[xmca] artefact 5

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at mira.net>
Date: Sat Jan 12 2008 - 17:27:21 PST

I think I have repeated often enough that an artefact is only what it is
insofar as it is used in purposive activity, but let me explain why I have
been so insistent on the materiality of artefacts rather than their ideality.

1. In Yrjo Engstrom's "Learning by Expanding"
http://lchc.ucsd.edu/MCA/Paper/Engestrom/expanding/ch2.htm Chapter 2 where
he traces the development of the various activity theories, he explains
with great precision what I had noticed with my own work, namely that
Mead's activity theory, which was very close to Vygotsky's, had over time,
in the US been transformed into what I call a theory of
"intersubjectivity", that is a theory of social psychology (?) in which
material culture is erased.

2. The name of Karl Marx is now erased from academic discourse in Australia
and I think in many other places (even though he is regularly voted the No.
1 philosopher in public votes in the UK) and in fact anything that smells
of Marx is deemed beyond the pale, old fashioned, dogmatic, etc., etc.,
Even the writers of the Frankfurt School now mostly erase the odour of Marx
from their work. Consequently, the *means of production*, which is part of
material culture cannot be incorporated in respectable theories and writers
seem so anxious to distance themselves from Marx that *all* material
culture is erased. This happens along with the "postmetaphysical" turn
which erases "spirit" and other such transcendental concepts which go
beyond the action of isolated individuals. I have written at length on this
in respect to the Frankfurter Axel Honneth and the leading US Hegelian
Robert R. Williams.

3. The central aim of my paper was to tackle the individual/social
dichotomy. Even the "name" of this dichotomy omits material culture. Even
though there is no basis for promoting material culture to a role in
activity and consciousness greater than that of the human psyche itself or
social relations such as division of labour, it is the fact that people
talk about an "individual-social" dichotomy and describe it at length
unaware of the fact that material culture is neither one nor the other
apparently believing that material culture is really something secondary to
consciousness, not really important, to be taken for granted and so on. In
Helena's example this would correspond to the adage "It is people who shoot
people, not guns" or "It is people who have accidents not dangerous
machines." One could say that it is the erasure of material culture from
psychology which leads to the individual-social dichotomy.

4. In the case of the two papers I was responding to, I claimed that Anna
conflated activity and material culture under the notion of "society" - and
I think A N Leontyev does this on occasion too, and Stephen simply does not
mention material culture.

5. There has always been on this list the on-going issue about the supposed
dual character of artefacts, and I think that that mirrors the supposed
dual character of human life, individual and social.

6. I can see no way of bridging the gap between the Kantian individual, but
transcendental, subject and the social or collective subject in the way
that Steve Gabosch highlighted for me, without clarifying the role of
material culture. Further, there will remain problems about subjectivity
and lingering homunuculi in our thinking until we can place the body in its
proper relation to subjectivity. My claim that the body is a part of
material culture and should be counted as an artefact is novel but I think
breaks the Gordian knot of a lot of problems of the so-called "philosophy
or mind."

The above reasons for my insistence on the role of material culture are
arranged roughly in order of importance.


At 02:46 PM 12/01/2008 -0800, you wrote:
> sorry to be luring you away from writing the report . . . so i'll
> answer without raising anything additional.
> first, yeah i misinterpreted, interpreting the "ugh" as the expression
> of an emotional envelope accompanying a thought capable of being
> verbally expressed in multiple ways one of which might be "do i have to
> go over this again". I probably thought that because I felt really
> stupid seeing ch5 upon opening the attacment, thinking, "Jeez,
> dumbo, why didn't you remember that? Some Lacanian mirror maze,
> huh? Mea culpa.
> second, I personally have never thought that you made an ideal v.
> material artefact distinction. As I understand it Type-1, Type-2 and
> Type-3 artefacts all have both material and ideal dimensions. But the
> ways in which these different types of artefacts appear in activity, the
> types of relations each type of artefact with the subject and object of
> the activity, and the types of activity systems within which each type of
> artefact can occur all vary. That is the basis of my criiticism of
> Andy's proposal.. But I never intended to say that the artefact
> typology iimplies ideal /material distinction.
> My statement concerning your use of Geertz comes from some other
> passages. First are the last two sentences of the preceding section: "
> If one accepts this characterization of artifacts as the linchpin of
> cultural mediation along the lines suggested by Wartofsky, one next step
> is to look at ways in which artifacts of the three different kinds are
> woven together in the process of joint human activity. How patterned are
> the artifacts constituting human culture? " .Aren't the words "cohesion
> and coherence " in the following section's title a form of
> restatement of "how patterned?", how woven together are the different
> types of artefacts a group uses?
> The following two passages from ch5 further led me to my conclusion
> about the use of Geertz:
> "Geertz is justly famous for developing the notion that different
> parts of culture cohere such that, for example, one could use a Balinese
> cockfight or puppet theater (tertiary artifacts in Wartofsky's scheme of
> things) as an organizing metaphor for all of Balinese society (Geertz,
> 1973a). In the early '70s, Geertz cited with approval Max Weber's image
> of humankind as "an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself
> has spun," declaring that "I take culture to be those webs" (Geertz,
> 1973b. p. 5). Later in that same volume, Geertz suggested that culture
> should be conceived of by analogy with a recipe or a computer program,
> which he referred to as "control mechanisms."
> and
> "Geertz is one of the pivotal people in my efforts to reconcile the
> ideas about cultural mediation and development that I learned from the
> Russian cultural-historical psychologists and the work of contemporary
> cultural anthropologists. "
> Seemed to me a justifiable conclusion.
> Finally, I agree with Helen and you about bringing it all back down to
> earth, after all, aren't we talking about the design of "learning
> artefacts" which, just like any other tool, isn't useful if there is no
> activity in which it enables actions to achieve the intended
> outcome. Consider a hammer made out of marsmallows, what kind of
> artefact would that be? tertiary? Shouldn't theorizing should provide
> something comparable to what a notion or concept of relative hardness
> provides for making a hammer.
> Paul
>=== message truncated ===
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  Andy Blunden : http://home.mira.net/~andy/ tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
mobile 0409 358 651

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Received on Sat Jan 12 17:28 PST 2008

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