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Re: [xmca] The strange situation
These are really, really good questions, Martin. All worth very
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
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.
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
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
I'm not suggesting that these two explanations are incompatible or
mutually exclusive. But LSV does not seem to try to bring them
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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