Re: [xmca] déjatel’nost’

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Sun Aug 31 2008 - 19:57:06 PDT

Thanks for all that Michael. I actually hardly slept last
night going over in my mind the points you made. I think I
can see my way through this now, and that "(a system of)
activity" or "an activity" is indeed a very good candidate
for a "unit of analysis". You will doubtless get something
from me on your editor's desk in a couple of months on the
topic. But altogether I feel much better about ANL now.
Thank you.

But the questions about word meanings here are still

(1) "activity" - as used in Hegel and Marx and Leontyev when
he says:

"[The processes that mediate the influences of the objective
world reflected in the human brain] are those that realise a
person's actual life in the objective world by which he is
surrounded, his social being in all the richness and variety
of its forms. In other words, these processes are his activity."

- is not a unit of analysis, but a presupposition, whilst
"an activity" or "system of activity", you have convinced
me, is a good "unit of analysis" for the study of the social
life of human beings. As when Marx says:

"The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones,
not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can
only be made in the imagination. They are the real
individuals, their activity and the material conditions
under which they live, both those which they find already
existing and those produced by their activity." (The German
Ideology, 1a, 1845)

My concern is that we use the same word and I suspect the
observation that we have here two qute distinct concepts is
not something which is widely recognised.

(2) "activity" and "work" - I am going to spend some time
revising how ANL takes labour as the prototype of an
activity and the bases on which "an activity" and "a type of
activity" are delineated or developed. This is my major

But look. Marx, Capital Vol 1:

"As a capitalist, he is only capital personified. His soul
is the soul of capital. But capital has one sole driving
force, the drive to valorize itself, to create surplus
value, to make its constant part, the means of production,
absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus labour.
Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by
sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour
it sucks." - Capital, p.342

One could go on, but if one were to ask what object is
served by work then the answer is "expansion of capital". I
caould give 1000 examples of Marx making ths claim. The idea
that the object of one's labour is profit is always
problemtatic for people that work in the public sector,
especially in education or health, but if you were in the
USSR where the state is paying the wages, it would seem
strange indeed. The idea that one's work is part of the
reproduction of the community in a division of labour seems
far more appealing. But that turned out to be a passing
episode in twentieth century history.

I.e., the most important "activity" today is "capital." That
seems to have been lost somewhere, at least to some extent.


Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:
> Hi Andy,
> I am not trying to give you advice. I am talking about my own
> experiences of having struggled.
> One of the things Marx criticized his contemporaries for is that they
> looked at value abstractly. He wrote Das Kapital as a concrete analysis
> of value, its one-sided expressions in use-value and exchange-value, and
> how these concretized themselves in possible cases. Any time I want to
> think about activity abstractly, I get into trouble, which resolve
> themselves when I take concrete cases of activity and work them through,
> culturally and historically. I then realize that activity concretizes
> itself very differently, the activity of schooling is very different in
> U.S. suburbia then it is in inner-city neighborhood schools in
> Philadelphia. Not when I do an abstract analysis, but when I go
> concretely into the nitty-gritty details of everyday life in the schools.
> Cheers,
> Michael
> On 31-Aug-08, at 8:07 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
> 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!
> Andy
> 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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>>>>>>>>> Skype andy.blunden
>>>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>>>> 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 19:58 PDT 2008

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