In Blog

Reading :: The Collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky: Volume 3: Problems of the Theory and History of Psychology

Sep 9, 2017 | No Comments
The Collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky: Volume 3: Problems of the Theory and History of Psychology
By Lev Vygostky


I finished this book a while back, but have been buried in other commitments and put off reviewing it. But now the library has recalled it and the other volumes of the CW, so I'm going to review it more quickly than it deserves.

This volume draws from across Vygotsky's history, from 1926 to 1934, and not in chronological order. Consequently, if you read the chapters in order, as I did, you'll feel some intellectual whiplash. Frankly, I'm not sure why the editors decided to place the works in this particular order—the 15th (last) chapter is Vygotsky's 1926-27 unpublished manuscript The Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology, which Vygotsky plundered for some of the later works in this collection. (I have reviewed that manuscript elsewhere, so I won't do so here.)

As mentioned, the book has 15 chapters. I'll review just a few of these here.

Chapter 1. The methods of reflexological and psychological investigation.
This 1926 publication is based on the 1924 talk that Vygotsky gave, the one that convinced Kornilov to offer him a job. Here, Vygotsky makes an argument for the study of consciousness from a materialist perspective. Although he very much sounds like a reflexologist here—"mind is just inhibited movement" (p.39)—he also makes arguments that he would repeat over the following ten years: that psychology must "take into account the testimony of the subject" although without being introspective; that consciousness has social origins; that speech is paramount for understanding the system of consciousness (p.42). He famously characterizes consciousness as the reflex to a reflex (p.46), and he points to "the crisis in psychology [, which] is now taking place on a worldwide scale"—an argument that of course underpins The Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology.

Chapter 3. Consciousness as a problem for the psychology of behavior.
This 1925 publication begins with an epigraph from Marx, the passage comparing spiders to weavers and bees to architects (p.63)—an important move, since it demonstrates that Marx was interested in consciousness at least in terms of planning. Vygotsky argues that bare reflexology cannot account for consciousness, and thus cannot account for the uniquely human behavior that Marx describes (p.64). "Biology devours sociology, physiology-psychology," he complains (p.64). To provide an alternative, he discusses the Marx passage in more detail, arguing that in human labor, experience is necessarily doubled as projective and objective—and this doubling "allows man to develop active forms of adaptation which the animal does not have" (p.68).

To explore this uniquely human doubled experience, he turns again to reflexes. He argues that reflexes work in systems, and that at the basis of human consciousness is self-stimulation, i.e., creating one's own stimuli to elicit one's own systems of reflexes (p.71).

Chapter 5. The instrumental method in psychology.
This chapter is "based on a manuscript found in his private archives" (p.85 footnote). I'm no historian, but I would guess it's around 1930, since he's still talking about instrumentalism. This short piece, delivered as a series of numbered paragraphs, argues that psychological tools—"artificial devices for mastering [Man's] own mental processes"—can be considered in analogy to physical tools. But it is only an analogy and "cannot be carried through to the very end until all features of both concepts coincide." The point of analogical comparison is "the role these devices play in behavior, which is analogous to the role of a tool in labor." Such psychological tools are "artificial formations"—social and "directed toward the mastery of [[mental]] processes" (p.85; [[]] indicates square brackets in the original). And "by being included in the process of behavior, the psychological tool modifies the entire course and structure of mental functions by determining the structure of the new instrumental act, just as the technical tool modifies the process of natural adaptation by determining the form of labor operations" (p.85). That is, contra Leontiev, labor is the domain of physical tool and behavior is the domain of psychological tools.

Here, Vygotsky uses the same triangle (p.86) that he used in The History of the Development of Higher Mental Functions and Tool and Symbol. The X in the triangle is a psychological tool, a mediated relation between stimulus and response. X can be an object (memorizing) and a means by which we direct psychological operations; it is an external stimulus (p.86). Note that with a psychological tool, the self is the object of activity—self-control, self-direction, self-mastery (p.87). (And it becomes very clear in this volume that self-mastery is a major theme in Vygotsky's works.) The instrumental act is thus an "elementary unit of behavior" (p.87).

Chapter 6. On psychological systems.
This chapter is also "based on a manuscript found in Vygotsky's private archives" (p.91 footnote). It cites Leontiev's 1931 book and appears to precede Vygotsky's 1934 article on the localization of brain functions, and it examines aphasia, schizophrenia, and other neurological pathologies, so I would guess it was written around 1934.

In any case, Vygotsky says that "what I plan to report surpasses in complexity the system of concepts with which we have operated thus far" (p.91). In previous work, notably in The History of the Development of Higher Mental Functions, Vygotsky argued that higher mental functions were combinations of lower mental functions that had been dialectically transformed. Here, he argues that
in the process of development, and in the historical development of behavior in particular, it is not so much the functions that change (these we mistakenly studied before). Their structure and the system of their development remain the same. What is changed and modified are rather the relationships, the links between the functions. New constellations emerge which were unknown in the preceding stage. That is why intra-functional change is often not essential in the transition from one stage to another. It is inter-functional changes, the changes of inter-functional connections and the inter-functional structure which matter. (p.92)
And "The development of such new flexible relationships between functions we will call a psychological system" (p.92).

He argues that the most elementary functions are relationships between sensory and motor processes, relationships that the Gestaltists and others claim form "an integral psychophysiological whole" (p.93). But when we look beyond apes and young children, this unity "is destroyed"—complex relations develop between these two processes (p.93). Here he says that "these considerations throw new light on Luria's ... experiments with the combined motor method" (p.93—and note that earlier, Vygotsky had essentially ignored the combined motor method).

Later in the text, he argues that in memory, the differentiator is not natural memory but thinking; when the two are combined, "all structural connections, all relationships become changed, and this process of substitution of functions is the formation of a new system which I mentioned earlier" (p.95).

Vygotsky "came to the following staggering conclusion: each higher form of behavior enters the scene twice in its development—first as a collective form of behavior, as an inter-psychological function, then as an intra-psychological function, as a certain way of behaving" (p.95; this idea may be familiar to us from the discussion of speech acquisition in Thought and Language).

Vygotsky again sounds the theme of self-mastery (p.96) and argues that "the biological evolution of man was finished before the beginning of his historical development"—which is ongoing (p.97). (Note here that thus his position must be that the New Man must develop historically, not biologically.)

Vygotsky notes that their early work did not examine late development (adolescence); based on his new investigations, connections in adolescence do not increase, but they do change (p.98). Famously, he says that for a child, to think is to remember. for an adolescent, to remember is to think (p.99).

Later, he argues that the core of schizophrenia is the disturbance of connections. And in that ongoing disturbance, concept formation is lost first (p.102). This disruption of connections explains why mild brain damage can result in gross disorders (p.104)—a theme that Luria later explored extensively.

Chapter 10. Psychology and the theory of the localization of mental functions.
This 1934 article was cited by Luria as the beginning point for his own neuropsychological work. It examines the question of where psychological functions are located in the brain, arguing that "the problem of localization ultimately is a problem of the relation between structural and functional units in brain activity" (p.139). He argues that "In our view, a system of psychological analysis that is adequate from the viewpoint of the theory of localization must be based on a historical theory of the higher mental functions," based on "(a) the mutability of the interfunctional connections and relations; (b) the formation of complex dynamic systems which integrate quite a number of elementary functions; (c) the generalized reflection of activity in consciousness" (p.140). These aspects are "the most essential, fundamental, and united properties of human consciousness" (p.140). Based on them, Vygotsky argues that any given mental function is "the product of the integral activity of strictly differentiated, hierarchically interconnected centers" (p.140). Furthermore, the brain as a whole does not connect all of these functions—"it is the product of the integral activity of dispersed, differentiated and also hierarchically interconnected functions of different brain areas" (p.140). Thus, a local brain lesion does not damage (say) the brain center of writing; such centers do not exist. Rather, it damages one of the many functional areas that are involved in the complex higher mental activity of writing (cf. Luria). Similar lesions can affect the patient differently. In development, the next higher center suffers the most; in disintegration, the next lower center does (p.142).

Thus Vygotsky argues that aphasia, agnosia, and apraxia represent disturbances of extracerebrial connections (p.143).

Chapter 14. Preface to Koffka.
I just want to grab a couple of quotes here.

Vygotsky argues for his genetic method: "That is why we must begin with the facts for which the given theory was originally created, when we wish, as has already been said, the comparison of facts and principles, the examination of facts in the light of the principles, and the verification of principles by the facts, to be the main method for our critical investigation" (p.197).

Later, he contrasts tool use in man vs. apes: "For man a tool remains a tool no matter whether it is at that moment in a situation which requires its use or not. For the animal an object loses its functional meaning outside the situation" (p.207). Apes "are to a much greater degree than man slaves of their sensory field" (p.208). And "it is only man who, in Gelb's brilliant expression, can do something meaningless, i.e., something that does not directly spring from the perceived situation and is meaningless from the viewpoint of the given actual situation" such as preparing a stick for digging (p.209)—or, in Leontiev's later illustration, beating the bushes so that animals would run away from the beater and toward the rest of the hunting party.

Still later, Vygotsky argues that solving a task happens in the animal's optical field, but the child's semantic field (p.213).

Finally, Vygotsky argues that meaning "is the key to all further problems" (p.221).

So that's it, my quick overview of what I found most interesting in this volume of the CW. And of course I recommend it to you.

Finally, A quick note. I have decided not to review the rest of the CW. That's because I have already reviewed what I consider to be the most interesting parts of them ("Tool and Sign," Thought and Language). The teachings on emotions, on the development of the adolescent, and so forth are interesting, to be sure, but not so directly connected to my project.
In Blog

Reading :: Activity Systems Analysis Methods

Aug 9, 2017 | No Comments
Activity Systems Analysis Methods: Understanding Complex Learning Environments
By Lisa C. Yamagata-Lynch


I've been meaning to read this book for a while—it was published in 2010—but my library only has it in an electronic version (hard to read) and it retails for $125 (hard to justify). However, I recently reviewed a book proposal for Springer and they offered to send me a book, so I selected this one.

The book is from a CHAT perspective, specifically grounded in Engestrom's work, and aims to explain how to apply the activity system as a unit of analysis in qualitative research of education environments. The author is an education researcher, and the book is illustrated with examples from her own studies.

To provide grounding for the application, the author begins by overviewing activity systems analysis; describing CHAT (including its roots in Vygotsky); and overviewing CHAT criticisms. From there, the author provides examples of activity systems analyses; discusses how qualitative research is conducted in conjunction with activity systems analyses; and provides detailed examples from her own research. In the appendices, the author provides consent forms, interview protocols, and other study-specific examples from the studies she describes. By the end of the book, the reader has a general overview of CHAT and many examples of its application.

Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by the book, which has a bit of an identity crisis.

The first half of the book provides a tour of CHAT development that is detailed enough to raise some of CHAT's internal contradictions, but not detailed enough to address their implications. For instance, after noting some of the conflicts about the definition of the object, the author shrugs off the conflicts, saying, "As a methodologist, I do not see it as part of my work to redefine the 'object'" (p.17)! (The author and I have different understandings about what being a methodologist entails.) Yet the author also goes into surprising detail about the development of CHAT, including the disagreement between Vygotsky and the Kharkov group. These details raise questions about CHAT that go unanswered and have curiously little impact on the methodology discussion or the application in the second half of the book.

The second half focuses on examples in which a straight-ahead Engestromian CHAT analysis is applied. In these examples, the details are abundant (even including consent forms), but the principles are scarce. At points, I wasn't sure what I was getting out of the second half that I wouldn't have gotten by reading the methodology and analysis sections of exemplar studies.

The main text is only 138pp. At about the time that I got to the appendices, I realized that part of my problem with the book was that it attempts to do two things—understand CHAT's development and provide a CHAT methodological how-to—that are best done in separate texts, and that have been done better elsewhere. Here are two examples out of many:

Example 1: My book Network goes into CHAT development, while my book Topsight  provides a methodological how-to (which, unlike this book, is principles-first and explains its examples thoroughly). You can buy both of them, together, for $52. Activity Systems Analysis Methods by itself is over twice as much: $126.

Example 2: Kaptelinin and Nardi's two books examine CHAT development and apply methodological principles: Acting with Technology: Activity Theory and Interaction Design and Activity Theory in HCI: Fundamentals and Reflections. You can buy both of them, together, for $52.50. Again, that's less than half of the price of Activity Systems Analysis Methods and the books provide more thorough discussion of CHAT development and methodological principles.

I'm not counseling against reading and using this book. In fact, if you have ready access to it from a library and you are setting up a qualitative study in an educational environment, it might be directly useful to you. But I think the book works best as a supplement to books that are more specialized and principle-centric, and the cover price is too steep relative to analogous CHAT texts.
In Blog

Reading :: The History of the Development of Higher Mental Functions

Aug 4, 2017 | No Comments
The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky: The History of the Development of Higher Mental Functions (Cognition and Language: A Series in Psycholinguistics) (Volume 4)
By L.S. Vygotsky


A little background. Although some of Vygotsky's works had been translated into English, including an over-edited 1963 version of Thought and Language, the publication that set off the boom in US-based Vygotsky studies was 1978's Mind in Society. I read this book in graduate school and loved it. Only later did I understand the import of the editors' introduction: The book was a collection of Vygotsky's works, curated by Michael Cole's mentor A.R. Luria and supplemented by illustrative studies by Luria, Leontiev, and other Vygotsky associates. Those works included the unpublished "Tool and Symbol"; section 3 of The History of the Development of Higher Psychological Functions; and two essays from the 1934 collection Mental Development of Children and the Process of Learning. Some of the illustrative material came from other sections of The History of the Development of Higher Psychological Functions.

Since The History of the Development of Higher Psychological Functions was such a big part of this intriguing book, and since it was referenced repeatedly elsewhere by Luria, I was very interested in reading the actual text. But that was easier said than done, since the book had not been published as a standalone text. I could get parts of it. For instance, a condensed version of Ch.1, 2, 4, and 4 takes up about 35pp of Leontyev, Luriya, and Smirnov's (1966) Psychological Research in the USSR under the title "Development of the Higher Psychological Functions." The chapter "The Genesis of Higher Mental Functions" is in Wertsch's 1981 collection The Concept of Activity in Soviet Psychology. But if you want to read the entire book (and then some), you have to go to the 1997 Collected Works, which is translated from the Russian Collected Works. (For a while, I didn't think the UT library had the CW, but apparently I wasn't using the right search terms.)

The Collected Works version includes the originally published chapters (Ch.1-5), published in 1931. But it also includes Ch.6-15, "which are being published for the first time," according to the footnotes from the Russian edition (p.279). Of course, this footnote does not provide much context, so I'm unclear whether Vygotsky actually saw these as part of the same work or wrote them at the same time.

In this review, I'll only cover the original book. I may take up the rest in a future review.

Ch.1. The problem of the development of higher mental functions
Here, Vygotsky begins by urging a new point of view on the development of higher mental functions. Previously, the questions had been formulated in a one-sided, erroneous fashion, primarily because investigators had seen higher mental functions "as natural processes and formations," failing to distinguish the natural from the cultural (p.2). "Higher mental functions and complex cultural forms of behavior with all their specific features of functioning and structure, with all the uniqueness of their genetic path from inception to full maturity and death, with all the special laws to which they are subject usually remained outside the field of vision of the researcher" and thus "complex formations and processes were partitioned into component elements and no longer existed as wholes, as structures" (p.2). That is, traditionally, analysis chopped up the system of a higher mental function (HMF) and consequently could only study its components, lower mental functions (LMF).

Consequently, psychology tells us when children learn abstract concepts, but not why or how. Psychology had not yet distinguished between two lines of development, the natural and the cultural, and the two different sets of laws that each follow (p.3). Vygotsky's solution is to introduce the dialectical method into psychology (p.3). Here, he notes that American behaviorism and Russian reflexology are both reductive, decomposing forms without regard to quality—a nondialectical approach that, he says, results in "an enormous mosaic of mental life" rather than a unified whole (p.4). In contrast, Vygotsky's dialectical approach viewed mental functions as interoperating in a system that is qualitatively different from its parts (p.4). He adds:
The history of the development of higher mental functions is impossible without a study of the prehistory of these functions, their biological roots, their organic properties. The genetic roots of two basic cultural forms of behavior are established in the infantile age: using tools and human speech; this circumstance in itself places the infantile age at the center of the prehistory of cultural development. (p.6)
Vygotsky notes a rupture between general psychology and child psychology, which he credits to a rift between the study of lower and higher mental functions (p.7). He lists three basic concepts of his research in the present volume:

  • higher mental functions
  • the cultural development of behavior
  • the mastery of one's own behavior through internal processes (p.7)
He argues that there are two branches in the development of HMF:
  • "the processes of mastering external materials of cultural development and thinking" such as language and arithmetic;
  • the processes of development of special HMFs such as attention and logical memory (p.14)
Vygotsky argues that cultural development in man is preceded by, but separate from, his biological development. "In a wholly different type of adaptation in man, the development of his artificial organs, tools, and not a change in the organs and structure of his body, is of primary importance" (p.16). Indeed, primitive and cultured man are biologically equal (p.17; recall that this claim is at the root of the Uzbek expedition that went on in 1931-1932). (Vygotsky does not say it here, but his concept of the New Man relied on cultural development; as he implied in his 1930 essay on the subject, the Soviet alteration of man was cultural, not genetic, and anyone from any genetic background could acquire the cultural tools to reach new heights.)

Here, Vygotsky lists some of the HMFs: verbal thinking, logical memory, concept formation, voluntary attention, will; these are all thoroughly changed in cultured man (p.17). "In the process of historical development, social man changes the methods and devices of his behavior, transforms natural instincts and functions, and develops and creates new forms of behavior—specifically cultural" (p.18). And in a cultural environment, organic development yields "a historically conditioned biological process" in which cultural development is merged with organic maturation. One example: "the development of speech in the child" (p.20). 

Citing Jennings, Vygotsky notes that, like animals, "Man also has his system of activity that keeps his methods of behavior within limits. In his system, for example, flying is impossible. But man surpasses all animals because he can extend the radius of his activity limitlessly by using tools. His brain and hand made his system of activity, that is, the sphere of available and possible forms of behavior, infinitely broad." Thus the decisive moment in a child's development is when s/he independently finds and uses tools (p.20).  Here, the child transitions from animal to human activity; but this transition does not mean leaving one for the other. Rather, the two systems (animal/organic and human/cultural) develop together (p.21). (Compare Engestrom's account of the evolution of mediators in the transition from animal to man in Learning by Expanding.)

Animals, Vygotsky argues, do not have the biological platform that we do, "a certain degree of biological maturity" that is required for underpinning HMFs (p.23). Vygotsky proposes understanding the seams between biological and cultural systems of activity by examining "deviations from the normal type," including "the so-called defective," in which natural-cultural merging does not occur normally (p.23). (Vygotsky later became interested in other, higher-achieving edge cases such as that of a mnemonist, and planned to write a book about them; Luria eventually wrote a book about the mnemonist, which was very much in the same vein as the current book, but less broad in its implications.) Specifically discussing "child primitiveness," Vygotsky warns us against understanding "primitivism of the child's mentality" as "feebleness": "The child-primitive is a child who has not gone through cultural development or, more precisely, who is at the lowest step of cultural development" (cf. Luria's 1930s twin research). 

Ch.2. Research method
In this chapter, Vygotsky lays down his methodological principles. Although it's been a while since I read his Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology, the chapter seems in line with it. "Our main idea" is that in making the transition from animal to human, we made 
a dialectical leap that leads to a qualitative change in the relationship itself between the stimulus and the response. We might formulate our basic conclusion thus: human behavior differs by the same kind of qualitative uniqueness in comparison with the behavior of animals as the whole type of adaptation and historical development of man differs from the adaptation and development of animals because the process of mental development in man is part of the total process of the historical development of humanity. (p.39)
Man acts upon nature—including himself—and creates new conditions for self, conditions that allow him to shape himself (p.38).

Vygotsky and colleagues
began our research with a psychological analysis of several forms of behavior that are found, not frequently it is true, in everyday, common life and are thus known to everyone, but are also to a high degree complex, historical formations of the earliest epochs in the mental development of man. These techniques of methods of behavior, arising stereotypically in given situations, represent virtual solidified, petrified, crystallized psychological forms that arose in remote times at the most primitive stages of cultural development of man and in a remarkable way were preserved in the form of historical survivors in a petrified and in a living state in the behavior of modern man. (p.39) 
 One is the dilemma of Buridan's ass, which humans solve via artificially introduced auxiliary stimuli (ex: you can make a decision by flipping a coin; p.46). In fact, humans frequently determine their own behavior "with the help of artificially created stimuli-devices" such as tying a knot to remember or throwing dice (p.50). He adds, without evidence: "Tying a knot for remembering was one of the very first forms of the written word. This form played an enormous role in the history of culture, in the history of the development of writing" (p.50; but evidence suggests that Vygotsky was wrong in this example.)

Here, Vygotsky discusses signs, defined as "artificial stimuli-devices introduced by man into a psychological situation where they fulfill the function of autostimulation" (p.54). Signification is the creation and use of signs, and it distinguishes human behavior (p.55). "In the process of social life, man created and developed more complex systems of psychological connections without which work activity and all social life would be impossible." Signs are "devices of psychological connection in their very nature and in their essential function" (p.56). (Here, we see signs take center stage, as precursors to work activity—a formulation that Leontiev would later turn on its head.) One example of the use of signs is in memory: the knot "remembers" the errand for the man who ties it, in the sense that the knot is an active form of adaptation or external process of remembering. That is, memory is converted to external activity, whether in knots or in monuments (p.59).

Vygotsky warns that although we can speak of signs as tools, it's an analogy that can't be carried through to the bitter end, and "we must not anticipate finding much similarity to working tools in these devices that we call signs" (see his very similar discussion from 1930). What he calls the "instrumental function of the sign" is "the function of stimulus-device fulfilled by the sign with respect to any psychological operation, that it is a tool of human activity" (p.60). We can't collapse the distinction between tool and sign: "tools as devices for work, devices for mastering the processes of nature, and language as a device for social contact and communication, dissolve in the general concept of artifacts of artificial devices" (p.61). Rather, Vygotsky argues that we should understand the difference in this way:

  • the use of signs is a "mediating activity" in which humans control behavior
  • the use of tools is a mediating activity in which humans subjugate nature (pp.61-62)
These are "diverging lines of mediating activity" (p.62). Again, Leontiev later turns this formulation on its head by considering labor activity as the origination point for human psychology, thus collapsing the distinction between tool/sign and external nature/self-regulatory behavior.

Ch.3. Analysis of higher mental functions
Vygotsky opens this chapter by briefly discussing Lewin's systemic approach to psychology. Characteristically, Vygotsky does not provide a cite, but the thinking is quite similar to the linked book. However, Vygotsky didn't buy Gestalt psychology, which (he argued) rejects analysis of the whole and remains descriptive (p.66, 67)—despite Lewin's own argument that the sciences must move from a descriptive to an explanatory approach (p.69). Vygotsky proposes the experimental-genetic method (p.68). Whereas classic psychological experiments are set up to analyze complex reactions in automatized form—a sort of "post mortem" (p.75)—Vygotsky aimed to convert an automatized process to a living reaction (p.76; compare Bodker's focus on breakdowns, which I continued in my own methodology). 

A little later in the chapter, Vygotsky presents his famous triangle diagram showing a stimulus, response, and mediational means (p.79; this diagram also shows up in "Tool and Sign," and was introduced to the US readership through Mind in Society). Vygotsky argues that this mediated structure is what all higher forms of behavior consist of (p.80). 

Ch.4. The structure of higher mental functions
Here, Vygotsky distinguishes between primitive structures (natural, mainly dependent on "biological features of the mind") and higher structures ("a genetically more complex and higher form of behavior") (p.83). Critically, traditional psychology did not investigate "this phenomenon which we call mastery of one's own behavior"—and even, in James' case, explained HMFs such as will in terms of miracles (p.86)! Vygotsky examines self-mastery, again using the distinction between tool (which is directed outward) and sign (which is directed inward, reconstructing one's mental operations) (p.89). Everything in higher behavior—that is, everything that is uniquely human—is connected with artificial means of thinking (p.90). Yet higher behavior is an aggregate of lower, elementary, natural processes; culture creates nothing (p.92). 

Ch.5. Genesis of higher mental functions

Here, Vygotsky first reviews the work of Kohler and Koffka (who he characterizes as Lamarckian) and Buhler (who tries to unite Lamarck and Darwin; p.100). Via Janet, he argues that everything that is internal in HMFs was formerly external; the relations between HMFs were once relations between people (p.103). This leads us to the general genetic law of cultural development: that every function appears twice, first interpsychologically, then intrapsychologically. This is the sociogenesis of higher forms of behavior. All HMFs are the essence of internalized relations of a social order (p.106). Development is seen as taking place, not in steady accumulations of small changes, but as qualitative leaps (p.110; note the quant->qual argument based on dialectics).

And that's the original book. This volume of the Collected Works has many more chapters, which apparently remained unpublished until the CW came out. I may review these in the future. But my main focus was this hard-to-find translation on HMFs. After reading it, I have a much clearer idea of what Vygotsky was trying to do in 1931 and how it influenced (and diverged from) his colleagues. If you're interested in Vygotsky, especially the Vygotsky you thought you first encountered in Mind in Society, I highly recommend it.

In Blog

Reading :: A Handbook of Contemporary Soviet Psychology

Jul 26, 2017 | No Comments
A handbook of contemporary Soviet psychology
Edited by Michael Cole and Irving Maltzman


This 1969 collection is 856 pages without the indexes. I didn't read all of it, since my specific interests are cultural-historical theory and activity theory. Instead, I selected chapters with the following characteristics:

  • I recognized the authors as belonging to one or both of these schools.
  • I saw Vygotsky, Luria, or Leontiev in a chapter's references. 
That methodology yielded 15 of the 30 chapters. I won't cover all of the 15. 

Editors' Introduction
In Cole and Maltzman's Editors' Introduction, they cover the historical background of the volume. They note that in the mid-1930s, psychological testing was outlawed and psychological journals were discontinued, so "psychologists who wanted to publish their work had to turn to educational journals for an outlet." And the conventional wisdom was that "the discipline went into a deep decline during the period 1935-1950" (p.6). But, the editors argue, important work was being done, just not published. That situation changed in 1959-1960 with a "two-volume handbook of Soviet psychology" referencing "work done during the 1930's and 1940's which was unpublished at the time or appeared only in the form of zapiski (notes) of the institution where the research was done" (p.6). That handbook "forms the backbone of the present volume" (p.7).

The editors note something that I mention in recent reviews, that in 1950—the 100th anniversary of Pavlov's birth—"Pavlov was elevated to the position of a demigod of Soviet biological science" due to Stalin's political involvement (p.7). "The 1950 Joint Session was convened with the explicit purpose of forcing deviant physiologists back into the fold and effecting total Pavlovianization of psychology" (p.7). But Stalin's death in 1953 resulted in sudden changes, including a decrease in dogmatism (p.9). The editors also note that the 1950 Joint Session was not as severe as the 1948 genetics purge (p.9). In fact, one result was to encourage empirical research rather than philosophical declarations (p.9). 

Importantly, Pavlov argued shortly before he died that "language acts as a 'second signal system'" (p.10); this endorsement was a boon to psychologists working on "verbal behavior and language learning" (p.10). (Look through the recent reviews on this blog and you'll see that Luria uses this Pavlovian term liberally to validate his work with language, work that proceeds theoretically and methodologically from Vygotsky.)

At the 23rd Congress of the Communist Party in 1964, "there was a re-emphasis of the Leninist principle of objective scientific examination of reality" and "no reference to Pavlovian principles" (p.11). 

Zaporozhets, A.V. "Some of the psychological problems of sensory training in early childhood and the preschool period."
The editors note that this chapter comes from a 1963 book he edited with Usova. For this chapter, I want to highlight only one thing: "interiorization," which he characterizes as being proposed by Vygotsky, then developed by Leontiev in Problems of the development of mind (pp.115-116). This theory is "of cardinal import" (p.116).

Luria, A.R. "Speech development and the formation of mental processes."
The editors call Luria "perhaps the best known of the psychologists represented in this volume" and note his friendship and work with Vygotsky (p.121). They also note his "prolonged 'vacation' from neuropsychological research" in the early 1950s—he "was required to leave his position at the Institute of Neurosurgery for work at the Institute of Defectology" (p.122). 

Luria overviews the history of research in speech development in the USSR, starting with Rybnikov, Kornilov, Ivanov-Smolenskii, and his own early work (p.123). He emphasizes Vygotsky's "significant contribution in the materialistic solution" of the question of "the role of speech in the formation of consciousness and thinking": the child was seen "from the very beginning[] a social being" (p.127). Luria discusses the work of Vygotsky and his students at some length, then concludes that "Vygotskii proceeded to a new and most important branch of psychology—the basic regularities of conscious forms of human thinking" (p.137). 

Vygotsky also shows up in Luria's discussion of children's written speech: his and El'konin's work "indicated that written speech represents an entirely new psychological phenomenon, different from oral speech in its origin and in its structural and functional features" (p.141). Whereas oral speech is "insufficiently conscious, unseparated by the child from general speech activity," written speech is "always the product of special training" (p.141). Indeed, "the functional and structural features of written speech ... inevitably lead to a significant development of inner speech" because it "delays the direct appearance of speech connections, inhibits them, and increases requirements for the preliminary, internal preparation for the speech act" (p.142). 

In the subsection "The role of speech in the development of higher psychological functions," Luria argues that in the view of Soviet psychology, the mind is the "product of social life" and is treated "as a form of activity which was earlier shared by two people (that is, originated in communication) and which only later, as a result of mental development, became a form of behavior within one person" (p.143). Luria portrays dyadic relation as an adult-child relation (p.143). "Complex forms of conscious activity ('higher psychological functions') are least of all initial 'properties' of mental life or inherent qualities of the brain. They are functional systems formed by the social experience of the child" (p.143). Luria goes on to discuss his twin study coauthored with Yudovich, and dates the study to 1935-1936 (p.145). 

In the subsection "complex functional systems mediated by speech: Voluntary attention," Luria defines the phenomenon: "By 'voluntary attention' we should understand a reflex act, social in origin and mediated in its structure, in the presence of which the subject begins to guide himself by the very changes which he has produced in the environment; and in this way he masters his own behavior" (p.149). Here, he credits Vygotsky's and Leontiev's earlier works (p.149). 

In the subsection "The role of speech in imagination and thinking," Luria refers to Pavlov's claim that "the word is a 'signal of signals' which constitutes the foundation of the second signal system. Close interaction between the first and second signal systems is a distinctive feature of human higher nervous activity" (p.151). Specifically, humans use speech to self-regulate; animals do not self-regulate but must be constantly reinforced (p.152). 

El'konin, D.B. "Some results of the study of psychological development of preschool-age children."
The editors' note does not date this entry, which perhaps comes from the two-volume handbook they referenced in the introduction. They do note El'konin's long discussion of the 1936 pedology decree and his use of "testing" as an epithet (p.163). El'konin does indeed discuss pedology at length, approving of the Decree and claiming that pedology "deprived" psychology of "an outlet into pedagogical practice and of the use of genetic analysis of the developmental process" (p.165). He claims that "Vygotskii, one of the Soviet Union's most able psychologists, was in the vanguard of the fight against mechanism and behaviorism and produced many valuable works. In the last years of Vygotskii's life (he died in 1934), in his work on the development of the infant's psychological processes, he was drawn into the stream of pedology. In spite of this, Vygotskii produced a number of studies of the utmost value for child psychology" (p.167).

El'konin goes on to praise Vygotsky's work on thinking and speaking (specifically the 1934 Thinking and speaking) and adds that "Vygotskii was the first in Soviet child psychology to direct attention to the problem of instruction and development and to emphasize the leading role of instruction in the development of the child" (pp.167-168; note that El'konin is more or less defending Vygotsky from Rudneva's charge that he embraced the withering away of school). Yet "he had an erroneous conception of the origin of various aspects of the child's development, which he considered to be the result of a change in the structure of consciousness. On the contrary, the change in the structure of the mind, which occurs during preschool age, is the consequence of the new relations which are coming into being, of a new type of activity on the part of the preschool-age child" (p.168). 

He adds that "during the last years of his life (when he had been drawn into the current of pseudoscientific pedology), Vygotskii was distinguished from the pedologists by his psychological orientation; for him the problem of the concrete psychological characteristics of consciousness and of its development remained the central problem, on which he worked until the last days of his life" (p.168). Meanwhile, other psychologists "had been working on the question of the relation between the development of consciousness and activity, of thought and practice" (p.168), specifically Rubinshtein (p.169). And "about the time Rubinshtein was doing his work, another group of psychologists under the direction of Leont'ev in Kharkov, was carrying out an experimental project aimed at explaining the role of practical 'object' activity in the development of generalization and of other aspects of mental development. This work, begun in the 1930's, sought to extend Vygotskii's research on the development of children's thought, more specifically, the development of generalization. These projects were also directed against Vygotskii's tendency to overestimate the role of speech and communication in this development" (p.169). He quotes Leont'ev's 1935 unpublished manuscript "The mastery of scientific concepts as a problem for educational psychology," which characterized changes in word meaning as following changes in activity (p.170). 

Later, he notes Gal'perin's work in emphasizing "the fundamental difference between tools as used by man and auxiliary instruments used by animals" (p.191). Under the heading of personality, he notes that "Leont'ev (1945, 1948) was the first after Vygotskii to propose a general theory of preschool personality development," based on changes in the structuring of activity (p.201). 

Some brief commentary. In Rehabilitation of hand function, Leont'ev and Zaporozhets argue that after trauma (such as a gunshot wound), a person's functional system reorganizes around protecting the affected limb, and that reorganization can impede rehabilitation. Analogically speaking, Soviet psychology experienced severe trauma with the 1936 Pedology Decree and related events during the Stalinist crackdown, and 20 years later, El'konin is still protecting the affected limb: defending Vygotsky's work while keeping a clear separation. Really, when you delve into the critique of Vygotsky here, it comes down to Vygotsky's focus on word meaning and his refusal to view it as a result of practical activity. This move allows El'konin to draw freely from Vygotsky's works while cutting out some of the later (post-instrumental, holistic) work coinciding with his pedological writings. We can see similar moves going on in other works written around the same time by Soviet psychologists in the cultural-historical and activity theory traditions (including Luria's continued focus on higher psychological functions, as seen earlier in this collection).

Bozhovich, L.I. "The personality of schoolchildren and problems of education."
The editors identify Bozhovich's work as an outgrowth of Vygotsky's work on personality development (pp.209-210). According to Bozhovich, "life conditions per se do not directly and immediately determine a child's personality," but rather "the child's interaction with these external conditions," a principle first expressed by Vygotsky (1934) (p.211). But, Bozhovich says, Vygotsky's main factor—"the level of development of generalization"—is just one of the factors involved (p.213). 

After some discussion, Bozhovich concludes by noting the tendency of Soviet psychologists to "overlook Freud's 'unconscious' and, in general, 'depth psychology'"—understandable (p.242)—but Bozhovich argues that the unconscious does exist: "the child's social needs are the major incentives for study" and "generally the child is not consciously aware of this motivation" (p.243). 

Luria, A.R. "The neuropsychological study of brain lesions and restoration of damaged brain functions"
Those who have read recent reviews of Luria's books on this blog will find this chapter familiar, so I'll just hit the highlights. Luria credits Vygotsky for showing that higher mental processes develop from "the child's interaction with adults"; "Vygotskii brought the problem of instruments which organize psychological processes into the foreground of psychological research," especially speech (p.282). Specifically, Luria overviews Vygotsky's method of double stimulation and highlights the changes in word meaning over a person's life, where it "plays a different role both in the reflection of reality and in the mediation of mental activity at various stages of development" (p.282). Luria states that Vygotsky's theoretical position "made the objective study of human consciousness feasible and placed it at the center of Soviet clinical and general psychology" (p.283). Furthermore (as Luria demonstrates elsewhere), in some cases of neuropsychological damage, speech becomes the basic instrument of compensation (p.284). 

Leont'ev, A.N. "On the biological and social aspects of human development: The training of auditory ability."
"This chapter was taken from A.N. Leont'ev's speech at the 16th International Congress of Psychology in Bonn, Germany, in 1960," the editors tell us (p.423). Leontiev reports on the training of auditory ability, but the interesting thing (for me) was how he positioned the subject vis-a-vis activity theory. He begins by arguing that the development of psychological functions could be passed along, not just biologically, but culturally: once society developed, "progress in the sphere of man's psychological abilities was established and transmitted from one generation to another in a unique form, one that was esoteric, that expressed itself through the phenomena of objective reality. The new form of accumulating and transmitting phylogenetic or, more precisely, historical experience emerged because of certain features which are typical of human activity—namely, its productive, creative aspect, which is most apparent in the basic human activity that work represents" (p.425). "By effecting the process of production, both material and cultural, work is crystallized or assumes final form in its product" and thus "the conversion of human activity into its product appears to be a process whereby man's activity, the activity of human qualities, is embodied in the product produced. The history of material and cultural development thus appears to be a process which, in its external objective form, gives expression to the growth of human abilities" (p.425). The use of tools and instruments "can be thought of as expressing and consolidating the gains man has made with respect to the motor functions of the hand" (p.425; cf. Engels' origin story of humanity). The cultural heritage transcends individuals. The world of objects, developed over the course of history through human activity, must be discovered by the individual in the course of relating them to the activity for which they have been developed (p.425). 

Side note: Vygotsky saw psychological tools as giving new abilities of individuals; Leontiev saw psychological and physical tools as objectifications of human ability, passed down as a heritage and activated by using them in the appropriate activity.

The "individual's relationships to the world of human objects [must] be mediated by his relationships with people, so that these relationships are included in the process of exchange. ... The child is not simply thrown into the human world; he is introduced and guided in this world by people in his environment" (p.426). Through this process, "the individual reproduces abilities which the species Homo sapiens acquired in its social and historical evolution"—what animals acquire through biological inheritance, humans acquire through learning (p.426). 

After discussing his experiments with auditory training, Leontiev concludes that the human cortex is "an organ which is capable of forming organs" (p.438, his emphasis; I'm reminded of Vygotsky's early formulation of consciousness as a reflex of reflexes). Such functional organs, once they form, "appear to manifest elementary innate abilities" such as "spatial, quantitative, or logical structures (gestalts)" (p.438—notice the interaction with Lewin and the gestalt school here). Functional organs function as a single organ; are stable; develop differently from simple chains of reflexes; and can differ even if they perform the same task (pp.438-439). Like Vygotsky in his 1931 book on higher mental functions, Leontiev argues that higher psychological functions are socially determined, but built on lower mental functions which are biologically determined (p.440). "The process of mastering or learning the world of objects and phenomena created by people during the history of society is one in which the individual develops distinctly human abilities and functions," he concludes (p.440). 

Solokov, A.N. "Studies of the speech mechanisms of thinking." 
Solokov based his studies on Vygotsky, Blonskii, and Rubinshtein, arguing that "thought is not only expressed in speech but is formed and carried out in it" (pp.531-532). In fact, abstract thinking is impossible without language—but language is not the same as thought (p.532). Drawing (again) on Pavlov's notion of the second signal system (p.533), Solokov sets up his discussion of Vygotsky's work. In mild criticism, he says that Vygotsky did not always adhere to his own materialist position, but did understand that speech is not simply a mirror reflection of thought (p.534). Blonskii, Solokov reports, criticized Vygotsky's 1934 Thinking and speaking in his own 1935 book Memory and thought, arguing that "thought and speech originate from one source"—work (p.536). Anan'ev later criticized both Vygotsky and Blonskii for not considering "the entire systems of speech activity"—including reading and writing (p.537). 

Solokov then gets into more recent investigations, noting that one can detect differences in electrical potentials of the muscles of the tongue and lower lip when silently reading; of finger extensors and the tongue when recalling events and chess figures; and of the lip and tongue when silently counting and solving math problems (pp.547-551). In fact, "when the motor aphasic clamps his tongue between his teeth, his writing instantly deteriorates" (p.563). Solokov discusses implications for rehabilitation.

In all, this book was a fascinating (and massive) overview of different parts of Soviet psychology, and more directly relevant to my current project, an overview of how Soviet psychologists framed and justified work in the cultural-historical and activity theory traditions between 1959 and 1969. If you're interested in this history, definitely pick up this book. 
In Blog

Reading :: A Dynamic Theory of Personality

Jul 19, 2017 | No Comments
A Dynamic Theory of Personality
By Kurt Lewin


Yes, I actually read a book that wasn't written by a Soviet psychologist. But don't worry, there's a direct connection: Lewin and Vygotsky were familiar with each other's work, Vygotsky quoted Lewin, and some of Lewin's students worked with Vygotsky and Leontiev. Yasnitsky even claims that activity theory is a mutant or hybrid of Vygotsky's and Lewin's works, although Lewin was not credited for political reasons (although Yasnitsky only sketches this thesis rather than substantiating it).

In any case, this book is a collection of articles by Lewin, published in 1935, the year after Vygotsky's death. The source material had been published during Vygotsky's life, including the lead essay, "The conflict between Aristotelian and Galileian modes of thought in contemporary psychology" (1931). Commentators have said that this essay impacted Vygotsky. (Currently I'm reading Vygotsky's Development of Higher Mental Functions, which mentions Lewin, but characteristically does not provide a cite, and the mention is brief enough that I can't tell whether this lead essay is the one being discussed.)

I'll spend most of my time on this lead essay, which is essentially a manifesto for the development of psychology. Lewin uses the analogy of physics. Aristotelian physics, he says, was anthropocentric, inexact, and normative. It classified phenomena in terms of values: perfect and imperfect. Similarly, he argues, psychology currently draws a value distinction between "normal" and "pathological"; thus it "separated the phenomena which are fundamentally most nearly related" (p.3).

In contrast, Galileian physics changed the interpretation of classification. Whereas Aristotelian physics differentiated dichotomously by class, Galileian physics used continuous gradations and functional rather than substantive concepts (p.5).

Similarly, Aristotelian physics expected things to have a "tendency": it looked for regularity, and peculiarity was understood entirely in historical terms (p.7). It has a notion of "lawfulness," which has a historical or temporal significance set against the sweep of eternity (pp.8-9). In contrast, Galileian physics tends toward quantification, not just because of clocks, but because of a new concept of the physical world (p.10). It relies on the homogenization of the world (p.10)—treating all things with the same laws rather than assuming that things of specific classes had specific tendencies.

Lewin charges that psychology is currently more Aristotelian than Galileian in this sense as well. In terms of lawfulness, it divides cases into common and unusual (p.13). It understands lawfulness in terms of frequency (p.14). It overrelies on class and essence: "Whatever is common to children of a given age is set up as the fundamental character of that age" (p.15; cf. Vygotsky, Leontiev re the same argument). Psychology's use of statistics is Aristotelian, intensifying the tendency to classify cases as common vs. unusual (p.17). Psychology doesn't regard exceptions as counterarguments if they're infrequent (p.19).

This state of affairs does not please Lewin, who wants a Galileian revolution for psychology. "Even psychological law must hold without exception," he argues (p.23). Specifically, he notes that dynamic problems are foreign to Aristotelian physics (and psychology), while they are central to Galileian physics (and psychology) (p.27). Aristotelian physics is teleological, with vectors determined by the object; Galileian physics recognizes that a vector depends on mutual relations of physical facts (p.28). That is, like Vygotsky, Lewin wants to understand the mutual interaction of the object and environment; we can see Leontiev's turn to labor as a general explanatory principle for such a system.

Also like Vygotsky, Lewin believes that a Galileian psychology should not try to control all factors in a series of experiments, but rather it should "comprehend the whole situation involved, with all its characteristics, as precisely as possible" (p.31; compare the bare sketches of experiments that Vygotsky conducted and his discussion of method). And "Instead of a reference to the abstract average of as many historically given cases as possible, there is a reference to the full concreteness of the particular situations" (p.31). (Compare Luria's detailed case studies and his "Romantic science.")

In fact, Lewin argues that it's fine to rely on historically unusual, rare, and transitory events, just as a Galileian physics does (p.35). Indeed, in what Lewin calls a Galileian psychology, you can't validate a case by repetition; you have to refer to "the totality of the concrete whole situation" (p.42). This proposition, frankly, would seem quite counterintuitive to me without the examples from the Vygotsky school!

This lead essay was the most accessible and directly applicable for me, so I'll stop here. It's well worth reading, but I'm separate enough from psychology that I can't evaluate it well. I can, however, see strong resonance with the Vygotsky school. And now I have to read more Lewin.