Re: [xmca] Activity focused on....

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Sat Dec 02 2006 - 08:57:11 PST

There is a special issue of Soviet Psychology, 1979-80. vol 18, no 2 which I
had in my hands and have been looking for for my own purposes, devoted to
the Kharkov school There are articles there by Zaporozhets, Lukov and others
that are germaine to this discussion. I do not recommend relying on
secondary sources.

On 12/2/06, Michael Glassman <> wrote:
> 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.
> Michael
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