RE: [xmca] The Strange Situation

From: Paula Towsey <paulat who-is-at>
Date: Wed Oct 22 2008 - 02:28:25 PDT

Dear David

What a thrilling read you have given us! And to have so articulate and
coherent a writer put things the way you have is very compelling. And so
now can you see why the pseudoconcept is so important? Because it is not an
incorrect concept, and it is not an incomplete one: it's a pseudoconcept
because it is put together with different rules. What I always wanted to do
after I finished my research (and perhaps should) is write a paper for
teachers suggesting that they shouldn't only consider that a child's got it
wrong, but that they have it differently; that they have it
pseudoconceptually. Maybe forms of assessment could have a symbol for

I think I could ask you now if you'd like to read my master's (it's a large
document and you can see now why it would have to be) to see the
similarities in our arguments in tracing the history of the many of threads
that we have picked up on since your very long flight and your analysis of
the strange creatures in this strange situation. Do you still think we
should be calling it this?

Just to keep things coherent for other readers on the forum, I've cut and
pasted my response from yesterday (which I'd inadvertently posted directly
to David instead of to the forum in response to dol chapki):

I agree with you unreservedly. Adult intervention is there in the
culturally determined meanings assigned to the new concepts cev, bik, mur,
and lag. And I disagree with the exasperated posting placed on the forum
this morning: however it’s put, adults are there also in putting the game to
children, in explaining and prompting – with the younger ones including some
of my eight-year-olds, I doubt whether they would have managed without it.
And adult intervention is there in the form of the school-like discourse –
and in being the one who needs to be asked for blocks to be turned over to
reveal their names. And in being the one who obviously knows what the names
of the individual blocks are (although I’m not sure whether any of the
younger ones articulated an overt awareness of this). And in terms of the
one who knows how the game is to be played.

So, where to now with Vygotsky’s claim that complexive thinking – and
syncretic and potential concepts – is what would happen without adult
intervention? I’m still of the opinion that this venerable instrument
points to something and it’s on this point that we agree too – if I may
quote an insightful analysis:

“I think that's why Vygotsky is willing to accept that Sakharov's experiment
reveals processes that do not go away but play an important role in REAL
concept development; he believes that the categories of syncretism,
complexive thinking and preconcepts are all there even in the child's school
based thinking because underlying each is a mental act of generalization
which is not based on perception and memory but rather on conscious
awareness and mastery.” David Kellogg, XMCA forum, 12 September 2008

David, I think that what Sakharov and Vygotsky were doing was trying to get
away from introspective analysis – and the nonsense words with artificial
concepts were the way they went. I have also come to see – and you did
allude to this before – that my appreciation for and understanding of this
instrument and the many levels involved with it has deepened because of my
experience with it. When I first embarked on this journey, although I was
intrigued by the blocks, and wanted to see what complexive thinking looked
like – I also thought “Tosh! Vygotskii – if children aren’t thinking in
concepts then what are they doing? Isn’t this just an elaborate renaming of
what constitutes an idea, or a notion, or an imperfect understanding?”. But
I came to see what he was on about – that the connections that children will
tend to make between things will be different from the way adults make
connections. And the consistency, the hierarchy, the learning to use a
system, the concrete and the factual. And then, too, is the Hanfmann &
Kasanin observation (from adults and psychiatric patients) that a subject’s
upfront grasp on what the task involves is generally likely to be a clear
measure of the level at which they will perform.

I’m going to send this off to you now, so that hopefully, we’ll be able to
talk again today: you’re seven hours closer to the sun than we are.

David, don't be too harsh on Hanfmann & Kasanin: they never intended this
instrument to be used as an intelligence test, and neither did scholars such
as Semeonoff & Laird (British researchers who used it "in connexion with
special services selection" during and after the Second World War).

I believe we have a great deal to be thankful for to Jacob Kasanin and
Eugenia Hanfmann: Ana MS will tell you how she and fellow scholars made sets
of the blocks when they were students at the university of Belgrade in the
1970s and it would be interesting to compare her blocks with H&K ones from
Stoelting. But I don't want to give too much away here, because some of
this history is traced in a paper that I think has been accepted for
publication - I could let you know more about this when I do, okay? (Ana's
approach to the blocks seems to have a more direct link to Sakharov and
there are important but subtle nuances of difference between it and H&K's

Steve, I promise your notes on each of the stages will follow as soon as I'm
able to. Just in brief, though, I think that each of the stages is a more
complex (as in complicated or more developed) form of the child's ability to
abstract and to generalise from a range of possible building blocks and
these emerging skills go hand in hand with the developing ability to reflect
on what one is doing.


-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: 22 October 2008 01:00 AM
To: xmca
Subject: [xmca] The Strange Situation

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
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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