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Re: [xmca] The strange situation

These are really, really good questions, Martin. All worth very serious exploration.

My take on Chapter 5, after doing some study of it, and Chapter 6, last year with David Ke. and Paula T., and some discussion here on xmca, is that Ch 5 might be best understood in terms of Chapter 6, especially section 6 starting on pg 224 of Vol 1. Here Vygotsky gets to his major theoretical discussion of systems of concepts, and critiques the limitations of the block experiments on page 228 and 229.

He explains that the block experiment "ignored the fact that **each new stage in the development of generalization depends on the generalizations found in the preceding stages.**" pg 229. He was critical of the block experiment not revealing connections or transitions between the stages of concept development. He felt he was able to reveal these connections with the experiments described in Chapter 6.

It is important to emphasize that he does not at all **reject** the work described in Chapter 5 - the syncretic heap, complexes, and what he now calls preconcepts (was pseudoconcepts), and true concepts, are still intact - but he **adds** a whole new level of theorizing that he saw as crucial - suggestions for solutions to "the central problem" of his research in Chapter 6, involving systems and relationships of generality, the law of concept equivalence (any concept can be represented through other concepts in an infinite number of ways), measures of generality, systems of concepts, etc. Vygotsky's most advanced thinking about concept formation is here in this section. And some of your very good questions are addressed.

This is why I think that Chapter 5 needs to be seen as something of a building block toward section 6 in Chapter 6, and that it might be easier to read Chapter 6 sect 6 first and work backwards, or work them together as one study. And don't forget that Vygotsky's publisher or maybe even Vygotsky himself got longitude and latitude backwards in the globe metaphor when he explains the law of concept equivalence! (pg 226) LOL

Chapter 6 as a whole, of course, has much material on everyday vs scientific concepts, as well as the oft-quoted passages on the zone of proximal development, so that difficult section 6 in Ch 6 kind of gets overshadowed, and maybe a little disconnected from Chapter 5. The two need to be dialectically joined, I believe, to really grasp what Vygotsky was trying to do in both chapters. And there is also some discussion on pg 189 in section 2 in Chapter 6, and maybe a few other places in that chapter, about complexes and so forth, that may also shed some helpful light on some specifics in Chapter 5.

- Steve

On Mar 23, 2010, at 1:25 PM, Martin Packer wrote:

I am taking the liberty of recycling this subject heading, after having spent some time re-reading the posts over the weekend. I seem to have played a large part in hijacking this thread some time last year, with my obsession over the meaning of the term 'reflection.'

So this message is partly penance, but it also me trying to make sense of LSV's block task and what it tells us about his views of concepts, and their development. I find myself with the following questions:

1. It seems to be the case that in chapter 5 LSV doesn't mention the distinction between everyday concepts and scientific concepts. Is it at all possible that what in chapter 6 he calls "everyday concepts" are what he refers to in chapter 5 as complexes? I suspect not, but the question seems worth asking.

2. LSV seems to offer not one but two explanations of how the child (or rather the adolescent) forms concepts. The first explanation is that concepts arise from the advanced application of the processes of generalization and abstraction, specifically that the word is now used functionally for voluntary control of attention, permitting a mastery of these processes. The second explanation is based on the phenotypical identity and functional similarity of concepts and pseudoconcepts. The latter are actually complexes, but they look like concepts and so when child and adult interact the adult takes them to be concepts. The child is in a sense then using concepts without knowing it, and LSV appeals to the familiar Hegelian process of in-itself, for-others, for-self, to explain how this "internal contradiction"is the "basic genetic prerequisite" for the rise of true concepts.

I'm not suggesting that these two explanations are incompatible or mutually exclusive. But LSV does not seem to try to bring them together.

3. In other words, this second explanation is another case of "internalization," and the application of the general genetic law of cultural development. But LSV adds that this "peculiar genetic situation" in the move from pseudoconcepts to concepts should be considered the general rule rather than the exception in children's intellectual development. Does this not suggest that this same kind of process occurs as the child moves from heaps to complexes?

4. Generalization and abstraction are the two "channels" in the development of concepts - LSV refers to them also as "complexing" and "segregating." The first is very familiar by the time we get to chapter 5: he has been writing about the way a word is a generalization since the start (this is where as David has pointed out we find the quotation from Sapir.) But abstraction seems to appear out of nowhere. Is there a treatment of abstraction/ segregating elsewhere in the book that I have missed?

5. LSV seems to get to the end of chapter 5 without ever telling us exactly what a concept it. He suggests that it involves hierarchy, and connections that are abstract, essential, and homogeneous. He proposes that particular and general are linked. He adds that "most important" is "the unity of form and content," for this is what makes thinking in concepts a "real revolution." Can anyone pull these somewhat diverse (complexive?) characteristics together for me? Do they harmonize with the treatment of concepts (of both kinds) in chapter 6?

6. Finally, less a question than an observation. LSV writes at the close of chapter 5 of the way that “Concept thinking is a new form of intellectual activity, a new mode of conduct, a new intellectual mechanism. The intellect is able to find a new and unprecedented modus operandi in this particular activity and a new function becomes available within the system of intellectual functions which is distinctive both in its composition and structure as well as in the way it functions.” I take this as a clear indication that for LSV a concept is not simply a new kind of mental representation. It is, as Rosch proposes, a new way of relating to the world.

Any guidance through this thicket will be gratefully accepted!


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