Re: [xmca] zoped

From: Lois Holzman (
Date: Wed Mar 22 2006 - 07:31:24 PST

I'm loving this conversation and all the directions it's taking. It's
helpful to learn the many different understandings of the zoped we have and
how we find different ones useful in our individual and collective

So in my work, the zoped is less a zone than an activity ‹ the ongoing
reorganization of the the dialectical unity being/becoming. I understand
play to create a zoped in large part because truth and knowing are suspended
in play, and people are freer to do what they don't know how to do (to try
out new performances). Of course, little kids don't know from truth and
knowing yet, so they have no suspending to do, even if their older playmates

I'm pleased to see emotion brought into the conversation, as the separation
of emotion from cognition is/has been pretty disastrous, culturally
speaking. And yes, Mike, Lois Bloom's work on early language development
has, in some of its stages, challenged the dominant pictorial or
representational view of language (which plays a big role in tying language
to cognition). I find Wittgenstein especially helpful here...not so much
understanding him as equating meaning with use (as is usually done) but
going with his more activistic statements to see language as activity, as a
form of life.

I don't know if this takes the mystery away but I am going to quote from a
chapter in my book with Fred Newman, The End of Knowing...for your
consideration (it's long):

Revolutionary activity (developing that does not produce development) is an
unnatural act. It is performatory, more theatrical and therapeutic than
rational and epistemic. Human beings become who we ³are² by continuously
³being who we are not.² Vygotskyıs zone of proximal development, in our
opinion, is more accurately an historical performance space or stage than a
societal scaffold. In the zpd, children perform ³a head taller than they
are² (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 102). While most of his investigation of the zpd
concerns learning and instruction in schools, it is his analysis of the zpd
of the language-learning young child that is most suggestive of the unique
non-epistemological, revolutionary character of all human development. Here
is a description from a lecture originally published in 1935:
We have a child who has only just begun to speak and he pronounces single
words, as children who are just mastering the art of speech tend to do. But
is fully developed speech, which the child is only able to master at the end
of this period of development, already present [italics added] in the
childıs environment? It is, indeed. The child speaks in one word phrases,
but his mother talks to him in language which is already grammatically and
syntactically formed and which has a large vocabulary, even though it is
being toned down for the childıs benefit. All the same, she speaks using the
fully perfected form of speech. Let us agree to call this developed form,
which is supposed to make its appearance at the end of the childıs
development, the final or ideal form (as it is called in contemporary
paedology)--ideal in the sense that it acts as a model for that which should
be achieved at the end of the developmental period; and final in the sense
that it represents what the child is supposed to attain at the end of his
development. And let us call the childıs form of speech the primary or
rudimentary form. The greatest characteristic feature of child development
is that this development is achieved under particular conditions of
interaction with the environment, where this ideal and final form (that form
which is going to appear only at the end of the process of development) is
not only already there in the environment and from the very start in contact
with the child, but actually interacts and exerts a real influence on the
primary form, on the first steps of the childıs development. Something which
is only supposed to take shape at the very end of development, somehow
influences the very first steps in this development. (Vygotsky, 1994, p.
What point is Vygotsky making here? In speaking of beginning and end points
and developed and rudimentary forms, is he merely repeating a causal
explanation of language development? We think not. Shaped by the scientific
and philosophical paradigms of modernism, of both the bourgeois and Marxist
varieties, his language and conceptions were, lawfully, modernist and his
formulations not consistently dialectical and activity-theoretic. This
passage is particularly interesting and instructive for our purposes: if
read in a particularistic and literal manner it is, at best, obvious and
banal; if read from the perspective of the totality of his work and ³our
completion² of it, it is remarkably insightful.
            What does Vygotsky mean by insisting that the developed form "is
already there?" Is ³already there² another way of saying ³natural?² What
³there² is he talking about? It clearly is not there ³in² the child and it
clearly is there ³in² the mother, so ³already there in the mother² is a
trivial point. It would, we think, be silly to read him in such a causally
particularistic and dualistic manner. The only way to make sense of
Vygotskyıs description of the coming-to-be-a-speaker child is to abandon the
notion of particularity, in this case, the particular point of origin (the
mother) to define what was ³already there.² For to retain it would be to
insist that developed language has a starting point, a beginning, a location
(from which it follows that it is dualistically divided from ³what
follows²), thereby rendering Vygotskyıs argument meaningless. It would also
be to insist that developed language (³the developed form²) is a given, a
³natural² phenomenon, a product.
            An activity-theoretic reading, in contrast, sees the practice of
the ever-changing totality individual-and-society or total environment (that
is, the-³existing²-environment-and-the-environment-being-created). Both
developed language and rudimentary language are present in the total
environment (which has no beginning and no end), but not as already existing
phenomena or products. The total environment includes both child and
mother--not as particulars that make up the whole or that exist within the
so-called bounds of the environment--but as inseparable from and as creators
of it. The point is that people and language are no more ³in² environments
in the sense of being included in them, than noodles are ³in² noodle soup.
(It would be strange indeed to declare that ³noodles are included in noodle
soup.²) The total environment is not a place but an activity.
            We think Vygotsky is pointing the way to the paradoxical nature
and dialectical practice of human revolutionary
activity-and-its-object-of-study. In the zpd (the performance space, the
developing development community) where learning leads development, it is
development that ³comes first² (in the societal sense of being temporally
prior). As we have speculated elsewhere, ³We must challenge the direction
(the flow) of time itself to understand understanding activistically. What
we know is what we had to know (had to have known) in order to have had the
developmental relational experience of constructive discovery² (Newman and
Holzman, 1996, pp. 40-41).
            The continuous shaping and reshaping of the ³rudimentary² and
³developed² forms of speech through joint activity simultaneously is and
creates the zpd. It is in the performance of conversations (the
language-games that very young children and their caregivers create) that we
can first see the revolutionary activity of learning leading development.


> From: "Mike Cole" <>
> Reply-To:, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
> <>
> Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2006 20:39:13 -0600
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
> Subject: Re: [xmca] zoped
> b b--
> Why do you say this? The context of the argument in the educational examples
> from
> LSV are in dialogue with Piaget and the idea that learning can only follow
> development
> as biologifcal epigenesis (not entirely fair to piaget, but academics are
> forever creating
> extremes to slay virtuously). Why and how does play create a zoped? Where
> is the
> only before there? And in our work, as in construction zone and article with
> Griffin
> from 1984 we talk about real zopeds providing all sorts of assistance at
> multiple "levels"
> and "layers" before, during, after.
> What I am finding in reading these various socioculturalist and AT compendia
> is a whole
> lot of self contradiction and confusion about lots of things, zopeds
> inclulded. We gotta
> spend time on this on the 7/8th in SF as well as here over the coming
> months. And how could there NOT be emotion all over the PROCESS OF CHANGE?
> But how to represent
> it in words? Cognition appears earlier because of the illusion that words
> are about thinking
> not feeling. Lois Bloom has wrtten a lot about this. Right Lois H?
> mike
> On 3/21/06, bb <> wrote:
>> What I find makes the zoped so mysterious is that assistance counts only
>> in
>> advance of development, and one never really knows what's going to develop
>> or
>> when. Zoped becomes some sort of ethereal thing, elusive, ghostly, except
>> perhaps in tightly constained situations, for narrowly defined
>> content. And
>> yet, WE KNOW people become able to read and write and do math. The
>> luckier
>> amonst us even get to think special relativity.
>> Perhaps many of us can point to those instances which made such a
>> difference
>> in our lives, but only after enough time has passed and we have paid for
>> the
>> benefit of a long hindsight.
>> bb
>> _______________________________________________
>> xmca mailing list
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