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Re: [xmca] Issues of hierarchy and heterogeneity

I jotted down some notes about this section, to try to clear my mind....

Wertsch distinguishes three approaches to the phenomenon of diversity (pluralism; heterogeneity) in cognition, verbal thinking, and behavior - the fact that qualitative distinct forms exist, across cultures, within any culture, and indeed in any individual. He borrows from Peter Tulviste (1986), who drew in turn from Levy-Bruhl, who at least tried to think of the minds of primitives as different yet equal (though he seems to have failed, IMHO).

The first position is "heterogeneity as genetic hierarchy." The plurality is considered in terms of the order of the appearance of the various forms (historically or ontogenetically), and the more recent is assumed to be more powerful. Werner's notion of lower and higher forms of behavior exemplifies this. In occasions of "primitivation," the individual will regress to a less adequate level of functioning. The "paradox" here, Wertsch argues, is why anyone would "select a less powerful, and hence less appropriate, mediational means than is available to approach a task" (p. 100). [I am not sure that this is so hard to explain. Usually the proposal is that 'regression' occurs when the organism is under stress, due to illness, injury, or traumatic circumstances. One might ask why the less powerful forms are still available, but here too a simple answer would be that having less powerful means to hand is better than having none at all, once the advanced means are lost or unavailable.]

Vygotsky, Wertsch proposes, was somewhat ambivalent in his treatment of heterogeneity. At times he wrote as though early forms of mental functioning completely rework and replace earlier forms. At other times he wrote as though the earlier forms continue to exist beneath the later forms, like geological strata.

The second position is what Wertsch calls "heterogeneity despite genetic hierarchy." Here, it is not assumed that more recent appearance indicates greater power. Forms of functioning that appear at different times are taken to be distinct, yet each is effective for the relevant tasks. William James' pragmatic instrumentalism provides an example: in this view, common sense, scientific, and philosophical reasoning each have their uses; one is not inherently superior to the others. There is a genetic sequence to the three (at least, common sense comes on the scene first), but this does not signify greater effectiveness or power. Tulviste, too, has criticized the frequent assumption that scientific thinking is the most developed form, and that it is the best tool for any task. Rather, different kinds of activity require different kinds of thinking. To the extent that earlier activities are preserved, so will the older kinds of thinking that correspond to them.

The third position, "nongenetic heterogeneity," also assumes that different settings and tasks call for different psychological tools. An example of this position is Gilligan's proposal that men and women use "distinct moral languages," of justice and care, each of which has a distinct developmental pathway.

If we think, then, of different types of thinking as being required for different forms of activity, we can understand why people in different cultures show heterogeneity in their thought and behavior. Different cultures face (or invent) different tasks, and these require diverse kinds of thinking.

However, it seems to me that Wertsch neglects a fourth possibility. One might ask why, if forms of thinking correspond to distinct tasks and task settings, with no inherent difference in their power or effectiveness, there is any kind of genetic sequence to their appearance. After all, riding a bicycle calls for sensorimotor skills of balance and coordination. Repairing a bicycle require concrete skills of tool use, knowledge of the properties of metals, and so on. Figuring out how a bicycle stays upright calls for skills of mathematical modeling, conception of centripetal force, and the ability to solve differential equations.

Clearly these are heterogeneous, and the third is of no use when it comes to actually riding the bicycle. However, there is a clear ontogenetic sequence to their acquisition. This suggests that, although we may not wish to say that one form of thinking is inherently more powerful than another, we may still wish to say that there are inherent differences in their difficulty. In other words, Wertsch has conflated (or at least has not distinguished) power and effectiveness in use from difficulty in acquisition. Learning to model the bicycle mathematically calls for significantly greater education and guidance than learning to ride it. Here, then, we have a genetic hierarchy of acquisition, even though we may believe there is no functional hierarchy in use. 

Note that this 'hierarchy of acquisition' would resolve the paradox that Wertsch points to. It is likely that skills that are harder to achieve are also harder to employ. Under stress, or when cognitive resources are limited, the earlier skills may be the only ones that can be employed, no matter what the task.


On Feb 22, 2012, at 12:09 AM, mike cole wrote:

> For those interested in the discussion of Levy-Bruhl, LSV, primitives and
> runaway
> computer keyboards, I am attaching a brief section from Jim Wertsch's book,
> voices of
> the mind, about these issues that I have found useful. Perhaps others will
> find it useful
> as well.
> mike
> <Wertsch_Heterogeneity of Voices0001.pdf>__________________________________________
> _____
> xmca mailing list
> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca

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