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[Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary Objects

I was waiting to see what Lubomir would say in response to my post to take it from there, Mike, but I will try to respond as best I can to the question about subjectivism and objectivism. When I first remarked in my 2009 paper that I thought that A N Leontyev was too much of an objectivist, Morten Nissen remarked that that was odd, because in Europe ATists thought he was too subjective. So there you are! Activity Theory as propounded by ANL is a theory of Psychology, and yet I want to use AT as a foundation for social theory, so my claim does seem anomalous.

What it comes down to is the insistence of ANL in interpreting contradictions between the "subjective sense" and the "objective meaning" of an activity in terms of the social vs. the individual. This reduces subjectivity to a matter of the capriciousness of the individual mind or the underdevelopment of the child mind. This is hardly objectionable in the domain of child development, but in the domain of social theory it is a Neanderthal position. Social life is made up of a multiplicity of standpoints among which none have the right to claim unproblematic "objective truth" for themselves. This is the basis on which I describe ANL as giving too much to the Object. Engestrom on the other hand, is different, but people's intentions are relegated to "phenomenological investigation" which are preliminary to the investigation itself. I see Engestrom's approach as a kind of social behaviourist approach in which change occurs only thanks to "contradictions" at different levels in the "system." My aim in proposing to see the "system" as a "project" at one or another phase in its life cycle aims to restore the purposiveness of human action to Activity Theory. The interpretation of purposes and intentions in social science is a challenge, but I believe that with the aid of Hegel it can be met.

I am happy to join Rubinshtein and declare "All the the Subject!" though I know nothing at all of his work.

The problem with your question about Boundary Objects, Mike, is that though I knew nothing of them a little while ago, I can now see 3 different meanings of the term. So perhaps Geoffrey is in the best position to answer this question, and I look forward to his answer.

*Andy Blunden*
On 23/07/2015 2:13 PM, mike cole wrote:

I am overwhelmed by this thread so this's query may be badly timed. But .... I recall Lubomir writing that AT was centered on the subject. And now Andy is gesturing to Strands of AT theory that give everything to the object.

Question-- isn't this a version of Rubenshtein/Leontiev schools' conflict? Or LSV "vs" AN L on the problem of the environment?


What is at stake here theoretically and practically?
PS. I am still trying to absorb the multifaceted discussion of boundary object. I almost want to ask -- what forms of joint mediated activity do not involve boundary objects? But I am pretty sure that not knowing the answer to this question is a result of the richness of the discussion.

It's fair to say that XMCA is a boundary object??

On Wednesday, July 22, 2015, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:

    That is exactly right, Larry, I am advocating a
    humanism, in opposition to poststructuralism,
    structuralism Marxism, and strands of Activity Theory
    which give everything to the Object.
    *Andy Blunden*
    On 23/07/2015 2:24 AM, Lplarry wrote:

        Here is a quote from the introduction of "The
        Cambridge Handbook of Merleau-Ponty on the topic
        of the subject.

        "Foucault's archaeological studies of the early
        1970's, most notably "The Order of Things" and
        "The Archaeology of Knowledge", did perhaps more
        than any other work of the period to LEGITIMIZE
        conceiving of processes without subjects."

        This is an "antihumanist" program as Foucault saw
        the failure of phenomenology and the residual
        links between subjectivism and anthropology.

        The force of Foucault's argument was tying the
        philosophy of the subject to what he saw as an
        outmoded humanism.

        It may be what Andy is highlighting is a new humanism.

        From: Lubomir Savov Popov <mailto:lspopov@bgsu.edu>
        Sent: ‎2015-‎07-‎22 8:55 AM
        To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
        <mailto:xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>; Andy Blunden
        Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary

        Hi Alfredo,

        The object doesn't carry in itself the motive and
        the purpose of activity. Actually, depending on
        the motive and purpose of activity, the object can
        be approached in many different ways.

        It is true that the relationship between the
        object and the subject caries the
        purpose/goal/objective/motive of activity. This
        type of relationship might has several aspects and
        the teleological aspect is one of them. Actually,
        in AT, the teleological aspect is central one
        among all aspects of Subject-Object relationships.

        The teleological aspect in AT is envisaged at
        several levels with distinctive teleological
        phenomena: motivation, goal, etc.

        It is difficult to find diagrams of the structure
        of activity with its three levels. I just tried to
        do that and in most cases I got the famous
        "triangle." The internet is dominated by English
        language texts where the authors evidently use
        that version of activity theory. The three
        structural levels of activity might be found in t


        -----Original Message-----
        On Behalf Of Alfredo Jornet Gil
        Sent: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 11:25 AM
        To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity; Andy Blunden
        Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary

        That was a very helpful entry, Andy. Thanks!
        I see that our treatment of object in the paper is
        very much in line with the notion of
        Arbeitsgegenstand as you describe it.

        I have many questions, most of which I should find
        in the literature rather than bother here. But I
        would like to ask one here. It concerns the quote
        that the object "carries in itself the purpose and
        motive of the activity." What does "in itself"
        mean here?
        Thanks again for a very informative post,
        on behalf of Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
        Sent: 22 July 2015 08:31
        To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
        Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary

        If I could try to do my thing and draw attention
        to some
        distinctions in this field ... we have at least three
        different versions of Activity Theory involved
        here plus
        Leigh Star's theory and in addition the theories
        that have
        spun off from Leigh Star's initial idea. Each is
        using the
        word "object" in a different way, all of them
        uses of the English word, but all indexing different
        concepts. So for the sake of this discussion I
        will invent
        some different terms.

        The German word Arbeitsgegenstand means the object of
        labour, the material which is to be worked upon, the
        blacksmith's iron. It is objective, in that if may
        be a nail
        to a man with a hammer and waste material for a
        man with a
        broom, but it is all the same Arbeitsgegenstand.
        use the word "Object" in the middle of the left
        side of the
        triangle to mean Arbeitsgegenstand, and when it
        has been
        worked upon it becomes "Outcome." The hammer that the
        blacksmith uses is called "Instruments" or now
        "instrumentality," and the Rules, whether implicit or
        explicit, these are respectively the base and apex
        of the

        Engestrom says " The object carries in itself the
        and motive of the activity." So this "purpose or
        motive" is
        not shown on the triangle, but I will call it the
        This is what Leontyev meant by "object" when he
        talks about
        "object-oriented activity." The OBJECT is a
        complex notion,
        because it is only *implicit* in the actions of the
        subject(s); it is not a material thing or process
        as such.
        Behaviourists would exclude it altogether. But
        this is what
        is motivating all the members of the design team
        when they
        sit down to collaborate with one another. Bone one
        of the
        team thinks the OBJECT is to drive the nail into
        the wood
        and another thinks the OBJECT is to sweep the
        Arbeitsgegenstand into the wastebin. These OBJECTs
        change in
        the course of collaboration and in the End an
        OBJECT Is
        *realised* which is the "truth" of the
        collaboration, to use
        Hegel's apt terminology here.

        Surely it is important to recognise that while
        shares the same Arbeitsgegenstand, and ends up
        with Outcome
        as the same OBJECT, along the road they construe
        the object
        differently. This is what Vygotsky showed so
        clearly in
        Thinking and Speech. It is not the
        Arbeitsgegenstand or some
        problem carried within it alone which motivates
        action, but
        *the concept the subject makes of the

        Then Leigh Star comes along and applies (as
        Lubomir astutely
        notices) postmodern ideology critique to the
        within an ostensibly neutral infrastructure - that
        is, in
        Engestrom's terms Rules and Instruments, which are
        supposed to be there just to aid collaboration.
        And Leigh
        Star shows that this is an illusion; the Rules and
        Instruments are in fact residues of past
        which carry within them the Outcomes, i.e.,
        realised OBJECTs
        of past collaborations. It is these one-time OBJECTs,
        now-Instruments+Rules which are the Boundary Objects.

        But it seems that other have grasped the
        postmodern critique
        elements of this idea, that apparently
        ideologically neutral
        obJects (in the expanded sense of socially constructed
        entities, usually far more than OBJects - as
        things, or
        artefacts, including institutions - fossilised
        "systems of
        activity") and recognised the shared OBJECT as a
        Object, reflecting the fact not everyone has the same
        concept of the OBJECT, as Vygotsky proved.

        But what Engestrom has done, by placing the
        Boundary Object
        in the place of Object on his triangle, joining
        two "systems
        of activity," for the purpose of looking not at
        but rather the conflict within the broader
        The reconstrual of the Arbeitsgegenstand is
        deliberate and
        aimed to change the relation between Subject and
        (here referring to the Hegelian "Object" usually
        rendered as
        "the Other.") thereby introducing yet a different
        strand of
        postmodern critique into the equation, namely
        Poststructuralism, to mind mind, with great effect.

        OK, so we have Arbeitsgegenstand. OBJECT, Boundary
        OBject, obJECT and obJect. And I might say, the
        situation is
        almost as bad in Russian and German,


        *Andy Blunden*
        On 22/07/2015 5:46 AM, Alfredo Jornet Gil wrote:
        > Thanks a lot for your appreciation, Lubomir.
        > To clarify my question in the previous e-mail, I
        wish to add that I am a bit familiar with the
        distinction between object and tool in activity
        theory, though not enough yet. I can see, and we
        were aware through the process, that what we
        describe in the paper has to do with how the
        object of design emerged and developed for the
        team in and as they were dealing with, developing,
        and resorting to particular means or tools. But I
        guess we could say that in our analyses there is a
        lack of a historical account of the object that
        goes over and above the particular instances
        analyzed. Although we provide with some
        ethnographic contextualization of the team's
        developmental trajectories, all of our discussion
        is grounded on concrete events and their
        transactional unfolding. We did not resort to the
        distinction between object and means because it
        seemed to be the same thing in the there and then
        of the episodes analyzed, at least in what
        participants' orientations concerned. If they ori
        >   ented towards anything beyond what was there
        in the meetings, it was in and through the
        meetings' means. How would then the distinction
        between means and object have added to our
        understanding of the events? (And this is not to
        doubt of the contribution from such a distinction,
        I really mean to ask this question for the purpose
        of growing and expanding; and as said before, part
        of the answer may be found in Engestrom et al.
        > As to how we would position our contribution
        with regard to activity theory, I would reiterate
        what we said when introducing the paper for
        discussion: we begun with the purpose of working
        outside any particular framework and think, as we
        think Star did, broadly, drawing from several
        sources. These included cultural historical
        psychology, ethnomethodology, and discourse
        analysis. But also the ideas about Experience (in
        the Deweyan/Vygotskyan sense) that have been the
        topic in this discussion were in the background
        all the time, but we did not operationalize them
        in terms of any particular theory. This is not to
        say that we went for the "anything goes;" we tried
        our best to keep internal coherence between what
        we said about the data, and what the data was
        exhibiting for us. Perhaps Rolf would like to add
        to this.
        > I think the questions you are rising about
        activity theory are very much in the spirit of
        what I am after, and I am not the best to answer
        them; but this xmca list may be one of the best
        places to be asking those questions.
        > Alfredo
        > ________________________________________
        > From:
        on behalf of Lubomir Savov Popov <lspopov@bgsu.edu>
        > Sent: 21 July 2015 21:16
        > To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
        > Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary
        > Dear Alfredo and Rolf,
        > There are also a few other things that I would
        like to bring to this discussion.
        > First, you have a wonderful project and a great
        article. It is a great example of an
        interpretativist approach to everyday life
        phenomena. Really interesting and fascinating. It
        is all about our minds, culture, and activity.
        > However, how is your approach related to classic
        Activity Theory? Some people might find that it is
        a Symbolic Interactionist approach; others might
        say it one of the Deconstructivist approaches that
        emerge right now or have emerged in the last
        decades; still other people might look for
        connections to ethnomethodology, discourse
        analysis, etc. I am not trying here to impose a
        template or categorize your methodology -- just
        raising a question about its connection to
        Activity Theory. And again, I am not saying that
        this is a shortcoming -- I would like to clarify
        certain things for myself.
        > For example: What are the limits and boundaries
        of Activity Theory? How much we can fuse Activity
        Theory and Postmodernist approaches? What do we
        gain when we infuse new methodological,
        epistemological, and ontological realities into
        Activity Theory? What do we lose? What is the
        threshold when it is not Activity Theory anymore?
        (I mean here Activity Theory as research
        methodology.) Do we need to call something
        Activity Theory if it is not? If we create a new
        approach starting with Activity Theory, do we need
        to call it Activity Theory?
        > Activity Theory is a product of Modern thinking,
        Late Modernism. The discourse you use in your
        paper borrows strongly from Postmodern discourses
        and approaches. I am not sure that Modernist and
        Postmodernist discourses can be fused. We can
        borrow ideas across the range of discourses, but
        after we assimilate them for use in our project,
        they will "change hands" and will change their
        particular discourse affiliation and will become
        completely different components of a completely
        different discourse. Mostly because the
        epistemologies and ontologies are different; and
        the concepts are very different despite of the
        similarities in ideas and words used to name these
        > Just a few questions that I hope will help me
        understand better what is going on in the realm of
        > Thank you very much for this exciting discussion,
        > Lubomir
        > -----Original Message-----
        > From:
        On Behalf Of Alfredo Jornet Gil
        > Sent: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 11:36 AM
        > To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity; Andy Blunden
        > Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary
        > Andy, all,
        >   I just recently begun to read Engeström and
        cols. contribution to the special issue, which is
        very interesting. I have particular interest in
        the difference that they point out between
        boundary object on the one hand, and object and
        instrumentality as different aspects of activity
        theory on the other. Rolf and I came across this
        distinction while writing our own paper. We
        noticed that the museum space, through multiple
        forms of presentations (e.g., the room itself, a
        floor plan, performances of being in the room
        while not being there, etc), was a means, an
        instrument for achieving a final design product.
        > At the same time, the museum space begun to
        become the object of the designers' activity.
        Since this were interdisciplinary designs, and the
        partners had multiple, sometimes opposite
        interests, what seemed to be a common object for
        all them was the museum as place. Thus, most
        representations of it begun to be made in terms of
        narratives about being there. That was the
        orientation that seemed to stick them together.
        > Thus, the museum space was both object and
        instrument. We wondered whether we should do
        connections to notions of object of activity and
        tools, but we felt that that road would take us
        away from the focus on body and experience. We
        ended up drawing from Binder et al (2011), who
        differentiate between object of design, the design
        thing that work delivers, and the object's
        constituents (or means of presentation before the
        design thing is finished).
        > When bringing the notion of boundary object into
        the picture, we could discuss the history of
        development of these relations between the
        different forms of presentations of the museum
        means towards the object without necessarily
        articulating the differences between the two. One
        advantage was that boundary objects focus on the
        materiality, which, as already mentioned, is not
        about materials in themselves, but about
        consequences in action. From the point of view of
        the persons implicated in the process, the museum
        space as object of design was an issue in and
        through the working with some material, some form
        of presenting it or changing it. Both object and
        instrument seemed to be moments of a same
        experience. But I still want to learn what we may
        get out of making the distinction between object
        and tool, as Engeström and colleagues do (so I
        should perhaps read more carefully their study
        rather than be here thinking aloud).
        > Any thoughts?
        > Alfredo
        > ________________________________________
        > From:
        on behalf of Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
        > Sent: 21 July 2015 14:38
        > To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
        > Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary
        > Henry, anything. But the point is objects which
        play some
        > role in mediating the relation between subjects,
        probably a
        > symbolic role, but possibly an instrumental
        role, too, and
        > one subject challenges that role and turns the
        object into
        > its opposite, and changes the terms of
        > A number of examples spring to mind.
        >    * Loaded, especially pejorative words, such
        as Queer, are
        >      embraced by a despised group who take
        control of the
        >      word and assertively embrace it;
        >    * The post-WW2 women's peace movement who
        deployed their
        >      stereotype as housewives and mothers to
        magnificant effect;
        >    * ISIS's hatred and fear of women turned into
        a weapon
        >      against them by Kurdish women fighters
        (ISIS flee before
        >      them rather than in shame);
        >    * The Chartists who turned the British govt's
        stamp which
        >      put newspapers out of reach of workers
        against them by
        >      printing the Northern Star as a stamped
        newspaper and
        >      obliging workers to club together in groups
        to buy and
        >      read it, thus making the paper into a glorious
        >      organising tool;
        >    * the naming of Palestine and the Occupied
        Territory /
        >      Israel is the struggle over the meaning of
        a shared
        >      object (the land);
        >    * Gandhi's use of the landloom as both a
        weapon and tool
        >      for Indian independence and
        self-sufficiency, raising it
        >      from the status of obsolete and inferior
        technology to a
        >      symbol of India.
        > In think this is not what Susan Leigh Star had
        in mind when
        > she introduced the term, but core point is that  the
        > ideological construction placed upon an object
        is subject to
        > contestation, and if successful, the re-marking
        of an
        > artefact is a tremendously powerful spur to
        > Yrjo raises the question: is the"boundary object" a
        > mediating artefact or the object of work
        > (/Arbeitsgegenstand/)? I think the answer is
        that in these
        > cases it is a mediating artefact, tool or
        symbols according
        > to context. In principle it is not the Object in the
        > Engestromian sense, though it might happen to be.
        > Andy
        > *Andy Blunden*
        > http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
        > On 21/07/2015 12:27 PM, HENRY SHONERD wrote:
        >> Rolf, Alfredo, Andy,
        >> I got to thinking about the photographs as
        boundary objects. What about video?
        >> Henry
        >>> On Jul 20, 2015, at 6:07 PM, Andy Blunden
        <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
        >>> Yes, thinking about this overnight, I came to
        see that it was the photographs that Thomas was
        endeavouring to turn to use to recover his
        humanity. This is consonant with how Yrjo was
        using the idea in relation to the subsistence
        farmers' movement in Mexico and their corn.
        >>> Thanks Rolf!
        >>> Andy
        >>> *Andy Blunden*
        >>> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
        >>> On 21/07/2015 3:04 AM, Rolf Steier wrote:
        >>>> This makes sense to me, Andy. I could also
        interpret the photographs as boundary objects as
        they support the coordination of therapy
        activities between Thomas and the nurse. I think
        it depends on the aspect of activity one is
        attempting to explore as opposed to the definite
        identification of what may or may not be a
        boundary object. This is only my opinion though!
        >>>> On Mon, Jul 20, 2015 at 3:49 PM, Andy Blunden
        <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
        >>>>      Or alternatively, the boundary object in
        question is
        >>>>      Thomas's aged body, which is subject to an
        >>>>      interpretation which Thomas contests by
        >>>>      photographs of far away places and
        explaining how
        >>>>      well-travelled he is, seeking an
        interpretation of
        >>>>      himself as a well-travelled and experiences
        >>>>      man-of-the-world.
        >>>>      Does that make better sense?
        >>>>      Andy
        >>>>      *Andy Blunden*
        >>>> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
        >>>>      <http://home.pacific.net.au/%7Eandy/>
        >>>>      On 20/07/2015 11:27 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
        >>>>          Yes, I agree. My own interest is in
        social theory
        >>>>          and I'd never heard of "boundary
        objects." It
        >>>>          seems to me that what BOs do is
        introduce some
        >>>>          social theory into domains of
        activity (scientific
        >>>>          and work collaborations for example)
        where the
        >>>>          participants naively think they are
        >>>>          on neutral ground. So it is not just
        >>>>          but also the ideological context.
        >>>>          In Yjro Engestrom's article, the
        home care workers
        >>>>          collaborate with the old couple
        according to rules
        >>>>          and regulations, communications
        >>>>          technology, finance and so on, which
        in the
        >>>>          unnamed country, the old couple are
        >>>>          cast as "patients". Isn't it the
        case that here it
        >>>>          is those rules and regulations,
        etc., which are
        >>>>          the "boundary objects"?
        >>>>          Andy
        >>>>          *Andy Blunden*
        >>>> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
        >>>> <http://home.pacific.net.au/%7Eandy/>
        >>>>          On 20/07/2015 11:1

        [The entire original message is not included.]


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