Re: [xmca] concept as gambit

From: Victor (
Date: Tue Nov 15 2005 - 07:16:11 PST


Surely, any dialectical consideration that concerns life activity must
address the interaction if you will of subject (understood as the
rationality of the agent) and object. The relation is not precisely one of
oscillation between object and subject, but rather of the aggregation of
ever more complex and specified systems of relations that join and unify
subject and object in a single concept/state.

The problem of subjectivity on the level of this discussion (at least as I
understand it) is not one of negation of subject by object, but of a highly
developed conscious rationality (which is itself a product of a long and
complex dialectical process of development of the categories of thought) in
confrontation with an already established social formation (in materialism)
or with "Life" (in Objective Idealism). My understanding of Vera's use of
the term "solo" does not refer to the subject as such, but to the
materialization of the subject's conscious thinking, objectified of course
as language or in some other material form, in social relations. Peter's
use of the term "gambit" is an even more loaded reference to this relation
between the objectified subjective consciousness of the agent and the social
context in which it emergences insofar as it indicates the essential
teleological character of the objectified consciousness.

I seriously doubt if the Robinsonade has much relevance here. At no point
in this discussion did anyone suggest that the soloist or the author of the
gambit has invented his contribution from the ground up. The very
possibility of participation of a subject in any kind of social
confrontation with others implies he shares an extensive common ground of
language, convention etc. with the other participants in the interaction.

Victor Friedlander-Rakocz
----- Original Message -----
From: "Wolff-Michael Roth" <>
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
Sent: Tuesday, November 15, 2005 15:28
Subject: Re: [xmca] concept as gambit

> Hi all,
> concerning the discussion on subject--subjectivity does not get around
> the difficulties with the concept, and the adjective either. And we
> certainly cannot discuss the subject without the object, its negation,
> without which subject does not exist. I was a little wondering about that
> when some writers attempt to understand these terms without beginning
> with the middle term, which breaks apart into subject|object. . . or
> without going the route Hegel and Marx go, have to go, through the
> continuous oscillation through subject-object- subject cycles, without
> which the subject cannot exist in the first place.
> There is never solo activity de novo--see Marx and his discussion of
> Robinson Crusoe, in fact, he called 'Robinsonades' those attempts that
> use Robinson and his solo life as examples to found departing with the
> individual. Solo activity always is concretely, singularly realized
> collective activity, or perhaps better, possibilities that exist at the
> collective level.
> Cheers,
> Michael
> On 15-Nov-05, at 5:11 AM, Victor wrote:
>> 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.
>> Victor Friedlander-Rakocz
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Peter Moxhay"
>> <>
>> To: "Activity eXtended Mind Culture" <>
>> 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?) evaluated.
>>> 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
>>> article?
>>> Peter
>>>> [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 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
>>>> Victor,
>>>> 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...
>>>> Peter
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