Motives and goals: Leont'ev and Engestrom

From: Bill Barowy (
Date: Thu Feb 05 2004 - 12:56:32 PST

My interpretation is that a system of activity is always associated with one
object/motive and that's how I meant the term monologic. It's a matter of
how to parse a complex cultural-historical-psychological field of actions,
people and things with theory. A system of activity is an irreducible unit,
although it does have "internal structure", i.e. subject, rules, object,

But people can make happen more than one system at a time. That's one reason
why I think systems of activity can become the "building blocks" for creating
an understanding of complex situations. For example, even though I'm writing
this message for xmca, I'm also thinking of using these words in other things
that I do. As an individual I can span more than one system of activity at
any one time. I can personally feel the contradictions between two systems
of activity when I am making them happen (jointly with others, of course, and
with things too). For example, while I'm writing these words, I feel like
I'm stealing time from the preparation I must do to teach this weekend, but
at the same time, writing is helping me to put my thoughts together,
providing professional development for myself, and that PD will most likely
help me think about the crazy format in which i teach classes and,
ultimately, I hope, improve upon them.

So there is a way to represent inner conflict, and because the conflict is
thought of as between systems, which by definition are made to happen jointly
with others, "inner conflicts" are never completely intrapsychological of one
person. The conflicts are simultaneously within and without, transcending
traditional boundaries. It's a very useful line of reasoning that one must
construct with a close reading of Learning by Expanding. Welcome to my
contradiction, Peter.

Anyway, I've come across some quotes about object/motive/activity that I
pulled out of a Leont'ev reading some time in the past, and not sure where.
They're included below, however useful they might be. And I really have to
go offline now.


According to the terminology I have proposed, the object of an activity is its
real motive. (24) With this definition, an object of activity -- can
obviously be either material or ideal. The key point is that behind the
object there always stands a need or a desire, to which it always answers.
[p. 22]

The concept of activity is thus necessarily connected with the concept of
motive. There is no activity without a motive; "unmotivated" activity is not
activity lacking a motive, but activity whose motive is subjectively and
objectively hidden. [p. 23]

Picking out the goal and its subordinate action divides functions that were
formerly interwoven in the motive. The function of energizing the activity is
wholly retained by the motive, but the directive function is another matter:
the actions constituting activity are energized by the motive, but are
directed by the goal. Let us take the case of a man’s activity energized by
food. Food is his motive; however, to satisfy this desire with food he must
carry out actions not immediately directed at obtaining food. For example,
his goal may be to make a hunting weapon. Does he subsequently use the weapon
he made, or does he pass it on to someone else and receive a portion of the
total catch? In both cases, that which energizes his activity and that to
which his action is directed do not coincide. Their coincidence would
represent a unique case, resulting from a special process, about which more
will be said below. [p. 23-24]

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