Re: [xmca] Leont'ev responds (in abstentia) to theSocio-CulturalTheory Interest Group Seminar Series

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Sat Oct 07 2006 - 08:13:12 PDT

Hi David-- There is a course full of issues raised by your further
interesting contents. And because the overlap in our reading is uncertain,
and our rhetorical purposes in this dicussion differ from those in writing
books or journals, a lot of uncertainty creeps
in. Finally, this topic appears to be of interest only to the two of us, so
taking up space of others seems inappropriate.

Let me mark a couple of things for us to discuss and raise the possibility
that we actually put together a course of readings and
addres the issues more systematically.

1. What Vygotsky knew about chimpanzee behavior in various circumstances
based on research at the time has been supplemented by a floood of
interesting work in recent decades that needs to be considered. In this
connection, the marked differences between chimps raised by human
psychologists intent on teaching them language and generally on
enculturating them is relevant. He had the fascinating work of Ladygina-Kots
to go on. But no video cameras, no quasi-experiments "in the wild" etc.

2. A really interesting discussion could currently be had about both the
meanings of the word, imitation, in the work of primatologists and
developmental psychologists. It may well be that (for example) tomasello's
ideas about "true imitation" and Vygotsky's can be reconciled. I have been
thinking about this. But there are a great many issues to be resolved in
such an effort and until they are
statements like "vygotsky believed that apes cannot imitate" needs to be

3. Imitation under a Vygotskian interpretation may be a mechanism of
ontogenetic change, but it can hardly be the mechanism
of cultural-historical change (pace Armando, is such change development?).

Finally, so far as I can tell from our discussion of zopeds in the prior
group discussion, brief and episodic as it was, left us with
upon, none offered by Chaiklin, none.
If that is the case why bother talking about it? And if it is false, what
are, say, half a dozen examples to which all can agree?
Two sisters playing sisters? really? Differences in performance on macarthy
infant iq tests: really?

So, overall, I think you and I should take this private and re-emerge if
enough people are interested. At LCHC we will certainly
be continuing to develop our efforts to understands mechanisms of
development in relation to adult-child interactions in different culturally
organized, social. settings.

Thanks again for your stimulating remarks.

On 10/6/06, david kellogg <> wrote:
> Dear Mike:
> I think, as you initially suspected, we are not so far apart after all. I
> agree that the term "development" refers to many things, and I certainly
> agree that LSV uses development in "zone of proximal development" to refer
> to something rather narrower than development transcendal or metaphysical,
> namely the specific link between microgenesis and ontogeny (which I will
> argue below is not, or not symmetrically, reciprocal).
> I also agree that LSV must have had other mechanisms in mind for the other
> types of development he wanted to describe as part of the GUT (phylogenesis,
> socio-historical development). In particular, I think he had a pretty
> orthodox Darwinian view of evolution, which means that quite unlike
> ontogenesis the main mechanism was natural selection and extinction.
> I think Vygotsky explicitly rules out "trial and error" (that is, the main
> principle of natural selection) as a developmental principle for
> ontogenesis; instead, he says, the driving principle is learning, and in
> fact imitation (Collected Works, Vol. 1: 210-211). It seems to me that this
> rules out the idea of a cross-species zone of proximal development, because
> he clearly says that apes are not capable of imitation, or model building
> and in situations where the means of problem solving is not in the visual
> sphere they rely not on imitation but on trial and error (Vol 1: 107).
> It seems to me that the key to understanding both the extent and the
> limitation of the explanatory power of the zoped lies in Vygotsky's
> understanding that although school appears to almost everybody involved in
> it to be a negation of play, it is in fact the continuation of play by other
> means. Explicitly rule-based play (where roles are implicit) inverts and
> replaces play where the roles are explicit (and rules unstated). Vygotsky
> believes that school really is a continuation of rule-based play, developing
> decontextualization, abstract reasoning and self-control. The main
> difference, which for Vygotsky is important but ultimately not criterial, is
> that in the classroom the children imitate the teacher rather than the more
> successful peers who have mastered rule-based play that they once imitated
> on the playground.
> This is why, I think, Vygotsky would have said that the existence of the
> zoped in anything but a socialist educational system contains an
> intractable contradiction. I'm currently working on so-called "task-based
> learning", and I'm really impressed at the extent to which, from a
> linguistic as well as a moral point of view, it often involves a REVERSION
> to explicit roles and an ABANDONMENT of the rule-based freedom which stems
> from the internal recognition of necessity.
> Take for example the issue of what to call the teacher. This is an
> extremely fraught question in English education here in Korea. Native
> speakers would like to waltz into the classroom and announce: "David Kellogg
> is my name. You can call me Mr. Kellogg, or you can call me David, but you
> cannot call me Mr. David or simply Kellogg, because in English there is a
> fixed rule: never use a last name without a title and never use a first name
> with a title."
> But of course there is no such rule at all: elementary school children DO
> say "Mr. David" even in the USA, and high school physical education teachers
> do say things like, "Come on, Kellogg! Twenty push-ups, on the double!".
> Besides, in Korea the last name comes first and the first name comes last. What
> would be sensible is to teach children to negotiate. You don't say "Mr.
> Kellogg" or "David", you simply say "What do I call you?" and then you do
> it.
> It is this fundamental empathy, after all, which underlies the language
> instinct itself (and it is the lack of it rather than the lack of
> intelligence which prevents apes from developing discourse). But empathy is
> not the way education systems work; rules and roles are more like it. So
> instead, the children call the teacher, "Teacher", which is, of course,
> rather infantile in Western culture. But it is reducible to a fixed
> discourse role, and therefore it is considered more "teachable". (And it IS
> more teachable than the fixed rules cited above!)
> Under our system there is an irreconcilable conflict (emotional and even
> intellectual) between self-regulation and other regulation. In this sense,
> the child at play is a harbinger of socialism; The child is both
> self-regulating and other-regulating, and there is no contradiction, because
> the rule that governs the child's play is the same that obtains for the
> other children at play (a situation manifestly not the case in our own
> society).
> And even more obviously not the case in ape society! So despite our clear
> agreement on the use of "development" and the zoped as a specific link
> between microgenesis and ontogeny, I can't quite get my head around your
> idea of a trans-species zoped. My confusion is somewhat worsened, I'm
> afraid, by the formula that "cognition and culture construct each other".
> In a very abstract sense, this may be true; by using the language, I am
> also constructing it, because even if I coin nothing new, my use of
> particular formulae when I write rather than others influences the overall
> frequency of certain formulations and in an infinitesemally small way
> influences other users that I come into contact with, and this may (or may
> not) have a ripple effect on the whole language system. But the
> relationship between my use of the language and the language's use of me is
> extremely asymmetrical. The language by and large takes no notice at all of
> me, while I must take notice of its rules of grammar and use at every single
> node of every sentence I write.
> In the same way, it seems to me that cognition and culture construct each
> other, but by and large culture takes very little account of individual
> cognitions, and individual cognition must constantly bring adapt to culture.
> This is why, I think, you also say that the zoped is a device for cultural
> transmission (rather than saying it is a device for cognitive transmission
> to to culture). That is, unfortunately, true, but it contradicts the idea
> that culture and cognition are mutually constitutive (except, of course, in
> child's play).
> I look forward to reading your chapter in Wertsch's book. At the risk of
> sounding terribly ignorant I must confess that the only Wertsch 1985 I have
> is "Vygotsky and the Social Formation of Mind". Which book do you mean?
> David
xmca mailing list

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Wed Nov 01 2006 - 01:00:14 PST