Re: [xmca] djatelnost

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch who-is-at>
Date: Tue Sep 02 2008 - 05:19:13 PDT

Andy, I am still absorbing your last message. While doing that I
wanted to look at Ilyenkov's 1960 book The Dialectics of the Abstract
& the Concrete in Marx’s Capital, which deals with many things we are
talking about in this thread.


The lengthy passage below is a helpful description of the concrete
universal by Ilyenkov. After pointing out how Marx uses value as the
concrete universal in the development of the capitalist economy,
Ilyenkov gives helpful examples of concrete universals in chemistry
and life in general.

Btw, this transcription on Marxist Internet Archive is by Andy.

The dialectics of the Abstract & the Concrete in Marx’s Capital

from Chapter 5 – The Method of Ascent from the Abstract to the
Concrete in Marx’s Capital

the beginning of the section Concrete fullness of Abstraction and
Analysis as a Condition of Theoretical Synthesis

We shall now turn to a consideration of the logical structure of
Capital, comparing it both with the logic of Ricardian thought and the
theoretical views of Marx’s predecessors in the field of logic; this
discussion should reveal Marx’s logic in its actual practical
application to the analysis of facts, to the analysis of empirical data.

Our task is that of singling out the universal logical elements of
Marx’s treatment of economic materials, the logical forms that are
applicable, due to their universality, to any other theoretical

Capital, as is well known, begins with a most thorough and detailed
analysis of the category of value, i.e., of the real form of economic
relations that is the universal and elementary form of the being of
capital. In this analysis, Marx’s field of vision encompasses a
single and, as we have already noted, extremely rare, in developed
capitalism, factual relation between men – direct exchange of one
commodity for another. At this stage of his inquiry into the
capitalist system, Marx intentionally leaves out of account any other
forms – money or profit or wages. All of these things are as yet
believed to be non-existent.

Nevertheless, analysis of this single form of economic relations
yields, as its result, a theoretical expression of the objectively
universal form of all phenomena and categories of developed capitalism
without exception, an expression of a developed concreteness, a
theoretical expression of value as such, of the universal form of value.

The elementary type of the existence of value coincides with value in
general, and the real actually traceable development of this form of
value into other forms constitutes the objective content of the
deduction of the categories of Capital. Deduction in this conception,
unlike the Ricardian one, loses its formal character: here it directly
expresses the real content of some forms of economic interaction from

That is precisely the point missing in the systems of Ricardo and of
his followers from the bourgeois camp.

The conception of a universal concept underlying the entire system of
the categories of science, applied here by Marx, cannot be explained
by the specificity of the subject-matter of political economy. It
reflects the universal dialectical law of the unfolding of any
objective concreteness – natural, socio-historical, or spiritual.

This conception is of great significance for any modern science. To
give a concrete theoretical definition of life as the basic category
of biology, to answer the question of what is life in general, life as
such, one ought to act in the same way as Marx acted with value in
general, that is, one should undertake a concrete analysis of the
composition and mode of existence of an elementary manifestation of
life – the elementary protein body. That is the only way of obtaining
a real definition and of revealing the essence of the matter.

Only in this way, and not at all by abstraction of the general
features of all phenomena of life without exception, can one attain a
really scientific and materialist conception of life, creating the
concept of life as such.

The situation is the same in chemistry. The concept of chemical
element as such, of chemical element in general, cannot be worked out
through abstraction of the general and identical features that helium
has in common with uranium or silicon with nitrogen, or the common
features of all the elements of the periodic table. The concept of
chemical element may be formed by detailed consideration of the
simplest element of the system – hydrogen. Hydrogen appears in this
case as the elementary structure in the decomposition of which
chemical properties of matter disappear in general, whether the
analytical decomposition is performed in an actual experiment or only
mentally. Hydrogen is therefore a concrete universal element of
chemism. The universal necessary laws that emerge and disappear with
it, are the simplest laws of the existence of the chemical element in
general. As elementary and universal laws they will occur in uranium,
gold, silicon, and so on. And any of these wore complex elements may
in principle be reduced to hydrogen, which, by the way, happens both
in nature and in experiments with nuclear processes.

In other words, what takes place here is the same living mutual
transformation of the universal and the particular, of the elementary
and the complex which we observed in the categories of capital, where
profit emerges as developed value, as a developed elementary form of
commodity, to which profit is continually reduced in the real movement
of the economic system and therefore in thought reproducing this
movement. Here as everywhere else, the concrete universal concept
registers a real objective elementary form of the existence of the
entire system rather than an empty abstraction.


On Sep 1, 2008, at 10:27 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> Steve,
> as I understand it, the concept of "concrete universal" is closely
> related to UoA (or notion or "abstract concept") in this way. In
> approaching the understanding of a complex phenomenon, the
> researcher tries to determine a notion which will reveal at least
> the aspects of that whole she is interested in. One and the same
> phenomenon (e.g. "the real life of people" or "personality") may be
> approached using different units of analysis (abstract notions) and
> the result will be different insights into the same phenomena.
> This is where the ascent from the abstract to the concrete comes in:
> the complex whole is to be "reconstructed" in thought, beginning
> from this abstract concept of it, and the end result of such a
> reconstruction is a "concrete universal". So if (for example) a
> certain social formation is to be understood as a "concrete
> universal", then you must begin by determining an "anstract notion"
> of it. (The tricky bit is discovery of the "abstract notion" and the
> only place to read about that process is in Hegel's Doctrine of
> Essence in the Logic.)
> The contrary method is to begin with a thoughtlessly chosen element
> and analyse it into its properties (or "attributes" or in old
> English "accidents"). (The subject is the sum of all the predicates
> which can be attached to it?) These attributes may then be used to
> reconstuct a whole, which would be an "abstract general". For
> example, someone who thinks that the working class are people who
> work for a wage, then define the working class as the set of all
> wage earners, and include policemen and senior managers among the
> proletariat--+, whilst ecluding housewives. The same person might
> define a bourseois as someone with a lot of money, and decide that
> the Professor of FIne Arts is not a bourgeois, because he does not
> own capital, only culture.
> Does that help?
> Andy
> Steve Gabosch wrote:
>> That is very helpful, Andy. The problem to solve, of course, is
>> determining the "simplest" component of a whole, without entering
>> into the realm of "elements," as Vygotsky would warn against in his
>> example of water, which is not flammable, whereas its elements
>> hydrogen and oxygen are. Your history of the concept is a very
>> useful place to start and is appreciated. I got from Ilyenkov's
>> writings, btw, that he thought "value" was the basic unit of
>> analysis of commodities, money, capital, etc. and that Marx chose
>> the simplest manifestation of value - the commodity - to build his
>> case on what capital is and how it works. But that does not take
>> anything away from the central points you are making.
>> Here are some more questions, for you, anyone. Ilyenkov also
>> speaks of the concrete universal. How does the "concrete
>> universal" concept fit in with the "unit of analysis" concept?
>> Also, what is the distinction between unit of analysis, basic unit
>> of analysis, and analytical units? And to just make sure there is
>> no confusion, what is the difference between a "unit" and an
>> "element"?
>> - Steve
>> On Sep 1, 2008, at 7:20 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>> Others may chine in on this. I am in the midst of writing stuff on
>>> the topic, but a few basics:
>>> "Unit of analysis" is the simplest component of something which
>>> exhibits all the properties of the whole. It originates from
>>> Goethe who called it the *Urphanomenon*, and David tells me that
>>> Goethe got it from Vico, though I haven't been able to confirm
>>> that myself. Goethe insisted that the UoA had to be itself a
>>> "phenomenon" rather than a hypothesis or principle or mechanism
>>> lying behind and beyond appearances, like an *embryo* or *germ-
>>> cell*. Hegel took over the idea and he called it the *Notion*
>>> (Begriff), and it is the key idea in his logic and his theory of
>>> science. Marx applied the idea to political economy and came up
>>> with the *Commodity*, as the simplest relation of bourgeois
>>> society and the simplest unit of capital. Vygotsky took up the
>>> idea and his study of Pavlov's work on the *conditioned reflex*
>>> was his first idea for a UoA for psychology, and then of course
>>> the famous *word meaning* as a UoA for the study of intelligent
>>> speech. ANL then (it seems) took it further with the idea of *(an)
>>> activity* as the UoA for the social life of humans.
>>> It is important that the UoA contains nothing outside within
>>> itself (preconditions, axioms, etc.), and is in that sense
>>> absolutely simple, and that it _is itself_ "an example" of what it
>>> is the simplest component of, for example the *molecule* for
>>> chemistry and the *particle* for physics. Hegel took *right*
>>> (which he took as private property) for the UoA for the study of
>>> modern society.
>>> Hegel explained that a science must begin from the *Concept* (is
>>> UoA) of its subject matter, and then while studying the field of
>>> phenomena to guide perception, unfold out of the conception,
>>> logically so to speak, everything that is contained within it.
>>> Davydov and Elkonin's method of teaching the science of number
>>> actually takes that conception of science as a research program
>>> and applies it to teaching and learning, with *external
>>> comparison* as the UoA for mathematics.
>>> Hope that helps,
>>> Andy
>>> Steve Gabosch wrote:
>>>> On your last comment, Andy, I for sure have much to learn about
>>>> the concept "unit of analysis". I like the way Dot speaks of a
>>>> "system" of units, levels, methodology, etc. A very quick read
>>>> of the AA Leontiev article on "Units" that Dot refers us to
>>>> reveals that it will take some serious study for me to absorb -
>>>> in a way, it is a summary of many key themes over the history of
>>>> activity theory, a history I most certainly have much to learn
>>>> about. I know that one thing I do as I am learning a new concept
>>>> is try to find ways to use it, to apply its terms, to incorporate
>>>> it wherever I can, including into everyday situations if
>>>> possible; in short, play with it - and sometimes I will stretch
>>>> it too far from its intended meaning, throw it around too
>>>> loosely, as you put it, and I will need to get reined in, which
>>>> appears to be what you are graciously doing.
>>>> So would you, or anyone, help me out: what is the "precise
>>>> meaning" of "unit of analysis"?
>>>> - Steve
>>>> On Sep 1, 2008, at 4:46 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>>> This is a bog topic, Steve. Marx's own views were hindered by
>>>>> the non-existence of workers' states and substantial welfare
>>>>> states, so he took quite an extreme position in relation to "the
>>>>> public sector". But obviously I am saying that *labour which has
>>>>> been subsumed under Capital* - the expression Marx uses in the
>>>>> "unpublished sixth chapter of Capital" - has the object only of
>>>>> expanding capital. Most people refer to house work as the
>>>>> production of labour power for sale. Although over the yearws,
>>>>> capital subsumes a greater and greater proportion of the social
>>>>> labour, it has not yet subsumed all. That is obvious.
>>>>> I am mixing two sligtly different genres here, marxist political
>>>>> economy and soviet cultural-historical activity theory, but I'd
>>>>> be interested in reactions. The Soviets always intended to be
>>>>> faithful to Marx and political economy after all.
>>>>> Andy
>>>>> PS, Steve please revise the meaning of "unit of analysis". It
>>>>> has a precise meaning and IMHO should not be thrown around so
>>>>> loosely."
>>>>> Steve Gabosch wrote:
>>>>>> Andy wrote:
>>>>>>> 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.
>>>>>> Perhaps you didn't mean this, but it sounds like you are saying
>>>>>> that all work serves the accumulation or expansion of capital.
>>>>>> But as you know, there are many kinds of work that don't. Here
>>>>>> are three examples, as I see it:
>>>>>> 1) House work (cleaning your own house) does not produce
>>>>>> surplus value.
>>>>>> 2) Cuban workers today don't contribute to the accumulation of
>>>>>> capital, except in some small businesses and enterprises (such
>>>>>> as some restaurants, farms), where how much gets accumulated is
>>>>>> highly restricted. There is no capitalist class of any
>>>>>> significance in Cuba today.
>>>>>> 3) Public sector workers in the US are not producing surplus
>>>>>> value. The health and education sectors especially are
>>>>>> examples of workers and other oppressed layers demanding and
>>>>>> fighting for social programs that enhance their quality of
>>>>>> life, forcing the capitalists to devote a small percentage of
>>>>>> the surplus value they accumulate to such programs - which have
>>>>>> been under attack for some years now by the capitalists and
>>>>>> political forces that support them precisely because these
>>>>>> programs do not produce surplus value - they consume it.
>>>>>> When one begins to look at economies, blocks of capital, wages,
>>>>>> government, public service workers, workers states, classes,
>>>>>> and other such issues, many of the core features of activity
>>>>>> theory appear on a new level of analysis: historical
>>>>>> materialism. There are of course other world views, but this
>>>>>> is the one Vygotsky used. Vygotsky said he was applying
>>>>>> historical materialism to psychology, which he explained would
>>>>>> require the discovery of new laws of development and a new
>>>>>> basic unit of analysis.
>>>>>> Andy and I had some conversation about class and activity
>>>>>> offline recently and I said that "class" is a unit of analysis
>>>>>> in Marxism, as in "class analysis" and "the history of all
>>>>>> hitherto existing society is the history of class
>>>>>> struggle" (Communist Manifesto).
>>>>>> But on further thought, that is incorrect. Marx and Engels say
>>>>>> it right in that quote - they say **class struggle**, not
>>>>>> "class". Thinking about this, a common error in sociology is
>>>>>> to use class as the unit of analysis. Classes are only
>>>>>> elements of class struggles. Class is an analytical unit, but
>>>>>> not a basic unit of analysis.
>>>>>> Relating this to CHAT, as I see it, classes are to class
>>>>>> struggles as actions are to activity. Class struggle is a unit
>>>>>> of analysis in historical materialism in the way that activity
>>>>>> is seen as a unit of analysis in cultural historical psychology.
>>>>>> But is activity really the **basic** unit of human existence?
>>>>>> As David was saying, there is a difference between units of
>>>>>> analysis and analytical units. Is activity an analytical unit,
>>>>>> but not the basic unit of analysis? This would not overturn
>>>>>> any work CHAT has done, just shift its attention to a different
>>>>>> basic unit of analysis, and "demote" activity to an analytical
>>>>>> unit, albeit a very useful and powerful one.
>>>>>> Mohammed Elhammoumi argues in a paper he will present at ISCAR
>>>>>> that the unit of analysis is the social relations of
>>>>>> production. If that is the case - I find this idea thought
>>>>>> provoking - then activity would be an element in that larger
>>>>>> entity - activities are carved out of the existing social
>>>>>> relations and artifacts (artifacts include nature insofar as
>>>>>> humans directly interact with it). Activity could be
>>>>>> understood as mutually constitutive with the aggregate social
>>>>>> relations in a particular society, in the way that Michael
>>>>>> describes actions and activity as mutually constitutive.
>>>>>> Interesting to think about.
>>>>>> Steve
>>>>>> On Aug 31, 2008, at 7:57 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>>>>> 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
>>>>>>> outstanding:
>>>>>>> (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 concern.
>>>>>>> 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.
>>>>>>> Andy
>>>>>>> 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
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> <>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> --
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Andy
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Blunden +61 3 9380 9435
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Skype andy.blunden
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> <>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> <
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> winmail
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> .dat>_______________________________________________
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> <>
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>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
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>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
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>>>>>>>>>>>> --
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>>>>>>>>>>>> Andy Blunden +61 3 9380 9435
>>>>>>>>>>>> Skype andy.blunden
>>>>>>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
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>>>>>>> Andy Blunden +61 3 9380 9435 Skype
>>>>>>> andy.blunden
>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
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