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[xmca] The Jerkiness Of Development: Underproduction or Underconsumption?
Paula and Martin:
A couple of years ago, Paula was kind enough to write up a kind of essay-let on the distinction between analysis and synthesis as it had emerged in her data. I think this essay-ette should be circulated and we should discuss it, but since it's really her property, I will send it to her for consideration and confine my remarks to heavy breathing.
Er...let me rephrase that. The great STRENGTH of Paula's heavy breathing metaphor is that it really suggests that the "jerkiness of development" (by which Paula means the nonlinearity, the crisis-ridden nature of development) is caused by a lack of fit between the social situation of development and the child's neoformations, encountered in the course of the child's central line of development (viz., thinking in concepts, for the kids I'm working with).
But the great WEAKNESS of this metaphor is that it suggests that the jerkiness of development is caused by the inadequacy of the neoformation and not by its superproductivity. The child is stimulated to extraordinary acts of synthesis and analysis because the child is faced with predicaments that the child cannot solve (e.g., in my data, the necessity of explaining, by use of a map, a journey through downtown Manhattan of twenty blocks when the child disposes of English words like "go straight and turn right", or, also in my data, the necessity of explaining, by use of a globe, why winter comes in December, January,and February here in Korea, but in July, August and September in Australia). In response to a direct challenge from a task which cannot be solved using the resources of the child's extant neoformation, the child hyperventilates.
I think this will not do on three counts. First of all, in breathing, the child doesn't have the option of giving up. But our data shows that the DIRECT response of the child to a challenge which cannot be solved using extant resources is not hyperexertion of extant resources of synthesis and analysis but rather evasion and avoidance of the task that would require this. Hyperventilation doesn't answer WHY the child gives up (for example) crawling for walking, or babbling for speaking, or any relatively safe and ultimately successful strategy for an extreme, risky, and usually unsuccessful one.
Secondly, the hyperventilation metaphor is adaptationist; it implies that the child somehow has untapped internal resources which are brought to bear, of which the child was previously unconscious and which can be brought to bear through trying harder. But how did those internal resources get there, and why weren't they employed previously?
Thirdly, Vygotsky has fairly specific things to say about critical periods of development, none of which are really satisfied, either by Paula's metaphor or by the recent work by Fleer and Hedgaard under discussion. He says that the crisis is first and foremost internal in its origins. He says that it creates a short-lived "critical" neoformation (e.g. autonomous speech, negativism, the imaginary friend), but that this does not play any independent role in subsequent development. And he says that the crisis has a three part structure (before, during, and after) as opposed to the two-part structure (waxing and waning) of noncritical periods of development.
What I want to suggest is that the crisis really is much more like capitalist crises in general: it is caused by underconsumption and not by underproduction, it is due to the superproductivity of the neoformation engaged in the central line of development and not its inadequacy, and it is resolved when the usable surplus product of the neoformation engaged in the central line of development is EXAPTED to a new central line of development rather than when the neoformation somehow expands to meet unprecedented new demands.
Some examples from Volume Five:
The main line of development is sleeping. But the central line of development is crying, passive responsiveness. The central neoformation is instinctive mental life, but this becomes superproductive when it is engaged in responsive interaction. This responsiveness actually brings the baby more attention than he or she "knows" what to do with, because the social situation of development is simply that the child is physiologically independent but biologically dependent.
The main line of development is biological, but the central line of development is active responsiveness, and reciprocal interest. The central neoformation is the "Ur-wir", or "proto-We", the undifferentiated whole that the child creates out of all the persons in his or her immediate social milieu. This central neoformation is superproductive; it quite literally does and says and knows way more than the child him or herself, but the child has no clear way to distinguish between what others do and say and know and what the child does. Until...
THE CRISIS AT ONE (critical)
The main line(s) of development is (are) so-called "autonomous" verbal, mental and physical action (i.e. speech without vocabulary or grammar, "hypobulic" will without volition, and tottering without toddling). The central neoformation is autonomy.
This neoformation is again superproductive; from the adult's point of view it may raise more problems than it solves, but objectively speaking it "solves" more problems than the child actually has. Speech is an avant garde genre of music rather than a mode of communication, will is a form of performance art and not a way of solving problems, and of course tottering instead of crawling only really makes sense as an extreme sport, not as a mode of transportation.
The critical nature of this neoformation and these critical lines of development meant that they are NOT exapted and they only surface as dependent forms of behavior. Like the peasantry in Russia and China, they do not play an independent historical role. Nevertheless, they ARE superproductive, just like the non-critical neoformation that succeeds in early childhood.
In early childhood we get the formation of the globe of measures of generality, through speech: first ostensive, then indicative, and finally signifying. But it seems to me that at any one place on our little globe that proceeds southward (or northward) through holding, pointing and meaning, we will find that the relations of generality will overwhelm the actual measure of generality.
>From the child's point of view, there are always far more things to hold than the child knows what to do with; there are too many and not too few places to point, and of course in speech the extant resources of analysis and synthesis mean that at any point there are far more ways of expressing any given preconcept than the child can really think with (Swearing is a good example of this.)
My grad has been replicating the findings in Chapter Six and wanted to explain why children write shorter sentences when they are using science concepts than when they are using everyday concepts:
a) I like spring because it's warm and nice.
b) It's spring because earth tilt.
She uses a "cognitive capacity" metaphor that works something like a bank account; when the child is spending the limited reserve of mental energy she has on conceptual thinking, the chld's grammar productivity takes a hit.
I don't see this at all. The tall, thin, VERTICAL nature of dialogue and of scientific writing (much of which is based on very simple X is Y grammar) is its strength and not its weakness. What really happens is that the conceptual thinking is off loaded into compact units called concepts, which are then UNDERSTOOD by the hearer with a minimum of explanation.
"Cognitive capacity" reconstrued in this way as sociocultural capacity is quite literally productive without limit. Individuals give out before their concepts do (and in dialogue before their interlocutors do). Here's a perfect example, from the "Lion King", a version of Hamlet that the Walt Disney corporation constructed, sung by Elton John.
>From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking step into the sun
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
(At this point Tim Rice's imagination fails him, and South Africa is converted into a sun worshipping hamster wheel....)
But the sun rolling high in the sapphire sky
Keeps us all on the endless round
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Thu, 6/10/10, Paula M Towsey <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: Paula M Towsey <email@example.com>
Subject: FW: [xmca] Generality Is Not Abstraction And The Jerkiness Of Development
To: "'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thursday, June 10, 2010, 11:00 PM
Dear Martin and David
It seems that World Cup Fever has heated up the airways since Wednesday,
preventing my posting from arriving(!), but hopefully your
abstraction+generalization conversation hasn't moved on too far since
then... So, from Fever City/Nation, here's a third attempt at la duma:
In Chapter 5 there's an image that Vygotsky uses about this relationship
(between abstraction and generalization), perhaps as a precursor to the
longitude and latitude one in Chapter 6 (your image of the
longitude/latitude is compelling, Martin - David has developed one too,
which I hope he'll post for us as well). I think this image is important
because the contribution it makes to the picture of concept formation is
that is allows for the jerkiness, inconsistency, and novice-like character
of development to be included.
Perhaps it's the way it is presented in the Kozulin translation, because of
the abbreviated form of the discussion that it appears in, that makes this
image more noticeable somehow (at least to me) than it is in the Minick one:
"...In genuine concept formation, it is equally important to unite and to
separate: Synthesis and analysis presuppose each other as inhalation
presupposes exhalation (Goethe)." (1986, pp. 135-136). (In the Minick
translation, it's on p. 156.)
The perspective from this image casts a different light, then, on questions
about where abstraction is in the overall process, or where generalization,
or which comes first, or which does what, because they operate as part of
the same process, both equally important to sustaining life. This metaphor
also plays out quite effectively, I think, in the longitude/latitude
picture, because it provides a very apt metaphor for depicting the nature of
the engagement between these two coordinates: breathing in and breathing
out in our navigation through the conceptual world - it's as close as
Extending the breathing image further produces an interesting take on the
picture in developmental terms, in how this fulcrum-like process operates as
we grow and develop. It could be likened to starting out with short, quick,
baby-breathing; then a hiccupping sort of post-crying, teary-eyed kind of
breathing; then the panting sort of up-the-hill on my bike kind of breathing
to the down-the-hill on my bike kind of exhilarated breathing; to the
controlled (instructed?) breathing of the master yogi and the deliberate
control of the free diver.
I'm not as good at translating things into graphic images as you and David
are, Martin. So, instead, this is what the breathing image looks like in my
word painting of it, where extending the breathing metaphor depicts the
jerky, inconsistent, learning-how-to nature of abstracting and generalizing
in the process of forming concepts.
Paula M Towsey
PhD Candidate: Universiteit Leiden
Faculty of Social Sciences
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On
Behalf Of Martin Packer
Sent: 08 June 2010 19:35
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Generality Is Not Abstraction
I don't think one can say that generalization is "somewhere in the middle."
LSV proposes that as we ascend from the concrete to the abstract, from the
"concrete idea" to the "abstract idea," at each point we have a unity of
abstract and concrete which amounts to a kind (and degree) of
generalization. But this has the character not of a monotonic increase, but
a curve that LSV tries to convey through the shape of the sphere. That is to
say, at first the unity is richer, but after reaching a maximum it begins to
decrease in richness. The most concrete of ideas can be expressed in only
one way, so there are no relations of generality. The most abstract of ideas
(LSV's example is number) can be expressed in an infinite variety of ways,
but here too there are no relations of generality, because all these
expressions grasp the world in the same way. But at all points there is
generalization, not just in the middle. As he says, the (North) pole is the
"very maximum of generalization,... the limit of abstraction."
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