Handout at Conference Presentation 1994
Lewin and Vygotsky - the radical and promising metatheorists
Last revised 98.10.26
Contribution to the 6th International Kurt Lewin Conference Sept. 8-11, 1994, Society for the Advancement of Field Theory (SAFT) Univ. of Michigan , Ann Arbor: Symposium on Lewin and Vygotsky (organized by R. Kleiner & A. Marjanovic-Shane) [to be revised]
© 1998 by Alfred Lang
Scientific and educational use permitted
I dedicate this paper to the memory of the late Donald T. Campbell who had been a Lewinian of the first hour in the US and whose methodological work and whose critical role in the development of evolutionary epistemology I had highly appreciated when I got the chance on the occasion of presenting this paper to meet him in person and to thoroughly discuss with him for many hours these problems not long before he died.
Lewin und Vygotsky are of the most promising of all 20th century psychologists. Both have offered original ideas in view of a science of the human existence in an ecological and cultural perspective. This paper wants to present and to compare some of their most important lines of thought, primarily on a general methodological or philosophy of psychological science level, with inclusion of the substance of their contributions.
In this handout at the conference, the Lewin section is reasonably elaborate though by no means completed, whereas the Vygotsky section is only rudimental. The paper is put on-line in its present state mainly for its treatment of Lewin's notion of existential genetic series in their import of doing a psychological science. Afar from a review of these ideas by Kurt Back (1986) this is the only English language review and treatment of the consequences for psychology Lewin has drawn from his comparative-empirical studies on the sciences. In fact, the present papers is a briefer English version of som of the argument in my major publication on Lewin (cf. Lang 1992, Die Frage nach den pychologischen Genesereihen). In addition, it deals with some of the problems of Lewin's attempts at doing a psychology founded on genetic series. The most intriguing perspective is opened with my thesis that Lewin who has offered the idea of branching and merging of genetic series in the biological sciences, in fact, was on the verge of introducing the crucial notions of variation and selection/valuation into psychology. This could have fully opened his and our horizon towards the necessity of formally introducing the cultural into psychology. Unfortunately, Lewin and Vygotsky have been unable to get at a point of really joining their forces to reconstruct psychological science and thus prepare our field for the 21st century. Two crucial prerequisites of making this reconstruction possible are shown to lie (a) in the replacement of the notion of genetic series by a triadic condition-effect connection allowing for branching and merging, and (b) by following the genetic process through the ecological transactions among the individual and his/her environment. This can be provided for by semiotic ecology in the cultural function circle.
Lewin and Vygotsky are perhaps the most promising and radical innovators of 20th century psychology. While both had a profound effect onto large practice fields, to the present day the psychological community did not accept their attempts at radical redefinitions of this science. Both had deemed the prevalent psychology of their time inadequate and had proposed to reconstruct this science, each in his own way, in what is best called an ecological perspective. (Here I should note my use the term "ecological" in a much broader sense than of Barker or Gibson.)
Vygotsky, in response to the "crisis" of psychology, has essentially proposed that the study unit for understanding the human condition, cannot be the individual person or organism or its behavior or experience, but should be a complex including the individual and the social, the biological and the cultural, and that this complex needed to be seen not only in its phylo- and ontogenetic becoming but was fundamentally of historical nature.
Lewin has, in developing his life space or psychological field conception, similarly responded to the misleading isolation of psychological problems by proposing an evolutive ecological perspective (I use the term evolutive to pertain to all sorts of open development including biotic, individual and cultural) and also given the social, cultural and historical its properly human weight, though perhaps in the beginning less explicitly than we might want.
While conscious of the actual exchanges between the two movements and impatiently waiting for the specialists to fully unearth the documents and reconstruct the mutual fructifications, I would like here to present some insights on a metatheoretical level. More important, in the long run, than finding out who was first in what aspect and what did the other make out of what instigation, I think, should be our understanding of the roots of their insights and perhaps also of the possible reasons as to why both have failed so far to change psychology in the way they wanted.
Both Lewin and Vygotsky were highly conscious of the extremely problematic stage in the history of ideas in the 19th century when their science grew into a separately instituted science. I mean, they were both true philosophers of science. And in line with their psychological theorizing they saw their contemporary psychology to be a historical phenomenon itself, accidental in its becoming and perhaps an accident, that could and should have gone otherwise. While Vygotsky strongly reacted to the unhappy break between the natural scientific and the geisteswissenschaftlichen manners of thought ("crisis of psychology"), Lewin went even further in asking very fundamental conceptual and methodological questions as to how sciences could operate at all. It is my conviction since long (see Lang 1964) that Lewin was one of the most original philosophers of science of the 20th century, about half a century in advance of Kuhn's or Feyerabend's, and perhaps proposing a more subtle and sensible notion of the scientific endeavor in comparison to "paradigm revolution" or "anything goes".
However, both Lewin and Vygotsky did not succeed to fully evade the dualistic way of thought they were criticizing in several respects. So did so far psychology, the modern science, as a whole. Humans are understood by common sense at large and by the various branches of psychology either just as another complex compound of matter or in terms of something not of this world; both ways miss the human condition and cannot be rationally combined. So we live with a double image of man, one for the workdays and another for sunday. I am convinced that we have to go at the roots of Western scientific thought when we want a better understanding of the human condition. So it is some of Lewin's early philosophy of science work that I want to present and ask questions as to how it relates to the cultural-historical approach that is in a stage of revival worldwide.
Naturally this is not something to be undertaken in a 20 min. presentation. So I have jotted down a number of assertions giving a capsule summary of some of Lewin's important ideas. And I have to restrict myself to comment upon one or two selected comparisons pertaining to the Vygotskian endeavor of creating a culture and history conscious psychology.
1. Lewin's cultural notion of the sciences. Based on his endeavor of instituting philosophy of science as an empirical science -- of observing what scientists do and inferring what the implications are of what they do rather than of what they say -- Lewin conceived of the various sciences as being each one an unique and individual historical development or tradition comparable to other complex evolutive systems. They would start with certain, initially mostly implicit, assumptions and develop primarily under the governanance of the reality field in aspects to which the assumptions and procedures chosen pertained and where they were put on probe; but numbers of contingent or accidental events would impress on their course, not completely different from what we find in the development of persons, societies or cultures. In particular, while individual sciences or groups of sciences could mutually influence they were not reducible upon each other except in the respect that their basic assumptions were the same.
2. Do psychical matters come from and go into nowhere? That kind of insights had been gained by Lewin from the very beginning of his studies when, in 1911 and 1912 (see Werkausgabe Vol. I, 1981:81-110), he asked the question of whether some axiom of conservation would also pertain to psychological subject matter, in analogy to the so extremely fruitful assumptions of conservation of energy and matter in the physico-chemical sciences. "No object or event can arise from and disappears into nothing; there are only changes in appearance." In psychology, for example, where did the Gestaltqualities come from? Or an emotion, when it had elicited an action, what happened to it, and where did it arise from in the first place? The question had been discussed at the turn of the century but dogmatically (self certain-dualistically) answered in the negative, e.g. by von Ehrenfels in 1890: that the question was irrelevant to matters psychological. But Lewin did not believe and did investigate instead. If appearances change, or if things break down and are built anew in similar or different characteristics, "something" must exist that remains while appearences change. Sciences must think their objects in developing series of changing characters and constant existence. Without saying so, Lewin was unhappy with the ways spiritual matters are usually dealt with and at the same time he realized the impossibility of reducing phenomena of life and information to physical law.
3. Empirical philosophy of science obviates reductionism. He compared various sciences as to how they dealt with that what was conserved when some law or function was formulated as to the way something changed its appearance as a function of something else. So he proposed philosophy of science to proceed in an empirical rather than the normative, prescriptive way so common until late into our century. He brought in astonishing insights. Physico-chemical sciences (in their "classical" versions) and biological sciences implied completely different notions of existence underlying the functions or laws describing and explaining their phenomena.
3.1. Genetic series in physico-chemical sciences. To assert a physico-chemical law, say a chemical reaction or a transformation of energy, you have to assure closed system, i.e. no particle of matter and no quant of energy must get lost or enter the system. The universe of classical physics, or a closed subsystem of it, is asssumed as a totally inclusive ("restlos genidentisch") genetic series that exists in reversible time; the existence series at any time, while taking different forms, is conceived to exist physically gen-identical with itself at any time. Nothing must enter, nothing can get out. So in experiments you better isolate your subject matter from the rest of the world. Physico-chemical laws functionally relate the states of the existence series in closed systems at different points in time.
3.1.1. You may note that Lewin here uses the terms genetic or genesis or gen-identical in the general sense of one entity changing out of or going into another, in every conceivable way, whether it comes out the same or similar or different in character. But it is only admitted to speak of genesis if some existence relation goes right through the change of appearence. The physical laws as a function of time, the genetics of biology or the (onto-)genetics in psychology are special cases.
3.1.2 Lewin, in fact asked that wonderful question of how it comes that we are naturally inclined two see and readily conceive of objects of equal character as two entities when they take different locations inspace, but objects of different character and occuring in two locations in time so often as one and the same thing changing. Obviously, that's not a matter of what is, but of our perceptual-conceptual organisation.
3.2. Genetic series in biological sciences. If you proceed in the same way as physico-chemists do to investigate and assert a biological law, the effect is that you no longer deal with living matter but rather with dead stuff. Which is in fact what large portions of present day biological scientists do. If you want to understand, say, the growth of an organism or its metamorphosis from stage to stage or its morphologic change over the life span or across generations, you have to give up the physico-chemical existence assumption. What is conserved is neither matter nor energy but some structure changing over directed time while more or less completely exchanging the molecules and the energy forms which carry its being alife. We all are willing to say, and a science of life must assume, that an individual organism is biologically one and the same over its life span, including the egg or other stages in certain animals, although it exists completely different than a concrete aggregate of non-living matter and energy.
3.3. Quasi-linear, diverging, and converging genetic series. Lewin in trying to understand the way of existence that was inherent to biology's conception of a living being ran into great problems that appear not conceptually cleared till today. He discovered that biologists think the existence of their subject matter in three different ways, at the least, all in directed and irreversible time series.
3.3.1. Individual organisms in their liftime exist as particular structures in directed time in a quasi-linear way, from the beginning of their conception to their end at death as one individual living structure. There is a kind of genetic series in this in spite of possibly massive changes in physico-chemical composition and in their manifest form and activity. The essence of lifing, obviously, is not in its physico-chemical substance or energy, but rather in some structural identity maintained in spite of both structural change and massive material exchange.
This is not to say that living tructures are closed systems. On the contrary, similar to biology dealing with matter and energy exchange between organismic structures and their environment, psychology can only be a meaningful science when taking into account in a considerate way information exchange between the individual and his/her environment. We all feel that something called self or personal identity goes right with the organism from conception to death in a related way as go the species and individual typic characters of morphology and behavior. Identity is accessible both from outside and (at least in humans) from inside. But this is only half of the facts: the personality or selfhood of a baby, again, no matter whether seen from outside or from inside, is only minimally the same as in adulthood or old age. So the question is open as to the character of genetic series in an individual that pertain to matters psychological (see below point 5).
3.3.2. Living beings exist in ancestral series(Avalreihen or parent-child-series). Any particular organism is a provisional end point member of an ancestry coming from an infinite series of parents in the past and converging on the present "child", one or two progenitors in each generation. In the latter case, the idea compares roughly to the stem of a tree in relation to its roots. Kin relationship is an important general construct because it models unification or mergence: something can exist as a combination of two parent existencies. It is even possible that a particular organism enters more than once into the becoming of the root system converging upon a particular individual. Note that in this most formidable ancestral existence conception, that of sexual reproduction, there is a selection of two to generate a third. Ancestral "series" immediately result from selection or evaluation processes.
Let me here briefly demonstrate the general scope of that idea -- and going beyond Lewin's restricted elaboration within the biological domain -- in psychological or cultural contexts: in systems without convergence you would have no meaningful development because even if one item could procreate another item you would get no system coherence or continuity. If variation pertained, procreation would result in an ever exploding divergence of kinds; if no variation was allowed, selection would make no sense, since an ever again repeated production of the same would be the case. Think e.g. of an artist creating a sculpture which is reproduced by another artist creating that same sculpture which ist reproduced ... and so on ad infinitum; or, in the former case, of scores of artists creating anew every one of their pieces from scratch, completely different. The biological model here would be parthenogenesis or non-sexual reproduction. In contrast, artistic traditions arise from the fact that an artist is induced to create a sculpture which is taken by another artist of similar background to elaborate into a somewhat new kind of sculpture which in turn ... Parenting at its best involves at least two affine structures procreating in combination further affine structures etc. In the case of procreation of an equal item, i.e. without converging ancestry, you might get series of the same time and again, or you might get variation into infinite variety in the case of procreation by chance or otherwise of a different item in any generation. But each of these lines would exist in splendid isolationall by itself or disappear into oblivion.
Because without their capability to merge or combine any of these series would go on forever without having commerce with other series except in brute physical ways, whether it is of organisms, of artifacts or of ideas. If you feel that most psychological processes are based on converging ancestry, such as some knowledge that allows assimilation of related knowledge to procreate related and often somewhat new knowledge, you are on the right track. To deal with an infinity of novel situations in terms of a small set of concepts, of emotions etc. is another manifestation of the convergence principle. And I feel with you when you find that modern psychological kinds of conceiving of multiple causation or conditioning (not in the too specific behavioristic sense) of most or all phenomena are in the right direction. Yet they lack the conceptual clarity and logical reduction to their essence such as is available from the genetic series perspective and which is present in this idea of ancestry well known in biology, however unclear its transfer to other fields might look at this time. I propose for the moment to understand the ancestral biological genetic series as a heuristic analogy.
But you may go one step further with me. What Lewin tracked in his analysis of biological existence or genetic series in the form of converging ancestry is structurally nothing but the general idea of selectiveness. You know it from bio-evolutionary theory. A difference to note, however, is Lewin's restriction to within biotic systems wheras bioevolutionary selection processes are based on the interaction of organisms with their environment. Yet you can, I hope, easily see that a process of that merging existence series kind must be at the heart of any evolving system, whether psychological, social or cultural, in the form of an evaluative or selective preference resulting in inclusion or exclusion. Be a member of that group or stay away, learn this language or that science, have interest for this or that tradition: living is selecting and excluding. This idea occurs in the social and cultural sciences in a number of different forms. Yet we lack presently a clear and general conception of it and rules on how to comprehend its different manifestations.
3.3.3. Living beings also exist inphyletic series (phylogenetic series or stems branching out from any particular starting point). Any particular organism, in an evolutionary view, is also possibly an originating member or part of a diverging or open ended branching into the future, i.e. it can become a "mother" or "father" of its possibly emerging stem. This is roughly comparable to the branching of twigs and leaves and fruits from the stem of a tree. Phyletic series describe the instances of the becoming of the new. The phyletic branching relationship is an equally important and indispensable precondition for evolution of all kinds. At any particular point in the existence series, the series can branch. The bifurcation model in non-equilibrium states of systems outgrown from Prigogine's work is an other example of the same. Phyletic branching is an example of the variation process in general.
Again, I try to build provisional bridges to the psychological and cultural fields which Lewin perhaps may have considered but did not write about to my knowledge. The essence of the idea of genetic series branching refers to that phase of an existence continuity where it can go this or that way. Variation, of all kinds, naturally and a I hinted at above, is a precondition of selection. In order to decide, we generate and compare options. Whenever an individual acts upon its environment, a change of that environment is achieved and thus a potential branching is prepared or profferred. Another agency, including the same actor, can subsequently take that change or leave it into oblivion, sooner or later, depending on the persistence of that change. In the case of neglect, negative selection prevents the building of anything based on it. In the case of taking up the profference, a new stem or branch or another genetic series is opened. I hope you get the feeling of what I mean, and Lewinians certainly know both his enormous proficiency in inaugurating stems of ideas and his sensibility of selecting and cultivating promising branches.
Now look into contemporary methods of psychology. Would you say that there are concepts and methods available and used which give the branching of matters psychological a chance to manifest itself, in other words, that are sensible for the procreation of new entities such as ideas, feelings, acts or activities, artefacts, cultural products in general? Of course, there are studies of that kind; it is almost a natural type of research in the Lewinian, also, though less so, in the Vytgotskian research tradition. (Think of the satiation paradigm, leadership style, group dynamic studies etc.) But creativity or productivity research, in fact, leads a small speciality life in a offside chamber of our science rather than being seen at the heart of every psychological process. The problem is that, once you have decided to do a science based on the idea of strict or necessary determination, you have to smuggle in the variation notion by the backdoor. The chance conception in all modern sciences is a case in point. Note that again there are more than two entities involved: an origin and the procreation of possibly more than one entities of different though similar kind. Perhaps, Lewin is to some extent also a victim of this old convention in the sciences when he thinks of his "genetic series" in the form of seriation of pairs in time rather than in the combination of triads which can involve variation and selectivity. But I cannot herewith spin this threadof Lewin's genetic series idea further into what I call Semiotic Ecology (see my various papers on the topic).
4. "Lewin's real business in life was the comparative science of sciences" (D.K. Adam, see Marrow 1969:236). These fascinating and irritating ideas here presented much too briefly and incompletely to be understood in a first encounter, were in Lewin's book of 1922 Der Begriff der Genese in Physik, Biologie und Entwicklungsgeschichte" which I would render as "The notion of becoming in physics, biology and evolutionary history"; subtitle: "A study in comparative theory of science". Lewin did regularly lecture on the topic during all of the 1920s and some of the ideas in his several conceptual-methodological papers and in the Topological Psychology book hint at them. They have not been well received by any scientific community except a small community of yet unknown students at and around the Berlin university and the two newly founded journals Symposion (1925) and Erkenntnis (1931). And so here is another urgent topic for historians of our science to reconstruct the (non-)reception of these ideas. And in particular, how much did Vygotsky learn of that Lewinian philosophy of science work and to what extent did the two discuss or did Bluma Zeigarnik mediate these ideas? Had Lewin resigned promoting his philosophy of science? You might get a glimpse on that from a remark of Donald Adams, related by Marrow (1969:235): Lewin, shortly before his death, responded very soberly to D.K. Adams' question: "When are you going to get back to the comparative science of sciences?" - "I must do that. These things we are finding out will be discovered in five or ten years anyway, but this other might be fifty years away." But neither philosophers nor psychologists studied that genidentity book. In addition to my reviews (Lang 1964, 1991, 1992) Kurt Back (1986) appears to be the only contemporary Lewin scholar to have emphatically pointed at the importance of the book in the First of the Symposia of this Society in 1984.
5. Are there psychological genetic series? So I shall try to tell you, how much and why I agree with Lewin that psychology like any reasonable science should explicate the underlying genetic or existence series when asserting functions and laws among its phenomena. And also how I myself got stuck with this project until the mid 80es when some early manuscripts of Lewin were published. Lewin, in fact, had never publicly declared himself about genetic series in psychology. Indeed, in the Genidentity book there are three mentions of psychology in passing and a forth in a two page appendix entitled Biologie und Psychologie which leaves the explicitly formulated question unanswered as to whether psychological problems can be dealt with biologically in their entirety or whether they require at least in part a special science of psychology. Lewin said he could not decide at that time and, maybe, he never made up his mind in that respect. I deem the question most important for anybody working with Lewin's legacy to look for pertinent information in private papers or letters. How are the genetic series of existence underlying psychological functions and laws to be conceived? I briefly touch upon the two possible general answers to that question which Lewin thought of:
5.1. Quasi-linear psychological series parallel to the organismic genidentity? After some hesitation I had presumed, mistakenly, I think now, Lewin to conceive psychological series in terms of the first type of the biological, i.e. the individual-organismic genidentity type. When I read the two manuscripts of 1911 and 1912 and the drafts published from his Wissenschaftslehre of the mid-twenties (edited by Alexandre Métraux in Vol. II of the Werkausgabe, 1983) I grew uncertain again. To my astonishment, Lewin once more did not fix his view of psychological existence series although he repeatedly mentions this science along with economics, history and other disciplines. The question had and has to be settled.
5.2. Properly psychological genetic series? It is evident from all what he says that he thinks these different sciences to be based on their own type of genetic series, but he leaves it open how he these several different types of genidentity are presumed in the practice of these sciences and how they might be conceived and compared to the physico-chemical and the biological existence assumptions he has explicated in the 1922 book. In particular, it is obvious that he did or could not specify the nature of psychological genetic series to his own satisfaction. Had he given up the idea of explicating the kind of assumptions psychology was based upon by studying the sciences with a comparative method? There are dark hints, if I may say so, in several of his papers from the early twenties on to the time of emigration, that amount to sort of saying (in my wordings): psychology, as represented in its literature, has no scientific foundation at all; in psychology things to explain and things explaining arise from and disappear into nothing according to the desire of the researchers rather than following some methodological principle. I must confess that I largely agree to such a description of the state of affairs; and nothing has changed in that respect sinc the time of Lewin's death. What psychologists reveal of psychological processes is perhaps more in their heads and their concepts than in and between the people they investigate so tediously.
6. Lewinian psychology designed to be founded in genetic series. So, when rethinking the problem, it occurred to me that he might have found it impossible to uncover the existence assumptions in modern psychology, because there were none. But, naturally, it would not help to pronounce that insight openly because nobody would understand what he meant and nobody would neither like to nor be likely to believe him. So, this is my thesis: Lewin set himself out, together with his students and friends, to create a psychology constructed on the basis of psychological genetic series. It is Lewin's field theory then, where we have to look for how he thought psychology should and could perhaps proceed with consistent existence assumptions behind their functional assertions. And indeed, in my view, his life work seen in the perspective of this assumptions gains radically in coherence and consistency. It is not at all meaningful, in my judgment, to divide Lewin's work in two separate periods, to split the scientist into two separate, a German and an American, "genetic series".
6.1. Lewin's great challenge, for himself and for psychology at large. I have presented this thesis for the first time in 1992 in a chapter entitled Die Frage nach den psychologischen Genesereihen -- Kurt Lewins grosse Herausforderung. (Pp. 39-68 in: Schönpflug, Wolfgang (Ed.) Kurt Lewin -- Person, Werk, Umfeld: historische Rekonstruktion und Interpretation aus Anlass seines hundersten Geburtstages. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Psychologie Bd. 5. Frankfurt a.M., Peter Lang. ) There I have given a rather extensive summary and interpretation of the early philosophy of science papers of Lewin and then selectively reviewed facets of his various research projects over the years in relation to the psychological genetic series idea as he might have thought of them. I do not claim my thesis necessarily to describe the historical facts; yet the existence of an explicit intention on the part of Lewin cannot be excluded. Others are in much better position than I am to judge its factual value on the basis of extant documents. I rather present it as a heuristic to understand Kurt Lewin's life work and also as an instrumental device to further the construction of a reasonable psychological science.
7. Lewin's psychology as a science founded in psychological genetic series? Here I can only very superficially mention a selected few of the principal points that support such a view. I also cannot discuss whether he succeeded in the sense of (a) that he was himself satisfied with what he (implicitly!) proposed for genetic series in his psychology -- I rather feel he did not. But sure, he was not exhausted at that. Another solution might be to present the question in the sense of (b) that we could take his field theory as a well founded description of reasonable genetic series type for psychology and offer it to the psychologists as a version of psychology fulfilling basic requirements of a science in that its assertions are based on things existing in such and such a way -- I again think that we can not. But we can learn extremely well from both: (a) on how he defined the problem and perhaps (b) on where and why also his own approach did not fulfill his hopes. In addition, it is very helpful to follow Lewin's example and do that investigation in a comparative way. It is indeed very revealing to ask the same questions of the cultural-historical schools of psychology inaugurated by Vygotsky, since there are so many parallels to Lewinian thought and since Vygotsky, if anybody then, might have best understood what Lewin had in mind. So I list a few of the more important features of field theory and related topics in view of their revealing something about psychological genetic series and add a few comments about possible Vygotskian parallels and contrasts.
7.1. Lewin's and Vygotsky's ecological orientation. Let us start with perhaps the most basic point which, I already said it, Lewinian and Vygotskian thought share and that, at the same time, removes them most from mainstream psychology of the 20th century: tis theirecological orientation.
7.1.1. One is tempted, in European and related cultures at least, to assume that what persists in psychological questions is the psychological person, perhaps in various versions:
7.1.2. In fact, these are all very doubtful candidates for genetic series existing through all kinds of changes and in any case not well defined notions nor really stable entities; they might best soon be left to history of psycholgoy. I would not maintain that some entity of which the above terms can be designative or even descriptive might not be candidates for psychological genetic series; but our objective should be to observe how such become and how they take and do have effects rather than positing them from start.
7.1.3. It is hardly deniable that any of the above marked entities are becoming and changing in relation to their environment. So the important genetic series would have to be conceived as going back and forth between some such coherent entity like an organism or a mind-brain being changed by and changing in turn its environment. This is obviously what is at the base of Lewinian concepts of life space and the (social-)psychological field and of the Vygotskian proposal to study the larger unit "people in their social and cultural context" and the mediating processes connecting and changing the parts of this system over time.
7.1.4. I have found the idea of the function circle inaugurated by Jakob von Uexküll, in fact one of the important influences on the early Lewin, a most helpful conception to be elaborated upon for describing the effects going from facets of the environment into the psychological system in the narrower sense and back into the cultural environment and then again, and perhaps changed, into some mind-brain etc.
7.2. Social and cultural embeddedness. The ecological orientation immediately gives rise to a second point that is also present in both thinkers: you cannot reasonably deal with the isolated individual except perhaps for a few psychophysiological questions of limited scope. But already perception, concept formation, problem solving, emotions, values, language, motor skills, artefact and people related activities,... all psychological topics worth our interest are emergencies of a combined organismic and socio-cultural system.
7.2.1. It is interesting to note that Lewin relatively late, only in his American years became a manifest social psychologist and started asking his questions in an explicit cultural context, while for Vygotsky, coming from literary and pedagogical fields and working in an environment of fundamental social turmoil, very early and decidedly went for the social and cultural, the latter largely restricted to language. Closer inspection of Lewin's work, however, reveals how much, both in his industrial-psychological and in his applied developmental research the cultural and the social are present, and particulary well so in his films on children in their environment.
7.2.2. It seems to me that Lewin held an admirable balance, say in the conception of the induced social field, of the marginal position of minority groups and individuals and in related ideas, between influences (i.e. what is carried by genetic series) going from individuals to the social system and from the socio-cultural to forming the individual. In this respect Vygotsky developed a notion of prevalence of the social over the individual, probably also influenced by the political situation in the Soviet Union. It is true, that it is often said of tools and signs that the sign system, in particular language, is the way over which the individual accrues his social existence, while the tools are mainly the means of acting upon the environment. But in fact I could not find so far in the cultural-historical school an explicated notion of how the societal structure are thought to arise in the first place through concerted human actions.
7.2.3. In addition, I would like somebody to study possible contacts between Lewin and Georg Simmel who was not only a most admired cultural and social philosopher in the Berlin of the time before World War I, but had suffered a very similar fate as a jew entering an academic career a generation before. Lewin mentions the name in his writings only in passing. Simmel commonly passes for one of the co-founders of modern sociology; but a second look makes not only clear, that his sociology of Vergesellschaftung is one founded in interacting individuals - think e.g. of his theory of money that founds this pervasive cultural artefact or instrument in the mutual desires and offerings among individual persons. I deem Simmel to be one of the most prolific and idea-rich thinkers on the cultural aspects of the human condition and Lewin, although he might have been critical in details, very much embraced the basic idea of Simmel, namely that humans and their cultural environment form a system evolving due to dialogical processes between its two parts.
7.3. Methodological emphasis on action. There might also be interest to make a comparison Lewin's and Vygotsky's psychological research on methodological levels. I have already mentioned the openness of Lewin for observing people's free actions. It seems that Vygotsky and his coworkers remained quite a bit more victims of what I like to call the generalized Fechner paradigm of psychological methodology,
7.3.1. By generalized Fechner paradigm I mark the idea of stimulus and response taken from physiology of muscle reaction and unduly generalized to the human condition. If anything humans are, they are those animals that change the world quicker and more thoroughly than any single species before. Should we not put great emphasis on developing sound methods to describe people's trace of actions in their environment. Lewin can be a great model in this respect.
7.3.2. Lewin was the first and most comprehensive psychologist of action, i.e. that basic psychological function which connects individuals with the environment on the effective side. Vygotsky, along with Leontiev was one of the principal instigators of modern action theory. Unfortunately, much of these developments becoming evident from the 1960s on suffer from the fact that a concept of action is presupposed rather than constructed from observation of people creating and maintaing as well as changing their cultural world.
7.4. Psychology, in the main, is a historical science. The perhaps most consequential aspect of the genetic series idea is its potential to handle historicity. This is also the field where psychology has perhaps sinned most severely. Both, Lewin and Vygotsky acknowledge the importance, but both are perhaps too deeply anchored in the idea of good science, i.e. of lawful science, prevalent in the first half of the century. Historicity was just left to the philosophers or geisteswissenschaftlichen psychologists.
- [Comparisons have to be introduced and performed much more explicitly and thouroughly!]
8. Comparative analyses evaluated. [Very provisional!]The foregoing comparative study is obviously an open project. It might be bound to fail, either
8.1. because it asks questions that are no questions that make sense to ask -- that may be the reaction of simple-minded positivists;
8.2. or because the questions asked are well put but perhaps too large and not really suited to be converging on an acceptable answer in the present development of the sciences of the human condition -- that is nearer to my own line of evaluation although I think they should be asked anyway;
8.3. or there are one or several errors in the way they are asked -- that can always be the case and only pointing them out will allow for repair in case of minor problems or for a decision to stop the project if they are fundamental.
9. How to approach a psychology founded in distinctive genetic series. Let me add a sort of personal perspective. I believe that the idea of various sorts of genetic series at the base of scientific explanation is very sound and important, as much as I do think that it has to be generalized and transformed in order to become capable of finding a satisfactory answer. I think I have found a promising perspective on the basis of the semiotic of the great American polymath and philosopher Charles Peirce, who is considered the founder of modern semiotics.
9.1. Peirce has been the first to propose a tri-relational logic or semiotic that indeed is capable of handling developmental processes of the kind Lewin was finding in biology and psychology and other sciences but could not handle with the traditional bi-relational habits of thought in Western culture. Peircean sign process or semiosis can be construed as the basic element, both in terms of structure and as a process, that can account for quasi-linear chains, branching generation and converging synthesis; thus semiosis can be put to serve as the logic of genetic series of types beyond the physico-chemical domain.
9.2. Indeed, on the most abstract level laws of the form "B is a function of A" will never do justice to branching and converging evolutionary systems. Peirce believed them in certain instances to be a special case, perhaps a sort of degenerative fixation of habit of a more general triadic notion, or the expression of some balance of evolutive and stable phenomena. Running the risk of oversimplifying one can roughly state triadicity in the form: A in the suitable milieu of B and conjointly with B can lead to the expression of that encounter in the form of C. Of course, this can be taken to hint at a most famous formular which, unfortunately is not usually read in a triadic manner. It is uncertain whether its originator has understodd it dyadically or triadically:
Behavior, Development, Personality = f (psych.Person, psych.Environment)
But this is a topic for more than one other presentation. For a provisional statement of the approach see my (1993) Non-Cartesian artefacts in dwelling activities -- steps towards a semiotic ecology (Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Psychologie 52 (2) 138-147 or Quarterly Newsletter of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition (UCSD) 15 (3) 87-96) and further papers cited therein and in the making.
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