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Re: [xmca] Project and MMC

Nice to meet you, Lubomir!

We had a discussion about the Moscow Methodological Circle on XMCA last year in fact, and subsequently Dmitry Davidoff pointed me to on-line material about this "phenomenon". I was very excited at the time, because it came just at the time I was making first drafts of the article about Collaborative Projects that has been referred to here, so I rushed to looked into this work - Soviet Activity Theorists making a systematic study of the emergence of concepts through collaborative (science/engineering) projects! I have to say though that at the end of it I found the theory that emerged from this work pretty inaccessible. Maybe like what Hegel would have done if he had been an engineer rather than a philosopher, and despite being an engineer by training myself, I preferred Hegel! I understand though that the MMC is one of the sources of the ideas that Elena and Gena Kravtsov use in their Golden Key schools project. However, as Peter Smagorinsky just pointed out, the Project Method of teaching originates from the work of John Dewey in the early 20th century and is now very widespread across the developed world, especially in science education and "special needs" education. But Elena and Gena's work is much more scientifically worked out, based on Vygotsky's theories of development, than the usual "common and western varities" of Project Learning.

Of course, I agree with you. "Activity" is an infinitely more rich category for undertsanding human life than "behaviour." Human behaviour (beyond getting goosebumps when you're cold, etc) can never be made sense of when abstracted from consciousness! I think anthropomorphising about animal life has a lot more potential than zoologising human beings!

I note your use of the word "design" and from your name I presume you are Russian. I believe that "design" and "project" are both translated as "projekt" in Russian. A nice, but somewhat awkard problem for translation, yes?

As to "group activity" (as opposed to "personal activity") I think this is very problematic. A project is not "group activity." Collaboration is constituted by the project; rather than there being a group and a project and the two being added together. "Project" offers an approach to group formation and group constitution, I believe. Otherwise, "groups" are simply taken to be categories of people sharing a common attribute and we get the same old "set theory," good for statistics but lousy for understanding.


Lubomir Savov Popov wrote:
Dear Martin and Andy and all participants in this dicsussion,

I just get into this dconversation. It is fascinating. The concept of the project as an activity system offers heuristic advantages. It is obviously an activity system, a molar phenomenon, not a molecular phenomenon. I would mention here the concept of behavior setting by Roger Barker, the founder of ecological psychology (now environmental psychology). By the way, the bakery is a behavior setting.

For a long time I am trying to promulgate the concept of activity setting instead of behavior setting. By the way, I use activity setting as a analytical framework for analyzing build environment. I apologize to all Barker followers for my boldness, but coming from the domain of activity theory I believe that the concept of activity has stronger heuristic power than the concept of behavior. In the East European tradition, behavior is only the manifested facet of activity. In the American tradition, behavior refers to most of the content of activity. These conceptual and terminological differences produce a number of difficulties in justifying the concept of activity setting. However, I am also working on the concept of activity system. The activity system is a broader category, with a major emphasis on the social facets, although the mat4erial/physical aspects are considered as well. The project can be seen an activity system with all ensuing implications. If we look at the project as a personal endeavor, it might be better to talk about design activity. This will lead to major insights into personal decision-making, invention, factors influencing the decision-making process, and so forth. If we look at the project as a group activity, then we need to expand our framework or use a somewhat different framework that is designed to account for social relationships. There are cooperation, collaboration, and so forth. Motivation is very important. There are also power play, envy, confrontation, and other phenomena of that kind. One interesting approach to the study of individual and group design activities is the activity methodology developed in the 1960 by the Moscow Methodological Circle (MMC) lead by Lefebvre and Shchedrovitsky. http://www.fondgp.org/gp/ Lefebre was the mastermind, but after he immigrated to the U.S.A. in the 1970s (if memory serves), he stagnated. Shchedrovitsky and a number of other people, actually all comparable to him in their achievements, have achieved quite of a progress in development of their kind of activity theory, despite of obstructions from the Soviet system. Although they were not considered political dissidents, they were evidently political and scientific outcasts. They had harder time getting promotions and being published, although they managed well their careers in a quite unfriendly environment. There are still people in Russia working with that approach, but for linguistic reasons, they are not well known in the West, not well published, and virtually dwelling in their own consciousness. In the 1970s and 1980s the MMC start developing the methodology of organizational games. This is a practical application of activity theory for designing and managing social organisms and situations. It was also quite unexpected phenomena for the Soviet scientific community, which dwelled at the philosophical and theoretical layers of thinking and didn't try to get into practice, despite of formal slogans to fuse science and practice. The progress of organizational games was slowed significantly after the political transition.
Kind regards,

Lubomir Popov, Ph.D.
School of Family and Consumer Sciences
American Culture Studies affiliated faculty
309 Johnston Hall,
Bowling Green, Ohio 43403-0059

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