Re: [xmca] déjatel’nost’

From: Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth who-is-at>
Date: Sun Aug 31 2008 - 07:53:21 PDT

Hi Andy, After I sent off the mail I thought you might misunderstand.
I do understand and know your background. I meant to say rather than
discussing activity in the general, take a concrete one and talk
about it. I meant discuss concrete cases. I think if you were to have
taken a concrete case of activity from your experience and discussed
activity in this situation some of the problems that appear when you
discuss it in the abstract would not show up.
Sorry for having written a message that could have been and was
mistaken in its intention.

On 31-Aug-08, at 7:41 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:

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: <mailto:xmca-
>>>>>>>> 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 07:54 PDT 2008

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