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Re: [xmca] discourse and unit

Units are always in principle visible (well sensuous).
Davydov is explicit in that.

anna sfard wrote:
You seem to imply a unit must be a part of a greater whole, perhaps even an
invisible part, as is the case for molecules or cells. While I don't see
invisibility ("see invisibility"? well, you know what I mean) as a defining
property of unit of analysis, I do believe that being a part of something
bigger is a useful characteristic.  The discourses I named are all
irreducible parts, at least for me, of the greater whole which is our
communicational activity - our thinking.  The discourses I named are
irreducible in that when you look at their separate elements (e.g., words or
concepts), the effect is exactly like in the case of looking at single atoms
inside a molecule: you lose the ties/relations to the other atoms and the
gestalt is gone.
And now, I'm afraid, I must be gone. My immediate non-virtual community
makes sounds of being annoyed with my unexpected departure (whereas xmca
community may be annoyed with my intensive - all too intensive - presence in
these last few days, for which I'm asking its forgiveness).


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Saturday, April 23, 2011 8:53 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [xmca] discourse and unit

The answer to my question, Anna, is that you just don't see the word "unit". Let's look at the whole of that Vygotsky quote (apologies to
David and Martin for using the Minnick translation):

"In our view, an entirely different form of analysis is fundamental to further development of theories of thinking and speech. This form of analysis relies on the partitioning of the complex whole into
    /units/. In contrast to the term 'element', the term 'unit'
designates a product of analysis that possesses /all the basic characteristics of the whole/. The unit is a vital and irreducible part of the whole. The key to the explanation of the characteristics of water lies not in the investigation of its chemical formula but in the investigation of its molecular movements. In precisely the same sense, the living cell is the real unit of biological analysis because it preserves the basic characteristics of life that are
    inherent in the living organism." (Vygotsky 1986)

My problem with what you say, Anna, is that I can't see "discourse" as an irreducible part, "cell" or "molecule," to be contrasted with the whole. I always took discourse to be a whole, or a Gestalt which, if not a whole , then a holistic element of a wider life which includes
discourse as an aspect. But not a unit.

anna sfard wrote:
Here is how Vygotsky answers your question, Andy, after stating that "word
meaning [concept] is [his] unit of analysis":
"'unit' is a product of analysis that possesses *all* the basic properties
of the whole" (T&S, 1987, p. 46, emphasis in the original).
And he famously illustrated this definition by speaking about the mistake
one makes when using too small a unit of analysis and trying to tell
properties of water by investigating the properties of oxygen and
In my own words, the word "unit", when used in the context of the
"unit of analysis" is the smallest aggregate of phenomena I need to
in my research to be able to say anything really helpful/useful and
I'm not sure what to make of your " historical accident, or a mistake, or
simply a trivial thing". Why should unit of analysis be any of those?
you, please, extend the set of possible choices buy adding, say, a
decision (that is, a decision made for an articulable reason).
Oh,.. now I can see, I think. You don't like the traditional divisions
I seemed to be making while speaking about mathematical discourse,
scientific discourse, political discourse... You even asked whether my
of analysis is the same thing as "subject matter". Ok, so no, i'm talking
about *discourses*, which is ontologically quite different than the
(underdefined) "subject matter". And why the "disciplinary" division?
Because these discourses display the kind of inner cohesiveness (not
necessarily in the Halliday's sense of the word cohesiveness) - in their
word use, in their routines and meta-rules, in visual mediators, in their
narratives - that make them stand out as obvious units of analysis. Or, to
put it differently, when I start with a word, such as "number", and am
trying to investigate as much of its uses as necessary to see anything of
importance, I invariably end up, whether I want it or not, with looking at
the whole of formal and informal) numerical *discourse*, in any of its
developmental versions.
Did I mange to make myself understandable?
PS. Of course, you may go on and ask what I mean by "the whole" of a
discourse. The boundaries are blurry, and I don't really mean I am
every piece of this rather elusive entity. But I do as far as necessary,
never excluding in advance anything that may be deemed as belonging to a
discourse in question.
-----Original Message-----
From: Andy Blunden [mailto:ablunden@mira.net] Sent: Saturday, April 23, 2011 4:22 AM
To: annasfar@math.msu.edu; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] activity and reification

Anna, no-one took this up, but let me pursue it nonetheless.
I said I think we disagreee about what Vygotsky meant by "unit of
You concluded your third message in this exchange:

    "...to speak about it as the use of word in discourse (not just a
    single act, Andy; rather, a discursive activity with the word) ...
    discourse (understood as a specific type of communication) is what
    may usefully be taken as a unit of analysis in developmental (and,
    obviously, historical) studies."

Leaving all other issues aside (I actually agree with most of what you
in this message in response to Martin), what do you make of the word
in the term "unit of analysis"? Do you see it as a kind of historical
accident, or a mistake, or simply a trivial thing? I take it seriously,

Do you see what I am getting at Anna? You seem to use the term to mean
"subject matter."

*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~db=all~content=g932564744
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857
MIA: http://www.marxists.org

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