Re: [xmca] motive/project

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Tue Dec 16 2008 - 18:23:55 PST

The supposition that for ANL needs define activities is
provisional. He hints at this sometimes. At other times, he
says that he does not have a "unit of analysis" for
activity. Either way, if we are to continue in the
scientific tradition of Goethe, Hegel, Marx and Vygotsky, we
need a "unit of analysis," i.e., a concept of, "activity."


Steve Gabosch wrote:
> 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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