Re: [xmca] motive/project

From: Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth who-is-at>
Date: Mon Dec 15 2008 - 08:08:25 PST

HI David and others,
I have repeatedly emphasized in my writings that the problem lies in
part in the English term 'activity', which collapses the German
Tätigkeit and Aktivität into one, unfortunately, because it also
gives rise to problems with motives. I think if you think about what
children do as 'tasks' and that these tasks are completed as part of
the activity 'schooling', which has as motive the reproduction
(transmission...) of collective knowledge then you are getting closer.
But children often don't even know the goals, in fact, because of the
'learning paradox', cannot know the goals of the task. This is no
more clear than in the frequent student question, 'teacher, am I
write so far?' Students CANNOT intend the very thing that they are
asked to, namely learn a concept. To be able to orient themselves
intentionally to the concept, they need to know it, but if they
already know it, they don't have to orient toward learning it.

Holzkamp has a lot to say about this, and he describes those things
in "Lernen: Subkjektwissenschaftliche Grundlegung" (Frankfurt: Campus).

If anyone has implemented Leont'ev's program, it certainly is Holzkamp.

By the way, further to motive, the German edition of Activity,
Consciousness, Personality has an additional chapter where Leont'ev
explicitly addresses questions of learning in schools, motives, etc.



On 15-Dec-08, at 7:32 AM, David Kellogg wrote:

Mike, Steve:

Like you, I am thoroughly befuddled by the word "motive", and I've
decided that applied to children in general and to child play in
particular it is anachronistic; children do not yet have "motives" in
the sense that Leontiev is talking about here. Last week we had
thesis defenses, and I took mild exception to a thesis which tried to
ascertain changes in "motives" for learning English in children by
the use of Likert-style questionnaires. (My mild exception to these
theses is really pro-forma, and a matter of tradition in our
department; nobody ever fails as a result.)

I notice that LSV (at the beginnning of Chapter Seven of Mind in
Society, which I don't have with me just now) talks about the child's
"needs" and "desires". These he defines "broadly" as "whatever
induces the child to act". If he were going to proceed to construct a
Leontiev-like tristratal theory of activity, this would lead to
something circular: a motive is what drives the child to act, and
action is defined by its motive.

Let me first take a look at Leontiev, A.N. (1979, 1981). The problem
of activity in psychology. In Wertsch, J.V. (ed.) The concept of
activity in Soviet psychology. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

On p. 48, ANL's got this:

"The basic characteristic of activity is its object orientation. The
expression 'nonobjective activity' is devoid of sense. Activity may
seem to be without object orientation, but scientific investigation
of it necessarily requires discovery of its object."

Already I'm in trouble. Scientific investigation is sometimes
required to discover the object orientation of an activity (e.g.
sleep, whose object orientation we still do not really understand but
which will presumably be discovered some day).

But people who do not have the training or the time or the
inclination can and do conceptualize activities such as sleep or
language play or daydreaming. They conceptualize these activities as
being without any tangible object. Why would an expression that
refers to this everyday non-scientific conception be devoid of sense?
Are non-scientific expressions devoid of sense?

OK, then ANL argues that the object of an activity emerges “in two
ways: first and foremost in its dependent existence as subordinating
and transforming the subject’s activity, and secondly as the mental
image of the object, as the product of the subject’s detecting its
properties. This detection can take place only through the subject’s

Presumably he's talking about the way in which scientific
investigation determines the object orientation of an activity, and
not the everyday non-scientific detection of the object (which I
think of as the ethnomethodological motive, the one that participants
are conscious of). But empirically both methods are the same: they
take place through examining the activity of the subject with the
detectionof an object in mind.

On p. 49 he's got this: "All activity has a looplike structure:
afferentationàeffector processes, which make contact with the object
environmentàcorrection and enrichment, with the help of feedback to
the initial afferent image."

This suggests to me that PERCEPTION is in some sense the archetypical
activity. That would explain the OBJECT orientation! But it is going
to mean big problems when Leontiev tries to explain play, because as
LSV remarks, play is precisely the moment when children tear their
meaningful orientation away from the perception of tangible objects.
(Yes, Lewin and Lewin's "field of action" is a big part of this, and
with respect to the child and the stone LSV is clearly closer to
Lewin than to ANL!).

Maybe there's a way out, though. ANL then argues that the crucial
problem here is not the loop itself but rather that mental images are
not produced directly but rather through practical activity in the

"This means that the 'afferent agent' that directs activity is
primarily the object itself and only secondarily its image as a
subjective product of activity that fixes, stabilizes and assimilates
its object content. In other words, a twofold transition takes place:
the transition from object to the process of activity and the
transition from activity to subjective product of activity. But the
transition of the process into a product takes place not just form
the subject's point of view; it occurs more clearly from the point of
view of the object that is transformed by human activity."

Hmmm. When a child picks up a stick and decides to play horsie the
transformation occurs more clearly from the point of view of the
stick (or from the point of view of the horse-play) than from the
point of view of the child. This does look a little sticky.

On p. 50, ANL explicitly goes against LSV's portrayal of "needs" and
"desires" as "anything that motivates the child to act". He
differentiates between desire as a precondition of activity and
"desire as a factor that guides and regulates the agent’s concrete
activity in the object environment". Only the latter is the object of

OK, now let me turn to the only text I can find where ANL really goes
into play, which is a later chapter of his book "Problems of the
Development of Mind".

On p. 366 he begins with the rather startling statement that play has
no object (and thus by his previous account does not constitute an
activity). He says:

"Satisfaction of its vital needs is actually still distinct from the
results of its activity: a child’s activity does not determine and
essentially cannot determine satisfaction of its need for food warmth
etc. Characteristic of it, therefore is a wide range of activity that
satisfies needs which are unrelated to its objective result."

Curiously, he then uses "object" activity to differentiate human from
animal play!

"Where does the specific difference between animals’ play activity
and play, the rudimentary forms of which we first observe in
preschool children, consist in? It lies in the fact that it is not
instinctive activity but it is precisely human, object activity which
by constituting the basis of the child’s awareness of the world of
human objects, determines the content of its play."

Now this is starting to look suspiciously like the thesis I mildly
objected to last week, where the adult's attitudes are simply
projected onto the child and then "detected" using Likert scales. On
pp. 367-368, ANL develops his thesis that play is a substitute for
the handling of adult objects. So for example on p. 368 ANL speaks of
"let me" and "don't", the struggle between the adult who wants to
protect the child from himself and the child who wants to drive a car
and row a boat. This leads, on p. 369, to the idea of a leading
activity which is indeed equivalent to a neoformation without the
crisis. He then returns uncomfortably to his nagging suspicion that
that play is an activity without an object, and therefore not an
activity at all.

On p. 370, he's got this: “As we have already said, play is
characerized by its motive's lying in the process itself rather than
in the result of the action. For a child playing with wooden bricks,
for example, the motive for the play does not lie in building a
structure, but in the doing, i.e. in the content of the action. That
is true not only of the preschool child’s play but also of any real
game in general. 'Not to win but to play' is the general formula of
the motivation of play. In adult's games, therefore in which winning
rather than playing becomes the inner motive, the game as such ceased
to be play."

Contrast that with LSV's observation in Chapter Seven that children
do NOT like running around without any rules or goal, and in games
the meaning of the game is entirely to win. Of course, we might be
talking about different children: Leontiev might be talking about pre-
schoolers, and LSV is certainly talking about school-age kids. But
the gap is remarkable; something rather important is getting lept over.

OK—so then ANL says that in play there is a mismatch between
operation and action, in that the operation is performed with the
meaning of the stick and the action is performed with its sense. He
says that this split is not given in advance but only arises in play
action and that children do not imagine play without actually
playing. If this were true, of course, it would be very hard to see
how children are able to plan play, read about it, or reflect upon
it, much less day-dream or indulge in language play.

No, this isn't going to work. And it gets worse. Look at this, from
p. 381:

"Games 'with rules' i.e. like hide and seek, table games, etc. differ
sharply from such ‘role’ games as playing doctor, polar explorer,
etc. They do not seem to be related to one another by any genetic
succession and seem to constitute different lines in the devleopment
of children’s play, but in fact the one form develops from other
(sic) by virtue of a need inherent in the child’s play activity
itself (?), whereby games 'with rules' arise at a later stage."

So ANL explicitly denies that whole discussion (in Vygotsky's
Leningrad lecture) about the intrinsic link between games with roles
and games with rules. (There's a pretty good account of this lecture,
which I have always seen as the starting point for his elaboration of
the zone of proximal development, in Chapter Seven, but it's well
worth reading the original lecture, which is at

ANL then has to explain why there appears to be a developmental
sequence linking role based play and rule-based games. For LSV this
is no problem: they ARE genetically linked and in fact the child
creates rule based games iteratively, by varying the roles in
systematic ways. But for ANL, who denies the genetic link, this is
rather harder to explain:

“Why do games with rules only arise at a certain stage of
development, and not simultaneously with the genesis of the first
role games? It depends on the difference in their motivation.
Initially the first play actions arise on the basis of the child’s
growing need to master the world of human objects. The motive
contained in this action itself is fixed in a thing, directly in its
object content. The action here is the path for the child that leads
it first of all to the discovery of objective reality; the human
still emerges for the child in its objectified form. The role of the
horseman, the play action of riding, is playing at horses, the action
with a block of wood that the child 'drives' from one chair to
another is playing cars.


"But during the development of these games the human relation
included in their object content itself comes out ever more clearly
in them. The tram driver not only 'acts with a tram' but is obliged
at the same time to enter into certain relations with other people—
with the conductor, the passengers, and so on. Therefore, at
relatively early stages of the development of play activity, a child
finds not only man's relation to it in the object but also people’s
relations with one another. Group games become possible not only
alongside one another but also together. Social relations already
come out in these games in overt form, in the form of the players’
relations with one another. At the same time the play 'role' is also
altered. Its content now determines not only the child’s actions in
regard to the object but also its actions in regard to the other
players in the game. The latter also become content of the play
activity, for which its motive is
  fixed. Games are distinguished in which actions in regard to other
people become the main thing."

OK--so the reason why there is no genetic link is that the child goes
from focussing on material objects in role play to focussing on human
relations in rule play? No, that's not right either, because:

p. 372: "We already know how play arises in the preschool child. It
arises from its need to act in relation not only to the object world
directly accessible to itself but also to the wider world of adults."

Mike--it looks like we're not the only ones befuddled by Leontiev's
"motive" applied to children; he appears to have thoroughly befuddled
himself. Leontiev's "motive" applied to children is a little like the
clocks that keep going off in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, a thousand
years before they were invented.

This is yet another reason for prefering Andy's term "project" in
describing play: unlike "activity" or "motive", it's a real Gestalt,
in that a "project" can be, for the child, action/meaning, and for
the adult, meaning/action, whence the possiblity of transforming,
outside in, the one into the other!

David Kellogg
Seoul Natoinal University of Education

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Received on Mon Dec 15 08:11:01 2008

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