[xmca] The Strange Situation

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Tue Oct 21 2008 - 16:00:24 PDT

Dear Paula:
I think the answer is this. We have to read Chapter Five and Chapter Six as complementary parts of a single whole which is only fully realized in Chapter Seven. Here's what I mean.
At the very beginning, T&S lauds the CLINICAL method. Of course, we know that LSV was a clinician. At heart he had, not psychological experiments, but the seven million homeless, disabled, and criminally inclined children who were, nominally, wards of the Narkompros under Krupskaya.
Then he goes to town against the foremost clinical thinker of his day, namely Piaget. Specifically, he takes Piaget to task for separating out the child's thought processes ("autistic" and then "egocentric") from the adult's ('communicative" and then "logical"), and only combining them EXTERNALLY (through "pressure" and "constraint").
In contrast, he argues that the relationship is complex, twisting, tangled, and at several points the lines of development (autistic and social, egocentric and communicative) cross and even cross-fertilize. The combinations are not only (and not even mainly) external, but INTERNAL.
He's never satisfied with a purely theoretical argument. He's a clinician, and in the end life comes down to real children. So right away he uses Piaget's own data against him. He supplements this taken from replication by Leontiev, Luria and Levina. But by Chapter Five he feels that what's really required is whole new method.
Here's what Bakhurst says about the methods of Chapter Five in a footnote on p. 83 of his book "Consciousness and Revolution in Soviet Philosophy", Cambridge 1991:
"Vygotsky's inventive use of experiment is an important aspect of his work neglected in my presentation. Vygotsky rarely employs the kinds of tools associated with orthodox experimental psychology: control groups, standardized testing procedures, explicit 'coding schemes' for the interpretation of data and so on. His empirical research might therefore strike the modern reader as wanting in rigour and objectivity. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Vygotsky's efforts represent a failed attempt to do experimental psychology as it is now understood. On the contrary, his research strategies were quite deliberately created for the analysis of psychological phenomena as he conceived them. As we saw above, Vygotsky holds that psychological capaciteis can be undertood only through an analysis of their _development_. This development is argued to proceed through the internalization of activities that are first realized in public interaction with
 others. This led Vygotsky to the idea that psychological development can sometiems best be studied if the analist (sic) actively intervenes in that development by, for example, offering subjects new psychological tools with which to undertake operations under investigation (see the memory experiments described in Vygotsky 1929; Bakhurst 1999) or engagine subjects in activities thought to precipitate internalization, so as to observe the relationship among a) what subjects can achieve unaided, b) what they can achieve when assisted by others, and c) the trajectory of their subsequent development (see Vygotsky 1978: Chapter 8, and the literature on the zone of proximal development. Furthermore, Vygotsky believed that the insights gained by employing such interventive techniques are often best presented by describing particular cases in detail rather than giving statistical data for a large sample of subjects."
My first response to your DVD was to wonder why you only show a single subject, out of the many that you obviously worked with. But on re-reading this, I think it is the right approach, and it's exactly the approach that Hanfmann and Kasanin missed when they assigned points to the various solutions of the Vygotsky blocks and turned it from a clinical interviewing technique (which is what it is in your DVD and also, I think, in Chapter Five) into a rather sloppy intelligence test (which it isn't, wasn't, and can never be).
Carol & eric, have a look at this (if your exasperation has taken you this far! It's a long quote but it's a very interesting one):
"Only under experimental conditions was the child, freed from the directing influences of well established verbal connections, able to develop word meanings and to form complex generalizations according to his own preferences. This fact shows us the importance of experimental study, which alone can reveal the spontaneous activity of the child in mastering the language of adults. Experimental study shows us what the child's language and concept formation would look like if they were freed from the directing influence of the linguistic milieu.
     "One may argue that the subjunctive mood of our statement rather speaks against the experiment, because the child's speech after all is not free in its development. Experiment however reveals not only a hypothetical 'free' development of the child's thinking, but also uncovers activities in forming generalizations usually hidden from view and driven into complicated channles by the influence of adult speech." (p. 120, Thought and Language, Kozulin trans.)
Here LSV rejects the idea of hypothetical 'free' development for a SECOND time. The first time was when he rejected it in Piaget's CLINICAL method. Here he does it again in the EXPERIMENTAL context. His argument is that we need the experiment not to show us some "what if" world in which children make their own decisions. We need it to show CLASSROOM processes that pass us by in the hurly-burly of teaching.
That's what Chapter Six is about. And sure enough they show us a very different world, one where symbolic and conceptual relations (triadic, secondary intersubjectivity) come first and indexical, iconic ones (the world of primary intersubjectivity) are decisively subordinated to them.
I think if Sakharov had lived, and if LSV had lived, the transition to Chapter Six would have been smoother, and we would be better able to see how the different categories (heaping, measuring, comparing) are realized in classroom condiitions. But Sakharov killed himself, and LSV was apparently too heartbroken to tamper with the manuscript he'd written many years before.
Shif's work is obviously from a much later period, and Sakharov's categories are poorly integrated into it (I think that's why Paula focuses on the potential concept as a bridge between these two chapters). But I think the real synthesis should come in Chapter Seven, dictated on LSV's deathbed.
Unfortunately, the ground shifts a little here; instead of looking at how the relationships between thinking and speech comes into being, we are suddenly looking at how they operate, which is in some ways quite the reverse from the way they develop. And then nothing.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education 
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Received on Tue Oct 21 16:01:29 2008

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