Re: [xmca] operation, action, activity

From: Phil Chappell (
Date: Thu Jul 07 2005 - 03:58:21 PDT

Hi Steve,

I haven't been able to find this book in my part of the world - would
you mind adding the bit (which I assume is there) on operations?

For the first time, I think I have noticed the use of the word "need"
in the originator's words - "the main point is that some need always
stands behind it". Is anyone able to distinguish between "need" and
"motive" in the original language? Could it be similar to needs and
wants in English?

Thanks and cheers,

On 07/07/2005, at 11:25 AM, Steven Thorne wrote:

> hi all -- in response to Mike's request, here are statements from AN
> Leont'ev describing levels of activity.
> Leont'ev summarizes the hierarchy of activity this way:
> "in the general flow of activity that makes up higher,
> psychologically mediated aspects of human life, our analysis
> distinguishes, first, separate (particular) activities, using their
> energizing motives as the criterion. Second, we distinguish
> actions-the processes subordinated to conscious goals. Finally, we
> distinguish the operations, which depend directly on the conditions
> under which a concrete goal is attained."
> (A. N. Leont'ev 1981: 64-5).
> a few more quotations below -- levels in ALL CAPS.
> 'Activity' is the broadest level process within the hierarchy and is
> always connected to a motive, though in some cases, the motive may not
> be consciously realized by the actor or actor-collective.
> "we always deal with specific activities Š and each Š answers to a
> specific need of the active agent. It moves toward the object of this
> need, and it terminates when it is satisfied. Š Various concrete
> activities can be classified according to whatever features are
> convenient, such as form, means of execution, emotional level,
> temporal and spatial characteristics, physiological mechanisms, etc.
> However, the main feature that distinguishes one activity from another
> is its object. After all, it is precisely an activity's object that
> gives it a specific direction. In accordance with the terminology I
> have proposed, an activity's object is its real motive. Of course, the
> motive can be either material or ideal. The main point is that some
> need always stands behind it."
> (A. N. Leont'ev 1981: 59)
> "The basic 'components' of various human activities are the actions
> that translate them into reality. We call a process an action when it
> is subordinated to the idea of achieving a result, i.e. a process that
> is subordinated to a conscious goal'.
> (A.N. Leont'ev 1981: 59-60)
> ... when a concrete process-internal or external-unfolds before us,
> from the point of view of its motive, it is a human activity, but in
> terms of subordination to a goal, it is an action or a chain of
> actions. At the same time, an activity and an action are genuinely
> different realities Š One and the same action can be instrumental in
> realizing different activities.
> (A. N. Leont'ev 1981: 61-2)
>  all excerpts are from: Leont'ev, A.N. 1981. 'The problem of activity
> in psychology' in J. V. Wertsch (ed.). The Concept of Activity in
> Soviet Psychology. Armonk, N.Y.: Sharpe.
> steve
>> Does anyone have, from Engestrom's book or the Leontiev article in
>> Wertsch, or....... a succinct statement of
>> the three level struclture of activivity a la Leontiev and if so
>> would you please post?
>> mike
>> On 7/6/05, <> wrote:
>>> Mike;
>>> That is quite a tidy little package to unpack.   Those individual
>>> units of activity also combine to form the gestalt of the work goal.
>>>  But I am still confused because in the quote Leontiev refers to
>>> actions and operations and then at the very end he is stating that
>>> analysis should revolve around the unit of activity.  The units of
>>> activity that Leontiev refers to are indeed what need to be studied
>>> when analyzing the development of a person's work (insert academic)
>>> skills, but do operations and actions combine to form the unit of
>>> activity?  And finally, how does the interplay of culture decide
>>> that new worker's competence?
>>> eric
>>> Mike Cole <>
>>> Sent by:
>>> 07/06/2005 08:28 AM MST
>>> Please respond to mcole
>>> To: Mike Cole <>, "eXtended Mind, Culture, and
>>> Activity" <>
>>> cc:
>>> bcc:
>>> Subject: [xmca] operation, action, activity
>>> Eric-- I have been remiss in not finding a statement by Leontiev
>>> about levels. There may be better ones. I found thisat
>>> where two Leontiev texts are available. There are
>>> probably better statements, but this is what I had
>>> time to grab. Others might do better. If you think about the example
>>> in this passage in terms of your last
>>> might
>>> be helpful.
>>> mike
>>> There is frequently no difference between the terms action and
>>> operation. In the context of psychological analysis of activity,
>>> however, distinguishing between them is absolutely necessary.
>>> Actions, as has already been said, are related to goals, operations
>>> to conditions. Let us assume that the goal remains the same;
>>> conditions in which it is assigned, however, change. Then it is
>>> specifically and only the operational content of the action that
>>> changes.
>>> In especially visual form, the non coincidence of action and
>>> operation appears in actions with tools. Obviously, a tool is a
>>> material object in which are crystallized methods and operations,
>>> and not actions or goals. For example, a material object may be
>>> physically taken apart by means of various tools each of which
>>> determines the method of carrying out the given action. Under
>>> certain conditions, let us say, an operation of cutting will be more
>>> adequate, in others, an operation of sawing; it is assumed here that
>>> man knows how to handle the corresponding tools, the knife, the saw,
>>> etc. The matter is essentially the same in more complex cases. Let
>>> us assume that a man was confronted with the goal of graphically
>>> representing some kind of dependences that he had discovered. In
>>> order to do this, he must apply one method or another of
>>> constructing graphs - he must realize specific operation, and for
>>> this he must know how to do them. In this case it makes no
>>> difference how or under what circumstances or using which material
>>> he learned how to do these operations; something else is important -
>>> specifically, that the formulation of the operation proceeds
>>> entirely differently from the formulation of the goal, that is, the
>>> initiation of action.
>>> Actions and operations have various origins, various dynamics, and
>>> various fates. Their genesis lies in the relationships of exchange
>>> of activities; every operation, however, is the result of a
>>> transformation of action that takes place as a result of its
>>> inclusion in another action and its subsequent "technization." A
>>> simpler illustration of this process may be the formation of an
>>> operation, the performance of which, for example, requires driving a
>>> car. Initially every operation, such as shifting gears, is formed as
>>> an action subordinated specifically to this goal and has its own
>>> conscious "orientational basis" (P. Ya. Gal'perin). Subsequently
>>> this action is included in another action, which has a complex
>>> operational composition in the action, for example, changing the
>>> speed of the car. Now shifting gears becomes one of the methods of
>>> attaining the goal, the operation that effects the change in speed,
>>> and shifting gears now ceases to be accomplished as a specific
>>> goal-oriented process: Its goal is not isolated. For the
>>> consciousness of the driver, shifting gears in normal circumstances
>>> is as if it did not exist. He does something else: He moves the car
>>> from a place, climbs steep grades, drives the car fast, stops at a
>>> given place, etc. Actually this operation may, as is known, be
>>> removed entirely from the activity of the driver and be carried out
>>> automatically. Generally, the fate of the operation sooner or later
>>> becomes the function of the machine.
>>> Nonetheless, an operation does not in any way constitute any kind of
>>> "separateness," in relation to action, just as is the case with
>>> action in relation to activity. Even when an operation is carried
>>> out by a machine, it still realizes the action of the subject. In a
>>> man who solves a problem with a calculator, the action is not
>>> interrupted at this extracerebral link; it finds in it its
>>> realization just as. it does in its other links. Only a "crazy"
>>> machine that has escaped from man's domination can carry out
>>> operations that do not realize any kind of goal-directed action of
>>> the subject.
>>> Thus in the total flow of activity that forms human life, in its
>>> higher manifestations mediated by psychic reflection, analysis
>>> isolates separate (specific) activities in the first place according
>>> to the criterion of motives that elicit them. Then actions are
>>> isolated - processes that are subordinated to conscious goals,
>>> finally, operations that directly depend on the conditions of
>>> attaining concrete goals.
>>> The "units" of human activity also form its macrostructure. The
>>> special feature of the analysis that serves to isolate them is that
>>> it does so not by means of breaking human activity up into elements
>>> but by disclosing its characteristic internal relations. These are
>>> the relations that conceal transformations that occur as activity
>>> develops. Objects themselves can become stimuli, goals, or tools
>>> only in a system of human activity; deprived of connections within
>>> this system they lose their existence as stimuli, goals, or tools.
>>> For example, a tool considered apart from a goal becomes the same
>>> kind of abstraction as an operation considered apart from the action
>>> that it realizes.
>>> Investigation of activity requires an analysis specifically of its
>>> internal systemic connections.
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> xmca mailing list
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> --
> Steven L. Thorne
> Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics
> Linguistics and Applied Language Studies
>    and
> Communication Arts and Sciences
> Associate Director, Center for Language Acquisition
> Associate Director, Center for Advanced Language Proficiency
> Education and Research
> The Pennsylvania State University
> Interact > 814.863.7036 | |
> | IM: avkrook
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