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Re: [xmca] further thoughts on concept of activity

Hi Jay and Andy

Andy, I misunderstood your position on the term "games" but Jay's summary of
games as REGULATIVE precepts, principles, and rules as expressed in language
 is how I was trying to understand the term "games".  The other concept
David introduced when considering "games" is the place of imagination and
the relation between rules and imagination. I am not going to attempt a
systematic explanation of these relations or how the relations
systematically transform as games develop. [This is maybe what Andy was
referring to in his question about "central" lines of development?]  However
I want to mention two incidents from my work which involve grade 1 boys and
One boy is having a very difficult time following civic rules in the
classroom culture.  However, he mentioned that he plays "imaginary pokemon"
with 2 of his classmates.  I was looking for an opportunity to observe this
boy interacting with his peers, so the 3 boys and I went outside so they
could show me this imaginary game.  Normally pokemon is a card game and I
was curious about imaginary pokemon without cards.

The 3 students proceeded to run around in a very free form activity saying
such things as "Look, Piksaleu is on top of your head", pointing at the
other boys head. The other boy would scream, knocking the pretend character
off his head and saying "Look, now its crawling up on you, pointing at one
of the other boys.  This shape-shifting game proceeded for over ten minutes
of laughs, screams, silliness, active agentic engagement with continuous
dialogical activity and response.  I saw a profound shift in the "feeling
towards" of all 3 boys in this imaginary, shifting "game" without FORMAL
rules.  The boy who was struggling with civic rules in the classroom was
transformed in his relationship to the 2 other boys and since that day the 3
boys ask "When can we play imaginary pokemon again?"

A second incident is a boy playing a form of dodge ball which has clear
rules. He has excellent social skills playing within the rules of the game
UNTIL he is tagged and asked to go out as part of the rules.  At this moment
he collapses in tears and argues he wasn't touched and refuses to follow the
rules. This is a different type of game from imaginary pokemon. In dodge
ball the rules and positions are most salient and imagination is less

These 2 examples point to different relations between imagination and rules
in different games. Shape-shifting is more pronounced in the imaginary game
of pokemon whereas the dodge ball game has more stable rule dominated
activity. It is in this sense of different forms of games that I was trying
to understand David's comments on language games as shape-shifting.

Andy, your comment that terms and concepts are elastic can be applied to the
concept "games".  What I want to add is that in both of the games I
mentioned above the person was participating in cultural activity with clear
objects. However, besides the object towards which the activity was
directed we can also observe dialogical interplay that  includes embodied
mind as a "feeling towards" the others in intentionally directeded
activity. In the examples mentioned above I was also looking for and
observing instances of "agentic capacity" when I was observing who was
taking the lead, and who was responding.  I also observed how fluid and
shape-shifting was the agentic capacity displayed in the imaginary pokemon
game.  This is an example of  neo-Meadian social acts [activity] within
different types of games as transformative. This notion of social acts
[object oriented and dialogical] can extend to notions of language games.  I
also suspect that in some adult interplay the shape-shifting may be as rapid
as fluid as the imaginary game of pokemon whereas in other forms of
interplay the positions rigidly follow rules and regulations that are
implicit and tacit.

Zopeds may also be of many different types with different objects and forms
of dialogue.  The relations between imagination and rules in the various
types of zopeds are always dialogical but in particular ways that engender
different forms of agentic capacity. I wonder if the opportunity for fluid
interchange of positions is more pronounced when there is an opportunity for
shared imagination and agentic capacity becomes more developed as a result
of increased opportunities for interchange of positions?  If there is some
validity to this perspective, then getting students to fit in to already
established rule based civic structures [where imagination is not a
priority] may engender diminished agentic capacity.  In this perspective
imagination includes a "feeling towards others" objective.


On Sat, Jan 8, 2011 at 7:57 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

> Thanks, Jay.
> There's a nice article by Daniel Robinson in the current issue of /Theory &
> Psychology/, in which he says: "Human life as it has been wherever there is
> an historical record is a life that is irreducibly /civic/; not simply
> "social" in the sense of patterns of mutual influence, but /civic/ in the
> sense of regulative precepts, rules of law, of etiquette, of ethics." I
> guess it is in his sense the "civic" which interests me, along with the
> concepts we grasp it with. I understand what you're saying, but I think that
> approach to human interaction, which I would have associated with Bakhtin,
> doesn't really get to the "civic" or "societal" aspect of it. Though there
> is no hard and fast line between the social and the societal, of course.
> Andy
> Jay Lemke wrote:
>> A small intervention here.
>> The term "language game" is a key notion in the philosophy of the later
>> Wittgenstein. It means a game played in the medium of language, or in more
>> CHAT-like terms, it means activity mediated by language in which most of the
>> social work getting done is getting done through the talk. More
>> specifically, W. posits that there are many particular kinds of language
>> games, rather as Bakhtin might use the term speech genres: culturally
>> normative ways of talking about things.
>> We play a language game of trying to define things, and one of trying to
>> categorize them, etc.. These games have rules. Words enter into multiple
>> language games, where the rules of how they are used may differ. W. thought
>> that many philosophical problems of his day, and of his own earlier work,
>> could be better handled by paying less attention to what things are/mean and
>> more to how we use them/talk about them, particularly matters of language,
>> and for him this also included matters of "concepts". He believed that we
>> needed to study the games we play with language in order to better study the
>> things we traditionally imagine exist apart from language -- or we might
>> say, apart from symbolic mediation of any sort.
>> JAY.
>> Jay Lemke
>> Research Scientist
>> Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
>> University of California - San Diego
>> 9500 Gilman Drive
>> La Jolla, California 92093-0506
>> Professor (Adjunct status 2009-11)
>> School of Education
>> University of Michigan
>> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>> www.umich.edu/~jaylemke
>> Professor Emeritus
>> City University of New York
>> On Jan 8, 2011, at 5:36 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>> Larry, that's all much clearer. Thank you.
>>> But I don't understand what you mean by "the concept "concept" is always
>>> part of a language game", the more so  that it is something you think I
>>> agree with! :)
>>> "Language game" is not part of my vocabulary. "Game" carries a
>>> connotation of not being real or serious, to me, and in that context,
>>> "language" seems to imply "a realm of its own" (an allusion to Marx who said
>>> "philosophers elevate language to a realm of its own"). The phrase "language
>>> game" seems to imply some kind of competitive sport like "theatre sport" or
>>> something, something people do to one another. Concepts are, for me, first
>>> of all units of a social formation of some kind. I can see that "language
>>> game" has the advantage of representing something as a process or action,
>>> whereas "concept" generally makes one think of a static representation.
>>> Also, I don't see the basis for counterposing emotions to concepts. I can
>>> see that concepts have affective and indicative properties, but I can't see
>>> a concept which has no emotional content.
>>> Does that tally with your thinking, Larry?
>>> Andy
>>> Larry Purss wrote:
>>>> I meant this postto go to the list but went directly to Andy so I'm
>>>> re-posting these thoughts for a general audience.
>>>> Hi Monica and Andy
>>>> I appreciate your thoughts and reflections.  I want to re-emphasize that
>>>> I
>>>> am thinking out loud and do not have clarity on these very elastic and
>>>> shape-shifting concepts of activity.  Notions of intentionality seem
>>>> central
>>>> to these concepts of activity and have different meanings within
>>>> different
>>>> theoretical systems or discourse traditions.  Andy, your distinction
>>>> between
>>>> activity and a unit of activity [AN activity] is a helpful distinction.
>>>>  I
>>>> also appreciate David's reflections on conceptual language games as a
>>>> relation between imagination and rules.  [I do wonder if there is a
>>>> linear
>>>> progression in development from mostly imagination to mostly rule-based
>>>> but the relation between these concepts seem central in order to play
>>>> language games]
>>>> Andy for clarification I agree the concept "concept" is always part of a
>>>> language game and only humans participate in these acts which are
>>>> activities.   "Mind" is a very elastic concept which is constantly shape
>>>> shifting but I would like to extend it beyond the brain to include the
>>>> living body of perceptual sensory-motor "intentional" actions. [This
>>>> replaces mind as computer or mind as brain with the metaphor mind as
>>>> body].
>>>> I am not clear if "mind" can extend beyond activity.  I am clear that
>>>> mind
>>>> is thrown into activity as world and that this activity as "ideal" is
>>>> present at the moment of birth.  However, does "mind" as an "embodied"
>>>> concept include intentional directedness [towards contents] that are not
>>>> conceptual on the first day of existence?  This is where different
>>>> traditions of giving reasons for acts [actions and activity] posit
>>>> different
>>>> substances as contents.  Varela's notion of embodied mind has ancestral
>>>> roots in Merleau-Ponty.  My understanding of intentionality in this
>>>> tradition is that it is an act of "feeling towards".  Now feeling is
>>>> another
>>>> elastic shape-shifting concept. Embodied mind perspectives would suggest
>>>> there is a "feeling toward" response that is not conceptual but becomes
>>>> conceptual when terms such as anger or sadness are constructed as
>>>> language
>>>> games to give reasons for acts. [which are now clearly activity].
>>>> Another
>>>> way of saying this is describing intentionality [feeling towards] is
>>>> e-motion ["e" for enactive, embodied, empathy]  This is getting into the
>>>> realm of intersubjectivity as existing prior to concpts.  I will end
>>>> with
>>>> some thoughts  by Tim Crane. Intentionality is the notion of
>>>> directedness
>>>> TOWARDS an object with object interpreted in a very broad way.
>>>> Intentional
>>>> objects are not entities of a certain kind.  Some intentional objects do
>>>> not
>>>> exist. Yet all entities exist. In other words to talk about an
>>>> intentional
>>>> object [in concepts] is to talk about that towards which one's mind is
>>>> directed, whether it exists or not. Our minds can be directed on the
>>>> non-existent.  Crane suggests there are many different object directed
>>>> e-motions towards contents [that are not concepts] and embodied mind
>>>> points
>>>> to perceptual sensory-motor e-motions as one category of these contents
>>>> that
>>>> are not conceptual.
>>>> I again want to say I'm in over my head as I'm thinking out loud and
>>>> wandering around in a maze [with each path a different tradition] but I
>>>> appreciate walking along side others as I wonder and wander.
>>>> Larry
>>>> - Show quoted text -
>>>> On Fri, Jan 7, 2011 at 3:44 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net <
>>>> mailto:ablunden@mira.net <ablunden@mira.net>>> wrote:
>>>>  Firstly Larry, let me apologise for my last merssage. It was 2am
>>>>  and I was heading for bed, and this morning I can hardly parse
>>>>  what I wrote. Anyway.
>>>>  I see that you are using "mind" in the very general sense of the
>>>>  entirety of relations between a living creature and their
>>>>  environment. That's OK but that's a very broad topic. As you point
>>>>  out, I have found that historically, "activity" entered philosophy
>>>>  as an attribute of living nature. A N Leontyev retains that
>>>>  meaning. On the other hand, since Fichte (i.e. 200 years ago), the
>>>>  term "activity" has been used as a concept for understanding
>>>>  specifically human phenomena. That was pre-Darwin, so "human" was
>>>>  a very distinct category at the time. Doubtless there is value in
>>>>  this idea of continuity between human beings and animals. But it
>>>>  also leads to confusion. For example, an "operation" in Leontyev's
>>>>  terms, is something we do without thinking, but which we can make
>>>>  conscious in the event of something drawing our attention to it.
>>>>  It is only this capacity to become conscious which distinguishes
>>>>  an operation from the autonomous functions of the body, like our
>>>>  heart beating. So if we use the concept of activity to cover
>>>>  everything a baby mouse does, this somewhat upsets the idea we
>>>>  have of "activity" when we're talking about something humans /do/.
>>>>  All words tend to have this elasticity. I see it as part of the
>>>>  dynamism of concepts, rather than a pragmatic thing about how
>>>>  people freely choose to use them. As a concept "activity" refers
>>>>  on the one hand to deliberate or purpose actions of an organism -
>>>>  which can only be a person, so let's just say a person - in
>>>>  relation to a person using an artefact. Now, all actions of a
>>>>  person use artefacts and are relative to other people, so why
>>>>  restrict it in this way? Because "joint artefact-mediated" are not
>>>>  so much qualifiers attached to the thing we are talking about, but
>>>>  qualifiers attached to a concept, that is, how we grasp activity.
>>>>  Another thing about activity, it first entered the ideas of Marx
>>>>  and Vygotsky as a /substance/, that is, a fundamental concept in
>>>>  their theories, in terms of which everything else had to be
>>>>  understood, within their theories, insofar as their were worked
>>>>  out consistently. Once Leontyev started looking for a /unit of
>>>>  activity/, an entirely different meaning and usage of "activity"
>>>>  arose, namely "an activity" as a unit of "activity" and a new
>>>>  ambiguity entered Activity Theory. I find that this elasticity is
>>>>  too much and causes confusion. This is because I am not happy with
>>>>  any of the definitions of "an activity" that have come along, and
>>>>  the lack of awareness that this is a different concept from
>>>>  "activity" makes it heavy going to clarify this problem.
>>>>  So that's activity. "Concepts" is a new issue. "Concept" has all
>>>>  the same problems of meaning. I personally don't see "concept" as
>>>>  something a non-human mammal can have, because it is not a stage
>>>>  towards the participation in a form of human life. But I can
>>>>  elaborate if you like.
>>>>  I haven't answered any of your questions, Larry, but have I
>>>>  cleared up anything?
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