Re: [xmca] déjatel’nost’

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Sun Aug 31 2008 - 08:07:08 PDT

Oh Gosh, Micahel I thought we were going to have a good ol'
flame! :) and I was just getting started.

OK. As I said, I will study those quotes, and their
contexts, where I can, and think some more about it, but I
really don't think I want to shift to "concrete cases" to
clarify a concept if the concept isn't clear at the start.
That's just not my style, if you know what I mean. I am not
anywhere saying that the work Leontyev and others have done
with these ideas is not perfectly good, valid science. But
there *are* problems, there *are* limts to the applicability
of these ideas, and I am exploring them.

More later, and thanks heaps for laying hold of those quote
and your explanations so speedily!


Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:
> 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.
> Cheers,
> Michael
> 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.
> Andy
> 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:
>>>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>>>>> <>
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>>>>>>>> Andy Blunden +61 3 9380 9435
>>>>>>>> Skype andy.blunden
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Received on Sun Aug 31 08:07 PDT 2008

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