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

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Thu Nov 22 2007 - 15:47:10 PST

Reading odd old bits of Vygotsky is always a kind of conversation with my future; when I am curious about what I am going to be thinking tomorrow, I just take a volume of Vygotsky to bed. This jumped off of page 227 in Volume Five of Collected LSV while I was nodding off last night.
  "The presence of affective stimuli is an indispnsable adjunct to every new stage in the development of the child from the lowest to the highest. It might be said that affect opens the process of the child's mental development and construction of his personality and itself completes the process, concluding and crowning the development of personality as a whole. In this sense, it is not accidental that affective functions disclose a direct connection both with the very old subcortical centres that develop first and are the foundation of the brain and with the new specifically human areas of the brain (the frontal lobes) that develop last of all. This fact is an anatomical expression of the circumstance that affect is the alpha and omega, the first and last link, the prologue and epilogue of all mental development."
  It's not just my future I'm reading. It's all here, from Carl Sagan's musings on crocodiles (who apparently rely on those very old subcortical centres when they smell and dream) to Damasio's argument that the representation of bodily states in the frontal lobes are the true source of higher emotions to Bella's argument about "extracortical" (that is, social) foundations of emotion. But as always with LSV the key question is (in Bernstein's words) how the outside becomes inside.
  "The initial affect of the newborn confines his mental life ot the narrow limits of sleeping, feeding, and crying. During the first stage of infancy, affect assumes the basic form of receptivfe interest in the outside world only to give way in the next stage to active interest in the environment. Finally, the conclusion of infancy directly confronts us with the one-year crisis, which, like all critical age levels, is characterized by vigorous development of affective life, and is marked by the first manifestation by the child of the affect of his own personality--the first stage in the development of the child's will."
  Mike, I share your frustration with binaries, and I think LSV did too. But I'm also frustrated with people who simply say that "it's more complicated than that", with reference to Vygotsky's central and peripheral functions, without being able to clearly explain why the complications they want to introduce are relevant to DEVELOPMENT and not simply learning.
  I think LSV knew very well that when you talk of central and peripheral "functions" or critical vs. non-critical "periods" or even "word meanings", you are looking at units which themselves develop, made up of elements which are also developing. So I think his binaries are not really binaries; the only thing that is binary about them is the dialectical form of development, and not the multivarious content.
  His construct of affect is a clear example of this; the same word is used to describe the affect of the "hypobulic" one year old who has a temper tantrum because the adults cannot understand his babbling "autonomous language" and the adult who raises his voice in the bank because the teller cannot understand his bad Korean (myself, as it happens). And on some level it is indeed the same emotion. But that "some level" is much more philosophical than real.
  Andy, I think that LSV is RIGHT to avoid the use of "identity" and to prefer "personality" (which I think to him is a holistic, socially grounded notion of "personhood" rather than some kind set of individual personal traits). Take Adam's example of two sisters playing at being "sisters". There is no "identity" in the resulting personhood, because, as LSV explains, they play at being sisters by doing the OPPOSITE of what they do in real life.
  In real life they fight all the time; but when they are playing at being sisters they are all sugar and spice. In real life they divide the very universe between them, but when they are playing at being sisters they share everything. In real life, they insist each insists on "I" or on the "Great We" of "I + parent" against the other. But when they are playing at being sisters, the hero of the drama is a "little we" of "me and my big/little sister".
  What is really happening here is the construction of a pair of imaginary friends, like the imaginary friends that mediate our affective lives in the early years of school. This cannot be called identity, there is no "equals" sign and no self-similarity. The salient feature of every imaginary friend is that he or she is ideal, not real; this is what allows the imaginary friend to create the self-mediating area of the zone of proximal development.
  I think the real problem with Professor Engestrom's "footsteps in the forest" metaphor is that it doesn't provide a very clear way for other-mediation to become self-mediation to become no-mediation. But the imaginary friend does: constructed from real affective responses, the imaginary friend contains more than an ideal which allows the child to "stand a head taller than himself"; it contains the child's developing sense of a "self" and indeed the child's actual future self. This is what REALLY allows a "conversation with the future".
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Thu Nov 22 15:48 PST 2007

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