Re: [xmca] ISCAR - Sevilla 2005 -- 1. Marx and dialectics/ discourse/identity and 2. ractice/activity

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Fri Oct 07 2005 - 02:26:33 PDT

Interestingly, my inclination about what tools to use to analyze the
two domains Bill points to - a 3 year old's play behavior in a
nursery school, and the historical development of nursery schools -
seems to be the inverse of Bill's choices. For the former, I would
tend toward using tools developed by cultural-historical psychology
such as activity theory to try to understand the child's play - for
example, to analyze how a particular child's use of language mediates
their play behavior. For the latter, I would tend toward tools
developed by historical materialist sociology such as social class
analysis to try to understand the historical development of nursery
schools, day care centers, etc.

As for which is easier, breaking bolts loose, machining precision
airplane parts, cutting diamonds, or caring for, guiding and teaching
small children, I sympathize with Ana's reasons for choosing the
latter over airplane manufacturing work. In my opinion, more
challenging than any of these kinds of skilled work, however, is the
work it takes to choose the right tools to analyze and *change* the
nature of nursery schools - and by implication, other kinds of social
institutions - and perhaps, even entire social systems.

For those kinds of tools and their wielders, I look to democratic and
working class movements for social change, and to the revolutionary
theories Marx and his followers formulated - not research work guided
by cultural-historical psychology, activity theory, Activity Systems
Theory (AST), or any of the other offshoots of the Vygotsky
school. Going back to our tool metaphors, the work of transforming
social institutions and perhaps replacing them outright is the job of
large democratic-minded masses and socially-minded working classes
wielding the tools necessary to break the back of social reaction and
repression and force deep-going social change. Breaker bars and
large pipes are likely just the beginning of the tools that will be
required. But the work of understanding the intricate developmental
processes in a single human being or group of people requires just
the opposite kind of tools - it requires the kinds of delicate
research methods and nuanced theoretical tools that activity
theorists and cultural-historical psychologists excel in. Here, I
like Bill's use of diamond cutting and jeweler's tools as a metaphor
a lot. I question whether we can transform large social institutions
with such small and subtle tools - even if we capitalize and
acronymize their names :-)) - but with them we can discover and
create gems that can help point the way toward understanding what it
means to be human, what human development really consists of. And
that is no small contribution.

- Steve

 From Bill:
>But what if one is interested in the day to day development of 3
>year old children in nursery schools? There, one sees children in
>solitary play -- no division of labor to speak of among the
>children, no understanding by the children of their roles, if they
>had any, no conscious engaging in a collective object by the
>chlidren. Activity Systems Theory does not purchase much here,
>microgenetically. Ahh... but if one is interested in the
>development of nursery schools, and how that historical development
>shapes the context of the children's play -- what rules the adults
>obey and enforce, what toys exist, what the caregivers must do to be
>licensed? Or if one is interested in changing the nature of nursery
>schools? Then AST methods described in LBE could yield large gains.
>It's more like cutting diamonds (
>The rule (following cleavage planes)
>The tool (the cutting steel wedge)
>The jewel (the outcome)

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