RE: [xmca] activity theory 3rd generation

From: Emily Duvall <emily who-is-at>
Date: Sat Nov 17 2007 - 22:16:50 PST

To me the issue of the triangles is an unfortunate result of Flatland.
Even 'two sides coins' are limiting.
When we lay out frameworks perhaps we need to think somewhat holographically (word?), I think.
I go back to the appendix to his book, The Practice of Philosophy: A Handbook for Beginners, where Jay Rosenberg offers the following challenge:

If you see some part of an apple but not every part of the apple, then you see not an apple but only part of an apple. Since no one ever sees every part of an apple, no one ever sees an apple. The argument isn't restricted to apples. Peaches, pears, plums, cars, books, and people - no one ever sees them. Indeed, no one ever sees anything. What's gone wrong here? (Rosenberg, 1978: 90)

I love this puzzle! It speaks directly to the dilemma that I like to hope every scientist faces for, like Rosenberg's apple, we can't really expect to see every part of what we study, can we? As physicist David Bohm points out

...we must finally reach a stage in every theory where we introduce the notion of something with unvarying and exhaustively specifiable modes of being, if only because we cannot possibly take into account all the inexhaustibly rich properties, qualities, and relationships that exist in the process of becoming. At this point, then, we are making an abstraction from the real process of becoming. Whether the abstraction is adequate or not depends on whether or not the specific phenomena that we are studying depend significantly on what we have left out. (Bohm, 1957: 156-7)

Certainly our scientific researches involve choices: what to consider and how to consider it - although the focus can be seemingly concentric at times, oriented as it where via the limits of theory and method. However, our choices are not only about the nature of what we consider to be significant with regard to the phenomenon under scrutiny and how we choose to investigate it but our choices also give indication of the judgments we are prepared to make about the nature of what it is that we have chosen to investigate and, by extension, about our ways and means of understanding the world as present around us and through us. So to some degree I might say that my theoretical bearings and methodological route of investigating Rosenberg's apple becomes less a choice I make in the name of an anonymous science, than a reflection of the culturally and historically based ontological and epistemological framework in which I interpret, understand, appropriate and participate in the world.

To be clear, this is not at all to advance a form of relativism. Nor is it to make a case for 'ladenness' wherein "[i]f the notions of theory and concept ladenness are correct then all sciences are, to some degree, interpretive and hermeneutical, all observation participant observation" (Garrison, 1986: 16). Rather it is to suggest that the scientific investigation of Rosenberg's apple is not simply about theory and method, but also about the process-nature of scientific investigation as a human activity and its relationship to knowledge and truth. That is to say, from a Marxist perspective,

[i]t is useful to consider [again] the relation of thought to being, in this case the relation of the categorical framework to the social context. Simply stated, Marx understands all forms of social being as the product of human activity, which intervenes in the epistemological process on two levels: in the original production of the hermeneutical object, which precedes knowledge, through the practical productive activity manifested in a social context; and in the conceptual reproduction of the hermeneutical object on the level of thought in order that it be known. (Rockmore, 1984: 123)

Does this help with the 'ideal' / 'material'? And the triangles... :-)
~ Em

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Saturday, November 17, 2007 6:29 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] activity theory 3rd generation

Well I don't know about all these triangles and dialectical dualisms
either, but I have only just discovered Skype. For me (outside academia and
in the wrong hemisphere) this offers a really cheap option for
participating in these international discussions, so I do agree with Mark
that this looks like a good artefact to use in learning.
At 04:04 PM 17/11/2007 -0800, you wrote:
>I am not sure whether we ought to represent them separately, as they
>are dialectically related, that is, two aspects of the same coin that
>one-sidedly ( :-) ) represent the whole thing. This is what I have
>been suggesting for a while, not that we need to represent them
>separately, but that we need to look at Yrjö's structure and think it
>in terms of representing the dialectical co-presence of the ideal and
>material. Michael
>On 17-Nov-07, at 3:33 PM, Mike Cole wrote:
>As to having ideal and material triangles separately represented, I have
>not made it that far yet either. I do think that all cultural artifacts are
>both material and ideal, and it may well make sense to extend this approach
>to all elements of an activity system, I just have not gotten there in my
>xmca mailing list

  Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
mobile 0409 358 651

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Received on Sat Nov 17 22:26 PST 2007

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