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[Xmca-l] Re: Leontyev's activities

Apparently this conversation didn't go to the group - or maybe parts of it
did. So here is a recap of the thread:

Huw commented that an activity is defined by its object.

I inquired about what the "object" is when *conversation* is the activity.

Huw responded "the object of the conversation is the subject's purpose".

Andy added:
"There are important differences in the methodological implication which go
to the collection and interpretation of empirical data, Huw. These mainly
arise from the idea of the continuity of a project as it passes through
different formations, as the motive undergoes immanent change and the forms
of collaboration and objectification change. But as a momentary snap-shot
of an activity, the two conceptions coincide, yes."

And here is my (as yet unsent! Hot off the presses!) response to Huw and

"Motive" seems a slippery concept to rest too much on. Andy I'm wondering
how you answer the question you put to Roland, namely whether or not master
and slave are participating in the same activity/project? Or, what about a
golfer and caddy? And so on down to, as Phillip and Carol point out - the
different participants in a discussion on XMCA.

I'm rather fond of Goffman's question "what is it that is going on here?"
as a way of thinking about "activity". As Goffman notes, the golfer and
caddy have different "motivational relevancies" (1973, p. 8), but this
doesn't mean that they are "doing" different activities. In the end I think
Goffman is really working out a practice theory that treat's John Austin's
famous question of how it is that we can "do things with words" (although
his lectures, of course, were titled as the answer to the question - How to
do Things with Words). Goffman is trying to figure out how Austin's primary
performatives are accomplished, joked, faked, imitated, fabricated, etc. in
actual practice. What is it that goes into making an instance of talk an
instance of an "insult" or a "compliment" or an "argument"? And how do
these become consequential in practice. This, it seems, is Bateson's point
in "This is Play"; it is a life and death matter for the animal to know
whether or not an instance of interaction is play or serious. Maybe not
quite so consequential (immediately) for us humans, but it can certainly be
the difference between getting a laugh and getting a punch in the nose.

Goffman's answer is interesting in that he doesn't rely on the motives
(motivational relevancies) of the participants, but rather creates a notion
of the local context as a "frame" that exists somewhere between
participants. No one person can dictate the frame (even dictators have to
deal with the possibility of duplicitousness - the word with a side-wards
glance - hence irony is a powerful weapon of the weak - even if James Scott
didn't recognize this, Bakhtin clearly did). Frames emerge as participants
take parts in the unfolding play of some event or happening, and, to a
certain extent, without regard to alignment of the motives of the
participants. Every once in a while the motives of all participants create
a frame may be relatively closely aligned, but it seems much more common
that frames are built out of a plethora of motives.

I should add that I wonder if Susan Leigh Star's concept of Boundary
Objects might be useful here as well. These are objects that emerge despite
a plurality of motivations. Building on Latour's notion of interessement
(and From Star and Griesemer, boundary objects are: “objects which are both
plastic enough to adapt to local needs and the constraints of the several
parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity
across sites...The objects may by abstract or concrete.”

Etienne Wenger seems to offer a start in this direction. But only a start.

Can we imagine "activity" (or whatever we want to call it - "project,"
"frame," "social doing," etc.) as a boundary object - something that
captures a relation BETWEEN persons. Activity always as "inter-activity."

So then, how do we tell "what it is that is going on here?" where "here" is
the "current" temporally displaced moment of me writing and you reading
this. Is this just me being a show-off? Is this me trying to work through
some of my ideas in order to publish a paper (with the real motivation to
simply keep my job)? Is this just me musing with friends about ideas about
which I feel very strongly? Or is something altogether different happening

I take Goffman's answer to this to be: it's up to you - or better, to the
relation that will emerge BETWEEN us. Who's to say what that will be.


On Tue, Aug 13, 2013 at 7:26 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

> There are important differences in the methodological implication which go
> to the collection and interpretation of empirical data, Huw. These mainly
> arise from the idea of the continuity of a project as it passes through
> different formations, as the motive undergoes immanent change and the forms
> of collaboration and objectification change. But as a momentary shap-shot
> of an activity, the two conceptions coincide, yes.
> Andy
> Is this going to go back on the list?
> Huw Lloyd wrote:
>> On 13 August 2013 16:55, <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com <mailto:
>> greg.a.thompson@gmail.**com <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>>> wrote:
>>     Thanks huw, sorry i missed your response - I must have missed it
>>     amid the flurry of activity about activity!!
>>     So does this mean that you have a different take than Andy? Seems
>>     like he was arguing against a motive-based definition of activity.
>> Well, as far as I know I have a similar interpretation to Andy regarding
>> the interpretation/reading of these texts.  Andy has reasons to elaborate
>> something different he calls a project.
>> My personal inference was that this has more to do with preferred methods
>> rather than empirical based disagreements with Leontyev's formulation.
>> Does that help?
>> Best,
>> Huw
>>     Just trying to sort out what this word means for everybody.
>>     (And I cc'd Andy on this to get his thoughts)
>>     Cheers,
>>     Greg
>>     Sent from my iPhone
>>     On Aug 13, 2013, at 7:53 AM, Huw Lloyd <huw.softdesigns@gmail.com
>>     <mailto:huw.softdesigns@gmail.**com <huw.softdesigns@gmail.com>>>
>> wrote:
>>      Hi Greg,
>>>     Yes.  My response (that I sent to xmca-l) was "the object of the
>>>     conversation is the subject's purpose(s)".
>>>     You can gchat me or gvideo if you wish.
>>>     Best,
>>>     Huw
>>>     On 13 August 2013 15:47, Greg Thompson <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com
>>>     <mailto:greg.a.thompson@gmail.**com <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>>>
>>> wrote:
>>>         Huw,
>>>         Did you get this question I posted to XMCA?         I meant it
>>> in all sincerity. As someone interested in
>>>         discourse, this kind of thing really matters to me. And I
>>>         think it is where things start to get a little messy with
>>>         defining activity. But I may be wrong about that!
>>>         Looking forward to hearing more.
>>>         Very best,
>>>         greg
>>>         ---------- Forwarded message ----------
>>>         From: <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com
>>>         <mailto:greg.a.thompson@gmail.**com <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>
>>> >>
>>>         Date: Mon, Aug 12, 2013 at 9:09 AM
>>>         Subject: Re: [Xmca-l] Re: Leontyev's activities
>>>         To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
>>>         <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu <mailto:xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.**edu<xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>
>>> >>
>>>         Huw,
>>>         Pardon my ignorance on this issue (I can assure you this is
>>>         more than just pretense!), but if conversation is activity,
>>>         what is the object of this activity?
>>>         Greg
>>>         Sent from my iPhone
>>>         On Aug 11, 2013, at 7:28 AM, Huw Lloyd
>>>         <huw.softdesigns@gmail.com
>>>         <mailto:huw.softdesigns@gmail.**com <huw.softdesigns@gmail.com>>>
>>> wrote:
>>>         > FYI, Greg.
>>>         >
>>>         > Activity is defined by its object.  See p. 363 in The
>>>         Development of Mind
>>>         > (Problems of Dev.)
>>>         >
>>>         > Huw
>>>         >
>>>         >
>>>         >
>>>         > On 9 August 2013 04:24, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net
>>>         <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
>>>         >
>>>         >> Greg Thompson wrote:
>>>         >>
>>>         >>> Andy, I think I need still more help.
>>>         >>>
>>>         >>> I got lost at, well, "an activity (generally) exists".
>>>         Wondering what
>>>         >>> this could mean.
>>>         >>
>>>         >>   xmca didn't exist when Mike Cole launched it. But for
>>>         the many
>>>         >>   thousands who have joined it since, it *existed*. Thus is
>>>         >>   "generally" exists. On the whole, we *join* rather than
>>>         create
>>>         >>   activities (projects).
>>>         >>
>>>         >>
>>>         >> Then the middle part seems to make some sense for me:
>>>         activities don't
>>>         >>> simply and reasonably follow the intentions of their
>>>         participants, but then
>>>         >>> lost you again at the end, with "the outcome in
>>>         '*immanent* in the project
>>>         >>> itself". Not sure what exactly that means either.
>>>         >>
>>>         >>   As Vygotsky says somewhere, the problem which stimulates the
>>>         >>   activity (the development of the concept) cannot in
>>>         itself account
>>>         >>   for the project (or concept). The *means* utilised, which
>>>         >>   corresponds to how the problem or task is conceived by
>>>         the agents,
>>>         >>   is what is crucial. I.e., not the problem or task as
>>>         such, but the
>>>         >>   conception of the task, constitutes the ideal. But what
>>>         this ideal
>>>         >>   is, is *only realised by the work of the project itself*.
>>>         >>
>>>         >>
>>>         >>
>>>         >>> And as a bigger question, I am trying to figure out
>>>         "where" the activity
>>>         >>> exists? And "who" is a part of it?
>>>         >>
>>>         >>   OK, but just don't expect to find an abstract empirical
>>>         (logical
>>>         >>   positivist) answer to that. An activity (or project) is
>>>         an aggregate
>>>         >>   of *actions* not *people*. These actions are the
>>>         fundamental (micro)
>>>         >>   unit of an activity, which is a molar unit of human life
>>>         as a whole.
>>>         >>   So an activity exists in its artefact-mediated actions,
>>>         not a group
>>>         >>   of people.
>>>         >>
>>>         >>
>>>         >>  For example, with XMCA, is each thread or discussion an
>>>         activity? What
>>>         >>> about all the intersections and overlaps with previous
>>>         and soon-to-be
>>>         >>> discussions? Or is the whole history of XMCA an activity?
>>>         >>> And as to "who", is it just the people talking (i.e.
>>>         writing!), or are
>>>         >>> the "lurkers" part of the activity? And are non-XMCA
>>>         folks with whom the
>>>         >>> writers and lurkers speak, and who have significantly
>>>         influenced the
>>>         >>> writers' ideas - are they a part of the activity?
>>>         >>
>>>         >>   (1) Like all the concepts which are part of a science,
>>>         projects are
>>>         >>   *nested*. An aggregate of actions may have ideal or
>>>         object which
>>>         >>   makes sense only as part of one or more larger projects.
>>>         All the
>>>         >>   concepts of a science obviously have complex
>>>         interactions and
>>>         >>   interdependncies. No clear boundaries or lines of
>>>         demarcation. Their
>>>         >>   truth is part of the *whole*. (2) The question of "who"
>>>         is part of
>>>         >>   it  is the wrong question. An activity is an aggregate
>>>         of actions,
>>>         >>   not individual persons. Also, a project is the
>>>         particular of a
>>>         >>   concept. As a particular, the project has a relatively
>>>         definite
>>>         >>   location in time and space. But it is an instance
>>>         realising a
>>>         >>   concept which is a unit of an entire social formation.
>>>         So the scope
>>>         >>   of a project, being part of a family of such projects,
>>>         may be larger
>>>         >>   than the immediate participating actions.
>>>         >>
>>>         >>
>>>         >>
>>>         >>> In short, what are the bounds of an activity?
>>>         >>> (oh, and where does a "project" fit into all of this?)
>>>         >>
>>>         >>   Boundary questions are the royal road to confusion. The
>>>         question is
>>>         >>   what is the concept (or in common parlance the
>>>         "essence") of a project.
>>>         >>   "A project" is just another word for "an activity." But
>>>         it has its
>>>         >>   own history and connotations in our culture. (BTW
>>>         "project" and
>>>         >>   "design" are the same word in Russian: "proyekt" and the
>>>         etymology
>>>         >>   of "de-sign" is interesting too) and also, by using a
>>>         different word
>>>         >>   I can get away from the orthodoxy of what ANL or someone
>>>         else says
>>>         >>   is the case for "an activity." So if I say that the
>>>         object of a
>>>         >>   project is immanent within the project, I am not directly
>>>         >>   contradicting an Activity Theorist for whom the Object
>>>         or motive is
>>>         >>   given for the Activity. I want to re-discuss all the
>>>         concepts of
>>>         >>   Activity Theory without being stumped by orthodoxy, so a
>>>         new word helps.
>>>         >>
>>>         >>   Andy
>>>         >>
>>>         >> -greg
>>>         >>
>>>         >>
>>>         >>
>>>         --         Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
>>>         Visiting Assistant Professor
>>>         Department of Anthropology
>>>         883 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
>>>         Brigham Young University
>>>         Provo, UT 84602
>>>         http://byu.academia.edu/**GregoryThompson<http://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson>
> --
> ------------------------------**------------------------------**
> ------------
> *Andy Blunden*
> Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
> Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts
> http://marxists.academia.edu/**AndyBlunden<http://marxists.academia.edu/AndyBlunden>

Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
883 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602