I’ve previously discussed cognitive mediation here, but today I want to consider the foundation or the roots (etiology) of this concept in my thinking.
- Marx considered labor as a form of mediation to explain how humans interacted with their environment (This was guided by Hegel’s version of dialectic theory, usually stated as thesis-antithesis-synthesis). Marx did not delve much into the specifics of how mediation worked, except as he used the idea to focus on the way that labor became subservient to capital, thereby alienating laborers.(See note 1.)
- Vygotsky extended the psychological aspects of this view of mediation by analyze how language and concepts acted like cognitive tools that enabled humans to give meaning to perception, (He spoke of translating lower psychological functions like perception into higher psychological functions like meaning). (See note 2.) Mediation then enabled humans to interact with and modify their environment (or to perform labor). Vygotsky also noted that mediators are not usually developed by individuals out of thin air, but already exist in the surrounding culture and people acquire these abilities by imitation, instruction or similar means.
- Gal’perin noted that all cognitive mediation was not equal. Tools could be improved to make labor more effective or efficient.
- Hence my idea that it is good to be aware of the mediation you’re using. If your goal is to improve the performance of people’s labor, understand what mediators are guiding performance. Consider developing better mediation and passing it on through learning new ways of mediating, by changing mediators in work processes or by both methods. This approach may be able to improve performance far better than through increasing individual efforts (like boot strapping). The bottom line – If we are to fully enter into a “knowledge age”, we must understand how knowledge mediates to improve our practices and labors.
- Note – My own personal opinion is that Marxist analysis is frequently very enlightening. But, considering the general failure of communism and central planning, Marxism generally fails to offer any viable alternatives ways to organize human activity.
- Note – Vygotsky began as an enthusiastic Marxist, hoping that it would lead to the end of Jewish persecution. He died young from TB, but lived to see his ideas attacked because he committed the Stalinist sin of referencing western ideas, like those from William James or Jean Piaget. His ideas, although explicitly Marxist in their original intent, have generally been taken up by social cultural educational psychology (cognitive psychology that sees cultural as the place where cognition originates and with enculturation as important to cognitive development). He is generally ignored by Marxist theorist today. I believe it is because he focused on the mediational side and not on the alienation side of the Marxist equation.