Re: [xmca] déjatel’nost’

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Sun Aug 31 2008 - 07:41:24 PDT

C'mon Michael. I spent 30 years as a union activist
transforming activity and thinking about what I was doing.
At 62 I am now reflecting on that work. I don't need to be
told to "go out" and put someone under my microscope and
observe them.


Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:
> Hi Andy, it is and is not a system of actions. Actions and activity
> stand in a constitutive relationship. There are no actions independent
> of activity and no activity independent of action. One of the problems
> that can arise is because---as we have done today----we talk about
> activity in the abstract, and this is what Marx didn't like about Hegel,
> we talk about ideal things, not about concrete sensual activity, which
> you only get when you analyze real activity rather than the idea of
> activity. I see you struggle with the idea, when what you should be
> doing is go out and study concrete activity. What you need to do is
> study concrete everyday activity, that is, actual cases where an
> activity realizes itself. And here you will find that people act but in
> the process concretize the activity in THIS rather than other possible
> ways. Their actions are not JUST actions, they are oriented toward the
> activity, which only comes about in and through the actions; yet the
> actions presuppose the activity that they realize.
> Cheers,
> Michael
> On 31-Aug-08, at 7:25 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
> 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.
> Andy
> 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:
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Received on Sun Aug 31 07:42 PDT 2008

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