# Re: [xmca] activity theory 3rd generation

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Sat Nov 17 2007 - 15:19:11 PST

Dear Mark:

I'm afraid I have little to share with you except your own confusion squared. I too found p. 92 of the Daniels book puzzling, and the idea of TWO interacting activity systems perplexing.

I guess the idiot's answer (that is, my answer) to your question is that the first triangle produces lesson plans as OBJECTS and materials which are then taken into the second triangle as SUBJECTS.

This explains why, for example, the "community" and the "rules" and "division of labor" of the two interacting triangles have to be different. The teachers are one community, and the learners are a different one. Teachers in a staff room (or a Skype room) have one set of rules and one kind of division of labor, and learners in a classroom have another.

Where this idiot's answer breaks down is in distinguishing the object-cum-subject from the mediating artefact. Of course in one sense that is easy. The Skype program is, as you pointed out, a mediating artefact for the production of the materials. Similarly, we can say that in the classroom the desks and dictionaries and books that the learners use to mediate the materials are mediating artefacts.

But then I have the uncomfortable feeling that we'll need another triangle, and possibly another, to describe how the materials work as mediating artefacts in the production of understandings, either for the teachers (who presumably learn something about materials design) or for learners (who hopefully learn a bit of English).

To tell you the truth, the whole triangle makes me feel uncomfortable, particularly when I read (in Leontiev, and most recently in Wolff-Michael Roth's intro to the new issue of MCA) that we need TWO triangles for every triangle, one of which is material and one of which is ideal.

Wolff-Michael quite rightly emphasizes the non-isolability of the elements of the triangle; he stresses that for example "rules" cannot be understood separately from "division of labor" (though the triangle does NOT in fact show them to be directly connected; they are only connected by way of "community").

But if the elements of the triangle are not isolable or decontextualizeable, how can the object of one become the subject of the other? Besides, if we cannot isolate "rules" from "division of labor" (and I CERTAINLY agree we cannot), what is the point of isolating "material rules" from "ideal rules" and "material division of labor" from "ideal division of labor"?

Perhaps p. 33 of Daniels is some help? Here we go back to the much simpler triangle we find in Vygotsky (1978, 1997, and of course Mike's version in Cultural Psychology). But we see that the triangle TURNS (p. 34) as the adult models how to read a text for the child. We go from "Child-->Text-->World" to "Adult--Text--World" and then back to "Child--Text--World" at a higher level. It's the same triangle, with a slightly different one involving an adult superimposed, and then rotated a little. (p. 34).

I guess I find this simpler triangle more useful because it suggests how different triangles might be superimposed and rotated, so that artefacts can become objects and subjects and so on. But to be perfectly frank none of these wheels within wheels is as useful to me as Peirce's good old trichotomy of "sign--object--interpretant", where the interpretant is itself capable of being an object, and the chain of signs has no beginning and no end.

When I say this, though, I am not making a statement about the way things are; I am simply talking about the way I think, and I think that at the bottom of the way I think is my old idea of the twig putting out new twigs and becoming a branch: a twig-object that puts forward a sign and an interpretant becomes a new kind of branch-object.

A propos. The new article is available for voting on MCA. I felt duty bound to vote for "Artists Making Art" (particularly after I read the hilarious, and patently self-interested, interviews that form the data), but I can see that Andy's article is probably of much more general utility. The problem is that we painters are not very practical.

Much Muddled,
David
Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Sat Nov 17 15:24 PST 2007

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