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Re: [xmca] Project
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- Subject: Re: [xmca] Project
- From: Martin Packer <email@example.com>
- Date: Wed, 3 Apr 2013 01:23:47 +0000
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- Thread-topic: [xmca] Project
I read it, Andy, several times. I've copied below the final section in its entirety. Much of that final section seems to be discussing problems with the definitions of "activity" in Activity Theory, and it's a bit hard to fish out the positive statements about "project." Here are some excerpts with my responses:
At the end of the previous section you write:
"‘Project’ functions to theorise the connection between human actions and the societal context in which individual actions are meaningful."
My problem in a nutshell is that I cannot see how the concept of project accomplishes this.
"In Activity Theory there is nothing in an activity other than human actions." I think you're disagreeing with this, no?
"The harmonization of the contradiction between societal and individual needs is resolved by the development of a social division of labor and a societal system for the circulation and distribution of the products of labor. "
I think you're disagreeing with this too. If you're not, and this is a statements about "project," then "project" has become so big that it includes "a societal system," which seems to defeat its purpose.
Here's, then, what seems to be key to the definition of "project," as distinct from "activity":
"What the notion of Project is intended to do is to bring the concept of an activity back to a simple concept which can also mobilise everyday meanings, and at the same time to give greater emphasis to the dynamic nature of activities and a vision of the social fabric in which the unlimited agency of individual human beings is manifest".
Again, this sounds great. But let's see how the "social fabric" shows up.
"To this end two important concepts of Hegel have been brought to bear, namely the concept of immanence and Hegel’s mediation of the molar/molecular relation in a logical concept."
Okay, two key ingredients! That's what I like to see in a definition:
1. "The objective of a project is immanent within the project itself. The project arises in response to some contradiction or problem within some social situation, but the object cannot simply be conceived of as “to solve problem X.” The problem stimulates efforts to find a solution but it is not in itself sufficient to form a concept."
Yes, I get this. The object(ive) is not external to the project.
2. The relation between an action and the project which gives to the action its “rational meaning” is the same as the relation between any individual discursive act and the concept which it instantiates, and the same as the relation between any individual thing and the category under which the thing is subsumed.
I find the hegelese a bit hard to follow here. But let's assume that what is "the same" in each case can be spelled out (because it certainly is not spelled out), then we still have here something that is *internal* to the activity.
In short, we have defined a project in terms of the actions that it involves, the object(ive) of these actions, and the relations between each action and the whole project. But this definition makes no reference to the societal context. As I wrote in a previous message, there seems to be no market, not legislation, no social classes.
My sense, then, is that an analysis that builds on the concept of project still has to look elsewhere for its understanding of the "societal context," the "social fabric."
But I'm sure this is just my sloppy reading or thinking.
The Concept of Project
A ‘project’ is an activity, that is, a unit of activity, and as such is the basic concept of Activity Theory. To say ‘collaborative project’ is simply to emphasise that ‘project’ represents the basic relation between people brought together, not by some contingent attribute, but by commitment to a common aim.
Activity Theory has its roots in Classical German philosophy especially that of Hegel, in particular as appropriated by Marx, especially Capitaland Theses on Feuerbach. The proximate source of Activity Theory was the Cultural Psychology of Lev Vygotsky. On these foundations, A. N. Leontyev first set out a framework for Activity Theory, elaborated, for example, in The Development of Mind (2009) and Activity, Consciousness and Personality (1978). These foundations were further developed by a number of Soviet writers, by Yrjö Engeström with hisLearning by Expanding (1987) followed by numerous journal articles and book chapters, and separately by a number of researchers in Europe.
An activity or project is an aggregate of actions, so the conception of a project rests on the conception of an action. In Activity Theory actions are both subjective and objective – behavior is not abstracted from consciousness. Consequently, an aggregate of actions is also equally objective and subjective. Implicit in the concept of ‘action’ is that actions are artifact-mediated; that is, all actions are effected by means of tools or symbols meaningful in the wider culture. Consequently, activities are also inclusive of the material conditions they create and presuppose.
Activity Theory with Project as the concept of ‘an activity’ is continuous with all the research conducted in the above scientific tradition and incorporates its insights. Briefly, the concept of an activity which was first formulated by A. N. Leontyev, can be defined as follows:
“'An activity’ is a molar unit of the human psyche and the life of a subject; it is social in nature and is the rational meaning of that to which the subject’s activity is directed.” (Leonytev 2009, p. 197)
‘Molar’ means a large mass of material of some quality, in contrast to ‘molecular’ which means the smallest unit of material of some quality. The concept of a molar unit originated in German Romanticism and is reflected in almost every action and thought of a human being – which is not directed towards its immediate object and result but by a relatively distant whole. Nonetheless, ‘molar unit’ is a concept with which modern social science has a great deal of trouble. In Activity Theory there is nothing in an activity other than human actions, and this is a thesis with which contemporary interactionist theories would be in agreement, eschewing recourse to biological determinism, religious or structural fatalism or any other force outside of human action as determinants of human life. But because there is nothing other than human actions to be found in an activity this does not mean that an activity is simply the additive sum of actions. In fact, the activity generally pre-exists any of the component actions which instantiate it: when we act we do not create an activity, we join it. So Activity Theory recognizes that there are aggregates of actions which have a unity of their own for which, as the saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The question then is what is it that gives an activity its unity?
An activity is defined by the universal, societally produced concept of its object. Individual participants may be aware of the motive of the activity in which they are participating, but its meaning for them, and their motive for participation in the activity, is individual. The harmonization of the contradiction between societal and individual needs is resolved by the development of a social division of labor and a societal system for the circulation and distribution of the products of labor. Each individual action is motivated by a goal which may not be the same as the motive of the activity which it realizes. An individual action which serves an individual’s goal, such as “Go to point A,” realizes the motive of the activity of a large number of individuals thanks to a social division of labor and a socially produced means of the supervision of labor.
The above outline has a number of problems chief among which is that its context was a planned economy such as was known to the Soviet writers, and it does not extend well to life in the capitalist world, or for that matter, to a really existing ‘planned economy’.
Yrjö Engeström freed Activity Theory from the shortcomings of this first model and introduced his ‘expanding model’ of activity. Here the elements mediating subject and object are introduced at the ‘ground floor’, so to speak, of analysing an activity. The subject and its object are mediated by instruments and the community. In turn the relation between the subject and the community is mediated by norms and rules, and the relation between the community and the object of the activity is mediated by a division of labor. Engeström thus introduced into the concept of an activity, explicit consideration of the culturally produced artifacts used in the activity, the community engaged in the activity, and the norms and division of labor. Engeström describes this model as “expanding” because each mediation arises in response to contradictions and an iterative process of new mediations and new problems bring about an expansion of the activity system and changes in the object.
What the notion of Project is intended to do is to bring the concept of an activity back to a simple concept which can also mobilise everyday meanings, and at the same time to give greater emphasis to the dynamic nature of activities and a vision of the social fabric in which the unlimited agency of individual human beings is manifest. To this end two important concepts of Hegel have been brought to bear, namely the concept of immanence and Hegel’s mediation of the molar/molecular relation in a logical concept.
How is the relation between a project and its object to be understood? If we take the object to have an independent, objective existence, then we are left with a number of problems. Is the object to be determined by the Central Committee or does it suffice to say that it arises from human activity in the past? An aim or ‘human need’ cannot be added to an activity otherwise lacking in motive, or an activity added to a pre-existing need. The objective of a project is immanent within the project itself. The project arises in response to some contradiction or problem within some social situation, but the object cannot simply be conceived of as “to solve problem X.” The problem stimulates efforts to find a solution but it is not in itself sufficient to form a concept. (Vygotsky, 1934/1987, p. 126) The formation of a project with a concept of the problem is an original and creative social act. From that time forward the project and its aim continues to develop according to its own logic, so to speak. Where a project may ‘end up’ cannot be determined in advance. The plot unfolds according to its own dynamic and through interaction with the wider community. This is what is meant by immanence.
How can we understand the relation between the actions and ambitions of individual participants on one hand, and on the other hand, the immanent objective of the project which forms the unifying principle of the project uniting all the disparate individual actions into a single activity? Hegel resolved this problem in his solution to the problem of the subsumption of any number of individual actions under a concept, but there is no criteria other than the concept itself determining this subsumption. The relation between an action and the project which gives to the action its “rational meaning” is the same as the relation between any individual discursive act and the concept which it instantiates, and the same as the relation between any individual thing and the category under which the thing is subsumed. The relation between the individual and the universal is mediated by the particular, and is not to be conflated with the subjective-objective relation which is a quite distinct relation. The universal has no separate existence, but exists only in and through its particularization in individuals.
It is the failure to grasp this conception which has meant that interactionist discourses fail to see the forest in their fascination with trees. Attempts to replace the individual/universal relation with the categorization of individuals according to contingent attributes leads away from activity theory and projects to the theorization of society in terms of social groups made up of like individuals – a truly postmodern, fragmented view of the world. Activity Theory with Project as a unit of activity can, on the contrary, grasp the real participation of the individual in the universal and the universal in the individual.
On Apr 2, 2013, at 7:41 PM, Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> I humbly ask you to take the time to read my considered explanation, Martin.
> Martin Packer wrote:
>> I looked and looked for the actual definition, Andy, but I couldn't find it. Could you post it here?
>> On Apr 2, 2013, at 7:19 PM, Andy Blunden <email@example.com> wrote:
>>> Martin, you found that 10,000 word article from which you noted that Heidegger "did not neglect either history or the social world", but not apparently note the exhaustive definition of the concept of project.
>>> After a comprehensive review of the history and context of idea of "project", a concrete definition is given on pp. 15ff.
>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>> Thanks, but I am looking for the way that Andy has defined "project" as the fundamental unit of analysis of human activity.
>>>> On Apr 2, 2013, at 11:33 AM, "Glassman, Michael" <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>>>>> Hi Martin,
>>>>> How about this,
>>>>> To project (the verb),
>>>>> The ability to extend human activity into a larger human arena where it can be joined or experienced by more minds.
>>>>> When I speak louder I project my voice so more can hear and consider what I say.
>>>>> When I write on the Internet I project the workings of my mind so more can consider what I am thinking.
>>>>> When I use a can I project out my own senses so I can have a better understanding of the world around me, gaining new perspectives of nature.
>>>>> Project (the noun)
>>>>> To engage in an aim directed activity that has some intrinsic good (circa Dewey 1916) that involves multiple minds/perspectives of nature. The project is realized when the aim is achieved, but then it is possible to "project" you achieved aim outwards.
>>>>> From: email@example.com [firstname.lastname@example.org] on behalf of Martin Packer [email@example.com]
>>>>> Sent: Tuesday, April 02, 2013 12:22 PM
>>>>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>>>> Subject: Re: [xmca] Polls are closed: Manfred Holodynsk's article is choice
>>>>> No one can provide me with the definition of "project"?
>>>>> Brecht, let me return to the material you copied from your doctoral thesis. Let's take the opening sentences:
>>>>> On Apr 1, 2013, at 2:47 AM, Brecht De Smet <Brechttie.DeSmet@UGent.be> wrote:
>>>>>> "The historical process of capital accumulation and proletarianization
>>>>>> on a world scale has created forms of wage labor and exploitation that
>>>>>> constructed the modern working class as a passive Object of history.
>>>>>> Persons who can freely dispose of their labor power, but who do not
>>>>>> possess their own (sufficient) means of production are forced into the
>>>>>> activity-system of modern wage labor. Their activity of wage labor
>>>>>> is born out of necessity, and oriented towards the goal of reproducing
>>>>>> their natural and social life.
>>>>> What we find here is your explication of a "historical process" that has constructed (I'd say 'constituted,' but let that pass), a class of persons. Not simply a crowd (I recall your previous critique!), but a class, which I presume you would agree is not simply an aggregate of individuals. As a result, you suggest, the actions of individuals who find themselves to be members of that class (I presume they didn't choose to be working class?) are constrained - people are "forced" to sell their capabilities in order to obtain a wage in order to eat in order to live. Their goal - "reproducing their natural and social life" - is not intrinsic to their activity - "wage labor" - because, as you say, the goal exists prior to the activity, and to a great degree the activity undercuts the goal - for many it's hard to eat and live under the conditions of exploited labor.
>>>>> All of this is, IMHO, a great analysis! You take into account the social world in which people act, and how it constrains their activity, you take into account the history of this world, you take into account the necessity of reproduction. I just don't see that any of this is built on "project" as a unit of analysis!
>>>>> But probably I'm confused...
>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>> xmca mailing list
>>> *Andy Blunden*
>>> Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
>>> Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts
>>> xmca mailing list
> *Andy Blunden*
> Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
> Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts
> xmca mailing list
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