Re: [xmca] Subject: Verb, Object

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Thu Dec 27 2007 - 11:11:47 PST

Great help, David, thanks. And Andy and Paul.

David- In Cultural Psychology I also level the charge of a focus on
instrumentality - object oriented-ness at Leontiev. But you can find places
in his writing where the "object" is a
person, a sujbect, and he talks about subject-subject relations. Yrjo has
some such quote
in Learning by Expanding.

I find Leontiev VERY difficult to read. I worked for serveral years on the
translation of his book
on development and finally returned it to Progress. Defeated. I often
struggle with what is
there. I do know he labored under conditions where his close association
with Jews and the
charges of "signocentricism" thrown at LSV, idealism(!) put him in a very
difficult position, to
say the least. I have heard it said that he personally behaved badly at
times. And who in those
conditions did not "behave badly" who lived to tell about it?

My reading is not either/or. It was an extraordinarily difficult time to be
decent, as Luria himself
is said to have said. It is up to us, the living, to learn what we can and
make up our own minds.

We do have the benefit of standing on the shoulders of giants. And time.

Leontiev is incorrect in so far as he agrees to any simple version of the
idea that human
evolution REPLACES biological evolution, and it very possible to read
Leontiev in that way.
Here I see the influence of Stalinism directly on activity theory. Leontiev
handled it one way,
Rubenshtein another. They both lived to an old age and died of what we refer
to as
"natural causes." Andrei Brushlinsky, Rubenshtein's loyal student, when he
was head of
the Institute of Psychology, argued fiercely with our Soviet-then- Russian
colleagues. He
accused them (Leontiev in particular) because he under-valued the subject.

The evidence of biologically highly canalazed, million year old, forms of
highly tuned
"primitive circuits" that are activated prior to the cortex on the one hand,
and connect to pervasive
features of the environment (variously called "modules," "skeletal concepts"
) is to important
to ignore. Culture is our way of dealing with con-specifics and the rest of
the world,
but is nOT outside nature.

But this is a topic for another time.

At THIS time, I'll stop this overlong note, say thanks again for provoking
interesting re-illuminations, and wish us all a productive and friendly
2008. After all, it beats
working for a living? Right?

On Dec 26, 2007 10:08 PM, Paul Dillon <> wrote:

> A mythological metaphorical reflection:
> In the beginning was the Instrument/Word (Verb)
> and so the Heavens (Subject)
> and the Earth (Object)
> were created.
> And isn't it notable that in subject-verb-object formulation, the verb
> is the only term that refers to a type of word, while both subject and
> object aren't a type of word at all but necessarily nouns or their
> palimpsests (pronouns). Such a difference, at least for me, casts doubt on
> any claim that such a formulation constitutes a concept. Besides, what
> happens with SOV languages? Beyond that, haven't linguists abandoned this
> formulation for Topic-Comment and other formulations?
> Further, I must admit that I really loved diagramming sentences idn 5th
> grade.
> Paul
> David Kellogg <> wrote:
> Dear Andy and Mike:
> Here's what I've got out of the discussion so far (though I don't expect
> Andy to agree with any of this!):
> a) The "subject" is in bad shape, rather like the "hollowed out" middle
> class. On the one (extreme) hand, individuals appear to have virtually no
> agency. On the other (even more extreme) hand, the agency market as been
> well and truly cornered by large corporations and nation-states. There is
> almost nothing in between: movements, communities, neighbourhoods and even
> families have been either sublated or extirpated.
> India is a particularly horrible example of this: community, caste, and
> even religion have little meaning outside a "communalist" (really statist
> and corporatist) ideology. I'm not sure if "nation" ever meant much of
> anything!
> b) The origins of CHAT lie in a concern for the subject because the human
> psyche is what we theorize. However, we theorize it by relating it to
> "activity" (I have some problems with this bit, as you've probably noticed),
> and of course ANL (but not LSV) theorized "activity" as chiefly
> object-oriented. For this reason, there is an objectivist bent in much early
> CHAT which leaves us somewhat at a loss to explain how individuals might
> exercise agency, particularly under capitalist conditions where the market
> has been cornered by corporatist, statist, or communalist entities.
> ANL's work on "Activity, Consciousness and the Personality" contains a lot
> of evidence of this. Notice how indignantly he rejects the idea that what
> children learn is to play "the role" of a son or daughter or student (p.
> 104). But it is very hard to see how else they could learn what their
> "mission" is!
> c) The solution is to re-colonize social theory. In order to this you go
> back to Hegel. Here you remind us that that the subject can be seen "from
> above" (the universal), "from below" (the individual), but also "from the in
> between" (the particular).
> Because I teach grammar, I think of this as three sentences, each having a
> different position on LSV's "measure of generality" (Chapter Six of
> "Thinking and Speech"):
> 1) Do you like apples? (the universal)
> 2) Yes, I'd like an apple. (the particular)
> 3) That juicy red one, please. (the individual)
> We are not looking at three different apples or three kinds of apples, and
> we are certainly not three three different speakers or three different
> hearers. The apples are the same, and so are the people; only the way of
> thinking about them has changed. In the same way "subject" can be individual
> AND cultural AND social at one and the same time.
> But this is why I think it MATTERS that for ANL mediation was objective
> and external and linked to tool-using labour activity while for LSV it was
> two edged, external-internal, and linked to something that was individual
> AND social AND cultural, namely word meaning. It seems to me that ANL's
> version is ineluctably OBJECT oriented, but LSV's is not.
> Subject-Verb-Object, the paradigm for ANL's unit of analysis, is really just
> ONE kind of sentence, and it turns out to be not a very common kind, not
> even in English.
> I agree that it is VERY interesting that Hegel tells us that there are
> three paradigmatic kinds of mediation and not just two (tools, signs, and
> CHILDREN). I also agree that this shows a rather unusually materialist bent,
> and it makes me believe that Marx really did find the old man standing on
> his head.
> But it's for precisely THIS reason I find ANL's apparent Lamarckianism and
> Lysenkoism so disquieting. Look at this:
> "The principal progress in development of the brain made snce the coming
> of modern man has apparently been that the function of fixing the dynamic
> structures built up has been gradually corticalized, i.e. the role played
> by subcortical centres in relation to the accumulation of species biological
> experience has been transferred to the cortex, the organ of ontogenetic
> experience. (...) While one has to speak, first and foremost, of the
> formation of hereditarily fixed constructions, these changes are not
> produced by biological heredity at the level of man but in the process of
> assimilation described above, which also constitutes the mechanism of social
> 'inheritance'. (...) Man's psyche is thus a function of the higher brain
> structures that arose in him ontogenetically in the course of his mastering
> of historically mouled forms of activity in relation to the human world
> about him; that aspect of man's development which is physicologically
> expressed in the reportudction,
> change, an complication of these structure in succeeding generations, is
> also the process of the psyche's historical development." (pp. 324-325,
> "Problems of the Development of Mind")
> I would MUCH rather leave the "dynamic structures" outside the brain
> altogether (the "supercortical features" that Luria and Bella talk about!)
> than to have to subscribe to the idea that what we learn changes the shape
> of our cortexes and these cortexes get inherited by our children. That's
> objectivism made flesh.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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Received on Thu Dec 27 11:13 PST 2007

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