Re: [xmca] Blunden on Subjects

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Tue Jan 01 2008 - 14:22:54 PST

Thank you Steve for your helpful, and in my view accurate, comments.

I had also decided that "subjectivity" is a better term, despite its
equally troublesome ambiguity. But for different reasons. In modern
society, individuals participate in a multiplicity of different subjects
and so there is no "subject" standing by itself anywhere, like an ancient
Greek polis. But it remains an analytical "unit of analysis". It was only
for the purpose of connecting up with the idea of "unit of analysis" in
CHAT, that I stuck to "subject" in this paper.

And sometimes I just sort of get pissed off that a tradition coming from
Hegel and Marx goes on following Kant in using the term "subject" for
"person", thereby obscuring the critique of Kant which lay at the very
origin of our tradition.


At 01:18 PM 1/01/2008 -0500, you wrote:
>This is a longish post on Andy's use of the term "subject."
>On Dec 18, 2007, at 3:01 PM, Mike Cole wrote:
>>I am unsure how to comment usefully yet on Andy's paper because I am
>>struggling over the polysemy
>>of "subject"
>>The "idiographic/nomothetic" distinction appears seldom in our
>>What kind of subject is Andy's subject?
>I too have been struggling with what is meant by the term "subject" in
>the paper. It is a pivotal question because the paper argues that
>CHAT should base a unit of analysis on "the subject." But what is it?
>As I try to make sense of this term, I find myself wanting to use the
>form "subjectivity" in its place to try to get to the heart of Andy's
>meaning. For me, this substitution solves some grammar and word usage
>problems posed by the way the term "subject" is used in the text. A
>particular grammar problem I have is the term itself shows up in three
>somewhat contradictory forms: "a subject" (indefinite article), "the
>subject" (definite article), and with no article at all, just
>"subject," which is a questionable use in English (but perhaps not
>German). It seems like nit-picking, but these different grammatical
>forms just plain confuse me as to what the term "subject" is precisely
>referring to. In contrast, the term "subjectivity" does not seem to
>have this problem. I include a number of examples of how these forms
>appear in the paper below.
>Another word usage problem that the term "subjectivity" solves for me
>is that the term "subject" is hard to separate from its reference to a
>single isolated individual, which is the very thing this unit of
>analysis attempts to avoid. "Subjectivity," unlike a "subject," is an
>entity that can be shared, developed, transformed, etc., and seems
>more appropriate as a potential unit of analysis for a "social"
>psychology based on human activity, culture, history, etc.
>Of course, we must be clear on what kind of "subjectivity" we are
>speaking of, and this is where Andy's trichotomy of agency, cogito
>(knowledge) and self-consciousness helps us understand what kind of
>subjectivity he is proposing to look for and analyze. Dementia, for
>example, could be seen as a kind of subjectivity, but that isn't the
>right kind for the purposes Andy is suggesting. Andy further
>describes this trichotomy as coinciding with the "moments" (another
>term I am not clear on) of the individual (individual psyche), the
>particular (social relations) and the universal (cultural artifacts).
>These are interesting insights into human subjectivity. Their obvious
>affinity with certain CHAT concepts shows potential. May I also add
>that I think Andy does CHAT a service by showing how some of the ideas
>he discusses originate with Hegel, "the first person to theorize the
>subject from the standpoint of cultural­historical activity."
>Using the term "subjectivity" (or probably a specialized term based on
>it like "interactive subjectivity" or something like that to describe
>what kind of subjectivity is being referred to) in a number of places
>where the paper uses "subject" helps the paper become more accessible
>to me, to evaluate and build on - from a CHAT point of view, from the
>point of view of developing a new psychology, and from a classical
>Marxist perspective, three ways I tend to think about theory in terms
>But this may not be a sensible suggestion - perhaps I am simply
>entirely missing some key concepts in the paper, am not aware of a
>specialized meaning of the term "subject," etc.
>Below are some excerpts from the text that use various forms of
>"subject," as well as spell out some of the paper's key ideas about
>what I think in terms of as "subjectivity." Would substituting
>"subjectivity" (or perhaps a specialized term like "interactive
>subjectivity" or whatever) in various places possibly make the paper's
>meaning more clear? In some places, the text already does just that.
>See what you think.
>Here is the .pdf for the paper again for quick reference.
>- Steve
>from pg 257:
>By subject, I understand a self-conscious system of activity. A
>subject is therefore the identity of agency (or moral responsibility,
>the capacity to do something), “cogito” (knowledge or understanding),
>and self-consciousness (or identity).
>from pg 257:
>The individual person is a limiting case of a subject, but in general,
>the individual-as-subject can only be the endpoint of a long-drawn- out,
>still-unfinished historical process. This trichotomy constitutes
>the definition of subject and allows the development of subjectivity
>to be traced through the independent development, reciprocal
>transformation, intersection, relative unity, and contradictions
>between its three components.
>from pg 259:
>A subject has three components: (a) The individual, simply understood
>as a mortal individual human spirit or psyche, with whatever capacity
>for moral responsibility, whatever knowledge, beliefs, and ideology
>they hold and with a certain identity or self-consciousness; (b) the
>ensemble of social relations and activities, including both
>collaborative and conflictual relations, both production relations
>and the entire range of activities, whether in the private domain,
>the economy, the arts, or whatever; and (c) the Universal, material
>products of culture, inclusive of language, the means of production,
>technology and science, the land, buildings, and so on.
>from pg 261-262:
>The unit of analysis for a subject as conceived of by Vygotsky is
>therefore an individual person, an element of culture, and an activity
>or material practice. In the process of development, these elements,
>which begin as distinct components of psychic activity, become
>identified in the subject as a single unit of behavior. So Vygotsky’s
>conception of subjectivity is consonant with the idea proposed here as
>a conception of the subject.
>from pg 263:
>It was previously mentioned that the unit of analysis required for the
>solution of the problem of subjectivity is not the interaction between
>two domains or spheres of activity.
>from pg 263:
>… the appropriate unit of analysis is the subject, understood as a
>self-conscious system of activity, necessarily embodying a relative
>unity of agency, cogito, and self-consciousness, with individual,
>particular, and universal moments.
>from pg 265 (the final words of the paper):
>… an individual cannot, at least in history up to the present, be a
>subject, a sovereign power in their own right. Subjectivity can be
>exercised only in concert with others, in definite social relations.
>Such relations can be understood only through the concept of subject,
>as a self-conscious system of activity, in which agency, cogito, and
>self-consciousness relatively coincide, through the mediation of the
>individual psyche, artifacts and definite social relations.
><end of quotes>
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