RE: [xmca] concept as gambit

From: Stetsenko, Anna (
Date: Thu Nov 10 2005 - 10:51:14 PST

Yes, Peter, you are right, this is critical indeed and I was going to elaborate on this too as this agrees with my position very much (and the readings Victor suggested are also critical - but let me try to make some points already here).


In my take on this issue, and in more Vygotskian terms, concepts are TOOLS that are embedded within (in the sense of them coming out and returning to) the reality they are meant to serve. Concepts are saturated with this reality they serve and never break away from it ((Of course, if twe are dealing with meaningful concepts)). The reverse dependency is also true - this is as an upshot of the argument in my paper.


This reality often, and more immediately for many of those who do theorizing, is the reality of theoretical debates, approaches and so on. In this sense, concepts are inextricably dependent on the whole theoretical system under consideration (hence the point about each and every idea or principle making sense only within the whole system) - and this is something readily acknowledged by many (though certainly not all) who come to think about and work with concepts. As, for example, reflected in the argument we all like very much - about the importance of context. But then, as also argued in my paper, behind this seemingly abstract theoretical reality there are always practical engagements with some issues out in the world, beyond the ivory tower of science - hence the practical and ideological saturation of concepts and theories.


This embedded nature of concepts comes through very clearly in works on science as a social construction (the best in psychology being by Danziger, I think, who was referred to before), and in works by Sandra Harding on positionality and standpoint epistemology, and in Morwaski and other feminist scholars (Mary has mentioned some too in a different context).


There are many renditions of this position - varying from extreme views of social constructionism a la Gergen for whom constructs are only instruments of social discourse (and are ephemeral, leading to extreme relativism - in my view), to more dialectical views in which concepts do reflect real practical contingences, at the same time as they serve as tools within discourses (many in philosophy of science, e.g. Young and in psychology - e.g., Ian Paker make similar arguments). In history of science, it was Russian philosopher Hessen who argued for this quite passionately in the 1940s, shocking members of the then established positivistically oriented community of historians of science. Young gives a fascinating account of the storm Hessen caused at some international congress on history of science with his presentation on Newton. This is my very brief selection, but there are many many more - as Victor points to readings in this direction. For me personally, this social-practical and history-context embedded nature of concepts was one of the first stark realizations that helped me throughout all my subsequent work (being really one of the threads of all my works, starting from early 1980s, I apologize for making this allusions to earlier works - this is meant as adding to context).


My take on all of this, again, is about the importance of seeing - and using - concepts as embedded within the flow of practical activity/ engagements with the reality out in the world and its challenges, as well as the reverse movements between concepts-practice (the two being in unity but not in equivalence).


I don't know if this agrees with what Victor meant (will read his posting more closely now).


Incidentally, this is the way to answer also Mike's question - why subjectivity? Because the explanation has to do with the context. I will refer to this in the next message.


Thanks to all who are still following the discussion (if there are some such people),

A Stetsenko


From: on behalf of Peter Moxhay
Sent: Thu 11/10/2005 12:25 PM
To: Activity eXtended Mind Culture
Subject: [xmca] concept as gambit


You wrote:

> 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).

I find this comment extremely clarifying (with respect to the ongoing
discussion) and exciting. Could you perhaps provide references for
further reading on this? In what works/sections would you say Hegel
touches on this? Do you have any papers that expand on this comment?

Also, I'm wondering whether this idea was really refused by _all_
Soviet dialecticians...


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