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Re: [xmca] The Interpersonal Is Not the Sociocultural

Andy, in a footnote of an article I am working on with Luis Radford, where we do a Leont'ev reading of mathematical activity, I wrote this:

We ground our reading in the German version, which is in many ways more just to the original than the English translation. For example, the Russian and German versions distinguish between two very different nouns, Tätigkeit (deyatel’nost’ [деятельность]) and Aktivität (activnost’ [активность]), both of which are rendered in English as activity. The Russian and German versions distinguish phenomena that are societal (gesellschaftlich, obshchestvennoĭ [общественной]) from those that are social (sozial, sozial’n [социальн]), but the English version renders both as “social.” In English, we find the word “meaning” that translates znachenie (значение)/ Bedeutung even though the Russian / German equivalents refer to an objective phenomenon at the cultural-historical level rather than the personal sense (Sinn, smisl [смысл]) students make (“construct”) as part of lessons. Our specific word choices have been made such as to promote the specific, the very different reading of Leont’ev’s work that the German version allows.

As you can see, other languages do make the difference. We do have the means to make the distinction when it comes to the adjective social/societal, so why not employ it? 


On 2010-04-02, at 6:26 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:

Michael, I only heard the word "societal" for the first time in 2005. It is a technical word not found in the ordinary language or even in Marxism, SFAIK, ... well that's my excuse for going 60 years without learning it.  :) It was only when I came into contact with academic psychology and sociology that I discovered that "social" had an interpersonal meaning actually! :) Otherwise what I now call societal was what I used to call social.

It was Weber who said that the task of sociology is to reduce concepts about society to "understandable action, that is, without exception, to the actions of participating
individual [persons]."

But I think most people don't even think of societal phenomena as relevant to psychology. Societal phenomena are just objects of perception. Conversely, Weber was saying this because people generally believed the converse, that, like the weather, societal phenomena exist independently of the actions of individual people.


Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:
> Jay,
> one of the sources of this problem is that in many cases, where another language (Russian, German) uses the adjective "societal" the English translations use social. The former has all the political and cultural dimensions you want to see, whereas the "social" becomes unpolitical and uncultural.
> Michael
> On 2010-04-01, at 10:25 PM, Jay Lemke wrote:
> In the course, and on the exams, I found it necessary to push students very hard to understand that "social" did not simply mean interpersonal, but also cultural. Whether talking about ZPD or scaffolding or any sort of social theory of learning, students, even good, bright, phd students, unless previously trained in anthropology (rare) and even if with some training in sociology or political science, simply saw the social as always the interaction among individuals. (Non-American students seemed to have less of this problem.)
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Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/ +61 3 9380 9435 Skype andy.blunden
Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:

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