Re: [xmca] motive/project

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Mon Dec 15 2008 - 14:25:33 PST

I think, Monica, you hit the nail on the head here, from the
psychological point of view. On the sociological side, the
problem, as I see it, with Michael's explanation is that not
only does the pupil not know the motive of schooling, but
nor does the teacher or the sociologist!

In a world where people know about agency and structure and
such terms, does it make any sense to ascribe a 'motive' to
an institution, outside of a managed society like the USSR
in which Leontyev lived?

But on the other side, Michael, I think you are right as
against David, because "sleeping" is not Tätigkeit in the
sense in which Leonytev means it. He explicitly means
"purpose actvity", or "doing" or "practice," as I read it.
Not just physiological movement. The activity of an
individual is *participation* is *a* (social) activity. But
what is *an* activity, and how can it have a "motive," as
Monica asks, separately from the motives of individuals.


Monica Hansen wrote:
> ...
> Using the term 'motive' for the objective, goal, or aim of schooling as
> cultural reproduction (or transmission) is misplaced here. Motivation has
> something to do with individual agency, doesn't it? It cannot be forced from
> the outside with 100% effectiveness. When trying to get an idea of what
> motivates the individual to engage in or become a participant in an activity
> that will change the level of his or her conceptual thinking we have to
> understand the individual's motivation.
> Mandating the goal of learning from the outside as in defining the objective
> of schooling and trying to force participation gives us mixed results, does
> it not? Can you really force conceptual development? Isn't that the problem?
> We can only use external motivations so far in pushing intellectual
> development?
> Monica
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On
> Behalf Of Wolff-Michael Roth
> Sent: Monday, December 15, 2008 8:08 AM
> To:; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Cc:
> Subject: Re: [xmca] motive/project
> HI David and others,
> I have repeatedly emphasized in my writings that the problem lies in
> part in the English term 'activity', which collapses the German
> Tätigkeit and Aktivität into one, unfortunately, because it also
> gives rise to problems with motives. I think if you think about what
> children do as 'tasks' and that these tasks are completed as part of
> the activity 'schooling', which has as motive the reproduction
> (transmission...) of collective knowledge then you are getting closer.
> But children often don't even know the goals, in fact, because of the
> 'learning paradox', cannot know the goals of the task. This is no
> more clear than in the frequent student question, 'teacher, am I
> write so far?' Students CANNOT intend the very thing that they are
> asked to, namely learn a concept. To be able to orient themselves
> intentionally to the concept, they need to know it, but if they
> already know it, they don't have to orient toward learning it.
> Holzkamp has a lot to say about this, and he describes those things
> in "Lernen: Subkjektwissenschaftliche Grundlegung" (Frankfurt: Campus).
> If anyone has implemented Leont'ev's program, it certainly is Holzkamp.
> By the way, further to motive, the German edition of Activity,
> Consciousness, Personality has an additional chapter where Leont'ev
> explicitly addresses questions of learning in schools, motives, etc.
> Cheers,
> Michael
> On 15-Dec-08, at 7:32 AM, David Kellogg wrote:
> 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.
> And MORE:
> "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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Andy Blunden +61 3 9380 9435 
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Received on Mon Dec 15 14:26:38 2008

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