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Re: [xmca] The strange situation

I took a look again at the Engestrom Ch 4 on Davydov, Vygotsky, etc. Thanks for that, it is a nice discussion of key issues.

Who is Eleanor R?

- Steve

On Mar 25, 2010, at 8:49 AM, mike cole wrote:

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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