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

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch who-is-at>
Date: Thu Dec 11 2008 - 17:31:40 PST

Followed you perfectly fine until the very end of your post, David.
Three questions. When you get a chance.

One, why do the blocks count as only one stimulus? The blocks have a
number of characteristics that could serve as the solution
parameters. These multiple possibilities are what make the blocks a
puzzle and tricky even for an adult to solve. (Although, in theory, a
person who understands the solution principle could, without looking
at a single of the nonsense words, correctly divide the blocks into
the four solution, and then select one block in each group to
determine the corresponding name. In my opinion, this puzzle is an
offbeat IQ test-style puzzle that sort of measures how quickly a very
specific school-style kind of training required to solve the puzzle
kicks in.)

Two, how are the definite geometric shapes, bright, clear colors,
definite relative sizes, and definite heights of the blocks (not to
mention other possible characteristics) not "signs"? We accept
coloring, shape, size etc. as sign-designations for many other kinds
of objects (for example, money, poker chips). Why not these blocks?

Three, why do you say Leontiev's approach in Problems of the
Development of Mind is "reductionist"? He very clearly does not
reduce human activity to animal activity, for example, in Part II.
But I've only read Part II, so I'm not in too good a position to
defend Part I or Part III. Perhaps you have seen a problem with
reductionism in this volume that you could share.

- Steve

On Dec 11, 2008, at 3:14 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

> Thinking and Speech Chapter Five, which Paula and I have been re-
> reading and re-rereading with such enjoyment, is really the size of
> a small book, and LSV organizes it that way. In his usual style, he
> tells us there are two ways to study concepts, and neither one works.
> The first way is the use of definitions, something like this:
> Uncle David: What’s a cyborg?
> Luc (eleven years old): Well, it’s like the Terminator.
> Andre (thirteen): It’s like a man who is part machine.
> Uncle David: Oh, if I have an artificial heart and an artificial
> lung, am I a cyborg?
> Andre: Well, it has to be like an arm or a leg or something like that.
> Uncle David: If I have an artificial toe am I a cyborg?
> Andre: Yes.
> Luc: No.
> Uncle David: What about an artificial tooth?
> (from a conversation I had last summer)
> The second way is the use of practical activity, the "synthetic-
> genetic" method of Ach and Rimat. Here's some data from a "model
> lesson" I just observed which I think illustrate this approach
> pretty well:
> Teacher: Here’s a HOUSE. Here’s a FARM. What’s this?
> Ss: Dog!
> Teacher: Good. Shall we put it in the house or in the farm?
> Ss: House!
> (Teacher continues with pig, horse, goldfish, cat, chicken)
> Teacher: Now, why do these go in the house and those go in the farm?
> S1: These are clean and those are dirty.
> S2: These are cute and those are ugly.
> S3 (in Korean): These are money-eating animals and those are money-
> making animals.
> Then, in his usual style, LSV presents what at first glance appears
> to be a synthesis: the method of Ach (Nazi psychologist who thought
> that fealty to the Fuhrer was intrinsic to the German mind).
> The method of Ach uses BOTH the word (the method of definition) AND
> practical activity (the genetic-synthetic method). The subjects are
> taught words, and then they use them in different tasks (I imagine
> these to be something like those of Tomasello, e.g. "put the gatsun
> on top of the fal")
> But remember, this is Vygotsky! He presents two wrong methods, then
> (drum roll!) he produces a synthesis...and shows that we have merely
> combined the weaknesses of BOTH methods!
> When I FIRST read this, I thought he was just saying that Ach had it
> (if you'll pardon my Vygotskyism) ass backwards. Instead of
> beginning with the word (at least, the sound of teh word if not the
> meaning) and ending with the child handling sensuous material (well,
> blocks, actually), we need to begin with the child handling blocks
> and end up with word meanings.
> But actually his criticism's a lot deeper than that. He sees that
> Ach has just added practical activity in the form of various tasks
> onto a method that is, at bottom, nothing more than the old method
> of definitions. AND he takes Ach and Rimat to task for their use of
> "determining tendency" to define an activity.
> Here LSV's criticism is identical to Andy's. To say that human labor
> is reducible, without remainder, to the human desire to obtain
> objects is an absurd simplification; it leaves out the whole way in
> which this process is transformed by tools, signs, and other people
> until the original desires are practically unrecognizeable.
> This makes MUCH more sense to me. First of all, it explains why LSV
> is not satisfied with just turning Ach's method around, so that it
> resembles the SECOND wrong method instead of resemblign the first.
> Secondly, it explains why, right there in Chapter Five, LSV insists
> on something called the functional method of double stimulation.
> Why functional? Because the whole experiment is determined not by
> any imagined desire, but by the exercise of a particular function,
> the function of discriminating, generalizing, conceptualizing. Why
> double? Because...there are two types of "stimuli" and they are
> absolutely different.
> How different? Well, one is a sign (the words "cev", "mur", "bik"
> and "lag") and one is a tool (the blocks). This alone shows that
> there is a key difference, for Vygotsky, between tool-based object
> related activity and sign-based signifying activity. This by itself
> shows that Leontiev's reductionist approach in "Problems of the
> Development of Mind" is a wrong turn.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> --- On Thu, 12/11/08, Steve Gabosch <> wrote:
> From: Steve Gabosch <>
> Subject: Re: [xmca] more questions about Sawchuk and Stetsenko
> article: whose sociology???
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
> Date: Thursday, December 11, 2008, 3:23 AM
> 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."
> <end>
> 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
> 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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