RE: [xmca] déjatel'nost'

From: Michael Glassman <MGlassman who-is-at>
Date: Sun Aug 31 2008 - 13:21:18 PDT

Hmmm, do you think Marx was talking about focusing on the concrete pe se, or do you think Marx was more concerned with maintaining a non-ideological balance. Is the opposite of non-ideological really concrete. I think Marx and Engels of course were Materialists, but again, I don't know if that leads to the focus on concrete situations - more along the lines that it is material concerns that should be central to our problems, and we are drawn away from them when we allow ourselves to get caught up in ideology. I am not sure that this translates though in to concentrating on the concrete situation and then abstracting out from there. I think maybe it might be more concerned with recognizing material problems in the world, and abstracting the concept of activity (switching back and forth now between Leontiev and Marx) out of the actions taken to meet those needs. And it is only the actions taken to meet material needs that can be considered scientific.


From: on behalf of Wolff-Michael Roth
Sent: Sun 8/31/2008 3:44 PM
To:; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] déjatel'nost'

HI Andy, look here at Il'enkov, 1982, p.79, about looking at concrete
situations for thinking through and abstracting concepts. Cheers,

The cardinal difference hetween Marxian analysis of value
as the universal basis for all the other categories of capital
ist economy, and that kind of analysis which was attained
in bourgeois political cconomy, lay precisely in the fact,
that Marx formed scientific definitions of 'value in general',
'value as such'., on the basis of concrete consideration of
direct exchange of one commodity for another involving no
money. In doing s, Marx made a strict abstraction from
all the other kinds of value developed on this basis (surplus
value, profit, rent, interest, and so on). Ricardo's main error,
according to Marx, lay in his inability 'to forget profit' in
considering 'value as such', so that his abstraction turns out
to be incomplete, insufficient, 'formal'.

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
>>>>> ????????????) 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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>>>>>>>> --------- Andy Blunden +61 3
>>>>>>>> 9380 9435
>>>>>>>> Skype andy.blunden
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>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
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>>>> -----
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Received on Sun Aug 31 13:23 PDT 2008

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