Vera and Peter,
Thanks for the concrete examples and concepts.
Vera, your description of subjectivity is very close to as I see it.
"One way I think of subjectivity is as the reflective consequence of one's
engagement with joint and solo activity. In the latter "solo" is never
divorced from shared as we rely fully on socially and societally constructed
tools, and as preparations for, and reliving shared experiences."
When joined with Gorbov's descriptions of the designed classroom program
for collaborative solving of mathematical problems cited by Peter I believe
the essentials of subjectivity are covered.
".one of the most important moments of the teaching- learning process is
when the children come forward and express their _subjective_ reactions to a
given mathematical problem situation. That is, the children may have in
common certain ways of acting when faced with a mathematical problem, but
then they are confronted with some new problem situation where what they
know so far doesn't work. A particular child will then tell what he or she
thinks is the action to be performed to solve the problem. In some cases,
the child's suggested action will not solve the problem, but even this
"mistake" gets folded back into and enriches the socially-shared
mathematical ways of acting".
On the most concrete levels of social interaction, i.e. actual and immediate
confrontation, the "gambit" or Vera's solo activity and the formation of
"local" collaboration between participants occurs almost simultaneously.
Every "individual" contribution is solo, but also reflects the collaboration
of the previous exchanges as well as engenders some differential effect
among the co-respondents in the interaction. At this level of concreteness,
the rule is continual change without let up. It is only when we look at
social life at more abstract levels do we find the more permanent consensus
that affords some permanence and relative placidity to social life. Those
socially and societally constructed tools, that are the preparations for,
and the reliving of shared experiences are the forms of activity (the
conventions) that inhabit the more abstract levels of social life, and are
as such implicitly the common ground necessary for the more volatile
immediate interaction events.
Seen in this light the slightly formal structure of the mathematical
exercise described by Gorbov appears to me as a sort of a minimal "brake" on
the chaotic though not necessarily unproductive results of, say, a
free-for-all argument between the children as to which method is better. It
shares this feature with other instruments for controlling interaction
volatility such as the rules of order and the appointment of a chairman to
slow down the exchange of individual ploys and the development of local
consensus. In the latter case the justification of the special instrument
for reducing the rate of exchange and the consequent segregation of ploys
and of mutual accommodations is to reach recorded decisions, while in the
former case the employment of the "braking" tool enhances and emphasizes the
process of reflective thought for didactic purposes.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Peter Moxhay" <email@example.com>
To: "Activity eXtended Mind Culture" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, November 14, 2005 21:36
Subject: Re: [xmca] concept as gambit
> Anna -- thanks for your comments on my query; I've finding it very useful
> in understanding your article to think in terms of concept formation .
> And Victor -- thanks so much for the references, especially for sending
> me to reread Chapter VI of Andy's "The Meaning of Hegel's Logic":
> where I found this, in particular:
>> Even (or rather especially) when what we see sharply contradicts what we
>> know it to be, truth lies neither in abandoning our former opinion nor
>> in ignoring the evidence of the senses but in forming a unity of the
>> two: modifying our former opinion and seeing it in a new light, finding
>> in immediate perception what was formerly so but now is not so.
> Andy gives the example of one's immediate perception of "the Moon" taken
> together with the accumulated human knowledge of the Moon:
>> When we look at "the Moon", we do not question the immediacy of this
>> perception. A murky cloud-covered view we would unhesitatingly refer to
>> as "the Moon" equally as the Moon on a clear night. The Moon itself is
>> inseparable from our concept of it, and has reflected sunlight on to
>> countless generations of people. And in apprehending the Moon, we
>> apprehend that which is referred to in the word "lunacy" and the words
>> "romantic moonlit night" and which causes the tides.
> Now what this puts me in mind of is a conversation I had a few years ago
> with Sergei Gorbov, who is one of Davydov's co-authors of the
> Elkonin-Davydov mathematics curriculum for elementary schools. He told me
> that one of the most important moments of the teaching- learning process
> is when the children come forward and express their _subjective_
> reactions to a given mathematical problem situation. That is, the
> children may have in common certain ways of acting when faced with a
> mathematical problem, but then they are confronted with some new problem
> situation where what they know so far doesn't work. A particular child
> will then tell what he or she thinks is the action to be performed to
> solve the problem. In some cases, the child's suggested action will not
> solve the problem, but even this "mistake" gets folded back into and
> enriches the socially-shared mathematical ways of acting. In other cases,
> the child's suggested action does solve the problem, and so is successful
> in pushing forward the collective knowledge of the classroom of children.
> The child takes a risk (gambit?) of suggesting some new action, and the
> class as a whole evaluates whether this new action solves the
> mathematical problem or not.
> So, it is an individual's "subjective image" of "how to act in the new
> situation" that drives forward the socially-shared body of knowledge. If
> we think of the "concept" not as the existing body of knowledge but as a
> kind of vector along which that knowledge increases, then the concept is
> intimately tied to individuals' subjective ways of acting. But it's a
> subjective suggestion for action that is socially (intersubjectively?)
> Anna, Victor -- does this example make any sense? Is this the kind of
> subjectivity we've been talking about in the discussion of Anna's
>> [Anna wrote]: 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
>> 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
>> 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: email@example.com 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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