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[xmca] Interpreting Leontiev: functionalism and Anglo Finnish Insufficiences

Below are two quotations from Morten Nissen's review of Andy Blunden's book
on activity theory. Full review in
current issue of MCA.

After presenting the quotation, a comment.

Morten Nissen on Leontiev, functionalism, and Stalinism

….behind this terminological trouble lies a deep theoretical problem in
Leontiev’s social theory. This problem was identified in the German and
Scandinavian reception (Axel & Nissen, 1993; Holzkamp, 1979; Osterkamp,
1976) but almost completely ignored in the Anglo-Finnish (with Miettinen,
2005, and Kaptelinin, 2005, as the noble exceptions to the rule)—and
Blunden, as it were, attacks it from the “opposite” side: the functionalism
of Leontiev’s way of relating subject with society. This has to do with how
objects and motives appear to coincide in Leontiev’s idealized image of the
true society, that is, the society of original communism and that of the
Soviet Union.

>From the perspective of this functionalist utopia, a psychology could
become relevant only in the face of the undeveloped and the deviant: as in
fact, according to Leontiev (1978), children and disturbed provide the
tasks of psychology in the institutions of the Soviet Union. To paraphrase:
The child who puts down her book still has not grasped the harmony of
society’s needs with the desire to learn that she *must*

develop—she has not yet developed those “higher cultural needs.” Bourgeois
society is another matter, where sense and meaning are divided in
principle, but this matter—that of ideology and social critique—Leontiev
sets aside and forgets. An elaborate critique of Leontiev’s functionalism
was given already in 1980 (Haug, Nemitz,& Waldhubel, 1980), and the
background was explained by Osterkamp (1976) in her groundbreaking work on
the theory of motivation.



When I first read these passages as part of the attempted "swap of ideas"
that Morten and  I tried to organize around

our reviews of Andy's book in Outlines and MCA, I commented how sad it was
that the elaborate critique that goes back to

1980 is not in English and fully engaged by both European and  "Ango-Finns"
(although how poor  Viktor got into that category

I do not know!).

Seems like real interchange around these issues is long overdue. But given
the progress of the last couple of years, I'll not be

holding my breath!


But thinking about the issues as well as my limited language (and other)
capacities allow.

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