Re: [xmca] Self-Introduction and comment on Sawchuk/Stetsenko

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch who-is-at>
Date: Wed Dec 10 2008 - 09:26:30 PST

Welcome to xmca, Derek. I took a peek at your website - really nice
job. There really are a lot of valuable resources there, such as the
links. I had not seen the Vygotsky site at
which is awesome and there is lots more. A quick browse of your
Vygotsky on Thinking essay and biblio shows how seriously you have
been studying "CHAT" literature in your work.

Your theory of "token concerting" is interesting. Recent (not that
recent anymore, I guess) research on mirror neurons would seem to
strongly underscore that conception. How have you related this to
Vygotsky's discussions of imitation?

Btw, the position Stetsenko (2005) takes is that Leontiev's account of
activity did not sufficiently account for the productive role of
individual subjectivity in the activity cycle, but that CHAT needs to
do so. The classic behaviorist position that there is really no such
thing as consciousness at all seems to have little to offer this kind
of inquiry, which is chasing that imaginary ghost, the "psyche." To
the extent you have that perspective, when reading authors like
Sawchuk and Stetsenko, and perhaps Vygotskyists in general, you must
sometimes feel like an atheist in a Bible study group! LOL

What I find most powerful about CHAT is its high level of
consciousness about methodology, always seeking to avoid one-
sidedness, always seeking ways to look at things from all sides, all
angles, from all disciplines, from all possible perspectives. That is
the essence of the dialectical method, which by its nature is a
collective process. What this means is that on a certain level, all
points of view in science are authentic and valuable contributions,
yours included, but it takes a dialectical approach to synthesize all
these views into a full comprehension of the thing under inquiry.

Speaking to the core idea in the Sawchuk/Stetsenko paper, wanting to
bring ideas and theories in sociology to bear on CHAT, I take this in
the context of believing that CHAT has the potential to play a special
role in social science. Armed with its methodological ideas, and
centering itself on **activity**, a highly potent and centralizing way
of looking at human affairs, I think that CHAT is learning how to look
at the accomplishments and limitations of both psychology - and
sociology - and develop ways to move social science forward along a
new kind of path, the one Vygotsky envisioned when he spoke of
constructing a "general psychology." CHAT has the potential to play a
significant synthesizing and systematizing role in social science,
which to date has been badly fragmented and disorganized throughout
its history.

In that spirit, how does your theory of concerting relate to
sociology? More specifically, how does it compare with and relate to
the points Sawchuk and Stetsenko made about the various theories of
social conduct that they surveyed?

Also, I am curious: why do you say the H of CHAT, the historical, is
of no interest to you?

Thanks for joining us on xmca, Derek.

- Steve

On Dec 9, 2008, at 8:51 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> Wonderful to hear from you, Derek. If only we could have more
> dialogues across parties and disciplines!
> That said, as I read you, you are adopting that wonderful kind of
> "ruthless reductionism," that "shameless behaviourism", the kind of
> position that leads to wonderful performative contradictions like
> the philosophy of mind which declares that mind does not exist,
> people that believe that subjectivity is an illusion, and
> participate in activity while believing that society requires
> inverted commas and so on.
> If mind and subjectivity do not exist, and behaviour is imitation,
> how did you come to write this email? Was a kind of conditioned
> reflex? you saw someone else writing the same idea so you found
> yourself compelled to do it too? And were you aware of what you were
> doing when you were doing it? Or was it, like mind, society,
> subjectivity, but an illusion. And if it was an illusion, do you
> expect we share that illusion?
> What say, instead of declaring that subjectivity does not exist,
> what if we discussed what it means and how it is constituted?
> Because really, I could only agree with you if I had a subjectivity
> so as to perform and experience agreement. And then I would be
> forced to disagree with you.
> :)
> What do you think, Derek?
> Andy
> Derek Melser wrote:
>> I come to XMCA as a philosopher of mind convinced that 'mind' (and
>> related
>> metaphor-based notions such as 'internalisation') can be explained
>> in terms
>> of (a) people's natural tendency to act in concert (do the same
>> thing,
>> together) and (b) various derivative, subtler, but still
>> in-principle-observable, skills that children acquire. My account,
>> developed
>> from those of Ryle, Vygotsky and Hebb, has acting in concert as the
>> basis of
>> culture. Solo action, cooperation, and objective practices (in
>> which the
>> empathic, side-by-side stance characteristic of concerted activity
>> has given
>> way to objective attitudes) are learned adaptations of acting in
>> concert.
>> Unfamiliar concerted (and solo, cooperative and objective) activity
>> must
>> usually be preceded by preparatory educative activity, the
>> prototype of
>> which is the demonstration-and-imitation procedure. The immediate
>> goal of
>> demonstration-and-imitation is for teacher and pupil to perform the
>> action
>> in concert. After the pupil's participation has improved, perhaps
>> after
>> repeated demonstration-and-imitation sessions, to the point where
>> he can
>> perform the action on his own, rehearsals may still be necessary
>> prior to
>> performance.
>> To rehearse an action or activity is to go through a
>> demonstration-and-imitation session in a streamlined and
>> abbreviated way.
>> There are many different ways of abbreviating the
>> demonstration-and-imitation procedure, some involving two or more
>> participants, others for the solo agent. Verbal communication,
>> consciousness
>> and thinking are all forms of rehearsal all ways of rehearsing
>> actions and
>> activities before (or indeed whilst or instead of) performing them
>> and
>> they are all 'derivatives by abbreviation' of the
>> demonstration-and-imitation procedure.
>> A child acquires these various rehearsal skills in much the same
>> way he
>> acquires other skills by watching and listening to other people
>> demonstrating them, by attempting to join in, and by practising
>> them on his
>> own. In *The Act of Thinking* (MIT Press 2004) I retrace some of
>> the main
>> steps in the child's (and perhaps early man's) mastery of verbal
>> communication, consciousness and thinking.
>> My feeling about the Sawchuk/Stetsenko paper is that it is
>> insufficiently
>> purist. It embraces concepts which are actually antithetical to, and
>> compromise, a pure activity approach. For example, there is
>> 'subjectivity',
>> which we are said to be in danger of 'undertheorizing' (p.340).
>> What can
>> subjectivity be if not 'private experiencing'? Activity theory
>> casts all
>> experiencing as public, or incipiently public. Subjectivity is a
>> mentalist
>> concept. Listed among 'the specific principles of human
>> development' on
>> p.341 are 'the social origin of mind' (which implies there is such
>> a thing
>> as mind) and 'internalisation' (implying the existence of an inner,
>> presumably mental, dimension). Vygotsky fell in here too, which is
>> why we
>> need Ryle. Activity does not internalise, it does not disappear
>> into the
>> mental, as it becomes familiar. Nor is mind 'extended'; it does not
>> extend
>> from the 'inner' to embrace 'outer' phenomena: mind is a fiction.
>> Sawchuk and Stetsenko characterise activity as 'reciprocal
>> interaction with
>> the world' (339), as a process of 'engagement with the world' and as
>> 'transforming the world' (343). However, the world need not stay in
>> the
>> picture. It is required neither as a venue nor as a patient or
>> product of
>> people's activity. The notion of the world, and things in the
>> world, is a
>> teaching aid invented to assist our acquisition of the perceptual
>> skills we
>> need to employ in the course of our activities.
>> If we want to concentrate on the activity, then the 'selves' that
>> Sawchuk
>> and Stetsenko say people's activity creates ('as they create their
>> world'
>> (343)) are also dispensable. Selves disappear, they get absorbed, in
>> concerted activity. Even 'the social order', with its reification of
>> activity as the 'social structure' or 'society' that sociology is
>> predicated
>> on, may be a distraction. And what about 'historical'? Personally,
>> I am most
>> interested in the foundational human activities concerting,
>> cooperation,
>> verbal communication, consciousness, thinking, etc.). These
>> practices were
>> almost certainly established more than a million years ago, so
>> history
>> played no part in their development, though evolution did. History
>> becomes
>> relevant only in connection with the great increase in objective
>> practices
>> that accompanied the relatively very recent transition from small-
>> group
>> nomadic life to our settled agricultural existence if that counts
>> as
>> history.
>> Should I have presumed to list with XMCA and to comment on a review
>> of CHAT,
>> when the XM is anathema to me, the H of no interest? My C would be
>> 'concerted' rather than 'cultural' too, though, since I conflate
>> these,
>> that's a quibble. Is this where I belong? An activity purist like
>> myself has
>> at least the AT in common with others in this forum, surely. Well,
>> no. I'm
>> not at all sure about the T. It has always seemed to me that our
>> knowledge
>> of activities is irreducibly empathic. When we witness or imagine an
>> activity, in order to comprehend what we are seeing we must imagine
>> engaging
>> (if not actually engage) in that activity. There is no possibility
>> of any
>> truly objective or 'scientific' observation of activity (behaviour,
>> conduct,
>> action, things we do). Cultural activity is not a natural
>> phenomenon. It is
>> not even a phenomenon. It is something* we* do. We are
>> participants, players
>> or incipient, would-be players. We cannot get outside it, hold it
>> at arm's
>> length, make a scrutinizable object of it. If we do, it vanishes.
>> We must
>> empathise even to perceive activity. Certainly, we can be self-
>> aware in the
>> act of doing something, alone or with others, and this self-
>> awareness need
>> not impede (or not too much) our participation. But what can
>> 'theory' amount
>> to in this context?
>> Derek Melser
>> **
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