RE: Intentionality and Semiotics: What Leont'ev supposedly wrote

From: Cunningham, Donald J. (
Date: Mon Dec 20 2004 - 12:30:37 PST

Bill, there are many varieties of semiotics and each might approach an
analysis of this situation differently. Jay Lemke might take a social
semiotic approach as he did in his book where he analyzed discourse in
science classrooms (I think the title is "Talking Science"). He has a
great chapter in that book on the essentials of a social semiotic
approach where he suggests that the analyst ask questions like:


1. How does the performance of any particular socially meaningful
action make sense to the members of a community?

2. How do people interpret it?

3. What are the parts and how are they related to each other?

4. What alternatives could have been done in its place, and how would
their meanings have differed?

5. When do people make this particular meaning? Engage in this
particular action?

6. How does the meaning change in different circumstances or
contexts? How do people feel about the action and its meaning?

7. What larger social patterns does the action belong to?

8. How does it tend to recreate or change the basic patterns of the


Or someone like Levi Strauss might apply a structuralist analysis
(derived from the Saussure\Jakobson branch) looking for distinctive
features as Levi Strauss did in his analyses of taboos, kinship, myth,
etc. Structuralists like Roland Barthes looked at an incredible variety
of cultural phenomena from food, clothing, professional wrestling (one
of my favorites!) with the basic goal of identifying the "language" of
the phenomenon. So we might look at the language of the collective hunt,
realizing that actions, tools like noise makers or spears, etc. are also
a part of this language.


My sense is that Peircean semiotics is less well applied to analyses of
collective activity, although the notion plays a major role in Peirce's
thought. In fact he defines "real" as a community idea:



Finally, as what anything really is, is what it may finally come to be
known to be in the ideal state of complete information, so that reality
depends on the ultimate decision of the community; so thought is what it
is, only by virtue of its addressing a future thought which is in its
value as thought identical with it, though more developed. In this way,
the existence of thought now depends on what is to be hereafter; so that
it has only a potential existence, dependent on the future thought of
the community. (5.316)


This is probably enough for now. Apologies for any misrepresentations!




Don Cunningham

Indiana University


-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Barowy []
Sent: Monday, December 20, 2004 12:15 PM
Subject: Intentionality and Semiotics: What Leont'ev supposedly wrote


Don, here's what I have of the collective hunt from Leont'ev to

what's been sent out thus far. The ending connection Leont'ev makes

conciousness and social relations would seem fundamental to semiotics

would it not? The move made here is to change the unit of analysis to

something greater than an individual -- and this also seems to be what

Peircian semiotics accomplishes?



Leont'ev, A. N. (1981): Problems of the Development of Mind. Moscow:

Publishers. Pp 210-213


"Let us now examine the fundamental structure of the individuals
activity in

the conditions of a collective labour process from this standpoint. When

member of a group performs his labour activity he also does it to
satisfy one

of his needs. A beater, for example, taking part in a primaeval

hunt, was stimulated by a need for food or, perhaps, a need for

which the skin of the dead animal would meet for him. At what, however,

his activity directly aimed? It may have been directed, for example, at

frightening a herd of animals and sending them toward other hunters,

in ambush. That, properly speaking, is what should be the result of the

activity of this man. And the activity of this individual member of the

ends with that. The rest is completed by the other members. This result,

the frightening of game, etc. understandably does not in itself, and may

lead to satisfaction of the beaters need for food, or the skin of the

What the processes of his activity were directed to did not,

coincide with what stimulated them, i.e. did not coincide with the
motive of

his activity; the two were divided from one another in this instance.

Processes, the object and motive of which do not coincide with one

we shall call actions. We can say, for example, that the beaters
activity is

the hunt, and the frightening of game his action.


How is it possible for action to arise, i.e. for there to be a division

between the object of activity and its motive? It obviously only becomes

possible in a joint, collective process of acting on nature. The product

the process as a whole, which meets the need of the group, also leads to

satisfaction of the needs of the separate individual as well, although

himself may not perform the final operations (e.g. the direct attack on

game and the killing of it), which directly lead to possession of the

of the given need. Genetically (i.e. in its origin) the separation of

object and motive of individual activity is a result of the
exarticulating of

the separate operations from a previously complex, polyphase, but single

activity. These same separate operations, by now completing the content

the individuals given activity, are also transformed into in-dependent

actions for him, although they continue, as regards the collective

process as a whole, of course, to be only some of its partial links.




A beaters frightening of game leads to satisfaction of his need for it
not at

all because such are the natural conditions of the given material

rather the contrary, these conditions are such in normal cases that the

individual frightening of game eliminates his chance of catching it. In

case what unites the direct result of this activity with its final

Obviously, nothing other than the given individual relation with the

members of the group, by virtue of which he gets his share of the bag

them, i.e. part of the product of their joint labour activity. This

relationship, this connection is realized through the activity of other

people, which means that it is the activity of other people that

the objective basis of the specific structure of the human individual

activity, means that historically, i.e. through its genesis, the

between the motive and the object of an action reflects objective social

connections and relations rather than natural ones. The complex activity

higher animals governed by natural material connections and relations is

converted in man into activity that is governed by connections and

that are primordially social. That also constitutes the direct reason
why a

specifically human form of reflection of reality, human consciousness,





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