Re: [xmca] Self-Introduction and comment on Sawchuk/Stetsenko

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Tue Dec 09 2008 - 20:51:48 PST

Wonderful to hear from you, Derek. If only we could have
more dialogues across parties and disciplines!

That said, as I read you, you are adopting that wonderful
kind of "ruthless reductionism," that "shameless
behaviourism", the kind of position that leads to wonderful
performative contradictions like the philosophy of mind
which declares that mind does not exist, people that believe
that subjectivity is an illusion, and participate in
activity while believing that society requires inverted
commas and so on.

If mind and subjectivity do not exist, and behaviour is
imitation, how did you come to write this email? Was a kind
of conditioned reflex? you saw someone else writing the same
idea so you found yourself compelled to do it too? And were
you aware of what you were doing when you were doing it? Or
was it, like mind, society, subjectivity, but an illusion.
And if it was an illusion, do you expect we share that illusion?

What say, instead of declaring that subjectivity does not
exist, what if we discussed what it means and how it is
constituted? Because really, I could only agree with you if
I had a subjectivity so as to perform and experience
agreement. And then I would be forced to disagree with you.


What do you think, Derek?


Derek Melser wrote:
> I come to XMCA as a philosopher of mind convinced that 'mind' (and related
> metaphor-based notions such as 'internalisation') can be explained in terms
> of (a) people's natural tendency to act in concert (do the same thing,
> together) and (b) various derivative, subtler, but still
> in-principle-observable, skills that children acquire. My account, developed
> from those of Ryle, Vygotsky and Hebb, has acting in concert as the basis of
> culture. Solo action, cooperation, and objective practices (in which the
> empathic, side-by-side stance characteristic of concerted activity has given
> way to objective attitudes) are learned adaptations of acting in concert.
> Unfamiliar concerted (and solo, cooperative and objective) activity must
> usually be preceded by preparatory educative activity, the prototype of
> which is the demonstration-and-imitation procedure. The immediate goal of
> demonstration-and-imitation is for teacher and pupil to perform the action
> in concert. After the pupil's participation has improved, perhaps after
> repeated demonstration-and-imitation sessions, to the point where he can
> perform the action on his own, rehearsals may still be necessary prior to
> performance.
> To rehearse an action or activity is to go through a
> demonstration-and-imitation session in a streamlined and abbreviated way.
> There are many different ways of abbreviating the
> demonstration-and-imitation procedure, some involving two or more
> participants, others for the solo agent. Verbal communication, consciousness
> and thinking are all forms of rehearsal all ways of rehearsing actions and
> activities before (or indeed whilst or instead of) performing them and
> they are all 'derivatives by abbreviation' of the
> demonstration-and-imitation procedure.
> A child acquires these various rehearsal skills in much the same way he
> acquires other skills by watching and listening to other people
> demonstrating them, by attempting to join in, and by practising them on his
> own. In *The Act of Thinking* (MIT Press 2004) I retrace some of the main
> steps in the child's (and perhaps early man's) mastery of verbal
> communication, consciousness and thinking.
> My feeling about the Sawchuk/Stetsenko paper is that it is insufficiently
> purist. It embraces concepts which are actually antithetical to, and
> compromise, a pure activity approach. For example, there is 'subjectivity',
> which we are said to be in danger of 'undertheorizing' (p.340). What can
> subjectivity be if not 'private experiencing'? Activity theory casts all
> experiencing as public, or incipiently public. Subjectivity is a mentalist
> concept. Listed among 'the specific principles of human development' on
> p.341 are 'the social origin of mind' (which implies there is such a thing
> as mind) and 'internalisation' (implying the existence of an inner,
> presumably mental, dimension). Vygotsky fell in here too, which is why we
> need Ryle. Activity does not internalise, it does not disappear into the
> mental, as it becomes familiar. Nor is mind 'extended'; it does not extend
> from the 'inner' to embrace 'outer' phenomena: mind is a fiction.
> Sawchuk and Stetsenko characterise activity as 'reciprocal interaction with
> the world' (339), as a process of 'engagement with the world' and as
> 'transforming the world' (343). However, the world need not stay in the
> picture. It is required neither as a venue nor as a patient or product of
> people's activity. The notion of the world, and things in the world, is a
> teaching aid invented to assist our acquisition of the perceptual skills we
> need to employ in the course of our activities.
> If we want to concentrate on the activity, then the 'selves' that Sawchuk
> and Stetsenko say people's activity creates ('as they create their world'
> (343)) are also dispensable. Selves disappear, they get absorbed, in
> concerted activity. Even 'the social order', with its reification of
> activity as the 'social structure' or 'society' that sociology is predicated
> on, may be a distraction. And what about 'historical'? Personally, I am most
> interested in the foundational human activities concerting, cooperation,
> verbal communication, consciousness, thinking, etc.). These practices were
> almost certainly established more than a million years ago, so history
> played no part in their development, though evolution did. History becomes
> relevant only in connection with the great increase in objective practices
> that accompanied the relatively very recent transition from small-group
> nomadic life to our settled agricultural existence if that counts as
> history.
> Should I have presumed to list with XMCA and to comment on a review of CHAT,
> when the XM is anathema to me, the H of no interest? My C would be
> 'concerted' rather than 'cultural' too, though, since I conflate these,
> that's a quibble. Is this where I belong? An activity purist like myself has
> at least the AT in common with others in this forum, surely. Well, no. I'm
> not at all sure about the T. It has always seemed to me that our knowledge
> of activities is irreducibly empathic. When we witness or imagine an
> activity, in order to comprehend what we are seeing we must imagine engaging
> (if not actually engage) in that activity. There is no possibility of any
> truly objective or 'scientific' observation of activity (behaviour, conduct,
> action, things we do). Cultural activity is not a natural phenomenon. It is
> not even a phenomenon. It is something* we* do. We are participants, players
> or incipient, would-be players. We cannot get outside it, hold it at arm's
> length, make a scrutinizable object of it. If we do, it vanishes. We must
> empathise even to perceive activity. Certainly, we can be self-aware in the
> act of doing something, alone or with others, and this self-awareness need
> not impede (or not too much) our participation. But what can 'theory' amount
> to in this context?
> Derek Melser
> **
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Andy Blunden +61 3 9380 9435 
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Received on Tue Dec 9 20:52:31 2008

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