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Appropriate educational approaches to encourage aesthetic self-expression, with reference to Sudanese refugees in Australia, By Peter McGuire
|"Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of a Doctorate at LaTrobe University, Australia."
In this paper, cognitivist and educational approaches in education, and functional linguistic approaches in language teaching, which typify Australian educational practices, are critiqued as they do not cater for alternative epistemologies, be they those of Sudanese refugees in Australia, or those of indigenous peoples, or those of the wider population. The issue of interest is the degree to which these speakers are able to express themselves aesthetically in speaking (in their mother tongue or other languages) as well as socially and artistically. ‘Aesthetic’ refers to the uniqueness, value and significance of a speaker’s utterances and performances (spoken, sung, or danced), interpreted in the living and evolving contexts in which they interact.
The major authority for cognitivist approaches is the Soviet psychologist, Vygostky. Education, particularly language education, must take into account more oral and less logocentric approaches to learning and communication. Furthermore, the systemic functional linguistic approach, typifying language teaching to both first and second language learners, does not encourage authentic self-expression (important particularly for adults with accumulated life experience). Systemic functional linguistics is the basis for much of English language curricula in Australia.
In a traditional Dinka or Nuer setting, the storyteller and audience share the same very old language and community history. In contrast, ‘. . . [I]f artist and audience are alien to one another, there is no shared experience which makes it possible for images to bloom, then there is no work of artŚand in an oral society, no educational system’ (Scheub, 1975: 353). This may apply to African refugees in Australia, whose experiences are unknown to most Australian residents. The ‘aesthetic-didactic tradition’ (Scheub, 1975: 355) of the tribe is learnt by children by virtue of their membership in audiences. A child ‘learns the plots, enjoys them, is caught up with them during their performance, and he discovers the potential grouping of several plots into seemingly endless combinations’ (Scheub, 1975: 355). Ayom (1987: 174), for example, lists the verbal exercise to which children in Dinka society were introduced:
Verbal exercise Age
Lullabies 0-2 years
Children’s verbal games 2.5-5 years
Folk tales 5-13 and 13+ years
Children’s dance songs 6/7 ľ 13 and 13+ years
Tongue twisters 6/7 ľ 13 and 13+ years
Riddles 7/8 ľ 13 and 13+ years
Ayom explains this highly oral form of linguistic socialization:
Each age set learns from the one that is a little bit older than themselves and also from the members of their peer group in addition to what they learn from their older brothers and sisters. [These activities] culminate in the learning of praise songs, dancing songs and sung poetry which each young man and woman has to learn for purposes of dancing ceremonies and other traditional public appearances . . . (Ayom, 1987: 174).
Thus, the interaction across age levels in Dinka society was probably more intense than in Western societies, where age groups tend to keep to themselves. The explanation may be that lineage and one’s place in a lineage is more important that age (Deng, 1987: 33). The tongue twisters taught children correct grammatical and linguistic usage, as well as culturally polite forms of speaking (Ayom, 1987: 178).
The story teller, sometimes known in the West by the word griot (referring to West African storytellers), occupies a very high place in African societies (Peek, 1981: 29). The performance of oral narrative combines ‘the performer . .. .narrative images, inherited from the past . .. the contemporary world, with its routine activities, implements and rituals . . . and members of the audience’ (Scheub, 1977: 346). The fundamental narrative unit is a ‘sensually experienced image and not a word rote-memorized’ (Scheub, 1977: 347). An important part of the oral narrative is ‘the regular movement of the artist’s body and the resulting harmonizing of the body movements of the members of the audience (sometimes physical, always an emotional harmonizing’ (Scheub, 1977: 348). Scheub (1977: 357-358). identifies significant gestures which support oral narrative. The storyteller uses gesture for ‘emphasis, punctuation, repetition and patterning’ (Scheub, 1977: 365). First, the counting off of actions which refers directly to the verbally invoked images. Second, emphasis by ‘pounding the index finger into the palm of the other’. (Scheub, 1977: 357).Third, gestures to give an illusion of ‘movement or time lapse’ (Scheub, 1977: 357). Fourth, gestures to demonstrate something, such as jewellery around a wrist, or to point to a thing. Another is the miming of emotion experienced by the character, or the expression of emotion to reveal the story teller’s attitude towards her characters. Gestures may also complement or punctuate the rhythm of the story (Scheub, 1977: 361).
In contrast, functional linguistics of Australian language curricula emphasizes the instrumental character of language and stresses that language is not a self-sufficient entity (Davidse, 1987: 40). Functional linguistics does rescue language from the state of being a pure science, and relates language to everyday use by having recourse to sociological theory. However, in it effort to be a system, like Saussure’s scientific language, it excludes contingent speech and the person who is speaking. Halliday’s systemic linguistics originates in the Prague School, and tries to describe ‘the linguistic differences associated, not with different communities of speakers, but with different activities in social life’ (Lemke, 1995:26), so that ‘our uses of language are inseparable from the social functions, the social contexts of actions and relationships in which language plays its part’ (Lemke, 1995:27). It is also in the tradition of British analytical philosophy of J. L. Austin (1961: 222) whose cognitivist ‘performative utterances’ (or ‘operative’ utterances (Austin, 1961: 223) emphasize the fact that a person does something as well as simply saying something. Austin explains that ‘the more we consider a statement not as a sentence (or proposition) but as an act of speech . . . the more we are studying the whole thing as an act’ (Austin, 1962: 20). He rejects the exclusive focus on truth-value semantics. According to Halliday and Matthiessen (1999: 3-4), in a ‘systemic grammar every category . . . is based on meaning’, rather than being a formal grammar which is autonomous and therefore ‘semantically arbitrary’. It regards cognition as a ‘social semiotic rather than as a system of the human mind’ (Kilpert, 2003: 166), and puts less emphasis on the individual and sees meaning more as a social and intersubjective process (Kilpert, 2003: 166).
Systemic linguistics uses a technical and extensive meta-language to describe functions and metafunctions of language. It has a sociocognitive approach to language (Atkinson, 2002: 525). The scientific status of functional linguistics has even been validated in its application in forensic settings, where its approach has been used to question the authenticity of written documents tendered as evidence in court cases (Kaplan and Grabe, 2002: 214).
Phenomenologically, the meaning of the interaction ‘arises not from any one speaker, but from the expressive field arising between the two (Adams, 2001: 210). Interlocutors are co-authors, from the linguistic point of view (Duranti, 1986: 239). However, for the functional linguist, language ‘construes all of our experience, it enacts all of our interpersonal processes’ (Halliday, 1997: 6). Halliday rejects the dichotomy of langue and parole, ‘competence and performance’, because he ‘moves into linguistics via social interaction, not through the human mind’ (Davidse, 1987: 41). Although Halliday (1975: 3) mentions the mathetic function of English, that is, ‘language as reflection’ (as opposed to pragmatic language as action) and ‘language as creation, or meaning in the imaginative mode’ (Halliday, 1975: 87), in practice these aspects are subordinate to the functional aspect.
Prabhu explains that the mathetic function
involves meeting a basic need of the mindŚthe need to make sense of the world one lives in, to develop a conceptual model of causes and consequences, to construct a world view in which one can locate oneself, or at least to be able to believe one has done so (Prabhu, 1994: 55).
A phenomenological reply to Halliday is that, for Merleau-Ponty, ‘. . . . language is much more like a sort of being than a means, and that is why it can present something to us so well . .. . all language is indirect or allusiveľthat is, if you wish, silence’ (Merleau-Ponty, (1964: 43). A person’s unique temporal-spatial placement itself gives individuality to her speaking and interacting, and her constantly changing styles, which is the amalgam of gesture and way of doing, which expands to ‘our perception of the doings of bodies which are not our own’ (Stenstad, 1993: 54). Despite the variations in speech and gesture, there is ‘undeniably, a certain perceptually recognizable, meaningful unity which makes the individual recognizable (Stenstad, 1993: 54). An aesthetic appreciation of a person’s style is equally important as the cognitive comprehension of her utterances: Wittgenstein, for example, (1981, quoted by Shotter, 1996: 471) noted that speaking has an aesthetic dimension, that there is a strongly musical element in verbal language.
Functional linguistics maintains a structuralist theory of language, in which the subject is non-existent, and which is ethically neutral. Merleau-Ponty described such intellectualist and empiricist views as telling us what God might think about human experience (Merleau-Ponty, 1964: 255): Sartre describes such objectivist thought as pensÚe de survol, ‘high altitude thinking’ (Sartre, 1965: 229). Berman clarifies this rejection of high altitude thinking in this way:
Experience is not constituted by some (metaphysical/eternal) entity who is placed against and alongside the world. We do not view the world from the position of high altitude thinking; instead we are entities in and of the world . . . For [Merleau-Ponty], the lived-body’s situatedness within the sole world that is common to all other lived-bodies evidences its own incarnate nature . . . This situatedness is never absolute, there are no apodeictic viewpoints from which to survey from above the world of experience [author’s italics] (Berman, 2004: 133).
According to the phenomenological approach, the body allows us to have a visible presence in society, and at the same time ‘our thoughts remain in/visible’(Jung, 1993: 89). Phenomenology initiates all investigations with an ontology, by which natural history and the sciences, nature and history, so that human existence, according to L÷with (quoted in Jung (1993: 120)), is ‘the ultimate source and also end of ontological interest’.
Vasterling (2003), like Halliday, accepts that, despite her linguistic capacities, ‘the subject is the product rather than the producer of linguistic construction. . . Every word we utter is. . . a citation from an already-existing vocabulary’ (Vasterling, 2003: 213).. However, from the phenomenological point of view, Vasterling argues that ‘what we see and understand depends also on the body’s passage through the word, a passage that is different for every individual, for nobody occupies and traverses exactly the same space and time as somebody else’ (Vasterling, 2003: 213).
Cognitivism here would correspond to Merleau-Ponty’s ‘intellectualism’ whereby intellectualist accounts of perception give ‘primacy to the active judgments of a constituting subject of knowledge’ (Adams, 2001: 205), by which the knower is ‘“rent asunder” from her world’ (Adams, 2001: 206). This view fails to recognize the ‘mediation accomplished by the body, as it acts in that ‘overlapping gulf’ between the subjective and objective poles of knowledge and experience’ (Adams, 2001: 206).
This review takes a critical view of Vygotsky (1897-1934), in order to highlight some of the philosophical undercurrents in his work which have negative implication for philosophical anthropology, as well as those aspects which provide more useful views on language and the nature of the person in society. The issue is important as Vygotsky is used as an authority by many educational researchers (Kitchener, 1996; Lewis, 2000; Wells, 1994, 1999; Wertsch, 1979, 1980, 1996; Cole and Wertsch, 1996; Dunn, 1998). Rosa and Montero make the point that Vygotsky must best be understood in the context in which he developed (Rosa and Montero, 1990: 74).To appreciate Vygotsky adequately is only possible with a consideration of its relationship to Marx and Marxist philosophy. (Elhammouni, 2002: 91; Engelstr÷m and Miettinen, 1999: 1-16). Furthermore, it important to note that Vygotsky’s Marxism was the scientific Marxism :
Once Marxism became Party knowledge and the tool for the industrialization of Soviet society, Marxism became Party knowledge and a tool for the industrialization of Soviet society, Marxism identified with economic determinism and the values of scientific naturalism at the expense of its own radical humanism (O’Neill, 1984: 276).
Thus, Marx’s dialectical approach and the theme of alienation are incompatible with the ‘Engels-Lenin orthodoxy of positivism and scientism’ (O’Neill, 1984: 277). This scientific Marxism was taken up by Vygotsky and Soviet psychology, and in turn by NeoVygotskians who introduced it to educational thinking in the West. In a similar vein, Vygotsky’s ‘Marxism’ has commonalities with rationalist capitalist thinking, with Soviet society having a highly centralized and hegemonic planning authority which may be to a certain extent be replicated by capitalist nations in the area of the virtual enslavement of many African countries by the ‘free market’ philosophy and by consequent debt.
For the Marxist, Parrington (1977), Vygotsky and Voloshinov are true Marxists. Morss (1996: 79) asserts that ‘most appeals to Vygotsky in contemporary psychology downplay Vygotsky’s Marxism’. Eilam argues that and Vygotsky’s views on cognitive psychology should be interpreted in ‘the Marxist context in which they are embedded’ (Eilam, 2003: 551), that is, Marx’s historical materialism, and the assertion, first, of the person as a ‘working social animal’ (Eilam, 2003: 552) as well as a ‘tool-making, tool-using animal’ (Eilam, 2003: 553). Secondly, that the ‘understanding of human forms of life, including consciousness must be derived from research into the concrete social-historical forms of human labour’ (Eilam, 2003: 552). She concludes by saying that, according to Luria’s approach, ‘a person’s subjective, most intimate experiences do not originate from within, but are conceived as a consequence of internalization and reflection from without, i.e. from the socio-cultural environment’ [authors italics] (Eilam, 2003: 574).
Lee explains that both Marx and Vygotsky ‘insisted that the analysis of consciousness must start with practical activity’ (Lee, 1983: 67), and that ‘at the level of society practical activity is analysed in terms of production’ (Lee, 1983: 68). Society is preeminent in Marxism and Vygotsky, not individuals, and social relations are converted into mental functions and thought processes:
From the standpoint of historical materialism, the fundamental causes of all social changes and all political upheavals must be sought not in people’s minds . . . but in changes in the means of production and distribution. They must be sought, not in philosophy, but in the economics of each epoch (Vygotsky, 1997: 211).
Furthermore, for Vygotsky, from a Marxist materialistic point of view, tools (such as language, maps, models, music, according to Wells, 1999: 149) ‘alters the entire flow and structure of mental functions. It does this by determining the structure of a new instrumental act, just as a technical tool alters the process of natural adaption by determining the form of labour operations’ (Vygotsky, 1981, quoted in Wells, 1999: 149). This ignores the fact that a culture, such as the Dogon (Calame-Griaule, 1986) can develop a sophisticated culture, language and understandings without having a sophisticated material technology. By tools Vygotsky referred to the tools of Western technology, not the tools of epistemologies such as those of indigenous peoples. It must be admitted that Morris’s analysis of the original Marx suggested that Marx’s model of human activity was artistic as well as economic, and that the human relationship with nature that he posited was aesthetic as well as instrumental (Morris, 1991: 205). However, Vygotsky and neoVygotskians, because of their cognitivist bias, emphasize the instrumental value of language and the person to the detriment of aesthetic inclinations. Marx’s historical materialism did imply a high regard for technology and science over preconquest indigenous epistemologies and aesthetics, and his program of changing the world for the better through revolution would have meant the elimination of these epistemologies.
Society for Marx and Vygotsky is thus organized like an enormous factory or systems ‘which are made up of interfunctional connections among their various subsystems’ (Lee, 1983: 68). (This factory paradigm might now been replaced with the biological ‘ecosystem’ paradigm (Van Lier, 2000)). From many of Vygotsky’s works, references to Marx were deleted by early translators and editors, as well as by Kozulin (Gillen, 2000: 187-188). Kozulin later claims that ‘Vygotsky was never engaged in building a Marxist psychology’ (Kozulin, 1996: 328). Vygotsky’s conception of the human ‘subject’ was similar to that of Marx, and they both saw the human person as essentially a social being (Morris, 1991: 230), the focal point was to emphasize practical activity as well as the social foundations of human consciousness. Many commentators on Vygotsky ignore this vital Marxist element (for example, Wells (1994, 1999)).
Vygotsky used the paradigm of the means of production to explain psychological processes, as the fundamental causes of all social and psychological changes must be sought in changes in the means of production and distribution:
From the standpoint of historical materialism, the fundamental causes of all social changes and all political upheavals must be sought not in people’s minds . . . but in changes in the means of production and distribution (Vygotsky, 1997: 211)
The entire psychological makeup of individuals can be seen to depend directly on the development of technology, the degree of development of the production forces and on the structure of the social group to which the individual belongs (Vygotsky, 1994: 176).
Indeed, according to Voloshinov, the autonomy of the individual can be almost non-existent:
The individual, as possessor of the contents of his own consciousness, as the author of his own thoughts, as the personality responsible for his thoughts and feelings, ľ such an individual is purely a socioideological phenomenon (Voloshinov, 1986: 34).
However, this view ignores the role of the interpretant (Gay, 1993: 67), who, as Ricoeur points out, could easily ascribe a positive value to the language of the oppressed, and a negative value to the language of the oppressors. Ricoeur explains that the ‘critique of ideology is a task which must always be begun, but which in principle can never be completed’ (Ricoeur, 1981: 242).
Elsewhere Vygotsky wrote
I want to find out how science has to be built, to approach the study of mind having learned the whole of Marx's method... In order to create such an enabling theory-method in the generally accepted scientific manner, it is necessary to discover the essence of the given area of phenomena, the laws according to which they change, their qualitative and quantitative characteristics, their causes. It is necessary to formulate the categories and concepts that are specifically relevant to them in other words, to create one's own Capital (Vygotsky, 1978: 8).
So, it is clear that Vygotsky and the neo-Vygotskians ignored the thought of the earlier Marx on alienation. Alienation may occur in the Marxist sense, particularly in relations to modes of production, and is to some extent, a ‘Romantic notion in that it involves separation from one’s true self’ (Morss, 1996: 59). If a person is alienated from work, he is alienated from other people:
Man is alienated from other men. When man confronts himself he also confronts other men. What is true of man's relationship to his work, to the product of his work and to himself, is also true of his relationship to other men. . . . Each man is alienated from others . . . each of the others is likewise alienated from human life (Marx, 1964: 129).
Associated with institutions are power structures which manipulate discourse to ensure social control and the maintenance of power by influential groups. Philosophically Marx thought that if the social-economic order was ‘created by (and in turn creating) the illusion of commodities as entities having and existence of their own, we by the same token will have changed the nature of consciousness’ (Merlan, 1970: 201). Alienation was thought to occur only in capitalist societies, but history shows that the Marxist system produced as many alienated people as any other system.
Vygotsky (1897-1934) claimed initially that 'all higher mental functions are internalized social relationships' (Vygotsky, 1979:146), that 'social relationships' are converted into 'mental functions' (Vygotsky, 1979: 165). Without contact with other people, human beings would be no different to animals (Vygotsky, 1978: 28). However, the experience of language is inseparable from the experience of being human, and the ‘wild child’ is hardly a common occurrence. This Vygotskian approach denies the validity of spiritual reflection and understanding based on experience and reflection. Thus, Vygotsky's Marxist psychology is diametrically opposed to animistic epistemologies, as well as to Buddhist psychology (in which one learns in the Lebenswelt and reaches understanding of the transitory nature of life, after, for example, seeing someone die). Marxism ignores religious and moral conviction, especially in relation to people such as the Dinka whose epistemologies ‘are inseparable from the wider context of social experience’ (Burton, 1985: 367). Thus from the very beginning of the Marxist Soviet Union, Buddhists in Mongolia were persecuted and eliminated, because according to Buddhist epistemology consciousness is primarily constituted by individual experience, and only secondarily by society. Vygotsky’s accounts of the person are limited by his Marxist views of a linear history, 'dialectical materialism, determinism, and the central importance of physical and psychological tools' (Glelean and Jeshmaridian, 1999: 274). Vygotsky stated that sciences as abstract forms of rationality are the highest forms of cultural development (Van der Veer and Valsiner, 1994). For Vygotsky, rationality was an ‘essential tool for constructing a centrally planned economy and state' (Wertsch, 1996: 25). 'The scientific understanding has to be developed from 'above' . . . it cannot come from 'below', in the everyday experience of having to survive in the world’ (Rowlands, 200: 558): thus indigenous epistemologies do not have validity.
This scientific thinking would come from Europeans down to Africans and other ‘primitive’ peoples, who have not produced an Einstein or Newton. In opposition to science, one could easily argue that aesthetic ethics was the highest form of thinking, while others might argue that the mystical-intuitive epistemology was the highest form. In any case, scientific concepts have limited everyday application. Kozulin himself comments that the ‘acquisition of scientific concepts changes dramatically the students’ performance that requires conceptual reasoning, but remains irrelevant in the majority of everyday situations’ (Kozulin, 1999: 80).
In the cognitivist model, teacher is a model, ‘the ‘ideal form’ of ‘scientific socialism’’ (Rowlands, 2000: 560). Thus, a state hands down a correct, scientific way of thinking. The state is also linguistically defines itself on ‘the notion of the autonomous, super-individual language’ (Johnstone, 2000: 409).
Indeed, Glelean and Jeshmaridian (1999:276). argue that Vygotsky was 'both an accomplice and victim, sleepwalking through the creation of a monster state . . . ' in which the Soviet purges of twenty four million people, people speaking minority languages, people who had alternative epistemologies and world-views. This stance is in accord with Vygotsky’s attitude, summarized by Morss (1996: 16), that for him there was ‘no place in his system for nay kind of conflict within the social world’, especially for Vygotsky’s new socialist state.
Marx proposed an objectivist and materialist approach in which social being determines consciousness, rather that consciousness determining a person. (Rowlands, 2000: 551). For Marx, a person’s social being determines social consciousness.
Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness that exists also for other men, and for that reason alone it really exists for me personally as well; language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other men . . .Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning, a social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all (Marx and Engels, 1976: 49-50).
Vygotsky as an objectivist believed he could transform psychology into a science, and thus transform society. Rowlands (2000: 549) explains that, from the Vygotskian perspective:
Although science is a consensual social construct, nevertheless students ought to be socialized in science, not because science is consensual, but because it is the highest form of abstract rationality that can explain the independently existing world.
Not surprisingly, Luria questioned his Uzbekhi respondents about their tools, and found that they demonstrated an inability to categorize their tools.
Luria’s and Vygotsky’s psychological investigations showed that
when people employ a concrete situation as a means of grouping objects, they seem to be using language only to help them recall and put together the components of the practical situation rather than to allow them to formulate abstractions or generalizations about categorical relations. This raised the question of whether abstract terms in their language, such as "tool," "vessel," or "animal," actually had more concrete meaning for them than for better educated subjects (Luria, 1979: 73).
In addition, Luria rejects any value the religion, Islam, might have, presenting a materialist rationalist argument:
Before the revolution, the people of Uzbekistan lived in a backward economy based mainly on the raising of cotton. The kishiak (village) dwellers displayed remnants of a once-high culture together with virtually complete illiteracy, and also showed the pronounced influence of the Islamic religion (Luria, 1976: 13).
Elsewhere, Luria dismisses Islam:
The conservative teachings of the Islamic religion were profoundly influential among the population and acted to keep women isolated from the life of society (Luria, 1979:61).
Luria, as well as Marx, thus ignores the historical and significant interrelationships of concord and conflict between Islam, Judaism and Christianity, and their relations with non-Abrahamic cultures, an understanding of which is essential in dealing with intercultural relationships.
Leonte’v (1930, quoted in Cole 1988: 141) endorsed Luria and Vygotsky’s position that primitive people, such as the Uzbekis, have a repulsion for ‘ordered labor’, and explains that
the transition of the savage from capricious and fitful dissipation of energy to the specific, systematic, and organized labor of man, signifies, as we see, the transition to a higher form of activity and attention (Leonte’v, 1930, quoted in Cole 1988: 141)
Luria demonstrates his Marxist view of history with regard to collectivization and Soviet Russian education:
. . .sociohistorical shifts not only introduce new content into the mental world of human beings; they also create new forms of activity and new structures of cognitive functioning. They advance human consciousness to new levels. .. . . In the past forty years, a backward and remote region has become an economically and socially developed part of our socialist state (Luria, 1976: 163-164).
Vygotsky and Luria equate ‘primitive magic’ with the ‘egocentric thinking or phantasy in the child’ (Knox, 1993: 25) and is yet ‘another system of “subjective, intuitively used psychological device” (“psycho-technology”) that primitive man creates to control his environment and to control himself’ (Knox, 1993: 24). The major factor in a primitive person’s psychological development is the ‘development of technology’ and the ‘development of s social structure’ (Knox, 1993: 24). This is based on Marx’s dialectical materialism, which views history as a march towards greater rationality and technical superiority. Marx dismisses the tribal form of ownership as being an ‘undeveloped stage of production, at which a people lives by hunting and fishing, by the rearing of beasts or, in the highest stage, agriculture’ (Marx and Engels, 1976: 38). Vygotsky and Luria (1993: 134) quote Thurnwald to argue that such thinking is a necessary stage in human development, and point out that magical thinking is only one aspect of a range of a primitive person’s ways of thinking. They interpret literally the act, for example, of the primitive man having sex with a field to induce the fertility of crops (Vygotsky and Luria, 1993: 135), and fail to reconcile the practicality of the primitive’s everyday life with mythic thinking. The control of the natural elements, they argue, is accomplished by technical thinking, not by magical thinking (Vygotsky and Luria, 1993: 134). One wonders if these researchers misinterpreted the metaphorical words of the interviewee, and forgot the significance and persistence of a basic Indo European metaphor for progeneration, as summarized recently by the linguist Sweetser (1995: 585).
Vygotsky and Luria’s assumptions are that rational thinking are the highest mental function, and disregard the negative implications of scientific thinking, as outlined by Husserl, for example. A child, like the primitive, changes over the life-span, as Vygotsky identified the process, from lower, elementary processes to higher, conscious, psychological processes. There is a transition from ‘direct, innate, natural forms and methods of behavior to mediated, artificial, mental functions that develop in the process of cultural development’ (Vygotsky, 1998: 168).
Rudolf Otto (1936), Mircea Eliade (1975), Casteneda (1970) and Joseph Campbell (1976) each outlined the aesthetic qualities of mythic and religious thinking. Such so-called ‘preliterate thought’ has been regarded (according to Jackson ‘s (1983: 144) summary) as ‘animistic (Piaget), paleological (Arieti) mythopoetic (Cassirer), pre-logical (Levy-Bruhl), archaic (Eliade), primary process (Freud), often with pejorative implications’. LÚvy-Bruhl, author of “How natives think” Ś a title more accurately rendered as “Mystical judgment” or “Prelogical Inference” (Lanigan, 1992: 192) Śsays that such ‘primitive’ mental activity is mystic which implies ‘belief in forces and influences which, although imperceptible to the sense, are nevertheless real’ (LÚvy-Bruhl, 1985: 36). Littlejohn, in her introduction to LÚvy-Bruhl, points out that the notion of cognitive relativity is relevant, ‘the notion that the logic we bring to bear in our descriptions of the world in not universal . . . and that no one logic is necessarily superior to any other logic’ (Littleton, 1985: vi).
An everyday event, such as an initiation, can be interpreted in its every day, commonsense way, as well as its mystic way, which ‘links past, present and future (to stretch our linguistic resources to their limits and thereby forms a single sacred event-stream’ (Littleton, 1985: xiv). Prelogical thought is ‘indifferent’, says Levy-Bruhl (LÚvy-Bruhl, 1985: 78) to Aristotle’s law or of non-contradiction. Furthermore, in modern society ‘the prelogical and the mystic are co-existent with the logical . . . [A]nd if it be true that our mentality is both logical and prelogical, the history of religious dogmas and systems of philosophy may henceforth be explained in a new light’ (LÚvy-Bruhl, 1985: 386). Phenomenologists such as Husserl maintained that we create out own world, so that there is no inherent objective world. Though LÚvy-Bruhl has been criticized for this stance by some anthropologists, Evans-Pritchard defended LÚvy-Bruhl, arguing that ‘primitive ideas, which seem so strange to us . . . . are meaningful when seen as patterns of ideas and behaviours, each having an intelligible relationship to the others’ (Evans-Pritchard, 1965: 86). According to Cazeneuve (1968: 265), LÚvy-Bruhl held that the human mind was basically the same everywhere, being both ‘prelogical’ and ‘logical’.
Thus the Dinka belief that some men are lions (Lienhardt, 1954: 97) may be an example of primitive religious belief, but these two apparently disparate beings are ‘joined by an abstract quality, hence metaphorically’ (Firth, 1966: 2). The characteristics of both are parallel, so that ‘ . . . when they hold that some men are really lions and can change into lionsŚthey suppose that the outward form changes , but the essential nature remains the same. A person human in outward appearance may therefore be in his nature an animal of some kind’ (Leinhardt, 1961: 117).
For the Dinka, nature is both natural and supernatural (Evens, 1994: 103), so existence is ambiguous. For Lienhardt, this distinction between the natural and supernatural ‘implies a conception of the course or laws of Nature quite foreign to Dinka thought’ (Lienhardt, 1961: 28). Thus, in another example, Evans-Pritchard was criticized for his ambiguity and ‘paradoxical obfuscation’ in his description of ‘agnation and uterine descent’ among the Nuer (Kronenberg, A. and W., 1972: 71), but the authors demonstrate that ‘ although lineages seem to be patrilineal as patrilineal can be, descent is traced through women’ (Kronenberg, A. and W., 1972: 71),
The two dimensions allow the Dinka to ‘shift epistemologically from one account of the world to a contradictory account without giving it a second thought . . . because he begins his ‘thinking’ from the perspective of practice rather than of logic . . . (Evens, 19994: 106).
Neo-Vygotskians and cognitive scientists, as well as disregarding the wider social implications of rationalist and cognitivist education (particularly with indigenous peoples, for example) also disregard the relationship of people with nature and the animal worlds, as well as the catastrophic effects of technology on the environment and its animal inhabitants, an environment which had been well-maintained by ‘primitive’ peoples. The aesthetic features of ceremony and ritual, as well as their community building functions, are thereby rejected.
Luria and Vygotsky’s testing did not aim to show the nature of the epistemologies that the peasants did have. The only solution was a rationalist education, and that meant the rationalization of these people’s economic activities. According to Luria (1979:80), Soviet education produced positive results:
In all cases we found that changes in the practical forms of activity, and especially the reorganization of activity based on formal schooling, produced qualitative changes in the thought processes of the individuals studied. Moreover, we were able to establish that basic changes in the organization of thinking can occur in a relatively short time when there are sufficiently sharp changes in social-historical circumstances, such as those that occurred following the 1917 Soviet Revolution (Luria, 1979:80),
Gielen and Jeshmaridian (1999: 281) report that Vygotsky predicted that the
on-going change from the from the “feudalistic” conditions prevailing in the traditional villages of Uzbekistan and Kirgizia to the more modern, scientific, and collective forms of agricultural production in the kolkhozes would induce former peasants to think in less “primitive” and more modern, “scientific,” and logical ways about cognitive and social issues and problems
History demonstrates that the outcomes were not as fruitful as Vygotsky and Luria had hoped. Vygotsky’s and Luria’s scientific psychological testing (Vygotsky was the director of the project), in 1931 and 1932, of ethnic minority peasants highlighted their cognitive deficiencies, thereby justifying the Marxist industrialization of agriculture through collectivization, a process which resulted in the enforced deportation of non-Russian peoples ľ regarded as ‘primitive’ľ many of whom were Muslim, to Siberia. Thus, an estimated twenty four million people died in the process. The problem was negatively categorized by authorities as ‘ethnocentrism’, whereas a more positive view might have been more in the order of ‘indigenous epistemologies’. Therefore, Luria and Vygotsky, who are regarded (for example, by Wells (1994)) as highly aware of the social dimensions of cognition and language, were unaware of the actual tragic social consequences of Marxist rationalization of industry and education. Marxist rationalization is now reappearing in the form of a neocapitalist economic rationalization of society and education.
A phenomenological approach (such as Orbe (1994), Calame-Griaule, G. (1986)), on the other hand, accepts the perceptions and world understandings of a person, not because they are morally, intellectually or empirically correct, but because these perceptions and understandings give a spatio-temporally situated person a coherent world-view with which he relates to the world around. An educational approach would need to build and develop and these everyday perceptions in a dialogic manner. Contemporary instances of respect for indigenous epistemologies, as demonstrated by post-structuralists such as Iseke-Barnes (2003) and Watson-Gegeo (1999) exemplify a more relevant and socially humane approach to ethnic minorities, and propose resistance to over dominant majority cultures.
Scientific thinking does not give space for alternative epistemologies, particularly when Vygotsky’s work lends support to instructional processes that strive for ‘greater separation from ľ not more continuity with ľ students’ everyday experiences’ (Floden and Buchman, 1993: 39). However, according to Merleau-Ponty, ‘scientific knowledge shifts the centre of gravity of experience, so that we have unlearned how to see, hear and, generally speaking, feel, in order to deduce, from our bodily organization and the world as the physicist conceives it, what we are to see, hear and feel’ (Merleau-Ponty, 1962: 229).
Education needs to give the opportunity to ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples to learn and communicate in ways that are appropriate for them. Sudanese refugees have a lot to offer Australians, and vice versa. Dialogues need to be facilitated. The life experiences of Sudanese, their artistic abilities, and their linguistic skills have the potential to enrich Australian life and culture. Australia claims to be a multicultural country, but now it must also become a multi-epistemological society.
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