Within modern developmental psychology, two classic dilemmas persist. The first is the problematic relationship between learning and development. The second is the equally problematic relationship between individual and societal development.

The first dilemma may be provisionally formulated as follows.

"The central question for our purposes is whether learning is identical to development or, at least, whether development can be conceptualized as consisting of some kind of accumulation of units of learning." (Baltes, Reese & Nesselroade 1977, 208.)

Another way of putting the problem is found in the work of Ann L. Brown. For her, development is essentially  the process of going from the specific and context-bound to the general and context-free.

"Basically, the problem is how does the learner go from specific learned experiences to the formulation of a general rule that can be applied to multiple settings. (...) How does the learner come to use knowledge flexibly? How do isolated skills become connected together, extended and generalized?" (Brown 1982, 107.)

The second dilemma has been formulated by Riegel in a polemical manner.

 "Although they (developmental psychologists; Y.E.) study developmental differences (and sometimes changes), they eliminated, with few exceptions, any consideration of history. For example, young and old persons tested at one particular historical time differ widely in regard to the social-historical conditions under which they grew up. Although the impact of historical changes during an extended period, for example, in education, health care, nutrition, communication, etc., is often much more dramatic than any differences in performance between young and old persons, this factor is generally disregarded in developmental studies." (Riegel 1979, 21.)

Bronfenbrenner states the same argument in poetic terms.

"It would appear that, over the decades, developmental researchers have been carrying on a clandestine affair with Clio - the muse of history. (...) I suggest that, after so many years, the developmental researcher's illicit liaison with Clio is no longer a tenable arrangement; it is time we embraced her as a legitimate partner in our creative scientific efforts." (Bronfenbrenner 1983, 176.)

Bronfenbrenner notes that development takes place like in a moving train. One can walk forward and backward through the cars, but what really matters is where the train is going (Bronfenbrenner 1983, 175). The train metaphor exemplifies the central problem embedded in most of the available societally and ecologically oriented analysis of development, including that of his own (Bronfenbrenner 1979). The environments or societal contexts are seen as historically changing, but not as being constructed and reconstructed by the people living in these contexts. Contexts are imposed upon, not produced by humans. Nobody seems to be driving the train, not to mention building and repairing it. Within the Riegelian tradition, there are attempts to turn this determination upside down and picture "individuals as producers of their own development" (Lerner & Busch-Rossnagel 1981). This time, individual life choices are interpreted as decisive constituents of the historically changing societal context - an attempt not much more convincing than that of the ecologists.  Buss (1979, 330) correctly notes that there has been a lot of loose talk within the life-span developmental literature about the individual-society dialectic as involving mutual or reciprocal determination - but little concrete analysis of what this really means. Regrettably, Buss himself offers merely a continuation of the loose talk.

"What makes the individual-society dialectic a dialectic is that a given level of development on one side of the relationship is dependent upon, while at the same time is a condition for, that same level of development on the other side of the relationship." (Buss 1979, 331.)

A glance at recent discussions concerning these two classical dilemmas reveals a characteristic gap. Solutions to both dilemmas are sought either  by reducing and subjugating one side of the dilemma to the other or  by postulating a formal 'reciprocal' relationship between the two sides of the dilemma. In both cases, no mediating 'third factor' is found with which the connection of the two sides could be made concrete and alive.

In the following sections, the concept of activity is employed and further developed as such a mediating factor. Based on this mediating tool, the analysis of the two dilemmas will produce a deeper and more concrete problem, namely how the new is generated  in human development.


In 1942, Gregory Bateson introduced the concept of 'deutero-learning' to denote the processes of learning to learn.  According to Bateson, learning to learn means the acquisition of certain abstract habits of thought like "'free will', instrumental thinking, dominance, passivity, etc." (Bateson 1972, 166). As Bateson further noted, "even within the duration of the single learning experiment we must suppose that some deutero-learning  will occur" (Bateson 1972, 169). Deutero-learning often takes place as tacit acquisition of non-conscious apperceptive habits.

In 1969, Bateson presented a more sophisticated version of his learning theory. He worked out a complex hierarchy of the processes of learning, based upon "an hierarchic classification of the types of error which are to be corrected in the various learning processes" (Bateson 1972, 287). He summarized the hierarchy as follows.

"Zero learning  is characterized by specificity of response, which - right or wrong - is not subjected to correction.

Learning I  is change  in  specificity of response  by correction of errors of choice within a set of alternatives.

Learning II  is change in the process of Learning I,  e.g.,  a corrective change in the set of alternatives from which choice is made, or it is a change in how the sequence of experience is punctuated.

Learning  III  is  change in the process of Learning II,  e.g., a corrective change in the system of sets  of alternatives from which choice is made. (We shall see later that to demand this level of performance of some men and some mammals is sometimes pathogenic.)

Learning IV  would be change in Learning III,  but probably does not occur in any adult living organism on this earth. Evolutionary process has, however, created organisms whose ontogeny brings them to Level III. The combination of phylogenesis with ontogenesis, in fact, achieves  Level IV." (Bateson 1972, 293.)

According to Bateson, Learning I comprises the forms of learning treated by various versions of connectionism: habituation, Pavlovian conditioning,  operant conditioning, rote learning, extinction. "In Learning I, every item  of perception or behavior may be stimulus or response  or reinforcement according to how the total sequence of interaction is punctuated", Bateson (1972, 292) notes. On the other hand, Learning II or learning to learn (deutero-learning) means the acquisition of the context or structure of some type of Learning I. Thus, common descriptions of a person's 'character' are actually characterizations of the results of Learning II. "It follows that Learning II acquired in infancy is likely to persist through life." (Bateson 1972, 301.)

The outcomes of Learning II, the habits or the 'character', save the individual from "having to examine the abstract, philosophical, aesthetic, and ethical aspects of many sequences of life" (Bateson 1972, 303). Learning III, on the other hand, is essentially conscious self-alteration: it will "throw these unexamined premises open to question and change" (Bateson 1972, 303). Learning III is a rare event, produced by the contradictions of Learning II. On Level III, the individual learns to control, limit and direct his Learning II. He   becomes conscious of his habits and their formation. "Certainly it must lead to a greater flexibility in the premises acquired by the process of Learning II - a freedom from their bondage." (Bateson 1972, 304.)

The power of Bateson's argument has been amply testified by a  number of eloquent analyses of the 'hidden curriculum' in school learning (see especially Levy 1976) as well as by works like those of Argyris and Schön (1974; 1978)  on 'single-loop learning' and 'double-loop learning' in organizations  and professions.  The unconscious learning to learn, acquiring the context of 'how to make it' in school and work, is a fact readily observable every day. Learning III seems indeed a rare event.

Bateson's conception cannot, however, be reduced to this. Otherwise he wouldn't really be a classic, richer than copies and followers. There are two major aspects which make his analysis distinctive. Firstly, his hierachy is  not based on observation and classification but on evolutionary and historical analysis. Secondly, Bateson is not satisfied with presenting the  situation as a stable picture. Instead of moral pleas for 'changing the situation', he probes into the inner contradictions in Learning II that generate Learning III.

In 1956, Bateson and his colleagues worked out a general description of these inner contradictions and named it the double bind.  In double bind situations, the individual, involved in an intense relationship, receives two messages  or commands which deny each other - and the individual is unable to comment on the messages, i.e., he cannot make a metacommunicative statement.

"If you say this stick is real, I will strike  you with it. If you say this stick is not real, I will  strike  you with it. If you don't say anything, I will strike you with it." (Bateson 1972, 208.)

In  a thoughtful discussion of the interpretations of the double bind, Paul Dell clarifies the concept as follows.

"The double bind is not done to someone, it resides in the 'interaction-over-time' by which 'important basic relationships are chronically subjected to invalidation through paradoxical interaction'. " (Dell 1980, 325; see also Berger 1978; Sluzki & Ransom 1976.)

The outcomes of Learning II, the unconscious habits, frequently and necessarily lead the individual to double bind situations. The habit once learned becomes self-defeating in a superficially similar but structurally  altered social context; or two mutually exclusive habits seem to be required at the same time. Bateson reports an ingenious experiment with a porpoise. The animal was trained to demonstrate 'operant conditioning' to the public. First, for a certain movement she got reinforcement (food). The next time, the previous movement did  not bring reinforcement - but as the porpoise made  another movement, she  obtained the same reinforcement that was given the first time. This changing of contexts continued for fourteen sessions.

"The experience of being in the wrong was so disturbing to the porpoise that in order to preserve the relationship between porpoise and trainer (...) it was necessary to give many reinforcements to which the porpoise was not entitled. (...) Each of the  first fourteen sessions was characterized by many futile repetitions of whatever behavior had been reinforced in the immediately previous session. Seemingly only by 'accident' did the animal provide a piece of different behavior. In the time-out between the fourteenth and fifteenth sessions, the porpoise appeared to be much excited, and when she came on stage for the fifteenth session she put on an elaborate performance including eight conspicuous pieces of behavior of which four were entirely new - never before observed in this species of animal." (Bateson 1972, 277.)

The case of the porpoise neatly illustrates the productive - and pathogenic - potential of the inner contradictions imbedded in Learning II. However, it does not  illustrate the breakthrough to Learning III. As Bateson states, "mammals other than man are probably capable of Learning II but incapable of Learning III" (Bateson 1972, 306). What, then, does the case of the porpoise illustrate in terms of the mechanisms of learning? Certainly not the unconscious molding of habits. Also certainly not the reorganization of  consciousness characteristic of Learning III.

In order to come to grips with this paradox, we must reinterpret Bateson's theory in terms of the concept of activity.


Human activity is always a contradictory unity of production and reproduction, invention and conservation (see Moscovici 1984, 60-62). The distinctive feature of human activity is that it is continuous creation of new instruments which in turn complicate and change qualitatively the very structure of the activity itself.  It is essential that human activity cannot be reduced to the upper sub-triangle of Figure 2.6 alone. Human activity is not only individual production. It is simultaneously and inseparably also social exchange and societal distribution. In other words, human activity always takes place within a community governed by a certain division of labor and by certain rules.

In Chapter 2, I discussed Leont'ev's (1978) hierarchy, consisting of three levels: the level of overall activity, the level of constituent actions, and the level of operations  by means of  which the actions are carried out. The corresponding regulative units are called  motives, goals  and conditions. These three levels are not stable and fixed. Rather, activity is to be conceived of as "continuously proceeding transformations" between the levels (Leont'ev 1978, 67).

"Activity may lose the motive that elicited it, whereupon it is converted into an action realizing perhaps an entirely different relation to the world, a different activity; conversely, an action may turn into an independent stimulating force and may become a separate activity; finally, an action may be transformed into a means of achieving a goal, into an operation capable of realizing various actions." (Leont'ev 1978, 67.)

Recently Harré, Clarke and DeCarlo (1985, 24-30) have proposed an analogous three-level hierarchy of the control of human actions. Their Level 1 is called 'behavioural routines', Level 2 is 'conscious awareness', and Level 3 is a dual formation of the 'deep structure of mind' and 'social orders'. The otherwise convincing analysis suffers, however, from the authors' restrictive emphasis on language and 'moral orders' (the lower left-side sub-triangle of Figure 2.6) with the corresponding neglect of the productive material aspects of activity.

In Bateson's Learning I, both the object/outcome and the instrument are given. Learning means repetitive corrections in the way the subject uses the instrument upon the object. There is a fixed correct way which is to be obtained. The movement is primarily one-way and non-conscious: from the object to the subject to the instrument to the object. Instruments on this level may be called tools or primary artifacts (Wartofsky 1979, 201-202; Bunn 1981, 23). 

A tool is a generalized embodiment of operations that have become standardized through repetition: "the labor operations that have been given material shape, are crystallized, as it were, in it" (Leontyev 1981, 216).  A tool always implies more possible uses than the  original operations that have given birth to it:  the tool is the first "rational generalization" (Leontyev 1981, 215). Phylogenetically, Learning I means extremely slow and gradual improvement of tools, due to the essentially non-reflective nature of their use: "for example, the 'natural retouching' of universal stone implements in the course of using them" (Leontyev 1981, 237).  Learning I is equivalent to the formation of non-conscious operations "in the course of simple adaptation to existing external conditions" (Leontyev 1981, 237).

Learning II is actually an inseparable companion of Learning I. In its rudimentary or reproductive form, Learning II means that as the given tasks are repeatedly accomplished within Learning I, a tacit representation or image of the way of accomplishing the tasks is necessarily generated. It first takes the form of a habit, essentially unconscious and implicit. However, even such a reproductive habit or image is potentially a second-order instrument, a secondary artifact, "created for the purpose of preserving and transmitting skills, in the production and use of 'primary' artifacts" (Wartofsky 1979, 201).

"Such representations, then, are reflexive embodiments of forms of action or praxis, in the sense that they are symbolic externalizations or objectifications of such modes of action - 'reflections' of them, according to some convention, and therefore understood as images of such forms of action - or, if you like, pictures or models of them. (...) The modes of this representation may be gestural, or oral (linguistic or musical) or visual, but obviously such that they may be communicated in one or more sense-modalities; such, in short, that they may be perceived." (Wartofsky 1979, 201.)

Wartofsky speaks about 'reflexive embodiments'. Bunn, in making essentially the same distinction between tools and models (corresponding to primary and secondary artifacts, respectively), argues in a similar vein.

"(...) the wider application of an exosomatic instrument to the world implies that the laws which had governed the working of a tool have become so useful at large that, by synecdoche, they come to substitute for the world. When a tool is 'turned' from its intended use and contemplated instead of applied, the arbitrary connection between a tool and its referred function is transformed so that it is no longer a means to a different end. Seen as reflections of the end itself, the principles by which a tool is constructed may be construed as hieroglyphs, omens, signatures, symptoms, laws, or models of higher function." (Bunn 1981, 24.)

At first sight, these notions are incompatible with the unconscious nature of the acquisition of habits within Learning II. How can something be unconscious and reflexive at the same time? Yet, this is exactly what Learning II is. It is best conceived of as oscillation between two ways of making models, two kinds of generalizations. These two ways were indentified by Selz (1924) as 'instrument actualization' and 'instrument abstraction'. Another classic, Bartlett, coined these two ways 'closed system thinking' and 'adventurous thinking'.

"Thinking, as a mental process, likes, so to speak, to go on in closed systems. For this gives it a wide apparent range, and especially rids it, as completely as possible, of all ultimate uncertainty. (...) But the thinker is more than a thinking machine. So there grows up a tremendous struggle between those forces which try to reduce all forms of human knowledge to the closed-system variety (...) and those forces which lie behind the human zest for adventure and are continually revolting against and breaking out of the closed system." (Bartlett 1958, 96.)

More recently, a very illustrative experimental description of these two ways in their oscillatory interaction has been provided by Karmiloff-Smith and Inhelder (1975). The essential precondition of any Learning II is a problem situation. The training of the porpoise moved the animal into the realm of Learning II because she was presented with a task where uncertainty concerning the correct procedure prevailed. Similarly, Karmiloff-Smith and Inhelder presented young children with a relatively difficult block balancing task. As in the case of the porpoise, the first approach taken by the subjects was that of seeking the immediate solution and concentrating on the outcome of one's effort - the 'action response,' as the authors named it. The children were happy when they got the blocks balanced, unhappy when they failed. However, another approach emerged in the midst of the first one.

"Frequently, even when children were successful in balancing an item on one dimension (...), they went on exploring the other dimensions of each block. It was as if their attention were momentarily diverted from their goal of balancing to what had started as a subgoal, i.e., the search for means. One could see the children oscillating between seeking the goal and seeking to 'question' the block." (Karmiloff-Smith & Inhelder 1975, 201.)

This latter approach was named 'theory-response'. Within that approach, the subject does not measure his success with the immediate outcome (balanced or not balanced), but rather with the verification or falsification of his hypothetical model. If the subject has formulated the hypothesis that, put into a certain position, the block will not balance, he will rejoice when the block does not in fact balance. In Bruner's (1974, 218-238) words, the subject has entered 'generic learning' or started 'inventing a coding system'.

"At this point we witness experimentation for the experimentation's sake; for attending to the means implies seeking knowledge of the approximate range of possible actions on an object." (Karmiloff-Smith & Inhelder 1975, 207-208.)

These two aspects of Learning II may be named (a) reproductive and (b) productive, for the sake of simplicity. In Learning IIa, the object/outcome  is given and the instrument is found through trial and error, that is, through 'blind search' among previously known means. In Learning IIb, the object/outcome is given and the instrument is found - or rather  invented - through experimentation. The former leads to empirical generalizations, the latter is the prerequisite of theoretical generalizations (Dawydow 1977). The latter, productive aspect cannot be totally eliminated from Learning II, even if it may well be subordinated to the point of invisibility.

Interestingly enough, the porpoise went through a learning process essentially similar to that of the children in the experiment of Karmiloff-Smith and Inhelder. As these autohors point out, before a conscious theory construction can take place, the subject must gradually crystallize his previous mode of action into a model against which negative examples may be recognized as counterexamples. In a spontaneous  process, this often takes a great number of attempts. This process of recognition is manifested in pauses.

"As long as the child is predominantly success-oriented, there are rarely any pauses in his action sequences. As his attention shifts to means, however, pauses become more and more frequent in the course of the sequence. Only when goal and means are considered simultaneously do pauses precede action." (Karmiloff-Smith & Inhelder 1975, 208.)

The classic treatment of the importance of pauses in problem solving is Köhler's (1925) study of Sultan the ape. The pauses are obviously a close relative to the excitation of the porpoise between the 14th and 15th session. The recent work of Schön (1983) testifies nicely that moments of productive experimentation or 'reflection-in-action' appear in the daily work practice of professionals in  various fields. Here again, pauses or momentary withdrawals from the interaction play a crucial role as the professional enters into a 'framing experiment', a reformulation of the problem with the help of analogy based on a 'generative metaphor' from his earlier experience (Schön 1983, 268-269).  Lopes (1981) reports similar findings from his research on therapy sessions.

In Learning I, the object presents itself as mere immediate resistance, not consciously separated from the subject and instrument by the learner. In Learning II, the object is conceived of as problem, demanding specific efforts. The subject is no more a non-conscious agent but an individual under constant self-assessment stemming from the success or failure of his attempts at the solution. In other words, the whole triangle depicted in Figure 2.6 acquires a hierarchically higher second layer. This second layer corresponds to the formation and execution of goal-directed actions in Leont'ev's scheme. The operations formed on this basis, from the 'top down', become automatic but not the same way as in Learning I. These operations are in principle capable of becoming subjected to conscious elaboration when there is some departure from the normal conditions of performance.

"Labour operations (...) thus acquire another genesis in connection with their complication: when the goal of the action is part of another action as a condition of its performance, the first action is transformed into a mode of realising the second, into a conscious operation. (...) From the aspect of the structure of man's consciousness the formation of conscious operations means a new step in its development, a step that consists in the rise of a 'consciously controlled' content in addition to the content presented in consciousness, and the transition of the one to the other." (Leontyev 1981, 237.)

At the first glance, Learning IIb would seem to be true learning activity. However, Learning IIb is still typically restricted to the insightful, experimental solution of discrete, given problems.  In this sense, Learning IIb is essentially discontinuous, limited to the level of actions. The creation of new instruments within Learning IIb is potentially expansive - but only potentially. Learning IIb does not in any automatic manner imply that the context of the given problem is broken and expanded.

Learning II represents a fundamental generalization of the outcomes of learning. In that sense, Learning II means development, going from the specific to the general (recall Brown's criterion). But the  developmental step from Learning I to Learning II is not restricted to humans, and neither is it fundamental for the typically human brand of development. Learning II is a level open in principle to other higher mammals as well. In terms of human phylogenesis, it is dejà vu.  "Put simply, a man may evolve, but how could he truly get beyond himself?" (Dell 1982, 34.)

The typically human type of development, not found in any other species, is transition to Learning III. This we know from Bateson. But what is the specific mechanism of Learning III?

Bateson offers some key hints. As we remember, Learning III is a product of double bind situations. The most well-known product of continuous double binds is schizophrenia. It is a deep restructuring of the subject's consciousness, caused by contexts where the subject is unable to comment in a metacommunicative way upon the contradictory messages or commands he receives. But what if the subject is able to comment upon the messages? "If you say the stick is real, I will strike you with it. If you say the stick is not real...." According to Bateson, the subject "might reach up and take the stick away from the master" (Bateson 1972, 208). In other words, he may rise above the constraints of the context and break it, or put it into a wider context where it becomes relative and changeable.

"The question is explosive. The simple stylized experimental sequence of interaction in the laboratory is generated by and partly determines a network of contingencies which goes out in a hundred directions leading out of the laboratory into the processes by which psychological research is designed, the interactions between psychologists, the economics of research money, etc., etc." (Bateson 1972, 305.)

In Learning II, the subject is presented with a problem and he tries to solve the problem. In Learning III, the problem or the task itself must be created.

"(...) problems do not present themselves to the practitioner as givens. They must be constructed from the materials of problematic situations which are puzzling, troubling, and uncertain." (Schön 1983, 40; see also Seidel 1976.)

If the problem is given, the subject asks: 'What is the meaning and sense of this problem in the first place? Why should I try to solve it?  How did it emerge?  Who designed it, for what purpose and for whose benefit?'  As Bateson notes, this kind of behavior is easily coined as disruptive.

"Even the attempt at Level III can be dangerous, and some fall by the wayside. These are often labeled by psychiatry as psychotic, and many of them find themselves inhibited from using the first person pronoun." (Bateson 1972, 305-306.)

Learning III is motivated by the resolution of the contradictions of Level II.

"(...) the resolution of contraries reveals a world in which a personal identity merges into all the processes of relationship in some vast ecology or aesthetics of cosmic interaction. (...) Every detail of the universe is seen as proposing a view of the whole." (Bateson 1972, 306.)

Whereas in Learning II the object is seen as a problem possessing its own objective dynamics outside the subject, in Learning III the object system is seen as containing the subject within it. Furthermore, the quality of the subject itself changes radically. As Dell (1982, 34) notes, "all multi-individual interactional systems are capable of true discontinuous change (...) because coherence as an interactional system is fundamentally different from the coherence that constitutes the individual living members who constitute that system" .

"Selfhood is a product or aggregate of Learning II. To the degree that a man achieves Learning III, and learns to perceive and act in terms of the contexts of contexts, his 'self' will take on a sort of irrelevance. The concept of 'self' will no longer function as a nodal argument in the punctuation of experience." (Bateson 1972, 304.)

This fundamental change in the character  of the subject has been described by Raiethel (1983), following Hegel, as the progression from the initial  'Urzentrierung' (Learning I) to 'Dezentrierung' (Learning II) and finally to  'Rezentrierung' (Learning III). The individual self is replaced - or rather qualitatively altered -  by a search for a collective subject, capable of mastering the complexity of 'contexts of contexts', i.e., of societal practices with highly developed division of labor as well as multi-level technological and symbolic mediations. 

What are the appropriate instruments of Learning III? Wartofsky suggests a concept of tertiary artifacts.

"(...) we may speak of a class of artifacts which can come to constitute a relatively autonomous 'world', in which the rules, conventions and outcomes no longer appear directly practical, or which, indeed, seem to constitute an arena of non-practical, or 'free' play or game activity. (...) So called 'disinterested' perception, or aesthetic perception, or sheer contemplation, then becomes a possibility; but not in the sense that it has no use. Rather, in the sense that the original role of the representation has been, so to speak, suspended or bracketed.

(...) I would characterize such artifacts, abstracted from their direct representational function, as 'tertiary' artifacts, and suggest that they constitute a domain in which there is a free construction in the imagination of rules and operations different from those adopted for ordinary 'this-worldly' praxis. (...) That is to say, just as in dreams our imagery is derived from our ordinary perception, but transcends or violates the usual constraints, so too in imaginative praxis, the perceptual modes are derived from and related to a given historical mode of perception, but are no longer bound to it." (Wartofsky 1979, 208-209.)

In discussing the means of scientific activity, Judin (1978, 323; see also Otte 1984) proposes 'theoretical substantiations' as the instruments of  the tertiary level. They serve as the means of constructing and using 'modeling conceptions' as second level instruments. In a similar vein, we may argue that Wartofsky's tertiary artifacts are actually methodologies or visions or world outlooks which serve as guidelines in the production and application of secondary artifacts, i.e., models.

Learning III may now be characterized as the construction and application of world outlooks or methodologies - or ideologies, if you will.  But it is not only a matter of imaginary production.

"The activity of the imagination is therefore a mode of alternative perceptual praxis, and is 'off-line' only  relative to a historically actual or dominant present mode of perceptual praxis. What the imagination is, as 'internal representation', i.e., as a picturing 'in the mind' of such alternatives,  I take to be derivative from the actual making of imaginative artifacts. That is to say, in its genesis I take imaginative praxis to be praxis in the actual world, or the actual production of representations; the interiorization of these representations, as 'mental' artifacts, I take to be a derivative process." (Wartofsky 1979, 209.)

In Learning III, the subject becomes conscious and gains an imaginative  and  thus potentially also a practical mastery  of whole systems of activity in terms of the past, the present and the future. Individual manifestations of Learning III are commonly called 'personal crises', 'breaking away', 'turning points' or 'moments of revelation'.

The triangle of learning activity (Figure 2.12) should now be  depicted as a three-level hierarchy. Each corner of the triangle would thus have three qualitatively different levels: that of the overall activity, that of actions, and that of operations. Instead of attempting at such a complex graphic presentation, I summarize the various characterizations of those three levels in Table 3.1.

Table 3.1

Characterizations of the hierarchical structure of activity

Leont'ev  Harré & al. Bateson   Raiethel  Wartofsky      Judin   
(1978)  (1985)    (1972) (1983)  (1979)      (1978)
Activity / motive orders Deep structure of mind / social Learning 3 Rezentrierung Tertiary artifacts    Theoretical  substantiations    
Action / goal Conscious awareness Learning 2 Dezentrierung Secondary Artifacts Modeling  conceptions
Operation/ conditions   Behavioural routines   Learning 1  Urzentrierung            Primary Artifacts Procedures

Next, I'll summarize my own characterization of the corners of the three-level triangular model of learning activity as follows (Table 3.2).

Table 3.2

The proposed hierarchical structure of activity

Subject  Instruments     Object         Community   Rules    Division of labor
Collective subject Methodology, ideology We in the world Societal network of activities Societal (state, law, religion) Societal division of labor
Individual subject Models Problem task Collective organization Organizational rules  Organizational division of labor
Non-conscious tools Resistance Immediate primary group Interpersonal rules Interpersonal division of labor

Learning I and Learning II, in their interaction and contradictions, represent what is commonly understood as learning. Learning III represents what is often  referred to as development. However, this kind of categorization is misleading. Learning I and Learning II are always embedded, in an altered form, in Learning III. Development can only take place as a 'result' of learning. This was clearly realized by Vygotsky. He  made a distinction between two kinds of (school)  learning - bad and good. According  to  him,  "the  only 'good learning' is that which is in advance of development" (Vygotsky 1978, 89). This distinction corresponds to our distinction between Learning IIa and Learning IIb.

"From this point of view, learning is not development; however, properly organized learning results in mental development and sets in motion a variety of of developmental processes that would be impossible apart from learning. Thus, learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the process of developing culturally organized, specifically human, psychological functions.

To summarize, the most essential feature of our hypothesis is the notion that developmental processes do not coincide with learning processes. Rather, the developmental process lags behind the learning process (...).

Our hypothesis establishes the unity but not the identity of learning processes and internal developmental processes. It presupposes that the one is converted into the other." (Vygotsky 1978, 90-91.)

In other words, productive experimentation of type IIb is a necessary precondition for the fruitful resolution of double binds. Expansive, non-pathological breaking out of the context of the double bind requires certain sophisticated learning actions, typical to the research-like reflective model building and testing of Learning IIb. In the school context, this implies that pupils questioning the relevance of their school learning and seeking wider contexts of life activities will benefit from acquiring and applying actions of Learning IIb. However, this is only a stepping stone toward learning activity, or Learning III. In learning activity, development itself becomes the object of learning.

But what about the criterion and direction of development? Brown's suggestion was that development is formation of general, context-free structures and skills. Nearly the same is said about Vygotsky's conception. According to Wertsch, Vygotsky's principle of development was the 'decontextualization of mediational means'.

"The decontextualization of mediational means is the process whereby the meanings of signs become less and less dependent of the unique spatiotemporal context in which they are used." (Wertsch 1985c, 33.)

The problem with this kind of criterion of development is its inherently ahistorical nature. Rather than being non-specific or context-free, the cognitive structures and skills of competent modern western adults are specific to a societal context saturated and dominated by the abstract bond of exchange value (see Chapter 2). The structures and skills of competent adults of an industrialized socialist society are likewise not decontextualized in any general, ahistorical manner. Beneath their seemingly universal surface, these structures and skills stem from a certain peculiar socio-economic bond between people.

So the criterion of human psychological development is to be found in the historical development of the human society. But is there a direction to that development?

In their recent work on the historical development of human activity, Kuchermann and Wigger-Kösters (1985)  argue that there is a direction: toward increased subjectivity or subject'ness ('zunehmende Subjektwerdung').  This is manifested in the historical increase in the numbers and interconnections of human activities, and in the tremendous widening of the object-field of those activities.

I prefer to say that activities are becoming increasingly societal.  The German word for this is 'Vergesellschaftung'  - a corresponding convenient English phrase is lacking. To become increasingly societal means, first of all, that activity systems become gradually larger, more voluminous, and denser in their internal communication. Consequently, activity systems have impact on growing numbers of people. Secondly, it means that different activity systems, and people within them, become increasingly interdependent, forming ever more complex networks and hierarchies of interaction. Thirdly, this interdependency is not just a formal affiliation.  Activity systems are increasingly penetrated and saturated by the basic socio-economic laws and by the corresponding contradictions of the given society.  In other words, activities are less and less left in relative isolation from societal turbulences, as remnants from earlier socio-economic formations.

These formulations do not coincide with a linear, mechanically deterministic conception of history. When I talk about contradictions, I mean that each socio-economic formation has its own, qualitatively specific contradictions,  which makes simple quantitative comparisons and finalistic images of an ideal society senseless. Contradictions also imply zones of relative indetermination in the course of development. 

Yet, the formulations provide a basis for talking sensibly about more or less advanced forms, even about 'higher' and 'lower' levels of development. Such words are not taken here as synonyms for 'better' and 'worse', or for 'desirable' and 'objectionable'.


I have covered one side of the contradictory unity of learning and development. The other side may be more unexpected. Learning is not only a necessary precondition of development - development is also a necessary  and always present ingredient of learning. This contention resembles the traditional idea of defining development as a sum of learning experiences. But the resemblance is only external.

Learning III as the outcome and form of typically human development is basically collective in nature. The collective Learning III is perhaps not so dramatic as its individual manifestations. But the real production and application of world outlooks, restructuring of complex activity systems, is not conceivable in individual and drastically sudden terms alone. In periods of exceptional upheavals, such as revolutions, the collective and the individual, the profound and the sudden, the action and the activity, seem to merge, even to the point where the individual seems to take the leading role. But these are temporary phenomena. The bread and butter of human development is collective Learning III, gradual in form but profound in substantial effects.

In Learning II, in problem solving, there is always - whether conscious or not, planned or unplanned - the phase of the application and realization of the acquired instrument (be it a habit or a model) in real-life conditions, in societal practice. This phase, however, is rarely included in the object field  of learning research.

"If we are to study the conditions under which generic learning occurs, the pattern of much of present learning research needs drastic change. The present approach is to study the speed of acquisition of new learning and, possibly, to study the conditions that produce extinction. When we have carried our experimental subjects through these steps, we either dismiss them or, if they are animal subjects, dispose of them. The exception, of course, is the clinician; but even his research on learning and cognition is of the cross-sectional type. We have been accustomed to speaking of maze wise rats and test wise human beings, but in the spirit of being annoyed by an inconvenience. (...) If we really intend to study the conditions of generic learning (...), then we shall have to keep our organisms far longer and teach them original tasks of greater diversity than we do now." (Bruner 1974, 233.)

If we follow Learning II after the laboratory phases described by Bruner, into the subject's activity outside laboratory, we shall find out that the newly acquired instrument never stays exactly the same as it was in the phases of its original individual acquisition and internalization. It will change and produce surprises, new qualities, in its very integration into the wider context of the social life activity of the subject. It will be concretized and generalized in practice which is necessarily richer than the abstraction originally acquired.

"Appearing in direct contiguity with objective reality and subordinate to it, activity is modified and enriched, and in that enrichment it is crystallized in a product. The realized activity is richer and truer than the consciousness that precedes it. Thus, for the consciousness of the subject, contributions that are introduced by his activity remain cryptic; from this it follows that consciousness may seem a basis of activity." (Leont'ev 1978, 78.)

This tacit transition from the sphere of initial internalization to the sphere of the often delayed externalization and objectification  is actually a transition from Learning II to Learning III - from individual actions to the public or collective mode of activity.

"The ends of the actions are intended, but the results which actually follow from these actions are not intended; or when they do seem to correspond to end intended, they ultimately have consequences quite other than those intended. Historical events thus appear on the whole to be (...) governed by chance. But where on the surface accident holds sway, there actually it is always governed by inner, hidden laws and it is only a matter of discovering these laws." (Engels 1976, 366.)

The individual makes a contribution to the societal development and thus indirectly to his own individual development. This differs from the explosive mode of Learning III described by Bateson. Obviously both modes exist - the explosive and the tacit or gradual. The problem with the latter is that it takes place in the form of unrecognized innovations, 'behind the back' of the subject, as it were. The subject remains merely a potential subject of the activity and development, effectively cut off from their collective mastery by the fragmented division of labor.

A proper example of this latter, gradual and tacit aspect of Learning III is the development of language. As the individual learns new models of using language, he and his teachers know that these models are not societally new, they are only new to this specific individual. But as the individual uses those models in his life activities, he actually produces societally  new  variations of the models, though mostly nonconsciously. As Ushakova (1977, 533) notes, "word invention, having the characteristics of an analogical process, takes place as a result of 'collision' of two generalized lexical structures". The individual's contribution quickly loses its individual identity and merges into a vast pool of similar contributions in the social exchange within communities. In the long run, it will participate in the formation of new compelling models of language use, models into which the individual may  or may not 'grow from below', without explosions. These models eventually mold his whole world outlook and methodology of dealing with the world, though often very slowly and marginally.

In this, admittedly indirect and even somewhat drab sense Learning II always entails Learning III. What is not so drab is that this view suggests a new approach for developmental and learning research. Instead of asking how the individual subject developed into what he is, the developmentalist might start by asking, how the objects and structures of the life-world (themselves understood as activity systems) have been and are created by human beings, how something objectively new is developed all the time. The researcher would thus start with Bronfenbrenner's 'train', but as a train which is continuously constructed and reconstructed by its passengers. On the other hand, this kind of constructivism does not mean seeing 'individuals as producers of their own development'. Rather, individuals are seen as co-producers of societal and cultural development and only indirectly as producers of their own development.  Consequently, a learning researcher might not be satisfied with recording what is learned within the period of the initial acquisition of new knowledge or skills. Rather, he would  concentrate on the practical application as an integral part of the process of learning and trace the mutations of the acquired contents as they become integrated into the life activities of the learner, i.e., truly socialized and generalized.

Above I have presented two alternative forms of Learning III from the point of view of the individual: development as personal crises and explosions, and development as tacit, invisible contributions. Both these are very old forms of learning, perhaps as old as the human race. How does this fit with the conclusion of Chapter 2, namely that learning activity or learning by expanding is an emerging, historically new and higher form of human learning?

The solution is that Learning III, or learning activity, or learning by expanding, is both old and new. The two old forms considered above (personal crises and invisible contributions) are preliminary and premature forms. In them, the Batesonian concept of Learning III does not yet reveal its full potential. They both fail to account for the most interesting phenomena of Learning III - for its new, emerging form.

Consider for example the Children's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, initiated by Maria Schumann (15 years), Becky Dennison (12 years), Nessa Rabin (13 years), Hannah Rabin (16 years), Susie Dennison (16 years), Solveig Schumann (17 years) and Max Schumann (17 years),  in the United States in June 1981. The movement started from the idea of writing  personal letters to President Reagan, demanding nuclear disarmament.

"By word of mouth, sending information - describing the idea of the letter writing campaign - to schools and kids they had the addresses of, the seven friends received 2 832 letters written to President Reagan from children all over the country till October 1981. Until June of 1982 further 5 404 letters were received. On October 17th, 1981, and on June 19th, 1982, the letters were read aloud by a delegation of children standing in front of the White House, after a meeting with President Reagan could not be realized on both days." (Grünewald 1985, 14.)

In an interview, Hannah Rabin stressed the importance of kid-groups working independently of adults.

"We do need adults' support in some way. We need adults to give us money, because we kids have no money, we need adults to drive us around and feed us when we have meetings and things like that, but it's very important that kids have their own groups, that kids are speaking directly to kids. If adults are involved there are too many just adult-kid-conflicts that come into play. And adults have their own movement, too." (Grünewald 1985, 15.)

The work of the planning committee and the centralized letter campaign stopped  in 1982. Today the work is carried on by a number of local groups which develop various activity forms. The campaign has spread to West Germany and some other European countries. Susie Denison writes:

"In working for the letter writing campaign we have gotten in touch with many kids and there are about 30 CCND chapters all over the country. We have also gone to lots of schools and had workshops with kids where we talk with them about the arms race, the threat of nuclear war, our fears that we may all be destroyed and what we can do to bring about nuclear disarmament." (Grünewald 1985, 16.)

The children who started the campaign did not experience explosive personal crises, nor were their contributions invisible, tacit and nonconscious. Their small actions grew into a an objectively new form of societal activity. The societal development to which the circle of seven children had given the impulse has undoubtedly had important effects on the individual development of those children. According to Leont'ev (1978, 133), the first basic parameter of personality development is "the riches of the connections of the individual with the world" - something that was multiplied for  the initiators of the campaign. The second parameter is the degree to which activities and their motives are arranged hierarchically. In this respect, a highly developed personality is characterized by central, dominant motives which have become conscious 'life goals'. Such a 'motive-goal' "merges his (man's) life with the life of people, with their good" (Leont'ev 1978, 134). Something like this may be discerned in the interview of Hannah Rabin.

"There are adults who say we shouldn't do what we are doing because it's a grown-up issue. We really disagree with that. We think it's our future that is going to be destroyed and we have to take responsibility for it because the adults alone are not strong enough to get rid of the arms race. It's going to take every single person in the world I think to finally end this threat." (Grünewald 1985, 18.)

Compare this example with the effects of school learning, or with the effects of the regular campaigns against smoking, against traffic accidents, etc. In these cases, the initial impulses are massive, as measured with hours, manpower, or money. Yet the developmental effects in societal practice are meager, sometimes negligible.

This suggests that there are two basic types of development - development being now understood as the transitions  between the levels of learning,  as movement from operations to actions to activity. These two types may be compared with the consequences of throwing a stone into the water. Normally, the stone produces a series of circles of waves, where the innermost waves are highest and then get smaller while moving outward, until they die out completely. In human development, there appears not only this type of movement, but also another, opposite type, where the waves grow while they move outward from the impulse, then turn back to mold the initial source of impulse, and finally create a new, higher-level structure or stability than the original.

This metaphor, used also by Ilya Prigogine (1985, 7) in a more general context, forces us to consider the crux of the problem. How is the objectively, societally new generated in human development?


Prigogine defines the essence of the emerging new scientific rationality as follows.

"Classical science is associated with the negation of time in the name of eternity. Nineteenth-century science is associated with a concept of time as decay. But the history of our world cannot be a succession of historical catastrophes only (...). After all, if there was decay, there must also have been some moments of creation. Curiously enough, this simple truth seems to have been first perceived by artists (...). At present, physics is in search of a third conception of time as reducible neither to repetition nor to decay." (Prigogine 1985, 3.)

In an impressive essay on the relations between the organism and the environment, the biologist Lewontin specifies this approach further.

"(...) we cannot regard evolution as the 'solution' by species of some predetermined environmental 'problems' because it is the life activities of the species themselves that determine both the problems and solutions simultaneously. (...) So, too, our central nervous systems are not fitted to some absolute laws of nature but to laws of nature operating within a framwork created by our own sensuous activity. (...) Organisms within their individual lifetimes and in the course of their evolution as a species do not adapt  to environments; they construct  them. They are not simply objects  of the laws of nature, altering themselves to bend to the inevitable, but active subjects  transforming nature according to its laws." (Lewontin 1982, 162-163.)

In developmental psychology, we find occasional discussions and puzzlements around the question: How is the new generated from the old? The analysis presented so far suggests that this is an erroneous way of putting the question. The new is not generated from the old but from the living movement  leading away from the old.

"'If you do not know what you are looking for, then why are you looking; if you know what you are looking for, then why are you looking for it?' For a creature with a mind, search and investigation, which involve this internal contradiction,  are characteristic.

This fundamental contradiction is the true source of the development of the mind of animals and man. (...) To look for something that does not yet exist but that is possible (...) this is the fundamental, cardinal aspect of the vital activity of every sentient and thinking being - a subject. (...) In light of this activity the paradox of search consists in the fact that it combines within itself the possible and the actual." (Davydov & Zinchenko 1982, 24.)

Davydov and Zinchenko, in line with Bernshtein, define the living movement as the genetically primary unit of analysis of mental reality. The cultural prototype of living movement is work. The paradox of search is embedded in the very first forms of human labor activity.

"Movement takes place as a necessary connective link between foreseeing and remembering. The disjunction between these two elements is overcome by the present, that is, intensive action in the present." (Davydov & Zinchenko 1982, 31.)

We may now return to the example of Children's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and to the postulated two types of development. It seems that the living movement demonstrated by the Campaign contains one distinctive feature. The paradox of the search has in this case become conscious to the searchers themselves, it has reached the quality of a genuine double bind, and its has been resolved through collective, conscious action in the present. In other words, the type of development we are concerned with here - expansive generation of new activity structures - requires above all an instinctive or conscious mastery of double binds.  Double bind may now be reformulated as a social, societally essential dilemma which cannot be resolved through separate individual actions alone  - but in which joint co-operative actions can push a historically new form of activity  into emergence . 

The mastery of double binds is first of all historical analysis or historical  intuition of the inner contradictions of the activity system the subject  is a part of. Here we come back to the instruments. To be inventive in a dilemma situation is to invent  a new instrument for the resolution of the dilemma. This demands experimentation, borrowing or 'conquering' already existing artifacts (such as letters in the case of the Children's Campaign) for new uses.

"(...) the experimenter cannot move beyond the point for which methods and instrumentation are available. He may sometimes invent them; more often he adopts them from some source that may be well outside of his own immediate interest. (...)

"One of the most important features of these turning-points in experimental development is that they very often introduce methods and instrumentation new to the field of research involved, but already developed in some other region of investigation. But if the experimenter who does this has any original impact upon his science he always does more than this. He must adapt the new methods and instruments for use in his own field, and he must show that they can be used to reach a compelling answer to some current problems, and at the same time to lead on to a number of further problems." (Bartlett 1958, 133-135.)

Bartlett's analysis of scientific experimentation is well transferable to other societal activities. The problem in Kohlbergian dilemmas is that there is no field of activities and artifacts in which the dilemma would be embedded. Thus, there is nothing to experiment with in the first place.

The instruments are also what distinguishes the case of the porpoise from the case of the Children's Campaign. Though the porpoise went through an intensive dilemma and resolved it by producing genuinely new behavior, she never produced new instruments in the proper sense of the word. She did not produce implements or models that could be communicated about, preserved and transmitted among her own species. These processes could possibly take place only through a kind of symbiosis with man. The actions of the porpoise could not by themselves push into emergence a new co-operative activity system in the 'societies' of the porpoise species. They would remain individual achievements unless man chose try to transfer them to other individuals of that species.

Recently Bratus and Lishin (1983) have presented an instructive discussion which has direct relevance to the problem of the double binds. On the basis of Leont'ev's (1978) theoretical work and their own clinical experiments, they describe the psychological phases of the emergence of a new activity with the following diagram (Figure 3.1).

Figure 3.1: The emergence of activity according to Bratus & Lishin (1983, 44)

In the diagram, the symbol N refers to 'need', the symbol A refers to 'activity' , the symbol O refers to 'object' and the symbol M refers to 'motive'. Each new expanded need is produced in an activity which in turn is established on the basis of a previous need that, having met its object, has been transformed into a motive. But the exceptional point in these continuing cycles is something which is symbolized with Sn. This symbol refers to the concept of 'need state'.

"(...) a breakdown in the sequence of activity is possible at two points: either at the point N-A, when a need cannot be satisfied by the previous set of means of activities; or at the point A-N, when, on the contrary, the existing operational and technical means do not correspond to the previous needs. In either of these cases some special state of indeterminacy may arise in which desires, as it were, lose their object, and one may say that a person desires (sometimes very passionately) something he himself does not know and cannot clearly describe.

This peculiar state of indeterminant, temporarily objectless desire may be called a need state (...)." (Bratus & Lishin 1983, 43.)

This characterization immediately reminds us of the notion of the paradox of the search as formulated above by Davydov and Zinchenko. Essential in the need state is that the subject faces competing alternatives and is unable to determine the direction of his efforts.  The new activity emerges through three zones: (1) the zone of a need state, (2) the zone of motive-formation, and (3) the zone of transformation of needs and activity (Bratus & Lishin 1983, 44).

"However, a need state cannot last long. Sooner or later an encounter with, discovery, or active testing action of some object occurs; this object fits the particular need state, which places it in a qualitatively different rank, the rank of an objectified need, i.e., a need that has found its object or motive. Then, through the discovered motive, the need stimulates activity, during the course of which the need is reproduced and (...) somewhat modified, impelling it on to a new cycle of activity that is different compared with the previous one, etc., i.e., a sequence of transformations emerges." (Bratus & Lishin 1983, 43-44.)

Two important critical comments are necessary here. First, it is never a question of arbitrary or accidental competing objects  in the need state. Beneath the seemingly accidental surface of disconnected 'alternatives' or 'options', there lie the historically determined inherent contradictions of any object of the given socio-economic formation. In capitalism, the inherent contradiction functioning in every single object is the double nature of commodities, being simultaneously abstract and concrete, exchange value and use value. Thus, the need state is grounded in the subject's bewilderment at the face of these two mutually excluding and mutually dependent sides of the same object.

The other critical comment concerns the 'automaticity' of the emergence of new activities postulated by Bratus and Lishin. The authors claim that a need state "cannot last long" and that it will eventually be replaced by a new cycle of transformations. Firstly, there are good grounds to argue that a need state often does indeed last long and produce various forms of deprivation, passivity and withdrawal, not to talk about 'substitute activities' such as alcoholism studied in depth by the authors themselves. But more important is the manner in which the need state is supposed to be resolved. Bratus and Lishin make it sound like a very easy and effortless  process: "sooner or later an encounter with, discovery, or active testing action of some object occurs". There is ample evidence that most of such 'sooner or later' choices actually involve not generation of new activities but 'rediscovery' of old, regressive activity forms. Life then moves in circles, not in an ascending spiral. Obviously invisible contributions to development are made in this form, too. But this is not really what we are looking for.

A need state contains no automatism. It may be 'resolved' through regression or it may be resolved through expansion. To clarify the structure of the latter process, we now turn to the elaboration of the category of the zone of proximal development.


Vygotsky's famous definition of the zone of proximal development reads as follows.

"It is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers."  (Vygotsky 1978, 86.)

According to Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development defines those functions that will "mature tomorrow but are currently in an embryonic state", i.e., the 'buds' of development (Vygotsky 1978, 86). Vygotsky claimed that primates and other animals cannot have a zone of proximal development. Human children, on the other hand, can "go well beyond the limits of their own capabilities", they "are capable of doing much more in collective activity" (Vygotsky 1978, 88).

Vygotsky saw instruction as a chief means to exploit the zones of proximal development.

"Therefore the only good kind of instruction is that which marches ahead of development and leads it; it must be aimed not so much at the ripe as the ripening functions. (...) instruction must be oriented toward the future, not the past." (Vygotsky 1962, 104.)

Vygotsky refers to Montessori's idea of 'sensitive periods' as optimal points of departure for instruction.

"She found, for instance, that if a child is taught to write early, at four and half or five years of age, he responds by 'explosive writing', an abundant and imaginative use of written speech that is never duplicated by children a few years older. This is a striking example of the strong influence that instruction can have when the corresponding functions have not yet fully matured." (Vygotsky 1962, 105.)

The concept of the zone of proximal development has had quite a renaissance during the last few years, especially in the United States. A common interpretation and application of this concept is to use it as a rationale for different versions of 'dynamic assessment of intelligence' (see Brown & French 1979; Day 1983).

Another common interpretation takes the zone of proximal development as a rationale for creating social situations or environments where instructional support is given to children, thus enabling children to acquire  new skills in a new way, through joint problem solving and interaction. The notion of 'scaffolding' (see Wood, Bruner & Ross 1976; Wood 1980) is a product of this line of interpretation, so is Cazden's (1981) work on children's speech acquisition, and so are several contributions to the important volume edited by Rogoff and Wertsch (1984).

Neither one of these common interpretations does full justice to Vygotsky's conception. In the case of the dynamic assessment interpretation, it is easy to notice that Vygotsky "does speak to broader issues" (Day 1983, 164). But even the notion of 'scaffolding' is unduly narrow. Peg Griffin and Michael Cole point out two serious weaknesses in this interpretation. Firstly, scaffolding (or creating 'formats', see Bruner 1985) refers to acquiring discrete skills and actions, not to the emergence of long-lasting molar activities. It is a "largely spatial metaphor, in which the temporal aspect of the construction of the whole remains as a residual, unanalyzed aspect of the living process" (Griffin & Cole 1984, 48). Secondly, the idea of scaffolding is restricted to the acquisition of the qiven.

"The scaffold metaphor leaves open questions of the child's creativity. If the adult support bears an inverse relation to the child's competence, then there is a strong sense of teleology - children's development is circumscribed by the adults' achieved wisdom. Any next-step version of the Zo-ped (zone of  proximal development; Y.E.) can be of similar concern, including work that we have done." (Griffin & Cole 1984, 47.)

This self-critical formulation is exceptionally important. Griffin and Cole try  to sketch an expanded conception of the zone of proximal development. In line with the analyses of Leont'ev (1981) and El'konin (1977), they  see the child's development as a series of transitions from one ontogenetically leading or dominant activity to another: from play to formal learning, from formal learning to peer activity, form peer activity to work. Furthermore, they do not subscribe to a fixed universal order of automatically occuring transitions. To the contrary, "it is possible to show changes in leading activities that follow development sequences within a single setting" (Griffin & Cole 1984, 60). Play activity, for example, is often a mediating device which helps youngsters enter new activities (Griffin & Cole 1984, 62).

"Adult wisdom does not provide a teleology for child development. Social organization and leading activities provide a gap within which the child can develop novel creative analysis. (...) a Zo-ped is a dialogue between the child and his future; it is not a dialogue between the child and an adult's past." (Griffin & Cole 1984, 62.)

Inspiring as this conclusion is, it is difficult to avoid the impression that the authors themselves, not to mention other researchers, have only started to consider its implications. This is evident  in the inconsistency between the conclusion cited above and Cole's formulations in other publications. An article in the recent fine volume edited by Wertsch (1985a) is a case in point. Here, Cole speaks of the zone of proximal development exclusively in terms of 'acquiring culture,' never in terms of creating it. He summarizes the article with the following statement.

"The acquisition of culturally appropriate behavior is a process of interaction  between children and adults, in which adults guide children's behavior as an essential element in concept acquisition/acculturation/education." (Cole 1985, 158.)

In the same volume, Sylvia Scribner goes still further.

"The child is an assimilator of sign systems and develops higher functions through processes of internalization. Adults in the course of history are the inventors and elaborators of sign systems, as well as users. Assimilative and creative processes are not the same." (Scribner 1985, 130.)

Scribner supports her standpoint by referring to Vygotsky's discussion on the development of memory. But it is obscure how that relates to the question of children's potential to create new cultural means and forms. Probably more relevant are the findings of Davydov  and Poddyakov (Dawydow 1977; Poddjakow 1981) according to which even pre-school children can form real theoretical generalizations, though they do not yet appear in a verbal form but take other, object-bound and enactive as well as graphic forms of expression.

As a matter of fact, Vygotsky, too, said very little about creative processes (except in his early work on the psychology of art). Vygotsky's concept of the zone of proximal development is itself in need of development.  The cultural-historical school founded by Vygotsky has up to the present time concentrated on the acquisition, assimilation and internalization of the tools and sign systems of the culture. How these tools and sign systems are created  has mainly been treated as a problem for the future. One important exception is the theoretical work of V. S. Bibler. He reveals the creative potential in Vygotsky's conception of internalization as follows.

(...) the process of immersion of social relations in consciousness (...) is (...) a process of transforming expanded and relatively independent 'cultural models,' prepared cultural phenomena, into the culture of thinking,  a dynamic culture, which is fused and condensed in the individual person. An objectively developed culture acquires a subjective determination in inner speech, i.e., a determination in which it is manifest as a future-oriented form of creativity, of new, as yet nonexisting, merely possible models of culture. The relationship is inverted, and inner speech must be understood as not so much a 'phenomenon of internalization' as the intention of the 'externalization' of thought, as an embryo of a new, not yet objectively posited culture, not yet deployed in the external, social aspects of culture, an embryo concentrated in the concept. Social relations are not only immersed in inner speech: they are radically transformed   in it; they acquire a new (as yet unrealized) sense, a new orientation  toward external activity, toward their objective materialization. (...) But then, (...) inner speech (and its elementary form of mono-dialogue) may be represented as the dialogue of those cultural-historical models of thinking (activity) that are internalized in the different voices of my own 'I,'  the argument among these functioning as a kind of positing, the creation of new cultural phenomena (knowledge, ideas, works of art)." (Bibler 1984, 52-53.)

The individual 'mechanism' of transforming internalization into externalization may well follow the lines sketched by Bibler. But the relationship between individual and societal development remains the fundamental problem within the concept of the zone of proximal development.   Griffin and Cole (1984, 48-49) stress that the zone of proximal development "includes models of a future, models of a past, and activities that resolve contradictions between them". But this temporal perspective seems to be understood in individual terms only: the individual moves from one activity to another in the course of his development.  What is not discussed is whether and how the activities themselves as societal systemic formations  develop and change constantly.

 Old and new, regressive and expansive forms of the same activity exist simultaneously in the society. Children may play in a reproductive and repetitive manner, but they do also invent and construct new forms and structures of play, new tools and models for play activity. Their playing seems to become increasingly consumptive and pre-fabricated, the exchange-value aspect seems to dominate it more and more as the toys and games have become big business.  But is it so simple and uni-directional? What are the inner contradictions and historical perspectives of the play activity of our children?  Once in a while parents are astonished as they find their children playing something which does not seem to fit any preconceived canons: something new has been produced 'from below'. Sometimes these inventions from below become breakthroughs that significantly change the structures of play activity.  

Human development is real production of new societal activity systems. It is not just acquisition of individually new activities, plus perhaps individual creation of 'original pieces of behavior' (recall the porpoise).  Above, I have distinguished between three types of development: the individual-explosive, the invisible-gradual, and the collective-expansive.  The third type is the one which requires intuitive or conscious mastery - the subjectification of the subject. The concept of the zone of proximal development as an instrument of subjectification  is relevant in the context of this third type of development. To put it more precisely, the individual-explosive and invisible-gradual types of development can be purposefully affected and steered in a societally meaningful scale only indirectly, through the collective-expansive type.

A provisional reformulation of the zone of proximal development is now possible. It is the  distance between  the present everyday actions of the individuals and the historically new form of the societal activity that can be collectively generated  as a solution to the double bind  potentially embedded in the everyday actions.

Klaus Holzkamp, seemingly unaware of Vygotsky's conceptualization, has recently developed a somewhat similar idea of human development. According to him, embedded in every individually experienced existential threat and restriction in capitalism there is  a 'second alternative' of "exceeding the limits of individual subjectivity through immediate co-operation in the direction toward realizing general interests of joint self-determination against dominating partial interests"  (Holzkamp 1983, 373). Holzkamp speaks here of the principle of 'double possibilities'. He  concretizes further this idea with the concepts of 'possibility zone' and 'possibility generalization'. The former refers to  a "relationship between general societal possibilities to act and my specific way of realizing, limiting, mystifying them" (Holzkamp 1983, 548). The latter means that the individual grasps and realizes his individual possibilities to act in relation with other individuals within the same 'typical possibility zone' and with the societal possibilities (Holzkamp 1983, 549).

We still need a closer, if only tentative, analysis of the steps to be taken in traveling through the zone of proximal development. Recall the three sub-zones suggested by Bratus and Lishin: the zone of a need state, the zone of motive-formation, and the zone of transformation of needs and activity. In the light of the preceding discussion, these three steps turn out to be insufficient. What is lacking, above all, is the transformation of the need state into a double bind, into a contradiction which uncompromisingly demands qualitatively new instruments for its resolution. To make the necessary steps concrete, I now turn to a literary example of the zone of proximal development.


The example is Mark Twain's (1950) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  At the outset, Huckleberry Finn's dominant activity is that of vagabondism. It is a social kind of vagabondism, seeking communion with the adventurous middle class boy Tom Sawyer, on the one hand, and with poor, downtrodden people like the black slave Jim, on the other hand. This social vagabondism takes place within a culture of slavery. Huck has been offered the opportunity to adapt himself to the safe middle class family life - but he rejects that alternative after a while. The primary contradiction  inherent within  every component of this activity is that between the private freedom of the individual vagabond and the public unfreedom prevailing in the vagabond's immediate cultural context. The latter is threatening Huck Finn, too - in the form of either soft middle class taming or violent suppression by the authorities.

In its initial form, Huck Finn's life activity may be depicted with the help of the diagram in Figure 3.2.


Figure 3.2: The primary contradiction of Huckleberry Finn's life activity

The  story begins with Huck being harrassed and threatened by his father. Huck gets away by staging his own death. He settles on an island in the Mississippi river. There he accidentally meets the runaway slave Jim, his  old friend. Because of the friendship, Huck promises not to tell anybody about Jim.  The two live on the island a while. Then things start to move.

"Next morning I said it was getting slow and  dull, and I wanted to get a stirring up, some way. I said I reckoned I would slip over the river and find out what was going on. Jim liked that notion; but he said I must go in the dark and look sharp." (p. 54.)
This is a signal of a need state:
There seem to be lots of
alternatives for the choosing.



Huck finds out that Jim is being intensively hunted. So they get off down the big river on a raft, floating during the nights and hiding during the days. But this is not yet 'intensive action' to resolve the dilemma. Rather, it is reaction,  forced by the circumstances  and still relatively aimless. This goes on until they approach areas where slavery is abolished. Now, for the first time, Huck realizes that his activity of vagabondism has a qualitatively new  subject:  it is no more just himself, it is him and Jim together. In his introduction to the book, T. S. Eliot points out that "Huck in fact would be incomplete without Jim" (Eliot 1950, xi).

This new component represents a new kind of activity - it disturbs the old activity and aggravates its latent inner contradiction. Thus, the story enters the phase of the secondary contradiction between the introduced new component and  the old components of the activity. The new collaborative subject component is in sharp conflict with the old secondary instrument, namely the avoidance model of 'don't get mixed up with other people's troubles'. It is Huck's uncompromising honesty that brings this secondary contradiction to the level of a genuine double bind.

"Jim said it made him all over trembly and         feverish to be so close to freedom. Well, I can   tell you it made me all over trembly and feverish, too, to hear him, because I begun to get it through my head that he was most free - and who was to blame for it? Why, me.  I couldn't get that out of conscience, no how nor  way. It got to troubling me so I couldn't rest; I couldn't stay still in one place. It hadn't ever come home to me, before, what this thing was that I was doing. But now it did; and it stayed with me and scorched me more and more. (...)
This is a beautiful description of  the double bind. The  contradiction is intensified until  it becomes unbearable. Huck desperately tries to analyze  the situation and find an acceptable solution.



"Jim said it made him all over trembly and         feverish to be so close to freedom. Well, I can   tell you it made me all over trembly and feverish, too, to hear him, because I begun to get it through my head that he was most free - and who was to blame for it? Why, me.  I couldn't get that out of conscience, no how nor  way. It got to troubling me so I couldn't rest; I couldn't stay still in one place. It hadn't ever come home to me, before, what this thing was that I was doing. But now it did; and it stayed with me and scorched me more and more. (...)
I got to feeling so mean and so miserable I most wished I was dead. I fidgeted up and down the raft, abusing myself to myself, and Jim was fidgeting up and down past me. We neither of us could keep still. Every time he danced around and says. 'Dah's Cairo!' it went through me like a shot, and I thought if it was  Cairo I reckoned I would die of miserableness.
(...) My conscience got to stirring me up hotter than ever, until at last I says to it, 'Let up on me - it ain't too late yet - I'll paddle ashore at the first light and tell.' I felt easy, and happy, and light as a feather, right off. All my troubles was gone. I went to looking out sharp for a light, and sort of singing to myself. By and by one showed." (p. 87-88.)













Now Huck really starts to paddle ashore. As he leaves, Jim says to him:

"'Pooty soon I'll be a-shout'n for joy, en I'll say, it's all on accounts o'  Huck; I's a free man, en I couldn't ever ben free ef  it hadn' ben for Huck; Huck done it. Jim won't  ever forgit you, Huck; you's de bes' fren' Jim's ever had; en you's de only fren' ole Jim's got now.
Here Huck first enters the phase of hesitation and pause . Then the intensive action to solve the dilemma  starts. In a very short period, Huck finds the first new instrument  (the lie about the sick family) which leads him  to the new object and motive :  joint freedom. The lie as the first new instrument is  a specific tool,  a springboard (like the letters in the Children's Campaign), not yet a general model of wide applicability.
I was paddling off, all in a sweat to tell on him; but when he says this, it seemed to kind of take the tuck all out of me. I went along slow then, and I warn't right down certain whether I was glad I started or whether I warn't. When I was fifty yards off, Jim says:
'Dah you goes, de ole true Huck; de on'y white genlman dat ever kep' his promise to oel Jim.'
Well, I just felt sick. But I says, I got to do it - I can't get out  of it. Right then, along comes a skiff with two men in it, with guns, and they stopped and I stopped. One of them says:
'What's that, yonder?'
'A piece of a raft,' I says.
'Do you belong on it?'
'Yes, sir.'
'Any men on it?'
'Only one, sir.'
'Well, there's five niggers run off
to-night, up yonder above the head of
the bend. Is your man white or black?'
I didn't answer up prompt. I tried to, but the words wouldn't come. I tried, for a second or two, to brace up and out with it, but I warn't man enough - hadn't the spunk of a rabbit. I see I was weakening ; so I just give up trying, and up and says: 'He's white.'
'I reckon we'll go and see for ourselves.' 'I wish you would,' says I, 'because it's pap that's there, and maybe you'd help me tow the raft ashore where the light is. He's sick - and so is mam and Mary Ann.'
'Oh, the devil! we're in a hurry, boy. But I s'pose we've got to. Come - buckle to your paddle, and let's get along.' I buckled to my paddle and they laid to their oars. When we had made a stroke or two, I says:
'Pap'll be mighty much obleeged to you, I can tell you. Everybody goes away when I want them to help me tow the raft ashore, and I can't do it by myself.'
'Well, that's infernal mean. Odd, too. Say, boy, what's the matter with your father?'
'It's the - a - the - well, it ain't anything much.' They stopped pulling. It warn't  but a mighty ways to the raft, now. One says: 'Boy, that's a lie. What is  the matter with your pap? Answer up square, now, and it'll be the better for you.'
'I will, sir, I will, honest - but don't leave us, please. It's the - the- gentlemen, if you'll only pull ahead, and let me heave you the head-line, you won't have to come a-near the raft - please do'
'Set her back, John, set her back!' says one. They backed water. 'Keep away, boy - keep to looard. Confound it, I just expect the wind has blowed it to us. Your pap's got the smallpox, and you know it precious well. Why didn't you come out and say so? Do you want to spread it all over?'
'Well,' says I, a-blubbering, 'I've told everybody before, and then they just went away and left us.' (p.89-90.)                                

































After the intensive episode, Huck formulates in an inner dialogue ('conversation with the situation', as Schön [1983] calls it) the new general model for generating the new activity.

"They went off and I got abroad the raft                    Huck's new general instrument is

feeling bad and low, because I knowed very             something like a pragmatic moral

well I had done wrong, and I see it warn't                 philosophy. It harnesses him

no use for me to try to learn to do right;                    against the attacks of the 'bad

a body that don't get started  right when                   conscience' stemming from the

he's little, ain't got no show - when the                       old societal norms of slavery.

pinch comes there ain't nothing to back him               This model represents and

up and keep him to his work, and so he                    anticipates the new activity

gets beat. Then I thought a minute, and                      offered  to Huck, namely that

says to myself, hold on - s'pose you'd                       of bourgeois-liberal way of life

a done right and give Jim up: would you                    (let it be called the given  new

felt better than what you do now? No, says               activity). But this model already

I, I'd feel bad - I'd feel just the same way I                contains the seeds of a new

do now. Well, then, says I, what's the use                 inner contradiction: that between

you learning to do right, when it's                              bourgeois liberalism and radical

troublesome to do right and ain't no                          moral anarchism.

trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just

the same? I was stuck. I couldn't answer

that. So I reckoned I wouldn't bother no

more about it, but after this always do

whichever come handiest at the time."

(p. 91; italics added.)

The rest of the book is about the practical application  of the model of the new activity. There occurs, in a miniature form, a transformation of actions into a collective activity, temporarily joined by a couple of common crooks (representing the old vagabondism-in-slavery) and finally joined by Tom Sawyer, too (representing the given new bourgeois-liberal pragmatism).

This practical application and generalization is not smooth and straightforward. The new liberatory actions accomplished within the process of drifting down the river are in general subordinated to the old form of vagabondist activity. The circumstances and the two crooks repeatedly disrupt the new liberatory actions: the communion of Huck and Jim is broken up, Huck  has to act individually, and Jim is isolated or captured. This struggle between the old and the given new activity is resolved in favor of the latter only as Tom Sawyer finally enters the scene (and Twain ingeniously forces Huck to pretend he is Tom, thus personifying the transition to the given new activity).

But the struggle between the old and the given new activity is not the most essential tension in the application and generalization phase. The more important (and less noticeable) aspect is that something entirely new  emerges beside these two societally already known activity forms. In certain problematic, ambivalent situations, Huck's actions produce results that exceed qualitatively the limits of both the old and the given new activity. These actions take the external form of severe disturbances, nearly catastrophes. Two such situations may be identified.

In the first one, Huck is accidentally separated from Jim and lives temporarily with the aristocratic family of the Grangerfords. The family has a feud with another aristocratic family. One day Sophia, a daughter of the Grangerfords, asks Huck to fetch her Testament from the church. Huck senses that this is illegitimate but helps the girl anyway.  This action has no value either for the old activity of vagabondism or for the given new activity of bourgeois pragmatism. The Testament contains a note that launches the running off of two lovers, Sophia and a son of the rival family. A massacre ensues, but the lovers are rescued.

In the second situation, the two crooks, using Huck as their servant,  steal the whole fortune of the newly orphaned Wilks girls.  Huck follows the crooks and finds out where they hide the money. He takes it and hides it again. He then risks his neck and informs one of the girls  of what has happened. Both the crooks and Huck are eventually caught, barely escaping a public beating - but the girls get their money back. Again, Huck's action is not a logical consequence of either the old or the given new activity. To the contrary, it clearly endangers both.

In both these situations (like in the original double bind situation on the river), Huck develops actions indicating the birth of a third activity, an emergent formation that I'll call the created new  activity. These actions remind us of the 'liberated or unloosed action' mentioned by V. P. Zinchenko in Chapter 2 and of the loss of the 'self' in Learning III as described by Bateson earlier in this chapter. Bateson (1978, 63-64) extends the notion of non-pathological double binds using as examples the actions of mountain climbers and musicians, "unrewarded and unbribed in any simple way". Shotter (1982, 47) points out that such actions contain a transfromation of the subject "from a being who must first plan an action in thought before executing it in practice into someone who knows what to do in the course of doing it".

"While playing games it is not uncommon for people to have such experiences, if only briefly; they simply become momentarily a game-playing thing, describing the experience as that of 'losing themselves in the game', or of playing 'out of their minds'. In such a state, players are clearly not unconscious as such, but they do not have to try  to do what is required of them, they seem simply to know it in the course of doing it." (Shotter 1982, 48.)

These actions correspond to the aspect of radical moral anarchism, embedded in Huck's new general model. This radical moral anarchism makes Huck a personality of entirely different dimensions from that of Tom Sawyer. For Tom, freeing Jim is a safe, imaginary adventure - Tom knows that Jim has actually been granted freedom but doesn't tell this to Huck and Jim. For Huck, it is a deadly serious moral and existential struggle. Just before Tom enters, Jim is captured and Huck faces his double bind again.

"I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

'All right, then, I'll go  to hell' (...)

It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head; and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn't. And for a starter, I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog." (Twain 1950, 214.)

It is this very quality, this going beyond the alternatives given, that makes Huckleberry Finn  a great classic.

"And the style  of the book, which is the style of Huck, is what makes it a far more convincing incidctment of slavery than the sensationalist propaganda of Uncle Tom's Cabin.  Huck is passive and impassive, apparently always the victim of events; and yet, in his acceptance of his world and of what it does to him and others, he is more powerful than his world, because he is more aware  than any other person in it." (Eliot 1950, x.)

It is almost as if Mark Twain had had a notion of the zone of proximal development as he ended the book with Huck's words.

"But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before." (Twain 1950, 292.)


What can be learned from this case analysis?

Firstly, the emergence of Leont'ev's (1981, 402-403) 'only understood motive' is a relatively late step in learning activity. It represents a phase where the contradiction is already external, between  two activities  and motives, the old one and the given new one. A forced early instructional introduction of this 'only understood motive' may effectively hide - perhaps also prevent - the unfolding of the initial phases of learning activity, i.e., the appearance of the primary contradiction (need state) and  the secondary contradiction (working out the double bind).

Secondly,  there are two aspects in the new activity produced by learning activity, namely the given new aspect and the created new aspect.  The given new aspect is that which is offered by the advanced frontiers of culture (like by the pragmatic bourgeois liberalism in Huck Finn's case). The created new aspect is that which emerges as the new actions produce richer results than expected  and thus expand, transform or even explode the constraints of the given new, turning into something wider and uncontrollable. Thus, the new activity realized is never qualitatively quite the same as the representatives of the advanced frontiers had planned. This means also that the modest terms of 'application and generalization' bear the true essence of creation and surprise.

From the instructional point of view, my definition of the zone of proximal development means that teaching and learning are moving within the zone only when they aim at developing historically new forms of activity, not just at letting the learners acquire the societally existing or dominant forms as something individually new. To aim at developing historically new forms of activity implies an instructional practice which follows the learners into their life activities outside the classroom. It also implies the necessity of forming true expansive learning activity in and between the learners. The instructional task is thus twofold: to develop learning activity  and to develop historically new forms of the  central activity - work, for example (of course learning activity is itself the central target activity during the early school years).

Huck Finn traveled across the zone of proximal development without  consciously constructing and employingthe vehicle of expansivelearning activity. However, the sequential structure of the travel remains basically similar when the new vehicle is introduced.

But how could instruction possibly bring about something even remotely resembling Huck Finn's travel?

Instruction operates with tasks.  The instructor's task and the learner's perceived task are seldom the same thing. If this is not taken into account, the learners "are scored as doing poorly when they are not doing the task in the first place" (Newman, Griffin & Cole 1984, 190).  When this happens,  "the activity in the school does not help me to orientate myself in the world, instead it becomes the part of the world where I must orientate myself" (Halldén 1982, 138).

"A 'whole task' thus becomes specifically a task considered in the context of the activity or higher-level goals that motivate it. Whenever there is a task, there is always a whole task. But in some settings, like the laboratory, the classroom, or wherever there is a hierarchical division of labor, the higher-level goals may not be under the actors' individual control. (...) In standard laboratory practice, where it is necessary to have as complete control as possible over the goals that the subjects are trying to accomplish, subjects are never called upon to formulate their own goals and so are confronted with only a part of the problem - the solution part." (Newman, Griffin & Cole 1984, 191-192.)

The 'whole task' of the above-mentioned authors is essentially identical to the 'open problem' of Seidel (1976). The open problem includes its own generation and justification. The closed problem contains only the operative solution part. Research on problem solving within cognitive psychology has been mainly concerned with the latter (see Chaiklin 1985 for an exception).

Earlier in this chapter, problems, tasks and goals were identified as belonging to Learning II, to the level of individual actions. Questioning and exploding given problems and tasks, as well as generating and formulating new tasks derived from 'the context of the context', i.e., from the overall activity, are processes indicating a transition from Learning II to Learning III.

"In other words, in order to arouse interest it is necessary not to indicate the goal and then try to motivationally justify the action and the direction of the given goal, but it is necessary, on the contrary, to create a motive and then to disclose the possibility of reaching the goal (usually a whole system of intermediate and 'indirect' goals) in one or another subject content." (Leont'ev 1978, 182.)

"Of course, in mastering school subjects (just as in mastering any kind of knowledge in general, as in mastering science), it is decisively important what kind of place cognition occupies in the life of man, whether it is a part of real life for him or only external, a condition coupled to it externally. (...) it is necessary that learning should enter into life, that it should have a vital sense  for the learner." (Leont'ev 1978, 185.)

"Consequently, we must speak of the problems of nurturing the motives for learning in connection with the development of life, with the development of the content of actual vital relations of the child (...)." (Leont'ev 1978, 186.)

This demand differs deeply from the Piagetian idea of learning in natural action settings. Here we are concerned with socio-historical activities as the proper forms of 'actual vital relations'. Halldén (1982, 139) points out that in the classes observed by him, in spite of varied 'assimilative actions' of practical exploratory nature, instruction did not result in the pupils' "broadening their frame of reference". These actions remained dissociated from the life activities of the pupils. Or as Halldén (1982, 132) puts it, "it is practically impossible for the pupils to work with a given question because it runs into conflict with their total life situation".

Huck Finn's learning was based on his life activity, but not in the naive sense of 'extending' or 'combining'. Developmentally effective learning, the 'good learning' of Vygotsky, grew out of the inner contradictions of the old life activity.

In Huck Finn's case, the double bind was created 'accidentally', as the inner contradictions of the societal life touched the individual in a bare, unmasked form. But this is not instruction. Can the teacher intentionally activate a double bind?

Obviously this is possible, provided that we stick to the concrete-historical, analyzable character of double binds. The prerequisite is that the teacher works his way from the inside  of the activity to be developed. This means that the teacher takes as his point of departure the double nature and inner contradictions of the leading activity of his pupils. He works out the zone of proximal development of this activity, first analytically and historically, then as a hypothesis, and finally in the form of practical tasks. The teacher acts as the devil's advocate, confronting the learners with the contradictions of their own vital activity in a bare form.

This implies that the proper unit of developmentally effective, expansive instruction is not a discrete task, but a whole cycle of activity generation,  of learning activity, corresponding to the phase-structure of the zone of proximal development.

Davydov (1982, 42) identifies the following constituent learning actions within learning activity.

"1) transforming  the situation to find out the general relation of the system under consideration;

 2) modelling  the relation in question in a material, graphic and symbolic form;

 3) transforming  the model of the relation for studying its properties in their original form;

 4) deducing and constructing  a series of particular concrete practical problems having a general method of solution;

 5) controlling  the preceding operations;

 6) evaluating  the mastering of the general method (...)"

It is relatively easy to notice the similarities between these learning actions and the phases of the zone of proximal development described above in connection with Huck Finn's case. This phase-structure of the zone of proximal development may now be depicted as the general cycle of expansion (Figure 3.3).

In the cycle, transforming 1 refers to the first learning action of Davydov, i.e., to transforming the initial double bind by means of thought experiments, inner dialogue, or the like. However, this phase has a complex sub-structure: the emergence of a new  conflicting element in the structure of the old activity, aggravation of this contradiction into a  double bind,  reflective analysis, and experimentation ('intensive action').

Figure 3.3: The phase-structure of the zone of proximal development

The phase of object/motive construction seems to begin with finding the first new specific instrument which functions as a 'springboard' (Kedrov 1972; see Chapter 4 of this volume)  for breaking the constraints of the double bind and for constructing a new general model for the subsequent activity. Object/motive construction is inseparable from modelling. The object is constructed through modelling it - and the model becomes a general instrument for handling the object. The model is that of a given new activity, but it contains a latent inner contradiction which will give rise to actions anticipating the created new  activity. This phase contains also Davydov's third learning action where the model is transformed in order to study  its properties in 'pure form'.

The phase of application and generalization means the transformation of actions into activity (transforming 2, in the sense of Bratus and Lishin). In effect, the subject starts to carry out certain actions that correspond to the model of the given new activity. These actions are initially more or less  subordinated to the resistant form and motive of the old activity. The new actions are disturbed as the old activity breaks them down. But there is also another, less understandable and more significant type of disturbance, caused by precursors of the created new activity. Thus, transforming 2 is the place of birth of the societally new - of the outcomes unexpected by the instructor.

The phase of activity 2 signifies the consolidation of a new activity form, being a contradictory unity of the given new and the created new. This phase is essentially reflective, conscious of itself, and contains Davydov's two last learning actions.

The consolidation of the new activity (activity 2) may be divided into three broad sub-phases. First the activity appears as systematic application, extension and generalization of the newly created instruments (e.g ., letters in the case of the Children's Campaign). This sub-phase is offensive but often somewhat repetitive. In a way, the basic idea of the new activity is reproduced and multiplied in an almost exhaustive manner - essentially within the confines of the uppermost 'production' sub-triangle of the structure of activity (Figure 2.6).

The second sub-phase may appear in the form of decreasing intensity and increasing decentralization - recall the circular waves created by the stone thrown into water. This sub-phase is essentially variation and creation of further new instruments. The new activity consolidates itself by diversification, starting to produce new means - often surprising or even foreign to the initiators. Certainly the new activity has to coexist and compete with resistant structures of the old one. The survival of the new activity becomes a question of whether or not it succeeds in creating its own social 'infrastructure': rules, community, division of labor - resulting in triangles of exchange and distribution (the bottom part of Figure 2.6). If the new activity remains within the sub-triangle of production only, it will soon run out of energetic and material resources. In other words, in order to survive, the new activity must become a life  activity  forthe subjects, and a truly societal  activity system for the neighbour activities.

In the third sub-phase of the consolidation, the new activity system is no more new. The focus is on the external relations of the activity. Paradoxally, this implies also that the activity system begins to defend and encapsulate itself. But the new activity is not a closed system. It must, among other things, produce outcomes for its object-activity and implement means produced by its instrument-producing activities. In short, it must co-exist and interact within a network of activities (recall Figures 2.7 and 2.11).

As I pointed out in Chapter 2, these transactions are characterized by quaternary contradictions: the new central activity has to compete with and adjust to the dynamics of its neighbour activities.. In the course of this outward interaction, the latent  primary inner contradiction of the new activity is transformed into a new need state. The interaction of the new activity with its neighbour activities (like the interaction of Huck's vagabondism with Jim's slavery) sooner or later introduces some qualitatively new, disturbing element into the system of the new central activity - which eventually may lead to a new double bind. In that sense, the arrow pointing forward from activity 2 implies the continuous character of the cycle.

To define the entire cycle as the basic unit of expansive learning, and consequently of developmental instruction, means that we are dealing with learning processes of considerable length. The intensive formation of a historically new activity system within a limited community or collective (e.g.,  workplace,  school,  family,  trade union) is typically a matter of months and years.  During such a period of creation, there appear iterative transitions back and forth between the phases of the cycle.

Huckleberry Finn's  zone of proximal development may now be condensed into a sequential systematization (Table 3.3).

For my present purpose, certain shortcomings of the case of Huck Finn may also be pointed out. First, Huck Finn is a loner and remains so. The case only hints at the problems and possibilities of the collective dimension in zones of proximal development. Second, intentional instruction plays no part in Huck Finn's case - a fact which somewhat restricts speculations on the relevance of instruction. Third, the phase of activity 2 (consolidation and reflection) is left practically untouched by Twain.

In the next section, I shall extend my analysis of the zone of proximal development. The material of the analysis is another novel, namely Seven Brothers  by Aleksis Kivi, the greatest classic of Finnish literature.

Table 3.3

The sequential structure of Huckleberry Finn's  zone of proximal development


Primary within the components of the old activity

Need state    Social vagabondism: individual private freedom vs. cultural norm of public unfreedom
Secondary  between the components of the old activity Double bind





Object/motive   construction 







Emerging  new subject (Huck & Jim vs. old instrument (avoidance model: 'don't get mixed up with other         people's business').


Springboard: lie.   New object: joint freedom.

New general model:  'I'll do whatever is handy at the moment' 

(bourgeois pragmatism vs. radical moral anarchism as inner contradiction of this new model of activity).

Tertiary between the old  and the given  new activity/motive (between the only understood and the effective motive) Application, generalization; component actions of the given new activity            Vagabondism-in-slavery (represented by the two crooks) vs. bourgeois-liberal pragmatism (represented by Tom Sawyer). The bourgeois-liberal actions are disturbed   by the old activity form but also (as they produce more than excpected) by precursor actions of the created  new activity.
Quaternary - between  the new activity and its neighbor activities

Activity 2:  reflection,     consolidation




Aleksis Kivi published his Seven Brothers  in 1870. It was the true breakthrough of Finnish literature written in the native language. Its unconventional realism was met with devastating criticism from the leading authorities of literary criticism. The author never became a celebrity in his lifetime.

Seven Brothers  begins with a description of the physical and social setting.

"Jukola Farm, in the south of the province of Häme, stands on the northern slope of a hill, near the village of Toukola. Around it the ground is bestrewn with boulders, but below this stony patch begin fields, where, before the farm fell into decay, heavy-eared crops used to wave. Below the fields is a meadow, rimmed with clover and cleft by a winding ditch; and richly it has yielded hay before becoming a pasturage for straying village cattle. In addition to these, the farm owns vast forests, bogs and backwoods, most of which the founder of the farm, with admirable foresight, succeeded in adding to it at the first great settlement of boundaries in former days. On that occasion the master of Jukola, with an eye more to the benefit of his descendants than his own best, had accepted as his share a forest ravaged by fire and by this means received seven times the area given his neighbours. But all signs of this fire had long ago disappeared from his holding and dense forests had replaced them. Such is the home of the seven brothers whose fortunes I am about to relate.

Their names, in order of age, are: Juhani, Tuomas, Aapo, Simeoni, Timo, Lauri and Eero. Tuomas and Aapo are twins, and so are Timo and Lauri. Juhani, the eldest, is twenty-five, while Eero, the youngest, is barely eighteen. In build they are sturdy and broad of shoulder: all of middling height except Eero, who is still very short. (...)

Their father, a passionate hunter, met a sudden death in the prime of his life while fighting an enraged bear. Both were found dead, the shaggy king of the woods and the man, lying side by side on the bloodstained ground. The man was terribly mangled, but the bear, too, displayed the marks of a knife in its throat and side, while the keen ball of a rifle had pierced its breast. Thus perished a sturdy fellow who had killed in his time over fifty bears. But for the sake of these hunting trips he neglected the care of his farm, and bereft of a master's guidance, it had gradually fallen into ruin. Nor were the boys better inclined towards sowing and ploughing; from their father they had inherited his keen longing for the chase. They laid traps, set gins and snares, and dug grouse-pits, to the undoing of wildfowl and hares. In such pursuits they spent the days of their boyhood, until they could handle fire-arms and dared approach the bear in its wilds.

Their mother tried, indeed, with scoldings and the rod, to turn their thoughts to work and diligence, but the brothers' obstinacy proved equal to all her efforts." (Kivi 1929, 3-4.)

The primary contradiction in the existing dominant activity of the brothers is that between nature and culture, between free hunting and domesticated farming, between life in the woods and life among people (Figure 3.4).

Figure 3.4: The primary contradiction of the seven brothers' life activity

The need state is manifested in a variety of latent threats and conflict situations. The boys' mother dies, leaving the brothers to steer the farm clear of total ruin. The Rector of the parish demands them to learn to read, which is also a legal precondition for marriage. The conversation between the boys records their elaboration of the need state.

"Aapo.  What I say is that this wild life isn't right, and is sure to end in ruin and destruction. Brothers! Other works and other habits, if we wish for peace.

Juhani.  What thou sayest is true, it can't be denied.

Simeoni.  God ha' mercy! Wild and unbridled has our life been unto this day.

Timo.  This life's as good as another, and so's this world. It's all right, even if it does tell on a man. Oho!

Juhani.  The wildness, or to use the right word, the carelessness of our life cannot be denied. Let us remember though, 'youth and folly, old age and wisdom.'

Aapo.  It's time now for us to grow wiser, time to put all our lusts and passions under the yoke of our brains and do chiefly that which brings profit, and not that which tastes best. Let us begin without delay to work up our farm into respectable shape again.


Juhani.  What dost thou, Lauri, always a man of few words, say?

Lauri.  I'd say something. Let us move into the forest and say farewell to the racket of this world.

Juhani.  Ey?

Aapo.  The man is raving again.

Juhani.  Move into the forest? What foolishness!

Aapo.  Never mind him. Listen, this is how I have thought out the matter. (...)

Lauri.  Another and better plan is this. Let us move far into the forest and sell wretched Jukola, or rent it to the tanner of Rajaportti. (...) Let us do as I say and move with horse, dogs and guns to the foot of Impivaara's steep fell. There we can build ourselves a merry cabin on a merry, sunny hillside, and there, hunting game in the forests, live in peace far away from the din of the world and its crabby people. - This is what I have dreamed of night and day for many years.

Juhani.  Has the Devil turned thy brains, boy?


Eero.  There's an idea for you: say goodbye to salt and bread and instead suck meat, gorge flesh like mosquitos or Lapland wizards. Would we eat fox and wolf, too, out there in Impivaara's caves, like hairy ogres?

Lauri.  Foxes and wolves would give us skins, the skins money, and with money we could buy salt and bread.

Eero.  The skins will do for clothing, but let meat, bloody, smoking meat, be our only food; salt and bread are no use to apes and baboons in the forest.

Lauri.  That is what I think of and what I shall yet do.

Timo.  Let us take and weigh over the matter from the roots upwards. Why shouldn't we be able to munch bread and salt in the forest? Why? It's Eero who is a mocker, always in our way, always the cross stick in our pile. Who can prevent a man of the woods from drawing near to a village now and again, once in awhile, as his needs drive him? Or wouldst thou hit me on the head with a stick if I did, Eero?

Eero.  No, brother, I would even 'salt give to him who berries doth bring.' - Move, boys, move, I won't forbid you, but will even cart you there, carry you off at a wolf's trot." (Kivi 1929, 12-16.)

The hesitation and uncertainty typical to a need state takes here the form of a debate within the group. The inner contradiction of the activity is personified in Eero. He is the youngest and smartest of the brothers, always casting doubt and mocking. He first ridicules Lauri's idea. But a few moments later he takes on ridiculing the authority and godliness of Juhani and Simeoni, respectively. They are going to punish Eero with a spanking.

"Simeoni.  Strike, but wisely and not with all thy strength.

Juhani.  I know how.

Lauri.  Not a single swipe, say I.

Tuomas.  Leave the boy alone!

Juhani.  He needs a little something on his tail.

Lauri.  Thou wilt not lay a finger on him.

Tuomas. Let the boy go! This minute!

Timo.  May he be forgiven, Eero-boy, this once at least.

Simeoni.  Forgiven, forgiven, until he tares and thorns choke the wheat.

Lauri. Don't touch him.

Aapo.  Let us forgive him; and in so doing we can try to heap coals of fire on his head.

Juhani.  Go now and thank thy luck." (Kivi 1929, 26.)

The brothers finally decide to submit to being taught how to read. The teaching is done by the parish clerk.

"Very slowly the brothers' learning has proceeded, the fear-inspiring strictness of their teacher tending rather to damp their zeal and their spirits than to carry them onward. Juhani and Timo hardly knew more than the letter A; the others' knowledge has prpgressed a few letters further. Only Eero had proved a great exception to the rest, and having left the alphabet behind him, worked nimbly at spelling." (Kivi 1929, 52.)

Today, the parish clerk has not let the boys eat before the evening comes, "trying the effect of hunger on their willingness to learn" (Kivi 1929, 52). When they finally are allowed to, Juhani refuses in protest.

"Aapo.  Such spite would make the old man laugh heartily.

Juhani.  Let him laugh! I'm not going to eat. - Eero spells already, oh ay. - I'm not going to eat.

Tuomas.  Neither am I here, but on Sonninmäki Heath yonder. There I'll soon be sitting on a bolster of heather.

Juhani.  Right! There we'll soon be tumbling.

Eero.  I agree to your plan, boys.

Aapo.  What madness now?

Juhani.  Away out of captivity!

Aapo.  Brains ahoy!

Juhani.  Sonninmäki's pines ahoy!

Eero.  Just so! And our brains answer: ahoy!" (Kivi 1929, 53-54.)

The boys break the window and flee to the woods. Notice that Eero is learning well - but supports actively the idea of fleeing.  This episode is the first preamble to the double bind. A new element, representing the given new activity and the only understood motive (agricultural life)  has entered the structure of the dominant activity (hunting life). This new element appears in the form of new rules:  reading is required as a rule of civilized agricultural life (not as an instrument, to be sure). This secondary contradiction is not, however, worked out and sharpened. It is rather resolved regressively. The boys rent out their home and build a new cabin in the backwoods of Impivaara.

But the unresolved secondary contradiction keeps haunting the brothers.

"Aapo.  The path of our lives has taken a sharp turn today.

Juhani.  That's what makes me so uneasy, so very uneasy in my mind.

Simeoni.  Dark is the state of my heart. What am I? A prodigal son.

Juhani.  Hm. A lost sheep in the wilderness.

Simeoni.  Leaving our neighbours and Christian fellows like this.

Tuomas.  Here we are and here we stay as long as the forest yields fresh meat.

Aapo.  All will turn out well if only we always set to with common-sense.

Simeoni.  The owl is hooting in yonder wilds and its cry never bodes any good. Doesn't it foretell fire, bloody battle and murder, like the old folks say.

Tuomas.  To hoot in the forest is its job and has no meaning.

Eero.  Here we are in our village, on Impivaara's turf-roofed farm." (Kivi 1929, 122.)

The contradiction is aggravated as the brothers, during a hunting trip, are chased by the 40 raging bulls of the neighbouring mansion of Viertola. The boys escape on the top of a large rock in the forest. But they are surrounded by the bulls for four days. Yelling and shouting do not help. Finally the brothers decide to shoot down the bulls with their rifles. The boys now again face the rules of the agricultural civilization. How to repay Viertola the damage? The juryman threatens the boys with cossacks. The situation comes close to a double bind. Juhani desperately suggests that the brothers start boiling tar and selling that to get money. Aapo points out that tar won't bring in enough money.

 Juhani.  Boy! how are we to appease the fiery master of Viertola and pay for his bulls?

Aapo.  Pitch won't be enough for that, nor tar nor game, which grows less at an alarming rate. But look now, how one thought springs from another and one word from another. When thou spokest of tarry stumps, there came into my mind the boundless backwoods of Jukola, its dense birch-woods, pine-woods, and spruce-woods. In a few days seven men could fell many acres of forest for sowing. We could burn the undergrowth and branches and sow the ground, and later reap and take the harvest to Viertola as the price of his bulls, leaving, however, a part in the storeroom for our own needs. (...) And to some back to Viertola, if the first crop is not enough to pay for the bulls, why a second will do it, and in any case a third. But until the grain waves in our new clearing, we can squeeze mother nature with all our might (...). We can go on thus for two years; but when a heavy-eared harvest stands in our clearing, then we can build frames for our ricks and hammer together a threshing-barn, and well, that'll be like working on a real farm. But if we decide to begin such a task, one or two of us must go quickly to talk over the matter with Viertola, and I do believe he'll be appeased and agree to await the harvest from our clearing; for they say he is a somewhat worthy fellow.

Tuomas.  That's advice worth thinking over.

Juhani.  Sure, 'tis worth it." (Kivi 1929, 253-254.)

Notice how the idea of tar, close to the forest-bound old activity of the boys, functions here as the springboard, comparable to the lie of Huckleberry Finn. "One thought springs from another and one word from another," says Aapo. The new general model is also embedded in Aapo's suggestion: "that'll be like working on a real farm". Intensive action ensues.

"Whereafter they began the felling of the forest; axes clashed, the forest rang, and with a great crashing pine fell on pine. Always in the van hastened Eero, cutting down the tough pliant shoots with his hook. So fell many an acre of luxuriant forest, and all around spread the fresh scent of shavings and of green, coniferous branches. And soon on the sunny slope, Impivaara clearing lay ready, enormously large, so that its like had hardly been seen before. And the work had been accomplished within five September days." (Kivi 1929, 255.)

The debt is paid, but the new activity does not last. The boys fall back to the ways of living in the woods, now adding to that the distilling and drinking of spirits. One of the brothers, Simeoni, gets lost in the forest. The others search for him desperately, finally finding him in poor condition. Simeoni tells he has seen Luciferus himself in the woods.

"Juhani.  Pitiful this is, ah, oh!

Timo.  Don't cry, Juhani.

Juhani.  I would weep blood if I could; here we have lived like Kalmucks, drunk spirits like Mahomets and Turks. But now may a new chapter follow that verse, a different life, or soon the awful anger of Heaven will fall on us like a mountain and press us down to Hell. Ay, we lads have been warned by signs and miracles, and it's the worst of devils for us if we don't heed these signs in time.

Lauri.  It's the very worst we have to expect; for I too have something to relate. Listen: once while you were hitting the disc on the clearing, I walked in the forest, looking for useful bits of wood for tools, and while I slept on yonder heath I had a marvellous dream. I watched as though from the top of a tall pine you playing fast and furiously with the disc on the clearing here along fresh ox-hides. And guess with whom? Brothers, it was with our own hot-tempered rector you hammered away. But what happened? The rector noticed at last that it was no ordinary disc, but a red-backed a-b-c book you were hitting. This made him fearfully angry, and waving his sword he shouted in aloud voice: 'Iiyah, iiyah!' and at once a terrible hurricane arose which sucked you up like chaff into the power of the winds. This I dreamed and this dream must mean something too.

Juhani.  Surely it means something, foretells some Hell's polka for us; that we needn't doubt. We have been warned from two quarters, and now if we give no heed, fire, pitch and little stones will soon rain down on us as they once did on the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Aapo.  Don't let us be too terrified, all the same.

Tuomas.  I won't say for certain, but what Simeoni has seen is perhaps all sprung from a drink-ridden brain." (Kivi 1929, 278-279.)

The brothers decide to destroy their apparatus for distilling spirits. They then take off for church, to pray. But on their way, they meet the final obstacle which will eventually aggravate their double bind to the utmost. The brothers' old rivals, the young men of the Toukola village, start mocking the brothers who, in their isolation, have mistaken Monday for Sunday. A fight breaks out, and many men are wounded. After the fight, the brothers desperately ponder over their coming punishment.

"Simeoni.  Brothers, brothers! say a word. What are we to do to escape the clutches of the law?

Aapo.  Ah! there is not a single road of escape left to us out of this fix, not one.

Juhani.  We're trapped now, trapped! All is lost, all hope and happiness!

Tuomas.  The Devil'll get us without any mercy; so let us take what we have earned with eyes shut. We disturbed a Crown Servant in the midst of his hurry, and that's a serious thing; we made men into cripples perhaps, and that's a worse thing. Ha! maybe we even knocked the dear life out of someone, and then all's well; we'll be shut up and can eat the Crown's carefree bread.

Simeoni.  Oh we poor boys!

Timo.  Poor sons of Jukola! And seven of them! What shall we do now?

Lauri.  I know what I'll do.

Juhani.  I do too. Knife to throat, every man of us!

Timo.  For God's sake!

Juhani.  My knife, my shining knife! I'll let blood in waves!

Aapo.  Juhani!

Juhani.  Let the blood of seven men flow into  one single pool and let us drown together in this Red Sea, like every man-jack in the Old Testament once did. Where's my birch-handled knife that atones for all, the atoner of all?

Aapo.  Calm thyself!

Juhani.  Away out of my way, thou, and away out of this accursed life! My knife!

Simeoni.  Hold him!

Aapo. To me, brothers!

Juhani.  Out of the way!

Tuomas.  Steady, my lad!

Juhani.  Let go, brother Tuomas!

Tuomas.  Thou sittest down quietly.

Juhani.  What good will quietness do us when all is lost? Art thou minded to take forty brace of fresh birch-rods quietly?

Tuomas.  I'm not.

Juhani.  What wilt thou do?

Tuomas.  I'll hang myself, but not before.

Juhani.  Let's do now what we shall have to do in the end.

Tuomas.  Let's think it over first.

Juhani.  Ha-ha! It's all no use.

Tuomas.  We don't know yet exactly.

Juhani.  The law's waiting to lay its gloves on us.

Simeoni.  Let's leave Finland and go as herds to Ingermanland!

Timo.  Or as doorkeepers to St. Petersburg town.

Aapo.  These are childish ideas.

Eero.  Away off to sea to cleave the waves like our grand old uncle used to! Once we get away from the Finnish coast we are free from the hand of the law, and can then try to reach the Englishman; a man's worth something in the masts of his ships.

Aapo.  There is advice worth thinking over.

Tuomas.  It might perhaps be that, but remember: before we could reach the coast, we'd most likely have the Crown's engagement-rings on our wrists.

Timo.  Aah! Even if we get away from Finland with whole skins, when should we be in England? It's millions and thousands of millions miles there. Aa!

Aapo.  Listen to a word: let's join the wolves ourselves, and it's little we need fear their teeth. Let's march to the army and enlist for a few years. Ah! it's a hard way out, but still perhaps the best in this mess. Ay, let us set out for that famous and great big battalion at Heinola, that marches and drills all summer on Parola Plain. This is an idea worth weighing, seeing that the Crown looks after its own.

Juhani.  I'm afraid, brother, thou hast found the only way." (Kivi 1929, 288-290.)

This is what the brothers decide to do. Notice, however, the content of Eero's suggestion. He tries to combine nature and civilization, freedom and social adjustment, in a unique way: off to sea (freedom, nature), then to the Englishman (sociality, civilization). The created new  aspect in this solution is its intellectually expansive nature: 'let us go and see the world', seems to be Eero's real message.  This does not correspond either to the old or the new activity; it goes beyond both. But this solution is still immature - it would rather escape than solve the contradiction.

So would do the accepted solution, too. That is why it is never realized. The brothers set off to Heinola barracks. But on the road they soon meet the Sheriff. They are on the point of running away, but then step forward, sure in the belief that the Sheriff alone would not be able to arrest them. It turns out that nobody has been killed in the fight and there are no charges against the brothers. Even the Parish Rector has ceased to haunt the brothers, regarding their case as hopeless. The brothers refuse to believe the Sheriff, thinking that this might be a trick to appease them before more troops arrive to make the arrest. The brothers hide in the woods for three days, watching the cabin in suspicion. Then Aapo is sent to the village to confirm their safety. As the truth finally becomes clear to the brothers, they vigorously take up the given new activity of civilized agricultural life.

"Tuomas.  And now to reading, now a-b-c-book in hand and the alphabet in our heads even if it has to be hammered there with a mallet.

Aapo.  Now thou has said something which, if we carry it out, will bring us new happiness. Ah! what if we were to start this great work together, without resting until it is done!


Juhani.  Hard work conquers even the worst of luck. Ay, if we once start on the job, we'll stick to it with clenched teeth. But the matter needs thinking over, wisely and from the roots upward.

Aapo.  We're going to try, for it is a mighty matter. Note: If we cannot read, even a lawful wife is forbidden fruit for us.

Timo.  What! Is that so too? Well rot me! Then it's worth trying is this trick is perhaps going to help me to get a good wife, if I should ever be so mad as to want one. But who knows what'll come into a lad's head. Only God knows that.


Juhani.  (...) But where can we get a good and gentle teacher?

Aapo.  I've thought that out too. I look to thee, Eero. Ay, ay, thou hast a sharp head, that can't be denied. But thank God for this gift and go out for a few weeks into the world, with food on thy back and thy a-b-c-book on thy bossom. Go to the Sheriff's Man, that fine wolf-catcher will teach thee. (...) Then when thou hast learned the chief points of ordinary reading, thou canst return and teach us.

Juhani.  What? Is Eero to teach us? Hm! Eero! Well, see that it doesn't make thee proud, Eero; that I say.

Eero.  Never!  A teacher must always set a good example to his pupils, remembering the day of stern reckoning when he will have to say: 'Here, Lord, am I and those Thou gavest me.'

Juhani.  Hark, hark, did it prick thee? But this is what is going to happen: thou wilt teach me when I want, and I learn from thee only when I want. That's that. We'll keep thee in order all right, that thou knowest. But maybe this plan will do.


Aapo.  Eero, what is thou own idea of the matter?

Eero.  I'm willing to think it over." (Kivi 1929, 302-304.)

This plan was followed. Eero's instruction and the brothers' learning themselves were not much more modern than the first attempt in the parish clerk's house. But these low-level learning actions gain a new quality because of their overall activity context. It is no more school-going. This time, the context is that of conquering a new central activity with the help of certain - albeit mechanical - learning actions. The whole long process of traveling across the zone of proximal development has not been characterized by conscious mastery, or expansive learning activity. But at this point of decisive transition (application and generalization of the new model), the brothers are subjects  of their specific learning actions.

"Eero sat as teacher and his brothers as pupils, all shouting as with one mouth the names of the letters as the youngest brother called them out. (...) Hard and agonizing was this work to them, full of agony especially in the beginning; sorely they all sighed and sweated. Hardest of all worked Juhani; for very zeal his jaw would shake, and dozing Timo who sat beside him received many an angry poke of his fist whenever his poor head drooped. An added trial was that Eero did not always take his high calling with due gravity, but frequently allowed stinging little remarks to pass his lips. For this he had received many warnings from his brothers, but the game was dear to him.

Once on a winter day, when a biting frost prevailed outside and an almost rayless sun shone over the southern rim of the world, the brothers sat hard at work in their cabin, a-b-c-books in their hands. The devoted, but monotonous sound of their reading might have been heard afar; it was the second time they were going through the alphabet.

Eero.  A.

The Others.  A.

Eero.  B.

The Others.  B.

Eero.  Ay, A is the first letter of the alphabet and Z the last. 'A and Z, the beginning and the end, the first and the last,' as it says somewhere in the Bible. But have you ever happened to see the last as the first, Z as A? It certainly looks a bit funny to see that little thing, the one that always used to be at the tail end, suddenly cock on the dunghill and all the otherslooking up to him with honour and respect, as at something fatherly, even though they do it with somewhat bulging eyes. But why do I turn to matters with which we have nothing to do just now. Ay, go on reading.

Juhani.  Do I catch thy meaning? I'm afraid I do. But teach us nicely now, or the Devil'll get you.

Eero.  Go on nicely with your lesson now. C.

The Others.  C.

Eero.  D.

The Others.  D, E, F, G.

Juhani.  Wait a bit; I, poor boy, have lost my place. Let's start again at the beginning.

Eero.  A.

The Others.  A.

Eero.  A, B, C, 'the cow ran up the tree.' What does this sentence tell us, Juhani. Canst thou explain it?

Juhani.  I will try to discover its meaning. Come out with me a little, you others; there is something important we must talk over.

So saying, he went out into the yard, and the others followed him; and with beating heart Eero began guessing what this withdrawal might portend. But in the yard the brothers discussed the best way of keeping down Eero's cruel way of bent for joking, which caused him to jest with the a-b-c-book in his hand and thus mock not only them, but also God and His word. And they concluded that he had earned a good whipping. They entered the cabin again, and the fresh birch-rod in Juhani's hand struck the soul of Eero with dread. Tuomas and Simeoni seized the lad firmly; and then Juhani's rod did its best. Eero yelled, kicked and raved, and when at last he was free, looked around him with terrible, murderous glance.

Juhani.  Now then, take the book in thy hand and teach us properly, thou rascal, and remember this hiding whenever thy thy blackguard tongue feels like talking mockingly. Ah indeed! Did it hurt? Ay, ay, thous hast got what I prophesied thee years ago. For 'evil is the mocker's reward in the end,' that thou now nowest. Take the book, say I, and teach us in a sensible and proper way, thou rascal." (Kivi 1929, 308-310.)

This incident exemplifies how the given new actions are disturbed as the created new breaks into the open. Eero's acting does not correspond to either the old activity (isolated hunting life) or to the given new activity (civilized agricultural life). And it certainly brings no reward to him, rather to the contrary.

There are other kinds of disturbances, too. Frost destroys the brothers' crops, and a hard winter threatens them with a famine. The disaster is avoided as the brothers once more succeed in bear hunting. Temporarily, the old activity takes over once more. But this disturbance is regressive or nostalgic, fundamentally different from the one described above.

Now what is the essence of the created new activity manifested in Eero's actions? What is the inner contradiction embedded in the new model of agricultural life?

Eero's joke cited above hits the heart of the matter: "it certainly looks a bit funny to see that little thing, the one that always used to be at the tail end, suddenly cock on the dunghill and all the others looking up to him with honour and respect, as at something fatherly, even though they do it with somewhat bulging eyes". The message is clear: the stable hierarchies based on wealth, age and physical power are turned upside down. The last becomes the first. The smallest and youngest takes the power which is suddenly based on knowledge, wit and intellect.

This perspective is real and objective, not just Eero's subjective fancy. The very stability and unity of the Lutheran agricultural order required the ability to read. But this ability was a double-edged sword. It could be turned into an instrument  instead of a rule.  Eero's actions anticipate just this: a created new activity where reading and intellect are used as instruments of power, implying an essentially dynamic and fluid social and economic order - that which was to take the shape of industrial capitalism.

In the last chapter of the book, Kivi sketches the future destinies of each of the brothers, Eero being the last of them.

"On Sundays and holidays he either studied his newspaper, or wrote the news or described parochial happenings from his own parish for the same newspaper. And gladly the editor accepted these writings of his, whose contents were always to the point, their style pithy and clear, often showing genius. And with these interests his outlook on life and the world broadened. The country of his birth was to him no longer a vague part of a vague world, of which he knew neither the site nor the character. He knew well where lay the country, that dear corner of the earth, where the Finns dwelt in toil and struggle, and in whose bosom the bones of his fathers rested. He knew its frontiers, its seas, its secretly-smiling lakes and the pine-clad ridges that run like stake-fences throughout its breadth. The whole picture of the land of his birth, its friendly mother-face, had sunk for ever into the depths of his heart. And from it was born in him the desire to help the happiness and prosperity of his country. Through his sturdy and unresting endeavours a kind of elementary school was built in the parish, one of the first in Finland. And other useful institutions, too, he brought into the district. And in all his work in the house his eye dwelt constantly on his eldest son, whom he had decided to educate into a man of knowledge and skill." (Kivi 1929, 402-403.)

Aleksis Kivi himself was an Eero of the Finnish nation, only with a less happy and harmonious end. His book disturbed the given new way of life, the stable hierarchy of authority. The leading literary critic crushed Seven Brothers, accusing it for low naturalism. Kivi lived in constant financial anguish. His mental health was shattered, and he died in oblivion in 1872.

I'll now summarize the brothers' voyage across the zone of proximal development in the following table (Table 3.4).

Just like Huck's case, the case of the brothers represents a developmental sequence structurally similar to learning activity but occurring essentially non-consciously, without learning activity. A comparison between the voyages of Huckleberry Finn and the seven brothers also brings up an interesting difference. In the case of Huck Finn, the double bind situation was a singular conflict brought into the extreme and solved expansively because of Huck's personal honesty and strength. In the case of the brothers, the double bind appears four times, each time in a more aggravated form.

The reading instruction in the house of the parish clerk produces the first premature form of the double bind. The second appearance of the double bind ensues from the incident with the bulls. The third time it is faced after the drinking period, as the boys find Simeoni in the woods and hear about the visions of Simeoni and Lauri. Very soon follows the fourth and decisive appearance, as the boys consider the consequences of their fight with the men of Toukola. The solution is not found as a momentary revelation, manifested as an exceptional action in the pressing situation. Rather, the solution is ripened stepwise, and the release of tension demands more calming  down  and  relaxing  than  extreme effort.

This is probably one real type of the double bind. Bateson (1978, 63-64) seems to hint at something like this as he speaks of double binds as "taking pains", as "recursive and reflexive trains of phenomena". In one type of double bind, a singular unexpected action is decisive for the expansive solution. In the other type, the solution is reached through a series of more or less incomplete and unsatisfactory attempts leading to the final point where withdrawal from regressive action may be the decisive element after which the solution appears as something self-evident and easy.

Table 3.4

The sequential structure of Seven Brothers'   zone of proximal development


CONTRADICTION     PHASE                CONTENT IN SEVEN  BROTHERS                                 

Primary within              Need state                      Hunting life in the woods: freedom  in nature

the components                                                     vs. social interaction with people

of the old activity


Secondary                       Double bind                     Intruding new rules (reading, economic

between                                                                  responsibility, physical restraint) vs.

the components                                                        old instruments (isolation model, direct

of the old activity                                                       recourse to physical action)


                                       Object/motive                 (a) The idea of cultivating land as a solution

                                       construction                           to the payment of the bulls (springboard:

                                                                                     the idea of making tar)

                                                                                (b) The taking up of reading and agriculture

                                                                                as reactions to the release of tension after

                                                                                the fight(springboard: the idea of wife)

                                                                                New object: land, stable prosperity

                                                                                New general model: civilized life (stable

                                                                                agricultural hierarchy vs. dynamic movement

                                                                                stimulated by reading and intellect as inner

                                                                                contradiction of this new model of activity)


Tertiary                          Application,                     Hunting (made necessary by frost and famine)

between the old              generalization;                 vs. agriculture and reading. The new actions

and the given new         component                    of reading are disturbed   by Eero's

activity/motive                actions of the                  precursor actions of the created new

(between the only           given new                         activity

understood and the         activity

effective motive)


Quaternary                    Activity 2:                      Agricultural life of the brothers, including

between  the new          reflection,                       Eero's work for enlightment in the community

activity and                   consolidation

its neighbour



 In the preceding chapter, learning activity was characterized as 'learning by expanding'. In this chapter, learning activity has been characterized as a voyage across the zone of proximal development,  and a sequential model of this voyage has been worked out. In the course of this voyage, elements of an objectively and societally new activity form  are produced simultaneously with qualitative change in the subject of activity.

The model put forward in this chapter as well as the concrete literary cases may give a picture of an essentially spontaneous process, largely independent of interventions and instructional efforts from outside. The literary cases are actually examples of spontaneous forbears of learning activity. Their sequential structure is basically similar to that of learning activity, but they lack the specific instrumentality  of the latter.

In Chapter 4, I'll turn to this specific instrumentality, representing the complex psychic formation of theoretical thinking or theoretical relation to reality.