Re: [xmca] Streamed Discussion of Discussion of Development in CHAT theory

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Tue Nov 06 2007 - 20:48:02 PST

Dear San Diego and Helsinki:
  Yes, thanks VERY much for this. My grad students will appreciate it VERY much, and not just for the content. Some of them have a lot of trepidation about going overseas to study under senior Vygotskyan scholars, and they will find Mike's and Yrjo's and Eugene's much more careful, deliberate and calm delivery reassuring.
  I have TWO questions, one about Mike's presentation and one about Yrjo's.
  Mike: My response to the "social situation of learning" was pretty much the same as yours: I imagined it as being a series of "event horizons" that gradually expand around the child. As the child gets older, the child becomes AWARE of more and more. But I think my idea of "agency" is quite different, because I see the issue as awareness rather than co-construction (I think we kid ourselves about the extent to which kids have power over their own care and feeding).
  Alison Wray (Transition to Language) talks about a sociointeractional "bubble" which she claims explains the ability of children (but not adults) to "crack open" formulaic phrases. We all know that children are liable to deconstrue adult sentences like "I'd like to propose a toast" and reconstrue them as "I'd like to propose a sandwich" or reformulate things like "Good morning" or "Happy birthday" into "Good Monday" or "Happy Monday". Wray explains this by saying:
  "The effect of the bubble is that the child experiences relatively little pressure to engage with the complex demands of interaction in the full range of life situations: you may take a child to the zoo, the theatre, or the Queen¡¯s garden party, but the moment-by-moment business of the child will be almost entirely unaffected by that wider context, for its own world relates to being fed and kept comfortable by its immediate carers (2000: 481).¡¯
  She claims that this allows the child to see formulaic speech as a kind of language play, and that explains the greater creativity of children with formulae.
  I have some wonderful data on this: three years of data from third grade to fifth grade, with the kids taking fixed phrases from their elementary school English textbook and reconstruing it in call kinds of irksome and interesting and inappropriate ways.
  Oddly, though, the imposition of contextual constraints appears to FACILITATE improvisation rather than dampen it, in much the same way that rules bring games into existence. It's in THIS sense that the "context" is co-constructed, so I'm not sure I agree that seeing a social situation of learning as being "given" is necessarily a rejection of the child's agency.
  On Yrjo's presentation, I thought the first point, on the destructiveness of the ZPD, got short shrift. I think this is partly because Yrjo's pleasant Northern woods metaphor of paths in the forest doesn't obviously lend itself to a destructive interpretation. But it seems to me that this was (by far) the most convincing part of the parallel he was trying to draw between productive development and personal development.
  Like Mike, my initial reaction to the parallel between the development of countries and the development of children is a very negative one, both for the reasons Mike gave (it smacks of the nineteenth century idea of "half devil and half child") and because I disagree with the whole teleogical Gunder-Frank (Wallerstein) idea of "core" and "periphery". Some countries are clearly being UNdeveloped rather than underdeveloped (Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan...even in the USA the actual production of goods and sevices, not to mention real wages, continues to decrease).
  Let us call these undeveloping countries the third world, and not the "developing' or "undeveloped" world; "third world" has a pleasant Hegelian ring that promises a kind of synthesis. I don't really see how this undevelopment is collective, or that it is horizontal, but I certainly do see how it is destructive.
  It seems to me that this is the ONE point where there really IS a good parallel to be had. Both ontogeny and cultural phylogeny (if that is what it is) are based on what Lenin would call uneven and combined development (the superimposition of the most advanced and the least advanced products of development).
  Vygotsky, for example, writes:
  "The child does not move to the use of tools like primitive man having finished his organic development. (¡¦) A six-month-old infant is more helpless than a chick, at ten months he still cannot walk and feed himself independently; also, during these months he passes through a chimpanzee-like age, taking up tools for the first time. (Volume Four, 1997: 21)¡±
  Rogoff has a really wonderful illustration of this point on p. 6 of her book The Cultural Nature of Human Development (OUP 2004) where she shows an eleven year old cutting open a fruit with a machete which is almost as long as the child is tall. And then of course there was Dr. Subbotsky's exquisite anecdote about the Beatles going to Hamburg to play the Reeperbahn in the early sixties and having to ask permission from their parents.
  Dr. Subbotsky pointed out that this presents parents (and also children) with quite a contradiction: on the fact of it, the children are more advanced in mathematics and foreign languages than their own parents, but they are socially immature. If development were rational, this would be impossible: development must happen socially before it can take place psychologically. But under modern conditions (perhaps under ALL cultural conditions) development does not take place rationally; it is always uneven and combined.
  So too with Russia and China, which had the lowest rates of capitalization but the highest concentrations of capital (and subsequently the smallest but most well organized working classes) in the capitalist world. When I was living in Algeria, the largest steel plant in the world, Al Haddjar, was near the small village where I lived. And here in Korea, the impoverished North was, until sometime in the eighties, far more industrialized in the South (and according to some measures was one of the most industrialized countries on earth). The development of nuclear weapons by North Korea is simply one more example of uneven and combined development.
  And that's my question! Isn't this "uneven and combined development" responsible for the crises we associate with the zone of proximal development rather than the rubbing up of development against boundaries? It seems to me that zones of proximal development are horizontally (and even rationally) mobile: it is easy to imagine a child replacing one form of rule placed play with another without much of a crisis.
  It seems to me that what we really find within the zone are not quiet forest paths but, as Mescharyakov points out, we find different kinds of mediation, teacher-mediation, peer-mediation, self-mediation, and no mediation. The transition from teacher mediation to peer mediation doth never run smooth, and even if it did, it is quite possible for SOME parts of a complex and urgent adolescent skill to be highly internalized while others remain entirely on the exterior (dating comes to mind, but I can think of many others).
  David Kellogg

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Received on Tue Nov 6 20:49 PST 2007

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