Re: [xmca] Play to Art: Experience to Insight

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch who-is-at>
Date: Sun Jul 27 2008 - 09:03:00 PDT

As you asked, Haydi, I have been thinking about your thoughtful
comments. Thank you, they were appreciated. I agree with you that
there is a lot in Ana and Ljubica's paper to think about. I touch on
some things in their paper below.

On some of your specific points, one line of thought I have been on is
the evolution of CHAT through Leontiev and then Engestrom, comparing
features of their "2nd" and "3rd" generation activity theorizing.
Wolff-Michael Roth has a new editorial in the latest MCA, entitled On
Theorizing and Clarifying, which takes up, among other things,
differences between action and activity, a key theme Leontiev
stressed. Some of the questions you ask (motive, redundancy, what
mediates the subject and object, etc.) might be best discussed by
revisiting some relevant texts by Leontiev, Engestrom and others on
questions like motive and goals, activity and action, activity and
activity systems, mediation, tools/signs/artifacts, the role of
"social environment" categories such as rules, communities and
divisions of labor in production, exchange, distribution, and
consumption, the role of labour within activity and activity systems,
etc. Perhaps a paper will come our way that could help us create a
"common focus" on such questions (to play on a theme in Ana and
Ljubica's paper).

Another line of thought you provoked for me is over the ancient but
still very relevant subject-object problem. CHAT insists on the
object-relatedness of activity, yet at the same time, CHAT is
challenged to more fully account for subjectivity, intersubjectivity,
and the subject - singular and plural - in its work. I found myself
re-reading some relevant articles, some which we have discussed on
xmca, such as Michael's 2007 article on emotions, identity,
motivation, and emotional valence (a potential unit of analysis?), and
Anna Stetsenko's discussion of the need for CHAT theory to more fully
account for, incorporate, and research the externalization of
individual subjectivity, and the object-related nature of subjectivity
as a whole. I see new, exciting things happening in this arena of
studying emotions, subjectivity, intersubjectivity, subject-subject
relations, etc.

I have been thinking about the Marjanovic-Shane/Beljanski-Risti paper
in the light of the above, especially the "two kinds of relationships"
concept they bring up. I am wondering if there might be another way
to depict Ana and Ljubica's observations about mediation and subject-
subject relations while staying within mainstream "3rd" generation
activity theory.

I see the drawings as having a couple minor problems. They offer
triangular drawings that essentially depict these relationships:

1) subject ====> tool ====> object
2) subject ====> symbol ====> subject

I see a slight problem with 1) - it mentions tools, but leaves out
signs. "Artifacts" would cover both, so that is an easy "fix". I
think it is important to account for the fact that the subject in
relation to an activity object is mediated by artifacts that have both
materiality and ideality (or meaning). Some artifacts in a given
context function predominately as signs, and others in a given context
mainly as tools, but all artifacts have features of both tools and
signs in activity, and are both material and ideal (socially

Here is my suggested change to 1) (nothing innovative here):

1a) subject ====> artifacts (tools/signs) ====> object

And there is a little problem with 2) that I think needs attention -
it does not depict the joint, mutually confirmed focus of the
propositional act. It does not depict an object. I also note it uses
the term "symbol" instead of "sign." I suggest using the term "sign"
because, as I understand it, it is the more general case of "symbol,"
which can be considered a special kind of sign.

My suggested revision in 2a) takes into account the important fact
that the subject is plural - there are two subjects, an active subject
and a relational subject. And there is just one object, a joint
focus. Also, it is important, in my opinion, to depict that the
subjects are mediated by artifacts (tools/signs), as they always are
in any action or activity.

Here is a suggested revision, which aligns 2a) with 1a), and allows
them both to be depicted in the usual way on a "3rd" generation
Activity Triangle as everyday object-related actions:


subject #1 ====> artifacts (tools/signs)
===> common object (joint focus)
subject #2 ====> artifacts (tools/signs)

In my opinion, these minor fixes bring the paper a little more in line
with mainstream activity theory, upholding the paper's stress on
mediation in all activity, yet maintaining the CHAT concept that all
activity and actions, including language-based actions, and subject to
subject relationships, are object-related.

At the same time, I do not believe these suggestions alter or dilute
any of the themes of the paper, which I think are important.

The two most significant themes in the paper for me are the joint,
mutually confirmed focus as a potential unit of analysis, and the
significances and uses of the alternation between the "play" frame/
chronotope and "reality" frame/chronotope in development and in social

What especially interests me about the "joint, mutually confirmed
focus," as I am putting it, is that it does seem to have potential as
a basic unit of analysis of human meaning-making acts, in the sense of
being not just a useful act to "analyze," but a genuine concrete
universal that is present in the development of all human
communication (as in, meaning-making), historically and individually.

It appears that it could be the smallest unit of social meaning-making
that still contains the basic characteristics of the process, and it
appears it could be genetically fundamental in the development of
meaning-making behavior on the phylogenetic (species), historical
(sociocultural), and ontogenetic (individual) levels of development.

The phylogenetic possibility is, for now, speculative, unfortunately,
since we have scant information about exactly how humanity originally
developed its ability to share meaning.

The ontogenetic possibility could be empirically scrutinized and
critiqued in terms of developmental psychology research.

Historically or socioculturally speaking, if the "joint focus" act is
indeed a concrete universal, and could be the basic unit of analysis
of meaning-making, it should be evident as an essential and enduring
dynamic in the evolution of increasingly complex levels of human
meaning-making over time, from gesturing, to talking and listening;
myth creation, promulgation and learning; writing and reading;
participating in music concerts; producing and learning new software
applications. The persistence of this "joint focus" dynamic could be
empirically examined. It may seem obvious or self-evident that "joint
focus" is essential in any such examples, but it would be wrong to
assume so, based on simple deduction. Serious deductive **and**
inductive work is needed to justify the high level of generalization
that a concrete universal represents.

Like many concrete universals, such as the molecule (chemistry), the
cell (biology), value (modern economics), word-meaning (semantics),
and activity (human existence), "joint focus" is elegant in its
simplicity as a unit, yet complex and varied in its countless
permutations. It could become an important step toward better
theorizing the realm of the intersubjective, and better understanding
subjectivity. New concrete universals certainly don't show up every
day, so this is exciting, if it is viable. Is it?

~ Steve

On Jul 20, 2008, at 2:37 AM, Haydi Zulfei wrote:

> Dear Steve Gabosch,
> As for others , I don't know but as for myself , there are so many
> ideas in this weighty article of Ana and Ljubica's that one remains
> standstill as to where to begin and how . But concerning these two
> paragraphs of yours :
> [The proposal of the “propositional act” as a basic unit of meaning-
> making especially gets my attention. Using a CHAT framework for their
> theorizing, Ana and Ljubica speak of two kinds of general
> relationships, subject-object and subject-subject.
> Subject-object relationships, as suggested by Vygotsky and later
> developed in CHAT theory, are mediated by artifacts - tools and/or
> signs. This mediated relationship is often used as a unit of analysis
> in activity analysis, expressed by the familiar activity triangle,
> which proposes that not only tools and/or signs mediate the subject
> and object, but so also does the social environment, in the form of
> mediating factors such as rules, communities, divisions of labor,
> etc.]
> First , two kinds of general relationships : What you're mentioning
> refers to Engstrom's version of the Acticity Theory , not
> Leontiev's . And there's no dispute over this . However , please
> think about these ideas : a. Did not Leontiev know there are so many
> thousands and millions of individuals engaged in different
> activities of their lives ? Then why did he choose just one agent/
> subject ? I mean not sunject-subject relationship ? The answer is
> not so difficult . For him one subject was an ensemble of social
> relations ; hence on his view when one subject engages himself with
> an object in the outside world , he , in fact , is sort of a
> representative of all other subjects . As individual individuals ,
> they would have exploded the social / society into billions of bits
> irresponsible or inimical towards one another never to think a tiny
> bit of mutual interaction . b. It seems it's not correct that the
> formula subject===> sign ===> object belongs to an
> activity theory analysis as you are referring . Activity theory , as
> I recall from Leontiev , has this design to work with : subject
> ====> activity itself ( the whole ) ====> object and this is what
> comprises the whole dispute . c. Is not the *object* of Engstrom's ,
> the ultimate *motive* of Leontiev's according to the six nodes of
> Engstrom's known figure ? d. To what extent are acts ( whether
> communicative , propositionsl or speech ) applicable to the clear-
> cut goal-directed actions of the Activity Theory ? e. Taking into
> consideration the concepts of *universal* , *necessary* , don't you
> think the idea expressed thus : * ...which proposes that not only
> tools and/or signs mediate the subject
> and object, but so also does the social environment, in the form of
> mediating factors such as rules, communities, divisions of labor,
> etc.* , could be considered *redundant* ? Which of these concepts
> you've taken and recounted from Engstrom's (rules ...) , is really
> necessary to convery the concept of *man/human* save *tool* ? You
> well recall *man is a tool-making animal* scientific definition !
> And if you conclude from this that : *then , the formula : subject
> ====> tool ====> object* , I would remind you , you who so many
> times have taught us about the *labour activity* , of the relation
> which exists between the *labour activity* and the *tool* .
> Second , ...
> I should faithfully add your ever comments and interpretations have
> helped me get clear with ambiguities !
> Thanks
> Best
> Haydi
> ----- Original Message ----
> From: Steve Gabosch <>
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
> Sent: Friday, July 18, 2008 10:12:15 AM
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Play to Art: Experience to Insight
> Below is an attempt at a summary of the theoretical ideas of the
> article, preceded by some commentary.
> BTW, the article is still currently available for free at the
> publisher's site,
> Sometimes, when I am trying to parse the theoretical ideas in an
> article, I will use a word processor and spread sheet to arrange the
> material into themes to get a clearer idea of what is being said. I
> did that for this article, listed below. In this message I am only
> sending the themes I wrote up. I left out the original text for space
> reasons (about a fifth of the original article, last I looked).
> I liked a number of things about this paper. And I have lots of
> questions inspired by the paper's ideas.
> One thing I really liked is the way it elevates play and playlike
> activity to a central role in human activity – in the use of symbols,
> in language, imagination, cognition, communication and development.
> “Work” and “nonwork” are not uncommonly the implied framework for
> theorizing about such things, but this article explicitly shifts the
> framework to “play” and “nonplay.” I find that perspective eye-
> opening and inspiring.
> Another is the suggestion of the "propositional act," featuring the
> concept of the "TOPIC" (a joint focus), as a basic unit of meaning-
> making, which can be observed at early ages, such as communication
> through pointing. This strikes me as a bold addition to CHAT theory,
> and deserves a serious look.
> Vygotsky suggested - I may not be putting this quite right - that the
> word or word-meaning is the most basic unit of meaning (would that be
> true in the case of pointing a very young child toward a joint
> focus?), but this proposal from Ana and Ljubica regards something
> different: not just meaning, but meaning-**making**. Ana explains
> this in a recent post, and argues that Vygotsky was speaking about the
> word (didn't Vygotsky also speak of word-meaning?) as an basic
> analytical unit in conceptual development. The idea that two people,
> when they are relating, always have a common focus, probably isn't a
> new discovery, but seeing "joint focus" as the basic unit of meaning-
> making between two people, that is, seeing it as the simplest, most
> basic, indivisible, always-present form of human meaning-making, upon
> which all the rest builds, does seem to be a new and refreshing idea,
> at least to me. Is it? Another question I have is how essential is
> the COMMENT or the mediating or connecting act following the creation
> of a joint focus to the content of this meaning-making - is this
> connecting act merely a validation that the focus is joint, or does it
> contain additional, essential content that should place it at the
> center of the generic propositional act? I have been thinking the
> joint focus is the core, but I might be missing something important.
> I ask some more questions about the propositional act as a unit of
> analysis in a moment.
> A theme that the article returns to several times that I also like is
> the dynamic of switching back and forth from play frames to reality
> frames. This simple concept seems to offer real explanatory power,
> such as easily describing what a metaphor is - using the elements in
> an imaginary frame or chronotope to comment on a real situation. I
> was impressed by the simplicity of this explanation. It also seems to
> have analytical potential in situations where this switching process
> plays a significant role. Has anyone invented a term for this
> switching process? It seems like it deserves one. That could be a
> very useful word.
> The article is also fun for me because I was in the play workshop at
> Seville that Ana and Ljubica describe. It is interesting to think of
> the different activities we engaged in as demonstrating four kinds of
> stages or moments in the development of a play TOPIC - the
> "bifurcation point" when a play situation emerges out of the reality
> situation, creating rules on the spot for the emerging play situation,
> negotiating switches between play frames and reality frames, and
> making new connections between these play experiences and our lives.
> I remember having a lot of fun in that workshop.
> Somehow, after all the other things we did, Ana and Ljubica got us to
> divide up in teams to invent and put on 4 different enactments of some
> lines from Hamlet, which was quite enriching, including making new
> friends out of the collaborative "inner group" experience that
> exercise offered. Will we be seeing more such workshops?
> The article inspires an interesting idea for me, a reversal of
> conventional thinking. It suggests to me the idea that play/
> imagination activity is the actual “norm” in human interaction, and
> nonplay/reality-based activity is really just a special, derivative
> form of playing. Play (using imagination), in this sense, would be
> more complex and higher on the "evolutionary" scale than nonplay. In
> this way of looking at all this, children learn to do the really hard
> thing, socializing their imagination, before they get down to work
> (externalizing what they are told), and adults have to keep re-
> learning how to play and be imaginative throughout life. I like this
> way of placing play and imagination in the center of human activity.
> I find it helpful – and playful - to think about these things this
> way. This perspective certainly cuts across some traditional notions
> of work and play. But does it really make sense to view work as a
> "derivative" of imaginary play?
> The proposal of the “propositional act” as a basic unit of meaning-
> making especially gets my attention. Using a CHAT framework for their
> theorizing, Ana and Ljubica speak of two kinds of general
> relationships, subject-object and subject-subject.
> Subject-object relationships, as suggested by Vygotsky and later
> developed in CHAT theory, are mediated by artifacts - tools and/or
> signs. This mediated relationship is often used as a unit of analysis
> in activity analysis, expressed by the familiar activity triangle,
> which proposes that not only tools and/or signs mediate the subject
> and object, but so also does the social environment, in the form of
> mediating factors such as rules, communities, divisions of labor, etc.
> Subject-subject relations, as I understand Ana and Ljubica, are
> mediated at minimum (that is, at least) by the joint focus of the
> subjects. A joint focus, a “TOPIC,” can be anything - a tool, an
> interpersonal act, a symbol. The subjects are defined as an active
> subject “ME” and a relational subject “YOU”. A “propositional act” or
> “COMMENT” occurs when two subjects (ME and YOU) with a common focus (a
> TOPIC) engage in a “mediating” (or perhaps connecting?) act or gesture
> (a COMMENT).
> “What we described here” Ana and Ljubica explain, “is the basic unit
> of making meaning through a COMMENT, that is, a communicational
> gesture of establishing (or embellishing on) the TOPIC about which the
> ME and the YOU create and re-create their relationship.”
> Examples of propositional acts include a young child pointing at
> something and an adult responding to the child’s focus and gesture
> with a connecting act, or a child proposing to another that they
> pretend they are mommy and daddy having dinner, and the other
> agreeing. Do I have this about right? Perhaps Ana and Ljubica would
> be so kind as to correct me if I have something wrong here. It is a
> new idea for me, especially as a general unit of human meaning-making.
> The authors emphasize that in human communication, the two kinds of
> relationships, subject-object and subject-subject, are intricately
> connected. “Symbolic mediation should be seen,” they explain, “as
> coordination and dynamic interplay between, on one hand, the subject-
> object relationship and, on the other, the subject-subject
> relationship.”
> But how shall these two relationships and two units of analysis be
> related conceptually? Since both subject-orientedness and object-
> orientedness are intrinsic to all activity, perhaps finding a way to
> combine both units of analysis into a unified model would help.
> Ana, Ljubica, anyone, what are your thoughts on how this might be
> done? Can the propositional act, as a basic unit of meaning-making
> between two subjects, be combined with the activity triangle, which
> depicts the basic unit of action-making by a subject on an object?
> What would such a model look like? What practical implications might
> it have?
> Thank you for bearing with me in this long post. I get the feeling
> everyone is gearing up for the ISCAR conference, (and even the AERA
> conference next year), and I too am excited. But I hope that Ana and
> Ljubica’s article on play doesn’t get too lost in the shuffle. It has
> a number of theoretical ideas I think are well worth discussing.
> Below are my attempts at summaries of the theoretical themes of the
> paper. Some of the language is in my own wording and I would
> appreciate corrections if I have something wrong, or, more difficult
> to detect, have missed something essential.
> 1. Play can be key to learning how to make meaning.
> 2. Play enables communicative acts to be transformed into cognitive
> tools.
> 3. Mediation is a central concept.
> 4. Mediational factors can be any cultural or social entity (tools,
> interpersonal acts, symbols, etc.).
> 5. Direct relationships become mediated relationships.
> 6. Symbolic mediation and the development of symbolic tools involves
> coordinating both object-oriented and subject-oriented relationships.
> 7. The propositional act is key.
> 8. The propositional act is a basic unit of meaning. It consists of
> an active subject (ME), a relational subject (YOU), a common focus
> (TOPIC), and a mediating or connecting act or gesture (COMMENT).
> 9.. Any form of communication can form a propositional act.
> 10. The TOPIC is a joint focus or common communication object and the
> COMMENT is the associated act of creating that focus or object.
> 11. Play frames and reality frames are key. Switches between play
> frames and reality frames, and ways that play frames are used to
> influence real relationships, are very important.
> 12. A key difference between play and nonplay is that in reality-
> oriented activity, objects dictate meaning, but in play-oriented
> activity, meaning dominates objects.
> 13. A "bifurcation point" can be said to emerge when a play frame is
> introduced within a nonplay reality.
> 14. Metaphor can be explained in terms of this switching between play
> or imaginary frames, and nonplay frames, where elements of the
> imaginary frame are used to comment on elements of the reality frame.
> 15. The term "play chronotope" refers to the values specifically
> contained within a play frame, as well as the imagined time and place.
> 16. Symbolic mediational acts, the creation of new symbols and
> symbolic tools, require the externalization into the reality frame of
> TOPICs (imaginary objects of common focus) that are created within
> play or imaginary frames.
> 17. There are three key differences between play and nonplay frames –
> in play frames, participants interact indirectly through a TOPIC; play
> frame TOPICs develop in many kinds of time frames, such as in the play
> itself, in the personal development of a person, in the culture; and
> play frames can become tools for complex ideas to be expressed in a
> real situation.
> - Steve
> On Jul 16, 2008, at 1:14 PM, Ana Marjanovic-Shane wrote:
>> Dear Eric,
>> Thank you for good words about our article!
>> Below are some answers to the questions you asked - see my comments
>> within your text:
>> __________________________
>> Dr. Ana Marjanovic-Shane
>> 267-334-2905
>> On Jul 16, 2008, at 10:43 AM, wrote:
>>> Ana & Ljubica:
>>> Such a well written and presented article, great quotes and
>>> examples to
>>> illustrate your thinking. It is always a joy to read something
>>> that I
>>> viewed over time in discussions that appeared on this forum!
>>> Hopefully
>>> others will join in the discussion of this great article.
>>> Briefly, here are a couple of thoughts
>>> 1)Having never read Bahktin ( iknow, i know. . .he is so often
>>> referenced
>>> that it is simply horrible on my part that I have not) I had never
>>> come
>>> across the concept of a chronotope. Now that I have been
>>> introduced to the
>>> concept I really like it! And I should add i am now motivated to
>>> read
>>> Bahktin. The use of it to describe a play frame is remarkably
>>> similar to
>>> Mikhail Basov's view on the importance of play in a child's
>>> development.
>>> This can be referenced in: Basov, M.Ia. (1929) 'Structural
>>> analysis in
>>> psychology from the standpoint of behavior'. Journal of Genetic
>>> Psychology, 36, 267-90. Basov speaks of the child moving from
>>> loosely
>>> organized temporal events to incorporating 'schemes' into goal-
>>> directedness
>>> and planning. Is this how chronotope is being used?
>> ANA: I did not read Basov, but Bakhtin does not use the term
>> "chronotope" to describe any particular developmental process. It
>> refers to a unity of time and space and specific values
>> (valorizations). It is a useful notion to complement shat has been
>> know as a "frame" or more specifically a "play frame". While play
>> frame refers more to the boundary and boundary construction -- we
>> thought that we also needed to introduce a sense what the particular
>> importance of the internal relationships within a specific frame --
>> hence, "chronotope"
>>> 2)Cognitive development in a child occurs as they experience a
>>> methaphor in
>>> a playframe and as a child becomes familiar with the use of this
>>> metaphor
>>> they see examples in their daily activities and when they enter into
>>> another playframe they have a 'ready-made' TOPIC that can easily be
>>> played
>>> with?
>> ANA: One of the goals we have in our research is to look at
>> development in a holistic manner: not separating cognitive aspects
>> from emotional and volitional. Thus, we think that creating
>> metaphors (and possibly meanings in general) is based on
>> coordination of several relationships -- where relationships have
>> not only cognitive aspects but also affective, ideological and
>> volitional ones.
>> Metaphors, as we see them, furthermore require a specific
>> coordination between play frames and and reality frames. Therefore,
>> creating a play frame is not enough for development of metaphor -- a
>> new way of seeing and organizing reality happens when the play
>> chronotope can be used as a comment "for real" - i.e. to reorganize
>> the actual, real, serious, ways of seeing, feeling and relating to
>> life events. This change is not merely cognitive, it is a full lived
>> through experience (perezhivanye) -- involving emotions, hopes,
>> decisions, relations to others etc...
>>> 3) One last thought pertains to the examples of how a TOPIC is
>>> presented
>>> in the playframe. "Pretend there is a monster coming" ; "Let's
>>> pretend you
>>> are my father and I am your daughter." In both instances it is the
>>> word
>>> that comes first and not the behavior. Perhaps is this why
>>> Vygotsky viewed
>>> the word as the unit of analysis for the study of human development?
>> ANA: In our examples "Pretend" was a word to signal a change of
>> frame (chronotope). But the same effect can be achieved through
>> different means: a wink, an exaggerated imitation, involvement of
>> "impossible" elements in a story, etc... What is important is that
>> the participants all agree that what they are doing is within a play-
>> frame. If such agreement does not exist, that can lead to different
>> consequences (deliberate lies, misunderstandings, disorientation
>> etc) -- which were out of the scope of this paper.
>> We also did not discuss Vygotsky's notion of the word as a unit of
>> analysis is this paper. However, our unit of analysis differs from
>> Vygotsky's. We were looking for a unit of analysis at the level of
>> the construction of meaning -- and not at a syntactic level to which
>> "word" actually belongs as an analytic unit. This can be seen even
>> on a purely cognitive plane: if one can place an equation sign
>> between a word and its definition (given in a sentence or two), then
>> it is clear that meaning cannot be reduced to purely linguistic
>> level, but is something of a different quality.
>> I also don't think that Vygotsky viewed the word as a unit of
>> analysis for the study of human development, but for a much more
>> specific aspect of development -- conceptual development.
>> In our study we tried to look at the development of views and
>> understandings of the world through different units and their
>> combinations, however, we attempted to give the development a more
>> dynamic character and to see it as part of the ongoing social
>> processes and activities.
>>> Again, such a great article and thanks for sharing it with XMCA!
>>> What do others think?
>>> eric
>> ANA: I hope I answered your questions, at least in part.
>> Ana
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> xmca mailing list
>> _______________________________________________
>> xmca mailing list
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list
Received on Sun Jul 27 09:15 PDT 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri Aug 01 2008 - 00:30:08 PDT