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Re: [xmca] Kharkov school of psychology?

Dear Anton, Achilles, and All, (This note relates to the “myth”)
Oh, my goodness, forgive the fact that I am only an “observer”  regarding Vygotskian psychology, but I still feel that I need to state something, as I was involved in the Journal of Russian & East European Psychology, Vol. 43, n. 3 that was mentioned, in particular with the Letter from A. N. Leontiev to L. S. Vygotsky, February 5, 1932. So, I hope to say something that was simply experienced, nothing else.  During the Christmas/New Year’s holidays of 2001-2002, I was in Moscow, and some of us were preparing for the 100th Centennial of Luria in 2002, at ISCRAT in Amsterdam. Tanya Akhutina and I were invited to have dinner with Alona Radkovskaya and her family, and I asked a few questions about the Luria archives…Alona brought in some information, and one artifact we saw was the February 5th, 1932 letter from A. N. Leontiev to L. S. Vygotsky….of course, I was stunned beyond belief, because many people thought it was lost or stolen. Clearly, we
 knew this was an important moment. Tanya took the letter home, and she was so gracious in trying to truly explain the letter to me, and some abbreviations that could not be explained. With the permission of Alona Radkovskaya, Tanya gave the letter to A. A. Leontiev and his son D. A. Leontiev, to publish as they wished.  Fast forward….it is 2003, and the Centennial Celebration of the birth of A. N. Leontiev in Moscow. In the conference program there was a book with the article on the “myth”….the apparent break with Vygotsky and Leontiev. And, clearly, this break was called a “myth.” I was extremely surprised. This article was then published in German by Wolfgang Jantzen with his Luria Gesellschaft journal.  Now, for some odd reason, I have a copy of the article in English, while it was being edited, and I don’t know why. I am attaching that article, without having re-read it, so I hope that is okay. Clearly, as an “observer” only, I
 do not have the answers to many questions raised, and those answers would be difficult to obtain now….If Mike or someone might grant permission, I could perhaps (not sure!) send out this letter (printed in the Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, vol. 43, no. 3, 2005, pp. 70-77). A couple of months before A. A. Leontiev (my mentor) died, I asked him if there could be a meeting with Gita L’vovna to sit down and try to reconcile the issues of the past…he totally agreed with that meeting, stating the time was right….unfortunately, he died around two months later, which has left a big hole in my heart until today. I tried to write my thoughts on  the “myth” (trying to be fair to both sides), in the Journal of Russian & East European Psychology, Vol. 45, n. 2, 2007, pp. 3-10. That attempt was very important for me personally. I do not have all of the historical facts, nor am I qualified for something like that….But, it was
 important for me, at that time, to write such an introduction. I do not know if I can send that out, without publication rights….at the same time, I have sent all of you my personal, university information on how you can access my account for free, and it is still available, to my understanding. So, most of you can hopefully access the journal issues mentioned for free.
Again, my field of expertise is not in Russian psychology, and I am only an interested and passionate observer. The “myth” article is only one side of the story (as we all know), and the side of Gita L’vovna, for me, is a very important side of the story (although she was 9 years old when Vygotsky died)….Hopefully, we will obtain this side of the story soon…..Clearly, the answers to questions all of us would like to have will probably not be forthcoming. At the same time, once the archives are published in Russian, new information from Vygotsky might emerge. We will have to wait and see.
With good wishes to all of you,

--- On Mon, 3/29/10, Anton Yasnitsky <the_yasya@yahoo.com> wrote:

From: Anton Yasnitsky <the_yasya@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Kharkov school of psychology?
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Monday, March 29, 2010, 5:32 PM

Hi Achilles,

Nice to meet you here after all :)...

First of all, thanks for the phrase " Leontiev's family version of the history", -- this is exactly what historians not always pay attention to, that is, *whose* version of history this is (i.e., qui prodest?), who the author and the intended audience are, and, thus, what kind of message the story carries. The Leontievs version is a classical example of the "school history" with AN Leontiev as the leader of Soviet (=Marxist) psychology on top. Vygotsky (1896-1934) certainly fits the story as a Founding Father (here naturally follows a reference to his untimely death). A similar discursive pattern reveals, for instance, another classical story of the leader of Soviet "agrobiology" academician T.D.Lysenko, the devoted follower of the Founding Father I.V. Michurin (1855-1935). 

Anyway, having said that the Leontievs story is pretty biased and opinionated, I guess nothing can be added to it in order to answer your question about the reasons of Vygotsky's stay in Moscow. Documents are needed, but still, the question of motivation and the reasons behind an action is not the kind of question we want to ask in an historical study. Indeed, try to find an answer to this question in a psychological study proper, and you will discover how difficult it is to come to a conclusion about the motives -- note: unconscious, multiple and conflicting motives! -- in people. In historiography this question can hardly be answered at all. That is to say, the issues of motivation are generally not treated by the history of science. -- Unless you discover a personal diary, written by self for self, and yet even with this kind of data one can never know beyond reasonable doubt that the author was absolutely sincere; especially so in the context of the
Soviet Union in the 1920s-1930s when virtually anybody could have been arrested, and all personal documents would have been confiscated by the ChK-OGPU-NKVD, etc. Example: life story of BV Zeigarnik.

By the way, speaking of the reasons for not leaving Moscow... Note: in 1930 Vygotsky was a --presumably-- proud father of two daughters Gita and Asya (born in 1925 and 1930 respectively), while the rest of the group was childless at that point. Why not a good reason for not willing to move anywhere being responsible for feeding and housing a family of four, -- as a matter of fact, during the time of famine, indeed?.. Anyway, this is a speculation, and, like I said, this is not the kind of question an historian would be willing to ask.

Finally, one might enjoy a vignette, a brief analysis of the arguments presented by the Leontievs re their assessment of the date of the composition of AN Leontiev's "last letter to Vygotsky"--and Vygotsky's hypothetical response to it. Another, old entry in psyhistorik: http://community.livejournal.com/psyhistorik/25119.html . It is in Russian as of now, but if anybody is interested please feel free to raise your voice, and somebody might either translate or rephrase the argument in English someplace.


----- Original Message ----
From: Achilles Delari Junior <achilles_delari@hotmail.com>
To: xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
Sent: Mon, March 29, 2010 5:30:28 PM
Subject: RE: [xmca] Kharkov school of psychology?

Hello, Anton, Mike, Larry, and all xmca colleagues. 

There is a Portuguese translation (2009), by professor Zoia Prestes, from Brasilia (she had studied several years in Moscow), from an article wrote by D.A. and A.A. Leontiev. It was published, partially, before in LEONTIEV, A. A.; LEONTIEV, D. A.; SOKOLOVA, E. E. *Aleksei Nikolaevich Leontiev: deiatielnost, soznanie, litchnost.* Moskva: Smisl, 2005. And even before as  “Mif o razryve: A.N. Leont’ev i L.S.
Vygotskii v 1932 gody,” Psikhologicheskii zhurnal, 2003, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 18–20. Something like "The myth of rupture: A. N. Leontiev and L.S. Vygotsky, at 1932" - for my naive Russian. They both analysed the last founded letter from ANL to LSV (which was published in English too, in the JREEP, vol. 43, no. 3 may-june 2005, pp. 70-77 - but without the part about the "myth" until I could knew). At this letter AN Leontiev was very sensitive, talking about job and theoretical future of investigations, etc. (we have a Portuguese translation too, at the same 2009 publication allowed by Dimitri himself who given an interview to Prestes and Tunes, in Russia, recently)... And it seems to me that, in Leontiev's family version of the history, they (the future "Kharkov's circle") hardly tried to convince Vygotsky to move away to Kharkov too. It's stated by A.A. and D.A. Leontiev that there would be a very good position prepared for Vygotsky there, just
waiting for his acceptance. But... He did not accept... 

Then I think that someone could ask: "Why?" - but they both do not really presented any answer to this only possible question...

And you? What do you think about? What could be so more interesting at Moscow's Winters at that times for LSV? Even more if you consider all the scientific and cultural advantages at Kharkov that Anton mentioned...

Thank you...


> Date: Mon, 29 Mar 2010 12:10:38 -0700
> From: the_yasya@yahoo.com
> Subject: RE: [xmca] Kharkov school of psychology?
> To: xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
> Larry,
> First, welcome on board of http://community.livejournal.com/psyhistorik/profile and please feel free to raise your voice even if you have more questions than answers. In fact, this is what the whole thing is for and about.
> Then, I guess I am not so much frustrated by the format of an online somewhat chaotic and polyphonic discussion (which is pretty much fine with me), but rather, like I said, uncritical, ungrounded, flawed and immature claims like those on Chukovsky (the link to the paper was posted here at xmca). So, my remark was kinda methodological...
> Finally, very much true: we do realize that ideas are not that immaterial, but rather embodied--and influenced by!--in institutes, personal networks, scientific and social practices, etc. The interrelation seems to be bidirectional and dialectical, and I doubt we can easily separate a scientific idea from its socio-cultural roots and, on the other hand, its impact on social environment.
> Mike,
> I think we need to be very careful about the situation at the beginning of 1930s in the USSR. Indeed, it was getting really hot in Moscow around 1930, and the "struggle on two fronts" against "menshevizing idealism" and, on the other hand, "mechanicism" was not very much conducive to scientific research. For evidence of the kind of frustration all this caused see, e.g., Vygotsky's letters to his collaborators in the Journal of Russian and East European Psychology
> On the other hand, the fact is that Yaroshevsky definitely overemphasized the "oppressiveness" of the power back then, and the guys had pretty good reasons to leave Moscow even without being scared to death. "Moscow-centric" Soviet historiography of psychology presents the move of a part of Vygotsky Circle :) to Kharkov as a tragedy--quite understandable attitude for Muscovites :).  But note: Kharkov back then was a capital of Soviet Ukraine, comparable to contemporary Kiev, Warsaw or Budapest. Thus, for instance, future Nobel Prize winner physicist Lev Landau was working there back then, and Nils Bohr among other scientific celebrities would come to Kharkov to scientific congresses. As we know from Luria's letter to Koehler of 1932, the group in Kharkov got really lavish funding and most impressive resources there, with the perspective of founding a Psychological Institute on the basis of their "Sector of Psychology" at the Ukrainian
> Academy (UPNA). So, nothing tragic or surprising that they eagerly rushed there, regardless of political climate in Moscow or decrees in the sphere of education. Especially so since at UPNA in Kharkov they were under the aegis of the Ministry (Narkomat) of Health,--and this was, indeed, the Narkomzdrav of Ukraine, but not of Russian Federation,--and had virtually nothing to do with education or at least until some point could easily drop all their affiliations at educational institutions.
> In brief, the history of this science at this locale during the interwar period is somewhat clearer now, yet still remains largely unwritten... 
> ----- Original Message ----
> From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
> To: Anton Yasnitsky <the_yasya@yahoo.com>
> Cc: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
> Sent: Mon, March 29, 2010 11:50:58 AM
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Kharkov school of psychology?
> Thanks for the reminder of the bilingual list focused on Soviet
> Psychology, Anton.
> Sorry about the polyphony on xmca. Just how it is. Suggestions for
> better organized discussion
> always welcome.
> mike
> PS- My tentative conclusion from reading the bilingual materials (and
> thanks to Achilles for
> his persistence!) is that by 1931 the situation was becoming very
> dangerous and difficult for the Vygotsky circle on several fronts and
> that the move to Kharkov, whether or not it actually preceded the
> RSFSR decree against pedology (fascinating to see project based
> learning used as a term there) was motivated by a desire to get beyond
> the reach of the RSFSR and be allowed to pursue their research. And
> that this research was modified in its emphases for both
> political/self protection reasons mixed with genuine intellectual
> concerns. And that untangling all of this will not absolve us of
> responsibility for what we think the strongest solutions to the
> intellectual issues are in 2010.
> On 3/28/10, Anton Yasnitsky <the_yasya@yahoo.com> wrote:
> > OK. Here are my two cents: a couple of remarks and mainly references, fyi...
> >
> > Imho, too many topics are discussed here at the same time, which makes it
> > highly problematic for us to resolve any of the specific problems at stake.
> > Thus, I suggest minimizing the input and focusing on specific question at a
> > time. I can not refrain from an observation that I was flattered to come
> > across an acknowledgment of my contribution to David's discussion in his
> > recent paper on Chukovsky, yet, I fully agree with the author that his
> > argument in this paper,--as well as, in fact, in his other discussions of
> > the history of Soviet psychoneurology (i.e. human and behavioural sciences,
> > in other nomenclature)--like, for instance, his present discussion--on many
> > occasions looks ungrounded, flawed and immature to me. Instead of discussing
> > all and nothing, talking about an issue at a time--just for a change--might
> > be a better way to deal with these problems scientifically (whatever this
> > means).
> >
> > So, for the background of the early 1930s education- and paedology-related
> > decrees of the authorities of USSR and RSFSR please see two recent
> > discussions at the already announced at xmca online bilingual community on
> > the history of world and Soviet/Russian psychology:
> >
> > #1: http://community.livejournal.com/psyhistorik/52683.html
> > #2: http://community.livejournal.com/psyhistorik/54008.html
> >
> > If one wants to join these discussions there, please feel free to, but first
> > make sure you open an account at livejournal.com and, ideally, join the
> > community; for instructions see
> > http://community.livejournal.com/psyhistorik/profile . Btw, other
> > discussions and postings are available here:
> > http://community.livejournal.com/psyhistorik/
> >
> > Then, on Kharkov school: to the best of my knowledge, the most recent stuff
> > was published a couple of years ago, both papers are mine, both are freely
> > available at my university web-page. Also, one can find there a couple of
> > more recent papers on roughly the same topic, but unfortunately both are in
> > Russian only, at least at this point.
> >
> > As to the expression "Kharkov school", I would just remark that I am getting
> > increasingly suspicious of the notion of "scientific school" itself and its
> > applicability in historiographical research--as opposed to the marketing of
> > science, the area where the Great Men and Founding Fathers, their Best
> > Students and Scientific Schools, etc. mythology works perfectly well and
> > does a great job of helping to sell the product--to whoever would want to
> > buy the stuff. In this sense, I keep avoiding talking about the schools in
> > the history of science these days.
> >
> > Instead, I prefer the terminology of "groups", "networks", and "circles".
> > The benefit of such terms is that they are way better operationalizable than
> > "schools". Thus, for instance, my relatively recent major work that I
> > completed a year ago was on "Vygotsky Circle". According to google search,
> > there are only 49 references to "Vygotsky Circle" as of today, but I really
> > believe  the situation will change pretty soon...
> >
> >
> > Cheers,
> > Anton
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > ----- Original Message ----
> > From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
> > To: "eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
> > Sent: Sun, March 28, 2010 10:35:20 PM
> > Subject: [xmca] Kharkov school of psychology?
> >
> > hi david and anton--
> >
> > I hope that anton is looking into the sequence of events which precipitated
> > the move of lsv and his colleagues to Kharkov.
> >
> > I was not aware that Anton denied the existence of a "Kharkov school" of
> > psychology.
> > Are you asserting there was, David? I am unclear. A lot of what you have
> > been writing
> > about the "micro" politics of the era and place indicate you know a lot
> > about it. My
> > knowledge comes from an earlier time and different place, so its really
> > interesting to hear
> > about the matters you are writing about and trying to consider their
> > implications for our
> > own understandings of culture, development, activity. etc.
> >
> > To my limited knowledge, it seems that the people in Kharkov distanced
> > themselves from
> > LSV as much as possible. I am judging only from the materials in Ukrainian
> > that I obtained
> > from Zinchenko the younger. And they were interestingly critical of his
> > ideas about natural
> > and cultural memory (Zinchenko the older), as well as ideas about activity.
> > But what was
> > indigenously Kharkovian and what was a moscow import? Hard for me to sort
> > out.
> >
> > Non-coincidentally (I assume) there was a horrible famine in Uzbekistan and
> > Kirghizia (as it was then referred to) - A circumstance entirely missing
> > from Luria's account of his work there or any
> > accounts I have seen from LSV's visit to the region. I assume both famines
> > were orchestrated by the Georgian god father?
> >
> > Disturbing questions. Perhaps you have the answers? This kind of relating of
> > ideas to their socio-
> > historical context seems important to me. But separating fact from fiction
> > through the fogs of time and wars and blood and time seems a daunting task.
> >
> > I am still trying to sort out the pre-pseudo-complex-concept issues. Slow
> > but unreliable as usual!
> > mike
> > _______________________________________________
> > xmca mailing list
> > xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
> > http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
> >
> >
> >
> >       __________________________________________________________________
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> >
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