Re: [xmca] motive/project

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Sun Dec 14 2008 - 15:45:11 PST

When I read your mail and felt motivated to push "reply", only your name and address came up on the address line, although my project was to reply to the whole list, Mike included. This often happens when I write to Mike and Andy, and I gather it's because the mail programme does not automatically "reply to all" when you push reply; it just looks at the person writing and ignores all the cc'ed person (in this case, the xmca list). I then have to consciously add the rest of the list to the cc.
One of the ideas from Garfinkel and Sacks and Schegloff and ethnomethodology that I really DO like is the idea that the rules of interaction (verbal or e-mail) are not really rules at all. They are neither natural laws, to which there are no real exceptions, nor human regulations, for whose infringement we are legally sanctionable. Instead, they are simply default settings, rather like the "reply" function on your computer.
What this means is that interactions that begin with "how are you?" or "Dear Sir" do have certain normative expectations, but these are not laws in any real sense, and in particular they are not laws in the ways in which they are learnt.
We cannot learn the laws of gravitation by flouting them, and someone who tried to learn all the intricacies of the highway code (much less the criminal code) by trial and error would not get very far. But we DO learn about the way our e-mail program works by "breaching experiments", that is, by attempting to do things the wrong way and seeing how far we get, and we put things right by undoing the default program and resetting them consciously.
A very similar thing is observable in the linguistic data I work with. The kids have a strong preference for dispreferred responses. Our textbook teaches them to do this:
A: Let's go shopping!
B: Sounds good/Sorry, I can't.
Now, you might think that they would show a strong preference for "Sounds good", simply because it has no "next turn proof" (to use the Conversation Analysis term); that is, "Sounds good" is the second pair part of the exchange and it puts an end to the child's work.
Instead, children show a very strong preference for "Sorry, I can't" even though this necessitates further conversational work, e.g.
A: Let's go shopping.
B: Sorry, I can't.
A: Why not?
B: Well, er, you see....I'm busy.
A: ???
Even if the children foresee this and move to pre-empt it, they can only do so by doing something they dread even more, namely grammatical work.
A: Let's go shopping.
B: Sorry, I can't, because I have a geumdo (Korean swordfighting) lesson.
How can we explain this strong preference? My answer is that what we see is essentially the same thing we see when a child gives up the "gradualist" approach to locomotion implied by simply learning to crawl faster and faster and attempts the risky and initially counterproductive experiment of walking, or when the child gives up the clear successes of pointing for the initially fruitless work of attempting to communicate verbally.
In order for the child to overcome the inefficiency inherent in this developmental transition (the increase in error and workload and the decrease in rewards) there must be some transitional pay off, like the kind of thing Steven Jay Gould remarks on in "The Panda's Thumb", where a structure like an embryonic wing in a dinosaur has a cooling function which allows it to persist and develop into a differently functioning organ of flight, or the swim bladder of a coecolanth which allows the fish to surface and sink swiftly and eventually allows for exaptation into a lung.
I think that function is largely explained by a single word, "play". The child undertakes risky and initially unprofitable strategies in a spirit of play, where the "immediate surrender value" (that is, the payoff to the child's investment of effor) is explicitly disregarded.
Now, let me connect this thread to Leontiev and to a post from Steve I got a few days ago about my general lack of enthusiasm for Leontiev's "Problems of the Development of Mind". I don't think that Leontiev is really to blame for everything in that book (the grandiose attempt to trace a single line of development between drosophilia and human beings, the very doubtful science of his experiments on the ability of people to "see" light with their skin, the apparent enthusiasm for Lysenkoist ideas of evolution, etc.). This is clearly a book that was written and published under Stalinism; no author can be fully responsible for works published under such conditions.
Leontiev sees play as a kind of sublimation of the child's frustrated attempt to take part in human labor, and uses this to "explain" why many of the child's initial attempts at socio-dramatic play are connected with the labor of adults in their social situation of development. This explanation is subject to exactly the same criticism that Vygotsky levels at Piaget and Freud's ideas about the ego-centric, id-dominated autism of the child: no child prefers an imaginary apple to a real one. But children actually DO prefer play to work.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Sun, 12/14/08, Haydi Zulfei <> wrote:

From: Haydi Zulfei <>
Subject: Re: [xmca] motive/project
Date: Sunday, December 14, 2008, 10:50 AM

Dear Mike,
I certainly have private personal correspondence with some as everybody else do
. But as about you , never have I thought of personal deliberate contacts . And
not even slip of the hand ; just going unnoticed . Would you mind telling me
what the *functioning* of *reply to all* is .
As about definitions , I didn't say #4 fully fulfills the task ; just
compared to other ones you presented .
Highest regards
--- On Sun, 12/14/08, Mike Cole <> wrote:

From: Mike Cole <>
Subject: Re: [xmca] motive/project
Date: Sunday, December 14, 2008, 4:22 PM

#4 is pretty individualistic. Haydi.
Why did you send this just to me and not xmca? Slip of the hand, or

Hope all is well.

On Sun, Dec 14, 2008 at 5:34 AM, Haydi Zulfei <>

Dear Mike,
As I see it , 4 is the closest to Leontiev motive definition , as he quite
explicitly objects Rubinshtein as saying " the external acts through the
internal " . He then asks " What's the internal then ? " Some
heavenly-laden gifts or ... instincts ...

--- On Sat, 12/13/08, Mike Cole <> wrote:

From: Mike Cole <>
Subject: [xmca] motive/project
To: "xmca" <>
Date: Saturday, December 13, 2008, 9:43 PM


Among all the issues on the table, could I inquire more about
(This query could some help from our native Russian speakers as well as
scholars because I figure issues of translation are involved).

The question concerns the term, motive. You want to move away from it with
relation to
activity because (in part? ) because of its internal/mentalistic
connotations (or maybe
denotation?). Project is the preferred alternative. I'll let that one lie
for now, but it, too
is worth coming back to because of links (least!) to Sartre and Heidegger
which I do not
well understand).

But concerning motive. A long time ago, when LCHC was first busily trying to
Leontiev we had a lot of discussion about motive. It is a term with a long
and varied history
in English. Waiting for someone to drop off more exams for me to read, I
snuck over to
the OED and read under "motive." If there is interest, I could post
whole, long entry.
But it really IS complicated, and far from all its uses are internal mental,
although that is
where the entry starts. I pulled just the first several such definitions,
sans examples. They

   1. Senses relating to inner impulses and mental activities.
   2. A matter or issue moved or brought forward, *esp.* a question
   requiring an answer; a motion, a proposition. Freq. in *to move *(also*make
   *)* a motive*
   3. Chiefly *Sc.* An inward prompting or impulse. Chiefly in *of
*(also*by, from
   *)* one's own *(*proper*)* motive*
   4. *a.* A circumstance or external factor inducing a person to act in a
   certain way; a desire, emotion, reason, argument, etc., influencing or
   tending to influence a person's volition. Also: a contemplated end the
   desire for which influences or tends to influence a person's actions.

*b. *More generally: the reason or cause behind something. *Obs.*
5.* *Proof, justification; an argument or consideration offered as grounds
for believing something to be true; a piece of evidence intended to
convince or produce assent. *Obs.*

Note that as we move down this list, internal starts to be joined with
external. My colleague Peg Griffin particularly
liked a version of #5, as in "a well motivated decision" where motive
based on prior evidence, experience, etc.

It is clear which of these various senses Leontiev was using??
xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list
Received on Sun Dec 14 15:46:32 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Jan 06 2009 - 13:39:39 PST