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[Xmca-l] Re: Activity Setting

Thank you Rolland,

I appreciate your suggestions.


From: Roland Tharp [mailto:tharp@hawaii.edu]
Sent: Monday, August 12, 2013 3:03 PM
To: Lubomir Savov Popov
Cc: ablunden@mira.net; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity; Cliff O'Donnell
Subject: Re: Activity Setting

Hello All,

I did not mean to imply that activity settings is attributable to Vygotsky himself.  I know of no evidence for
that.  My first discussion of AS was in Rousing Minds to Life in 1988; my citation for the concept was
Wertsch, 1985. He was writing a lot during that period, and may have discussed the concept elsewhere as well.
Mike Cole would certainly know more than I about what Jim Wertsch was reading and writing then.
Roland Tharp
On Mon, Aug 12, 2013 at 1:12 PM, Lubomir Savov Popov <lspopov@bgsu.edu<mailto:lspopov@bgsu.edu>> wrote:
Hi Andy,

I am also interested to find the term "activity setting" in Vigotsky's writings or those of his followers, including everyone in the East European activity theory tradition. I would appreciate articles or specific references and page numbers. I need this to anchor some ideas and to pay tribute to earlier theorists if they have worked on this.

I am also interested if there are people on this list who work on the development of the concept of activity setting or on activity theory in relation to the planning and design of built environment. They can contact me at the e-mail below my signature or via this list, whichever is more convenient. I was going to make such a request on this list some time ago, but now is a good occasion for this.

To my knowledge, no one in the East European activity theory tradition has used the term "activity setting," at least till the late 1980s. If I have missed something, it is good to catch up.

I personally work (on and off) on the concept of activity setting since the early 1980s. However, I develop it as a methodological category for the study of built environment. I have to acknowledge that I got the idea for activity setting from Roger Barker's "behavior setting." At that time, in East Europe, the concept of behavior was considered one-sided and with less explanatory power than the concept of activity. There was no way to introduce the behavior setting concept without setting the reaction of mainstream social scientists. Even if someone dared to suggest the behavior setting concept in an article, the reviewers will automatically recommend to rework it as "activity setting." In East European social science of that time, behavior referred mostly to the visible, mechanistic aspects of activity or in the sense of "demeanor."

Bob Bechtel has done a good work in the early 1980 expanding on Barker's behavior setting, operationalizing his ideas for the field of Environment and Behavior (Architecture and Human Behavior; Man-Environment Systems).  However, this work didn't continue. On the other hand, at that time, it was too early to talk about activity settings in the USA. It is early even now, in particular in the field of Environment and Behavior. Many people in that field resent the idea of ditching behavior for activity. They believe that the concept of behavior setting is good enough and there is no need to introduce one more concept of similar kind.

In relation to the field of Environment and Behavior, I personally believe that Barker has offered very useful ideas and they can become a stepping stone for developing the concept of activity setting. The activity setting concept will allow us to use the apparatus of activity theory which is more powerful than the concept of behavior. I also believe that the development of the activity setting theory for the fields of teaching or management or social work and community building will be somewhat different. Their focus will be different and this will lead to working on different details. As usual, it is not possible to study everything about one object of study. We have to make difficult choices regarding aspects and depth: what to study first, what to defer, and what to skip.

Barker had a lot of conflicts with main stream psychologists (not activity theorists). I have heard from Bob Bechtel (a student of Barker) that psychologists were telling Barker: Roger, you think just like a sociologist, which in psychological parlance meant Roger, you are a SOB. This illustrates the disciplinary biases and divisions.

Best wishes,


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

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu<mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu<mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu>] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Monday, August 12, 2013 9:55 AM
To: Roland Tharp; Cliff O'Donnell
Cc: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: CHAT and Community Psychology

Thank you very much for your considered response, Roland and Cliff.

Just a couple of follow ups, because I think healing an interdisciplinary gap requires the maximum possible clarity over shared concepts.

(1) I am still not clear about the meaning of "acitivity setting." I have read Wertsch, and I have nothing at all against him, but I am just not as familiar with his work as I would like to be. But I have read a lot of Vygotsky and never came across the term "activity setting" in Vygotsky's writing. There may be an issue of different translations possibly. I wonder if you could perhaps scan a page of a book where Vygotsky explains his meaning or at least uses the term.
I have generally come across the term used to indicate, for example, the school, or family or a specific workplace, and the norms and rules and expectations prevailing in those settings. I gather you take "setting"
to refer to a particular, rather than a general, such as "family" or "school." So "Sandy Bay Elementary" would be an activity setting, but not "school," which would be just a type of activity setting. I see that "activity setting" is an activity, but includes the particulars, such as the participating individuals and the physical surroundings. It seems such an important concept for you, as Community Psychologists, I would appreciate more specification.

(2) By me taking an extreme example (slavery) we quickly achieved agreement that further specification of "shared activities" is needed for an understanding of how mutual understanding arises. (Of course it did to an extent under slavery too). I categorise forms of collaboration into 3 modes: direction (line management, command-and-obey, as pertains in the normal capitalist firm or public service department), exchange (purchase and sale, customer-service provider, as pertains in the market
place) and collaboration as such (mutual criticism, shared attribution and decision-making). It seems to me that distinctions like these are important. Being a teacher or boss in a community, especially if you are otherwise an outsider, can be problematic, even though you are engaged in a "shared activity" with the locals. I was really impressed by the examples you cited, so obviously you have thought these issues through.
What is the anatomy of an "activity setting" then?

(3) What other ways do you conceptualise "context"?

(and please not "Professor," I am an independent scholar, retired.)

Roland Tharp wrote:
> Professor Blunden,
> Please find our responses to your questions attached.  Thank you for
> your interest.
> Roland Tharp
> Cliff O'Donnell
> On Sat, Aug 10, 2013 at 3:58 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net<mailto:ablunden@mira.net>
> <mailto:ablunden@mira.net<mailto:ablunden@mira.net>>> wrote:
>     Thanks for sharing that very interesting paper, Mike. From what I
>     see, there is little justification for the dislocation between
>     these two research communities - CHAT and Community Psychology.
>     Their aims, sources and methods seem so similar and compatible.
>     I would just like to ask the authors a couple of questions.
>     * Do you take "activity setting" to be the optimal conception of
>     "context"?
>     * What exactly do they understand by "activity setting"? You cite
>     Vygotsky in a book edited by Wertsch, but I do not have that book.
>     I associate "activity setting" with the current of CHAT around
>     Mariane Hedegaard. It seems to me to be similar in meaning to
>     "institution". Thus I quetion the efficacy of this concept for
>     grasping social change, as opposed to just child development.
>     * Is "mutual understanding" is what you mean by "intersubjectivity"?
>     * I agree that participation in shared activities is the necessary
>     condition for peope to achieve mutual understanding. But this is
>     not necessarily the outcome, is it? It depends on the type of
>     collaboration within the activity. EG White slaveowners and black
>     slaves collaborated in the production of cotton in the Confederate
>     States of America for many years, but this did not result in
>     mutual understanding. So it seems that the notion of "shared
>     actvities" needs further specification. Yes?
>     thanks
>     Andy