: Re: Отв: Re: Unit of Analysis

Dear Sasha

I like this summary ... until the bit where you link Vygotsky with Rousseau and Kant.

To my eye, Vygotsky's writing has the influence of Spinoza stamped all over it.  The development of the child is a story of the smaller, relatively passive body (i.e. the child) becoming aligned with, sharing in the life of, the larger, relatively active body (i.e. the social environment).

This is not a story of pre-existing entities coming to an agreement or a social contract.

Do you think Kant's influence on Vygotsky is stronger than Spinoza's?

Best wishes


On 12/09/2017 01:27, Alexander Surmava wrote:
Some reflections on the category of activity

Theoretical understanding of the category of activity (deyatelnosti) in the philosophy of the Modern Era goes back to Spinoza. The one whose cause of action belongs to himself is active. Active is the one who acts (according the form of it's object). It is not the one who moves according to an external impulse or program of a trajectory. Conversely, the one whose movement or conditions are determined by any external cause, external influence or stimulus is passive. By the way, the concept of the Subject as it is is inseparable from the concept of activity. There where is no object oriented activity, there is no subject, no psychy, no life.The Stimulus-Reaction relationship is entirely passive, at least from the reacting side. Therefore, the S->R relationship is an attribute of the mechanism and is incompatible with living subjectivity. Thus, a computer responsive to clicks of a mouse or keyboard in accordance with its program is not a subject, but an entirely mechanical automaton, a passive obedient to our will object of OUR activity, our subjectivity. The same can be said about the Cartesian animals and the primitive, non-cultured man in the representation of the old philosophy (and to a large extent of Vygotsky and paradoxically even Ilyenkov).The question arises - how, according to the old philosophers, emerges a subject?Descartes' responce is - magically. Through the magical joining of the disembodied soul to the mechanical body. Through the addition of a purposeful free will to the causal mechanical stimulus-reactive automaton. Obviously, from the point of view of rational, scientific logic, Descartes' solution is a dead end.Meanwhile, the problem, in this formulation, simply has no solution. Basically.Starting from passive, simply reacting body we will never come to free subject.  (In parentheses, recall that stimulus-reactive logic in any scientific understanding of both physiology and psychology is almost the only logic up to the present day.)
The next attempt to solve the problem belongs to the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant, who completed this line of thought, belive that the transition from the unfree, animal-like existence of people to freedom and reason take place through a social contract. In other words, according to these philosphers freedom is achieved through a specific convention, agreement. Let's notice, that over a natural question, how mechanical, in fact automatic machine is capable to make such a somersault of a mortal they did not reflect. According to their teachings, it is necessary to distinguish between the natural state of a person in which he is similar to an animal, and his cultural state in which he becomes above his unfree natural affects and bodily impulses and gains freedom. You probably noticed that actually this is the formulation of the so-called cultural-historical theory of Vygotsky and this logic is equally far from both the real culture, and from real history, and from Marxism.Although, it can not be denied that Vygotsky had good philosophical grounds for his theory. Rousseau and Kant are the greatest thinkers in the history of culture.
Let me finish this now, for it's already 3:00 a.m. in Moscow :-)If the topic seems interesting, I'll continue it tomorrow.Sasha
     понедельник, 11 сентября 2017 23:38 Alfredo Jornet Gil <a.j.gil@iped.uio.no> писал(а):
  Just to add some precedents, Dewey had taken the transactional view more or less at the same time as Vygotsky was lecturing on perezhivanie, when he formulated the notion of 'an experience' as unity of doing and undergoing, in his Art as Experience (1932-1934), and explicitly names his approach as *transactional* (vs self-factional and interactional) in Dewey and Bentley's Knowing and the Known, 1949.

Marx and Engels too speak to the 'passible' nature of 'real experience', in their "The Holy Family", when critiquing "Critical Criticism" and speculative construction for going against "everything living, everything which is immediate, every sensuous experience, any and every *real* experience, the 'Whence' and 'Whither' of which one never *knows* beforehand".


From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of mike cole <mcole@ucsd.edu>
Sent: 11 September 2017 21:14
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Отв: Re: Unit of Analysis


your comment about everything being relative and the citation from Spinoza
seem to fit pretty well with what Michael commented upon.

For those of us trained as experimental psychologists, Spinoza was not a
central feature of the curriculum (a well known cognitive psychologist
colleague of mind outspokenly banned philosophy from consideration similar
to Pavlov's ban on use of psychological vocabulary to talk about
conditional reflexes in dogs.

Consequently, your remarks are very valuable in helping to understand the
issues at stake at stake among the cognoscenti vis a vis the particular
topic at hand.


On Mon, Sep 11, 2017 at 12:08 PM, mike cole <mcole@ucsd.edu> wrote:

I agree with your suggestions. I also consider actions to be transactions
and happy to open the way to "feelings" instead of "sensations," which in
English would accomplish the job.

But its a terrible problem that we live life forward and understand it
backwards. Leads to all sorts of tangles in the tread of life.


On Mon, Sep 11, 2017 at 11:40 AM, Wolff-Michael Roth <
wolffmichael.roth@gmail.com> wrote:

if you add, "the capacity to be affected," then you open up theoretical
possibilities for affect (emotion).

I have recently suggested to think not in terms of actions but
transactions. So, for example, listening to someone else requires (a)
actively attending and (b) receiving what you (in most cases) not already
know. That is, while actively attending to someone else speak, you do not
know (grasp) what is affecting you until you realize that you are hurt
(insulted etc).

Anyway, you cannot reduce this to activity or passivity, because there are
two movements, a going (attending) and a coming (receiving), efferent and
afferent... So you are thinking in terms of transactions, the kind that
would get if you take seriously perezhivanie as the unity/identity of
person and environment.


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 Mon, Sep 11, 2017 at 11:18 AM, mike cole <mcole@ucsd.edu> wrote:

Aha! So we are not talking about a passive neonate. Whew.

Passibility is a new word for me, Michael. The OED's first two entries
appear to incompass both Ivan and your usage:

1. Chiefly *Theol.* The quality of being passible; capacity for
or sensation.
2. Passiveness; inaction; sloth. *Obs.* *rare*.
To me, the addition of the word sensation to suffering broadens its

Recently a Russian colleague suggested to me that Spinoza's use of the
passion would best be translated as perezhivanie. Certainly it bears a
relationship to the concept of perezhivanie as that term is used by


On Mon, Sep 11, 2017 at 10:49 AM, Wolff-Michael Roth <
wolffmichael.roth@gmail.com> wrote:

Ivan, the word passive has some unfortunate connotation. The term
passibility--the capacity to suffer--seems to come with a range of
affordances (e.g., see my book *Passibility*).


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 Mon, Sep 11, 2017 at 10:37 AM, Ivan Uemlianin <ivan@llaisdy.com>
Dear Sasha

Passive as in driven by the passions. Isn't that how Spinoza would
characterise animals and infants?


festina lente

On 11 Sep 2017, at 18:05, Alexandre Sourmava <avramus@gmail.com>
Dear Ivan.

To say that "that the neo-nate is not active at all, but passive,
that therefore neo-nate behaviour is not activity" means to say that
nate is not alive creature, but mechanic agregate of dead parts.
And I
not sure that idea about passiveness of animals or neo-nate fallows
Spinoza :-).

     扭抉扶快忱快抖抆扶我抗, 11 扼快扶找攸忌把攸 2017 18:07 Andy Blunden <

Yes, I think a further elaboration of this idea would lead
to an examination of needs and activity and sensuousness in
connection with needs and their development in connection
with activity.


Andy Blunden
On 12/09/2017 1:01 AM, Alfredo Jornet Gil 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.


*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

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 Blunden
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, Jos谷, 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.


*From:* Andy Blunden <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 Blunden
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.
mentioning, and that on the 'perspective of the researcher'.
I was thinking of the Hurricanes going on now as the
system, one that sustains category 5 hurricanes in *this*
that are called Irma, Jos谷, etc. How the 'visceral' relation may be
when the object is a physical system (a hurricane and the climate
that sustains it), and when it is a social system (e.g., a classroom
conflict and the system that sustains it).
edu>  on behalf of David Dirlam<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
what sort of entity a "unit" is. Both and Andy and Martin
importance of the observer. Anyone with some experience should
sense of it (Martin's point). But Andy added the notion that
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
if I
missed his meaning).

We also need to address two other aspects of units--their
and the types of relations between them. What makes water not
but a compound, are the relations between the subunits (the
between the elements) as well as those with other molecules of
fast they travel relative to each other), which was David
So the analogy to activity is that it is like the molecule,
are like the elements. What is new to this discussion is that
must contain not only actions, but also relationships between
If we
move up to the biological realm, we find a great increase in
of the analogy. Bodies are made up of more than cells, and I'm
referring to entities like extracellular fluid. The
classification, and interrelations between cells and their
constituents all
help to make the unit so interesting to science. Likewise, the
of activities are more than actions. Yrjo's triangles
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
the meaning of unit. But glad, like him, to read corrections.


On Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 10:08 PM, Andy Blunden<
Yes, but I think, Martin, that the unit of analysis we need to
aspire to
is *visceral* and sensuous. There are "everyday" concepts
abstract and saturated with ideology and received knowledge.
Marx's concept of capital is buying-in-order-to-sell, which is
"everyday" 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,
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<greg.a.thompson@

Not sure if others might feel this is an oversimplification
unit of
analysis, but I just came across this in Wortham and Kim's
the volume Discourse and Education and found it useful. The
of it
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
analysis" to social scientific problems. In their account,
approach to any phenomenon must find the right unit of
analysis -
preserves the essential features of the whole. In order to
water, a
scientist must not break the substance down below the level
individual H20 molecule. Water is made up of nothing but
oxygen, but studying hydrogen and oxygen separately will not
essential properties of water. Similarly, meaningful
a unit of analysis that includes aspects beyond phonology,
grammar, semantics, and mental representations. All of these
psychological factors play a role in linguistic
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:

I thought that the water/H20 metaphor was a useful one for
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

Ivan A. Uemlianin PhD

Ymchwil a Datblygu Technoleg Lleferydd
Speech Technology Research and Development


                        festina lente