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Re: [xmca] Andy's visit to Wits School of Education Johannesburg February 2011

I'll try to answer, Mike, but really, the questions I got at the end of each lecture were in every case directed to the content of the lecture, and in that sense I could have been in any country in the world, so far as I could could tell. But there was also a lot of one-on-one discussions which reflected the research interests of individuals and the particular social issues in South Africa. I will give the best answer I can on each side.

Something that came out from the questions at the end of the lectures was a fairly general perception of there being two distinct currents of thought: Activity Theory on one side and Vygotsky on the other. So my talking on Activity Theory *and* Vygotsky was regarded as remarkable. One woman (Jill) who identified herself as a "follower" of Vygotsky was very hostile to what she called "Neo-Vygotskyism" which she saw as an attempt to revise Vygotsky as an Activity Theorist. But after hearing my last lecture (on Vygotsky's Theory of Child Development, using the "Problem of Age" as my text) she was very pleased, and lifted the cloud of "Neo-Vygotskyism" from my head. But, I think, still found it curious that I advocated a form of Activity Theory at the same time as presenting a valid presentation of Vygotsky's theory of child development.

There was, I believe, a lot of interest in the approach I am advocating, taking "an Activity" to be a Collaborative Project. I gave only a little time to my criticisms of AN Leontyev and Engestrom, putting more emphasis on Vygotsky's methodology and its origins as a foundation for Activity Theory, and my positive suggestions, rather than harping on criticisms. A couple of people (Patrick and Karola) plan to use the Projects approach in their research. But I also spoke to people who were using Engestrom's or were using ANL's Activity Theory (not both) and were able to take my criticisms on board without affecting the foundation of their research projects in one or other of these approaches.

In the background were the almost overwhelming social problems of post-Apartheid South Africa. The government takes education to be its key strategy, but "who is to educate the educators?" Pumping barely-literate people through the teacher training colleges and giving them degrees does not solve the problem. As it happens, the Minister for Higher Education, is also the Gen. Sec. of the SACP. But really: What is To be Done? I had a lot of side-discussions around these issues with people both at Wits, and in the CP and Trade Union movement. But what is the answer???

(PS. I have had a series of computer faults over the past week, and on top of jet-lag, this has interfered with my normally manic communications)

mike cole wrote:
Hi Carol--

Thanks for the note about Andy's visit.

I would be curious to know what sorts of questions and issues the SA
audience posed?
What issues were at the top of THEIR agendas? We are sufficiently insular
that it would be nice to hear how issues we discuss here play out around

On Wed, Mar 9, 2011 at 9:15 AM, Carol Macdonald <carolmacdon@gmail.com>wrote:

Hi guys,

Just to bring you up to speed about the spinoffs of XMCA.

Patrick Jaki and I invited Andy (Blunden) to come and visit the Wits School
of Education to teach us more about Activity Theory, and also in some
detail, Vygotsky.  Andy could only come for a fortnight because of his
responsibilities, but we loved having him, and learned a great deal from
him. We need to thank the Head of our School, Ruksana Osman for funding the

Andy flew in from Melbourne on the 13th February and we had a celebratory
coffee at the airport.  He came to stay with me (Carol) for the duration of
the visit. He did more work for us (School, Faculty & Public) in the
fortnight than most people do in a month.  This was his programme of

1. The Mind from Descartes to Hegel
2. Marx and Modernity: Mind, Culture and Activity
3. Vygotsky and the Concept of Consciousness
4. Is Science a Humanity?
5. Units and Motives in Activity Theory
6. Projects and the Problem of Context
7. Vygotsky's Theory of Child Development

All these presentations may be downloaded from Andy's home page, and he
went off back to Oz with the video versions which I think he will upload in
some form for XMCA. Now his latest book "An Interdisciplinary Theory of
Activity"  makes a great deal more sense to a developmental psycholinguist
like me.

We would publicly like to thank Andy for all the work he put in on our
behalf. I hope to personally collaborate with Andy in some writing.

.... And this all started because (Patrick) Jaki and I found Andy so
amenable and helpful as a member of XMCA.  When I introduced Andy at the
first talk, I said that when Jaki and I were stuck on a point we would "Ask
Andy", and that although he *does* claim to sleep sometimes, we were
guaranteed an answer in a matter of minutes. And he didn't say "What kind
dumb question is that? ... Haven't you read...?"

So, you thousands of lurkers, come on out....

Take a bow, XMCA.

WORK as:
Visiting Lecturer
Wits School of Education
HOME (please use these details)
6 Andover Road
Johannesburg 2092
+27 (0)11 673 9265   +27 (0)82 562 1050
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*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~db=all~content=g932564744
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857
MIA: http://www.marxists.org

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