Re: [xmca] Emotion at Work

From: Steve Gabosch <sgabosch who-is-at>
Date: Thu Jul 26 2007 - 10:48:42 PDT

Looks like the article is now available at

- Steve

At 09:06 AM 7/25/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>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
>>-----Original Message-----
>>From: [] On
>>Behalf Of Andy Blunden
>>Sent: Tuesday, July 24, 2007 1:42 AM
>>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
>> 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
>>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,
>>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
>>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
>>of material culture from the list of pre-requisites for identity and
>>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
>>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";
>>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
>>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
>>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
>>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
>>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
>>of activity, they cannot be claimed to be the cause of other aspects of
>>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
>>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
>>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
>> "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
>>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_
>>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
>>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
>>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
>>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
>> "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
>>of how individuals generate emotion in activity systems, and trace how the
>>participants identify themselves and the system of activity, "buy into"
>>emotion, and jointly construct emotional valences meaningful in that
>>of activity.
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