Re: [xmca] déjatel’nost’

From: Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth who-is-at>
Date: Sun Aug 31 2008 - 11:42:42 PDT

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.

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!


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: <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:
>>>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>>>>> <>
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>>>>>>>> 9380 9435
>>>>>>>> Skype andy.blunden
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