Vygotskian Writings Теоретическая психология Выготскианские тексты

Toward a theory of structures producing meanings

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Toward a theory of structures producing meanings

Such kind of combining the above three theoretical discoveries – about an object-oriented functionning, the mutually coordinated affordance and effectivity structures, and territorial organization of groups – would enable us to discern a structure that could be the organ of dealing with meanings. Yet, such a synthesis would be by no means an easy theoretical performance, considering that

1. territorial behavior as conceived by ethology has nothing to do with a historico-cultural dimension;

2. object-oriented activity as conceived by Leont’iev’s activity theory has not either much to do with a territorial and group dimension46;

3. for the ecological framework of perception neither a historical nor a social dimension is conceived by the Gibsonians.

However, such a synthesis cannot be spared if we are to deal with meanings because this latter’s historico-cultural dimension and socio-territorial dimension are equally essential.

Vygotsky emphasised the necessity to reckon with the social aspect of meaning because he considered meaning to be (to put it in terms of his above cited juxtaposition) not only obobshchenie (generalization) but obshchenie (communication) as well. It was meant that this latter represents the interindividual dimension against that earlier supposed to be an intraindividual performance.

We do know the argument of Vygotsky for intraindividual perfor­man­ces being developed from interindividual ones. In this sense (in terms re­fer­red to the ZPD) generalization, too, would have to have its psychosocial origin.

However, at the present time it is known that the social dimension of this performance is still more essential:

Recent observations about the ontogenesis of human consciousness support the assumption on semantic values being originated from social categorization47. It turned out that a child can earlier elaborate some shades of similarities and differences into categorical similarity between certain factors and their categorical difference from others if he himself is one of these factors than in case all those factors are but objects given in the child’s environment. Early social categorization does not take place as a conscious act of thinking: it is mediated by an unconscious process of semiosis in which the child’s diffuse vocal, motor, postural, vaso-motor or other somatic manifestations get shaped as signifiers that are attached to parallelly shaped social categories as their signified factors so that similar factors should be symbolized by similar, and different ones by different signifiers.

The social categories thus created represent similarities or differences not simply between individuals as such. The individuals are dealt with as occupying definite positions in one or another of social structures transcending individual organism; those structures are organized along objects that get assigned to certain individuals while detached from others in a kind of territorial behavior. With reference to this territorial behavior, the child identifies him/herself with some individuals and, at the same time, categorically distinguishes from others. Based on social categories thus created and on the mental operations with them there emerges the logical apparatus that enables the child to structure the same way the external topological space of objects correlated with that social space and, hence, to perform operations with the meanings of those objects.48

The more organic role an attribute of an object plays in acts of social categorization, the earlier a child will learn to logically deal with their attribute.

Thus for instance, an 18-20 month old child is capable of distributing similar objects among him/her and others, and then distinguishing each of them on the attribute of their belonging to one person or to another. The same child is unable to differentiate or identify objects on the attribute of their colours before the age of three (or even, according to some authors, 4 or 5).

Piaget’s classic investigations have resulted that it is not until a child has spent some years in school that s/he acquires the skill to handle abstract quantitative relations like equal, greater or smaller length, capacity etc., undisturbed by corollary attributes. However, Doise, Mugny and Perret-Clermont49 have recorded similar performances at pre-school ages, having modified the original conditions of the experiment by connecting the quantitative relations in question to the organization of social relations among children. For example, the children were led to discover the constantly equal quantity of liquids in differently shaped receptacles by having the task to distribute the liquid – that happened to be very appreciated by children – among themselves in equal portions.50

In a field experiment with my own daughter she presented at 4;8 a rather complicated performance of projection of a three-dimensional geometrical structure onto a plane and then transforming that projection. The child was sitting in a bus that passed on the embankment under a bridge through a tunnel made to avoid level-crossing of the bridge and the embankment. Her three-year-old sister exclaimed: “Hey, what a long tunnel!”, upon which the elder girl declared with a contempt that “it would have been long if we hade gone like this” (she used her hand to mark the direction perpendicular to the way the bus was running, that actually was not the direction of the tunnel but that of the bridge), “but then”, she went on, “we should have destroyed the tunnel”. The mother of the children were staying that time abroad and, a couple of day later, the elder girl was “writing a letter” to her, i.e., informing her in various drawings about what happened in the family during the mother’s absence. So I asked the girl to “draw how we passed through that tunnel” and, thus, she made a drawing of the vertical cross-section of the tunnel and represented the path of our bus in it by a point. Then, following another instruction of the same style, she drew once more the same cross-section with an imaginary path through which the bus would have destroyed the tunnel. The high achievement in this experiment was due to the fact that the girl was transforming the structure of a space in which she herself was included in a certain position.

These considerations may give a new look at a feature at which Karl Popper pointed out. When investigating about the ontological status of a “World 3” Popper, though conceded the existence of such “World 1” objects that come to exist as objectivations of human activity and, as such, embody entities belonging to “World 3”, he considered, however, these factors by no means exhausting the “World 3” that includes with contents of meanings their form, too. Logical and, among them, for instance mathematical relations do not exist embodied in “World 1” things and processes, nor can their existence be traced back, consequently, to (e.g., brain) structures and their functioning within individual organisms. What is more important, contra­dicting a rather widespread error in psychological thought: neither can such relations be reduced to processes of individual consciousness nor to their products stored in individual memory.

What is, then, the ontological status of these forms, that makes it pos­si­ble, e. g., for the sub­jec­tive consciousness of an individual to make dis­cove­ries upon them like finding contra­dictions that must have existed the­re (where? – that is a crucial question for Popper) proceeding any awa­reness of them and, after identifying them as problems, to find out their solutions.

Now, in this paper two assumptions has been advanced that would enable us to accept Popper’s question without accepting his answer to it: the first, about links between operations with logical categories, meanings, on one hand, and formation of social categories, social identities, on the other; and the second, about this psy­chic performance being based on an extra-psychic super-structure transcending individual organism (by shifting both from the organism to a structure incorporating also environmental factors and from the individual to a supraindividual formation).

As far as these two assumptions do stand we may derive logical structures and operations from real social structures and operations51 inside that organization transcending individual organism.

The interindividual character at issue of these structures and operations might by no means be reduced to those referred in Vygotsky’s texts to the ZPD. These structures and operations must not be established with (e.g., adult) per­sons who would necessarily be more advanced in their development in order to get the child developed: interaction between children may as well develop each of them as the one which an adult does. On the other hand, the interindividual structures and operations do not necessarily disappear after the intraindividual faculty has developed.

We started from a contradiction between various ideas of Lev Vygotsky’s theory and by solving that we arrived to another contradiction.

Yet, contradictions are considered within the philosophical framework of Vygotsky’s theory the main motive of further development of a system, are not they?


* The author is Research Adviser, Institute for Psychology, The Hungarian Academy of Sciences, P.O.B. 398, H-1394 Budapest, Hungary. Fax: (361) 34-20-514. E-mail: garai@orange.okt.cogpsyphy.hu

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