Re: [xmca] more questions about Sawchuk and Stetsenko article: whose sociology???

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch who-is-at>
Date: Wed Dec 10 2008 - 22:45:03 PST

Andy wrote:
> The idea of the individual simply chasing after the object of their
> desires and activities being a manifestation of a human need, is
> laughably uncritical and simplistic. That's why I say it can't be
> taken seriously by sociologists.

Andy, as time goes on, if you run across any passages where Leontiev
actually argues along these lines, please point them out if you can.

As for finding Leontiev in print, all that I have ever seen myself is
what is on MIA (some of which is copied on LCHC), plus a picture .pdf
of the middle part of Problems of the Development of Mind, about a 150
pages worth, that we used in an xmca class a few years ago.

Haydi has stressed that we need to get Problems of the Development of
Mind online, and I totally agree. All Leontiev should be in print, in
English, and on line. And maybe with new translations if possible.

In my opinion, Problems of the Development of Mind, more than anything
else of Leontiev's that I have seen, is foundational for CHAT. It not
only offers an in depth analysis of the evolution of activity from its
earliest animal origins, but it also deals at a high level on what is
new and different about human activity, which ushers in an entirely
new dimension and new kind of activity, social production. Activity
becomes an entirely new entity that is now no longer a product of
biological evolution, but a product of social evolution. This
transformation from biological activity to social activity is rivaled,
in my opinion, only by the transformation of the inorganic to the
organic, the origin of life itself.

The main point I am making here is that understanding the animal
aspects, origins, and evolution of activity is necessary to fully
understand the human and social content of human activity, and how
human activity itself has evolved (which makes it an important
question for sociology and not just psychology). Leontiev to my
knowledge was the first to seriously explore how the structure,
function and evolution of activity in animals laid the basis for human
activity. As the passages I sent demonstrate, Leontiev's work on
activity doesn't make full sense without taking into account his
approach to theorizing animal activity - that activity itself is what
all animals must do to survive - and which humans do a very special
and unique way.

The main theme in Part II of PDM is his tracing of animal psychic
evolution from the pre-psychic (simple stimulus and response,
irritability), to the sensory (detecting properties of objects, e.g.
insects), the perceptual (detecting objects, e.g. amphibians), the
relational (detecting relations between objects, higher mammals) and
the meaningful (detecting the social meanings of properties, objects
and relations). I think his application of the concept of **meaning**
in this line of development is extremely important, very Vygotskian,
and possibly one of Leontiev's most important insights into the nature
of human activity.

Losing sight his work on the evolutionary side of activity and its
origins in animal biology could be a step toward losing sight of the
specifically human aspects of human activity. That could be a
consequence of folding together and not distinguishing the biological
from the social side, thereby "compressing" the biological into the

The distinction between animalness and humanness has always been a
core issue in the materialist view of human evolution, and in social
science as a whole. A common mistake many make is to look only to
biological characteristics (such as brain size, bipedalism, hand,
language capacity) for the answer. Leontiev's focus on activity adds
new insight not only on the essential difference between humans and
animals (social production), but also differences and similarities
between animals themselves over the eons.

The distinction Leontiev makes between upper mammals and humans, the
processing of the relations between objects on one hand, versus
processing the meanings of objects on the other, was made by Vygotsky
in one of his discussions about Kohler's work with apes. This
concept, born in first generation CHAT, became a cornerstone of one of
the most important contributions of second generation CHAT.

Who else besides Leontiev in CHAT has written on these matters over
the years? I don't actually know. It seems that this is a side of
CHAT that needs more development - more evaluation and critique of
Leontiev's work in this area, more expansion on how the evolution of
animal activity and psychic processes is foundational to and
interwoven in human social evolution and transformation, etc.

~ Steve

On Dec 10, 2008, at 9:02 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> Steve Gabosch wrote:
>> ...
>> A central idea I think Leontiev is trying to get at here is that
>> needs do not just have a subjective content. ...
> Of course. I found ANL useful in getting my head around this topic,
> but I do find all I need about the objecvtivity of needs in the
> Young Hegel and the Young Marx, without the problems I find in ANL.
> ANL did not discover that needs are objective after all!
>> ... Three, I always worry if scanned text posted on the internet is
>> exactly correct
> Unfortuntely these texts on MIA are the only copies of ANL that I
> have. His books are unavailable new or secondhand in Australia and
> even my University library does not stock him. Any help in
> proofreading his writings on MIA would be appreciated. Seriously!
>> A possible problem, by the way, of substituting the concept of
>> "project" for "activity" is this could sever the zoopsychological
>> side of activity theory. Only humans have projects, but both
>> humans and animals engage in activity. Interestingly, the
>> zoological aspects of cultural-historical activity theory rarely
>> get discussed in third generation CHAT literature. ... compressing
>> the biological up into the social is as erroneous as reducing the
>> social to the biological.
> Well, for me that is the advantage not a problem. Operations and
> actions, it seems to me, capture all that is necessary for non-human
> psychology; it is the fact that human motives usually have their
> origin in cutlural-historical projects which is what needs to be
> understood.
> If we have an arrow coming from the outside world into the
> individual organism marked: "motive < -object- > need" or something,
> then that's fine, but we can't leave it like that. For example, as a
> trade union and party organiser I will tell you that the motive for
> people joining in an activity (party, union, strike, campaign, ...)
> may be very diverse and is usually not the "Aims" emblazoned on the
> union or party banner. EG people join parties for reasons of
> friendship, join unions for narrow self-interest or for party
> reasons as well as for solidarity. The idea of the individual simply
> chasing after the object of their desires and activities being a
> manifestation of a human need, is laughably uncritical and
> simplistic. That's why I say it can't be taken seriously by
> sociologists.
> Andy
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