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

Hi Andy,

I read your mail with interest and appreciate your insightful ideas. I agree that different social sciences have quite different cultures, conceptualizations, terminological systems, and this makes interdisciplinary communication quite difficult. I am continue reading your ideas and will come back to you again.

Best wishes,


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces+lspopov=bgsu.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces+lspopov=bgsu.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Thursday, July 23, 2015 9:47 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Cc: Geoffrey C. Bowker
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary Objects

Thank you Lubomir.
Lubomir, it is not a problem of unfamiliarity with diamat. I was educated in the same diamat school as you were. Diamat translates very well into English. And nor is it a problem of translating between German, Russian and English. It is partly a problem of the departmentalisation of knowledge and activity, and partly a problem of getting one's head around genuinely interdisciplinary concepts. Unlike Manfred, you have ventured beyond the bounds of Psychology, so you give me the opportunity to illustrate my point.
Let us suppose that there are three characters whom I will call the Psychologist, the Sociologist and the Social Theorist for the sake of convenience.

You play the role of *the Psychologist*. Everything in your explanation is about the individual (a.k.a. subject) on one side, and society with its unchangeable laws, on the other. 
Objective meaning, is *socially agreed*! By whom? Pretty well any Psychologist will be inclined to see things this way, whether they were trained in diamat or not and whether they spoke Russian or English. Yes, the subject, i.e., the individual person, is an"active social agent" and can go out in the world and try to change things. They are a very small agent in the world, but enough of an agent to change what matters to them. It is the subject, an individual, on one side, and society with its unchanging, "agreed," "objective" 
meanings on the other.

*The Sociologist* on the other hand, does his or her survey and tells us that men and women think differently, as do retired people and workers, and blue collar workers have different opinions from white collar workers and so on. And these different groups of people interact. The Sociologist agrees that "objective laws of social reality cannot be changed" but he/she knows that every proposition you want to make about the social reality is contested, and there is no "socially agreed" meaning for anything. Muslims see things differently from Christians, etc., etc., and if things change it is because of the changing relations between these groups, and these changes are beyond the power of any individual to do anything about them. History sweeps over the individual like wave over a grain of sand. It is a matter of formulating the laws governing the interaction between these groups.

For *the Social Theorist*, the individual is an agent in the world beyond their immediate sphere of life only insofar as they can participate in some project, e.g. practising their profession, building up a firm or a political party, etc., and it here, taking actions as part of a collaborative project, that the the regularities of social life are made and broken. These projects are motivated by concepts of themselves which are manifested by their actions in the world as a whole, embedded in artefacts and signs and active in the consciousness of individual participants. The concept of "trade union" enters the consciousness of other people who are not unionists, thanks to the actions of trade unions, people learn about science, and have a concept of science, only because of the activity of scientific institutions and movements. These projects are not the Sociologists' social groups, but activities made up not of individuals but of actions. Projects are not sociological entities. They are the actions of individuals and are just as much part of Psychology as Social Theory, but the actions of individuals as such are mere capriciousness, grains of dust in the wind, except insofar as they are coordinated by concepts, that is, are carried out in collaboration with others. The world is made up not of old and young, male and female, Muslim and Christian, but feminism, business, farming, sport, socialism, etc., activities, the unit of which is a project.

Mike asked what is at stake here? What is at stake if we insist that there is an objective world, whose laws cannot be changed, and words/signs have objective meanings which are "socially agreed"? Where, if you don't accept the "socially agreed" meaning, you need to see a Psychologist to find out why. And who is it that is the arbiter of the "socially agreed" meaning of everything? Surely it speaks for itself.


*Andy Blunden*
On 24/07/2015 12:49 AM, Lubomir Savov Popov wrote:

Hi Mike and Andy,

Sorry, it takes time to respond, and there are some other business going on.

Both Rubinstein and Leontiev work in a Historical Materialist (Histmat) paradigm. In this respect, there are no substantial differences between them. If we look from outside, the differences are minor. If we go in the details, there are always differences. However, my personal impression is that Rubenstein was more systematic and deep. He was also more of a psychologist rather than activity theorist.

In Historical Materialism, the subject is an active social agent. The subject exists objectively. This is not a paradox in that paradigm. On the other hand, although materialists talk about the objective existence of the world, they conceptualize people as active social agents, while the object of activity is subservient to the social agent/subject of activity. In addition, there is a dialectic between the objective existence of human beings and their*subjective (in the sense of personal*, individual) perception of the world. The subject is in the center of everything. When we talk about "subject", we do not mean subjectivity in the US sense. The Histmat is an objectivist paradigm that professes the objective existence of humans but at the same time acknowledges the perceptions and agency of the individual. It is a bit different to translate/transfer these concepts. In Historical Materialism the subject is not subjective in the Anglo sense, not biased, not partial, but exists objectively according to the laws of social reality. Of course, in a different usage of the term "subjective," the subject can display subjectivity in the Anglo sense, like developing political bias and prejudice in his/her perceptions and actions regarding the social world. So, the subject exists objectively and always in control of the object. The dialectic of the subjective and objective regarding a social individual also means that*each individual has his/her own specific consciousness*, but its content is affected strongly by*objective social laws that the subject cannot disregard*, even if he/she wishes so. By "social laws" we mean social regularities, and actually the Histmat people say -- objectively existing social regularities. This means that*the subjects or individuals can not affect or change these objective social regularities*. Again, there is no paradox when the Histmat people believe that the*objective laws of social reality cannot be changed*, but at the same time subjects have the power to change their lives and the organi
zation of society. Yes, subjects/social agents can make changed, but within the limits of social regularities and using these objective social processes to their advantage, creating synergy.

In Histmat, they talk about subjective meaning (like in the Anglo discourses) and objective meaning (*socially agreed and accepted*  in everyday life conventions).

There is also one other topic, about the dialectics of the leader and the masses, and how the leader cannot change the world, only the masses can change the world, but they cannot do that without their leader. Basically, this is a political idea: you need a leader, but if you lose your leader, you can get another one and fight again. That is an example how Histmat was used to idelogize political situations and actions.

In principle, it is very difficult to translate/convert Histmat ideas into Anglo discourses. Most of the staff will be lost in translation. Even German words like Tatigkeit and Activitat are used very differently than in German language where they are synonyms. Marx has used these words to denote two very different concepts: Tatigkeit is activity, whole Aktivitat is used for all kinds of chemical and biological process, denoting some kind of movement and development of the situation or the cell, or whatever. The Histmat people religiously follow and keep this differentiation. It is a big mistake to substitute Tatigkeit (deyatelnost in Russian) for Aktivitat (aktivnost in Russian). Actually, the definition of deyatelnost is that it is goal-directed aktivnost.

Best wishes,