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

From: Paul Dillon <phd_crit_think who-is-at>
Date: Thu Dec 11 2008 - 12:43:04 PST

I want address three issues in Peter Sawchuk’s response to my post on the article
he wrote with Ana Stetsenko.


Peter's response to my criticism of arbitrary selection of authors to include
rests on the claim that the inclusion of specific social theorists and selected
elements of their theories was guided by their relationship to “conduct”, by
their potential contribution to a “theory of conduct.”  which he and Anna
Stetsenko identify as the guiding thread of their proposed linkage between
sociology and CHAT.  In the response, Peter wrote:


“it is important to remember this was not a review of the field of
sociology but rather a look at those who devoted significant time to questions
explicitly recognizable as dealing with a theory of conduct specifically.”

the matter of ignoring elements of the work of the authors we did engage with,
our decision was to focus on points within their discussions of conduct”

However, I find this justification problematic for two reasons:
(1) The authors define “conduct” as – “how people (not institutions,
norms, values, and so on) act, interact, reproduce and transform the
world.”  Prima facie this definition is ambiguous.  What exactly is
“the world”?  What is included?  What is meant by “reproduce”? 
On the basis of such an ambiguous and overly-broad definition I don’t
understand how any selection criteria could by isolated.  (2)  I have
read most of authors included in the article (I don’t know Smith’s work) and
can’t remember that any of them used the word “conduct”  to elaborate
their theories.  Generally, at least since the time of Aristotle, a
“theory of conduct” is considered part of Ethics, philosophy not
sociology.”  A quick Google search will produce all the necessary
evidence.  Some examples:

Ethics is the theory of conduct, so far as conduct may be
judged as right and wrong.  Ethics, then, means little more than morals.
But the study of ethics may include that part of the theory of life which is
involved in the explanation of the causes and effects of moral acts and the
moral judgment. (

If by
"ethics" is meant a theory of conduct, then according to
perspectivist ethics, there can be no theory without certain fundamental
ethical assumptions. For example, ethical theories may differ in their
definitions of what counts as good, worth pursuing, or desirable. It follows
that something (another theory, event, or feeling) is "ethical" only from
the perspective of its ethical assumptions. In other words, a system of ethics
is no more ethical than the "first" assumptions" that underlie
it, which collectively may be seen as its ethical "perspective."

But this standard usage flatly contradicts the
authors stated intentions; ie, to theorize the  conduct of people “not
institutions, norms, values, and so on”.   Consequently I find Peter’s claim to have based the
selection criteria on “conduct” or a “theory of conduct” to be without
warrant., the selection of theorists and specific elements arbitrary and not
fully explained.

Second,  Peter summarily dismisses my criticism
of their discussion of Schutz with the following:

Discussion of
Schutz in the piece accurately reports his discussion of relations between social
action, internal-time and inter-subjectivity building on Weber’s sociology and

However that simply isn’t the case,  the report
is in fact misleading, not accurate.  My primary concern was the failure
to fully explore Schutz’s direct appropriation of Husserl’s theory of
time.  I pointed out that “past-Now”, etc., besides being
incomprehensible, were not accurate.  As Dan Ryan wrote:

“Schutz employs Husserl’s theory of inner time
consciousness to show how a future act can be apprehended in the future perfect
tense and hence be a part of the actor’s choosing projects of action.
Routinization is the process whereby such chosen, meaningful  courses of
action become typified and taken-for-granted as “I can do it again.” The world
of others is temporally structured. Schutz divides it first into those who are
temporally inaccessible (predecessors and successors) and those who temporally
accessible. Those with whom we share time are further divided into those who
are spatially not accessible (contemporaries) and those who are (consociates).
With the latter group there is the possibility of sociation in its ideal form,
the We-relation, in which, Schutz says, our inner times gear into one another
and we “grow older together.”  (Time and Social Theory, 2007)”

Does Peter really want to say that  future
perfect tense or past perfect tense in language constitute experiential
structures of temporality?  This is an important question because the idea
of “motive” in Schutz (as in Husserl)  is directly related to the temporal
horizons of “predecessors” and “successors” which, unlike the abstract “Now”,
cannot be thought as “empty”.   If people pursuing an integration of
sociology and CHAT look to Schutz’s theories,  the question of “motive” and its
relation to temporality must be correctly understood.l

Finally,  Peter writes:

Paul suggests that
the map figure we provide is also arbitrary, and I don’t think that is a
warranted criticism. The figure attempts to provide a spatial expression of
particular contributions to understanding conduct in relation to three key CHAT
concepts: activity, goals and operations.

I don’t deny that these three concepts are key 
although I don’t think they are THE key concepts in CHAT.  But more
importantly,  Peter and Ana have equated activity with social
structure and the theorists of social action (structural level), action
with the “enactment” and the ethnomethodological tradition, and operations
with subjective meaning.  Yes, I do find this arbitrary and not really
helpful.  I suspect that anyone using this proposed (and never
adequately demonstrated) map of CHAT and social theory, might well find
themselves quite lost after having attempted to follow it .



--- On Thu, 12/11/08, Andy Blunden <> wrote:
From: Andy Blunden <>
Subject: Re: [xmca] more questions about Sawchuk and Stetsenko article: whose sociology???
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
Date: Thursday, December 11, 2008, 2:05 AM

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

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


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
>> _______________________________________________
>> xmca mailing list
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

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