RE: [xmca] LCA:Complementarity

From: Alexander Surmava (
Date: Mon Jul 11 2005 - 17:23:10 PDT

Dear colleges,

As far as my English allows me to understand the theoretical nuances Barbara
hits the mark with here question. The "distinction between object, and
object embedded in activity" which is definitely "related to the German
concept of Gegenstand" or Russian terms "predmet" or "predmetnost" is the
core problem of the so called "AT". And that's why one can answer to
Barbara's question only by formulating the whole Activity Theory.

But that is only the first and relatively simple problem. The second and
much harder one are the theoretic difficulties with the Activity Theory
itself. In spite of the fact that "predmet" and "predmetnaja dejatelnost"
(object related activity - if I've correctly translated the Russian term)
are the fundamental category of A.N.Leont'iev's conception Leont'iev himself
could hardly give the clear and consistent answer to Barbara's question.
That's why the answer to here question needs the solving not a kind of
training task, but real research work.

Recently Wolf-Michael Roth put forward a question "why does nobody talk
about those who took Vygotsky's work further?" I agree with him and I'd
like to stress that it is useless to try to study the CHAT theory concerning
exclusively to L.S.Vygotsky and A.N.Leont'ev because. they didn't left us
any finished theory. Vygotsky died at the peak of his powers. He had
brilliantly put the questions but he had too little time to give the
answers. A.N.Leont'ev and other members of vigotskian schools of thought did
their best to continue the investigation. But they've done what they could
do. A.N.Leontiev in his last days have confessed that he failed in solving
some fundamental theoretic questions. So we have noting to do but to try to
make the next step in solving this theoretic problem ourselves. And it is
quite real task for us because now we are armed much better then our
predecessor were. The great step forward in the field of theoretical
psychology was done after mid thirties of the last century by Evald
Ilyenkov, Vasiliy Davidov, Felix Mikhailov and their collaborators. So
trying to give an answer to Barbara's question we need to reread the first
two chapters of EVI's "Dialectical logic" for a start.

Running a few steps forward I can assert that "predmet" is a category
relevant to life as itself. The living subject (a unicellular organism, a
plant, an animal or a human) puts (or poses = "polagaet" - rus.) the
"predmet" by its spontaneous vital activity (the idea of this approach
derives from Fichte). This act of posing (akt polagania) is not a mental
act, but realizes by sensual contact with an external perceptible thing. In
abstraction from this contact (from activity of living subject) the external
thing stays in its mechanical or chemical properties and doesn't exist in
relation to living subject.

Here I have to stop because the detailed discussion of the subject demands
substantially more time.


Sasha Surmava




From: [] On
Behalf Of Mike Cole
Sent: Monday, July 11, 2005 7:02 PM
To: Barbara Crossouard
Cc: eXtended Media, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] LCA:Complementarity


I am unsure of the answer to your question, Barbara. I can help more with
Russian than with German. I expect that

either Yrjo, who was an advisor to Kirsten's thesis or Wolf-Michael Roth can
provide a better answer than I could.

And thanks for asking! I do not understand if, ask Yrjo has written. "the
activity is the context" one can make a distinction

between " object, and object embedded in activity."


Lets hope we can get some help!



On 7/11/05, Barbara Crossouard <> wrote:


As one of the silent readers so far, I'm encouraged by your appeal below for
questions.. In trying to engage wtih activity theory, I discovered recently
the distinction between object, and object embedded in activity, which I
understand is related to the German concept of Gegenstand. Not being a
German speaker however, I am trying to work out if I have any handle on the
distinction. I should say that although I came across gegenstand in
Leont'ev, it didn't mean anything to me in his text, and it's only by
reading Kirsten Foot (2002) Pursuing the Evolving Object, in MCA vol 9 issue
2, that I picked up on the distinction to any extent.

To check my understanding, I am wondering if what Ruqaiya raised in general
terms below about developing an academic identity, if this can be related to
gegenstand for example, where an academic progressively develops both within
a conceptual framework at the same time as contributing to it in a dialectic
way, and if for me at the moment, as a doctoral student lurking at the edge
of this, and looking for a way of conceptualising what I'm researching, if
that might be an instance of an evolving object. Is that the way this
distinction might be applied - would appreciate any comments.

 It seems this distinction is important in the formation of activity
systems, but I don't often see it raised, as Kirsten also points out in her


At 14:27 06/07/2005, you wrote:

Phillip-- Seems to me that it is simply axiomatic that we cannot fully
understand a system we are inside of.
Yesterday several of us at LCHC discussed the need, once we are through all
the papers, to double back
and try to summarize the major points that have emerged with general
agreement and to identify (potential)
points of disagreement. Given our different languages of description (passim
Ruqaiya via Bernstein) finding
REAL disagreements is likely to be difficult because we will constantly be
confusing concepts that are derived
from somewhat different theoretical approaches and will not catch the
differences. But it is worth a try.

Ruqaiya-- We do not disagree about the restrictions of Luria's central asian
work so far as I can tell. You have
made the point convincingly that the interpersonal uses of language/mind
are underplayed in the Russian
cultural-historical tradition as represented in the readings we have
discussed and that is certainly true of
Luria's central asian work.

By coincidence. I was thinking of all of Luria's work on neurolinguistics
and the followups of that work by
Akhutina and others when, our of the great byte bucket in the sky, I
received a note from Tanya Akhutina
this mornig about another matter. Given that many of those most
knowledgeable about SFL are more or
less unavailable in the next couple of weeks it seems impossible to consider
adding to the readings for
now. We need to get a more comprehensive overview of what we have
collectively learned, or produced (at
least that would be my priority). But we WILL return to this topic, in
January if not before, when we have
another course on mediational theories of mind, and when we do, we need to
open up the issue of how to advance
the idea of developing the ideas of complementarity that have been in this
discussion. (I am still made uneasy
by the slippage in AALeontiev's work regarding language and activity, but
that may be my shortcoming. Perhaps
an effort at summarizing will reveal a fuller picture; perhaps a more
extensive discussion of Landolf and Thorne will
help, I am unsure).

Anyway, at LCHC there will be some efforts in this direction and help from
ALL would be appreciated. What questions
do those who have been silent have? Questions are so helpful in revealing
areas of understanding and differences in
interpretation or simply holes in what we are talking about.

Off to other matters for a while.

On 7/5/05, ruqaiya hasan < <>> wrote:

yes Mike, you are right, but there is a slippage here. Most of the

experiments in Luria concerned concept formation, classification, and/or

(syl)logical reasoning; these are often also cited as the prime examples of

higher mental function -- which is what might explain the slippage, though

not quite excuse it! I will certainly be more careful with my formulation

next time.

Yes, I like this listserve precisely for the reason that it opens up

different orientations to the same problem -- that's great and I certainly

hope that I am learning from it. One thing that might perhaps be already

available somewhere information about which might help is a Readings Advice

section (preferably for people like me a graded list!) which might guide one

into understanding the vocabulary (what Bernstein used to call "the language

od description"). Something of that kind would help me immensely with the

concept of activity.

I use "politics of academia" as another expression referring to roughly what

Bourdieu called "appropriation of intellectual capital". There is also what

Bernstein's phrase"formation of pedagogic identity"; we learn through one

theory and may be 'the least effort principle' persuades us to stay within

those safe boundaries.


----- Original Message -----

From: "Mike Cole" < <> >

To: "ruqaiya hasan" < <>>

Cc: "eXtended Media, Culture, Activity" < <>>

Sent: Wednesday, July 06, 2005 9:10 AM

Subject: Re: [xmca] LCA:Complementarity

Hi Ruqaiya-

It is only late in the day that I have time to get to xmca. Perhaps in time

for your morning cofee?

Anyway, the passage about Luria I was referring to is the following: With

regard to his Uzbek subjects Luria suggested that the absence of higher

mental functions was due to

the lack of schooling in his subjects, as if the lack of schooling, ie

failure to 'benefit' from official


Yes, Ochs at least (I only have a couple of the books here) references

Halliday. But he does not appear

to be a key figure in her fermament. Nor, desipte Gordon's gentle urging,

has he been one in mine. A number of

the criticisms fairly levelled at Vygotsky could easily be sent my way as

well, I am sure.

It seems to me that one important function of an enterprise such as this

(eXtended mind, culture and activity)

sort of discussion group is the cross-polination of ideas that it affords.

And the acdemic politics are greatly

muted by the highly distributed nature of the discussion -- very few of us

have, or care to have, control over the

academic fates of those with whom we are conversing. But we know we don't

know, even if it is that we don't

know what it is that we don't know that we should know. And to those who are

in it as a matter of politics, good luck

to them. They would almost certainly be better of at the moment studying how

to do research on education that

wins the approval of our education bureaucracies or learning how to conduct

fmri studies of undergraduates solving

math problems.

I think that the set of article laid before us provide a lot of

opportunities for learning. Whether we avail ourselves of

the opportunity or not is pretty much up to the participants.

On to the rest of the days xmca thoughts.


On 7/4/05, ruqaiya hasan < <>> wrote:


> Hello Mike

> yes I am in total agreement with you. If something I wrote gives the

> impression that Luria thought his Uzbek subjects did not have 'higher

> mental

> functions' then that is a bad piece of writing by me, for which apologies.

> In fact I can't quite recall but somewhere I have expressly quoted Luria

> as

> attributing the results to the educational experience of the subjects (may

> be in Reading picture reading: a study in ideology and inference in Foley

> (ed) Language, Education and Discourse. London: Continuum 2004). And I

> also

> share your "scepticism about the enthusiasm for schooling that Luria

> espoused". I guess I was arguing more that knowing the careful thinking of

> both Vygotsky and Luria, it is to be doubted that they would have

> attributed

> the Uzbek results to absence of higher mental function; I was particularly

> keen to bring into the debate that the "symbolic" function of language as

> envisaged by Vygotsky is a function that every normal human has; if that

> is

> the quality of language essential to semiotic mediation then all of us

> have

> this experience; if there are distinct orders of semiotic mediation (shall

> we say Bernstein's codes) then it is only reasonable to ask that they and

> their etiology be identified nonambiguously. Has this been done?


> On Ochs and Schiefflin, I guess their work post-dates Halliday's. Are

> their

> many references to Halliday in their work? SFL linguists typically like to

> have an explicit analysis of language along with statements relating

> language to culture, cognition etc. So that maybe one reason for the

> absence

> of reference to Ochs and Schiefflin's work. On another tack, I have often

> thought it would be great to have someone doing their doctoral research on

> "the politics of academic referencing"!


> Ruqaiya


> ----- Original Message -----

> From: "Mike Cole" <>

> To: "eXtended Media, Culture, Activity" <>

> Sent: Tuesday, July 05, 2005 3:18 AM

> Subject: [xmca] LCA:Complementarity



> Bruce tells me that my problems with receiving xmca messages has been

> fixed.

> We'll see.


> Based on my readings of Wells, Halliday, and Hasan, I find the proposal

> for

> the complementarity

> of LSV, Halliday, and Bernstein compelling. This past winter I conducted a

> graduate class where

> we read Jim wertsch's 1985 book on Vygotsky and the Social Formation of

> Mind

> which Ruquaiya

> refers to in her first article in the readings. Jim focuses there on

> discourse and propositional referentiality

> and his commentary seems important background for actually working out a

> unified cultural historical

> approach that incorporates contemporary work on lexiocgrammar. But I do

> not

> know how to bring that

> into a discussion that is already packed with things to read.


> I also believe that the work of Ochs and Schiefflin, who make a strong

> case

> for the idea that the acquisition

> of language is simultaneously acquisition of the sociocultural order into

> which children are born needs to be

> brought into the discussion. It seems to fit very well with Halliday's

> emphases but does not seem to been

> into the discussion by SFL folks, or at least, not in my limited reading.

> Does anyone else think this work

> relevant?


> There is one point on which I think Ruqaiya errs in her discussion of

> Luria's Central Asian work (if I understand her

> characterization correctly) and it is important to get straight in seeking

> to deal with issues of cultural historical variation

> in thought. It is not the case that Luria claimed that Uzbeki peasants

> lack

> higher psycholgical functions. All humans

> are said to have higher psychological functions by virtue of the fact that

> their thought and action is mediated by

> culture. Rather, as Wertsch discusses, LSV and ARL believed that one must

> include an analysis of evolution/development

> of cultural means as a cultural historical process. They use the term

> "rudimentary" mediational means, for example, in

> connection with what they referred to as "primitive peoples."

> Specifically,

> Luria believed that traditional central asian

> peasants used functional graphic modes of mediation which were superceded

> by

> taxonomic logical modes of mediation

> associated with literacy, schooling, and involvement in industrial modes

> of

> life.


> I have my quarrels with Luria's conclusion and share scepticism about the

> enthusiasm for schooling that Luria espoused. But

> it is not correct, in my view, to believe that he attributed only

> elementary

> (not culturally mediated) forms of mental life

> to Uzbeki peasants.


> This issue may not be central to the question of the complementarity of

> the

> views of Halliday and Vygotsky, but it certainly

> touches directly on questions of Bernstein/Luria/LSV connections, so I

> wanted to raise it here. I still have Ruqaiya's second paper to get

> through and look forward to others comments on this work.

> mike





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