Monday, 15 October 2012

TURNING A LIGHT OUT

La lutta continua

To London, to the University of Westminster, specifically to the psychotic modernity of its just refurbished building opposite Baker Street Station.

I was off to the concluding meeting of the British and East European Psychology Group, founded in England twenty-one years ago to build bridges between psychology in the West and its apparent counterpart in the already by then former Soviet bloc. Time has passed, people and societies have moved on, and those who first set up this group have recognised that frankly no one cares any more.

The Cold War is over – 'they' lost (didn't they?) and as far as Soviet psychology goes, like so much else, vae victis. It was all so long ago, do half those now alive in our countries realise what that dangerous, split world felt like, including at its intellectual periphery, in its split and antagonistic psychologies and their very different philosophies of childhood, upbringing, pedagogy etc. There is little awareness of the Cold War left now in popular consciousness here in the UK, except the poisonous and unthinking Cold War antagonism that can still surface if one as much as mentions some terrible boogey man that might ring a distant, misinformed bell – defectology, say.

Anyway, as of this evening, the British and East European Psychology Group is no more. It may leave a small 'footprint' here and there on the Internet but I suspect that as far as the UK is concerned, that's it. There will be no further institutional interest.

Sic transit

A plastic cup of tea and, for the real stalwarts, a nearby pizza joint: not a bang but a whimper to mark the end of a long British interest in Soviet psychology and associated topics that went back to the Second War, with intense young people like the Tizards, and the Clarkes nd the Simons (meeting in what I romantically imagine to have been smoke-filled rooms), and Brian Kirman who later pioneered decanting the inmates of the bins (subnormality hospitals) into homes in the community – and laborious attempts to translate and publish samizdat' English versions of Soviet texts for cyclostyled circulation. Rugged, sturdy stuff!

I think that the people there tonight were not rooted in that preceding generation, no criticism this, just a guess at lack of continuity and transmitted common purpose.

Nowadays, of course, as was remarked this evening (not by me, who always carefully avoids mentioning such a matter in a public place), everybody out there nowadays knows about Vygotskii – well at least about the pale Western representation that goes under the name of Vygotsky-with-a-'y'. Some even cry out 'Activity Theory', and Luriya stands as an unquestionable good thing (albeit an almost entirely unread one). But the revolutionary import of the troika and the whole tradition that it represented, that is with the dodos. artin Cole and his followers provided the tools to appropriate a few outer forms, and the end of the Cold War allowed the powerful intellectual tradition of 'fatherland psychology' to be looted without even the benefit of taking away the real practical treasures that sheltered within. Not even ad victor spolia!

Anyway, the game is now up. I had wondered about hanging about at the end of the meeting so as to be the one who finally turned the light out, but this is 2012 and a psychotic people-management machine of a building denies even this simple human gesture, lights apparently controlled from an unseen centre, probably by computer.

So it goes

Chiltern's Midland Mainland has clean, comfy trains, with electric points at every table and free wi-fi, one of many nicer manifestations of the new world that we live in. All in all I rather like my corner of the twenty-first century (for as long as I can afford it). Rolling along smoothly on a recently relaid track, with my own work-surface and surrounded by well-behaved middle-distance commuters – that's the ideal setting for transferring my rambling reflections to print. And I do stay awake.

There are no smoke-filled rooms and wracking ideological struggles, no inky, smudgy manual Rotaprint followed by an awkward manual stapling machine, no trying to sell my laboriously produced copies, with great piles of paid-for but unwanted paper lying around for ever to clutter and haunt me. Instead these ramblings will be published and available around the world before I pass Banbury and the train begins to empty.

When I first fell into Soviet psychology, and its associated education, pedagogy, child development and defectology – some forty-odd years ago – the West was by and large a generation and a paradigm leap behind Soviet counterparts in these fields. The successors to Soviet and other 'Eastern' scholars may have been hard-put to maintain the advantaged handed down to them. This evening, however, I heard gentle, respectable British academics voice the concern that the last twenty or so years have seen British psychological culture slide into reverse. For the first time, I heard conversational use of the word 'neuromania'. There's still plenty to be fought for out there, for those with the stomach for the fight.

What has any of this to do with Conductive Education? Nothing, surely...

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5 Comments:

Blogger NormanP said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Monday, 15 October 2012 at 22:30:00 BST  
Blogger NormanP said...

Of any interest? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ku-GmndXDXo I like Tallis' phrase "the mystery of intention". A link to CE, Andrew? (10-11 mins in)

Monday, 15 October 2012 at 22:39:00 BST  
Anonymous Andrew said...

Sorry, Norman, intention is a common enough concept in and out of psychology and, like some other things nothing specific to CE.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012 at 07:40:00 BST  
Anonymous Andrew Sutton said...

NB Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Cuban missile crisis. Time does fly and the future does not turn out as expected at the time.

While what has actually occurred may be lost in convenient myth:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/16/opinion/the-eyeball-to-eyeball-myth-and-the-cuban-missile-crisiss-legacy.html?_r=0

Tuesday, 16 October 2012 at 07:42:00 BST  
Blogger Andrew DSutton said...

For a further responses to Neuromania, see:

http://www.susie-mallett.org/2012/10/neuromania.html

Tuesday, 16 October 2012 at 11:48:00 BST  

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