Re: [xmca] motive/project

From: Paul Dillon <phd_crit_think who-is-at>
Date: Sat Dec 20 2008 - 16:48:42 PST


I don't think the historical questions about the Russian revolution and fates of the individual forerunners of CHAT and their work after Stalin took control and Trotsky went into exile can help us deal with the central problem that you mention: 'The answer with respect to contemporary capitalism then becomes the focal topic,"

But I think that Engestrom provided a framework for pursuing that answer: ie, studying the manifestations of the primary contradiction between use value and exchange value.  Peter has published a lot on this: e.g., secretaries playing solitaire on the computers as an example to their own struggle to reappropriate the use value of their time.  The problem, to my mind, isn't the absence of appropriate theoretical tools in CHAT itself, but the absence (with a few exceptions, Helena and Peter stand out, who have pursued research into these domains. Engestrom "runaway objects" and the dynamics of use value/exchange value in the contemporary globalized economy also deserve attention since, just as the  bourgeoisie in the 16th-18th centuries emerged in the interstices of the feudal society with its lord-peasant primary contradiction, it would seem that a new class is emerging in the interstices of the capitalist contradictions in the dominant society.  The
 resolution of contradictions sublates the contradiction itself in a new conceptual order, not the triumph of one of the sides of the previous order.

But there are conceptual tools in CHAT for addressing these problems and I"m not sure that finding "new models" should replace an incomplete exploration of the existing model.


--- On Sat, 12/20/08, Mike Cole <> wrote:
From: Mike Cole <>
Subject: Re: [xmca] motive/project
To:, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
Date: Saturday, December 20, 2008, 3:42 PM

Paul-- I think this is what Martin was suggesting re activity and unit of analysis:
I have a problem with Andy's idea of "choosing a unit of analysis". 
Doesn't the unit analysis come out of a process of movement from the
abstract to the concrete.

LSV in T&S was seeking to understand the development of higher psychological processes and proposed word meaning as such a unit. I think he also thought of it as a germ cell, the development of which he seeks to

trace in, for example, the blocks experiment that Paula introduced into the
discussion and which some of us have been fussing over.

And, yes, I think that Peter and Anna were focused primarily on the goal of consistently exploring how particular social structures,
with their power constellations and systems of privilege shape
development has not typically been pursued within CHAT".

The answer with respect to the USSR is presumably Stalinist hijacking of the revolution (or the general wrong headedness of Marx, depending upon one's

views of that history). The answer with respect to contemporary capitalism then becomes the focal topic, although discussion of the paper, including my own contributions to it, may obscure that aim (probably a symptom of the problem, maybe even a clue to the answer?)


And yes,
On Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 10:06 AM, Paul Dillon <> wrote:

Andy, Martin, everyone,

I have a problem with Andy's idea of "choosing a unit of analysis".  Doesn't the unit analysis come out of a process of movement from the abstract to the concrete, a process that Marx first described in the Grundrisse, "The Method of Political Economy"? 

I haven't read all of Vygotsky, really glad to have gotten mike and david's freebies,  but as I understand what I have read, didn't he adopt a similar procedure when coming up with "word-meaning" as a unit of analysis?

I continue to mull over this question of linking the smaller systems of social interaction that are the "pan de todos los dias" (can't think of a good translation) of CHAT to the larger macro-structures towards which Sociology orients itself: class. strata, ideology, forms of authority, legitimacy, social structure in general, etc..  Wouldn't these "notions" be comparable to the abstractions with which we begin the journey, they are totally abstract.  Marx wrote:

When we consider a given country politico-economically, we begin

with its population, its distribution among classes, town, country, the coast,

the different branches of production, export and import, annual production and

consumption, commodity prices etc.

It seems to be correct to

begin with the real and the concrete, with the real precondition, thus to

begin, in economics, with e.g. the population, which is the foundation and the

subject of the entire social act of production.  However, on closer examination

this proves false. The population is an abstraction if I leave out, for

example, the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn are an

empty phrase if I am not familiar with the elements on which they rest. E.g.

wage labour, capital, etc. These latter in turn presuppose exchange, division

of labour, prices, etc. For example, capital is nothing without wage labour,

without value, money, price etc. Thus, if I were to begin with the population,

this would be a chaotic conception [Vorstellung] of the whole, and I

would then, by means of further determination, move analytically towards ever

more simple concepts [Begriff], from the imagined concrete towards

ever thinner abstractions until I had arrived at the simplest determinations.

I don't clearly understand Andy's idea of substituting the notion of "project" for activity system as a way to go beyond the meso- and micro- levels of analysis. But perhaps I've begun to grasp why Peter and Ana could place Schutz at the most central point of contact between theories concerning the manifestation of sociological macro-structures in individual "conduct" and theories concerning the intermediate formations on which  CHAT normally focuses. 

Are we just trying to hook up theories or are we trying to overcome the problem that Peter and Ana indicated in their article:  " . . . the goal of consistently exploring how particular social structures, with their power constellations and systems of privilege shape development has not typically been pursued within CHAT".  If that type of exploration  is the goal shouldn't we focus on the dimensions of power, privilege, etc. in activity systems, recognizing that these are abstractions which will give way to ever finer ones,  until we get down to that simplest determination which would define the correct unit of analysis?

Hmm. . .  still muddling along.


--- On Fri, 12/19/08, <> wrote:

From: <>

Subject: Re: [xmca] motive/project

To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>

Date: Friday, December 19, 2008, 9:07


I certainly have had extended thinking time on this topic lately because I

do believe it gets to the heart of the issue at hand.  Consider the

following sentence:

"Appropriate an engaged activity."  No motive, no desire just a


It may not fulfill the requested hermeneutic unit of anlaysis but it

certainly makes a statement about what does go on in human development in

the cultural/societal domain.  just a thought


                      Martin Packer

                      <>         To:      "eXtended

Mind, Culture, Activity" <>

                      Sent by:                 cc:

                      xmca-bounces@web         Subject: Re: [xmca]



                      12/19/2008 09:47


                      Please respond

                      to "eXtended

                      Mind, Culture,



I'm struggling to catch up with piles of xmca messages after a week away

from the computer, but your comment here caught my attention. Perhaps you

would agree with me that the selection of the commodity form as the unit


analysis was based on the presumption that it contains the key


of a capitalist economy. This suggests to me that the identification of a

unit has to be based on a consideration of the whole in which it is found.

And this in turn suggests that there can be no unit of analysis for

'activity' in the abstract, but rather a variety of units each of which

depends on the concrete whole which one is studying. As you suggest,

'wooing' is an activity that is possible only in the 'world' -

the form of

life - of romance. So, when we select a unit we will need to acknowledge

both the spatial and temporal discontinuities among distinct forms of life.


On 12/18/08 9:34 PM, "Andy Blunden" <> wrote:

> f I sing to my beloved while standing outside

> in the rain, in what sense am I "using" something? There is

> a school of thinking that would say, it makes me

 feel nice

> to be wooing my beloved, therefore I am using her to make me

> feel nice. But all that is really bankrupt, isn't it? We

> have to get into the idea of romance and find in the

> figuring of the world according to a concept of romance, a

> set of motives, which motivate the series of related

> practices which make up the universe of romantic activity.

> "Use" applies OK only to a resicted sense of motivation.


> Andy


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