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Re: [xmca] discourse and unit

Thanks, Andy, that is helpful.
As Steve's prior note listing LSV ideas about units and our discussions on
xmca, and lots of Russian discussions indicate, this term, along with the
other central terms we have been discussing, all seem to function as sort of
concepts that serve to as analytic devices depending upon
...... depending on what i wonder? Anna S suggests, reasonably, upon "a
greater whole." ANL makes it, so it seems,the whole of human life.

Perhaps it would be helpful if in talking about units of analysis the
subject matter being analyzed always needs to be specified or matters just
wobble around as you suggest with respect to the examples of Mescheryakov,

On Sun, Apr 24, 2011 at 1:14 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

> AN Leontyev occasionally does talk about units, including in this piece,
> which is why I was quite qualified in what I said. Leontyev's son said in
> 2006:
>   “Throughout, even within the framework of activity theory itself, an
>   ambiguous understanding of the units and levels of activity
>   organization can be seen. ... As is well known, A.N. Leontyev does
>   not provide an explicit definition of it; as a rule, he puts the
>   term “unit” within quotation marks, and in so doing, “determines”
>   it. And this is justified: after all, as it applies to his point of
>   view, the concept of unit has little applicability to activity,
>   action, or operation, since it presumes their /discrete /nature. ...
>   In A.N. Leontyev’s conception, the only thing that can be called a
>   “unit” in the strict sense is activity (an activity act).” "‘Units’
>   and Levels of Activity,"/ Journal of Russian and East European
>   Psychology/, vol. 44, no. 3: 30-46, M. E. Sharpe.
> It is not, for me, that ANL didn't have units in his work, but that his
> method is not /based/ on this idea. I think AAL's words are not completely
> correct actually, but it does reflect a problem in ANL's work. Operations
> are amenable to an analysis by units; Actions is the domain already dealt
> with by Vygotsky; Activity needs an analysis by units, but I think ANL did
> not have a clear view of what an analysis by units of this domain entailed.
> Andy
> mike cole wrote:
>> Andy--
>> How do we interpret the following in light of your reply to Monica?
>> mike
>> ------------
>> Leontiev defines activity as
>> “..the non-additive, molar unit of life for material, corporeal subject….
>> It is the unit of life that is mediated
>> by mental reflection. The real function of this unit is to orient the
>> subject in the world of objects. In
>> other words, activity is not reaction or aggregate of reactions, but a
>> system with its own structure, its
>> own internal transformations, and its own development.” (Leontiev, 1981:
>> p.46)
>> In contrast
>> On Sat, Apr 23, 2011 at 8:36 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:
>> ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
>>    Yes, if I understand you correctly, that is what I was driving at.
>>    Why do I say  "Not many people, even in the history of CHAT, do"?
>>    Well, LSV was very explicit about it and what he meant by unit.
>>    Everyone recognises that. But AN Leontyev for example does not
>>    follow this aspect of Vygotsky's method. True "operation" and
>>    "action" are units, but I don't think his conception of "activity"
>>    follows LSV's method. It could be seen in that way, but I don't
>>    think ANL himself saw his work as guided by an "analysis by units"
>>    and although we know of 3 units in his work, I don't think he uses
>>    them methodologically as units. Engestrom accepts LSV's unit of
>>    "artefact-mediated action" but it is kind of sublated into a
>>    method which hinges around a "root model" of a system of activity
>>    which is not a unit of analysis. Davydov follows LSV's method in
>>    this respect n his method of maths teaching. Meshcheryakov
>>    developed it in his work teaching the deaf-blind. But otherwise,
>>    very broadly, I think people see it as part of the history of CHAT
>>    and not really relevant to their own work. I might be wrong. I
>>    haven't done a comprehensive survey on it. But that's the
>>    impression I get.
>>    Andy
>>    Monica Hansen wrote:
>>        Andy,
>>        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.
>>        Thanks,
>>        Monica
>>        -----Original Message-----
>>        From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
>>        <mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu>
>>        [mailto: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 <mailto: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.
>>        Andy
>>        anna sfard wrote:
>>            Andy,
>>            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).
>>            anna
>>            -----Original Message-----
>>            From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
>>            <mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu>
>>            [mailto: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
>>        "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
>>            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,
>>        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?
>>                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
>>                <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>] Sent: Saturday, April 23,
>>                2011 4:22 AM
>>                To: annasfar@math.msu.edu
>>                <mailto: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:
>>    http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~db=all~content=g932564744
>>    <http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title%7Edb=all%7Econtent=g932564744>
>>    Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/ <http://home.mira.net/%7Eandy/>
>>    Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857
>>    <http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857>
>>    MIA: http://www.marxists.org
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> --
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *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
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