Re: Motives and goals: Leont'ev and Axel

From: Peter Smagorinsky (
Date: Thu Feb 05 2004 - 08:48:31 PST

I generally agree with Bill's remarks below, though, need to clarify my
sense of motive. I try to avoid explanations via monolithic systems of
activity (see my comments regarding the dubious "culture of honor of the
South"). I do think, though, that settings have general teleological ends,
otherwise they'd be chaotic. Motives are not necessarily good (see Nazi
Germany), nor does everyone within a setting proceed according to the same
motive, no doubt likely due to simultaneous systems being acted out.

I do wonder about the exclusive attribution of motive, etc. to settings, or
systems, or contexts, or zpds, or whatever we choose to name them. I know
of some senior citizens, for instance, who have developed dementia and
hallucinate quite often. Whatever the operating system, they're in a world
of their own. Many people less senior also have mental illnesses or other
non-normative makeups that set them outside the world as most people know
and experience it (autistic children, for instance). (I speak as someone
who takes medication for chronic anxiety.) Understanding individuals and
their makeups in relation to my general social/cultural approach is still
something I puzzle about. p

At 10:41 AM 2/5/2004 -0500, you wrote:
>Thanks Peter. I'm more familiar with Sarason's use of setting than of
>Wertsch's and mistakenly thought you had drawn upon Sarason in your earlier
>post. I think Leont'ev makes well the point that individual dimensions of
>action will often not cohere unless put in the perspective of joint activity,
>and your recounting of Wertsch echoes this point. But so you also note that
>if what people are doing for any one duration is sought to be explained by a
>monolithic system of activity, then there are problems. Consequently motive,
>while an element that is essential for understanding joint effort, has an
>internal structure. That internal structure does not necessarily cleave
>along individual lines -- in the case you describe, student teaching makes
>happen the tension between the "demonstration of one's competence as a
>teacher" and "experimentation and learning". In the former mistakes and
>problems are less valued than in the latter.
>I think (thinking aloud), applying Engestrom's framework, some would model
>this situation as two systems being acted out simultaneously. Doing so helps
>to preserve a system of activity as a monolithic form, and provides a means
>for understanding development through tertiary contradictions, between
>systems of activity. And I think these two systems each span two
>institutions: School and College. I'll have to think of this some more, but
>I've run out of time to write.

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