Re: [xmca] djatel nost

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch who-is-at>
Date: Wed Sep 03 2008 - 07:05:36 PDT

You raise really good points, Martin. What are you thoughts on the
distinction between an "analytical unit" versus a "basic unit of
analysis", and where do you see the "concrete universal" fitting in?
- Steve

On Sep 3, 2008, at 6:16 AM, Martin Packer wrote:

> Andy, Steve,
> I like the idea of exploring further the way Marx's analysis of the
> commodity gives us a concrete (!) example of methodology. A good
> place to
> start is with the fact that the commodity is the unit of analysis in
> Capital, in the sense that Andy defines, that it is the smallest
> component
> that shows the properties of the whole: in this case, it shows the
> contradiction between use value and exchange value that characterizes
> capital as a whole.
> But at the same time, it is a constituted unit, no? Or, better put,
> it is at
> the same time a process, which can be analytically decomposed into
> cycles of
> production and exchange. Ilyenkov apparently focuses on Marx's
> analysis of
> the historical development of the commodity, from unmediated exchange
> through to complex money forms. But there is a synchronic dimension of
> analysis too, and Marx explores how the process of exchanging
> commodities is
> the basis for the abstraction in which they come to have common
> measure.
> Equally the labor of producing commodities becomes abstract, and what
> remains in each case is value.
> So we learn little by looking at a unit in isolation. "We may twist
> and turn
> a single commodity as we wish; it remains impossible to grasp it as
> a thing
> possessing value... [its objective character as value] can only
> appear in
> the social relation between commodity and commodity" (Marx). We need
> to
> examine units in relation. This seems to me to suggest that although
> a unit
> has the characteristics of the whole, this is the case only when the
> unit is
> examined *in* the whole. We need to study a commodity *in* capitalist
> society.
> More specifically still, we need to study the unit in the processes
> of which
> it is the product. So Chapter 2 of Capital considers "The Process of
> Exchange" in which "in order that these objects may enter into
> relation with
> each other as commodities, their guardians must place themselves in
> relation
> to one another as persons whose will resides in these objects." Our
> analysis
> only *begins* with an examination of the unit, the commodity. It must
> proceed to an examination of the relations among units, and then to
> the
> relations among people which bring the units into relation.
> Here of course the famous passage, "a commodity appears at first
> sight an
> extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that
> it is a
> very strange thing, abounding in metapysical subtleties and
> theological
> niceties." "The mysterious character" of the commodity "reflects the
> social
> characteristics of men's own labour."
> My reading of this is that the analysis of a unit cannot replace the
> analysis of the whole, even though the unit "reflects" the whole. We
> must
> analyze the unit *in* the whole which constitutes it, for it is *we*
> who
> make the commodity what it is, "without being aware of it." Analysis
> is a
> process in which we "try to decipher the hieroglyphic, to get behind
> the
> secret of [our] own social product." This analysis has an emancipatory
> character because it enables us to see the contingent, historical
> genesis of
> forms which had come to seem natural, immutable, and finished. Marx is
> interested in the commodity. But one might argue that he is *more*
> interested in the festishism with which we generally understand
> commodities,
> the alienation which quantitative exchange of commodities gives rise
> to, and
> the "metamorphosis" of commodities into money which is the basis for
> the
> exploitation of labor (so Chapter 3 analyzes "The Circulation of
> Commodities" now as a process that becomes mediated by money). None
> of this
> is exactly "in" the commodity, but only if we begin our analysis
> with the
> commodity will we be able to understand the other phenomena.
> Does this all get played out in Vygotsky's analyses?
> Martin
> On 9/2/08 8:19 AM, "Steve Gabosch" <> wrote:
>> 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.
>> Ilyenkov
>> 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
>> discipline.
>> 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
>> others.
>> 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.
>> <end>
>> 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
>>>>>>>>>>>>> <>
>>>>>>>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>>>>>>>>> <>
>>>>>>>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>>>>>>>>> <>
>>>>>>>>>>>>> --
>>>>>>>>>>>>> -------------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>>>>>>>>>> -----
>>>>>>>>>>>>> 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
>>>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
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>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
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>>>>>>> andy.blunden
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>>>>> andy.blunden
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Received on Wed Sep 3 07:12 PDT 2008

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