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[xmca] Is Activity Theory unique OR is it one among a family of approaches?
I thought it was time to start a new thread with this last reflection on
Brandom. I pasted your reflections to this new thread. You wrote:
I'm reading Robert Brandom at the moment. Brandom is someone who uses the
notion of "unit of analysis" and does us the favour of telling us what the
UoA is for various writers (such as Kant, Frege and Wittgenstein). I have
long been troubled by what is the nature of the gulf which separates us
Vygotskyans and Activity Theorists from all those various "interactionists"
which makes it possible for Vygotsky alone to have a theory of concepts.
There is a vast literature of those who talk about the "social" but have no
real place for the "societal" in their theories. It is Hegel who gave us an
approach to including the societal in theories of knowledge and action, and
therefore a theory of concepts. Brandom is known for being some kind of
Hegelian. But in reality he gets his Hegelianism from recent pragmatic
readings of Hegel as a theoretician of recognition, people like the American
"Hegelian," R W Williams. So, like the others, he tries to have individuals
inventing concepts in the process of interacting with others in dyads.
Untenable. The whole point is that in Activity Theory we have a unit of
analysis, a "molar" unit, a unit of mass action, as well as the
artefact-mediated action and the operation. It is this third level which
makes it possible to have a theory of concepts. Brandom, like so many
others, takes actions (such as meaning and judgment) as the ultimate
reality. The Activity (the large-scale unit) is represented in interpersonal
interactions in Vygotsky's work mainly through its objectification as a
mediating artefact, but also as a "long duration activity", but this is
hardly developed by LSV. So this is why interactionist theories, such as
theories of recognition, decision-theories and so on, have no concept of
mediation, AND no theory of a societal Activity, and therefore no theory of
concepts. Brandom tries, but in my view he fails.
Vygotsky-like artefact-mediation, Leontyev-like object-oritened Activities,
and Concepts rather than just meanings, all go together.
You are making a distinction between
1] scholars who privilege "individuals inventing concepts in the process of
interacting with others in dyads [the "social" is derived from individuals
interacting] Recognition is also an individual action which is derived from
this same source in individuals interacting. [merely interactional]
In contrast are scholars who
2] privilege "activity" [a large scale unit that has a "long duration"]
For Vygotsky this societal activity is expressed through interactional
actions becoming objectified as mediating artifacts. This obectification
process is the process where JUST meanings produce societal concepts of long
Andy, this distinction seems central to your project and I'm trying to
locate my interest in "recognition" and the "alterity of the other" [the
interactional experiential moment] within a historical process of "long
duration". It is why I try to bring in Taylor's notion of "way of life" as
a philosophical hermeneutical perspective. [which is a continuation of
Gadamer's notion of way of life] Dewey's "system of meanings" also is a
system of long duration.
Where do you locate Taylor, Gadamer, Dewey, and others who are exploring
"traditions" or "frameworks" of long duration that are the "surrounding
context" for taking actions [such as meaning and judgements]
Do activity approaches to understanding and locating actions and operations
recognize the insights of these other approaches which are reflecting on
historical processes of long duration [but use different terminology]. Are
they exploring what you refer to as the "third level". It seems that
Gadamer may be responding to his teacher Heidegger, Dewey is responding to
William James etc., in this "general recognition" that this third level is
under theorized in Heidegger or James as they focus on individual actions. I
wonder if continental philosophy, American pragmatism, and other traditions
are all engaged with this general tension between explanations which
"privilege social interactionalism that may be dialogical" and the
alternative explanations that privilege the third level.
In other words, how unique is the notion of "activity approaches" in
contrast to the alternative notion that there is a "family of approaches"
which are engaged in exploring this "third level"
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