Re: [xmca] Tool taxonomy

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Wed Mar 01 2006 - 12:22:00 PST

Hi Lemi- Thanks for the challenging note. If you would like a discussion of
this topic
it might help to make "when is a tool" and wartofsky available on xmca
papers for
discussion page. The mediational theories of mind class currently coming to
an end
might also be useful. Contact me if you are interested.

On 2/28/06, Lemi Daghan Acay <> wrote:
> I am new to XMCA but I am interested in AT and CHP for an implementation
> of these ideas in a multi-agent environment. But before I can implement
> these I need to understand the philosophy behind the ideas in AT. More
> specifically, I am interested in understanding the tool taxonomy. Below
> I will give my literature survey and some contradictions that I deem to
> be important to talk about. I should warn you that I am still a beginner
> in AT and CHP and I try to make my questions and my conclusions as clear
> as possible. The reason I am writing to this discussion group is to get
> your confirmation about my results and continue my research on the right
> track with your guidance.
> First of all I will say tool and mediation has been used in almost all
> contexts related to CHAT (see CSCW). Yet, many complications such as
> symbol/tool, physical/cognitive etc. were still problematic and have
> recently been discussed in your community too (see 2005 discussions).
> However there has not been an in-depth study of tool (MCA 2005) and
> especially no taxonomy since Engestrom (When is tool) and Wartofsky
> (Models: Representation and the scientific understanding). As I will try
> to show even these taxonomies are contradictory when we compare them
> with Ilyenkov and Barkhust and the idea of "ideal". That is the reason
> why CHAT and I should consider this taxonomy as a gap for research.
> Engestrom called for a research for tool in 1999 but I was not able to
> find any steps towards this direction. (can you show me concrete
> examples of any taxonomy?) Concrete taxonomy will improve the rhetoric
> power of CHAT and make it easier to learn and understand AT. This
> taxonomy may also clarify the distinction between object and tool -
> according to me we can not do this separation as easy as many may think.
> I hope it also help to understand the relation between tool and activity
> hierarchy of Leontyev. These are some of my motives to pursue this
> research. Rest of the mail will be as follows. I will include some
> parenthesis and ask my questions as I go through my survey. Any comment
> about specific question is more than welcome. I would like to get your
> feedback on the correctness of these questions too.
> I like to start with Wartofsky. He gave three tier taxonomy for tool, 1-
> primary tools: tools that are directly used in an activity (What is the
> relation of primary tools to activity hierarchy, are tools used in
> procedure, action or activity level?) he includes needles as well as
> language into this category. And according to him primary tools are goal
> oriented. Engestrom calls these "what" tools 2- Secondary tools: are the
> procedures that enable one to understand the use of primary tools or
> tools that "represent the activity". Engestrom divides these into two
> namely "how" and "why" tools finally 3- tertiary tools: which help us
> prospect about the future and has no connection with the actuality.
> Rituals are one of these tools. Engestrom calls these "where to" tools.
> (How are these tools selected and what stage of the formation of
> activity they are determined? Do they trigger activity or do we create
> and activity and start realizing tools around us that will serve the
> purpose? More specifically we engage in an activity because tools are
> there or do we select tools after we engage the activity?)
> Now if I look at Ilyenkov, Engestrom and Cole tools have ideal
> properties. These ideal properties gain meaning in the activity. I
> believe ideal properties are procedures, and meanings of tools in an
> activity, since according to Wartofsky activity itself determine related
> tools. Then this results in collapse of secondary tools into primary
> tools. Other way around, if secondary tools exist than primary tools do
> not have any "ideal" properties which contradict the initial claim. Also
> there is no clear cut distinction, as far as I am concerned, between
> secondary and tertiary tools since rituals represent a hunting activity
> for example (secondary tool) they are also used to construct the future
> possibilities for that activity (tertiary tool)
> Now if we review Leontyev again everything starts from a need (hunger)
> but this need does not drive (motivate?) the activity unless it can be
> objectified. That object (game) drives the activity. So ideal form of
> the object is need (or motive can I say that?). this object trigger an
> activity (hunting) and this is realized by a group of people each of
> which undertake one action (hitting bushes, ambush etc.) (so can I say
> there can be no activity triggered by single individual? Does its very
> formation rely on collective behavior? Can you give me an example that
> the object of individual activity does not coincide to the goal of an
> action?) Every action determines its tool (spear, long pole) that is
> where ideal properties of tool is given. And finally tool is used under
> some condition and procedures come into play. Of course this is not that
> simple but I cannot articulate it better since I am confused with the
> terminology too.
> These are my understanding to activity theory however they do not fit
> together even philosophically. So I devise my own taxonomy from my
> computer science perspective. Any comments on my reasoning and my
> taxonomy are more than welcome.
> I divide tools into four
> a- Transforming object (production): these tools have effect on objects
> in order to transform them into something else. Object in this sense
> perceived as physical object. Such tools are labor tool, kitchen tools,
> typewrites etc.
> b- Mediate action (transform task): these tools have direct effect on
> action selection and goal formation. According to Norman tools can be
> seen as mapping from one action sequence to another. Such tools are car,
> checklist etc.
> c- Transforming tool (information presenting): For example check boxes
> on a sliding stripe on a checklist transform the tool by interpreting
> the current state of activity. This strip itself a tool but it actually
> mediates the use of checklist and present the information so that it
> transform checklist.
> d- Changing 0bject (Negotiation): this tool such as language can act on
> a need and find different object to satisfy that need and change the
> activity itself. For example hunting may change its object from deer to
> elephant so the actions may change. But this change is supported by
> tools such as negotiation.
> I have included my table to this e-mail for better distinguishing the
> tool taxonomy. Please let me know if I am totally off the track or if
> you may suggest me more reading to understand tool. One more time I like
> to implement tool in a computer and I need more or less clear cut
> taxonomy that gives relation of tool to activity hierarchy, object ,
> goal, and conditions. I hope this is not too much to ask and not
> contradictory to the theory itself. Sorry for the long e-mail but I
> could not find a shorter way to express my confusion.
> Thank you all
> Daghan ACAY
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