Re: [xmca] activity theory 3rd generation

From: Noel Enyedy <enyedy who-is-at>
Date: Sun Nov 18 2007 - 10:09:36 PST


I believe in Yrjo's (1987) Learning by Expanding he talks directly
about the relationship between multiple activity systems (and the
inter-activity system contradictions). I am away from my office but
I can double check this reference. To me the situation you describe
maps onto his 'tool producing systems' in that participating in your
first seminar participants produce tools/lesson plans that used in
the second.

As you say, "In the second activity system (activity system 2) I
have shown that
the teachers, going away from the group to their respective
classrooms, have prepared lessons or action research parameters to
take the theory from the skype group (activity system 1) and implement
them into the classroom. "

To me this implies that the outcome (if not the object ) of the first
system is the production of tools.

I have found the section of Yrjo's book that describes the levels of
contradictions within and between activity systems helpful to me in
the past.

Another resource I have found helpful in applying THE triangle
abstraction to real contexts is Witte & Haas' argument that tools,
DOL, and rules are all forms of mediation. He suggests that you
could image the mediation triangle as a pyramid by taking the base of
the pyramid as the subject-object-community triad and folding the
sides of Engestrom's triangle so that the other triads meet at the
top. So, the top of the pyramid is 'mediation' which combines tools,
DOL & Rules. The sides of the pyramid are sub-triangles 1) subj-
tool-obj 2) subj-community-rules and 3) community-obj-DOL.

What I have found helpful about this metaphor is that it helps me
deal with the shifting relationships and roles between tools, rules,
and the division of labor that always arise when I use the triangle
to examine activity systems in motion.

Recognizing that my memory and presentation of this idea here is far
from perfect, I have attached the Witte & Haas paper.


Witte, S. P., & Haas, C. (2005). Research in Activity: An Analysis of
Speed Bumps as Mediational Means. Written Communication, 22(2), 127-165.

On Nov 18, 2007, at 3:11 AM, wrote:

> Andy:
> I certainly agree the triangle is troublesome. Even Yro, in
> "Learning by
> Expanding" breaks up the triangle at the activity angle to point
> out there
> is more going on in activity then merely activity. For the simple
> idea of
> tools/artifacts mediating behavior I think the triangle serves a
> purpose,
> beyond that simple explanation it becomes troubleesome. Vygotsky
> pointed
> out that thought and language followed parallel lines of development,
> should they be represented by separate triangles? Vygotsky also
> pointed
> out that learning and instruction should be measured differently,
> should
> they then be represented by separate triangles?
> Emily, I really like the apple metaphor because it really
> illustrates how
> difficult it is to get at the nugget of study. In Vygotsky's short
> paper
> "Thinking and Speech" (available in the collected works) he wants to
> capture the moment when an infant makes the leap from "thinking"
> about the
> world around her to "speaking" about the world around her. He uses
> research with Eidetics as proof that this moment is captured but I
> have to
> admit if Vygotsky explains the entire apple I can't see it.
> eric
> P.S. James liked to use a squirrel going around a tree as a
> metaphor. This
> can be found in his lecture on Pragmatism.
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
> cc:
> bcc:
> Subject: RE: [xmca] activity theory 3rd generation
> Andy Blunden <>
> Sent by:
> 11/18/2007 07:02 PM ZE11
> Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <font
> size=-1></font>
> Well that is a nice quote (the one at the end from Rockmore). To me it
> means that a lot of concepts which I might find abhorrent or
> mistaken have
> validity because they reflect relations that exist in the world,
> and it is
> in a sense hopeless to cry what ideas they are, while they continue as
> relations in the world. So this reinforces your first point, I
> think Emily,
> that every theory gives us some side to things that cannot be as
> adequately
> brought out by another theory, even one's favourite theory.
> Personally I find triangles are ok for seeing relations between things
> which are already constituted as different, independently existing
> things,
> but where a triangle is supposed to show internal relations of a
> single
> thing I find them a singularly confusing metaphor.
> And I stalwartly refuse the ideal/material dichotomy. Ideal/real
> maybe, but
> ideal is material, so that's crazy... within the universe of the
> meanings I
> give to these terms.
> At a recent meeting celebrating the bicentenary of publication of
> Hegel's
> Phenomenology, someone was (after any number before them)
> denouncing the
> dreaded Cartesian dichotomy and a good friend of mine, Paul Ashton, an
> excellent Hegelian, stepped up to say if there was anyone in the
> room who
> did not feel this Cartesian dichotomy, could they please let him know,
> because he would like to be where they were. No-one took him up on his
> offer. ... But that doesn't mean that this dichotomy which we feel
> is real.
> Andy
> At 10:16 PM 17/11/2007 -0800, you wrote:
>> 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: [mailto:xmca-
>>] 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.
>> Andy
>> 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
>>> thinking.
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> xmca mailing list
>> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
>> mobile 0409 358 651
>> _______________________________________________
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> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
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Received on Sun Nov 18 10:12 PST 2007

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