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[Xmca-l] Re: Leontyev's activities
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- Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Leontyev's activities
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- Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2013 00:23:25 +0000
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- Thread-topic: [Xmca-l] Re: Leontyev's activities
Thank you very much for this extensive report. It is really useful to have such recaps.
I appreciate your experience with Goffman's approach to activity phenomena. By chance, I also have preferences for such an approach, whether it is faithfully Goffmanian, or a pragmatic Symbolic Interactionist version, or some kind of other interpretative method.
A few things that I would like to share:
To hinge on Huw, Leont'ev's (or classic activity theory approach, AT) is pertinent to the analysis of individual activity. If we want to apply it to social activity, we will find that we need to adapt it. Erjö Engeström had to do a lot of work in this respect. The terms Individual activity and Social activity are pretty common in Historical Materialist social sciences. The term social activity might be used with somewhat different meanings and the phenomena are modeled differently at different levels/scales of social reality. However, I would like to mention the term Obschenie (Russ.) that might be translated roughly like communication/interaction. Most authors treat it as a separate category. It is different from social activity. I personally prefer to treat it as activity, at least for the purposes of my scholarly pursuits. Obschenie is a parallel layer in each social activity.
Goffman's approach can be conceptualized as sociological. It is very strong for unraveling social interactions and the ensuing production of meaning and social relationships. Of course, it has a number of other advantages. I personally have tried to fuse AT or MMC's AT approach with Goffman and the Symbolic Interactionists. I am interested how this can be done. I am interested to see examples/publications.
For me, classic activity theory hasn't worked much for the study of sociospatial interactions (in architecture, not in ergonomics) with the purpose of understanding user needs and cultural patterns. A pragmatic interpretativist approach with a very strong descriptive component has worked much better. At least, I get better descriptions of activities and needs, with more details. By the way, I am more interested in describing sociospatial interactions rather than finding causal relationships or explaining particular phenomena. My problem is that I cannot use Goffman in conjunction with activity theory. When I look back, this has been a problem of mine since the beginning. I attribute the difficulties to paradigmatic difference. After the attempts to put together AT and Goffman, I experienced firsthand the incompatibility of different paradigms, or at least of some paradigms. That is how I become a paradigmatic purist.
In some way, it is much easier to interface Parson's General Theory of Action with AT ways of thinking, in particular at societal level, although there are paradigmatic differences between them that lead to a number of difficulties. However, Parsons can be incorporated much better in a project performed with AT. Or at least, it is possible to borrow more from Parsons and similar texts.
Just a few thoughts,
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of Greg Thompson
Sent: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 6:11 PM
To: Andy Blunden; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [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".
"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 here?
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.