Re: [xmca] Emotion at Work

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Sat Jul 28 2007 - 21:44:47 PDT

At 09:04 AM 28/07/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>Kozulin's criticism of activity theory (which I think I subscribe to, and
>more importantly, I think that Volosinov and Vygotsky himself wold have
>subscribed to) is that it doesn't deal with this problem: first Leontiev
>reduces activity to action and then operation, but each of these is really
>just "activity" on a different scale. Then Engestrom decomposes "activity"
>into the elements you pointed out; these can explain the make-up of an
>activity but the make-up of the activity does not explain its genesis and
>its development (I have always felt that the bits we really want to
>understand in Engestrom's triangle are the ARROWS, not the various words).

The criticism of Leontyev's activity theory which impressed me was (I
think) Erik Axel's point that it is not clear what makes an "activity", and
that it appears to be external and arbitrary. I think Hegel had the answer
to that in that he demanded that systems of activity define themselves. So
it is only when a candidate for "system of activity" becomes
self-conscious, that we indeed have an activity.

>Instead I find myself going back to the formulations in "Thinking and
>Speech" and 'The Role of Play in the Development of the Child". Thinking
>and speech MUST have different roots if they are to explain each other; if
>they are the same, if they BOTH spring from "activity", then the problem
>you point to arises; there is no cause and no effect at all, much less
>mutual causing and effecting. I think where I differ from you is that I
>think Vygotsky DID believe in cause and effect; he knew that they
>sometimes change places (especially in the course of development) but
>thinking and speech do transform each other, and this is what "causes"
>speech to become intellectual and thinking rational.

Certainly thinking and speech must have different roots in order to make a
meaningful unity, and cause and effect figure in that genesis, as I see it.
And of course genesis continues and causality goes on, but I don't think
that you could talk of thinking and speaking causing each other within a


> The problem for me is that this formulation is LIMITED to the
> intellectual side of things: with its reference to "intellectual" speech
> and "rational" thought, it inevitably suggests cold cognition. So it
> seems to me that Vygotsky must have meant for us to work out a similar
> argument for mediated emotions: these DO begin with the contemplation of
> physical sensations but they cannot be limited to them. There must be
> higher emotions, language mediated ones, where speech transforms feeling
> and feeling transforms speech. It seems to me, actually, when I look back
> at the vicissitudes of my own love life, that this is more or less what
> has happened to me. More importantly, when I look at your data, it seems
> to me that this is what is actually happening to Jack: his response to
> his condition (which I am very willing to admit has a physical component)
> is a response to his understanding of verbal interactions that impinge on
> his social status, not a response to an associative chain
> that would impinge on his physical well-being.
> How is this possible? In "The Role of Play in the Development of the
> Child" LSV suggests that play has two different roots; object-oriented
> action and meaning. At first, the causality is entirely one way; the
> child's gesture precedes meaning and in some important sense creates it
> (viz. "causes" it). But meaning does not stay put; it moves decisively to
> precede the gesture (the child PLANS to draw or play) and seizes the
> causal role, transforming itself from "meaning" to "motive". It's only in
> this way that role play is born. There is still cause and effect, but now
> it is meaning which is causing object-oriented action.
> The same kind of reversal of roles takes place again, WITHIN play
> itself, which LSV divides into two new elements, each containing both
> action AND meaning). He says these two new elements (of games, not of
> play) are imaginary situations and abstract rules. Once again they fuse
> with and transform each other.
> Rules emerge in role play, which is a way of saying that a game is not
> reducible to roles and roles are elements rather than units of games. In
> a role play there are restrictions on what characters can do and say in
> particular situations. But as the child grows up, the causal relationship
> is again reversed, and we now find that abstract rules are what generate
> imaginary situations (for example, the rules of soccer generate the
> imaginary situations of attack, defense, and running around like a
> lunatic pretending that you have no arms to pick up the ball).
> The real problem with Damasio (and I think this is NOT a problem with
> "Emotion at Work") is that he does not recognize that what holds true for
> the mind's contemplation of the physical states of the body (that is,
> that physical emotional states precede and are in some sense causative of
> feelings) may not be true of the mind's contemplation of the social,
> language mediated, condition of the body. On the contrary, it seems to
> me, the arrow of causation (for I think that is what it is) must be
> reversed: it is the contemplation of our social status which gives rise
> to bodily states. As Andy says, material culture (a banana skin, say) is
> a much more useful concept here than an endless chain of associations
> that end in a banana.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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  Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435, AIM
identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651

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Received on Sat Jul 28 21:46 PDT 2007

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