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[Xmca-l] My thoughts

The 5th ISCAR Congress was hailed as a great success in taking a 360-degree
view of the landscape of cultural-historical activity research,
accentuating the state of scholarship in practice.  The ontogenesis of
Vygotsky alongside his cultural-historical school of thought was so well
illustrated, contextualised and communicated that I felt I “knew” him.
While travelling in Canada after the congregation, I was still preoccupied
with thoughts about Vygotsky and how his theory had been approached or
approximated and what might have been led to as a way of developing
cultural-historical activity research.

It might seem that an unquestioning assertion of Vygotskyan legacy would
frame cultural-historical activity research not only as act of gaining
proximity to Vygotsky but also as an attitude invested in *exhausting*,
*exploiting* or even *worshiping* his work.  How can the ingenuity and
inspiration of his insights nourish the landscape of cultural-historical
activity research?  How might cultural-historical activity research be
henceforth set to continue well into the future, thus informing many facets
of our modern life?  These questions are of no easy matter, as Malcolm Reed
points out in his prologue for the Congress:

“Like any landscape we have cultivated, we need also to learn what and whom
we have depleted and used to extinction, and count that cost and commit to
reparation and rediscovery.”

This reminds me of the opening remarks by Leslie Smith, Julie Dockrell and
Peter Tomlinson (who edited “Piaget, Vygotsky and beyond” published after
the Piaget-Vygotsky Centenary Conference held in Brighton, England, in
April 1996):

“There is sometimes a tendency to interpret the work of Piaget and Vygotsky
in a polarised way, as if the work of one had nothing in common with that
of the other.”

Arguably, any theory has its limitations and shortcomings, and neither an
unquestioning acceptance of new trends nor an unquestioning refusal of old
traditions can succeed in the end in that it allows no room for evaluation.
Vygotsky might well be seen as someone like C. S. Peirce whose philosophy
was meant for those who want to explore and discover – as Peirce put it:
“Those who want philosophy ladled out to them can go elsewhere. There are
philosophical soup shops at every corner, thank God!”

I’m linguist by avocation.  I see Vygotsky within the linguistic turn in
philosophy, which leads me to contemplate his ideas in the light of other
thinkers.  When I first came across Vygotsky’s idea that the structure of
speech is *not* the mirror image of the structure of thought, I wasn’t
particularly impressed.  Vygotsky posited thought as undergoing
reconstruction and reconfiguration before vocalisation, but this was
already foreshadowed in Saussure’s work.  For Saussure, thought without
language is a vague, uncharted nebula – there are no pre-existing ideas and
nothing is distinct before the appearance of language.  Later I found
Saussure and Vygotsky balancing each other with different focuses: Saussure
on structure, Vygotsky on action, and Peirce on process and action.

I’ve proposed a methodological approach that synergises different theories
by placing otherwise disparate perspectives in dialogue.  Rather than
simply contrasting different theoretical roots or orientations, a
synergistic approach allows me to draw out the profound “sameness” of
differences between theories.  I refer to “sameness” as ontological and
epistemological confluence or complementarity that can pave the way for
mutual fertilisation and enrichment.  This is exemplified in “The synergy
of Peirce and Vygotsky as an analytical approach to the multimodality of
semiotic mediation” *http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10749039.2014.913294
<http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10749039.2014.913294>*).  In synergising
different theoretical positions, a *tour d’horizon* for cultural-historical
activity research may be brought forth.  I feel this is to some extent
alluded to in Jennifer Vadeboncoeur’s epilogue to the Congress in terms of
“impeccable research”.

Just to add that the term “synergy” first came to my attention through the
work of Eve Gregory on children learning English as an additional language
in the UK, referring to the reciprocity of learning between sisters and
brothers as “a synergy whereby siblings act as adjuvants, stimulating and
fostering each other’s development” (see “Sisters and brothers as language
and literacy teachers: synergy between siblings playing and working
together”, *Journal of Early Childhood Literacy*, 2001).  The use of
“synergy” in my work was also inspired by Anne Edwards’ writing on the
resemblance of Vygotsky, Mead and American pragmatism in *Cambridge
Companion to Vygotsky* (edited by Harry Daniels, Michael Cole and James
Wertsch in 2007).

On account of “semiotic methodology in the making” as highlighted by
Alberto Rosa and Jaan Valsiner (see *The Cambridge Handbook of
Sociocultural Psychology*, 2007), I feel Peircean pragmatism and semiotics
can render impetus to Vygotsky-inspired cultural-historical activity
research, bringing to the fore the importance of evaluating and
re-evaluating theory in the light of changing social, economic and
political conditions in modern society.


*James Ma*  *https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa
<https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa>  *


Semiotising the student perception of learning outcomes in British higher
education  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10350330.2016.1189234

Lev Vygotsky and his theory in a nutshell

The synergy of Peirce and Vygotsky as an analytical approach to the
multimodality of semiotic mediation
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10749039.2014.913294  (This article is in the
Journal’s “Most Read Articles” 1st place
and in the “Class of 2015 Educational Research”