Re: [xmca] motive/project

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch who-is-at>
Date: Tue Dec 16 2008 - 18:11:59 PST

No, I don't think you have the idea quite right. The idea is not that
needs "define" activities. The idea is that unlike other animals, who
are biologically driven throughout their activities, when humans
respond to their needs, they engage in activities that transform
nature, their social relations, social structures, cultures, and
themselves individually, creating new needs in the process. Human
biological needs become at once transformed into social needs,
meditated by culture, history, tools, signs, ideology, language,
architecture, public works systems. Leontiev took his discoveries
about the basic structure of activity in animals - the ways they
engage their bodies and psyches with nature to fulfill their needs -
and came up with his activity/motive, action/goal, condition/operation
framework. He then tried to find ways to use this activity concept to
elaborate on and extend the ideas of first generation CHAT, and that
is kind of where we are at today.

This unit of analysis problem has been on my mind, too. There may be
methodological problems with the concept 'unit of analysis' in some of
the ways we have been conceptualizing it so far. Perhaps the
'molecule' and/or 'cell' of social science does not look the molecule
and cell of natural science.

- Steve

On Dec 16, 2008, at 4:52 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> The only trouble I have with the claim that "human needs directly
> and indirectly drive human activity" is that it is a truism. My
> problem, as you mention, is what is the "unit of analysis" of
> activity, or what is *an* activity, as opposed to "activity." The
> idea that "an activity" is defined by "a need" (if this is indeed
> what is suggested) is that problems of sociology begin from an
> inventory of human needs: what is x for? x is for this. what is y
> for? y is for that.
> Andy
> Steve Gabosch wrote:
>> Andy, I am been puzzled by your problem with the idea that human
>> needs directly, and indirectly, drive human activity.
>> You've been bringing up this issue in recent weeks and I thought
>> that maybe the problem was over an individual versus collective
>> problem, or perhaps over the problem of how to differentiate an
>> activity from an activity system, and then from a social system, or
>> just how to separate "an" activity out of many.
>> But your message here seems to say you have a problem with the idea
>> of **need**. You seem to be objecting to the idea that human
>> activities are essentially motivated by needs. Are you?
>> I would use the term "need" in statements like: the need for
>> survival drove pre-humans to develop social production, creating a
>> new way to meet human needs, which in turn laid the basis for
>> creating many new kinds of needs as society developed ... different
>> social classes have different needs, and that is the basis of
>> social conflict, including wars ... human need lies at the bottom
>> of the human struggle for existence, control of nature, and society
>> itself ...
>> I know you know that statements like these are Marxist sociology
>> 101, so I don't mean to lecture on the obvious ... but if "need"
>> is not at the bottom of human motivation and activity, then what
>> is? Is this a terminological issue, or something more basic?
>> - Steve
>> On Dec 16, 2008, at 3:53 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>> 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.
>>> Andy
>>> 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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