Re: [xmca] Emotion at Work

From: Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth who-is-at>
Date: Sun Jul 29 2007 - 07:22:05 PDT

Hi all,
I thought about these two things in relation to our discussion:

1. Concept of ACTIVITY. It is a pity that English does not make the
distinctions that other languages make, such as German and Russian,
between "Aktivität"/aktivnost' (activity) and "Tätigkeit"/
deyatel'nost' (activity). It's like English speakers find themselves
in the same situation that physicists found themselves in when they
did not distinguish between heat and temperature, which science
educators now denote as one of the fundamental MISconceptions
students "have." Another undifferentiated referent was that of heat
prior to the introduction of entropy so that the same term heat was
applied where now two very different concepts are used, heat and
entropy. That is, the concept of activity in English is
undifferentiated with respect to two very different referents.
        Relatedly there is the problem to think in terms of an individual/
collective dialectic, which in the Anglo-Saxon tradition always is
reduced to the individual---think in terms of the individualization/
internalization concept, which does not seem to address the fact that
any individual act is the realization of a collective possibility,
and if it is not such, it is an incomprehensible singularity

2. I was wondering whether readers see the double entendre in the
title, because emotions are at work not only at work (i.e., in the
fish hatchery)....


On 28-Jul-07, at 9:44 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

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

> 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 word-meaning.


> 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,
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