Re: Leont'ev-Vygotsky controversy

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Tue Feb 17 2004 - 04:03:30 PST

I think the point about activity is that it is self-defining.

That is, as social-scientists (outside observers) we can look at any scene
of moving colours and sounds and say "that is a system of activity there!"
But the point about activity which is relevant to the human condition is
that it is self-conscious. That's what makes it interesting to
historiography and social psychology after all. So the question is
re-posed: by what sort of activity is this subject defining themselves as
this subject?

Of course labour is important, but not exclusively so, for consciousness is
not exhausted by the capacity of human beings to reproduce themselves as
human beings.


At 05:45 AM 17/02/2004 -0600, you wrote:
>My take is Leontiev's notion of Activity is both more and less than some
>general activity. First, I am not at all clear on what this general
>activity would be? Would it be simply the process of "activeness" or would
>it include more.
>My take is Leontiev used the term in the sense Marx used it in examining
>Capitalist society. It was more than some simple activeness. What is
>essential to both Marx and Leontiev is the notion of productive labor /
>activity (labor=activity).
>I think its true that there may be a tendency to confuse the more general
>activeness with Leontiev's theory of activity. My preference is to
>seperate action and activity theorists. Leontiev was mainly concerned with
>productive, historical activity systems. Examples included play,
>schooling, and work. El'konin expanded on these with direct emotional
>contact, play, school, interpersonal relations, and work. Less fruitful
>studies were activity of memory, activity of attention etc. As Davydov
>mentions we do not organize society or our activities on the basis of
>attention or memory. We do however on the play and work, and afterschool.
>There are very important assumptions built into a Leontiev notion of
>activity. One, is that historical, productive labor / activity plays a
>central role (leading role) in our psychology and development. This may or
>may not be true (psychology may be dependent on less productive labor) but
>nevertheless it is an assumption built into Leontiev notion of Activity.
>I think Carl Ratner has some nice pieces on Activity worth reading.
>Steve Gabosch wrote:
>>I need to go over all the posts in this fascinating thread - which I have
>>reluctantly had to sit out and only skim due to time crunches - but
>>Andy's post woke me up to one central issue I don't want to let pass by.
>>I am puzzled by the concept of viewing "activity" as a unit of analysis
>>of human nature. Leontiev was among other things a comparative
>>psychologist - a central core of his theory about human activity derived
>>from comparing it with the activity of other species, and viewing the
>>evolutionary development of animal activity, from insects to lion
>>hunters. As I understand Leontiev, activity is a defining unit of
>>analysis of all animal species, not just human.
>>Drawing on the Marxist concept of human nature, to zero in on what is
>>uniquely human about human activity, we may need to begin with productive
>>labor as a core unit of analysis. As Mike emphasizes, and others agree,
>>there are other units of analysis, such as word-meaning, that become
>>powerful tools of analysis, depending on what we are
>>studying. "Activity" in general is certainly one of them - humans are
>>certainly an active animal species. But to discuss "human nature" I
>>think we may need to focus on what is truly human about human activity,
>>and not just use the general category "activity".
>>- Steve
>Nate Schmolze
>Vygotsky Project:
>Email: nateatdotinfo
>The flag is only a symbol of the fact that man is still a herd animal.
>Albert Einstein

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