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Re: [xmca] Project
I decided to refrain from the discussion, but let's reiterate my friendly
criticisms of your friendly criticism of Andy's friendly criticism of AT,
A few days ago I explained why a project - if it's going to be the
fundamental unit of analysis of human activity - needs to be
conceptualized in terms not only of collaboration but also of
Why is "differentiation" not embedded within the notion of collaboration?
Collaboration does not mean friendly cooperation, it just means people
doing stuff together, which historically led to a technical and social
division of labor, to hierarchies, to class society.
The point of a unit of analysis is that it does not posit a series of
derivative truths about a phenomenon, but a starting point, a basic
premisse, to generate questions about a phenomenon. Differentiation is
often a logical step within the development of collaboration. But this
notion already represents a specific development of collaboration.
And why we need to think of a project not simply as arising from a
contradiction, but as arising from a human need. I can now add a few
more points to that starting place. I've said that a project is a
response to a human need, and that it has as its product something
tangible that can satisfy that need. A project is a transformation
of the material circumstances, physical, biological and social, in
order to satisfy a need. That transformation is accomplished through
human ingenuity, both skillful action and cognition-in-action. I
agree with Andy to the extent that he is trying to link thinking to
action, theory to practice. But that's been done before - in, for
example, Heidegger's account of the different modes of engagement
(ready-to-hand, unready-to-hand, and present-at-hand), all of which
are structured by thrown-projection. So let's stipulate that it
takes intelligence to transform the world, and a project employs
(and extends) human intelligence.
But this conceives of human collaboration only from an object that is
external and prior to the activity itself. As Marx notes in the German
Ideology, the process of satisfying needs leads to the production of new
needs. The whole history of mankind is the continuous transcendence of
original goals by new ones that emerged from the process of collaboration
"It takes intelligence to transform the world" - What does that *mean*?
Isn't every human an "intellectual", to paraphrase Gramsci? How can human
collaboration take place without human intelligence?
That means that we can take what we already know about physical and
biological reality to help us understand our own social reality
(that is, we too are engaged in a project, transforming the state of
our understanding of human activity). The physical and the
biological provide constitutive conditions for human projects.
Because there are regularities in the physical world (e.g., the
earth spins on its axis) and biological organisms are adapted to
these regularities (e.g. cycles of activity and sleep), human needs
recur (e.g. I want to eat breakfast every morning). When we define
projects as responses to human needs, we can see that because human
needs are cyclical projects will often become routine.
But that's only true for the base projects of production and reproduction,
upon which whole cultural edifices are erected that are irreducible to any
of these physical aspects of human "species-being", as Marx called it.
We're not only talking about eating, but also about gastronomy; not only
about sexual reproduction, but romance; not only about communication, but
poetry; etc. Animals have cycles, animals don't have projects.
I don't think Andy's definition of 'project' handles routines very
well. It seems to work better with activities like the strike that
Brecht is studying. A strike is a newsworthy event, with explicit
demands. But most projects are not so eventful, or so explicit in
their ends. However, under my definition a routine is also a
project. Or, to put it the other way around, a project often becomes
routine, because it needs to be repeated. A routine is about meeting
needs through repeated transformation of the world. Bread must be
baked fresh each morning and sold each day. The crops have to be
planted every spring, not just this year.
Just like differentiation, "routine", "spontaneity", "organization",
etc. can be unfolded from the concept of human collaboration. As you
quoted Vygotsky before, a unit of analysis has to be the simplest
determination, from which a complex phenomenon can be understood. Adding
"differentiation" and "routine" as an a priori to the UoA of activity, is
expanding its cell-form, and thus reducing its capacity to function as a
UoA. What about projects that are not routineous, but spontaneously, ad
hoc, sudden, and almost destined to last only for a short period? For
sure, a UoA should try to account also for these types of activities?
This is important, because when a project becomes routine it
acquires a normative character, which can develop into explicit
rules. And when a project becomes routine its differentiation can
become a division of labor. Or it can become playful competition. Or
it can become a conflict. Or the division of labor can become
exploitation. Each of these is a qualitatively distinct combination
of collaboration and differentiation. Also, because of its
differentiation every project will require specific social
relations. When the project becomes routine these will become
recognized *kinds* of relations, which can define recognized
positions, or explicit roles, and identities.
I think we are in agreement of these issues... but in his ITA book Andy
in fact unfolds these aspects from the notion of collaboration. The point
is not if most activities acquire these characteristics, but if these
characteristics should be part as premisses of a unit of analysis. I think
not, because then you create a system, theory, (metaphysics? :)
You are already one step ahead of developing a UoA and are already
answering the questions that a UoA should generate.
In this way, through necessary repetition, a project becomes
routinized, objectified and institutionalized. It will define the
positions, resources, and identities from which and with which
people can take up a new project. A project doesn't start from
nothing and nowhere: it starts from a need and a concrete
circumstance, but both these will usually be products of previous
projects. History accumulates. New projects emerge within and among
the routinized and objectified forms of prior projects. This will
both constrain them and enable them. People involved in a new
project may find that there is simply no room for it alongside
existing projects. Or, they may find that the existing projects
facilitate and provide the raw materials (not now so raw) for their
Yes, I like much what I read in this paragraph. Although I don't know if
it is mere routine or repetition that institutionalizes projects, but
that's another discussion.
And, as Lubomir pointed out, humans are sociospatial organisms. The
next step is to explore how that fact establishes conditions for
Indeed, the encounter between the notions of "space" and "activity"
interests me as well.
All the best from tear gas filled Cairo...
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