[xmca] Addendum to: discussion in context and the growth

From: Stetsenko, Anna (AStetsenko@gc.cuny.edu)
Date: Thu Nov 10 2005 - 08:59:22 PST

Small addendum (one sentence):
To avoid 'first' and 'then' (as in first understanding and then critiquing), clearly a better way to put it is to say 'together' - understanding-while-critiquing and critiquing-while-understanding, and definitely not one instead of the other, as both implicated in the essentially same transfromative practical and meaningful (object-related) process out in the world - as the basis and foundation for both.
PS. this is also a hint at my answer to Victor on his imortant and meaningful points to come later.


From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of Stetsenko, Anna
Sent: Thu 11/10/2005 11:30 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: discussion in context and the growth

Victor, thank you for raising interesting points. I will address them in my next message, even knowing that many on xmca might not be as interested in what is perhaps more a philosophical than a psychological level of discussion (I hope people are not too bored or bothered since they can disregard what is not relevant to them - which they probably largely do anyway already). But first I want to make a theoretical argument on related topic in what is our context on xmca, while making connection to other contexts - on modes and styles of discussion (continuing the thread between Victor and Mike).


This point is actually briefly hinted at in my paper: "An attempt to move beyond the canonical version of activity theory will be undertaken ...out of a conviction that the critical stance represents an important methodology that allows us to make sense of any theory. .. this critical methodology is consistent with the very spirit of activity theory that postulates the centrality of transformative and creative-and thus also necessarily critical-activity as a methodological tool for meaningfully dealing with any aspect of the world, including the activity of theoretical understanding."


In other words, critique is indeed a necessary condition for a meaningful discussion (you and Mike made this point too - there isn't much to disagree on). However, this can be expanded further given the context. Being critical is not in itself sufficient to render a discussion either meaningful or productive; the other condition is what Bill Barrow metaphorically referred to as 'taking inside' the view and arguments that you are critique, or as I interpret him - the condition of first making an effort at understanding and only then critiquing. In the Bakhtinian sense of recursive turns of meaning making and addressivity (others made this point too). Though understanding is never complete and cannot be complete (just as truth can not be absolute in any dialectical sense since it only exists relative to practical goals of activity - we agree here too, have you noticed?), certain degree of it is required.


If one the condition of understanding is not met, the discussion stops being meaningful and the tone and style, not grounded in understanding (or at least an attempt at it) comes to the fore and takes over as THE leading dimension preventing meaning making and growth.


Incidentally, the style and tone taking over substance of arguments due to misunderstanding did happen often in the past in the Soviet Union (in, or rather around the CHAT tradition) -- due to inability of often unwillingness to understand (there is 'affect behind intellect' after all, as Vygotsky suggested, including motives that we can't directly see but can impute if we need or want). I do not think LSV or ANL or Luria ever displayed it (they were too strong - as one of the reasons, I believe). But there were plenty of really bitter disputes not leading anywhere (Mike had witnessed some and described them with sadness in many of his earlier postings reflecting on his experiences in that country). This was unfortunately the style that stifled productive growth and also pushed away so many scholars, especially among younger generation, away from CHAT and this trend, sadly, conitnues even today (with the style persisting even today, although this is by far not the only cause).


It is critical to notice that these were and are disputes inside the country, among perceivably one's own 'culutral kin', with a tacit norm that harshness and disparaging are allowed for 'internal use' only - or what is perceived to be such use - and not while communicating to the 'outside world' such as, for example, with Anglo-Saxon (and other 'foreign') scholars. I think Dostoevsky actually has a description of such a peculiar tacit cultural norm. For me, an example of how culture is embedded and implicated in discourse (something to account for in the analysis of xmca discourse perhaps?). Hence the rather noticeable discrepancy in styles - while dealing with the two types of addressee -- which you notice if you know both contexts, but not likely to notice or experience if you are not directly, practically positioned in both of these contexts (this is why some never experienced this, as they report).


More importantly though. The type of discussion then that I argue for can be described as a creative and collaborative expansive elaboration (critique being embedded in it) on each other's arguments and this is precisely, I believe, what allows for and essentially is growth (of understanding and of selves) - in all its importance which Mike reminded about. With the collaborative spirit (metaphorically speaking, no telepaphy implied) necessarily embedded in the discussion (collaboration as essential to science is something I find important to ephasize in my works). Which certainly excludes and, importantly, simply does not require extreme harshness and disparaging (here on xmca we are not in the same practical context as some classics Victor referred to were; so I don't think this parallel exactly works). This is probably what Victor hints at too when he mentions Socratic dialogues ... with their porfound dialogicality and reciprocity and adressivity.


Perhaps this is all obvious to many of you - these simply are some things that are relevant given context and situation, because context and situation really matter, as Joe suggested -- and not to dwell on them but in order to be able to move on, hopefully creatively and collaboratively.

Anna Stetsenko


From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of Victor
Sent: Thu 11/10/2005 8:41 AM
To: mcole@weber.ucsd.edu; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Fwd: could you please post this for me on xmca? thanks.


     Sorry about the lateness of my reply, but I wasn't exactly sure how to
respond to your message. The waiting was productive since the subsequent
discussion brought up the importance of the ideals of Holzkamp for your
formulation, and a discussion of his approach is critical here.

    We do indeed agree on many points, including on the refusal, and I do
believe it was a refusal based on political considerations, by ANL, EVI and
other AT theorists to come to the logical deduction that cognition, i.e. the
concept, is a gambit that is in fact a subjective challenge to objective
social practice (the idea is Hegelian though Hegel as an idealist had a much
more restricted concept of the negating effect of the concept than that
implicit in Marxian dialectics). EVI's theory of the ideal in particular
brings us to the brink of understanding of the essentially revolutionary
implications of subjectivity, and then bypasses it going straight to the
post-revolutionary state in which subjectivity is reintegrated with
objective sociality and the world is once again at peace with itself.

     I cite your view as you presented it in your message of Nov 5, 2005:

Proposition 1 "However, my central claim was that the concomitant idea -- of
subjectivity, ideal, intersubjectivity being not ONLY THE OUTCOME but also
the SOURCE for human condition and life - was either downplayed or neglected
by ANL, EVI and other AT theorists. Or, in other words, that they did not
consistently pursue the flexible and dialectical relations within this
system taken in its totality".

Proposition 2 "Therefore, I argued, the manifold relationship among material
production, subjectivity (psychological processes) and intersubjectivity
(culture, politics, ideality etc.) needs to be emphasized, re-instated (if
not introduced anew) into AT and CHAT for us to move ahead".

 Proposition 3 "Thus reinstating both the materialist ontology of human
subjectivity and the humanist ontology of material practice - together, at
once, and not one instead of the other."

Note: I've segregated and numbered your propositions to make the discussion

      In comparing the two views, yours and mine, we can detect some basic

1. Proposition 1: While you argue that subjectivity, i.e. reasonable
activity, as the source for human conditions and life activity, I see
subjectivity as emergent out of and in contradiction to objectivity.

2. Proposition 2: While you contend that the whole AT- CHAT model must be
overturned to introduce subjectivity as a critical, if not the critical,
"subject" I argue that the subjective is implicit in the model and that what
is necessary is the recovery of what is in essence a "stage" or moment in
the dialectical process that was refused by the founders of CHAT, but that
is integral to the current CHAT model.

3. Proposition 3: You seem (this is not clear to me at least) to take the
position that subjectivity and objectivity are simultaneous. Does the
simultaneity refer to timing or to logical relation? If the former then we
are in agreement, if the latter you will have to help me further in
understanding the logic of the idea.

     I will concentrate here on proposition 1. Proposition 2 is more or
less dependent on its predecessor, while proposition 3 I do not understand
well enough to discuss.

      Along with the rest of Hegel's mankind I've considerable difficulty in
conceiving of spirit, i.e. rational activity (or subjectivity), in the
absence of the object. I find it difficult to imagine spirit being manifest
without an operator and being expressed, internally and externally, in the
absence of some material form. It appears more reasonable to me to propose
that the object is a necessary precondition for subjectivity, and that
subjectivity while incorporating the object in the form of internal imagery
and external modes of expression, that then negates the object as it is or

     The precedence of the object does not simply represent the ontology of
cognition, after all dialectics and the theory of knowledge is one, but also
the historical-prehistorical origins and development of cognition as a
universal form. K. Holzkamp finds in Marx the idea that it is the
individual drive to survive that is the basis for human sociality, and
develops the ancient argument that individual subjectivity, albeit
socialized subjectivity, is the touchstone of collective social life. Marx's
concept is much more developed than this. Drawing from his discourses on
the origins of human sociality from the German Ideology and Die Grundrisse,
we find that Marx argues for a much more modern theory of basic human
sociality than that of Holzkamp. For Marx it is the essence (the germ of
the universal) of life forms to reproduce themselves, to project their
existence into the future that is the basic form of reason and of all
subsequent development of life forms, including of human society and of
human instrumentality. Marx and Engels did not regard the study of man as
limited to his social and inner life, quite the contrary; it was for them of
the greatest importance that the development of human history be firmly
anchored in the universal paradigm of natural science. Thus, despite the
relatively primitive development of the natural sciences of their day,
especially of the life sciences, it was of paramount importance to begin the
dialectics of human history with the emergence of life, the category that
includes all purpose-imbued matter, from the inanimate.

 Note that reproduction is not at all a strictly subjective activity,
neither in its prosecution nor in its consequences, but as a phenomenon
emergent from the absolute objectivity of non-life it incorporates
(sublates) objectivity in its negation of the objectivity of inanimate
nature. It is important to stress; that at the stage of the dialectics of
the development human social life where men's conscious participation in
collaborative programs for collective survival, subjectivity is very much
predicated on objectivity. At this point in the analysis the problem is no
longer a matter of which came first, but of how the complex dialectical
relations between objectivity and subjectivity play themselves out in the
formation and change of ideational, social and material forms.

Victor Friedlander-Rakocz
----- Original Message -----
From: "Mike Cole" <lchcmike@gmail.com>
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Cc: "Stetsenko, Anna" <AStetsenko@gc.cuny.edu>
Sent: Saturday, November 05, 2005 18:54
Subject: [xmca] Fwd: could you please post this for me on xmca? thanks.

> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Stetsenko, Anna <AStetsenko@gc.cuny.edu>
> Date: Nov 5, 2005 8:51 AM
> Subject: could you please post this for me on xmca? thanks.
> To: mcole@weber.ucsd.edu
> Cc: "Stetsenko, Anna" <AStetsenko@gc.cuny.edu>
> I wrote my comment below yesterday morning but then my university's server
> was down for much of the day (right, Joe?) and I could not post it. There
> are many new things today but I still think my yesterday's response is
> relevant. One addition only, because Mike and others again asked for
> clarification of my central terms. It would be impossible to explain what
> I
> meant by intersubjectivity and subjectivity (and I would also have to go
> back to Greeks, Hegel etc and do some historical excavations) if not
> that ...I
> use them from within the CHAT tradition, i.e. works by Vygotsky and
> Leontiev
> who had done much of such historical excavations already (with some
> variations due to the difficult task of finding a suitable translation,
> because for example, 'psyche' in English is not the same as 'psihika' in
> Russian; 'consciousness' is not 'soznanie', and on and on - just to say
> that
> translating is a highly theoretical work in itself).
> To discuss all the details here would be a separate, tedious and lengthy
> work. I suppose that one quote from Vygotsky should be helpful to
> illustrate
> the usage of terms:
> 'Any function in the child's cultural development appears twice, or on two
> planes. First it appears on the social plane, and then on the
> psychological
> plane. First it appears between people as an interpsychological category,
> and then within the child as an intrapsychological category... Social
> relations or relations among people genetically underlie all higher
> functions and their relationships.'
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Now, my comment from Nov 4, 2005.
> Mike has suggested that the discussion on xmca moves on to new topics. I
> totally agree and now want to thank all the participants for their time
> and
> effort. I do need to make up on my promise to comment, not to start a new
> round of discussions but to highlight a couple of things. I start with a
> response to Viktor - because this is a good way to sum up the main
> points --
> and then make a few more general comments.
> Viktor: You presented a fascinating analysis of Ilyenkov and I find myself
> agreeing with the main thrust of your arguments. In fact, I think there is
> much more agreement between what you are saying and my paper than you seem
> to imply. Let me explain this, necessarily briefly.
> First. My treatment of Ilyenkov is very sketchy in my paper (as you
> noticed)
> whereas you presented a much more detailed and, already due to this, a
> more
> fair account of his views. However, all the sketchiness of my treatment of
> EVI notwithstanding, my main argument does not depart that strongly from
> yours. Namely, I imply that it is a puzzle that EVI's dialectical - as I
> directly say -- view is not consistently pushed through and that it is
> often, de facto, does not say what needs to be said (your take) or is in
> contradiction with his own passages on ideality as reified in objects (my
> take). I attribute this puzzle, and you do too, to the difficulty of
> Ilyenkov's position in the sinister atmosphere of his society and the
> related impasse of not being able to fully integrate creative agency of
> individuals into the picture. Yes, you are right, because that would have
> threatened the status quo of the then established presumably perfect
> social
> order, which in reality was a stifling bureaucracy (I admit, you say it
> more
> openly than I did).
> Secondly and more importantly, regarding your central claim:
> <<For Marx (and Ilyenkov), subjectivity, the object, and the ideal develop
> simultaneously as the outcome of the special conditions of human
> sociality;
> the voluntary (in the sense here of non-instinctive) collaboration of
> mostly
> if not entirely socialized individuals for the purpose of producing the
> means for satisfaction of collective and individual needs. >>
> What I did in my paper was to show that it is indeed this central Marxist
> idea (my formulation of it, also attributing it to Marx, differs from
> yours
> in phrasing only rather than in essence) that is at the foundation of
> CHAT -
> Vygotsky, Leontiev ... and Ilyenkov's works. We are much in agreement here
> again. In addition, I addressed how CHAT theorists differed in that they
> placed more relative emphasis on some of the links within this system but
> not others (see details in paper; also note that some aspects are
> explained
> better in my Theory&Psychology paper - these two are really
> complementary).
> But all in all, this is the foundation and this foundation is indeed good,
> as I said many times in my paper. We agree here too, no doubt. I did not
> take anything away from this foundation and from all the great CHAT
> theorists, I believe, in my account.
> However, my central claim was that the concomitant idea -- of
> subjectivity,
> ideal, intersubjectivity being not ONLY THE OUTCOME but also the SOURCE
> for
> human condition and life - was either downplayed or neglected by ANL, EVI
> and other AT theorists. Or, in other words, that they did not consistently
> pursue the flexible and dialectical relations within this system taken in
> its totality. Therefore, I argued, the manifold relationship among
> material
> production, subjectivity (psychological processes) and intersubjectivity
> (culture, politics, ideality etc.) needs to be emphasized, re-instated (if
> not introduced anew) into AT and CHAT for us to move ahead.
> Thus reinstating both the materialist ontology of human subjectivity and
> the
> humanist ontology of material practice - together, at once, and not one
> instead of the other.
> This is especially urgent given TODAY's context where postmodernist and
> poststructuralist accounts with their rampant moral relativism (as well as
> the outright biologizing of human development a la evolutionary psychology
> and other brain-reductionist approaches) are winning, and winning big,
> over
> dialectical and consistently materialist views. ((though not directly
> addressed in my MCA 2005 paper, critique of reductionist biologizing views
> is part of my works, as reflected e.g. in my recent talk at Penn State
> where
> some of xmca'ers where present)).
> Incidentally, I also focus on the importance of not loosing a
> developmental
> stance (this has not been noticed in previous discussion of my paper on
> xmca) - as when I speak of MATURE forms of practice that simultaneously
> produce and are produced by subjectivity and intersubjectivity and when I
> say that this multi-fold relation gradually emerges in history of
> humankind
> and ontogeny.
> This is the bare bone of my argument. Now, addressing the xmca community
> more broadly. I realize that the paper, due to space constraints, does
> sound
> to many as too abstract (i.e., too few examples) and very dense. This is
> indeed the case and I can only vindicate myself by saying two things. One
> is
> that my argument has already found its way into interpreting some very
> concrete research findings - in Rejo Miettinen paper in the same MCA issue
> (as Rejo gracefully acknowledges there). Two is that I am now working,
> together with Arievitch on a book where many issues will be addressed in
> much more detail (integrating also important contributions by Galperin, so
> far grossly misunderstood).
> Are there lessons to be learned from the discussion in general? Clearly
> there is one for me - I see better where I need to elaborate more on my
> arguments to avoid misunderstandings. There is also one more general
> lesson,
> I believe. As it transpired in the discussion, the very foundations of AT
> and CHAT are in need of more work (e.g., we can't quickly make general
> claims such as that mediation or activity or culture is important or
> something like this and think that all issues are resolved to then simply
> move to concrete investigations). This work on the foundations of CHAT is
> a
> difficult one but it is necessary. As bb (I use the initials only because
> this is how I know the author, not having seen the full name - is it Bill
> Barrow?) pointedly stated, this kind of work is inherently difficult
> because
> it requires 'taking in' all the previous theorizing and then moving from
> there.
> Also, this work needs to be collaborative, not confrontational, as happens
> too often, leaving activity theorists in limbo due to incessant arguments
> among themselves and thus letting really opposite views take over in
> mainstream science and popular consciousness. Collaboration does not
> exclude
> contradiction and challenge (which is good and necessary) - it only
> excludes
> flat out dismissals based in misunderstandings and biased perceptions
> (including those that are gender biased - to use the mildest of
> expressions), or the combination of the two. Collaboration is not easy
> because it entails leaving aside our personal ambitions and becoming more
> open minded and generous - not an easy task by any count. I want to thank
> many of you and especially Mary Bryson and Vera John-Steiner for being
> exactly this - open minded and very generous.
> As to gender biases, since this has been in the focus, here is one
> comment.
> It is a well established finding that they are still alive and well in
> academia (e.g., see discussions around Larry Summers' 'remarkable' talk;
> study by Hopkins and also research that shows that ONE AND THE SAME PAPER
> is
> perceived starkly differently if presented as authored by an apparently
> male
> or female scholar). This is the case everywhere in the world, though more
> in
> some places than others, with for example Russia now developing egregious
> forms of sexism. A great topic to be discussed in any account of what is
> going on in that country (I have written on this and have done some
> research; this is another area that I feel strongly about).
> I still think, and want to emphasize it again, that LSV and ANL and EVI is
> a great foundation, at least I do not see a better one, and I have invited
> the CHAT community, having made one step in my paper, to re-examine and
> critically evaluate the very core of their work, expanding and
> strengthening
> it, so that we can move ahead, taking these very theorists with us, into
> today's context with its really formidable challenges.
> Thanks again to all,
> Anna Stetsenko
> PS. To Lois Holzman: Lois, thank you for your comment. I would need to
> explain more but don't want to take too much space here - we sure will
> meet
> some time soon, our paths seem to cross very often. For a position close
> to
> mine (in one important part), I refer you and others with similar
> questions
> to your recent discussion with Ian Parker in Theory & Psychology and my
> paper with IA in Critical Psychology). One quote from my paper: "Since the
> ...purpose of and meaning of science are seen as grounded in its role and
> ability to contribute to inevitably determinate pursuits undertaken in a
> certain direction and with certain GOALS OF CREATING CHANGES in the world,
> knowledge too turns out to be determinate and directional. This is NOT the
> old-fashioned, positivist-type, ahistorical determinacy of science...
> Neither
> is it a complete indeterminacy and uncertainty of constructivist accounts.
> Instead, it is a kind of a historically and culturally foregrounded
> determinacy of science that has to do with it being practical,
> goal-oriented, and therefore, transformative and value-laden pursuits of
> always determinate versions of the world".
> So, no disagreement that science is about changing the world. Our
> disagreement appears to be that I think changing the world entails having
> goals - i.e., direction, knowledge of where one wants to get that is
> value-laden -- whereas you seem to avoid talking about this kind of
> knowledge (goals, orientation, directionality).
> And just one more thing. Many views and issues from 19th century are
> indeed
> still prevalent today as well as... those from 17th and even earlier ones. I
> respect your efforts to develop what you call a tool-and-result approach.
> Indeed, the answers can't be found by putting together few quotes from
> Marx
> or anybody else, I would think, but by developing one's own system of
> ideas
> to address major issues that are not going away any time soon - those of
> knowledge, mind, human development, learning, teaching, human condition
> and
> so on.


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