All Edge: Inside the New Workplace Networks

All Edge: Inside the New Workplace Networks

Available via Amazon

Work is changing. Speed and flexibility are more in demand than ever before thanks to an accelerating knowledge economy and sophisticated communication networks. These changes have forced a mass rethinking of the way we coordinate, collaborate, and communicate. Instead of projects coming to established teams, teams are increasingly converging around projects. These “all-edge adhocracies” are highly collaborative and mostly temporary, their edge coming from the ability to form links both inside and outside an organization. These nimble groups come together around a specific task, recruiting personnel, assigning roles, and establishing objectives. When the work is done they disband their members and take their skills to the next project.

In Blog

(Hardcovers and paperbacks)

Posted by: on May 4, 2016 | No Comments

If you’ve been to my author page lately, you may have noticed some changes with my first two books.

Tracing Genres through Organizations (MIT Press, 2003) is no longer available in hardcover—it’s out of print. However, it’s still available in the Kindle version. And if you want it in paperback, it’s now available, both at Amazon and at the MIT Press site.

Network (Cambridge University Press, 2008) is available from Amazon in all three formats. I’m very excited that it’s now available in paperback, which is much less expensive than hardback.

I haven’t seen the paperback version of either book yet. If you buy one of these in paperback, let me know what you think!

In Blog

Reading :: The Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology: A Methodological Investigation

Posted by: on May 3, 2016 | No Comments

The Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology: A Methodological Investigation
By Lev Vygotsky

Vygotsky never published this manuscript, which fortunately is free to us, courtesy of Supposedly Leontiev kept a copy and had his graduate students read it.

In Chapter 1, Vygotsky identifies a “crisis” in psychology: although people recognize the need for a psychology, and although various psychological disciplines have developed approaches, “Further advance along a straight line, the simple continuation of the same work, the gradual accumulation of material, are proving fruitless or even impossible. In order to go further we must choose a path.” Specifically:

Out of such a methodological crisis, from the conscious need for guidance in different disciplines, from the necessity – on a certain level of knowledge – to critically coordinate heterogeneous data, to order uncoordinated laws into a system, to interpret and verify the results, to cleanse the methods and basic concepts, to create the fundamental principles, in a word, to pull the beginnings and ends of our knowledge together, out of all this, a general science is born.

But where is the methodological starting point? We can’t start with pathology, Vygotsky says, because it leads us to look for the extreme, not the normal. We can’t start with zoopsychology (e.g., behaviorism or reflexology) because, contrary, “always the highest forms [are] the key to the lower ones” (and here he cites Marx).

And yet, he says, we need a unified methodological basis for psychology. In this book,

We wish to obtain a clear idea of the essence of individual and social psychology as two aspects of a single science, and of their historical fate, not through abstract considerations, but by means of an analysis of scientific reality. From this we will deduce, as a politician does from the analysis of events, the rules for action and the organisation of scientific research. The methodological investigation utilises the historical examination of the concrete forms of the sciences and the theoretical analysis of these forms in order to obtain generalised, verified principles that are suitable for guidance. This is, in our opinion, the core of this general psychology whose concept we will attempt to clarify in this chapter.

 This problem is crucial, since facts are collected and interpreted differently via different methodologies. Worse:

At present psychoanalysis, behaviourism, and subjective psychology are already operating not only with different concepts, but with different facts as well. Facts such as the Oedipus complex, indisputable and real for psychoanalysts, simply do not exist for other psychologists; for many it is wildest phantasy.

Thus “the fundamental concept, the primary abstraction, so to speak, that lies at the basis of a science, determines not only the content, but also predetermines the character of the unity of the different disciplines, and through this, the way to explain the facts, i.e., the main explanatory principle of the science.”

Yet different branches of psychology, he notes, have been fighting for supremacy, and this has caused problems.

In Ch.3, Vygotsky notes these problems:

It can be said of any important discovery in any area, when it transcends the boundaries of that particular realm, that it has the tendency to turn into an explanatory principle for all psychological phenomena and lead psychology beyond its proper boundaries into broader realms of knowledge. In the last several decades this tendency has manifested itself with such amazing strictness and consistency, with such regular uniformity in the most diverse areas, that it becomes absolutely possible to predict the course of development of this or that concept, discovery, or idea. At the same time this regular repetition in the development of widely varying ideas evidently – and with a clarity that is seldom observed by the historian of science and methodologist – points to an objective necessity underlying the development of the science, to a necessity which we may observe when we approach the facts of science from an equally scientific point of view. It points to the possibility of a scientific methodology built on a historical foundation.

That is, some branch of psychology attempts to become ascendant in this way:

  1. It is applied successfully to a specific problem: “In the beginning there is some factual discovery of more or less great significance which reforms the ordinary conception of the whole area of phenomena to which it refers, and even transcends the boundaries of the given group of phenomena within which it was first observed and formulated.”
  2. Due to its success, it is applied to adjacent areas: “The idea is stretched out, so to speak, to material that is broader than what it originally covered. The idea itself (or its application) is changed in the process, it becomes formulated in a more abstract way.”
  3. Eventually, it takes over as the default explanatory framework: “the idea controls more or less the whole discipline in which it originally arose. It has partly changed the structure and size of the discipline and has itself been to some extent changed by them. It has become separated from the facts that engendered it, exists in the form of a more or less abstractly formulated principle, and becomes involved in the struggle between disciplines for supremacy.”
  4. It keeps expanding beyond its disciplinary bounds, separating from the facts that engendered it, eventually being “formulated as a universal principle or even as a whole world view.”
  5. It bursts like a soap bubble: “it enters a stage of struggle and negation which it now meets from all sides,” and at this point its limitations become apparent and it shrinks to the appropriate size—or disappears.
In Chapter 4, Vygotsky gives us several examples: “psychoanalysis, reflexology, Gestalt psychology, and personalism.” For each,

The extension of the concept grows and reaches for infinity and according to the well-known logical law, its content falls just as impetuously to zero. Each of these four ideas is extremely rich, full of meaning and sense, full of value and fruitful in its own place. But elevated to the rank of universal laws they are worthy of each other, they are absolutely equal to each other, like round and empty zeros. Stern’s personality is a complex of reflexes according to Bekhterev, a Gestalt according to Wertheimer, sexuality according to Freud.

Yes, Vygotsky, yes. But here Vygotsky holds out hope for a truly universal principle:

Doesn’t this tendency of each new idea in psychology to turn into a universal law show that psychology really should rest upon universal laws, that all these ideas wait for a master-idea which comes and puts each different, particular idea in its place and indicates its importance? The regularity of the path covered with amazing constancy by the most diverse ideas testifies, of course, to the fact that this path is predetermined by the objective need for an explanatory principle and it is precisely because such a principle is needed and not available that various special principles occupy its place. Psychology, realising that it is a matter of life or death to find a general explanatory principle, grabs for any idea, albeit an unreliable one.

And here I found myself saying: No, Vygotsky, no! But this is ultimately Vygotsky’s goal: to develop a universal methodological principle for psychology, one that can unify it. It’s a modernist goal for Vygotsky’s modernist psychology.

In Ch.5, Vygotsky freely quotes Engels to substantiate his point that abstractions can and should be based on actual relations—and that dialectics is the way to do so.

Engels [1925/1978, p. 514] has pointed out many times that for dialectical logic the methodology of science is a reflection of the methodology of reality. He says that 

The classification of sciences of which each analyzes a different form of movement, or a number of movements that are connected and merge into each other, is at the same time a classification, an ordering according to the inherent order of these forms of movement themselves and in this resides their importance. 

Can it be said more clearly? In classifying the sciences we establish the hierarchy of reality itself

In Chapter 7, Vygotsky discusses the issue of one school taking on ideas from another. Whether one school “annexes” ideas from the other or whether they become “allied,” this process is fraught with difficulties because the ideas have developed within different systems under different premises. Re the latter, it’s not hard to read between the lines and see a critique of the young Luria here:

This method is usually applied in the merger of Marxism and Freudian theory. In so doing the author uses a method that by analogy with geometry might be called the method of the logical superposition of concepts. The system of Marxism is defined as being monistic, materialistic, dialectic etc. Then the monism, materialism etc. of Freud’s system is established; the superimposed concepts coincide and the systems are declared to have fused. Very flagrant, sharp contradictions which strike the eye are removed in a very elementary way: they are simply excluded from the system, are declared to be exaggerations, etc. 

And if you didn’t see it coming, a few paragraphs later, Vygotsky explicitly makes the case with a cite to Luria’s 1925 paper! He goes on to say that such alliances fundamentally disrespect the intended allies—Luria, he says, in trying to reconcile the two systems, is essentially telling Freud that Freud is materialist and monist. He concludes: “By no means do I want to say that everything in psychoanalysis contradicts Marxism. I only want to say that I am in principle not dealing with this question at all. I am only pointing out how we should (methodologically) and should not (uncritically) fuse two systems of ideas.”

In Chapter 8, this line of thought reaches its conclusion with this intriguing analogy:

As to the methodological spine that is supporting them there are two scientific systems. Methodology is always like the backbone, the skeleton in the animal’s organism. Very primitive animals, like the snail and the tortoise, carry their skeleton on the outside and they can, like an oyster, be separated from their skeleton. What is left is a poorly differentiated fleshy part. Higher animals carry their skeleton inside and make it into the internal support, the bone of each of their movements. In psychology as well we must distinguish lower and higher types of methodological organization. 

This is the best refutation of the sham empiricism of the natural sciences. It turns out that nothing can be transposed from one theory to another. It would seem that a fact is always a fact. Despite the different points of departure and the different aims one and the same object (a child) and one and the same method (objective observation) should make it possible to transpose the facts of psychology to reflexology. The difference would only be in the interpretation of the same facts. In the end the systems of Ptolemy and Copernicus rested upon the same facts as well. [But] It turns out that facts obtained by means of different principles of knowledge are different facts.

In Ch.9, Vygotsky notes that Chelpanov ridicules psychologists from rival schools who rename the phenomena they study.

Chelpanov is tempted to reduce the whole reform carried out by behaviorism to a play of words. He assumes that in Watson’s writings the word “sensation” or “idea” is replaced by the word “reaction.” In order to show the reader the difference between ordinary psychology and the psychology of the behaviorist, Chelpanov (1925) gives examples of the new way of expressing things: 

“In ordinary psychology it is said: ‘When someone’s optical nerve is stimulated by a mixture of complementary light waves, he will become conscious of the white color.’ According to Watson in this case we must say: ‘He reacts to it as if it were a white color.’” 

The triumphant conclusion of the author is that the matter is not changed by the words used.

But, Vygotsky says, this is the view of someone who is uncritical: “Who has no view of his own about the phenomena and accepts indifferently both Spinoza, Husserl, Marx, and Plato, for such a person a fundamental change of words is an empty pretension.” In contrast, Vygotsky says, “We can say in advance that the word that refers to a fact at the same time provides a philosophy of that fact, its theory, its system.”

And here he connects the discussion of terminology back to the question of methodology in the previous chapter:

We have seen everywhere that the word, like the sun in a drop of water, fully reflects the processes and tendencies in the development of a science. A certain fundamental unity of knowledge in science comes to light which goes from the highest principles to the selection of a word. What guarantees this unity of the whole scientific system? The fundamental methodological skeleton. The investigator, insofar as he is not a technician, a registrar, an executor, is always a philosopher who during the investigation and description is thinking about the phenomena, and his way of thinking is revealed in the words he uses.

In Chapter 10, Vygotsky summarizes:

From the fragmentary analyses of the separate elements of a science we have learned to view it as a complex whole which develops dynamically and lawfully. In which stage of development is our science at this moment, what is the meaning and nature of the crisis it experiences and what will be its outcome? Let us proceed to the answer to these questions. When one is somewhat acquainted with the methodology (and history) of the sciences, science loses its image of a dead, finished, immobile whole consisting of ready-made statements and becomes a living system which constantly develops and moves forward, and which consists of proven facts, laws, suppositions, structures, and conclusions which are continually being supplemented, criticized, verified, partially rejected, interpreted and organized anew, etc. Science commences to be understood dialectically in its movement, i.e., from the perspective of its dynamics, growth, development, evolution. It is from this point of view that we must evaluate and interpret each stage of development. 

So how is the current crisis in psychology interpreted? Some, like Chelpanov, deny its existence. Others interpret it “subjectively,” believing their school is correct and others are simply wrong. Vygotsky warns that psychology will either coalesce around a future unified system or splinter due to mutually exclusive principles of knowledge. He adds something interesting here:

But before we turn to this point we must first quit radically with the misunderstanding that psychology is following the path biology already took and in the end will simply be attached to it as its part. To think about it in this way is to fail to see that sociology edged its way between the biology of man and animals and tore psychology into two parts.

In Chapter 11, Vygotsky adds that psychology cannot be empirical because “empiricism formulates its tasks in such a way as to reveal their impossibility. Indeed, on the basis of empiricism, i.e., completely discarding basic premises, no scientific knowledge whatever is logically and historically possible.” This is Chelpanov’s dilemma: He “wants psychology to be a natural science about (1) phenomena which are completely different from physical phenomena, and (2) which are conceived in a way that is completely different from the way the objects of the natural sciences are investigated.”

In Chapter 12, Vygotsky declares that “the main driving force of the crisis in its final phase is the development of applied psychology as a whole” (his emphasis). He adds: “One can say about applied psychology what can be said about philosophy which was rejected by empirical psychology: ‘the stone which the builders rejected is become the head stone of the corner.'” He argues that “the struggle between the two psychologies does not coincide with the struggle between the many conceptions and psychological schools, but stands behind them and determines them” (again, his emphasis).

And he concludes the chapter:

Many psychologists have viewed the introduction of the experiment as a fundamental reform of psychology and have even equated experimental and scientific psychology. They predicted that the future would belong solely to experimental psychology and have viewed this epithet as a most important methodological principle. But in psychology the experiment remained on the level of a technical device, it was not utilised in a fundamental way and it led, in the case of Ach for instance, to its own negation. Nowadays many psychologists see a way out in methodology, in the correct formation of principles. They expect salvation from the other end. But their work is fruitless as well. Only a fundamental rejection of the blind empiricism which is trailing behind immediate introspectional experience and which is internally split into two parts; only the emancipation from introspection, its exclusion just like the exclusion of the eye in physics; only a rupture and the selection of a single psychology will provide the way out of the crisis. The dialectic unity of methodology and practice, applied to psychology from two sides, is the fate and destiny of one of the psychologies. A complete severance from practice and the contemplation of ideal essences is the destiny and fate of the other. A complete rupture and separation is their common destiny and fate. This rupture began, continues, and will be completed along the lines of practice. (His emphasis)

In Ch.13, Vygotsky grounds his proposed psychology in dialectical materialism—but not by simply applying terms to the new domain:

Engels’ formula – not to foist the dialectical principles on nature, but to find them in it – is changed into its opposite here. The principles of dialectics are introduced into psychology from outside. The way of Marxists should be different. The direct application of the theory of dialectical materialism to the problems of natural science and in particular to the group of biological sciences or psychology is impossible, just as it is impossible to apply it directly to history and sociology. In Russia it is thought that the problem of “psychology and Marxism” can be reduced to creating a psychology which is up to Marxism, but in reality it is far more complex. Like history, sociology is in need of the intermediate special theory of historical materialism which explains the concrete meaning, for the given group of phenomena, of the abstract laws of dialectical materialism. In exactly the same way we are in need of an as yet undeveloped but inevitable theory of biological materialism and psychological materialism as an intermediate science which explains the concrete application of the abstract theses of dialectical materialism to the given field of phenomena. 

Dialectics covers nature, thinking, history – it is the most general, maximally universal science. The theory of the psychological materialism or dialectics of psychology is what I call general psychology. 

In order to create such intermediate theories – methodologies, general sciences – we must reveal the essence of the given area of phenomena, the laws of their change, their qualitative and quantitative characteristics, their causality, we must create categories and concepts appropriate to it, in short, we must create our own Das Kapital.  (his emphasis)

And that is the really interesting thing about the book, and perhaps why it lay in Leontiev’s desk drawer rather than being published. Vygotsky wanted a revolutionary change in the conception and methodology of psychology, one that was as fundamental as Marx’s Das Kapital—one that was not dialectical in the forced, artificial way that Kornilov’s “materialist” psychology was, nor an internally contradictory mishmash in the way of Luria’s early flirtation with Freudianism, but rather, one that was materialist at the roots and that could seamlessly grow into its connections with dialectical materialism, the logic of nature.

I have been reluctant to believe that Vygotsky took Engels that seriously, but based on this argument, I think he really did. Nevertheless, Vygotsky was a more systematic thinker, one who saw the need for a genuine, organically developed methodology for psychology.

If you’re interested in Vygotsky, psychology, or methodology, of course you should read this (free) book.

In Blog

Reading :: History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks): Short Course

Posted by: on May 3, 2016 | No Comments

History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks): Short Course
By Joseph Stalin

I finished this book in March. It was on a flight back from Europe. There I was, flying somewhere over the Atlantic, reading Stalin on my Kindle app on my tablet while listening to J-Pop. Welcome to 2016.

Of course, it’s not entirely accurate to say that Stalin “authored” this book, although he oversaw it and his name is on it. Stalin commissioned the book, wrote the chapter on dialectical materialism, and oversaw the rest. Published in 1938, this book was made mandatory reading in all schools and universities in the USSR.

One might think that this piece of propaganda would be more exciting. To be sure, the authors did try to introduce a plot, but that plot is one of good (the Bolsheviks) vs. evil (global capitalism in many guises, including those of seemingly dedicated Communists who turn out to be in pay of their capitalist taskmasters). The plot spans the 55 years from 1883, the creation of the Social-Democratic Labor Party in Russia, to the time of publication (1938).

But the plot does not serve anyone well. If it is taken at face value, the Bolsheviks—including Lenin and Stalin—seem like complete chumps, ignorant of the obvious machinations of Trotsky and his henchmen. If it is not taken at face value, the Party seems frequently disunified.

I’ll just note some interesting points:

As early as p.7, Stalin is blaming the “rich” kulaks for the misery of the rural poor.

By p.11, Stalin is touting the dictatorship of the proletariat as the discovery of Marx and Engels.

On p.15, he contrasts Marx and Engels’ “scientific” understanding of history with that of the Narodniks, who “neither knew nor understood the laws of the economic and political development of society.”

On p.48, Stalin notes that the “Economists” argued that “a Socialist ideology could arise from the spontaneous movement of the working class”—but Lenin showed that “the Socialist ideology arises not from the spontaneous movement, but from science.” One can be forgiven for being confused by the narrative: is socialism an inevitable development governed by the laws of history and economics, or is it dependent on human agency and intervention? Compare also p.248, in which the shift from capitalism to socialism to communism was again portrayed as historically inevitable.

On p.60, Stalin explains and justifies the separation of the Party from all workers: the Party is the vanguard, tasked with leading the people, although it comes from the people and puts their interests first. As he argues on p.62, the people can only thrive if they are “welded” together in one unified purpose. This leads to his claim on pp.63-64 that “the Party must be organized on the principle of centralism” in which “the minority must submit to the majority, the various organizations must submit to the centre.” In fact, on p.188, Stalin argues that “The Party strengthens itself by purging its ranks of opportunistic elements” (his emphasis).

On p.137, Stalin begins his discussion of dialectical and historical materialism, supposedly the one part that Stalin wrote himself. It was also published separately; see my review of it.

On p.163, Stalin reviews Marx and Engels’ claims about the five main types of relations of production: primitive communal, slave, feudal, capitalist, and socialist.

Interestingly, on pp.224-225, Stalin chronicles Lenin’s claims that Socialism could be victorious in separate countries—it did not have to take place simultaneously in all “civilized” countries. This “new” theory, Stalin says, was grounded in Lenin’s 1905 pamphlet. (Compare this claim with a contemporaneous account of the Bolsheviks’ belief in the latter during the Bolshevik Revolution.)

On p.357, the authors claim that Trotskyism was defeated in part because of the “masterly exposition” of “Comrade Stalin’s theoretical work, Foundations of Leninism“; notice that here and in some other places, Stalin is discussed in third person, perhaps to avoid giving the impression that he was bragging.

On p.367, the authors note that the formation of the USSR was not a final victory; communism would still be in danger until the capitalist “encirclement” was destroyed. Thus the people of the USSR were vitally concerned with proletarian revolution in those countries.

On pp.475-476, Stalin “explains” that Marxist ideology is not dogmatic, it’s an evolving science. This walkback from previous discussion (e.g., p.15) is a tell—Stalin eventually “explains” why the USSR structured its dictatorship of the proletariat as a republic of Soviets rather than as a political organization such as the Paris Commune (which was what Marx had suggested).

The above notes are more fragmentary than my normal review, but I wanted to identify some of the more interesting parts of this generally dull book. These parts tend to involve justifying the Bolsheviks’ actions as being in accordance with the “science” of Marx and Engels. Stalin was essentially trying to write a Bible, from the simplified good-vs-evil narrative to the complicated theology.

If you’re interested in Soviet history—and you have the stomach for propaganda—check it out.

In Blog

Reading :: Alexander Romanovich Luria: A Scientific Biography

Posted by: on May 3, 2016 | No Comments

Alexander Romanovich Luria: A Scientific Biography (Plenum Series in Russian Neuropsychology)
By Evgenia D. Homskaya

I’ve mentioned A.R. Luria many times on this blog. But, in part due to remarks Chuck Bazerman made at CCCC last month, I decided to read more about Luria. Fortunately, UT’s library has this biography—which currently retails on Amazon for $199.

The biography was written by Evgenia D. Homskaya (Moscow State University), who defended her own thesis under Luria in 1957 and went on to a prestigious career in her own right. Perhaps in consequence, this biography (first published in Russian in 1992) is not critical of Luria—although it is critical of the ideological hurdles he faced.

Although the biography addresses Luria’s childhood, youth, and some of his personal life, for the most part it really is a “scientific biography,” focusing on his accomplishments in each decade. (Each chapter addresses a decade of his work—”The Twenties”; “The Thirties”—except for the first and last chapter.) Much of the material is familiar from other sources, such as Luria’s job offer from Kornilov in 1921 (p.15) and his first meeting with Vygotsky in 1924 (p.19).

Looking back at the end of the Soviet Union, the author is able to criticize the “morbid atmosphere” of 1930s Russia (p.25), which (for instance) endangered Luria during his Uzbek expedition. In a footnote, the author notes Luria’s “notoriously famous telegram to Vygotsky” in which he declared that “‘Uzbeks don’t have any illusions'” (p.26). The author adds: “The telegram was interpreted by the officials in the political sense, which eventually led to a moratorium on the continuation of research in Central Asia” (p.26). The author doesn’t thoroughly explore the implications of this lesson for Luria, who changed his field and his vocabulary several times to avoid further conflicts with the ideological constraints of the Soviet Union.

The expedition “failed” in the sense that a resolution condemned the research, along with Vygotsky and Luria’s cultural-historical theory (p.30). Worse:

With the political atmosphere in the country becoming more and more suppressive, Luria was forced to react to the resolution by leaving the institute and arresting his psychological-ethnographic activity. Shortly after that, the situation was aggravated by a mournfully famous decree on pedology, accusing all psychologists and teachers who followed this direction incompetent and racist and prohibiting the application of tests for psychological research on children. … Vygotsky and his followers were drowned in interdictions and false accusations that affected Luria and his work in particular. (p.30)

Luria moved to Kharkov in 1932 (p.30), conducting research with “patients with localized brain damage” and studying medicine (p.31). But “collaboration with the leader of the Psychoneurological Academy turned out to be unsuccessful,” so he moved back to Moscow in 1934; Vygotsky died the same year (p.31).

Luria began studying twins at the Medico-Genetic Institute, leaving to become a full-time medical student in December 1936; in January 1937, the head of the Institute and colleagues were arrested and their research was declared illegal (p.31)—just another one of Luria’s many lucky escapes.

Chapter 4 covers the Forties, in which Luria worked on rehabilitating Soviet soldiers who had sustained brain injuries during WWII. Chapter 5 moves on the Fifties, in which Luria worked on defectology—and had yet another lucky escape. A “colloquium devoted to the problems of the physiological theory of I.P. Pavlov” involved “the reconstruction of the biological sciences in accordance with Pavlovian teaching and against any other trends of thought and cosmopolitanism” (i.e., “a feature of capitalist ideology that neglected national traditions, culture, and patriotism, and advertized the purposes of universal totalitarianism” (p.41). Physiologist A.G. Ivanov-Smolensky arranged this session, in which non-Pavlovian approaches were declared harmful. The author notes that this event paralleled Lisenko’s 1948 declaration that genetics was a bourgeois pseudoscience (p.41). Ivanov-Smolensky’s mechanistic “motoric method” became ascendant, and Luria “was blamed as a representative of an anti-Pavlovian direction in psychology” (p.42). His lab at Burdenko was closed (p.42), and he went to the Institute of Defectology (p.43). In 1952-53, the “Case of the Doctors” “accused doctors of Jewish nationality”; as an ethnically Jewish doctor, Luria was in danger. But this process was interrupted in 1953 by Stalin’s death—another lucky escape for Luria (p.43). He rose to VP of Scientific Research at the Institute of Defectology (p.43) and in 1956, publishes a book whose implications successfully challenged the 1936 Pedology Decree (p.44).

Chapter 6 covers the Sixties. At the end of the 1950s, Luria was able to return to the Burdenko Institute of Neurosurgery (p.53), where he focused on the question of memory (p.61). In the 1970s, Luria was able to revive cultural-historical theory, including having a monograph and his Uzbek expedition published (p.76). He argued that cognitive processes were determined by both the individual’s experience and the common experience of mankind via language (p.76).

Ultimately, the author argues, Luria “collided” with authoritarian ideology in the 1930s and at the end of the 1950s (p.111). The author chronicles Luria’s successful attempts to minimize the impacts of these collisions—he avoided the Gulag and worked up to his death—but I’d like to see more discussion of the forms that these attempts took. As Cole argues, Luria’s maneuvers involved maintaining a relatively coherent research program while using the language of whichever approach was ascendant at the time, as well as escaping into adjacent fields (neurology, medico-genetic studies, brain trauma, defectology, aphasia) when necessary. These sudden changes and switchbacks meant that Luria was able to accomplish many things in many adjacent fields, but I wonder what his accomplishments would have looked like had he not been forced to maneuver around the vagaries of Soviet ideology.

In Blog

(Free article: "Toward a Typology of Activities")

Posted by: on Apr 28, 2016 | No Comments

My article “Toward a Typology of Activities: Understanding Internal Contradictions in Multiperspectival Activities” was recently named 2016 Best Article on Philosophy or Theory of Technical or Scientific Communication. That’s the old news.The…