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[Xmca-l] Re: Leontyev's activities

Dear Antti,

At this time, I am still searching for a direction. I can share my intuitions and my epistemological beliefs. The intuitions might be wrong or premature. The epistemological beliefs might be a bit rigid and restrictive. 

Below are just a few thoughts regarding this epistemological situation.

In my research (user activities and needs in relation to built environment), traditional AT models haven't helped me much. The reason is that they are developed for other purposes. They work well in psychology, education, ergonomics/human factors, organizational development, organizational behavior, and so on. In all these areas, the models are somewhat different, but their foundations are similar. Activity theory works pretty well there. But when I try to apply it to facilities planning and building user needs research, I find that I need to make considerable changes in the process of adaptation. I found that the nature of the activity model depends very much on the subject matter and the objectives of the research. I mean an activity model that is used as a methodological tool for collecting and interpreting information. In your research, your goals and objectives, as well as the process that you study, are very different from what I need. In this respect, I am not sure I can either support or push aside a particular direction of exploration.

I need to find out a way to research user activities for the purpose of unveiling activity needs (including user needs, resources, restrictions, etc. ) Traditional AT has other concerns and works at higher levels of abstraction. It evidently works well in pedagogy and ergonomics. These areas are strongly supported and rely on psychology, which is the discipline that originated or at least developed most of AT. However, I need to work with larger spatial-material objects that are appropriated with molar activities. 

The philosophical basis of AT (Historical Materialism) and the humanist paradigms are very different. I am not sure how knowledge from different paradigms can be made to work together. Historical Materialism allows assimilation of knowledge and field research methods from Positivism. I have seen how this is done and am sure in it. Of course, there are limits. The limits are at philosophical and theoretical levels. But at field research level, there is a lot of borrowing and adaptation. Most of the Soviet textbooks on field research sociological methods evidently borrowed from prominent Positivist textbooks. 

About integration of knowledge, I see two options at this time, but I can discuss them in very general terms. 

One is an objective/external conceptual configurator. I still haven't seen an example of this. It has to be some kind of a framework. It needs to have a protocol for translation of ideas from each paradigm to the framework. Because Symbolic Interactionism has a history of pragmatism, I suggested that this might be a possible option. I personally stick to SI simply because I work that way. I have to admit that I am biased.

The other option is to integrate everything in the mind of the researcher, often subconsciously, and to recast it in one selected paradigmatic environment or framework. That is how most often things happen. Most inventions emerge subconsciously, even when there is a purposeful, conscious pursuit of the solution.


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Antti Rajala
Sent: Monday, August 19, 2013 10:33 AM
To: Mike Cole; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Leontyev's activities

Lubomir, thanks for suggesting symbolic interactionism as a frame of incorporating these ideas. Anna-Maija Puroila discusses the legacies of Goffman in her dissertation (in Finnish) and mentions that there are many competing and contested interpretation's of Goffman's work. Some say that his work was structuralist but more often he is associated with symbolic interactionism, ethnomethodology, or phenomenological sociology. Where would activity theory fit in among these?

To me Goffman's student's Goodwin's ethno-methdological approach seems partly compatible with CHAT. In his paper, Action and embodiment within situated human interaction (2000), Goodwin writes:

"This emphasis on cognition as a public, social process embedded within an historically shaped material world is quite consistent with both Vygotskian perspectives and recent work in the social and anthropological study of scientific and workplace practice ..., but adds to such perspectives an equally strong focus on the details of language use and conversational organization."

Like Goodwin, I believe that this attention to details of language use and conversational organization, and to embodied interactions, in particular, can enrich CHAT analyses. After all, in many classical CHAT work, we mainly see analyses of spoken interaction. Greg, to me Goodwin's work on professional vision gives an elaborate account on the relationships between meanings and sensory fabric. In particular, in my case of students in a bird-watching field trip the way he analyzes expert-novice interaction is very valuable. I can, for example, see lots of highlighting on the part of the bird expert.

Goodwin's focus on the practices of seeing seems to me very compatible with Leontiev's theorizing of sensory fabric as constituting and being constituted of action. Yet, in Goodwin's work the socio-emotional issues brought in with the Leontiev's personal sense - in line with what Larry has written - seems to be given less attention in Goodwin. I wonder whether Goodwin's approach contradicts Leontiev's approach that emphasizes such internal issues as goals and motives. In my understanding ethnomethdologists do not usually focus on goals and such.

The Gothenburg center lead by Roger Säljö has explored ethnomethodological inspired aspects of Goffman in relation to their version of sociocultural perspective. See e.g the dissertation of Annika Lantz-Andersson:

Greg, Greeno has theorized the ways in which frames "create certain affordances that solicit various types of behavior (whether 'cognitive', 'emotional', or some other emically named type)." To my knowledge Greeno's work here focuses more on cognitive aspects and not that much on emotional aspects. He uses the notion of positioning in association with frames (which he relates to Goffman).  "This refers to ways in which an individual is entitled, expected, or perhaps obligated to participate in interactions of an activity system, such as a classroom or an experimental session involving interaction with a computer program." (see, A Theory Bite on Contextualizing, Framing, and Positioning: A Companion to Son and Goldstone, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07370000903014386)

Greg wrote:
"I might add to this that Goffman speaks of the way in which motivations are, to a certain extent, entailed by frames (yes, "to a certain extent" - this does not mean the frames determine them!). Thus, frames bring with them motivational relevancies as much as individuals do!"

I wonder if this interplay between collective frames and individuals can be conceptualized with meaning and sense. Object of an activity is framed in terms of collectively shared meanings. Yet, each individual develops a personal relationship to the object, that is, a personal sense.

By the way, thanks Mike for pointing out this overstatement of stability with respect to meanings. This has bothered me a lot, too. A colleague of mine even asserts that sense is never shared enough to become legitimately called a shared meaning in Vygotsky/Leontiev sense.


On Mon, Aug 19, 2013 at 3:01 AM, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

> I agree, very clearly statements of the sense/meaning relation, along 
> with the Mandelshtam line, " I forgot the thought I wanted to say, and 
> thought, unembodied, returned to the hall of shadows."
> In the quote here, I think LSV is somewhat overstating the stability 
> of meaning across contexts; yes relative to the microgenetic processes 
> of sense making capturable with modern technologies, but not totally 
> "context independent." Even dictionary meanings change, as LSV was 
> well aware from his interest in the history of words in relation to 
> their appearance in children's vocabularies in ontogeny.
> Keeping the simultaneous relevance of several time scales in mind in 
> these discussions seems really important, as hard as it is to do.
> mike