Re: [xmca] Stetsenko- Material practice, human subjectivity, intersubjectivity

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Sat Nov 05 2005 - 09:26:08 PST

The xmca discussion of Anna Stetsenko's paper shows this paper to be
highly stimulating for discussing and possibly re-thinking the basic
concepts of CHAT. Things that especially impress me about this paper
as a stimulus for advancing CHAT's theoretical work include its
affirmation of the basic Marxist sociological and philosophical
premises at the foundation of CHAT, its applications of the principle
of object-relatedness to all levels of activity, its criticism of
gaps in the previous work of CHAT theorists and researchers, and its
pointing toward a new materialist ontology of subjectivity that
emphasizes the role of human subjectivity in human activities.

As I see it, what is precisely new and potentially path-changing in
this paper are two core ideas. In core idea one, AS advocates
accurately seeing the co-evolutionary, interpenetrating, mutually
influencing, and dialectically connected character ... of the cause
and effect relationships among three emergent levels (my term) of
regulatory mechanisms that she identifies human labor and activity as
generating - (in my terms) socio-economic processes, socio-cultural
activity, and subjectivity. Saying this core idea again because it
is in some ways a major leap in conceptualization, human activity is
conceptualized by Stetsenko as a generator of increasingly complex
levels of regulatory mechanisms that are intrinsically interconnected
and co-developing - namely, the socio-economic, the socio-cultural,
and the subjective. In core idea two, she elevates the idea of
object-relatedness to a foundational principle of CHAT and advocates
applying this principle to all three of these levels of human
activity to explore how they interpenetrate and co-evolve. Her
criticisms of Vygotsky, Leont'ev, Ilyenkov and trends within CHAT in
general, and her suggestions for improving the CHAT research project,
illustrate how she sees her ontological outlook being applied, and
how past CHAT efforts in specific ways fell short of their potential
because the ontological outlooks they employed were incomplete and one-sided.

But if this new ontological conceptualization makes new demands on
what and how CHAT should be researching human activity, then,
conversely, there are also high demands on this restructured CHAT
ontology to deliver the goods. One place it may need to begin would
be to produce convincing empirical evidence for the existence, nature
and interconnectedness of these levels of "regulatory mechanisms"
(keeping in mind BTW Bill's wise caution that the term "mechanism" is
a reductionist metaphor - which raises the question, just what is a
"regulatory mechanism"?). Another beginning place is meeting the
necessary challenge of developing practical applications that flow
from this increased ontological understanding of how these levels of
human activity work together. And then there is the challenge of
reviewing previous research work in the CHAT tradition with these new
lenses, looking for deeper insights than previously possible. In the
same vein, if CHAT is destined to give birth to a general psychology
that can unify the science of human subjectivity and human activity
as a whole - as Vygotsky hoped - then AS's suggested improvements to
the conceptualizations employed by CHAT should contribute to better
explanations of research work from many other schools of psychology
in ways not as possible for CHAT researchers before.

I see Anna Stetsenko's paper as an exciting step forward toward
meeting these historic challenges.

- Steve

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