Re: [xmca] Artifacts, Tools and Classroom

From: Wolff-Michael Roth (
Date: Fri Jan 20 2006 - 15:53:35 PST

Hi Vera,

I think we need to differentiate the discussion and include, for
example, Heidegger's work on signs and when a sign is not a sign. . .
It also doesn't take into account the work of Wartofsky, according to
which signs (they are nicely material, even sound is) can be
organized into three (perhaps even more) levels.

Some people may also be interested in the transition between work-
related movements of the hand and arm to epistemic movements and to
symbolic movements, again, movements with the same topology have
different function, and I cannot flatten all of those by saying "sign".

I think someone should do a cultural-historical analysis of sounds,
as used among hominids, and then see what possible developments lead
to a split between the sound envelope and sense, or any other
material body that comes to be used to stand for something else.
Otherwise we are going to turn round and round and round. . .


On 20-Jan-06, at 12:18 PM, Vera Steiner wrote:

Thinking about the possible distinctions between tools and signs, I was
paying close attention to a painter's comments; he recently shifted from
landscapes to portraits. When painting the latter, he has
conversations with
those who sit for him, quite different from the mountains.
Signs are profoundly interpersonal in their origins, functions and
development. It is the human co-participations in improving a sign
that is
appropriated by the sign user for her/his use.I interpret Vygotsky's
distinction between tool and sign as partly linked to this
difference.Tools,too, are improved by humans, oif course, but they
are not
necessarily fundemental to their exchanges.

But then I am , once again, teaching Language and Thought.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Mary K. Bryson" <>
To: "XMCA" <>
Sent: Monday, January 16, 2006 2:46 PM
Subject: Re: [xmca] Artifacts, Tools and Classroom

> 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
> does not imply the identity of these similar concepts. We should not
> 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."
> 52/3
> 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
> 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
> tool from sign, from my interpretive site, is about institutional and
> cultural norms and nothing definitive or ahistorical. And so an
> analysis
> 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
> Mary
> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>>> real divergence of the two lines, is the different ways that they
>>> human behavior. The tool's function is to serve as the conductor of
>>> 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
>>> 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
>>> 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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