Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Reading :: The Collected Works of LS Vygotsky, Vol.4 (beyond the first five chapters)

By L.S. Vygotsky

As you may remember, I previously reviewed the first five chapters of this volume, which comprise Vygotsky's The History of the Development of Higher Mental Functions. At the time, I said: "This volume of the Collected Works has many more chapters, which apparently remained unpublished until the CW came out.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."

The future is here! But first, a little more background. As mentioned in a comment on that previous review:
*NOTE: I state that HDHMF was originally published in 1931, following (I think) the intro in the CW. But Anton Yasnitsky asserts in his biography of Vygotsky that this book wasn't published until long after Vygotsky's death, in 1960! In a personal communication (July 1, 2019) he notes that the title repeats the first words of the text and suggests that it was an unpublished manuscript up to that point, a manuscript that repeats the structure of LSV's 1929 paper -- which I think was the basis for the paper in the 1966 volume mentioned in the review above. 
Yasnitsky also believes that HMF is a "terminological fake" since LSV insisted on the term "psychological functions" rather than "psychical" (= "mental"). 
The additional chapters (beyond the first 5) didn't come out until the CW in 1982-1984; Yasnitsky believes that they are from an earlier work. 
Thanks as always to Yasnitsky for investigating the tangled publication history of these writings!

To correct the record: I got the date 1931 from, which has a few of the chapters, probably pulled from the CW. In any case, does have the concluding chapter from this collection (Ch.15). The English introduction to CW Vol.4 does not name a publication date or discuss the additional chapters (but it does spend time criticizing the cobbled-together nature of Mind in Society without irony.) In contrast, the Epilogue claims that this volume "contains both the published first five chapters and unpublished materials from the monograph, 'The History and Development of Higher Mental Functions.'"  And the author states that "In the chapters published for the first time, the general theoretical positions are specified using material on development of separate mental processes: attention, memory, thinking, development of speech and arithmetic operations, higher forms of voluntary behavior, and development of personality and world view of the child" (p.261).

In any case, let's get to the "unpublished" chapters.

Chapter 6: The development of speech
Here, Vygotsky begins by discussing unconditioned and conditioned reflexes in infants. He argues (as he does in Thinking and Speaking) that "speech development occurs at first independently of the development of thinking" (p.123)—it is initially a conditioned reflex—and "at a certain point, these lines—the development of speech and the development of thinking—which proceeded along different paths, seem to cross or meet, and an intersection of the two lines of development occurs here. Speech becomes intellectual, connected with thinking, thinking becomes verbal and connected with speech" (p.124).

He also adds that just as a physical tool has to have "necessary physical properties to be used in a given situation" (i.e., affordances; pp.128-129), psychological tools also have to have properties: "a stimulus becomes a natural sign, a natural symbol for the child when the child perceives one and the same structure and all the elements with which it is connected" (p.129).

Vygotsky concludes that, contra Stern, "Evidently, the child at first masters not the internal relation between sign and meaning, but the external connection between the word and the object" (a conditioned reflex). So "direct assimilation of function occurs and only on the basis of this assimilation does recognition of the object occur later" (p.130). 

Chapter 7: Prehistory of the development of written language
Here, Vygotsky is talking about the individual's prehistory: "the stages preparatory to the development of writing" (p.133). He begins with drawings, noting that the child's first drawings are gestures (p.134). He then moves to play, noting that when a child pretends that a stick is a horse, s/he is using gestures to create a symbolic link (p.135). Symbolic play, he says, can be "understood as a very complex system of speech aided by gestures" (p.135). As the child matures, Vygotsky notes—as he does in Thinking and Speaking—that a three-year-old names the picture after drawing it, while the four-year-old names the picture before drawing it (i.e. discovery vs. intention) (p.138). Vygotsky concludes with a brief discussion of how the blind learn to read Braille via a tactile rather than a visual process, and this process is constructed quite differently, leading to slower and less complete development of written language in blind children (p.148).

Chapter 8: Development of arithmetic operations
In this brief chapter, Vygotsky discusses experimental cases with children performing elementary division with blocks and then with groups of pencils. He notes that children developed their own units when dividing (ex: two long pencils = 5 short pencils; p.149). He also mentions the experiment in which children have to count the cubes in a cross (p.151), an experiment that is discussed in more length elsewhere in writings of the Vygotsky Circle.

Chapter 9: Mastering attention
"The history of the child's attention is the history of the development of the organization of his behavior," Vygotsky declares (p.153). He argues that the child's development of attention does not parallel or recapitulate evolution, but both are behavior based in organic development. Adults continue to develop in mastering attention, but more slowly. As they develop, individuals take up different "devices of control," i.e., they culturally develop their attention (p.154). He argues that two lines of development of attention exist: natural and cultural. Vygotsky is more interested in the cultural line of development, which "consists of a person's developing a series of artificial stimuli and signs in the process of mutual living and activity. The social behavior of the personality is directed by means of these and they form the basic means through which the personality masters its own processes of behavior" (p.154). Here, Vygotsky discusses how his group investigated attention via double stimulation, implemented in a card game that Leontiev developed (the forbidden colors game—here used to illustrate attention rather than memory) (pp.154-155).

After some discussion, Vygotsky argues that "all higher processes of behavior" (attention, speech, thinking, etc.) develop along these lines:

  1. Adults act on the child (ex: points to object, names it)
  2. Child interacts with adult (ex: child uses name to describe object)
  3. Child acts on adult (ex: child uses name to draw adult's attention to object)
  4. Child acts on self (ex: child repeats name of object she plans to select) (pp.168-169)
Vygotsky now discusses the case of "the deaf-mute child," who cannot hear words and thus has less development of voluntary attention; has fewer internal signs of attention; but has a greater tendency to use mediated attention (p.174). Discussing the fact that children in difficult situations resort to egocentric speech, Vygotsky notes that "aphasics deprived of language, the most important organ of thinking, exhibit a tendency to using visual auxiliary stimuli and, specifically, the visual aspect of the stimuli may become devices for thinking" (p.174). The tragedy of the "deaf-mute," he says, is that s/he cannot develop attention culturally (p.175; I think Vygotsky may have rethought this stance later, but I don't know the reference offhand). 

Chapter 10: The development of mnemonic and mnemotechnical functions 
Here, Vygotsky discusses the difference between natural and cultural memory (p.179). Again, he references Leontiev's memory study (p.180). Disconcertingly, he directs our attention to "Fig. 2," which does not appear in the chapter. He does use the abacus as an illustration of how natural and cultural memory can be combined (p.188). 

Chapter 11: Development of speech and thinking
Here, Vygotsky delivers an argument similar to that in Thinking and Speaking

Chapter 12: Self-control
Self-control is one of Vygotsky's favorite topics, Here, he uses one of his favorite illustrations, Buridan's ass, who is frozen with indecision when facing two equally enticing choices. In this situation, he says, a human being will use a mediator: "Man placed in the situation of Buridan's donkey throws dice and in this way escapes the difficulty that confronts him" (p.209). Similarly, someone who needs to do something unpleasant (drink medicine) might do it on the count of three (p.211—Leontiev makes a similar argument in "On Will," near the end of his life). Vygotsky draws on Lewin here (p.211). 

Chapter 13: Cultivation of higher forms of behavior
"The history of the cultural development of the child leads us right to the problem of rearing" (p.221). Vygotsky compares cultural development to biological evolution, understanding the child's development as a struggle: "contradiction or clash between the natural and the historical, the primitive and the cultural, the organic and the social" (p.221). In the development of cultural behavior, "the old form is forced out, is sometimes completely disrupted, and sometimes there is a 'geological' superimposition of various genetic epochs that make the behavior of a cultured person resemble the earth's crust" (p.222). Thus, he says, "the new theory of rearing" involves differentiating natural and cultural lines of development—a dialectical approach (p.223).

He adds: "Cultural development is the main sphere in which compensation for defects is possible. When further organic development is impossible, an immense path of cultural development opens." Therefore, he argues that the "mentally retarded child" needs the equivalent of Braille: "a system of indirect ways of cultural development where direct ways are cut off for the child as a result of his natural limitation" (p.229). 

We have two more chapters to go, but one (Chapter 14: The problem of cultural age) did not interest me and the other (Chapter 15: Conclusion) did not add much. So let's cut it off here.

Were these extra chapters worth reading? They do illustrate and add discussion to the "higher mental functions." On the other hand, much of this discussion was carried on in print elsewhere. My sense is that these chapters will be most useful to the Vygotsky completist rather than the casual reader. If that's you, certainly pick it up!