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

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch who-is-at>
Date: Thu Dec 11 2008 - 03:23:13 PST

Andy, this is a good question you ask - what did ANL think was "an"
activity. I am not suggesting we keep up this inquiry into Leontiev
for now, but hopefully these questions about his work and what he
meant will come up on xmca again, and we can continue.

In the meantime, the section linked below, "3.5. The General Structure
of Activity" of AC&P seems helpful toward grasping what ANL would see
as "an" activity. I quote one passage here, there are numerous
others. In this passage, ANL is saying that a given process can be
viewed as either an "activity" or as a "chain of actions," the former
as viewed in relation to motive, the second in relation to purpose.
So, according to ANL, "an" activity is, in part, a purposeful chain of
events. The whole section seems helpful.

- Steve
quote is from
3.5. The General Structure of Activity

"Correspondingly, actions are not special “units” that are included in
the structure of activity. Human activity does not exist except in the
form of action or a chain of actions. For example, work activity
exists in work actions, school activity in school actions, social
activity in actions (acts) of society, etc. If the actions that
constitute activity are mentally subtracted from it, then absolutely
nothing will be left of activity. This can be expressed in another
way: When a concrete process is taking place before us, external or
internal, then from the point of view of its relation to motive, it
appears as human activity, but when it is subordinated to purpose,
then it appears as an action or accumulation of a chain of actions."


On Dec 11, 2008, at 2:05 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> 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 analysis."
> 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 (1878).
> Andy
> 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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Received on Thu Dec 11 03:27:38 2008

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