Re: [xmca] Activity Systems, Time, and a shared semantics

From: Donna Russell-work (
Date: Thu Oct 20 2005 - 10:32:13 PDT

Hello Anna and everyone

I believe that any model of a complex system will be limiting. Its limited
value is in the visual representation of the interactions of the system to
aid in pattern analysis or description. I sometimes think that a 3-D
graphical representation would show development over time in AT
interactions. I think of it as a transparent ball with a core - perhaps a
single AT triangle- expanding at the sides outward as activity progresses
and showing through an intersecting series of lines and figures the
"movement" of these interactions over time. You could animate the process to
show when certain interactions occurred with the final model being a 3-D
ball shape (or perhaps a bell shape depending on the analysis of expansion)
representing changes through color, depth and the final structure itself.
All of this, I think, would be aided by the creation of software that merges
the qualitative research database functions with spreadsheet functions and
CAD functions. I would love to work on designing something like this if
anyone else is interested or if someone has already created it, I would like
to see it in action.


Donna L. Russell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Instructional Technology
Curriculum and Instructional Leadership
Suite 309
School of Education
University of Missouri-Kansas City
Kansas City, MO 64110
(cell) 314.210.6996
(office) 816.235.5871
----- Original Message -----
From: "Ana Marjanovic-Shane" <>
To: <>; "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
Sent: Tuesday, October 18, 2005 12:35 AM
Subject: Re: [xmca] Activity Systems, Time, and a shared semantics

> It seems to me that there are slightly different interpretations of the
> triangular schema that Mike and Bill are talking about. In fact I think we
> all actually understand this model a bit different. For instance, I do not
> see it as a "triangle" -- if any figure should be mentioned, it would be a
> pyramid -- a three dimensional one at least, although I see many
> dimensions there, time being not just the fourth one but an n-th one.
> As much as it is very useful to create something visually representative,
> it is also possibly a limiting part of the model. Human relations are more
> than two dimensional and have more inter-relations that the "triangle"
> sort of tries to portray. I think that all the lines in this model have to
> be taken to represent possible relations and there are more "triangles" in
> there than just one or two. Maybe the best way to think about it would be
> that the distance between each two points must always be "mediated" by a
> third point! In other words, no line there is about connecting two points
> directly, they themselves (the lines) are an artifact of trying to
> represent mediation and mediated relationships.
> If you think like that, it stops to be a frozen system, a "snapshot" of a
> slice in time. It is NOT. This is not a representation, nor an image of a
> state of the affairs. It is just a representation of some of the possible
> relations that may be relevant at any point in time. But I also see many
> more dimensions there.
> Ana
> Mike Cole wrote:
>>I'll try to help, but may just cause problems.
>>You wrote:
>>1b) The existence of these categories is timeless - the diagram does not
>>change over time.
>>No: The existence of these categories (see learning by expanding or the
>>Developmental Work Research web page) emerge in the course of human
>>phylogeny from the basic subject-object-
>>community triangle to the expanded triangle that includes mediation by
>>artifacts, social rules, and division of labor. But maybe you mean the
>>expanded triangel after the caves ot Lascaux era, e.g. anatomically modern
>>homo sapiens sapiens.
>>2a) There ARE relations among these categories, dialectially.
>>seems so to me. They are mutually consitution of the overal system in
>>dynamic tensions.
>>2b) These relations are timeless.
>>not clear to me. The relation between artifacts and division of labor etc
>>the caves of Lascaux does not seem plaubible to me. Where is the synamism
>>that any dialectic implies, (to my very limited understanding!). But in
>>saying this I am moving from the abstract to a
>>specific (pair?, multiplicity?) of concrete embodiments, or rising to the
>>concretes of two historical eras. .
>>In 1987-87 I had many discussions wtih Yrjo about how best to represent
>>fact that he is
>>using a universal/timeless abstraction to represent a living system. In
>>MCA logo online we sought ways to pub the triangle into motion, if only
>>around its axis, which at least represent multiplicity. Yrjo uses various
>>time-representing abstractions, such as spiriling triangles, to
>>get at the time dimension. I have tried puttting an arrow "diagonally"
>>through the middle of
>>the triangle as a third spatial dimension indicating time. None of this is
>>very satisfactory to
>>The individual/social relationship is another, linked, matter about which
>>am unclear but hope upcoming discussions will clarify.
>>I am sorry, Bill, that I am neither capable, nor desirous, of refuting you
>>make or sustaining statements I am recalled to have made during any
>>convention at any year past Writing in response to your message I can say
>>that the triangles are abstractions in Devydov's sense and in this sense
>>empty, awaiting embodiment in concretes to which they are adequate. As
>>abstractions, they do not have time built into them. Hence they need
>>supplementary forms of representation to make this essential element
>>graspable and usable as a psychological tool.
>>I greatly admire your tenaciousness in seeking to help us all understand
>>what we are talking about better. I welcome the opportunity to keep
>>to these issues in search of great understanding, and hopefully, greater
>>co-understanding. Might you post the url to your dynamic representation to
>>that those puzzled by this discussion could check it out. And checking out
>>the Helsinki Web site is also helpful, at least to me.
>>On 10/17/05, bb <> wrote:
>>>Thanks Carol, for the chance to take these animations further than just
>>>some fleeting post to xmca.
>>>In San Diego, at aera , Mike described the extended triangle diagram to
>>>as something intended to be timeless -- this is Mike's and Yrjo's chance
>>>refute my quite possibly faulty recollection... although... I do agree
>>>this assertion at a fundamental level. Coincidentally, I once expressed
>>>Mike (aera n'orleans) that i took the extended triangle to be
>>>that is, one pours in the content of any particular situation, i.e.
>>>instantiates it, and the relations expressed in the diagram are then are
>>>mapped to relations among the particular instantiations.
>>>So I totally agree that what i animated is content free, unless you read
>>>some paper that instantiated it. Somewhere in MCA could be one, by some
>>>author, who, if stated, could be accused of self-promotion, and while I
>>>despise self promotion, I'm stuck figuring out how one can communicate
>>>others without sharing.
>>>Onward and upward. Just what does the diagram provide, or even better,
>>>to insight?
>>>Well, by way of semantics, I'll venture the following, and again, MC and
>>>YE can comment, refute, add, edit, fix, extend, etc. IMHO the extended
>>>triangle, as a diagram makes the following assertions:
>>>1a) There IS a well defined subject, object, artifact, division of labor,
>>>etc., (because the diagram parses activity into these categories).
>>>1b) The existence of these categories is timeless - the diagram does not
>>>change over time.
>>>2a) There ARE relations among these categories, dialectially.
>>>2b) These relations are timeless.
>>>All this timelessness is why I have not pursued the animated extended
>>>triangle approach, because I realized it was not a functional approach,
>>>the following:
>>>What does the animated diagram add? I modeled the individual moving from
>>>one system to another and back *as a system*. This makes the assertion
>>>the fundamental categories of an activity system (which Yrjo, I
>>>takes as a collective) , and their relations, can be applied to an
>>>individual, at least in one case. That's the claim to be investigated. I
>>>only have partial support for it in one case. What I think the thing to
>>>is, to proceed with this assertion as a tentative one, so to gather
>>>case or so which will refute it, and arise with a new and more functional
>>>>Mike -I would disagree. As enchanting as those moving Activity Systems
>>>>(bb, they really are, I loved them, and stared at them for several
>>>>quite mesmerized), they were still content-empty in relation to any
>>>>particular system, and that's what I understood you, Mike, to mean as an
>>>>abstraction. I think at Seville people were thinking that it's just to
>>>>to draw up a simple system, as if that's an explanation. The explanation
>>>>comes discursively. I am thinking particularly of the
>>>>of graffiti in East Berlin, which started off as a simple description,
>>>>listing the elements and then went into sense, meaning and power.
>>>>So, how does moving and changing size mimic time?
>>>>-----Original Message-----
>>>>From: Mike Cole []
>>>>Sent: Saturday, October 15, 2005 5:20 PM
>>>>To:; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>>>Subject: Re: [xmca] Activity Systems and Time
>>>>I believe that modern graphics program afford representation both of
>>>>variability and time and the two
>>>>combined, Carol. I beieve that is what bb has been playing with.
>>>>On 10/15/05, Carol Macdonald <
>>>><> > wrote:
>>>>Mike pointed out that the Activity System is an abstraction: I see it as
>>>>external tool, and as it is currently drawn, it only represents two
>>>>dimensions. Time--which can't be represented, is the fourth dimension
>>>>as such, we could only represent it by having a continuously moving
>>>>but this is best done discursively as the relationships are continuously
>>>>changing. As Mike (1996:141) said:
>>>>The various components of an activity system do not exist in isolation
>>>>one another; rather, they are constantly being constructed, renewed, and
>>>>transformed as outcome and cause of human life.
>>>>It is our job to describe the construction, renewal and transformation
>>>>changed relationships: the schema per se cannot do that for us.
>>>>Carol Macdonald
>>>>Wits School of Education
>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>> <>
>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>xmca mailing list
>>>xmca mailing list
> --
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Ana Marjanovic-Shane
> 151 W. Tulpehocken St.
> Philadelphia, PA 19144
> Home office: (215) 843-2909
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