RE: Leont'ev-Vygotsky controversy

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Sun Feb 15 2004 - 16:58:04 PST

I was busy writing so I let this fascinating discussion go by, but it is so
relevant to what I am doing I couldn't ignore it!

At 03:03 PM 13/02/2004 -0800, you wrote:
>1. Leontiev dropped idea of mediation and replaced it by activity and this
>was the big advance.
>2. Leontiev integrated idea of mediation and activity and this was the big
>3. Vygotsky ignored activity which was invented by Rubenshtein and
>Leontiev, so that is the big advance.

I was surprised a couple of years ago when I discovered that activity as
the unit of analysis only appeared with Leontyev, but I think Mike is right
when said that "there is no such thing as a one right unit of analysis for
the study of human nature." Word-meaning" was introduced by Vygotsky
(AFSIK) in "Thinking and Speaking" as the unit of analysis for the
understanding of language, not of human nature as a whole.

"Activity" as the unit of analysis for "human nature" comes closest to what
Hegel calls "self-consciousness," which I translate into modern,
postmetaphysical language as "Subject," in line with Hegel's usage in the
Science of Logic (which is the topic of my long dialogue a few months ago).
I define "Subject" as a "self-conscious system of activity," and in this
sense, "activity" is to be taken as the "unit of analysis" not just for
individual psychology, but of subjects in the wider context, e.g., social
movements, states, nations, a developing child, a company, etc., etc.

But what Mike says is right: the whole idea of "unit of analysis" is that
you must find the simplest unit of the thing you are trying to understand
which contains the properties of the whole; so, if you are trying to
understand language-use, then "word meaning" makes sense as a unit of
analysis. But human beings are not just language-users are they?

thanks for this fascinating dialogue, and it makes me feel privileged to
share the insights particularly of comrades like Ana, Dot and Mike, etc.,
who have first-hand experience of the Soviet groups who pioneered this work
under such difficult conditions.

I think the observations about the "instrumental" interpretations of
"activity" as opposed to the "critical" interpretations of "word meaning"
are valid, though of course both usages are potentially misusages!


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