Re: [xmca] motive/project

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Mon Dec 15 2008 - 07:32:19 PST

Mike, Steve:
Like you, I am thoroughly befuddled by the word "motive", and I've decided that applied to children in general and to child play in particular it is anachronistic; children do not yet have "motives" in the sense that Leontiev is talking about here. Last week we had thesis defenses, and I took mild exception to a thesis which tried to ascertain changes in "motives" for learning English in children by the use of Likert-style questionnaires. (My mild exception to these theses is really pro-forma, and a matter of tradition in our department; nobody ever fails as a result.) 
I notice that LSV (at the beginnning of Chapter Seven of Mind in Society, which I don't have with me just now) talks about the child's "needs" and "desires". These he defines "broadly" as "whatever induces the child to act". If he were going to proceed to construct a Leontiev-like tristratal theory of activity, this would lead to something circular: a motive is what drives the child to act, and action is defined by its motive.
Let me first take a look at Leontiev, A.N. (1979, 1981). The problem of activity in psychology. In Wertsch, J.V. (ed.) The concept of activity in Soviet psychology. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
On p. 48, ANL's got this:
"The basic characteristic of activity is its object orientation. The expression 'nonobjective activity' is devoid of sense. Activity may seem to be without object orientation, but scientific investigation of it necessarily requires discovery of its object."
Already I'm in trouble. Scientific investigation is sometimes required to discover the object orientation of an activity (e.g. sleep, whose object orientation we still do not really understand but which will presumably be discovered some day). 
But people who do not have the training or the time or the inclination can and do conceptualize activities such as sleep or language play or daydreaming. They conceptualize these activities as being without any tangible object. Why would an expression that refers to this everyday non-scientific conception be devoid of sense? Are non-scientific expressions devoid of sense?
OK, then ANL argues that the object of an activity emerges “in two ways: first and foremost in its dependent existence as subordinating and transforming the subject’s activity, and secondly as the mental image of the object, as the product of the subject’s detecting its properties. This detection can take place only through the subject’s activity.”
Presumably he's talking about the way in which scientific investigation determines the object orientation of an activity, and not the everyday non-scientific detection of the object (which I think of as the ethnomethodological motive, the one that participants are conscious of). But empirically both methods are the same: they take place through examining the activity of the subject with the detectionof an object in mind. 
On p. 49 he's got this: "All activity has a looplike structure: afferentationàeffector processes, which make contact with the object environmentàcorrection and enrichment, with the help of feedback to the initial afferent image."
This suggests to me that PERCEPTION is in some sense the archetypical activity. That would explain the OBJECT orientation! But it is going to mean big problems when Leontiev tries to explain play, because as LSV remarks, play is precisely the moment when children tear their meaningful orientation away from the perception of tangible objects. (Yes, Lewin and Lewin's "field of action" is a big part of this, and with respect to the child and the stone LSV is clearly closer to Lewin than to ANL!).
Maybe there's a way out, though. ANL then argues that the crucial problem here is not the loop itself but rather that mental images are not produced directly but rather through practical activity in the world:
"This means that the 'afferent agent' that directs activity is primarily the object itself and only secondarily its image as a subjective product of activity that fixes, stabilizes and assimilates its object content. In other words, a twofold transition takes place: the transition from object to the process of activity and the transition from activity to subjective product of activity. But the transition of the process into a product takes place not just form the subject's point of view; it occurs more clearly from the point of view of the object that is transformed by human activity."
Hmmm. When a child picks up a stick and decides to play horsie the transformation occurs more clearly from the point of view of the stick (or from the point of view of the horse-play) than from the point of view of the child. This does look a little sticky. 
On p. 50, ANL explicitly goes against LSV's portrayal of "needs" and "desires" as "anything that motivates the child to act". He differentiates between desire as a precondition of activity and "desire as a factor that guides and regulates the agent’s concrete activity in the object environment". Only the latter is the object of psychology.
OK, now let me turn to the only text I can find where ANL really goes into play, which is a later chapter of his book "Problems of the Development of Mind".
On p. 366 he begins with the rather startling statement that play has no object (and thus by his previous account does not constitute an activity). He says: 
"Satisfaction of its vital needs is actually still distinct from the results of its activity: a child’s activity does not determine and essentially cannot determine satisfaction of its need for food warmth etc. Characteristic of it, therefore is a wide range of activity that satisfies needs which are unrelated to its objective result."
Curiously, he then uses "object" activity to differentiate human from animal play!
"Where does the specific difference between animals’ play activity and play, the rudimentary forms of which we first observe in preschool children, consist in? It lies in the fact that it is not instinctive activity but it is precisely human, object activity which by constituting the basis of the child’s awareness of the world of human objects, determines the content of its play."
Now this is starting to look suspiciously like the thesis I mildly objected to last week, where the adult's attitudes are simply projected onto the child and then "detected" using Likert scales. On pp. 367-368, ANL develops his thesis that play is a substitute for the handling of adult objects. So for example on p. 368 ANL speaks of "let me" and "don't", the struggle between the adult who wants to protect the child from himself and the child who wants to drive a car and row a boat. This leads, on p. 369, to the idea of a leading activity which is indeed equivalent to a neoformation without the crisis. He then returns uncomfortably to his nagging suspicion that that play is an activity without an object, and therefore not an activity at all.
On p. 370, he's got this: “As we have already said, play is characerized by its motive's lying in the process itself rather than in the result of the action. For a child playing with wooden bricks, for example, the motive for the play does not lie in building a structure, but in the doing, i.e. in the content of the action. That is true not only of the preschool child’s play but also of any real game in general. 'Not to win but to play' is the general formula of the motivation of play. In adult's games, therefore in which winning rather than playing becomes the inner motive, the game as such ceased to be play."
Contrast that with LSV's observation in Chapter Seven that children do NOT like running around without any rules or goal, and in games the meaning of the game is entirely to win. Of course, we might be talking about different children: Leontiev might be talking about pre-schoolers, and LSV is certainly talking about school-age kids. But the gap is remarkable; something rather important is getting lept over.
OK—so then ANL says that in play there is a mismatch between operation and action, in that the operation is performed with the meaning of the stick and the action is performed with its sense. He says that this split is not given in advance but only arises in play action and that children do not imagine play without actually playing. If this were true, of course, it would be very hard to see how children are able to plan play, read about it, or reflect upon it, much less day-dream or indulge in language play.
No, this isn't going to work. And it gets worse. Look at this, from p. 381:
"Games 'with rules' i.e. like hide and seek, table games, etc. differ sharply from such ‘role’ games as playing doctor, polar explorer, etc. They do not seem to be related to one another by any genetic succession and seem to constitute different lines in the devleopment of children’s play, but in fact the one form develops from other (sic) by virtue of a need inherent in the child’s play activity itself (?), whereby games 'with rules' arise at a later stage."
So ANL explicitly denies that whole discussion (in Vygotsky's Leningrad lecture) about the intrinsic link between games with roles and games with rules. (There's a pretty good account of this lecture, which I have always seen as the starting point for his elaboration of the zone of proximal development, in Chapter Seven, but it's well worth reading the original lecture, which is at
ANL then has to explain why there appears to be a developmental sequence linking role based play and rule-based games. For LSV this is no problem: they ARE genetically linked and in fact the child creates rule based games iteratively, by varying the roles in systematic ways. But for ANL, who denies the genetic link, this is rather harder to explain:
“Why do games with rules only arise at a certain stage of development, and not simultaneously with the genesis of the first role games? It depends on the difference in their motivation. Initially the first play actions arise on the basis of the child’s growing need to master the world of human objects. The motive contained in this action itself is fixed in a thing, directly in its object content. The action here is the path for the child that leads it first of all to the discovery of objective reality; the human still emerges for the child in its objectified form. The role of the horseman, the play action of riding, is playing at horses, the action with a block of wood that the child 'drives' from one chair to another is playing cars.
"But during the development of these games the human relation included in their object content itself comes out ever more clearly in them. The tram driver not only 'acts with a tram' but is obliged at the same time to enter into certain relations with other people—with the conductor, the passengers, and so on. Therefore, at relatively early stages of the development of play activity, a child finds not only man's relation to it in the object but also people’s relations with one another. Group games become possible not only alongside one another but also together. Social relations already come out in these games in overt form, in the form of the players’ relations with one another. At the same time the play 'role' is also altered. Its content now determines not only the child’s actions in regard to the object but also its actions in regard to the other players in the game. The latter also become content of the play activity, for which its motive is
 fixed. Games are distinguished in which actions in regard to other people become the main thing."   

OK--so the reason why there is no genetic link is that the child goes from focussing on material objects in role play to focussing on human relations in rule play? No, that's not right either, because:
p. 372: "We already know how play arises in the preschool child. It arises from its need to act in relation not only to the object world directly accessible to itself but also to the wider world of adults."
Mike--it looks like we're not the only ones befuddled by Leontiev's "motive" applied to children; he appears to have thoroughly befuddled himself. Leontiev's "motive" applied to children is a little like the clocks that keep going off in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, a thousand years before they were invented.
This is yet another reason for prefering Andy's term "project" in describing play: unlike "activity" or "motive", it's a real Gestalt, in that a "project" can be, for the child, action/meaning, and for the adult, meaning/action, whence the possiblity of transforming, outside in, the one into the other!
David Kellogg
Seoul Natoinal University of Education

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Received on Mon Dec 15 07:34:02 2008

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