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[Xmca-l] Re: Activity Setting: Shared Meaning

Thanks for your thoughts, Lubomir and David. We agree that community and culture can be defined many ways for different purposes. One of the purposes of our article was to invite others to offer ways that they would unite the concepts. We also agree that individuals in the same cultural community may differ in their personal understanding of the shared meanings of the cultural community, just as individuals differ in their skills, thoughts, experiences, and emotions. All of us are a combination of the cultures of gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social economic status, etc.

In our formulation, defining community by shared activities allows the assessment of communities by the degree and attributes of the activities they share. Also, defining culture by shared meanings allows the assessment of cultures by the meanings they share. In our example of the youth and adults in a Native American community, the activities and meanings of those activities differed dramatically between the youth and adults. The difference was so pronounced that the groups formed different cultural communities, even though they all lived in the same small town and were all from the same Native American tribe. Knowledge of their activities and shared meanings was essential in developing an intervention plan and is an example of cultural community psychology using CHAT concepts.

Thanks again for your contributions to this discussion.


On Aug 13, 2013, at 11:50 AM, David H Kirshner wrote:

Just to add a thought on the tricky notion of "shared meaning" that Lubomir focusses on in discussion of culture and community; it seems important to differentiate shared meaning from shared understanding. What is shared in a culture or community are categories of meaning. Individuals who are participants in the culture, or members of the community, may draw quite differently from the shared categories in constructing personal understandings. To push this a bit further, we might say that a culture may be comprised of (or may encompass) a range of discrete categories or paradigms of meaning. Cultures can be distinguished from one another by substantially different constellations of categories. However, communities, as more local entities constituted within cultures, are defined in terms of a politics of interpretation. Personal understandings within a community are bounded by community norms regarding appropriate categories of meaning that can be drawn upon with respect to those critical matters of interest that define the community.


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu ] On Behalf Of Lubomir Savov Popov
Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 1:25 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Activity Setting

Dear Cliff,

Just to respond to your request:
You have good grounds for the integration of culture and community. In sociology and anthropology, it is pretty common to treat a community as a culture. On the other hand, a culture can or might define a community, build cohesion, we-feeling, etc. Of course, the definition/conceptualization of community is very complex, but I am talking only in respect to the question you formulated.

Culture can be conceptualized in the framework of the subject; in the framework of activity, and as on object of study by itself. Culture is also materialized in the object of activity, but this forms a different plane of study. Other options are possible too. I need to keep short here.

Community can be conceptualized as an activity system, as a culture, as a social group, etc., depending on the scholarly objectives. When community is conceptualized as an activity system, culture can be treated as an inherent component of activity. However, this is not the only way to treat culture in this situation. I just mention this one. Culture is about shared meanings, but it is also more than shared meanings. Of course, you can keep that shared meaning definition if you interpret many other components as shared or shared meanings.

You focus on the development of shared meanings in shared activities. However, the concept of community can be delineated with different foci depending on the scholarly objectives. We cannot describe or analyze all aspects of a phenomenon. We have to select several. I mean when we are interdisciplinary. Otherwise, we select only one aspect that is core for a particular discipline or a research goal.

Community is a very complex category. It stands for many types of social groups and also for many other social and cultural phenomena. I will stop here.

Best wishes,


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu ] On Behalf Of Cliff O'Donnell
Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 2:06 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Activity Setting

Thanks, Larry. You are highlighting a key point in our article.
Quoting again,

"If we define community by shared activity and culture by shared meanings, the basis for a theoretical integration of the concepts of community and culture into cultural community psychology becomes apparent. The key concept needed for such integration is one that can show how shared meanings develop from shared activities. That key concept is intersubjectivity." (p. 23)

Following up on that point, we would greatly appreciate the thoughts of the XMCA group on the value of integrating the concepts of culture and community. Our article presents the implications of doing so for cultural community psychology. What implications does the XMCA group see for CHAT?


On Aug 13, 2013, at 7:36 AM, Larry Purss wrote:

The shift from the individual TO *intersubjective* within activity
settings seems central.
As we explore activity settings, *inter-subjectivity* is also a
central term Larry

On Mon, Aug 12, 2013 at 11:01 PM, Cliff O'Donnell <cliffo@hawaii.edu>

Thank you for your response, Lubomir. Roger Barker was an important
influence on my thinking earlier in my career. His work is highly
respected in community psychology. Quoting from our article, here is
the distinction we see between behavior setting and activity setting:

"The subjective focus of activity settings distinguishes them from
the behavior settings developed by Barker
(1960 , 1968 ). In behavior settings, the focus is on objective molar
behavior specified by time and place. Behaviors are defined by the
roles or positions of people in the setting and activity is used to
coordinate their behaviors. Suggestions have been made to alter
behavior setting theory to include a wider range of individual
behaviors, cognitions, and interventions in the setting (e.g., Luke
et al. 1991 ; Schoggen
1989 ; Wicker 1987 ). In contrast, activity setting theory unifies
the objective and subjective by showing how activity is influenced
and intersubjectivity developed.
Rather than a collection of individual behaviors and cognitions,
intersubjectivity develops as a setting characteristic that becomes
the shared meanings of culture and provides the basis for cultural
community psychology." (p. 24)

For a more thorough presentation of our use of the concept of
activity setting, please see:

O'Donnell, C. R. & Tharp, R. G. (1990). Community intervention guided
by theoretical developments. In A. S. Bellack, M. Hersen, & A. E.
Kazdin (Eds.), International handbook of behavior modification and
therapy, 2nd Edition (pp. 251-266). New York: Plenum Press.


Clifford R. O'Donnell, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
Past-President, Society for Community Research and Action (APA
Division 27)

University of Hawai'i
Department of Psychology
2530 Dole Street
Honolulu, HI 96822

On Aug 12, 2013, at 7:12 AM, Lubomir Savov Popov 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

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

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
that psychologists were telling Barker: Roger, you think just like a
sociologist, which in psychological parlance meant Roger, you are a
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

Clifford R. O'Donnell, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
Past-President, Society for Community Research and Action (APA
Division 27)

University of Hawai'i
Department of Psychology
2530 Dole Street
Honolulu, HI 96822

Clifford R. O'Donnell, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
Past-President, Society for Community Research and Action (APA Division 27)

University of Hawai‘i
Department of Psychology
2530 Dole Street
Honolulu, HI 96822