Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Reading :: Soviet Psychology: History, Theory, Context

Soviet Psychology: History, Theory, Content
By John McLeish

I saw this book in UT's library catalog perhaps 18 months ago, but it never seemed to be on the shelf. Finally I ordered a used copy on Amazon — a copy that had been withdrawn from the Columbus College Library in Columbus, Georgia. (It had been checked out once, due April 14, 1985.)

Their loss was my gain. In this 1975 book, MacLeish develops an account of Soviet psychology as it developed from previous Russian efforts, through the revolution, to the mid-1970s. The book predates the publication of Vygotsky's Mind in Society in the West (1978), so Vygotsky doesn't have the rock star status in this narrative that he would receive later, but Vygotsky and his associates are still discussed, and the overall sweep is clear and generally accords with other accounts I've read.

MacLeish begins with an historical overview. He notes that he considers Soviet psychologists correct in "asserting a monistic view of the organism in its environment as the only possible basis for a science of behavior" (p.2), but argues that Soviet dogmatism held back psychology as a scientific endeavor due to "the subordination of scientific truth to political expediency": "For many years, especially between 1935 and 1955, the discussion of psychological theory was reduced to a subjective elaboration of philosophical nuances of a doctrinaire and irrelevant character" (p.3). Yet the line of inquiry, when divorced from Soviet partisanship, was still valid and McLeish argues that its insights are "acceptable to a large body of non-Communist psychological opinion" (p.3).

He identifies two major themes in the development of Soviet psychology.

1) "the Marxist view that there is no such thing as an unchanging, eternal human essence. ... Informed Communists believe it possible to transform 'human nature' to an unlimited extent" by changing society (p.3). Here he refers to the New Man, a motif "emerging and re-emerging over the whole period of development since 1917" and emphasizing "system and dynamic change. Soviet scientists have been concerned primarily with developing a psychological theory which is compatible with an invincible optimism about the possibility of consciously directing social influences to produce a completely new society and a new type of humanity" (p.3).

2) "the linking of the philosophical controversies of the eighteen forties, fifties, and sixties in Russia with current themes" (p.3). These controversies "were devoted not only to philosophical questions but to the problems of social and political change," and they laid the basis for "the birth of an independent science of human behavior" on the work of Chernishevski and Sechenov (p.3).

With this foundation laid, McLeish dives into Russian history pre-Revolution, noting that under the Tsarist regime, educating the illiterate was seen as destroying society (p.14)! He reviews society and science as it developed from the 1700s to the Revolution, noting consequential themes (which I'll skip over in this review).

In Part II, we get to Soviet psychology proper. McLeish notes that it is different from Western psychology. Western psychology is based on experiment (i.e., it is empiricist), is concerned with the individual, is eclectic (building a general theory inductively from data), and "seeks to avoid any 'contamination' with philosophical a priorism" (p.65). In contrast, Soviet psychology "rejects empiricism as a principle of organization of scientific data," "attempts to explain experimental data within a context of presuppositions about the nature of man and society," understands the individual as part of a society; and "rejects eclecticism as a sign either of intellectual incompetence or of an intellectual compromise based ultimately on ideological self-interest" (p.65). (Note: We can see these principles in action in Levitin's interview with Leontiev.)

McLeish provides a detailed history of objective psychology in Russia, including the works of Lomonosov, Sechenov, and Pavlov, along with interactions with philosophers and the Marx-Engels-Lenin line, summarized in a figure (p.83). One highlight for me was the lucid discussion of Lenin's theory of reflection as interpreted in relation to Pavlov. McLeish summarizes Lenin's position: since the psyche is material and monist, "Reality is fully knowable. Truth is the reflection in the human brain of the actual objects and connections existing outside of us. ... The fact that we know the real world is proved by human practice — that is we can transform reality by working on it to achieve a known and predictable outcome. At the same time there are no absolute, eternal, unchanging truths" (p.84). Reflection theory, of course, became an important tenet for Leontiev's activity theory in the Stalinist years.

In Chapter 4, McLeish reviews the years 1917-1929 in Soviet psychology. He notes that "Four alternative theories were presented in the period 1924-9 for consideration, and possibly official recognition, as Marxist psychology": Kornilov's reactology; Bekhterev's reflexology; Pavlov's conditional reflex (p.99); and Vygotsky's so-called cultural-historical psychology, which was "discredited on the grounds that he borrowed too heavily from Western psychology" as well as his ties to pedology (p.100).

McLeish notes that Lenin's conception of the Party, and the development of academic studies in the Soviet Union, both have roots in the Russian tradition of group consensus. In this tradition,
all are encouraged to participate as equals [in an organized discussion] up to the point where a clear and decisive majority viewpoint emerges. The vote is then taken. The members of the group who are then in the minority are expected to reconsider their standpoint with a view to making the decision unanimous. In any case, everyone must implement the majority decision loyally: neither is further discussion tolerated when a definitive vote has been taken. In Old Russia, according to Kovaleski, in the village commune members of the minority, if they continued contumacious, were beaten with rods until they agreed with the majority view. (p.101)
(Recall that Lenin's opponents once lost a vote, so he insisted on calling the Mensheviks (minority) and his own faction Bolsheviks (majority).)

Immediately after the Revolution, a number of foreign theoretical systems flourished, including Gestalt (p.104). But 1921-1923 marked the end of idealism, and in 1924, Kornilov "swept idealism into oblivion" with the publication of an unoriginal but doctrinaire monograph (p.105). Kornilov had just taken over the directorship of the State Institute of Experimental Psychology in 1923 (p.108). McLeish adds that from this point on, "Theory, and the correct theory, is a prerequisite for intelligent research" (p.109).

With this background, McLeish overviews the four schools, none of which were "considered adequate" (p.109). In his summary of Vygotsky's school, he notes that Vygotsky emphasized the importance of cultural environment in the development of human traits, a line of inquiry that "has since found its way into non-Soviet psychology from anthropology" (p.121). Yet this "devotion to foreign fashions in psychology" and his focus on pedology led to lost favor. McLeish also claims that Vygotsky also made the error of not quoting Marx, Engels, and Lenin enough (p.121). In any case, Vygotsky was accused of thinking that he could dissociate "facts" from the bourgeoise theories that produced them (p.122). Nevertheless, McLeish argues, "In reality, Vygotski and his associates Luria and Leontiev laid the foundation in this period of the Marxist approach to the psyche as a historical, developmental product," one that develops dialectically from cooperative labor, as Engels claimed (p.122).

Moreover, they used both the word and the concept of reflection in accordance with Lenin (p.122). And McLeish adds that "Vygotski was engaged with the 'second signaling system' of Pavlov" (p.123). McLeish ends the chapter in this way: "It is now recognized, belatedly perhaps, that Vygotski emphasized aspects of psychology which have since become part of the pattern of Soviet psychology. ... But it must be said that these current emphases are derived from Marx and only secondarily from Vygotski's associates" (p.124).

(Side note: Rudneva (1936) attacked Vygotsky's work for not using reflection theory, and Leontiev and Luria quickly take up the term and apply it in their subsequent work. So I'm not sure I'm on board this claim, although Leontiev and Luria might well have presented Vygotsky in that light shortly before McLeish wrote this book. Similarly, I think the language of the "second signaling system" was picked up by Leontiev and especially Luria around 1950, when Pavlov was elevated during a joint scientific session of the USSR Academy of Sciences and USSR Academy of Medical Sciences.)

From here, in Ch.5 McLeish examines the influence of the five-year plans, noting the critical role of 1929, the "year of the great divide." Lenin's NEP was destroyed, Trotsky had been expelled, and Stalin was ascendant (p.127). After 1931, six major errors were defined, which "specify the rules which should not be broken" in Soviet psychological and general scientific method (p.132). The errors were:

  • Idealism: A sweeping category that includes spirit as opposed to matter, but also abstract categories and even non-dialectical philosophy in general (p.133). For Soviet psychologists, Western empiricism (which "proceeds inductively from what is regarded as the safe ground of experience") is considered idealist in that it does not proceed from correct theory (p.134). 
  • Mechanical materialism: An approach to materialism that is too reductive to address historical development. "Mechanical materialism makes an initial assumption that thought, consciousness, and sensation have merely a subjective, or even a fictitious, existence. ... It creates the necessity for a realm of non-material reality," and thus consciousness, which is expelled from mechanical materialism, "returns to plague the theoretician as an experimental ghost" (p.139). Bekhterev, Freud, and the Gestaltists all came under criticism under this error (p.140). 
  • Reductionism: This error involves "the attempt to reduce psychological processes on the human level to physiological or biological functioning, failing to realize that new laws, principles, and explanatory concepts must be posited as we move from lower to higher levels" (p.140). Soviet psychologists came to argue that "any specific human characteristic or quality, whether it be an emotion, an attitude, or an intellectual ability, develops through activity. There is a dynamic interaction with the environment which changes not only the individual but the environment as well" (p.141). 
  • Abstract human essence: "the attempt to provide a generalized psychology descriptive of man in all times and places" (p.142). 
  • Dualism: "any attempt to consider mind as capable of some form of existence separate from matter" (p.144). 
  • Eclecticism: "the large-scale borrowing of theoretical systems as well as of factual data from foreign psychologists. Neither system nor data are acceptable" (p.144). He adds, "In 1931 Soviet psychologists turned away from the methods and concepts developed under the capitalist market economy and attempted to strike out on a new path" (p.145). (Recall that Vygotsky and Luria were accused of eclecticism by Rasmyslov in 1934 for their tendency to rely on Durkheim and other Western sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists.) McLeish notes that a 1931 decree on primary and secondary schools was meant to precipitate a sharp break with Western methods and theories, but that break was not completed until the infamous 1936 Pedology Decree (p.147).
Note: In an aside on idealism, McLeish discusses Lenin's reflection theory, in which psychic processes are taken to be reflections of external matter or material processes. Lenin grounds this theory in Marx's Capital, in which Marx asserts that "The ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind and translated into forms of thought" (quoted on p.136). Thus reflection "is not a passive, mirror-like image of reality": Marx stresses "the active side of perception and knowledge," McLeish notes, and Lenin characterizes it as "an eternal process of movement, in which contradictions are forever emerging and being resolved" (quoted on p.136). 

Near the end of the chapter, McLeish adds that "it was Vygotski who introduced the principle of historicism into Russian experimental psychology" and notes that Vygotski's principle of double stimulation was invented by his colleague Sakharov (p.152). 

In Chapter 6, McLeish discusses Soviet psychology from 1935-1947 ("in the Stalin era"). The Communist Party cell of the Moscow Institute of Psychology began critically assessing psychological schools in 1929 with the publication of Lenin's philosophical notebooks (p.159). By the time the Pedology Decree was published in 1936, "all the prevailing schools of psychology ... had been discredited. All the technical journals devoted to psychology as an independent brand of knowledge, established in 1928, had been shut down ... Until 1955, psychological studies could appear only if they conformed to the requirements of the physiological or educational journals" (p.159). Psychological research continued, but without a publication outlet (p.159). "Basic research became a backroom activity" (p.160). 

Ascendant during this time was the theme of the New Man, "free to act because he has the necessary will to do so as well as the understanding of the laws of his own nature, of nature and society essential to act in accordance with necessity" (p.161). McLeish argues that in Russia, there was no Reformation, so the underlying conception of society remained spiritual rather than disintegrating as it had in western Europe (p.162). McLeish asks whether the New Soviet Man is Russian or Marxist, concluding that two conceptions had developed in parallel before unifying—indigenous peasant and Orthodox beliefs, borrowings from Western culture, and deliberate Marxist assimilation by Lenin (p.163). (McLeish does not mention the outsized influence of Nietzsche.) The New Soviet Man's virtues included:
  • Optimism: "The Russians believe that anything is possible to man, that there are no limits to man's power of transforming nature and society. This is not a mere figure of speech, but is to be taken in its most literal meaning" (p.164). Here, McLeish mentions Lysenkoism, though not by name; we can also think of Leontiev's work with dermal vision.
  • Modesty: "It is social man and not individual man for whom all things are — potentially at any rate — possible" (p.164).
  • Collectivism: The NSM "has no purposes which conflict with those of the collective. His particular successes are derived from the good fortune of society, from the success of social, collective work" (p.164).
  • Social humanism: The NSM "loves and cares for people," unlike the misanthropes in capitalist society, but hates the enemies of the working class (p.165).
  • Patriotism: For the NSM, "the motherland and the idea of Communism as the ideal of progressive humanity everywhere are inseparably united" (p.165).
  • Ideological approach: The NSM takes an ideological approach to all questions, from the point of view of the working class, leading to true objectivity (p.165). 
  • Sense of duty: Developing from the above (p.166).
  • Communist attitude to work: "Work is not to be regarded as a punishment for sin, but as the very basis of man's life, the centre of his living interests, and the conditions of a free, human personality" (p.166).
  • Readiness to overcome difficulties: The NSM is ready to overcome difficulties and fight for Communism (p.166).
The NSM, McLeish says, can be interpreted in terms of a recurrent figure in Russian folklore: the sleeping giant who suddenly awakens and transforms his environment (p.168). 

You'll notice from the NSM characteristics and the work in previous chapters that McLeish likes to develop exhaustive lists of characteristics. The next list is that of axioms underlying Soviet psychological research:
  • psychophysical monism
  • the theory of reflection
  • the materialist determination of consciousness and activity
  • the principle of contradiction in development
  • the unity of consciousness and activity
  • the class or historical character of psychic processes (p.170). 
In this context, McLeish notes a few things that relate to the Vygotsky Circle:
  • Vygotsky was the first to investigate schizophrenia via systematic experimental investigation (pp.175-176). 
  • One principle in Soviet therapy is that it stresses work "and the proper attitude to it. Since it is through co-operative labour that man attains his highest level of development, work can be used as a therapeutic agency" (p.176; we see this attitude in Leontiev and Zaporozhets' work at the rehabilitation hospital and arguably in the Gulag as well).
  • Abandoning pedology meant abandoning "the conception of normal distribution of traits, such as intelligence, in human beings" (p.177). We see this turn in Leontiev's postwar writings.
Speaking of Leontiev's postwar writings, McLeish overviews the biology discussion of 1948 (p.190) and its effects on psychology (p.195). First, Rubinstein's 1940 textbook, which had won the Stalin Prize (!), was critically reviewed in 1948 (p.195). Rubinstein was accused of proffering a science of unconscious mind copied from Freud and Lewin (p.196). This sort of borrowing was unacceptable: if a single indivisible truth exists, as the Soviets believed, then an eclectic approach meant drawing on two incompatible and mutually contradictory sources (p.199). 

At the end of the chapter, McLeish praises Vygotsky's work, but notes that "his work was totally ignored during the whole period except by his immediate associates — Leontiev, Zaparozhetz, and others" (p.213). 

The next chapter examines 1950-1955, "half a decade of Pavlovian psychology," starting with the 1950 conference centered around Pavlov and the uptake of his underdeveloped "second signaling system" (p.215). McLeish provides an analogy between this second signaling system and Lenin's reflection theory (p.216). 

Around here, McLeish begins to discuss Leontiev's work—in present tense. (Leontiev died in 1979, just four years after the book was published.) McLeish notes that Leontiev is a leader in the study of "mental and educational backwardness" [sic!] (p.221). He reviews Leontiev's work with the rehabilitation hospital and on developing perfect pitch (p.221), on memory, and on teaching the "mentally defective" (p.222-223). 

In the last chapter, McLeish undertakes a survey of Soviet psychology, noting its divergences from Western psychology. The biggest gap, he says, is in the study of emotions (p.232); here, he mentions a paper Vygotsky wrote in 1932 but that remained unpublished until 1958 (p.234). He also notes the work that Leontiev and Luria did in the area using the combined motor method (p.236). 

Under a separate heading, McLeish discusses social psychology, which was "placed in the deep freeze in the late twenties and early thirties" (p.243). From 1936-1963, h states, there were no studies of social psychology (p.243). 

McLeish regards thought and speech as the central problem of Soviet psychology (p.247). "The processes of thought and speech are seen through the prism of dialectical materialism," specifically based on reflection theory (Lenin) and reflex (Sechenov, Pavlov) (p.248). Here, he reviews Vygotsky's work, specifically how "in a series of experimental studies he demonstrated the real nature of the higher mental processes" (p.248). According to McLeish, "Leontiev, Smirnov, Zinchenko, and many others have filled in details of this picture" (p.249). He sees Vygotsky's central contribution to be the understanding of internalization, a concept that he links to reflection (p.249). 

And that's it for this review. As you can tell, I think this book does a solid job of overviewing trends in Soviet psychology as well as roots of some of its concepts, roots that stretch in part to pre-Soviet Russian culture. I quibble with some of the characterizations of the Vygotsky Circle, but to be fair, the evidence for those quibbles really wasn't available in 1975. Overall, I recommend the book highly if you are as interested in the history of Soviet psychology as I am. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Reading :: Vygotsky's Notebooks

Vygotsky’s Notebooks: A Selection
Edited by Ekaterina Zavershneva and Rene Van der Veer

Ekaterina Zavershneva received permission to review the archives of Lev Vygotsky's family some years ago, and has published chapters and articles based on portions of this archive. Here, she and coeditor Rene Van der Veer overview much of the archive, which reaches from Vygotsky's 1912 school notebooks to his last notes on the eve of his death in 1934. The book is based on approximately 500 of these items (p.xi).

This was not an easy task. Vygotsky tended to write his notes on the backs of other paper (flyers, hotel stationery, etc.), paper that he might save for a while before using. And since he did not always date these writings, the editors sometimes had to guess based on clues. The writing was personal, so arguments were often not spelled out -- and neither were the words, which were often abbreviated. Thus many of these notes are elliptical.

Nevertheless, the archives give us a glimpse into the working -- and evolving -- Vygotsky, including his vast ambition. For instance, he outlined several books that never came to be.

Below, I'll note some of the things that stood out for me:


Here, the editors overview the collection. Among other things, they discuss how the notes shed light on the works for which Vygotsky is currently known. For instance, the Cultural and Historical Crisis in Psychology, Vygotsky's unpublished book manuscript written in the hospital in 1926, was planned as the first part of a larger book called Zoon Politikon (p.xv). Notes related to his manuscript The history of the higher psychological functions were found from 1928-1930 (p.xvi). By 1929, Vygotsky was submitting his theory to criticism (specifically, the idea of studying higher psychological functions in isolation), leading to "the systemic approach, which Vygotsky introduced in 1930 in the article 'About psychological systems'" (p.xvi). The authors maintain that "Tool and sign," which was unpublished at Vygotsky's death but usually dated 1930, was probably written in 1931 (p.xvii).

The editors also discuss Vygotsky's third, elusive period in which he criticized his earlier instrumentalist work and argued for "the principle of the semantic structure of the mind," in which he retained sign mediation but "considerably broadened its concept by transitioning from the study of the external structure of the sign operation in its instrumental function to the study of its internal structure, i.e., the meanings" (p.xvii). The editors recount "the famous meeting of December 4 and 5 [of 1932], when the main line of development of the cultural‒historical theory was established" (p.xvii). The divergence with Leontiev begins here, and the authors are able to produce notes related to it as well as to the general shift to semantic structure (p.xviii). The authors add:
The plans for unwritten books were preserved in the archive and are presented in chapter 17. The analysis of these and other documents shows that Thinking and speech was just an intermediate step toward a more ambitious book about consciousness (Zavershneva 2014). The archival research also confirms our hypothesis that the greatest part of Thinking and speech was created before 1933. For example, all of the major statements of its final chapter were already literally present in the notes from 1932 (chapter 21). Constant reflections about a new method to study mind and consciousness, which Vygotsky called the “semic method,” also belong to this pivotal year (chapter 18) when meaning was declared to be the unit of investigation of verbal thinking and consciousness as a whole. (p.xviii)
Yet the archive also shows that " it had become increasingly difficult for Vygotsky and his associates―and for many of their colleagues―to work in freedom" due to ideological pressure and criticism (p.xix). Around this time (1933-1934), he "realized that consciousness essentially fulfills the role of an instrument that mediates the active relationship of the person with the environment and that this relationship must be studied in the first place. It was now that Vygotsky introduced the concept of experience as the integrative unit of environmental and individual aspects" (p.xix). Yet he left this insight undeveloped and turned to the theory of dynamic semantic systems, heavily influenced by Lewin:
In October 1933, Vygotsky remarked, “Cf. Lewin’s data: an amazing coincidence. But new is that not the external field, but the inner, semantic field is taken into account.” The concept of the semantic field developed from the transformation of the two Lewinian concepts of the “psychological field” and the “level of irreality” and was defined as a semantic plane of generalization (Zavershneva 2015b). Studying it genetically, Vygotsky showed how in various stages of development it performs its fundamental function of mediation of the relationship between the person and the world and, in particular, allows the person to transform the fluid dynamics of thought into the dynamics of action and thus forms the basis of volitional behavior (chapters 25 and 29). (p.xix).
Finally, in his last notes, "Vygotsky tried to solve the problem of the unity of affect and intellect by distinguishing several planes of analysis—the affective systems, the semantic field, and the practical action—and showing that they determine the general regularities of mind both structurally and dynamically" (p.xix). The editors note that this approach was only roughed out and was not undertaken by any of Vygotsky's students after his death; "In this connection Vygotsky’s paper 'The problem of mental retardation,' which was published posthumously, may be considered the manifesto of the final version of his approach, although it is only superficially known by modern Vygotsky students" (p.xx).

As mentioned, the notes begin in Vygotsky's school years. I'm more interested in his notes as a psychologist, so we'll skip ahead.

Chapter 6: The Trip to London

These notes cover Vygotsky's trip to London in 1925 for a conference on deaf-mutes. I'll just pull a quote from here to illustrate Vygotsky's faith in the Revolution and its ability to remake humankind:

"In essence, Russia is the first country in the world. The Revolution is our supreme cause. In this room only one person knows the secret of the genuine education of the deafmutes. And that person is me. Not because I am more educated than the others, but [because] I was sent by Russia and I speak on behalf of the Revolution." (p.63)

Chapter 7: From the Zakharino Hospital

The editors explain that these notes are from his 1926 hospital stay for tuberculosis. During this stay, he planned to turn his dissertation into a book with additional material. He also planned Zoon Politikon, an argument that consciousness is a social phenomenon and that speech plays a fundamental role in its development (p.71). Here, he searched for the relationship between the cultural and biological (pp.71-72), a question that he answers in the early 1930s with "Tool and symbol" and Pedagogy of the adolescent, portraying the word as tool-like (p.72).

In his notes, Vygotsky claims: "The word is not a relationship between the sound and the object it denotes. It is a relationship between a speaker and a listener, a relationship between people directed toward an object, it is an interpsychical reaction, which establishes the unity of two organisms in one direction toward the object" (p.74). And "Consciousness is speech for oneself, it originates in society with language (Marx). ... Consciousness is a dialogue with oneself" (p.74).
Hence, the distinguishing characteristics of the word: It is an artificially created stimulus (cf. technique), it is a tool of behavior, it presupposes two subjects and an object. Verbal behavior differs from nonverbal behavior like labor does from the adaptation of animals (the tool is also outside the organism, i.e., it is an organ of society). The tool has its prototype in the organ (the foot—the mortar, the hammer—a fist) just like the word has its prototype in the conditional stimulus. But its peculiarity is that each stimulus either exists by itself or is created for something; the word is a special stimulus for the regulation, the organization of behavior; of the other’s behavior and our own. What makes the tool different: It is a thing that in itself is not necessary for use, but for the production of other things; similarly, speech behavior is not necessary in itself but to evoke other behavior. But this is what tool use, what word use is, and the ax is a thing amidst things, the word a stimulus amidst stimuli. The tool-like nature of the word. But here nothing is supernatural. Technique is not the introduction of new forces but the use of existing ones. In the same way, the word is the artificial use of existing nervous forces. Speech stimuli have no adequate reactions. (p.75)
Perhaps thinking of how Marx took up and changed Hegel's arguments, Vygotsky adds: "I will take the classic propositions of empirical psychology (a psychology of just individuals; thinking is speech; empathy) and put them upside down" (p.76).

Finally, Vygotsky assesses Chelpanov, the former director of the institute who was replaced by Kornilov shortly before Vygotsky was hired: " (Incidentally,
Chelpanov is no enemy, he is a popularizer, he will wait until there is a generally accepted core in the new psychology, he will be our popularizer and say that he knew it all along. Cf. the essays and the reaction)" (p.78).

Chapter 8: Toward Cultural–Historical Theory

The editors explain that these three notes, from 1926-1928, "discuss the need to define the object and method of the new Marxist psychology" (p.107). I'll just note that Vygotsky argues, "Engels’ schema justifies my definition" (p.109).

Chapter 9: The Instrumental Method

The editors date these notes from 1927-1930. They discuss higher psychological functions and the double stimulation method. The latter has roots in experiments Vygotsky conducted in Gomel in 1923 as well as in Kohler. The book manuscript History of the development of higher psychological functions was probably a compilation of unfinished manuscripts begun in 1928 (p.115).

From a note dated April 3, 1928:
In Marxism, the idea of the superman (Kautsky, Trotsky: Man is chaos, nature and society, he will master himself), but also on the preceding levels it is impossible to master nature without mastering oneself. Each level in the mastery of nature corresponds with a certain level in the mastery of oneself. (p.117)
From a note probably written in 1929:
Engels’ idea that mind + brain developed is incorrect (cf. Serebrovskiy),31 but its true core: The brain has the conditions and the possibility for the historical development of psychology. Plekhanov is right when he places psychology before ideology: For the new psychological functions must arise as a pre-requisite for the development of ideology. 
Our whole doctrine is contained in the phrase: the historical theory of the higher psychological functions. (p.122)
Chapter 10: Concepts and the Systemic Approach

The editors date these notes from 1929-1931. Here, Vygotsky moves from functions to interfunctional connections. The editors add, "Various systems develop in various stages of development, but the vector of development can be given as follows: The primary, innate connections between the functions that first form an undifferentiated mass are destroyed, and with the help of the sign (primarily, the word) new, artificial, flexible connections are created, which form a system that can be deliberately steered and in which one function dominates and guides the others. The highest development is reached after the adolescent crisis when the dominating function becomes conceptual thinking" (p.129).

On p. 130, Vygotsky writes: "Sakharov and I have a central idea: not abstraction, the establishing of connections leads to concept formation."

On p.131: "We do not accept Watson’s [concept of] speech as a means to discover what is hidden. Speech is not glass. Speech is a second series of signs that change perception, action, and thinking."

And on p.140, in an early formulation of systems: "Not a psychology of partial (autonomous) operations of separate functions or processes (cf. it is not the muscle that works, but the person; contra the psychology of processes, Politzer)." He adds on p.141, "We always covertly assumed the person in the mediated processes. Systems are the key to the person. In any case, the person does not consist of functions but of systems."

Chapter 15: The Study of Consciousness

The editors date this note as October 1932. It marks the transition to the dynamic semantic approach and airs Vygotsky's objections to Leontiev's path (p.243).

Contra Leontiev, Vygotsky argues: "Speech is the self-disclosure of thinking. Speech is not a glass medium but a real participant in all the events that take place in the change of thinking" (p.247). He complains: "Everything is moved to the beginning. But then everything [is moved] to the
conception. The most important thing does not take place in the beginning, but in the end, for the end contains the beginning. The height viewpoint. [He] should not all the time work near the lower boundaries."

Chapter 16: From Sign to Meaning and Sense

The editors date this to 1932. It represents the transition to semantic systems, airs conflict with Leontiev, and appears to be the basis for Thought and Language Ch.7. (p.251).

Chapter 17: The Problem of Consciousness

The editors explain that these notes relate to the internal symposium on December 4, 1932 and Vygotky's seven-hour talk about consciousness (p.271). The focus is the transition from sign to meaning, consciousness, and height psychology; Thought and Language was an intermediate step toward these goals.

On p.273, Vygotsky writes: "Our shortcoming is not a shortage of facts but the inadequacy of the theory: This is the main difficulty in the analysis of our crisis and not the divergence from the facts. This contra A. N. [Leont’ev]. Thus: Salvation is not in the facts but in theory. We introduced the systemic viewpoint too late." And "Consciousness without the word is Stygian speech."

Vygotsky criticizes his instrumental phase:
The limited, convential, narrow nature of the older viewpoint led to an incorrect assessment of the central aspects, which we have taken for secondary ones: the interfunctional connections. We have focused our attention on the sign (on the tool) to the detriment of the development of the operation with the sign and presented it as something simple that goes through three stages: magical, external, and internal. But the knot is external, and the diary of the adolescent is external. Thus, we have lots of poorly explained facts and wish to look deeper into the facts, i.e., we wish to re-interpret them theoretically. (pp.274-275)
He adds: "The higher and lower functions are not built in two floors: their number and names do not coincide. But neither our previous conception [is correct]: the higher function is the mastery of the lower one (voluntary attention is the subordination of involuntary attention), for this also implies two floors" (p.275). And "functions are not tied to activities, they are polyvalent, polyfunctional, pure, free, and auxiliary unbound activities of consciousness" (p.275).

On pp.278-279, he outlines a new book with himself, Leontiev, and Luria as authors.

On p.285 he declares his intention to develop "not depth but height psychology."

Chapter 18: The Semic Method

The editors date this note to 1932. Vygotky declared the semic method to be the principal one in the study of mind and consciousness. The fullest description of this method is in these notebooks. The semic method is the study of the inner structure of sign operations: a study of material phenomena based on meaning, not external characteristics. Vygotsky planned large studies, which were partly realized in the 1934 publications by Birembaum and Zeigarnik.

Chapter 19: The Result of Many Years of Work

The editors explain that these notes give us an idea of the ideological atmosphere in the 1930s. The plan for Thought and Language was severely criticized on ideological grounds (p.311). This section includes a letter that Vygotsky began around 1933 in response to a purge.

Chapter 25: The Semantic Field: Sparring with Lewin

This chapter, the editors say, reveals Vygotsky reception of Lewin's field theory. "It is well known that the work of Lewin—together with those of Wolfgang Köhler, Kurt Koffka, Karl Bühler, and Jean Piaget—formed a major source of inspiration for Vygotsky and that he borrowed many of their ideas. Much of the empirical work of Vygotsky’s group consisted of conceptual replications of the findings of these scholars." But Vygotsky sought not just to replicate but to probe weaknesses and improve. "On the basis of Lewin’s ideas about the psychological field and the sphere of irreality, Vygotsky also introduced the concept of the “semantic field,” by which he understood the plane of the generalization, of the mediated relationship to the world" (p.403). The chapter includes Vygotsky's notes from Lewin's lecture during his Moscow visit in 1933.

Chapter 26: Neuropsychology

The editors note that Vygotsky was fascinated by neuropsychology in his last months and "proposes to replace the functional and structural analysis by the systemic approach" (p.419).

Re neuropsychological disorders, Vygotsky says:
In aphasia, schizophrenia, and other pathological changes of the psychological processes, the main point that needs to be analyzed is the fact that one and the same function, operation, etc. sometimes appears and sometimes disappears: This clearly shows that the function is possible in one plane and impossible in another plane. This fact itself is remarkable because it shows that one and the same effect can be reached along different paths (cf. the memory experiments). All the expedition work is based upon this. The voluntary operation is the same operation in another plane. (pp.419-420)
Re mediation, he says:
The sign does not just mediate the operation from outside (intercalation, interposition, inter–legere), like a knot, i.e., the sign does not just stand between the object to be remembered and the person but also internally mediates the memory process: i.e., it leads to memory via a new meaning, via a chain of other processes: imagination, thinking, etc. Inde the sign via the meaning is the path to the creation of systems. (p.421)
(Compare this claim to Leontiev's collapsing of physical and psychological tools.)

He adds that "In particular, Lewin’s systems, in which the differences between the functions (attention, memory, and so on) were lost, are momentary systems of intention: hic et nunc. Not our systems" (p.421).

In notes working toward his last talk in 1934, he discusses the development and dissolution of higher psychological functions:
How do the functions of the higher centers develop when the lower ones are underdeveloped: (a) They either extremely imperfectly develop from above (speech in deafmutes); (b) or they—also inadequately—develop by themselves, autonomously, outside the system or in another system; intellect in the post-encephalitic syndrome. The fact itself of the development from above in normal and anomalous children is the proof of the law of the upward transition of functions in anomalous and normal development and the substitution of the lower centers by the higher ones + of the independence of the higher from the lower at a certain level of development. [We should] study the speech of deafmutes from the viewpoint of conscious awareness + voluntariness and aspontaneity, i.e., as opposite to the path of normal development; the analogy is not with the mother tongue, but with a foreign language. (p.424)
There’s more, much more -- but this is what I found to be most useful in these notebooks. If you’re interested in the development of Vygotsky’s thought, like I am, definitely take a look.

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!

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Reading :: Vygotsky: An Intellectual Biography

Vygotsky: An Intellectual Biography
By Anton Yasnitsky

I was privileged to read this book in manuscript form a while back. Yasnitsky has done some exciting work in revisionist Vygotsky studies: work that involves questioning many of the statements that have been taken at face value about the Vygotsky Circle. Some of these statements have emerged from Soviet-era airbrushing; some from self-interested camps (I'm looking at you, Leontiev); and some from Western uptakes of Vygotsky. Yasnitsky has drawn on Zavershneva's recent archival work examining Vygotsky's personal papers; comparative work examining different translations of Vygotsky's publications and claims about those publications (such as the "Vygotsky ban"); and even some anonymous rumors in a wild but believable story about "Tool and Sign." So when he told me he was working on a short biography of Vygotsky, of course I was interested.

Dear reader, I think you will be interested too. Yasnitsky takes a deliberately provocative stance, attempting to break through the conventional story of Vygotsky's genius to help us better understand Vygotsky as an intellectual with his own frustrations and doubts. The first words of the book are:
Each great man's life story is simple unless one wants to make it great.
Each simple man's life story is great unless one wants to make it simple.
This story is about a genius. So they say. But the person did not become genius until after his death. So the story is simple and great at the same time. (p.xi). 
With this shot across the bow, Yasnitsky draws on published sources as well as previously unpublished archives to examine the chapters of Vygotsky's life: "Prophet" (his early life as the devout son of a prominent Jewish banker in the pale); "Bolshevik" (his life in the immediate aftermath of the October Revolution); "Reflexologist" (his journey from schoolteacher in Gomel to his debut at the Second Neuropsychological Congress in 1924); "Psychologist" (his hiring at Moscow's Institute for Experimental Psychology, his partnership with Luria, his interest in the Soviet Man described by Trotsky, and his shift to instrumental psychology); "Revisionist" (his realization that a new psychological system was needed; his work with higher psychological functions, followed by his denunciation of this work and his 1930 shift to systems of functions; his and Luria's denunciation of their reactological and instrumental periods in 1931; his 1932 criticism of the core of his own theory); "Holist" (his interest in Gestalt as imported by Luria, leading to reconstructing his theory as holistic; the split with A.N. Leontiev, who wanted to continue work in the instrumentalist vein; and Vygotsky's death); and "Genius" (an epilogue, discussing Vygotsky's uptake and why his readers were motivated to characterize him this way). The book concludes with a helpful timeline.

Although this biography is slim—just 126 pages, not counting the timeline—it seems calculated to maximally disrupt the reverential narrative of Vygotsky the genius. Parts of the book were genuinely shocking. For instance, Yasnitsky casually notes in a footnote that one of my favorite books by Vygotsky—The History of the Development of Higher Mental Functions—was not actually his book at all. The manuscript was taken up after his death and altered, with "psychological functions" being replaced by "psychical" (i.e., mental), and then published in 5 chapters under his name in 1960. (Note that this manuscript was from Vygotsky's instrumental period, on which Leontiev's scholarship was based, and it forms the basis for about half of 1978's Mind in Society.) In 1983, this manuscript was published in Vol.4 of the Collected Works with "an extra ten chapters" that "were taken from a completely different, but also unfinished, somewhat earlier Vygotsky manuscript on children's normal and pathological development" but were represented by the editors as newly discovered chapters of the same treatise (p.103)! I was so startled by this claim that I emailed Yasnitsky directly to follow up and he confirmed that this was the case, along with additional proof.

Other revelations were not as shocking for me, since I have been reading Yasnitsky's other works, but seeing them all in one place is striking. Whereas others have alleged that Vygotsky's Cultural and Historical Crisis in Psychology remained unpublished because it threatened the prevailing dogma of psychology, Yasnitsky draws from Zavershneva's archive work to demonstrate that it was likely abandoned due to theoretical problems (pp.56-57).

This manuscript, like the other two book manuscripts Vygotsky produced in the mid-1920s, ends with a discussion of a superman—the Nietzschean superman, which had been taken up by Trotsky and others as the New Soviet Man. Although this superman was expected to emerge as the result of communism, as Yasnitsky wryly notes, he had not yet appeared—so Vygotsky and Luria decided to study supernormal abilities such as memory and mental calculation (p.62; Luria eventually wrote up their findings). In his work with "defectology," Vygotsky followed this thread from Nietzsche's superman to Adler's discussion of overcompensation (in which an individual overcomes a defect through excess) to his own notion of psychological tools—including culturally transmitted tools such as "the alphabet, mnemonics, graphic charts, visual learning aids, and systems of counting" as well as "very complex systems: language, literature, and art" (p.67). To better explore such psychological tools, Vygotsky, Luria, and their research team used Vygotsky's double stimulation method (p.67) to examine how problems could be solved through the mediation of auxiliary instruments (p.68). The most important work in this vein was Leontiev's doctoral research, conducted in 1927-1929 and published in 1931 as The Development of Memory (p.68). As Yasnitsky adds, this book is the main source on instrumental psychology—Vygotsky never wrote such a book himself (p.68)!

Vygotsky and Luria did write a book that heavily borrowed from Leontiev's dissertation and that was intended to be about psychology and the Superman. But that book, which Vygotsky had intended to become his major work, turned into a popular science book: 1930's Studies on the history of behavior: Ape, primitive, child. The book was disappointing to Vygotsky partly because he realized that he needed a new psychological system, which he tried to develop in the aforementioned manuscript on higher psychological functions (p.84). But by October 1930, he denounced the notion of higher psychological functions, arguing that the functions do not change, the links among functions do (pp.86-87). By March 1931, Stalin's denunciation of right and left deviations led Luria and Vygotsky to denounce reactology and their instrumental period as mechanistic (pp.88-89). Vygotsky continued to criticize himself into the early 1930s: he "appeared distressed, frustrated, and disoriented. Stalin's Great Break and the social turmoil resulting from the introduction and realization of the First Five-Year Plan caught him unprepared for change" (p.94). He repeatedly criticized his own instrumental phase (p.94) and eagerly sought a breakthrough in Luria's Uzbek expeditions of 1931-1932. Vygotsky still sought evidence that collectivization would yield a qualitative leap for humanity (p.98). Yet this dream was punctured by Kurt Koffka, who had accompanied Luria on one of these expeditions and who attributed differences to "the attitude of the testees towards the experimenter" (quoted on p.100).

At this point, according to Yasnitsky, "Vygotsky was eager and desparate, but he had lost his way" (p.102). Thus, Yasnitsky avers, Vygotsky turned to the holism of Lewin (p.108). "Under the influence of gestaltism Vygotsky migrated from the idea of analysis by elements that he defended in the 1920s to the method of analysis by units in the early 1930s" (p.110). Lewin's German vocabulary makes its way into Vygotsky's writings in 1931-1934 (p.111), and in the last chapter of Thinking and Speech, written just months before his death, Vygotsky characterizes Gestalt theory as the "most progressive" (quoted on p.113). Yasnitsky also notes that Vygotsky's famous zone of proximal development was developed by Western scholars such as the American Dorothea McCarthy, inspired by Lewin's "field theory" (p.115), and was used to integrate the social situation of a child's development into Vygotsky's theory. In December 1932, at an internal conference, Vygotsky announced a new research program, understanding consciousness as a semantic structure, and specifically focused on "peak psychology": "on human performance in the highest, brightest, and extraordinary episodes of life, above the average, outside the everyday routine, beyond the confines of the usual" (p.116). Yet "from a personal standpoint... this meeting bordered on disastrous" (p.117). It was a complete non-starter for Leontiev's Kharkov group, which had focused on practical intelligence involving "instruments and physical objects" (p.117). Although Vygotsky made a desultory attempt at a manuscript, it was never truly started (p.117). His productive clinical work at the time was conducted in collaboration with Lewin's former students Birenbaum and Zeigarnik, who drew from gestaltist scholarship (p.117). In his last chapter of his last book, Thinking and Speech, he confesses failure, pointing to consciousness as a vast problem ready to be explored (p.119).

After Vygotsky's death, Yasnitsky says, he posthumously became a genius. Twenty years later, the mid-1950s Soviet thaw gave Luria and Leontiev (and many, many other Soviets) the room to publish more. Leontiev became a fantastically successful administrator while Luria became an internationally revered scholar. Both promoted Vygotsky as an important figure. "Their motives were not clear and might have differed considerably," Yasnitsky adds (p.124). Acidly, he notes, "The aura and charisma of the late 'genius' provided Vygotsky's followers with the authority they needed" (p.125).

This book, in sum, is riveting. For me, it's the equivalent of exciting beach reading, full of colorful characters, shocking twists, and gossip. It's irreverent, not toward Vygotsky as a person, but toward Vygotsky as a genius and legend. And it made me rethink much of what I thought I knew—even though I've already read Yasnitsky's previous revisionist works.

On the other hand, I suggest a degree of caution as well. For instance, Yasnitsky argues that Vygotsky-the-genius provided authority to his followers. But Vygotsky was promoted in the West only because his followers had already climbed to the top of the heap: Luria was internationally known as a foundational figure in neuropsychology, while Leontiev had climbed to the top of the administrative heap and won the Lenin Prize in 1963, the same year Thought and Language was published in the West. These figures were already established, and that is what allowed them to promote Vygotsky in the West in the first place. Yasnitsky is on safer ground when he declares that "their motives were not clear."

That being said, Yasnitsky has done an exceptional job of combing through what we know about Vygotsky and developing a fascinating, riveting, and above all valuable counterstory. If you have any interest in Vygotsky or his Circle, yes, read this book.

Reading :: Exit, Voice, and Loyalty

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States
By Albert Hirschman

Every once in a while, I read a landmark book, usually in someone else's field or discipline, and come away unimpressed. Sometimes that happens because the book has had such a deep impact that its precepts now seem intuitive and uninteresting. Sometimes it's because the book clears away conversations to which I haven't been privy, creating a clean division. And sometimes ... I'm not sure why the book is a landmark book.

I'm not sure which category Exit, Voice, and Loyalty occupies. This 1970 book, based in economics, considers the phenomenon of "repairable lapses of economic actors" (p.1). In the face of such lapses, Hirschman says, individuals might exercise either the exit option (stop participating—e.g., customers stop buying the product) or the voice option (complain—e.g., customers complain to management) (p.4). Both options provide opportunities to repair the lapses. Hirschman asks: under what circumstances do individuals prefer one option over another? How do they interact? When do they work jointly? How can organizations perfect them (p.5)?

Although Hirschman begins with the example of customers buying a product, he quickly expands the question to individuals working within an organization, and he expands "organization" to apply to families, communities, religions, and nation-states. Exit reflects economics while voice reflects politics (p.15). Exit involves escape from an organization or system, while voice involves changing that organization or system (p.30).

It's a neat divide, "suspiciously neat," Hirschman acknowledges (p.15). Indeed, it encompasses individuals both internal and external to the organization; commercial, public, and nonprofit organizations; and family, state, and church as well as more formally defined organizations. That is, the exit/voice divide seems totalizing and Hirschman seems to be arguing that it is a general principle that works in roughly the same way across all of these social arrangements.

True, "the same way" does not mean that every organization has the same characteristics. For instance, "basic social organizations" such as "the family, the state, or the church" do not actually offer a realistic exit option, so individuals only have the voice option (p.33). This is not true in the Western economies, in which exit is always an option, but it was true in the Soviet economy (p.34)!

Now we get to the concept of loyalty: loyalists refuse to exit, so they can either voice concerns or suffer in silence (p.38). Interestingly, voice is expensive to use; the less expensive it is, the more individuals will use it (p.43). Hirschman adds that voice is qualitative while exit is quantitative (p.43).

There is much more to the book (although not that much more—it's a thin book). But it left me wanting even more explanation. Does the voice/exit dichotomy really do an adequate job across different types of social groupings, from family to church to state, as well as market? Do people apply exit and voice in roughly the same way if they are customers vs. employees? Do people not have additional options, such as hypocrisy, work-to-rule, selective belief, and double consciousness? Is the framework too individualistic to examine more complex group phenomena? What happens when different groups intersect, as they inevitably do (ex: every individual working for a company is also part of a family, state, and religious group)? The exit/voice dichotomy does seem like a starting place, but it seems too simple of a bifurcation to shoulder the burden Hirschman wants to place on it.

On the other hand, I understand that sometimes one has to clear the decks in order to see the problem in a different way, and perhaps that is what Hirschman is doing here. It's worth taking a look for yourself, from the perspective of your own discipline or field, and seeing what sort of work this dichotomy might be able to do for you.

Reading :: Kurt Koffka: An Unwitting Self-Porttrait

Kurt Koffka: An Unwitting Self-Portrait
By Molly Harrower

I picked up this book not because I'm interested in Gestaltists per se, but because Koffka accompanied Luria on his second Uzbek expedition and came away with a very different interpretation. In their discussion of this expedition, Lamdan & Yasnitsky draw on some of Koffka's private correspondence, which is in Ch.6 of this book.

The book is composed of letters Koffka sent to Molly Harrower, his protege, from 1928-1941 (thus an "unwitting" self-portrait, since the letters were not meant for broad consumption). Those who are interested in Koffka as a person, including how he looked up to and felt slighted by Kohler, may want to read the whole thing. I'll just concentrate on Ch.6.

In Ch.6, Koffka has been invited by Luria "to accompany him on an expedition to Uzbekistan in Central Asia." It's early summer, 1932, and "The Uzbek Republic had just come under the Soviet influence, and the government-sponsored expedition hoped to make a psychological assessment of the natives for comparative purposes at some later date, when Soviet influence would presumably be evidenced" (p.143).

After some visa trouble, he reached Moscow in May, writing on May 30 that he lectured to an audience of 300. "Most of whom understood German, but since some did not, Professor Vygotsky [[Russian psychologist, designer of concept formation test]], a most charming man, acted as my interpreter." He added: "I talked for about 5 to 10 minutes, and then he gave the most fluent translation you can imagine. He talked much more fluently than I, and it seemed to me for a much longer time" (p.145).

The next day, he attended a noon reception "at the Uzbekistan legislation [sic]," at which "the Minister of Uzbekistan gave me a long lecture translated by Luria, on the conditions of his country. ... The minister from Turkestan was also present" (p.146).

On 22-23 June, he wrote about the travel: a 20-hour train ride, then a cab ride into the mountains to their hotel. Due to a thunderstorm, the bridges had been washed out and it would take several days to clear the road. "Therefore we decided to make our first experiment in a somewhat more civilized district, a village, Kishlak, a native village some fifteen miles from Fergana" (p.147). The party set out in a bus, which almost immediately had a flat tire, so two parties had to walk a mile and a half to get a new one (p.147).

On 14 July, he reported that they were about to leave Palman, going partway with the presidents of Uzbekistan and Kirghistan (who would spend a few weeks at Shaki Marden) as well as the local president of the GPU (secret police) (p.150).

Unfortunately Koffka had an attack of malaria and could not continue. Luria himself drove Koffka from Shaki Marden back to Fergana in "an Army Ford touring car," but the car broke down and had to be towed, stretching the journey from three hours to seven and a half (p.151).

After struggling with illness, Koffka had to leave. On the journey back, he reported: "The strongest impression I gained from being with these different people in the train was the amazing uniformity of their outlook. It was as though all of them, my colleagues included, had gone through the same school in which they had learned the same lessons, lessons in history, economics, politics, and philosophy." He adds: "The fundamental conviction colored their views on all subjects, and this conviction had all the power, but also all the rigidity of a dogmatic faith. Theirs was the proletarian state bringing the dawn of real culture, while beyond the Soviet border bourgeois civilization was still bending all its efforts, even their science and art, to the profit of capitalism and thereby perverting them" (p.159). "The uniformity of intellectual and emotional outlook is one of the strongest memories I carried away from my six weeks' visit to the Soviet Union. ... What confounded me was that they were all honest and yet uniform. Talking to them was like running against a stone wall. To have built this wall in a relatively short time is perhaps one of the greatest achievements of the Soviet government — however negatively one may value it" (p.160).

Regarding the expedition, he sums it up this way:
I suppose the Moscow government were willing to spend considerable sums of money on this enterprise because they expected formal proof of the beneficial effects of their policy on the intellectual and moral status of their citizens. 
The Uzbeks have still another reason. This emerged on several occasions, in conversations with different men in leading positions, among them the president of the Uzbek Executive Council himself. Under the Czarist regime a commission of psychologists had been sent down from St. Petersburg—so I was told by my various informants—to test the native population with a view to develop an educational system adapted to their intelligence. This commission had reported home that the Uzbeks were of such low intelligence that it would not be worth it to give them any education at all. And now the Uzbeks who were governing the country found themselves in this dilemma; they wanted to introduce their countrymen and women to science, which was to take the place of religion, but science had found that their efforts would be futile. (pp.161-162)
In all, this chapter provides a revealing outsider's look at the famed Uzbek expedition. As Lamdan and Yasnitsky argue, Luria's account did not note the optics of a large convoy showing up in rural Uzbekistan with two presidents and the head of the secret police in tow. Koffka's account gives us a better understanding of the conditions under which Luria's experiments occurred. More, he describes the uniformity of outlook in the young Soviet Union, a uniformity that could and did turn on Luria at the end of the second expedition.

As mentioned, I'm not really focused on the Gestaltists or Koffka per se. If you are, definitely pick up this book. If, like me, you're mainly interested in the insights it can bring to the Vygotsky Circle, stick with Chapter 6.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

(Presentation: Go or No Go)

I recently returned from Procomm 2019, where I planned to present this slide deck based on the paper "Go or No Go: Learning to Persuade in an Early-Stage Student Entrepreneurship Program." The paper was coauthored by David Altounian and Gregory Pogue, and it received an award.

Unfortunately I woke up sick on the day of the presentation — the first time I've ever missed presenting a paper, I think — so I wasn't able to actually present the paper. But you can click through if you like. It'll be almost like being there!

(Presentation: Fourth-generation activity theory: A literature review)

I recently returned from Procomm 2019, where I delivered a presentation on the literature related to fourth-generation activity theory. This presentation is based on a paper that David Guile and I provided for the proceedings. If you're interested in AT, please check it out!

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

(Presentation: Analyzing qualitative data with activity theory-based models)

Last week, I returned from the Activity Theory Summer School, which was a fantastic experience. My workshop, which was based on my book Topsight 2.0, focused on its integrated system of models for analyzing qualitative data.

If that sounds interesting to you, please take a look at the slides—they step through these models, demonstrating what each model does and how to build it, and provide exercises for producing them.

Presentation: Analyzing qualitative data with activity theory-based models

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Reading :: Principles of Topological Psychollogy

Principles of Topological Psychology
By Karl Lewin

I was intrigued by Zavershneva's claim that Vygotsky's holistic period was heavily influenced by Lewin's topological and vector psychology. So when I saw Lewin's book on Kindle, I grabbed it. Since this version is a Kindle book, I won't provide page numbers.

Lewin, like Vygotsky, argues that psychology needs a unifying framework to avoid being split "into a number of unrelated branches," yet one that does not "try to derive all psychological facts neatly from one single concept such as association, reflex, instinct, or totality"—perhaps shading Freud, Pavlov, Bekhterev, and the Gestaltists. He introduced topological psychology, AKA field theory, to provide such an overarching framework, one that would be more Galilean than Aristotelian.

Later, he argues that "A dynamic psychology has to represent the personality and the state of a person as the total of possible and not-possible ways of behaving."

In his topological psychology, Lewin attempts to map out different (overlapping) situations in which a person finds herself. This representation includes both the person and the environment—theories that do not represent the environment are "inadequate."

To be honest, I had a hard time getting into topological psychology. I got the idea of representing psychology topologically, at least in its outlines, but I did not understand how Lewin proposed to concretely carry out such an analysis. (Wikipedia adds that "There is some confusion as to the basics of field theory, causing misconceptions of how it should be used in Gestalt therapy"—so I am relieved that it's not just me.) Yet I can see some connection with what Leontiev later did in activity theory, which similarly offers a holistic approach and similarly identifies activities (similar to fields) in which people participate and goals they attempt to achieve.

To get a better handle on this, I'll have to read more Lewin and more commentaries on Lewin. Suggestions? Email me or leave them in the comments!

Reading :: Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics (second reading)

Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics
By Mikhail Bakhtin

I posted my original review of this book 15 years ago. In my recent reading, I took supplemental notes that focused on Bakhtin's dialogism as opposed to Engelsian and Stalinist dialectics. These notes are in Kindle, so I won't provide page numbers.

Bakhtin tells us early on that "A plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses, a genuine polyphony of fully valid voices is in fact the chief characteristic of Dostoevsky's novels" and what unfolds in his novels is "a plurality of consciousnesses, with equal rights and each with its own world" (his emphasis). Dostoevsky sought to destroy the monological European novel. Criticizing previous literary critics' characterization of Dostoevsky, Bakhtin argued that "In their attempt to squeeze the artist's demonstrated plurality of consciousness into the systematically monologic framework of a single worldview, these researchers were forced to resort to either antimony or dialectics," resulting in the gravitation toward a single authorial consciousness. Indeed, the relationships among the characters "are the last thing that can be reduced to thesis, antithesis, and synthesis." Nor are these novels to be "understood as the dialectical evolution of the spirit," which, "understood in Hegelian terms, can give rise to nothing but a philosophical monologue."

Indeed, for Dostoevsky, "in every voice he could hear two contending voices"—"But none of these contradictions and bifurcations ever became dialectical." "They were, rather, spread out in one plane, as standing alongside or opposite one another, as consonant but not merging or as hopelessly contradictory, as an eternal harmony of unmerged voices or as their unceasing and irreconcilable quarrel." Thus "it is futile to seek in [Dostoevsky's world] a systematically monologic, even if dialectical, philosophical finalization—and not because the author has failed in his attempts to achieve it, but because it did not enter into his design." Bakhtin goes on: "For Dostoevsky everything in life was dialogue, that is, dialogic opposition."

Turning to the individual in Dostoevsky's works, Bakhtin argues, "a living human being cannot be turned into the voiceless object of some secondhand, finalizing cognitive process. In a human being there is always something that only he himself can reveal, in a free act of self-consciousness and discourse, something that does not submit to an externalizing secondhand definition." He argues: "In the ideal a single consciousness and a single mouth are absolutely sufficient for maximally full cognition; there is no need for a multitude of consciousness, and no basis for it." And "In an environment of philosophical monologism the genuine interaction of consciousness is impossible, and thus genuine dialogue is impossible as well. In essence idealism knows only a single mode of cognitive interaction among consciousness: someone who knows and possesses the truth instructs someone who is ignorant of it and in error; that is, it is the interaction of a teacher and a pupil, which, it follows, can be only a pedagogical dialogue."

For Dostoevsky, an idea can't just live in a single consciousness: "Human thought becomes genuine thought, that is, an idea, only under conditions of living contact with another and alien thought, a thought embodied in someone else's voice, that is, in someone else's consciousness expressed in discourse. At that point of contact between voice-consciousness the idea is born and lives." And "even agreement retains its dialogic characteric, that is, it never leads to a merging of voices and truths in a single impersonal truth, as occurs in the monologic world."

Later, in discussing genre, Bakhtin adds: "The dialogic means of seeking truth is counterposed to official monologism, which pretends to possess a ready-made truth, and it is also counterposed to the naive self-confidence of those people who think they know something, that is, who think that they possess certain truths. Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction."

In these quotes, Bakhtin does not directly go after dialectic. Rather, he attempts to demonstrate that dialectic and other monologic approaches do not adequately address what Dostoevsky was trying to do. The application of this analysis to dialectic is only implied (or perhaps inferred?).

In any case, I was glad to reread this book, and I'll have to reread Bakhtin's other books soon as well.

Reading :: Aircraft Stories (second reading)

Aircraft Stories: Decentering the Object in Technoscience
By John Law

I originally reviewed this book over 15 years ago, and was not kind. More recently I reread it. And, although I still don't like Law's style, I found that parts of the argument stand up well. So in this second reading, I'll focus on those parts.

n.b., I read the Kindle edition this time around, so I won't include page numbers.

One of the central issues Law tries to address is "fractional coherence," which "is about drawing things together without centering them." Specifically, he examines representations of a fighter jet which was not completed, noting that it "comes in different versions. It has no center. It is multiple. And yet these various versions also interfere with one another and shuffle themselves together to make a single aircraft. They make what I will call singularities, or singular objects out of their multiplicities. In short, they make objects that cohere." Law's focus in this book is how such objects are made to cohere. He adds: "a fractionally coherent subject or object is one that balances between plurality and singularity. It is more than one, but less than many." Fractionality, he adds, is a metaphor for avoiding dualisms.

Furthermore, he argues that fractionality is distinct from perspectives: "inconsistency between different performances reflects failing coordination between different object positions rather than differences between external perspectives on the same object." In Chapter 2, he examines strategies of coordination: in his case study, a brochure for the TSR2 fighter, he identifies "a series of mechanisms that work to connect and coordinate disparate elements." These include syntax, physical structure, tabular hierarchy, perspective, cartography, system, and speed/heroism. He adds that "once we look at things in this plural way, any singular object immediately becomes an effect -- and a more or less precarious effect."

Later, he identifies singularity with modernism and multiplicity with postmodernism, arguing that the oscillation (and tension) between the two bears investigation: "It is much more interesting and productive to explore oscillation between certainties than to take a position in the debate." "Heterogeneity is an oscillation between absence and presence," he declares.

Law later refers to this project as an "academic pinboard" that consciously avoids a grand narrative.

Do I recommend reading Aircraft Stories—again? Yes, I suppose. I am not a fan of the "pinboard" approach, but I understand the project and why Law felt that this would be a good approach for exploring it. Still, I found the (more conventional) first chapter to be more rewarding than the exploration of the brochure in subsequent chapters.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Reading :: Cognitive Capitalism

Cognitive Capitalism
By Yann Moulier Boutang

David Guile suggested I read this book, and I owe him a debt for discussing its salient points with me. Moulier Boutang originally published it in 2007; this translation was published in 2011. In it, the author argues that we are undergoing a transition, not to socialism (as Marx and his successors have hoped) but to a new type of capitalism, corresponding with globalism.

In the Introduction, the author characterizes capitalism in three stages: "Marx in Manchester," "Marx in Detroit," and "Marx in California" (p.8). The third stage, AKA "cognitive capitalism," began around 1975 and has "little similarity to industrial capitalism, which at its birth between 1750 and 1820, broke with mercantilist capitalism and slavery" (p.9). He emphasizes: "We are not living in a period of socialist transition" but rather a transition into this new form of capitalism (p.9).

He continues this argument in Chapter 1, where he argues that "From 1975 onwards the pace of economic growth in the developed countries slowed considerably. ... Unemployment became omnipresent and structural." The previous model, which relied on "rapid salarisation of an originally agricultural population, an abundant supply of family dependants and a demand that was driven first by postwar reconstruction, and then by wars taking place in the Third World ... finally ran out of steam" (p.11). Yet there was no collapse. World trade rose and new trans-state organizations were created (p.12). Bases of capital changed repeatedly (see table 1.1, p.18). In the process, "Capitalism has set negative externalities at the centre of its functioning as positives, and they make one of the characteristics of complex systems within which organised human intervention must evolve" (p.20). These negative externalities include our air, water, and other aspects of our ecological system. And they are now interfering with transaction costs (p.30). This fact has an impact on immaterial labor, which characterizes the new production model.

By immaterial labour, the author means that "the essential point" for understanding the economy is "no longer the expenditure of human labour power" as Marx would have it, but rather "invention-power," or "the living know-how that cannot be reduced to machines and the opinions shared in common by the greatest number of human beings" (p.32). For example, the price of a pair of trainers (that's athletic shoes for those of us in the US) relies not just on the manufacturing and transport costs but also on "the value of the brand," which itself results from labor from designers, stylists, and lawyers (p.32). The capacity for innovation becomes a key part of the stock price (p.32). "If the economy is becoming increasingly flexible (a transition that many industries are finding it very hard to make), it is because the central core of value rests now on immaterialities" (p.33). Here, "immaterial labour" is not idealist, but rather an update of Marx's "abstract labour" (p.33). Capitalism now seeks to prioritize "collective intelligence, creativity distributed through the entirety of the population" (p.34).

Capitalism must mutate to survive, partly due to human change: the social accumulation of knowledge, expanded memory, and collective intelligence, due to information technologies (p.36). Thus he calls the new capitalism "'cognitive capitalism', because it has to deal with collective cognitive labour power, living labour, and not simply with muscle-power consumed by machines driven by 'fossil-fuel' energy" (p.37).

In Chapter 2, the author contrasts cognitive capitalism (hereafter CC) with other characterizations, such as the knowledge-based society, the information society, technological capitalism, and the new economy. Chapter 3 defines CC in detail as a coherent system and a dynamic process. The author argues that cognitive capitalism involves "a remarkable return ... to use-value and to the world of human relations" (p.49). CC has 15 markers:

  1. The virtualization of the economy, i.e., the "growing role of the immaterial" (p.50)
  2. "The weight of the immaterial is an outcome of the new computer technologies" (p.50)
  3. The capture of innovation "present in the interactive cognitive processes of social cooperation and of tacit knowledge" (p.51)
  4. Thus technological process "takes the form of a socio-technical system" and the critical variables are "the appropriation of knowledge" and "the use of technology" (p.51)
  5. The division of labor model has been brought into question; "As for innovation that requires not only the coordination of complex processes but also the active cooperation of agents, it is hampered, indeed blocked, by the division of labour" and thus "productivity gains ... derive from economies in learning"  (pp.51-52)
  6. "The growing complexity of markets" is increasingly managed via "learning economies" (p.52)
  7. Sequences of production are reversed: "Now deep innovation involves 'flexible production' and 'just-in-time' production" and relies on "the productive nature of consumption"—users become co-producers of innovation (pp.52-53).
  8. Traditional dividing lines "between capital and labour and between skilled and unskilled labour" are dissolving (p.53)
  9. The digital network yields the network society (p.53)
  10. The "hegemony of the paradigm of industrial labour and manual labour power" is coming to an end (p.53)
  11. Whereas "dead labour" is crystallized in machines, in CC, living labour "is not consumed and not reduced to dead labour in machinism" (p.54)
  12. "Concepts of individual performance within the workplace"are declining, while innovation is no longer solely located within the company (p.54)
  13. CC produces immaterial goods (information-goods, knowledge-goods), yielding tensions over intellectual property rights (pp.54-55)
  14. Externalities are no longer marginal: "capturing positive externalities becomes the number one problem of value," i.e., "work done outside working hours, and implicit knowledge, and capacities for contextualisation" (p.55)
  15. "Whereas industrial capitalism could be characterised as the production of commodities by means of commodities, cognitive capitalism produces knowledge by means of knowledge and produces the living by means of the living. It is immediately production of life, and thus it is bio-production" that can only "take place on the basis of collective brain activity mobilised in interconnected digital networks." This is "bio-production" and its control is "biopower" (pp.55-56). 
CC, he concludes, is "a mode of accumulation in which the object of accumulation consists mainly of knowledge, which becomes the basic source of value, as well as the principal location of the process of valorisation" (p.57). Its strategies "are determined by the quest for a spatial, institutional and organisational positioning likely to increase its capacity for engaging in creative processes and for capturing their benefits" (p.57). Its mode of production "is based on the cooperative labour of human brains joined together in networks by means of computers" (p.57). Therefore the new wealth of nations is "the important place of research, of technological advancement, of education (the quality of the population), of information flow, of communication systems, of innovation, of organisational learning and of management organisational strategies" (p.57). "A capitalist society of this kind aims to place at the centre of the sphere of production and to integrate fully into the economic sphere (both market and non-market) resources that had previously been external to them" (p.58). 

CC requires a new division of labor as well. The author provides a table (p.62) demonstrating a shift from industrial to cognitivist DOL in terms of various aspects: function, evolution variables, organizational model, etc. In a nutshell, CC characteristics seem similar to those of Adler and Hecksher's collaborative communities, focusing on cooperation in networks (not markets or hierarchies). Importantly, CC relies on educated, intellectual members, in contrast to the deliberately limited worker requirements of Tayloris, (pp.66-67). 

Yet, as the author argues in Chapter 4, cognitive capitalism is also unstable: it involves omnipresent exploitation and antagonistic social relations and relations of production (p.92). First CC splits living labor into consumed (crystallized) and continuing (skill, know-how). It produces living labor by means of living labor (i.e., knowledge by means of knowledge). Thus re get living capital, a seeming paradox (p.93). CC draws its legitimacy from the nature of its accumulation, mainly exploiting invention-power and ideally maximizing that exploitation (p.94). The author provides a helpful typology, showing different cases in terms of exploitation of labour-power, invention-power, and freedom: on one end is the slave or serf, who is solely exploited in terms of labour-power and has no freedom; at the other end, the creative, who is exploited solely in terms of invention-power and does have freedom (p.96). 

The production of knowledge goods has two problems: First, they are not scarce, and second, they are too public to be produced through a market system—hierarchy and market are inadequate (pp.103-104). The dot-com entrepreneur, he says, can only find a business model by staying on top of the wave of social innovation; we're no longer in the era of Schumpeter and Knight, when entrepreneurs identify the needs of a passive society (p.109). 

In Chapter 5, the author examines the question of social class. CC involves worsening inequalities and precarity (p.122). The latter does not mean poverty but rather vulnerability to poverty: the safety net has holes (p.129). Precarity involves intermittent workers; to exploit invention-power, trades must "develop multi-level capabilities, so that their pollination and nomadic activity may be recaptured" (p.132). "The regime of widespread intermittency is becoming the real form of work," he says, adding that a guaranteed universal income will be needed to underpin CC—people need to eat in order to do cognitive work (p.134). 

In Chapter 6, the author argues that finance is the only way to govern the inherent instability of CC (p.136). Accounting rules are currently inadequate for companies that accumulate and retain immaterial (intangible) capital (p.141). 

In Chapter 7, he presents a manifesto, gathering up the policy recommendations made throughout the book (universal basic income, financial governance, etc.).

And let's stop there. This was a rewarding book, allowing me to draw together some of my previous readings and writings to rethink what is going on with work. I highly recommend it.