Re: general, particular Holzkamp, Engeström

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Wed Oct 13 2004 - 09:55:07 PDT

Some thoughts on your comments of
1. I don't think that Yrjö attends to Marx's emphasis on the
particular/general (concrete/abstract) distinctions.

     In general I find Leont'ev's (and YO's) triangles distressing. It is
not clear to me whether these are intended as syllogisms, as dialectical
systems, or as simple flow charts. They do not fulfill the requirements of
any of these though they resemble all to some degree. They appear to be
modifications of Vygotsky's diagrams demonstrating first the contrast
between simple stimulus /response of conditioning vs. stimulus and response
mediated by intention or will and later the relation between sign, tool and
mediated activity (1978) Mind and society, Mastery of Memory and Thinking p
40 and Internalization of Higher Psychological Functions p 54. The Vygotsky
diagrams are not, by the way, triangles but pairs of lines meeting at an
angle representing the three points: stimulus, mediating action X, response,
representing complex mediated action or: tools, mediated activity (response
facilitating activity), and sign representing the systematic relation
between tools and signs. Vygotsky describes these diagrams as, showing the
subsumption of each concept (respectively stimulus and response, and tool
and sign) under the more general concept of indirect mediated activity. In
which case they are simply the description of the syllogistic relation
between a universal (indirect mediated activity) and a pair of particulars
(respectively stimulus and response, and tool and sign).

     Leont'ev's transformation of these diagrams into triangles appears to
represent some sort of flow as well as sets of paired relations (it's hard
to see how subject and object can be subsumed under instruments or even
instrumentality!) between subject and object, objects and instruments, and
instruments and subjects. There appears to be also flow in which the complex
set of paired relations work together some how, to produce some sort of
outcome. Where's the input? It's all very confusing.

The model can be found in any number of places. Here's one of them:

     This is not the place to start a critique of Lenin's peculiar
interpretations of Hegel's theory of subject and object, and of his even
stranger attempt to reunite ontology of being with logical categories, but
these appear to play a considerable role in the formulation of this diagram.
Those that are interested in these issues can address the Marxist Internet
Korsch archives and read
Korsch's Marxism and Philosophy: An Anti-critique, 1930 and Lenin as
Philosopher, 1938. Some of this critique can be discerned in EVI's work,
but you have to read between the lines.

     Frankly, I don't see much relation between this diagram and the
Hegelian systems of syllogisms or dialectics. As such I don't see much
value in discussing it in accordance with the terminology of UPS (Universal,
Particular, Singular).

2. On the issue of exchange and Capital.
  Capital is essentially a critical case study of Political Economy. It is
not surprising then that exchange plays an important role in the work. Of
course the fact that Marx describes commodity exchange as the fundamental
cell of Political Economy should have something to do with the importance of
the concept of exchange in Capital. Education and educational theory is not
identical with Political Economy. Although there have been occasional
attempts to define all social relations as political economic transactions
(silly social psychology), in general, Political Economists tend to leave
this field to other lines of thought such as AT, Deweian Pragmatism and so

     The classical dialectical analysis of education is, of course, that of
Vygotsky. I would also consider some of Veresov's early work in the area of
social psychology (Veresov 1971 Toward The Problem of Stages in the Mental
Development of Children) as a good example of the dialectical approach to
learning. Even Hegel has some relevant dialectical theories on education
that are worth incorporating into modern educational theory. As you can
gather from my previous comments I have real difficulties with Leont'ev and
am still trying to determine the properties of his system and whether they
are in fact a workable system.

Hope this helps,
Victor Friedlander Rakocz

----- Original Message -----
From: "Wolff-Michael Roth" <>
To: <>
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2004 12:55 AM
Subject: general, particular Holzkamp, Engeström

> Hi all,
> I am in the middle of "Das Kapital," and have had many thoughts about
> the recent exchanges concerning Engeström/Holzkamp, Il'enkov/Dubrovsky
> etc. Two things in particular to be mentioned here:
> 1. I don't think that Yrjö attends to Marx's emphasis on the
> particular/general (concrete/abstract) distinctions. This is clear, in
> part, of Y's use of "community" rather than "society", which, in my
> view, also leads to the problem Mike once stated to me that some in our
> community don't distinguish activity and action. Within communities (if
> interpreted in Lave's sense), there is no commodity exchange; division
> of labor happens at the level of the society, to which work IN GENERAL
> contributes so that it continues to exist. The analyses YE provides are
> always of concrete situations, that is, not of activities in general
> but of concrete realizations. So the upper triangle relates to the
> latter case, the individual in his/her productive situation, the lower
> triangle pertains to the society, activity in general. The ideal
> implies society, lower part of the big triangle, activity in general;
> but the individual always concretely realizes it thereby makes it
> actually possible.
> 2. This is where my second point comes in, activity in school? Marx
> clearly says that all activity implies the exchange situation ,
> Leont'ev talks about the vision of the outcome. I was thinking that
> anyone analyzing school situations without attending to the exchange
> situation (grades) students are involved in, does not do an activity
> theoretic analysis in the dialectical materialist sense. Perhaps the
> French Frenet schools, where students participate in everyday out of
> school (this is the adjective Marx and Holzkamp use) activities or the
> situations we set up where students contributed to environmentalism,
> open house events, etc. in a free and open exchange with other parts of
> the town are better examples than most of the ones we read about.
> Michael

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