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

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Thu Dec 11 2008 - 02:05:55 PST

Steve, ANL never spells out what would be *an* activity,
i.e., the unit of analysis of activity, but this one from
AC&P comes close:

“A basic or, as is sometimes said, a constituting
characteristic of activity is its objectivity. Properly, the
concept of its object is already implicitly contained in the
very concept of activity. The expression ‘objectless
activity’ is devoid of any meaning. Activity may seem
objectless, but scientific investigation of activity
necessarily requires discovering its object. Thus, the
object of activity is twofold: first, in its independent
existence as subordinating to itself and transforming the
activity of the subject; second, as an image of the object,
as a product of its property of psychological reflection
that is realized as an activity of the subject and cannot
exist otherwise.”

As I understand it, ANL is using the word "subject" in the
Kantian sense, i.e., an individual organism, so activities
are objective with respect to the individual. He seems to
say that the activity has a double existence, both the
objective existence in which it is *given* to the
individual, and in the form of the image by which the
individual organism orients its actions, i.e., as its motive.

But prior to that, every activity has its object, the object
is the defining characteristic of "an" activity. So if we
want to know about the Mafia, MiraMax, MacDonald's or the
NBL we have to begin by asking "what's if for?" or "what is
the object of this activity?"

Now, this would make perfect since in the USSR of the Stalin
era, every branch of the administered society is "for"
something. Perhaps ANL did not mean for us to interpret "an
activity" this way. He actually never clarifies what "an"
activity is, and specifically rejects the idea of a "unit of

For the purposes od psychology, I think this is al fine, but
for sociology, ... if we put this approach alongside
Parsons, I'd say they are both varieties of Functionalism,
but Parsons looks more sophisticated. Let alone Foucault, or
Giddens, Weber, Bourdieu, ... Engstrom of course deals with
this because of the process of repeated mediation produces
activities which are connected only remotely with human needs.

BTW, Hegel (1800s) and Thomas Carlyle (1830s) has both
worked out the idea of production of "tools" as the root of
human culture, but these writers wrote before the
publication of "Origins of Species" (1859). Engels' "Ape to
Man" (1876) was published a mere 17 years after Darwin's
book. Remarkable. But that was 100 years before ANL's A,C&P


Steve Gabosch wrote:
> 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 social.
> 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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Andy Blunden +61 3 9380 9435 
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Received on Thu Dec 11 02:06:49 2008

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