Re: [xmca] motive/project

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Tue Dec 16 2008 - 15:53:26 PST

Thank you for that collection of excerpts Haydi. As I read
them, they confirm what I said, that for ANL, a "system of
activity" is defined by directly or indirectly meeting a
human need. ANL does say that production produces not only
objects, but also produces new needs, but this does not
resolve the matter in my view. Unless you accept that
society is either planned and adaministered by the central
committee to meet human needs, or naturally evolved to both
meet and produce human needs then this cannot be believed.

The latter interpretation sounds plausible enough, in fact
it's a truism, but I don't see that it helps. For example,
take war. If we set out from the idea that war is an
activity meeting a human need, where does that leave us? how
does it help us with psychology? Take anything - the Church,
MacDonald's, News Limited, domestic violence, ... all we are
going to end up with is a crass funcitonalism.

I don't deny at all that a psychology can be built on this
foundation, but it cannot, in my view, be taken seriously as
a sociology.


Haydi Zulfei wrote:
> Dear all,
> We are being asked "What is *an* activity/*a* motive?"
> I thought some of us at least need more reading than interpretation .
> I had to once more go from beginning to end of *A,C,P* and collect whatever might more or less be related to these questions .
> Half the job being done now .
> Delete if you don't want to share . No way but to put it in an attachment .
> Hope David kellog will have time to have a glance at it without adding to my previously-loaded task.
> Best
> Haydi
> --- On Mon, 12/15/08, Andy Blunden <> wrote:
> From: Andy Blunden <>
> Subject: Re: [xmca] motive/project
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
> Date: Monday, December 15, 2008, 10:25 PM
> 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.
> Andy
> 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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Received on Tue Dec 16 15:54:00 2008

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