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Re: [xmca] The strange situation

Thanks for all this David. I see you are now saying that the preconcept of Ch 6 is the pseudoconcept of Ch 5. As a genuine creative spirit, Vygotsky cannot be blamed for inconsistency, but I guess, nor can his readers be blamed for sometimes misunderstanding. Damn! Just when you had persuaded me so thoroughly to a different position! :) I will get around to rereading these chapters myself, in the light of your observations, but it may be a while yet.

I should acknowledge that though I retain strong criticisms of Davydov and Engestrom, I am proud to join them amongst those who make an Activity interpretation of concepts, along with a wonderful tradition of Activity Theorists stretching back into the 18th century, and have never found Activity a blockage to the use of concepts of semiosis! I have found I can "squeeze" a lot out of activity.


David Kellogg wrote:
Mike: Yes, the paper that Martin circulated from Rosch has what I think is a pretty good summary of the work you refer to and it's certainly relevant. Both Davydov and Engestrom are what I would call "activity" interpretations of Chapter Six: they tend to de-emphasize the distinctness of SEMIOSIS from PERCEPTION. Martin calls this approach trying to squeeze concepts out of percepts. Steve: Actually, this is just the returns on a short term loan, you know, YOU were the one who first showed me that preconcepts couldn't possibly be a generic name for all of the thinking that happens before concepts, and one of the quotes you gave to show this is in that list (although not in the form you gave, because once you have tasted Thinking and Speech in the non-English translations it's hard to go back to English rotgut). Andy has a good therapist's approach to discussion; he tends to "hold up a mirror" to the patient by reformulating and recasting his own words. Our elementary school teachers do this very well too, but they tend to focus on grammar mistakes (of which there are quite a few in my original post!) I know, it's not really from therapy or from primary education; it's his training in immanent critique. In any case, he's got me right. You notice that LSV does not use the word "pseudoconcept" anywhere in Chapter Six, although he does talk about syncretisms and complexes a fair amount. He also places the preconcept on the border between complexes and concepts. Finally, he says the preconcept is a concept that is generalized by others but not by the self. So I think the preconcept is the pseudoconcept, even though in Chapter Five he argued that psychologically speaking the pseudoconcept is a complex. Why the change in nomenclature? Well, first of all, LSV often picks up a word from somebody else. Knocks it around a bit. Hollows it out and stuffs it with something else. And finally renames it. For example, the word "everyday concept" is clearly related to the "spontaneous concept" of Piaget (which Vygotsky actually refers to using Piaget's name in Chapter Two) but it's also quite different, because LSV totally rejects the elaborate methodology that Piaget uses to purge the child's spontaneous concepts of adult taint in "The Child's Conception of the World". That's why I prefer Prout's translation of "academic concept" for the nonspontaneous concept (and even "self-directed speech" for private/egocentric speech, although I admit that Vygotsky never actually uses this term). So I think that arithmetic numbers are the preacademic form of this concept, but they are only one possible instantiation of the true, academic form, which is entirely relational and algebraic, which is why it forms the extreme North Pole (or South Pole, if you use Ana's map) of the measure of generality. I also think that by translating the "science concept" as the academic concept we can include a range of higher concepts from ethics teaching and even aesthetics. Right now one of my students is using Vygotsky/Piaget's sentence completion method for testing pairs of everyday/academic concepts like "gift"/"loan", "road"/"avenue", and even 'so"/"because" and "but"/"although". But secondly Vygotsky is trimming. All educators have been ordered to "leave complexes at the school door". In 1931 he is still reeling from the declaration of the Bolshevik Party Central Committee on pedology; he has to abandon everything he's written about complexes in education because it is now considered that they do not belong in primary education at all. But he KNOWS that primary school children think in complexes, and not concepts. Mary had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as snow
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go
So in 1934 he changes his tactics. By rechristening the pseudoconcept as the "preconcept", by chanting the slogan of leaving the complex at the school door, and above all by introducing the concept of the zone of proximal development as part of a feigned critique of pedology, he is able to make sure that complexes are "left at the school door" in name only. It followed her to school one day.
Which was against the rules
It made the children laugh and play
To see a lamb at school...
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Thu, 3/25/10, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] The strange situation
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Thursday, March 25, 2010, 8:49 AM

I will not err by entering into this discussion until I am sure I am not
being irrelevant. Two brief comments that I think are probably not

1. A lot of work has been done along lines initiated by eleanor r in the
1970's. I will check for an update of the current thinking along lines she
started and see what I can find.

2. It may be worth people's while to remember that Davydov had his own
criticism of Vygotsky's notion of scientific concept which clearly does go
back to Hegel. For a summary of the discussion, see Engestrom, Ch. 4  at



On Thu, Mar 25, 2010 at 8:08 AM, Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch@me.com> wrote:

Thank you VERY much for this, David.  You have just completely re-oriented
me to Ch6sect6 - I feel like I woke up and turned a light on and discovered
I had only been getting 1/3 of it, and now I am getting 2/3 of that
difficult and fascinating section.  This was extremely helpful.  I am
finding that the more I set aside what I thought I knew about concept
formation from Ch5, the more I understand Ch6.

What is your take on the relationship between the pseudoconcept of Ch5 and
the preconcept of Ch6?

- Steve

On Mar 24, 2010, at 10:02 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

  Andy, Steve:
Take a look at these. The translations are my own but the page numbers
suggest the corresponding bits in your Minick translation.

“We have first of all succeeded in discovering that generality
(differences in generality) does not coincide with the structure of
generalization and its different stages such as we found them in our
experimental study on the formation of concepts: syncretic images,
complexes, preconcepts, and concepts. (roughly, p. 225 in your Minick)”

You can see from this that "preconcepts" is NOT a general term including
syncretisms, complexes any more than "rose" is a general term including
daisies and daffodils.

“In the first place, concepts of different generality are possible in a
same generalization structure. For example, in the structure of concepts by
complexes it is possible for concepts of different levels of generality to
exist: flower, and rose. In truth, we must state a reservation from the very
outset, that is to say that the relationship of generalization ”flower-rose”
will be different in each structure of generalization, for example,
different in the structure of complexes from in the structure of
preconcepts.” (225)

We can see from this that LSV does NOT consider a preconcept to be a

“Thanks to the analysis of the real concepts of the child, we have been
able to study some less well-known properties of syncretic formations,
complexes, and preconcepts and to establish what in each of these spheres of
thinking is shown to be different in the relationship with the object as
well as the apprehension of the object by thought, that is to say, how the
two fundamental elements which characterize concepts are revealed to be
different from one stage to another.” (228)

Once again, "preconcepts" are not the preconceptual functional equivalents
of concepts (that is, they are not a hypernym for syncretic heaps and
complexes). But here Vygotsky suggests that there are two processes and not
one at work in concept formation.

One is indeed a form of activity: it's a relationship with the object,
e.g. ostension, indication, and naming. But the other is "the apprehension
of the object by thought", the way in which the object is represented
(reflected/refracted/semiotically reproduced) by the mind.

  “What we have managed to establish here with respect to the passage from
the preconcepts of the schoolchild to the concepts of the adolescent is the
same thing that we managed to establish in the preceding study with respect
to the passage of generalized perceptions to general representations, that
is to say syncretic formations and complexes.” (230)

This appears to be a direct reference to Chapter Five. In 1931, LSV
considered this to be a study of concept formation in ADOLESCENTS. But now
he appears to have changed his mind: the previous chapter is concerned with
the passage from generalized perceptions to general representations, and is
thus a matter of preschoolers. This is quite consistent with what Paula did
with three year olds to eight year olds.

“Just as in that case it turned out that a new stage in the development of
generalizations can only be attained by the transformation, not the
annulment, of the preceding stage, by the generalization of the objects
already generalized, not by proceeding anew from the generalization of
single objects, in the same way here the study has shown that the transition
from preconcepts (of which the typical example is the arithmetical concept
of the school child) to the true concepts of the adolescent (of which the
typical example is the algebraic concept) happens through the generalization
of objects which have already been generalized.”

And here we see why! The generalized perception is the PRECONDITION of the
general representation. And the general representation is the precondition
of the concept. The example he gives us is numbers.

Of course, at the very lowest level, numbers really are the result of the
activity of the perceptible and perceptual activity of counting. But take
away the objects, and the number remains as a generalized representation.
And when we take away the number, and deal only with the realtion of number,
the concept remains.

"The preconcept is the abstraction of the number, detached from the object
and, founded on this abstraction, the generalization of the numerical
properties of the object. The concept is the abstraction detached from the
number and, founded on it, the generalization of any relation between
numbers. But the abstraction and generalization of ideas differs
fundamentally from the abstraction and the generalization of things. It is
not a pursuit of movement in the same direction or its culmination, it is
the beginning of a movement in a new direction, a transition to a new and
higher plane of thinking. (230)"

This of course returns us to a point that Vygotsky made in the very first
chapter and returns again to in the very last: the "dialectical leap" is not
simply from inanimate to animate, but from perception to thinking.

There is a qualitative difference between the abstraction and
generalization of perceptions and the abstraction and generalization of
thoughts; they are distinct processes, and the word "activity" applies much
more accurately to the former than the latter.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Wed, 3/24/10, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
Subject: Re: [xmca] The strange situation
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Wednesday, March 24, 2010, 9:30 PM

Steve, briefly and without references, my take was:

* *preconcepts* are a family name for all the thought-forms prior to true
concepts and so includes potential concepts, pseduoconcepts, complexes. etc.

* *potential concepts* are, as far as I can, see the highest type of
pseudoconcept, marked by its "transferability" to different sensory fields.
Here the attributes have been completely isolated from their substratum.

* *complex* is a family name for a whole group of forms including both
pseudo- and potential concepts.


Steve Gabosch wrote:

David, thanks again for these extremely useful files of your translations
of T&S from Meccaci, Seve, Prout, and your Korean team.  I am in awe of the
work you did, and are still doing.

I thought where we got stuck last year was on that pesky creature from Ch
5, the 'potential concept,' not the clearer concept, 'pseudoconcept'.  I
think Vygotsky leaves no doubt that the pseudoconcept is a complex.  I am
still struggling with precisely what a potential concept is.

Both complicated concepts, potential concept and pseudoconcept, seem to
be subsumed into the Ch 6 term 'preconcept'.  That move gives us a simpler
term, but leaves many questions unanswered.  It leaves us little choice but
to investigate concept formation ourselves.

Martin, I would be most interested, when you have the time, if you took
your recent very excellent questions and reframed them, or more precisely,
sharpened them, in light of Ch 6.  I think some important work can be done
analyzing Ch 5 in terms of Ch 6 - and looking at Ch 6, especially section 6,
in terms of Ch 5.

Apparently about 3, 4 or 5 years did separate the main writing of these
two chapters, as you and Paula suggest.  On one hand, there is an explosion
of ideas in Ch 6 sect 6 that are barely touched on or anticipated in Ch 5.
  On the other hand, the rich, specific ideas in Ch 5 are insufficiently
dealt in light of the new, general ideas in Ch 6 sect 6.  Vygotsky left that
challenge to us as well.

- Steve

On Mar 24, 2010, at 5:35 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

  Martin, Steve:
Last night I showed a picture of an iguana to my graduate seminar and
asked what it was. Everybody said it was an ALLIGATOR. This is strange,
because the word "iguana" exists as a loan word from English in Korean, and
in fact everybody confirmed that they knew the word, but the word
"alligator" does not exist in Korean and instead we use a Chinese loan word
(literally, "evil fish").

What this means is that my grads have the WORD but not the CONCEPT of
Iguana--it is an example of a concept for others but not for myself. This is
not the only situation where that is true, of course. For example, the words
"Miss" and "Mister" also exist in Korean as loan words, but they are quite
impolite and used to refer to social inferiors (bar girls, prostitutes,
secretaries or waiters or male underlings of one kind or another). Here too
the concept of the English polite form of address exists as a word but not
as a concept.

Last year I suggested to Steve that in Chapter Six Vygotsky uses the
word "preconcept" to refer to this situation, and that therefore the word
"preconcept" is used in preference to "pseudoconcept" in Chapter Six. Steve
objected that Chapter Five clearly says that a pseudoconcept is not a
concept at all, but a complex, while Chapter Six says that it is indeed a
concept, although not a concept for myself.

I'm still unconvinced. As Steve says there really IS a shift of opinion
on a number of issues in Chapter Six (the carry over from one structure of
generalization to another, for example, and also the issue of whether
concepts can be taught to pre-adolescents). The word "pseudoconcept", which
is so misleading that it even confuses LSV himself sometimes, is not LSV's
coinage; he took it from the Sterns,who took it from somebody else.

So it seems to me that "pseudoconcept" in Chapter Five is a concept for
others (for the Sterns), and it only becomes a concept for LSV himself in
Chapter Six!

  David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

Attached is OUR re-reading of Chapter Six, here in Seoul.Sorry about the

--- On Wed, 3/24/10, Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu> wrote:

From: Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu>
Subject: Re: [xmca] The strange situation
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Wednesday, March 24, 2010, 12:57 PM

Thanks, Steve,

I've been putting off re-reading chapter 6, but I have to bite the
bullet soon. I was thinking that trying to figure out what LSV had come up
with and written about in chap 5 (and Paula has pointed out that he seems to
have had this figured out by 1930) would itself be valuable. But you make a
cogent argument.


On Mar 24, 2010, at 1:39 PM, Steve Gabosch wrote:

  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

Any guidance through this thicket will be gratefully accepted!


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