RE: [xmca] subjectivity question

From: Stetsenko, Anna (
Date: Thu Nov 10 2005 - 20:43:17 PST

Mike, I used 'subjectivity' and not 'psychological processes' as would have been more habitual in the CHAT discourse (as I explained in the footnote) because of some rather practical issues stemming from the context in which my paper had been written. This context was that the paper was written for a special issue on object-relatedness of activity (those who have seen and read my paper only, might not know this) - an upshot of a symposium of ISCRAT in Amsterdam on this topic, with Kaptelinin, Miettinen, Nardi and some others (I can't remember all names now, sorry).


Given the centrality of object-relatedness suggested by this very context, I thought that employing 'subjectivity' is quite natural - to emphasize and start from the indeed profound dialectical relation between object and subject. Holzkamp was the natural reference point because he dealt with similar issues at the psychological and philosophical level and used precisely this concept 'subjectivity' in the context of CHAT. Indeed, he can be seen as being part of the CHAT tradition (really continuing Leontiev in some ways), and these were the reasons I included him - not for any other reasons, because in fact I do disagree with Holzkamp on many points (as can be seen in that I don't refer to him other than as a source of a 'similar use' of the concept actually).


Plus I had considerations of translation - because Leontiev's concepts do not all work very well if translated directly (I mentioned before already). By the way, this is why I also used 'self' instead of the more familiar 'personality' in my other paper - exactly to avoid associating the self and subjectivity with the indeed narrowly individualistic view of people as separate from society - as is often implied in the personality research in today's mainstream psychology with its inborn Big Five factors and other such (radically different from CHAT) things. This incidentally is a reflection on one earlier critical point made here in the discussion - about whether one can talk about contradictions between individual and social. Of course, one can, if not - what can we talk about at all? (of course if we set the comparison straight, on solid grounds, as I think I did).


In this context, the concept of subjectivity, for me, served well to highlight, really throughout the paper (though more in the background at some points) that subjectivity is indeed very much predicated on objectivity (as Victor importantly reminds us all about), linking subjectivity to object-relatedness (starting from the very title of the paper).


Since Holzkamp is in the focus now, let me answer to Victor's one more point. I never said anything about, as Victor puts it, "the idea that it is the individual drive to survive that is the basis for human sociality." In fact, like Victor, I disagree with this point! And never argued anything remotely close to this. I think this point was made by Michael in the context of social-societal argument.


Before saying more on subjectivity, just one more quick point referring to Victor's comments. Indeed, the link to organic and inorganic life, to evolution, phylogeny, ontogeny and, relatedly, to all the complex of ideas that, in Victor's words, 'human history be firmly anchored in the universal paradigm of natural science' is extremely important to me too. I briefly discussed this in my other paper (in Theory&Psychology with IA) and I will give some quotes in the post scriptum here (to avoid bothering people with quotes right in the text).



Ok, now. Does this mean that by using subjectivity I thus venture into some completely unknown for CHAT territory? I don't think so and can only briefly mention, again, that I use this term in the tradition of Vygotsky's and Leontiev's approach to psychological processes - in the context of this whole tradition of use and research on these processes. I never answered Mike's question more than referring to Vygotsky 'genetic law' because I thought it was sufficient to point in the direction of this tradition - with all its complex (and not finalized of course, but nothing ever is, right?), yet advanced and progressive ways of dealing with psychological processes. I don't think I need to explain what was meant by psychological processes in this tradition - this is the question of discussing then their whole approach, which is a totally new ball game and is not possible given all the constraints of the xmca discussion and life itself after all.


So, I believe that the CHAT theorists did deal with subjectivity (whatever concepts they used -concepts are just tools and can be put down and picked up again... even parked perhaps, right?) and had some very good insights about it. I did not deal with subjectivity directly, per se (and hence did not define it directly) in my paper - I dealt with the links and movements among the parts of the three-fold system that I suggested and also with how subjectivity had been dealt with in CHAT in light of this system as a theoretical lens. It worked for me - I saw many new things in new light and came to realize many new ideas that hopefully I can apply in my practice and life (and I already do - of course not narrowly for 'me' and 'my' but me as part of a community). If others use some of this for themselves, in their practice and theorizing, I would be more than happy.



A Stetsenko


PS. Here are some quotes from 'The Self in Cultural-Historical Activity Theory

Reclaiming the Unity of Social and Individual Dimensions of Human Development.'

(with I. Arievitch). Theory and Psychology, 2004, 14, (4), pp. 475-503:


"At its most fundamental level, and drawing on groundbreaking works by physiologists in the late 19 and early 20th century (e.g. Sechenov, Sherrington, Pavlov and, later, Anokhin and Bernstein), activity theory states that each living organism exists only as part of a dynamic system that connects it with the environment and with other organisms (note some similarity with the recently influential dynamic systems theory, e.g. Thelen & Smith, 1998). It is the open-ended, ongoing exchange with the environment that constitutes the foundation of life for all living organisms, and it is also this ongoing process of exchange that calls for and gives rise to regulatory mechanisms that allow it to be carried out. Much of activity theory is devoted to exploring how more and more refined mechanisms of regulation, including increasingly complex psychological processes, have emerged in phylogeny as a result of an evolving complexity of exchanges between organisms and their environments that, in its turn, resulted from evolutionary pressures to adapt to the ever-growing demands of life (e.g. A.N. Leontiev, 1959/1981).

...the historical processes of human development (i.e. the development of civilization), although emerging out of phylogenetically prior forms of animal life, represent a unique form of evolution that goes beyond adaptation to the demands of physical environments. These historical processes, also termed cultural evolution -- to emphasize both their radical difference from and their continuity with biological evolution -- are based on active transformations of existing environments and the creation of new ones. These transformations are achieved through human labor, that is, a collective and collaborative (i.e. social) use of tools, in which individual efforts are necessarily blended to produce, deploy and preserve the efficient tools, as well as pass them on to new generations. Human labor has led to unprecedented gains for humans, allowing for far more flexible and efficient forms of life than did more biologically based mechanisms of adaptation in the animal world....

....In these socially and historically specific cultural processes, people not only constantly transform and create their environment; they also create and constantly transform their lives, consequently changing themselves in fundamental ways and, in the process, gaining self-knowledge.




From: on behalf of Mike Cole
Sent: Thu 11/10/2005 12:48 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] subjectivity question

Thanks very much, Mary. I have been muesing on this, ugh, subject, while
our dog took us for a walk this morning and had reached the tentative
that the conversation can move forward by returning to the issue of the "two
that Luria wrote about in his autobiol and LSV in the Crisis. CHAT began as
a way to
reconcile Dilthey with Wundt, history with "science."

This topic, as you say, cannot be dealt with in an email, but email can, as
illustrate, help initiate offline work .... and perhaps we can find a way to
coagulate it
after a period of reading.

On 11/10/05, Mary K. Bryson <> wrote:
> Two short books would, I think, provide an excellent overview of
> contemporary thinking about this vexed matter of "self", "subjectivitity",
> and the relationality of self and others, and of course, self as Other to
> itself...
> Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself, 2005, Fordham University
> Press
> Adriana Cavarero, (1997), Relating Narratives: Storytelling and selfhood,
> Routledge
> But for the sake of completeness, I would have to add, Michel Foucault's
> later work, The Hermaneutics of the Subject, 2001, Palgrave -- kind of
> fascinating because, published posthumously, these are literally
> transcriptions of Foucault lecturing at the University.
> A little contemplative reading is, I think, more helpful here than trying
> to
> summarize about 300 years of work in an email -- and actually, if you just
> read the Butler text, which is less than 150 pages, you will get it all.
> Mary
> ---------------
> Mary K. Bryson, Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator, ECPS,
> Faculty
> of Education, University of British Columbia
> Research Profile
> On 11/9/05 8:52 AM, "Mike Cole" <> wrote:
> > Mary-- I found the message where I raised questions about the use of the
> > term,
> > subjectivity. The question I am raising is one that I have brooded about
> for
> > a long
> > time without ever seeking to bring the discourses where subjectivity is
> a
> > key term
> > and discourses that use terms like psyche, mind, etc. that tend to come
> from
> > different
> > places/times.
> > This may not be productive for people to discuss if others are clear on
> it
> > but I am not
> > so would benefit from such a discussion.
> > mike
> > ------------
> > Second, and on a very different tack. I would really appreciate help
> > understanding warrants for claims about another person or group's
> > "subjectivity."
> > I am a member of modern academic culture, so of course I have a general
> idea
> > of what the term means from its uses, as in Anna's paper, but in
> cultural
> > studies more broadly. But, perhaps because of my training as a
> behaviorist,
> > or perhaps because of my training as a student of Alexander Luria's,
> many
> > uses
> > of the term make me nervous, and that extends to Anna's paper and your
> > discussion with Martin (for whom the term is more comfortable, I believe
> --
> > Please, Martin, Anna, Andy, Mary, and others join in here).
> >
> > Danzinger recounts how it came about that a researcher in a German
> > laboratory in the 1880's-1990's came to be called "the subject," the
> person
> > whose
> > psychological states/perceptions/elements of consciousness/....... his
> (it
> > was all hims at the time) research-partner was, in collaboration with
> the
> > subject,
> > trying to obtain "scientific evidence" about. In simple terms, it was
> the
> > problem of how you could know what someone else was thinking/feeling.
> >
> > Luria writes about his disillusion with various attempts to solve this
> > problem. He specifed, in The Nature of Human Conflicts, and again in his
> > autobiography,
> > a method in which the researcher created a situation where s/he and the
> > "subject" were coordinated in a cultural medium. The behavior of both
> was
> > voluntary, not reflexive. Once they achieve highly coordinated joint
> > actions, the researcher introduces a highly selected change into the
> > situation and
> > determines if this change results in a change in the coordinated actions
> of
> > the "subject." ONLY when there is selective, predictable,
> DIS-coordination
> > of the coordinated joint activity is there a warrant for a claim about
> the
> > other person's thought/feeling.
> >
> > Peg Griffin and I sought to extend this idea into the diagnosis and
> > remediation of reading difficulties of children with, I believe,
> reasonable
> > success. Bruner and
> > others used it, without acknowledgement or recognition of its general
> > importance so far as I know, in studies where, for example, infants are
> > first habituated
> > to a series of stimuli while their "signature" rhythmic sucking is
> recorded
> > and then a small change of interest (phoeme, visual configuration...) is
> > introduced
> > to see if the suckig is disrupted.
> >
> > I can give other examples from rare, but naturally occuring events I
> have
> > participated in.
> >
> > But in general, what are the warrants for claims about another person's
> or
> > another people's subjectivity? Last night on National Public Radio I
> heard a
> > Palastinian and other people writing "in diaspora" speak of the fence as
> > huge influence on his feeling of being walled out of his own country.
> The
> > people from various parts
> > of Africa rioting in Paris are clearly outraged over their treatment by
> the
> > French and I see their anger in their actions. But what can I claim to
> know
> > about their
> > subjectivity (their anger is objectively visible to me)? What can my
> > daughter, who has lived in Eastern Madagascar at various periods in her
> > life, gotten
> > extraordinarily ill from helping grow rice in swamps, participated in
> cattle
> > sacrifice, grieved at the death of her Malagasy ancestors, know about
> > Malagasy
> > subjectivity? Behind my back,the BBC is showing anyone who will watch
> the
> > subjectivity of Latin Americans outraged at American policies. What can
> I
> > know about their subjectivity other than its external manifestations?
> >
> > This is not a known answer question. I would appreciate help in coming
> to
> > terms with the use of this term. I believe it must be used with great
> care
> > and the
> > possibility of claims being incorrect. Luria wanted to be able to
> > distinguish what people said from what they "felt." In Anna's paper, the
> > terms subjectivity
> > and intersubjectivity are central. What is being meant by what is being
> > written?
> > _______________________________________________
> > xmca mailing list
> >
> >
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
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