Re: [xmca] Emotion at Work

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Wed Jul 25 2007 - 09:06:43 PDT

Right now you find it by asking me. I am asking Taylor and Francis to make
it available to all.

On 7/24/07, Helena Harlow Worthen <> wrote:
> Please remind me how to find the Emotion at Work paper by Wolf-Michael.
> Thanks -- Helena
> Helena Worthen
> Chicago Labor Education Program
> Suite 110 The Rice Building
> 815 West Van Buren Street
> Chicago, IL 60607
> 312-996-8733
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On
> Behalf Of Andy Blunden
> Sent: Tuesday, July 24, 2007 1:42 AM
> To:
> Subject: [xmca] Emotion at Work
> Here are some thoughts on your paper Wolf-Michael:
> Wolf-Michael's abstract is marvellous. If this project could be fulfilled
> it would indeed justify being seen as working towards a 'third
> generation':
> Second-generation cultural-historical activity theory,
> which drew its inspiration from Leont'ev's work, constituted
> an advance over Vygotsky's first-generation theory by
> explicitly articulating the dialectical relation between
> individual and collective. As part of an effort to develop
> third-generation-historical activity theory, I propose in this
> article a way in which emotion, motivation, and identity can be
> incorporated into the theory. ...
> I love the practical work that Wolf-Michael reports, too, as the local
> union rep. at work for most of my life I know these characters and
> situations all too well. It is great though that the epilogue seems to
> show
> a positive outcome.
> That said, I think there a number of serious problems with the general
> propositions that Wolf-Michael puts forward.
> On page 44 Wolf-Michael claims:
> "Consciousness, motivation, and identity are subordinated to
> orientation and emotional readiness because, from evolutionary
> and cultural-historical perspectives, the latter predate the
> former (Damasio, 1999)."
> I am really not sure what is entailed in being "subordinated," so my
> response must be qualified in that respect. But it reeks of a dreadful
> positivism. There is no logical basis for the general claim that the
> historically or phylogenetically later is "subordinated" to the earlier.
> Does it mean that the aeroplane must be subordinated to the horse-and-cart
> and civilization subordinated to jungle life? Modern life arises on the
> basis of rational institutions unknown to animals. To claim that
> civilisation is subordinated to animal life reeks of Konrad Lorenz,
> Desmond
> Morris and Robert Ardrey.
> Is it that identity (for example) "builds on" orientation and emotional
> readiness? Yes, but identity _transcends_ the animal functions of
> orientation and emotional readiness, doesn't it? The aeroplane utilises
> the
> laws of physics, but it also _flies_. So why do we say that the animal
> functions "subordinate" the higher functions?
> In fact I have a problem I think with Wolf-Michael's conception of
> identity. Wolf-Michael goes on:
> "Identity and motivation are _effects _of the psychic life
> of human beings, which require consciousness and collectively
> organized activity and became possible at the dawn of
> anthropogenesis, when human subjects found themselves as
> subjects, separate from other material things and fellow
> human beings (RicŠur, 1990; Roth, 2006b)."
> I question here the idea of individuality (if I understand Wolf-Michael
> correctly) being placed "at the dawn of anthropogenesis," the implication
> that "subject" is more or less synonymous with individual, and the
> omission
> of material culture from the list of pre-requisites for identity and
> motivation.
> Now, I would have thought that "identity" and subjectivity arise prior to
> individuality, at the beginning of anthropogenesis, only it would not have
> been _individual_ identity or individual subjectivity. Pre-modern human
> beings act on the basis of an identity tied up with their land, their
> social position, threats to their kin, and so on, in other words, with the
> forms of activity by which people live. Isn't it more consistent with CHAT
> to suppose that individuality is a later construct of the differentiation
> of subjectivity?
> Material culture is of course something which is not found amongst the
> animals, and I think it is fair to say that material culture is central to
> the formation of identity and _all _aspects of the psychic life of human
> beings. And what does it mean in this context to describe identity and
> motivation, which are surely psychic phenomena, as being "effects" of
> psychic life? Wolf-Michael distinguishes between psychic life on the one
> hand and consciousness on the other. I can understand this in terms of
> "psychic life" being simply the activity of the nervous system, something
> found in any organism with a nervous system. Is that right? And
> "consciousness" being something that arises, I would have thought, in
> connection with the use of material culture used in forms of activity.
> On history and philosophy:
> "Thus, as dialectical phenomenological philosophers point out,
> any explication of human consciousness that posits the subject
> to understand consciousness and knowledgeability - as
> philosophers (Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, etc.) and
> psychologists (all but critical psychologists) have done -
> inherently is flawed because it does not take account of
> history, that is, the emergence of the human psyche during
> anthropogenesis (Derrida, 2005; Franck, 2001; Levinas, 1998)."
> I hope I can be forgiven for putting in a word for my favourite
> philosopher. I think it is a big mistake to include Hegel in this list.
> They all have different concepts of the subject of course, but Husserl and
> Heidegger share with Kant an individual, subjective concept of the subject
> while for Hegel the subject is not at all an individual. I like to
> describe
> Hegel as "the first cultural-historical psychologist" and via Marx he is
> the direct progenitor, in my view, of CHAT. And to mention Hegel as "not
> taking account of history" is novel. It was Hegel who invented the idea of
> importing history into a concept of subjectivity as constructed in social
> activity. True, of course, that Hegel knew nothing of "anthropogenesis";
> he
> thought that the human species was created in a flash of lightning all at
> once biologically exactly as they are. He ascribed everything else to
> _history and culture_ rather than biology. But then, he died in 1831.
> Wolf-Michael continues:
> "This recent work shows how intersubjectivity and subjectivity
> are the _results _of collective life and having a material body,
> which allows the dawning subject, mediated by its embodied and
> bodily nature, to be conscious of itself as but one among a
> plurality of subjects (Nancy, 2000)."
> Again, while it seems too obvious to mention that you have to have a
> material body before you have psychic activity, isn't it more important to
> mention that a material culture is a precondition _characteristic_ of
> human
> life, whereas "having a material body" and "collective life" is equally
> true of plankton and grapevines. By the by, it is to Hegel of course that
> we owe the idea that self-consciousness arises on the basis of becoming
> aware of ones own people as one among a plurality. But Hegel never used
> the
> term "intersubjectivity" because he knew the key role played by material
> culture which _mediates_ between subjects. And Hegel was not the last
> person to think that material culture plays an important role in human
> emotional life, from the patriot's flag to Linus's security blanket to
> Donald Winnicott's mother's breast.
> But I agree with Wolf-Michael, that understanding human feelings is tied
> up
> with practical social activity and practical reason.
> "Motivation and identity are not independent constructs but are
> derivative, an integral aspect of an activity system in general,
> and emotion - which is centrally involved in the shape of practical
> actions and practical reasons - in particular." {p. 54)
> Wolf-Michael, I presume you are using "emotion" in the Damasian sense of
> somatic-nervous activity, as distinct from the "interpretation" of
> emotions
> in terms of human feelings, which is derived from the socialisation of the
> individual? You mean that only beings with nervous systems, and therefore
> emotions, can have motivations? But it is meaningless to mention something
> that is a general precondition; why not mention the sun or hydrocarbons?
> The question is: what precondition provides the specific character of what
> is built upon it? Isn't it the point that motivation is acquired _from the
> activity system_, and that it is the activity system which imparts the
> specific character to the emotional response of individuals? So I agree
> with Wolf-Michael when he says: "Because emotions are an irreducible
> aspect
> of activity, they cannot be claimed to be the cause of other aspects of
> the
> activity." (p. 58) The question really is: should we be regarding the
> activity system "coldly"?
> On the question of identity, Wolf-Michael says:
> "In the context of cultural-historical activity theory, identity is
> a derivative construct in the sense that it presupposes the
> existence of the subject who, regulated by emotions, engages
> with an object of motive-directed activity, and who becomes aware
> of itself as self. Identity presupposes the presence of memory and
> consciousness (Ricoeur, 2004). The construct of identity pertains
> to who someone is." (p. 56)
> I think Wolf-Michael uses the term "subject" here in the Kantian sense, as
> the transcendental bearer of individual thoughts and actions. But even in
> this sense the claim is tautological, as identity is part of what a
> subject
> is, a subject without a sense of its own identity is unthinkable. With the
> Hegelian idea of "subject" being a self-conscious system of activity, it
> is
> still the case that identity is entailed in subjectivity, as is the fact
> that the human beings involved have nervous systems. But a system of
> activity is not self-conscious from the outset. According to Hegel,
> identity is something that arises only at a certain point in the
> development of an activity system. But human feelings also arise in just
> this way as does the specific character of individual identity, with a
> specific character drawn from the system of activity and the forms of
> material culture generated in the system of activity. Wolf-Michael goes
> on:
> "However, we do not know _who _a person is independent of the
> actions of that person. ... attributions about _who _someone _is _
> are made based on observable behavior (actions). Actions that are
> already means of expressing emotions and motivations also come to
> express identities." (p. 56)
> I think this is a mistake. Identity is in the first place
> _self-_consciousness, that is, how a person sees themself. The whole idea
> of the notion of "subject" going back to Aristotle, is that the subject
> exists "behind" all its contingent attributes and persists through
> movement
> and change. To claim that identity is derived from attributes is to undo
> the very meaning of subject and self-consciousness. Attributes (including
> perceived actions) are attributes _of_ a subject, which cannot be reduced
> to our experience of it. How we get to know something is not the same as
> what it _is_, and a subject does not get to know itself by perceiving it
> own actions, rather than mediately through the reactions of _other_
> subjects.
> The problem of the construct of "cold cognition" is a very real and urgent
> problem, but I think Wolf-Michael's treatment of emotion is coming from
> the
> wrong direction. Knowing is also embodied in biology, just as much as
> feeling, and feeling is tied up with material culture, thought and social
> activity, just as much as knowing.
> "The choices available in, and to, practical reasoning are
> always oriented toward higher emotional valence." (p. 59)
> This claim reminds me of Alasdair MacIntyre's discussion of "emotivism" in
> ethics, in his book "Beyond Virtue." People do not, like sea urchins, move
> up a gradient of gratification, short- or long-term. Why do people go to
> war? Because when they die, at least they won't be unhappy? I can't really
> see any way that this claim can be distanced from utilitarianism and the
> myth of rational economic agents maximising utility. People do things that
> they are unhappy about doing, but they do it nonetheless, and citing
> deferred gratification just defers the problem.
> "Identity, too, is an integral part of human activity and an effect
> of emotion. Who I am with respect to others and myself is
> fundamentally related to my participation in collective activity
> and to individual and collective emotional valences arising from
> (orientations to) face-to-face interaction with others." (p. 60)
> I think this formulation is a little mixed up. The second sentence is
> correct, but to claim that identity is an _effect_ of emotion is a kind of
> positivism. Emotion is somatic nervous activity and to describe identity
> as
> an effect of this nervous activity begs the question of whether bed bugs
> and jelly fish have an identity. If they do, then the whole discussion is
> at cross purposes. Systems of self-conscious activity arise only amongst
> sentient beings who _have constructed a material culture_, and the
> specific
> character of self-consciousness, feeling and identity arises from the
> nature of the activity system and the material culture, utilising _all_
> aspects of human biology, inclusive of emotional readiness but also, the
> capacities for nutrition, motility, sensation as well.
> However, I think Wolf-Michael's observation is very attractive when he
> says:
> "Third-generation cultural-historical activity theory constitutes
> a suitable framework for understanding the phenomenon of
> collective emotion and its relationship to individual emotion.
> My examples hint at a dialectical relation linking individual
> and collective emotion. The tacit aspects of emotion shape actions,
> which are observed by, and available as resources to, others.
> These others find themselves in emotional states, and
> interpret the actions of others in terms of the emotions
> they express; this interpretation is mediated by the activity
> system that frames the actions. In their own actions, these
> others may express the same emotions, which then gives rise
> to a sense of solidarity, which sustains and fuels individual
> short- and long-term emotional states." (p. 60)
> I would suggest that we need to insert material culture into our
> conception
> of how individuals generate emotion in activity systems, and trace how the
> participants identify themselves and the system of activity, "buy into"
> the
> emotion, and jointly construct emotional valences meaningful in that
> system
> of activity.
> comradely,
> Andy
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Received on Wed Jul 25 09:08 PDT 2007

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