[xmca] Activity focused on....

From: Michael Glassman (MGlassman@ehe.ohio-state.edu)
Date: Sat Dec 02 2006 - 08:06:07 PST

So many interesting ideas raised in the last few days (I'd especially like to get back to the issue of behaviorism - if such a thing really exists - and also the idea of student centered as opposed to teacher centered education - this argument from what I can tell occurred primarily in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, was partially the result of how we teach about civic life in a public education system - and was directly addressed by Dewey who said that we need to focus on problem based education. I think post-modernism and post-structuralism came to the discussion a little late - although I do think early thinkers along that line like Louis Sullivan (the architecht) were definitely in the mix in Chicago when a lot of this was getting started. The idea that students are customers, at least here in the United States, has come from trying to institutue the business model at colleges and universities (what a disaster) and is about as far away from post-modernism and/or post-structuralism as you can get).
But all that said what I'm really interesting in is the birth of Activity Theory at the Kharkov school. I have a different view from Andy on what I see at the great breakthrough of the twentieth century - I sort of see it as the recognition that our initial, immediate perceptions in one to one correspondence with some "other" or "object" did not give us enough information because activity is based on a number of integrated relationships, some of which we may not be immediately aware of, some of which we may never be aware of. In other words there is no subject or object but different aspects of an integrated system - and there was no activity separate from that system. A lot of people, in a lot of different fields, in a lot of different places came at this idea with tremendous energy (as a matter of fact the human sciences probably did the least with this idea, even behind the arts, which I find kind of depressing - but I think it is because there is such a close, symbiotic relationship between human sciences and politics).
Anyway, what I see as the emergence of Activity. To at least a certain extent I still think the Vygotsky got at least some of his initial ideas on this, or at least how to present it in an understandable way (which isn't easy at all) from Stanislavskii. It was Stanislavskii, working in the context of the realist movement in theatre (different from realism in philosophy) who made the argument that when you inhabited a characeter as an actor you initially had to forget the words in the script, that you couldn't find meaning from them. When you found meaning was in the relationship between characters, but these relationships needed to go beyond what you saw on the stage. And you had to understand the action on stage from the motivation based on these integrated relationships, and only then could you go back and understand what the words meant. This gets back to a point Sasha first raised, that the actual semiotic mediators that make up the play are actually irrelevant, that it is the understanding of the relationships that are important. I see Thought and Word very much following this line. And I see Leontiev sort of following through on this.
Of course Vygotsky does pull in two directions - one of the things I think we sometimes tend to forget is that these were complex individuals struggling with ideas in much the same way we all struggle with ideas. Vygotsky did say that mediating variables are critical to society - but was he moving in the direction of exploring relationships? I don't think there's any right answer to this...but maybe something to think about.


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