Re: [xmca] déjatel’nost’

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Sun Aug 31 2008 - 07:25:39 PDT

Apologies. I sent two mails just to Michael instead of the
list by mistake!

I will think about this some more. "Activity" here means a
system of actions which have a common societally-determined
object, like the collective hunt in his famous example. But
it seems to me that the idea of "activity" (in this sense)
as a "unit of analysis" poses some problems.


Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:
> Hi Andy, you can always identify structure, the question is whether you
> can understand it own its own or only in its relation to other
> structures. I think it is the latter. So even within the unit you can
> identify all sorts of things, but they are not independent and
> constitute each other. That is why Yrjö's website is a bit deceiving,
> because he talks about elements----I think the word appears 6
> times----when Vygotsky and Leont'ev always talk about doing unit
> analysis. So there is structure, just that it cannot be understood
> independently of other structures, each of which is a one-sided
> expression of the unit, which is activity. Or so I read it.
> Michael
> On 31-Aug-08, at 6:55 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
> Well spotted, Michael.
> In that same paragraph he says: "activity is ... a system that has
> structure" so he is here referring to what might be called the "*system
> of* activity", as opposed to acts or operations, and actions - this
> entity that Robert explained to me is constituted as an entity by means
> of system-theoretic means.
> Is that right?
> Andy
> Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:
>> Hi Andy,
>> I think he does say something that is at least very close to naming it
>> unit analysis on p.50:
> Activity is a molar, not an additive unit of the life of the physical,
> material subject. In a narrower sense, that is, at the psychological
> level, it is a unit of
> life, mediated by psychic reflection, the real function of which is that
> it orients the subject in the objective world. In other words, activity is
> not a reaction and not a totality of reactions but a system that has
> structure, its own internal transitions and transformations, its own
> development.
>> Where I would accentuate as follows:
>> Activity is "a *unit of life*", "a system that has structure, *its
>> own* internal transitions and transformations, *its own *development."
>> Cheers,
>> Michael
>> On 31-Aug-08, at 6:27 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>> OK, thanks for that Michael. I understand Tätigkeit, so that settles
>> some questions, though not all.
>> I have another question about Activity to add to these.
>> Vygotsky, Davydov, Engstrom (to take just three) all talk about "unit
>> of analysis", "germ-cell" or single instance (as in Pavolv's study of
>> the reflex), but in the works of AN Leontyev that I have access to (on
>> he makes no reference to any of these terms. This seems
>> not accidental to me actually. Can anyone clarify this?
>> Did Leonteyv (a) think that "activity" passes as a "unit of
>> analaysis", (b) disagree with the idea that a science should begin
>> from a Unit of analysis, or (c) define subject-activity-object as the
>> "unit of analysis somewhere?
>> And I need citation, I'm afraid.
>> Andy
>> Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:
>>> Hi Andy,
>>> it's not just the Russian. In German there is the parallel
>>> distinction between "Tätigkeit" (deiatel'nost') and Aktivität
>>> (aktivnost'). In the former there is an orientation----toward
>>> object/motive, which is not in the latter, and the former is oriented
>>> toward and a result of society (Gesellschaft), whereas the latter is
>>> not (necessarily). When Leont'ev is translated into German, you find
>>> the words Tätigkeit and the adjective "gesellschaftlich" (societal)
>>> whereas in English there is activity and social----and that has made
>>> all the difference, to quote Robert Frost.
>>> Cheers,
>>> Michael
>>> On 31-Aug-08, at 4:18 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>> I wonder if our Russian speakers could indulge me again with a point
>>> of clarification. déjatel'nost' (or деятельность) is the Russian word
>>> for "activity".
>>> 1. I understand that in Russian the use of definite and indefeinite
>>> partcles (a and the) is rare, so in the title to AN Leontyev's famous
>>> book, does déjatel'nost' mean "an activity" or "activity" - with the
>>> connotation of substance that a word has in English if used without a
>>> or the. When we have "act, action and activity," is that third
>>> category the same word, déjatel'nost'?
>>> 2. déjatel'nost' can also be translated as "work". How strong is the
>>> connection between "work" and "activity" in the Russian mind when
>>> talking of "activity theory"? Does that sound like "work theory"? Or
>>> is this just like any ambiguous word. I mean, English speakers would
>>> not think that in this context "activity" referred to autonomous
>>> physiological processes, which can also be called "Activity". When
>>> "Theses on Feuerbach" is translated into Russian, can Russian readers
>>> see the diffrence between "work" and "activity"?
>>> Andy
>>> Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>> Fascinating response, Robert. So let's see if I understand you
>>>> right. A mass of interconnected actions can be understood as some
>>>> *whole* (and not just an arbitrary collection of individual things)
>>>> if we can perceive some kind of *constraint*, operating over the
>>>> domain, which limits the domain of possible configurations? Is that it?
>>>> Andy
>>>> Robert Bracewell wrote:
>>>>> Hi Andy and all,
>>>>> I agree with Michael that the relationship between activity and
>>>>> action is a
>>>>> constitutive one, but I think this points to a big theoretical gap
>>>>> in CHAT
>>>>> generally. If actions are the constituents of activity, then the issue
>>>>> arises as to how the constituents are arranged in order to constitute
>>>>> activity (and there may be other types of constituents in activity
>>>>> also). As
>>>>> Leont¹ev said, this arrangement cannot be serial (e.g., chains of s-r
>>>>> pairs), nor additive in the sense of accumulative (as contrasted
>>>>> with the
>>>>> mathematical sense). So how are we to theorize the arrangement? The
>>>>> issue of
>>>>> arranging constituents to achieve higher order structures has been
>>>>> treated
>>>>> by both linguistics and artificial intelligence. The general
>>>>> approach is to
>>>>> constrain the possible relationships between constituents--in
>>>>> linguistics
>>>>> this usually done via a grammar, in AI via a program. For CHAT I
>>>>> think our
>>>>> task may be to build on Leont¹ev and figure out these constraints.
>>>>> Regards,
>>>>> --Bob Bracewell
>>>>> On 8/29/08 1:24 PM, "Wolff-Michael Roth" <
>>>>> <>> wrote:
>>>>>> Hi Andy,
>>>>>> I think he expresses the constitutive relation between actions and
>>>>>> activity. Activity is not just the sum of actions, it presupposes
>>>>>> them but is itself presupposed by the actions that constitute it. I
>>>>>> am pasting the definition from OED, which appears to be consistent
>>>>>> with this (my) reading of Leont'ev. Leont'ev and Vygotsky want to do
>>>>>> unit analysis, not element/al analysis. That is, even if you can
>>>>>> identify structures within activity, these cannot stand on their own
>>>>>> like elements. What they are is dependent on all the other structures
>>>>>> that can be identified, with which they stand in a constitutive unit,
>>>>>> and which are subordinate to activity. :-)
>>>>>> molar, adj.3
>>>>>> 2. Psychol. Designating a large-scale unit of behaviour, esp. an
>>>>>> integrated set of responses serving to bring about a common goal, as
>>>>>> distinguished from an elementary unit of behaviour such as a
>>>>>> physiological response (cf. MOLECULAR adj. 5); of or relating to (the
>>>>>> study of) such behaviour.
>>>>>> Cheers,
>>>>>> Michael
>>>>>> On 29-Aug-08, at 7:11 AM, Michael Glassman wrote:
>>>>>> Andy,
>>>>>> This is just my perspective, but I still believe Activity Theory goes
>>>>>> back to roots in work done by Stanislavsky - in particular "On Being
>>>>>> an Actor" and his book on character development. I think the
>>>>>> argument that Stanislavsky makes is that you should never consider
>>>>>> each scene individually, as encapsulated and whole, I guess you could
>>>>>> say there should be no reification of a scene. You have to consider
>>>>>> a scene, and the actions of a character, not only in terms of the
>>>>>> entire play, but in terms of what has come before and what comes
>>>>>> after - that activity is part of an ongoing process. Stanislavsky
>>>>>> was working off the new form of playwrights such as Ibsen, Strindberg
>>>>>> and especially Chekhov of course. To give an example, when Nora
>>>>>> walks out on Torvald and her father at the end of "A Doll's House"
>>>>>> the scene makes little sense in an of itself, and if you think of the
>>>>>> scenes of the play as simply being additive you are shocked. But if
>>>>>> you consider it as part of a moral activity, with a building
>>>>>> motivation that leads to a choice of action it is extraordinarily
>>>>>> complelling.
>>>>>> Anyway, that's my two cents.
>>>>>> Michael
>>>>>> ________________________________
>>>>>> From:
>>>>>> <> on behalf of Andy Blunden
>>>>>> Sent: Fri 8/29/2008 9:53 AM
>>>>>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>>>>> Subject: [xmca] Molar, Molecular and Additive behaviour
>>>>>> Can anyone help me out here. Leontyev says:
>>>>>> "But human practice is not just a series or a sum of
>>>>>> actions. In other words, 'activity is a molar, not an
>>>>>> additive unit'."
>>>>>> OED says:
>>>>>> Molar, Psychol. Designating a large-scale unit of behaviour,
>>>>>> esp. an integrated set of responses serving to bring about a
>>>>>> common goal, as distinguished from an elementary unit of
>>>>>> behaviour such as a physiological response (cf. MOLECULAR
>>>>>> adj. 5); of or relating to (the study of) such behaviour.
>>>>>> 1932 E. C. TOLMAN Purposive Behavior "On the one hand,
>>>>>> Watson has defined behavior in terms of its strict physical
>>>>>> and physiological details, i.e., in terms of
>>>>>> receptor-process, conductor-process, and effector-process
>>>>>> per se. We shall designate this as the molecular definition
>>>>>> of behavior. And on the other hand, he has come to recognize
>>>>>> that behavior is more than and different from the sum of its
>>>>>> physiological parts. Behavior has descriptive and defining
>>>>>> properties of its own. And we shall designate this latter as
>>>>>> the molar definition of behavior."
>>>>>> Am I missing something. By "not additive" does Leontyev
>>>>>> simply mean that there's more to it than S -> R ?
>>>>>> Andy
>>>>>> David Preiss wrote:
>>>>>>> based on the work made by max plank and run by san francisco's
>>>>>>> exploratorium
>>>>>>> David Preiss, Ph.D.
>>>>>>> Subdirector de Extensión y Comunicaciones
>>>>>>> Escuela de Psicología
>>>>>>> Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile
>>>>>>> Av Vicuña Mackenna - 4860
>>>>>>> 7820436 Macul
>>>>>>> Santiago, Chile
>>>>>>> Fono: 3544605
>>>>>>> Fax: 3544844
>>>>>>> e-mail: <>
>>>>>>> web personal:
>>>>>>> web institucional:
>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>>> <>
>>>>>> --
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>>>>>> Skype andy.blunden
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Andy Blunden +61 3 9380 9435 
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Received on Sun Aug 31 07:26 PDT 2008

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