Re: [xmca] Artifacts, Tools and Classroom

From: Mary K. Bryson (
Date: Mon Jan 16 2006 - 13:46:23 PST

Well, going back to the text, I find,

"The sign acts as an instrument of psychological activity in a manner
analogous to the role of a tool in labour. But this analogy like any other,
does not imply the identity of these similar concepts. We should not expect
to find many similarities with tools in the those means of adaptation we
call signs. What's more, in addition to the similar and common feature
shared by the two kinds of activity, we see very essential differences."

I read this, yes, "through a glass darkly", as you put it, Mike -- in
particular, through Wertsch's discussion in Vygotsky and the Social
Formation of Mind where JW argues that LSV's focus on mediational means
interpsychological functioning was concerned with dyadic and group
interactions, and not institutional contexts per se. (Wertsch, 60) if we add
into this mix the notion of "higher mental processes", then paradoxically,
one finds a distinction that may have a lot more to do with class than
anything else. If we substitute "artifact", then the capacity to distinguish
tool from sign, from my interpretive site, is about institutional and
cultural norms and nothing definitive or ahistorical. And so an analysis of
mediation and tools provided by someone like Latour locates the
objects/artifacts properly in their slippery social and political contexts
where such distinctions as between tool and sign no longer make much sense.


On 1/16/06 9:12 AM, "Mike Cole" <> wrote:

> I always interpret this passage as indicating relative orientation, not
> total separation,
> Mary. Is that they way you interpret it? In both cases, mediators are double
> sided and must
> satisfy, so to speak, constraints at both "ends" in order to function. I
> also find the use
> of activities in the last sentence confusing and wonder if it does not arise
> from an error in
> our naive editing of the translation. That is, I would think that action
> rather than activity would
> be appropriate.
> Through a glass darkly.
> mike
> On 1/16/06, Mary K. Bryson <> wrote:
>> On 1/15/06 1:20 AM, "Steve Gabosch" <> wrote:
>>> The
>>> point LSV is making is that in this respect,
>>> tools and signs are similar and not
>>> different.
>> "A most essential difference between sign and tool, and the basis for the
>> real divergence of the two lines, is the different ways that they orient
>> human behavior. The tool's function is to serve as the conductor of human
>> influence on the object of activity; it is externally oriented; it must
>> lead
>> to changes in objects. It is a means by which human external activity is
>> aimed at mastering, and triumphing over, nature. The sign on the other
>> hand
>> changes nothing in the object of a psychological operation. It is a means
>> of
>> internal activity aimed at mastering oneself; the sign is internally
>> oriented. These activities are so different from each other that the
>> nature
>> of the means they use cannot be the same in both cases."
>> LSV, Mind in Society, P. 55
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