RE: [xmca] activity theory 3rd generation

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Sun Nov 18 2007 - 04:10:52 PST

Eric, perhaps I should have a picture of Emily's apple pinned on my bedroom
wall, so I never forget that even my bright ideas can only show one side of
the apple, but with that in mind can I nevertheless respond to a couple of

I certainly found Yrjo's "expanding" triangle very helpful in following his
explanation of his very useful idea, in particular how mediating elements
intervened and then "expanded" into entities in their own right (forgive my
terrible precis). But I have always thought it quite wrong in representing
a "unit of analysis" - how can a "unit of analysis" have 7 pieces? I recall
Hegel's repeated words in the section on Actuality (which comes just before
The Notion) and in the section on Subjectivity (or "The Abstract Notion")
where every new combination of relations he says "fails to capture the
Notion". The "Notion" is a single thing, not a set of things, it's
something unique.

Second point. I think Peirce explained this better than anyone (and
apologies I have never been able to find the quote where I read this, or
maybe it was Colapietro) when you have two things or two processes, the
question is not setting up parallels or asking whether one is the mirror of
the other, etc., etc., like the French semiologists with their signifiers
and signifieds, but of asking what mediates between the two. In other
words, every relation is a research problem and also and consequently also
a problem resolved or in the process of being resolved in the objective
world (i.e., the world of all those other subjects).

Does that help ... at all?

At 05:11 AM 18/11/2007 -0600, you wrote:

> Andy:
>I certainly agree the triangle is troublesome. Even Yro, in "Learning by
>Expanding" breaks up the triangle at the activity angle to point out there
>is more going on in activity then merely activity. For the simple idea of
>tools/artifacts mediating behavior I think the triangle serves a purpose,
>beyond that simple explanation it becomes troubleesome. Vygotsky pointed
>out that thought and language followed parallel lines of development,
>should they be represented by separate triangles? Vygotsky also pointed
>out that learning and instruction should be measured differently, should
>they then be represented by separate triangles?
>Emily, I really like the apple metaphor because it really illustrates how
>difficult it is to get at the nugget of study. In Vygotsky's short paper
>"Thinking and Speech" (available in the collected works) he wants to
>capture the moment when an infant makes the leap from "thinking" about the
>world around her to "speaking" about the world around her. He uses
>research with Eidetics as proof that this moment is captured but I have to
>admit if Vygotsky explains the entire apple I can't see it.
>P.S. James liked to use a squirrel going around a tree as a metaphor. This
>can be found in his lecture on Pragmatism.
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
> cc:
> bcc:
> Subject: RE: [xmca] activity theory 3rd generation
>Andy Blunden <>
>Sent by:
>11/18/2007 07:02 PM ZE11
>Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <font
>Well that is a nice quote (the one at the end from Rockmore). To me it
>means that a lot of concepts which I might find abhorrent or mistaken have
>validity because they reflect relations that exist in the world, and it is
>in a sense hopeless to cry what ideas they are, while they continue as
>relations in the world. So this reinforces your first point, I think Emily,
>that every theory gives us some side to things that cannot be as adequately
>brought out by another theory, even one's favourite theory.
>Personally I find triangles are ok for seeing relations between things
>which are already constituted as different, independently existing things,
>but where a triangle is supposed to show internal relations of a single
>thing I find them a singularly confusing metaphor.
>And I stalwartly refuse the ideal/material dichotomy. Ideal/real maybe, but
>ideal is material, so that's crazy... within the universe of the meanings I
>give to these terms.
>At a recent meeting celebrating the bicentenary of publication of Hegel's
>Phenomenology, someone was (after any number before them) denouncing the
>dreaded Cartesian dichotomy and a good friend of mine, Paul Ashton, an
>excellent Hegelian, stepped up to say if there was anyone in the room who
>did not feel this Cartesian dichotomy, could they please let him know,
>because he would like to be where they were. No-one took him up on his
>offer. ... But that doesn't mean that this dichotomy which we feel is real.
>At 10:16 PM 17/11/2007 -0800, you wrote:
> >To me the issue of the triangles is an unfortunate result of Flatland.
> >Even 'two sides coins' are limiting.
> >When we lay out frameworks perhaps we need to think somewhat
> >holographically (word?), I think.
> >I go back to the appendix to his book, The Practice of Philosophy: A
> >Handbook for Beginners, where Jay Rosenberg offers the following
> >
> >If you see some part of an apple but not every part of the apple, then you
> >see not an apple but only part of an apple. Since no one ever sees every
> >part of an apple, no one ever sees an apple. The argument isn't restricted
> >to apples. Peaches, pears, plums, cars, books, and people - no one ever
> >sees them. Indeed, no one ever sees anything. What's gone wrong here?
> >(Rosenberg, 1978: 90)
> >
> >I love this puzzle! It speaks directly to the dilemma that I like to hope
> >every scientist faces for, like Rosenberg's apple, we can't really expect
> >to see every part of what we study, can we? As physicist David Bohm points
> >
> >...we must finally reach a stage in every theory where we introduce the
> >notion of something with unvarying and exhaustively specifiable modes of
> >being, if only because we cannot possibly take into account all the
> >inexhaustibly rich properties, qualities, and relationships that exist in
> >the process of becoming. At this point, then, we are making an
> >abstraction from the real process of becoming. Whether the abstraction is
> >adequate or not depends on whether or not the specific phenomena that we
> >are studying depend significantly on what we have left out. (Bohm, 1957:
> >
> >Certainly our scientific researches involve choices: what to consider and
> >how to consider it - although the focus can be seemingly concentric at
> >times, oriented as it where via the limits of theory and method. However,
> >our choices are not only about the nature of what we consider to be
> >significant with regard to the phenomenon under scrutiny and how we choose
> >to investigate it but our choices also give indication of the judgments we
> >are prepared to make about the nature of what it is that we have chosen to
> >investigate and, by extension, about our ways and means of understanding
> >the world as present around us and through us. So to some degree I might
> >say that my theoretical bearings and methodological route of investigating
> >Rosenberg's apple becomes less a choice I make in the name of an anonymous
> >science, than a reflection of the culturally and historically based
> >ontological and epistemological framework in which I interpret,
> >understand, appropriate and participate in the world.
> >
> >To be clear, this is not at all to advance a form of relativism. Nor is it
> >to make a case for 'ladenness' wherein "[i]f the notions of theory and
> >concept ladenness are correct then all sciences are, to some degree,
> >interpretive and hermeneutical, all observation participant observation"
> >(Garrison, 1986: 16). Rather it is to suggest that the scientific
> >investigation of Rosenberg's apple is not simply about theory and method,
> >but also about the process-nature of scientific investigation as a human
> >activity and its relationship to knowledge and truth. That is to say, from
> >a Marxist perspective,
> >
> >[i]t is useful to consider [again] the relation of thought to being, in
> >this case the relation of the categorical framework to the social context.
> >Simply stated, Marx understands all forms of social being as the product
> >of human activity, which intervenes in the epistemological process on two
> >levels: in the original production of the hermeneutical object, which
> >precedes knowledge, through the practical productive activity manifested
> >in a social context; and in the conceptual reproduction of the
> >hermeneutical object on the level of thought in order that it be known.
> >(Rockmore, 1984: 123)
> >
> >Does this help with the 'ideal' / 'material'? And the triangles... :-)
> >~ Em
> >
> >
> >-----Original Message-----
> >From: [] On
> >Behalf Of Andy Blunden
> >Sent: Saturday, November 17, 2007 6:29 PM
> >To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> >Subject: Re: [xmca] activity theory 3rd generation
> >
> >Well I don't know about all these triangles and dialectical dualisms
> >either, but I have only just discovered Skype. For me (outside academia
> >in the wrong hemisphere) this offers a really cheap option for
> >participating in these international discussions, so I do agree with Mark
> >that this looks like a good artefact to use in learning.
> >Andy
> >At 04:04 PM 17/11/2007 -0800, you wrote:
> > >I am not sure whether we ought to represent them separately, as they
> > >are dialectically related, that is, two aspects of the same coin that
> > >one-sidedly ( :-) ) represent the whole thing. This is what I have
> > >been suggesting for a while, not that we need to represent them
> > >separately, but that we need to look at Yrjö's structure and think it
> > >in terms of representing the dialectical co-presence of the ideal and
> > >material. Michael
> > >
> > >
> > >On 17-Nov-07, at 3:33 PM, Mike Cole wrote:
> > >
> > >As to having ideal and material triangles separately represented, I have
> > >not made it that far yet either. I do think that all cultural artifacts
> > >both material and ideal, and it may well make sense to extend this
> > >to all elements of an activity system, I just have not gotten there in
> > >thinking.
> > >
> > >_______________________________________________
> > >xmca mailing list
> > >
> > >
> >
> > Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
> >mobile 0409 358 651
> >
> >_______________________________________________
> >xmca mailing list
> >
> >
> >_______________________________________________
> >xmca mailing list
> >
> >
>Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
>mobile 0409 358 651
>xmca mailing list
>xmca mailing list

  Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
mobile 0409 358 651

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Received on Sun Nov 18 04:18 PST 2007

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