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RE: [xmca] discourse and unit

Just so I understand: 
When you asked Anna Sfard about "unit of analysis", you were trying to get
her to make her assumptions explicit about the practice/method of using the
"unit of analysis" in psychology as a science. Vygotsky's use of this term
is appropriate in the larger discourse of psychology at the time, isn't it?
I wouldn't say a historical accident, but rather as he is participating in a
scientific discourse with logical argument it is likely that his word choice
is deliberate. What do you mean by the following statement, "Not many
people, even in the history of CHAT, do"? 

Just following along this very interesting thread.


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Saturday, April 23, 2011 12:20 AM
To: annasfar@math.msu.edu
Cc: 'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'
Subject: Re: [xmca] discourse and unit

OK, having taken the time to read what you say, you are quite explicit 
then. You don't agree with the method of analysis by units, in the sense 
that Vygotsky used the term. Which is fine. Not many people, even in the 
history of CHAT, do.


anna sfard wrote:
> Andy, 
> You seem to imply a unit must be a part of a greater whole, perhaps even
> 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
> 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
> concepts), the effect is exactly like in the case of looking at single
> 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
> these last few days, for which I'm asking its forgiveness).
> anna
> -----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.
> Andy
> anna sfard wrote:
>> Here is how Vygotsky answers your question, Andy, after stating that
>> meaning [concept] is [his] unit of analysis": 
>> "'unit' is a product of analysis that possesses *all* the basic
>> 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
> hydrogen. 
>> In my own words, the word "unit", when used in the context of the
> expression
>> "unit of analysis" is the smallest aggregate of phenomena I need to
> consider
>> in my research to be able to say anything really helpful/useful and
>> trustworthy. 
>> 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?
> Could
>> you, please, extend the set of possible choices buy adding, say, a
> rational
>> decision (that is, a decision made for an articulable reason). 
>> Oh,.. now I can see, I think. You don't like the traditional divisions
> which
>> I seemed to be making while speaking about mathematical discourse,
>> scientific discourse, political discourse... You even asked whether my
> unit
>> 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,
>> 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
>> the whole of formal and informal) numerical *discourse*, in any of its
>> developmental versions.   
>> Did I mange to make myself understandable?
>> Anna
>> 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
> checking
>> 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
> analysis."
>> 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
> said
>> in this message in response to Martin), what do you make of the word
> "unit"
>> 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,
> you
>> see.
>> Do you see what I am getting at Anna? You seem to use the term to mean
>> "subject matter."
>> Andy

*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: 
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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