RE: [xmca] Method/Methodology

From: Alexander Surmava (
Date: Sun Aug 28 2005 - 16:54:27 PDT

Hi all,
The number of posts I have to reply is threateningly growing so I have do my
best to survive under them :-).

First of all I have to give a clarification of my provocative tone
concerning this at the first sight banal term.
According to tradition formed from early sixties of the past century in
Russian (Soviet) psychology, the tradition that has noting to do neither
with Marxism as it is nor with ideas of Ilyenkov (Vasilij Davydov was
extremely alone among soviet psychologists with his consistent Marxism and
Ilyenkovism) so called methodology is practically an euphemism for
non-marxist philosophy.
Realizing that serious theoretic analysis is impossible without a
philosophic reflection and having no case to use openly one of non-marxist
philosophies (I have to repeat, that genuine nonideological Marxism with
some minor exceptions was in the Soviet Union and lately in Russia
practically unknown among serious investigators) they rename this
philosophical or logical reflection into "methodology", as if it was an
independent from philosophy, positive, free from ideology discipline.
According to this attitude the curriculum of psychological faculties even
now includes a courses of so called "methodology of psychology" which has
nothing to do neither with classical philosophy nor with definite
psychological theory. It has nothing to do with any kind of specific
experimental methods as well. As a rule it is a florid, eclectical
reflection based on popular here and now ideas or philosophical systems.
Only one quality unifies all those reflections that's its non-marxist
One of the best and mostly typical examples of such "methodology" proposes
Vladimir Petrovitch Zinchenko. (Here I have to underline, that I deeply
appreciate Vladimir Petrovitch as an outstanding scientist and a very kind
person, moreover I'm seriously insisting that I regard him as one of my
principal teachers in psychology. It was Zinchenko who pushed me to pay
attention at Nikolai Bernstein - the greatest Russian physiologist with its
ideas of alive movement. Unfortunately our mutual understanding is finishing
as soon as we enter a field of so called "methodology".)
VPZ stands openly on anti-Marxist position and in the same time pretends to
be a vigotskianist. He claims marxist method as extremely nonproductive and
in the same time tries to tackle the problem of germ cell. He put forward a
brilliant Bernstein's idea of alive movement as a germ cell of psyche and
there and then "enriches" it adding such additional "germ cells" as signs,
symbols, speech and. God-Man. He modestly doesn't pretend to formulate a new
psychological theory and in the same time he tries to formulate new
pluralistic methodology combining with ease the materialistic and idealistic
elements. Finally he pretends to be a profound methodologist and in the same
time boasting that he have never read Spinoza or Hegel and that his
university test on philosophy was written by Vasia Davydov.
I want to repeat, the VPZ's understanding of "methodology" is typical for
modern Russian psychology. And the case of VPZ is not the worst.
I can repeat after Steve "I certainly agree that there is no such thing as a
methodology without theory, but I also would agree with the statement that
there is no such thing as a theory without methodology." In other words
theory and methodology are initially connected so that bad methodology is
equal to bad theory and vice versa. Nowadays one can rarely meet in Russian
psychological journals an article pretending to formulate some new theoretic
idea, or containing serious critic of basic theoretic concepts. But each
journal have a special part concerning "methodological questions" and the
mostly popular position in modern methodology is "methodological liberalism"
or simply banal eclecticism and pantophagy.
That is why I'm usually insisting that I have nothing to do with
methodology, I am a psychologist.

The other side of the issue is connected with the name of Georgi Petrovitch
Schedrovitsky who called himself a methodologist, a methodologist without
any additional definition. G.P. was an influential figure in seventies and
left after himself many followers.
But, again I have to add a drop of poison into my appreciation. All his
followers in striking contrast to their dainty methodological reflection
give us very modest theoretic results, the results interesting and
understandable as a rule only for their narrow close circle.
And this result is natural. If we as investigators are trying to work with
subject matter or PREDMET which is created by a methodologist we are dealing
with those narrow content which was put in it by a methodologist whereas
the empirical object of our theorizing stays misunderstood. The point is
that according to marxist logic the process of constituting of PREDMET of
any science is the objective historical process funded in historically
developing material practice instead of pure intellectual product of one
genial scientist or methodologist.
The best critical analysis of this issue contains in brilliant book of EVI's
friend, co-author and disciple as well as a member of our newborn ISCAR's
"Dialectical psychology" section Lev Naumenko <Monism as a principal of
dialectical logic>. Those of XMCA members who know Russian can find this
book on my website . The
subject is discussed in the second part of the book in paragraph 2. Printsip
gomogennosti. Ob'ekt nauki i ee predmet.
Many years ago at the time of the first conference on Vygotsky's theory at
the Moscow Institute of Psychology in 1981 I weighed in on the debate with
G.P. on the round table concerning the methodological problems. (A funny
detail was that this time being an evening department psychological faculty
student I was working in Davydov's Institute as cloakroom attendant. So the
discussion started in academic circumstances in "Malaya" auditorium
continued and finished in cloakroom.) I've asked G.P. about the role of
methodologist in real scientific process. I insist that so called
methodology, or methodological reflection is an inseparable part of any real
cognition process and all big theorists had to be in the same time big
methodologists, that division of labor between scientists and methodologists
is something equivocal, that scientist that alienates his rights on
methodological reflection to anybody looks like a husband who alienates his
wife or daughter to the first who comes along.
The G.P's answer was literally the following: Marx, Vygotsky, Einstein were
high-brow highbrow and they really can realize not only scientific
investigation but a methodological reflection as well. But the actual
scientists are far from high philosophical culture (and often from any
culture) so they are need of him as a Methodologist. ( I suspect that the
utmost openness of the answer was provoked by the circumstances of cloakroom
:-) ).
Mike wrote:
>> Once stabilized (if stabilized?) we arrive at what Schedrovitsky refers
to as scientific activity. My
>> main reservation is that I am unsure that there is ever a really stable
relationship where the
>> methodology is conventionalized.

I can subscribe to Mike's reservation an add that stabilization of
methodology simply means the death of science because substantial movement
can't be realized without permanent specification and development of its

Peter wrote:
>>> I'd be interested to know what you think about this usage of the term
"methodology." If this sense
>>> of the term is acceptable, can we not say that Aristotle, Galileo,
Descartes, Newton, Marx were all
>>> doing "methodological work"?

I think that I completely formulate my attitude to G.P.'s terminology. I
think that any serious thinker is in the same time a theorist and
methodologist. Aristotle, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Marx can't be the

Victor's dissertation on Spinoza is very interesting for me especially the
footnote. It can be interesting to organize some time a special discussion
concerning Spinoza and EVI, Spinoza and LSV. By the way I am going to put on
my website the materials (meanwhile in Russian) of current and very bitter
dispute concerning the EVI's interpretation of Spinoza. The dispute is
taking place among the EVI's followers.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On
> Behalf Of Mike Cole
> Sent: Wednesday, August 24, 2005 7:47 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Method/Methodology
> Peter, Sasha, Steve et al--
> Since I am stuck at a car dealer waiting for brakes to be replaced and
> they
> have
> a wireless hotspot, I have a moment to write on this topic which I have
> learned
> a lot about in reading various comments.
> My own eclectic educational path has led me to distinguish between the
> terms
> method and methodology which appear to be used interchangeably by many
> in the chat literature I read and some in this discussion.
> It may be that Schedrovitsky's point is compatible with what I have been
> thinking.
> In my work I habitually use several ways of gathering evidence.
> Observations, test
> scores, products of people's activity, newspaper stories, budgets of
> organizations.
> Each of these "sources of evidence" I consider a method. The ensemble of
> these
> mehods and the ways in which I combine them (as systematically as I can
> manage)
> is what I think of as a methodology. Some might refer to this usages as a
> synonym
> for "multi-method" research strategies. The difference, I think, is the
> extent to which
> there is systematicity in how the variety of methods is chosen and the
> logic
> that
> connects them to each other (on the one hand) and on the theory and
> predmet
> on the other.
> Once stabilized (if stabilized?) we arrive at what Schedrovitsky refers
> to
> as scientific
> activity. My main reservation is that I am unsure that there is ever a
> really stable relationship
> where the methodology is conventionalized. But maybe that is simply
> because
> I work in
> such a foggy arena of human inquiry.
> mike
> On 8/24/05, Peter Moxhay <> wrote:
> >
> > Sasha, Steve, and all:
> >
> > It is interesting that G. P. Schedrovitsky sometimes uses the term
> > "methodology" or "methodological work" to refer to work that is done
> > in order to *bring into being* a new science or theory. That is, the
> > work that is done in order to constitute a new PREDMET or object of
> > study/ subject matter. For example, he wrote (my translation):
> >
> > > Here you may ask: Why, in particular do I call this work
> > > "methodological," rather than, say, scientific? Primarily because
> > > scientific work properly speaking, i.e. work according to the
> > > canons and laws of scientific research, is possible only within the
> > > bounds of an already existing PREDMET (subject matter/object of
> > > study). For example, Galileo constructed the scientific apparatus
> > > of mechanics -- after which the scientist can make his entrance on
> > > the stage, conduct his research within the bounds of this PREDMET,
> > > and, in parallel, develop and transform it into other scientific
> > > PREDMETS. And if such a PREDMET does not yet exist, scientific
> > > research and development can simply not exist. And therefore in the
> > > "Conversations" Galileo acted not as a scientist but as a
> > > methodologist. And Descartes worked in precisely the same way, when
> > > he created analytic geometry and natural-sciences type disciplines.
> > > (From a collection, Myshlenie, ponimanie, refleksiya, published in
> > > 2005)
> >
> > I'd be interested to know what you think about this usage of the term
> > "methodology." If this sense of the term is acceptable, can we not
> > say that Aristotle, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Marx were all doing
> > "methodological work"?
> >
> > Peter
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > > Sasha's discussion of the term "methodology" is intriguing. I
> > > certainly agree that there is no such thing as a methodology
> > > without theory, but I also would agree with the statement that
> > > there is no such thing as a theory without methodology. In other
> > > words, methodology - the use and study of method - is an essential
> > > property of any serious theoretical system, and all serious
> > > theories employ methodology. This of course applies to Marxism,
> > > which can be claimed to be the most methodologically advanced
> > > theoretical system because it consciously synthesizes all
> > > methodologies (formal logic, dialectical logic, observation,
> > > experiment, induction, deduction, analysis, synthesis, etc. etc.).
> > > It is very common among Marxists of many tendencies to speak of a
> > > "Marxist methodology," which seems to be used more or less
> > > synonymously with the more commonly employed term "Marxist
> > > method." One or the other or both of the two terms to my knowledge
> > > are used ubiquitously by virtually the entire rainbow of Marxist
> > > tendencies, dating back to the late 19th century. Googling around a
> > > little, I notice that the term "Marxist methodology" is sometimes
> > > used to mean "Marxist method," but not in a way that attempts to
> > > differentiate the two. The news that Ilyenkov never used the terms
> > > methodology (or epistemology) certainly gets my attention, and I
> > > will think about that as I study EVI. But until Ilyenkov or Sasha
> > > can persuade me otherwise - and I admit, I have been finding EVI
> > > quite persuasive over the last couple years since I discovered him
> > > through xmca - my perspective is to continue to view the term
> > > methodology as a property of theory, and to apply the method (or
> > > methodology if you prefer) of Marxism as best I can to understand,
> > > among other things, the ways method and methodology are used in
> > > human affairs.
> > >
> > > Best,
> > > - Steve
> > >
> > >
> > > At 03:09 PM 8/21/2005 +0400, Sasha wrote:
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > >> Hi all,
> > >>
> > >> IMHO the problem of meaning of so called "methodology" is a little
> > >> bit more
> > >> complicated than it can be estimated from the first sight. First
> > >> of all this
> > >> term is rather new. It was brought into fashion in the beginning
> > >> of the last
> > >> century. Neither Hegel nor Marx had ever used it. Certainly
> > >> Ilyenkov knew
> > >> this term but never used it either.
> > >>
> > >>
> > >>
> > >
> > > <snip>
> > >
> > >
> >
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > xmca mailing list
> >
> >
> >
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> xmca mailing list
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