[xmca] On "Leading Activity": Once Again, Lenin and Vygotsky

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Mon Aug 25 2008 - 18:06:10 PDT

I'm talking about LSV's 1933 talk on play tonight. For those of you who ONLY know the truncated version of the conclusion of this talk included as Chapter Seven of Mind in Society, it's well worth looking at the version that Andy has on MIA:
This is much more complete and easier to follow (particularly if we compare it with the rather poor Korean translation of Mind in Society!).
There are still some very puzzling passages though! LSV has a really confusing habit of saying he's going to talk about two or three things and then getting terribly interested in the second or third one and completely forgetting the first.
At the very beginning, for example, he announces that he's going to talk about the origins and genesis of play and then about the role of play in development, viz. Is play a "leading" activity or simply a "predominant one"?
Well, you really have to LOOK for the answer to Question Number One, because LSV gets so excited about Question Number Two and he really only invokes the origins and genesis of play en passant.
One by one, LSV's pawns take the knight, bishop, rook and queen of  Piaget, Groos, Koffka and Freud and all those who would argue play is the predominant activity. That's why the title of his talk says nothing about Question Number One and only mentions Question Two.
Then about ten pages later we've got this, all on ONE page.
"Let us begin with the second question (?), as I have already briefly touched on the problem of the connection with affective incentives. We observed that in the affective incentives leading to play there are the beginnings not of symbols, but of the necessity for an imaginary situation; for if play is really developed from unsatisfied desires, if ultimately it is the realization in play form of tendencies that cannot be realized at the moment, then elements of imaginary situations will involuntarily be included in the affective nature of play itself.
"Let us take the second instance first – the child’s activity in play (???)."
I've SORT OF found out what the first "question" was (it's really a complaint about Piaget's notion of "symbolic" play, the idea that play involves arbitrary symbolic relations). But I haveen't a clue what he means by 'the second instance'. The second instance of what? What was the first instance? Help!
In one sense, though, the editors (or maybe the grad students, or maybe it was LSV himself) are absolutely RIGHT to give this talk the title that they chose. LSV's central point is not the origin and genesis of play. It is the argument that play is not the predominant activity in preschool but rather the leading activity.
In fact, the predominant activity is NEVER the leading activity. Never! This is really a matter of principle, a matter of method, a basic postulate which I think I have STUPIDLY ignored in my own data coding (where I tend to look at central tendencies too much!)
But this basic postulate makes perfect sense, particularly if you think about Victor Au's work on Lenin and Vygotsky. The VANGUARD of the proletariat can NEVER be the predominant level of consciousness of the proletariant. Never!
So initially revolutionary consciousness HAS to come to the working class from the outside. Later, it's true, the working class creates its own leaders, but these are always LEADERS, and cannot simply be representatives, because if they were representatives they would not be the VANGUARD. 

I think this is one of the KEY mistakes we find in Karpov's book on the "Neo-Vygotskyan Approach to Child Development". He simply doesn't distinguish between the leading activity and the predominant one. This smells of neo-Piagetianism!
Play does not actually SATURATE the child's attitude to reality until the child arrives at school. And sure enough, it is precisely at school that play is no longer a leading activity, though it may indeed be a predominant one as far as the child is concerned.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education
PS: Paula, I've not forgotten (and if I had then eric, fresh from doing battle with trout and mosquitoes in Northern Minnesota would have reminded me). But I won't have time to really give your very thorough and thoughtful defense of Sakharov the attention it deserves for another week or two. (For one thing, I've got to go back and re-read Sakharov!). Sorry!
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Received on Mon Aug 25 18:09 PDT 2008

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