Re: [xmca] social-societal

From: Kevin Rocap (
Date: Wed Nov 09 2005 - 07:29:39 PST

Dear friends,

I'll provide my own personal instantiation of bb's "convenience" theory
of XMCA interaction. ;-)

I'm only able to peek in on the discussion briefly and have been able to
"catch up" on a couple of related strands - the social/societal strand
and the related subject/subjectivity strand (and I guess what I'll call
the sub-strand of examples of how these have played out in online XMCA
exchanges). I've been able to read Mike's prompt for more discussion of
subjectivity, then to see references to Eve's prior analysis of XMCA
exchanges and Bill's post, including his "convenience" theory (which
strikes me as a highly probable shaper of XMCA exchanges except for the
moments of eager and devout attention to posts that emerges periodically
among subsets of XMCA participants). I've also seen Anna and Michael's
exchange which I found instructive. And I read, with interest, Andy's
crib notes on some varieties of way in which subjects and subjectivity
have been described in different discourses (as a relevant aside, given
the recent raising of gender issues, with the exception of a reference
to Judith Butler, Andy's post refers primarily to the pantheon of
traditional male philosophers, no? So perhaps we have some gaping holes
to fill? For example, perhaps Hannah Arendt, et al, provide different
and/or nuanced views on subjectivity?)

Let me briefly reframe the social in my own words (through which I'm
trying to appropriate what I'm reading here). It seems that the
"social" refers to more direct perhaps "localized" interactions among
subjects, participants, etc. While "societal" refers to the larger
collective, including its various cultural-historical influences upon
"social" interactions (which may be why Bill notes the significance of
language, which I would tend to agree seems to me to be both a medium of
and a metaphor for the dialectic of social and societal, no?). To carry
the XMCA reference a bit further, perhaps my interactions with the
people I've mentioned above is "social" while my relation to the larger
XMCA community might be "societal" (?) (though I also see this is a
simplistic view, as the "societal" should likely be construed vaster,
larger and, as has been mentioned, "general" and perhaps
"abstract"...."ascending to the concrete" as social then?

A few questions arise for me then. It seems to me there can be
different and layered levels of the "societal", e.g., my example of the
XMCA as "societal" to some degree versus specific social interactions
within it, but of course embedded in the vaster "societal" (society writ
large). But then how does "societal" relate to "cultural-historical" -
that is, to cultures, historical trajectories and time-scales? Does
"societal" embrace all cultural-historical trajectories? Or can one
define cultural-historical spaces or trajectories that are "societal"
but co-exist and/or interact with other cultural-historical spaces or
trajectories that have their own "societal" associations? In short, are
we talking about multiple societies each constittued in its own way as
"societal" or one vast society?

Finally, the posts I've read bring up, for me, perennial issues/concerns
with how "power" is or is not accounted for. Michael raises the mother
of all motives, survival ;-) Yet I would say that we can see at a
collective level how the distribution of "labor" with varieties of
unequal assertions of power lead to activities and outcomes that are
arguably anti-survival (global warming, nuclear prolifieration and
posturing, etc.). I guess we can talk about time-scales here and people
pursuing short-term, selfish (social?) motives of "survival" that on a
"societal" level may ultimately be anti-survival, hmmm? But I suspect
there is more to talk about around power, no?

In Peace,

Stetsenko, Anna wrote:

> Michael, also by the way, Klaus Holzkamp is precisely the source I
> refer to in my paper that was just discussed here:
>>>consistent with the goals of this article, the term human
> subjectivity is used capitalize on the centrality of subjects
> (for a similar usage in activity theory tradition, see Holzkamp, 1972)>>
> I met Holzkamp while I was working in Berlin, in 1991. Arne Raiethel,
> who was on xmca in 1990s also came out of Freie Universitat and knew
> Holzkamp very well. There are several recent publications on Holzkamp
> by Thomas Theo (I think in Theory and Psychology), with some
> interesting historical reconstructions of the socio-political context
> and fights Holzkamp went through during his tumultous career, with
> reflections on his theory too.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> From: on behalf of Wolff-Michael Roth
> Sent: Tue 11/8/2005 7:26 PM
> To:; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] social-societal
> Hi all,
> it was me who made the point to you--perhaps there were others. The
> issue is that Marx writes about "Gesellschaft" and
> "gesellschaftlich", meaning society and societal. For Marx this is
> important, because you immediately get into your analysis society
> that mediates not the social, which means, you get the effect of
> class and other inequalities as mediating aspect.
> It is also important to Marx, and he got it from Hegel, in the
> sense
> that society is the new entity that needs to be supported and kept
> going, and by contributing to the collective survival, that is, the
> survival of society, we make possible our own survival without
> actually having to scrounge for food in the forests. This is where
> the idea of division of labor comes in and the notion of motive,
> which is exactly societal BECAUSE it contributes to the survival of
> the collectivity. It's not that we sit together--two or three people--
> and make up motives of activity. All motives can ultimately be led
> back to the central motive, survival, but which now occurs at the
> collective level, because with it, we also guarantee the satisfaction
> of our individual needs.
> All of this gets lost when you translate gesellschaftlich with
> social.
> By the way, Klaus Holzkamp was the person to take exactly this
> agenda further, grounded in Leont'ev as Yrjö, but focusing on the
> nature of consciousness, and in particular the relationship between
> individual and collective consciousness.
> In my reading, this is where we need to look for further
> inspiration, because others--like the dialectical philosophers Paul
> Ricoeur and Emmanuel Levinas--come suprisingly close to the analyses
> that Holzkamp provides.
> The notion of social does not lead us to dialectics, societal yes,
> because then we can talk about possibilities of action, which get us
> immediately to the general (action possibility) and particular
> (concrete action).
> Cheers,
> Michael
> On 8-Nov-05, at 10:41 AM, Mike Cole wrote:
> > Sasha-- Just one note where there is misunderstanding in the
> > conversation.
> > The issue of social/societal makes a difference to many.I wish who
> > discussed
> > exactly this issue at ISCAR. Social, in Anglo-US discouse, is often
> > a way of
> > reducing "THE SOCIAL" to two people having a phone conversation,
> > any sort of
> > interaction. The term societal has been invoked as a way of
> > blocking this
> > form
> > of reductionism.
> >
> > Could somone, other than Anna who uses the term subjectivity and
> > knows well
> > how to use it in their work please respond to the misgivings about
> > its use
> > that
> > I tried asking about some days ago? And Joe asked about in a
> > different way
> > today?
> >
> > I think that it might help us sort out misunderstandings from
> > disagreements.
> > mike
> > _______________________________________________
> > xmca mailing list
> >
> >
> >
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