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[xmca] Anna Stetsenko's notion of Social Conduct

I am attaching an historical snippet of a conversation from Anna Stetsenko
written to XMCA in 2005 which is part of an extended converstion that was a
response to her article written for MCA in 2005.

--------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Stetsenko, Anna

Date: Nov 5, 2005 8:51 AM
Subject: could you please post this for me on xmca? thanks.
To: mcole@weber.ucsd.edu<mcole%20who-is-at%20weber.ucsd.edu?Subject=Re:%20[xmca]%20Fwd:%20could%20you%20please%20post%20this%20for%20me%20on%20xmca?%20thanks.&In-Reply-To=%3C30364f990511050854i604d429fndc9f6b1286c63a91@mail.gmail.com%3E>
Cc: "Stetsenko, Anna"

I wrote my comment below yesterday morning but then my university's server
was down for much of the day (right, Joe?) and I could not post it. There
are many new things today but I still think my yesterday's response is
relevant. One addition only, because Mike and others again asked for
clarification of my central terms. It would be impossible to explain what I
meant by intersubjectivity and subjectivity (and I would also have to go
back to Greeks, Hegel etc and do some historical excavations) if not that …I

use them from within the CHAT tradition, i.e. works by Vygotsky and Leontiev

who had done much of such historical excavations already (with some
variations due to the difficult task of finding a suitable translation,
because for example, 'psyche' in English is not the same as 'psihika' in
Russian; 'consciousness' is not 'soznanie', and on and on – just to say that

translating is a highly theoretical work in itself).
 To discuss all the details here would be a separate, tedious and lengthy
work. I suppose that one quote from Vygotsky should be helpful to illustrate

the usage of terms:

'Any function in the child's cultural development appears twice, or on two
planes. First it appears on the social plane, and then on the psychological
plane. First it appears between people as an interpsychological category,
and then within the child as an intrapsychological category... Social
relations or relations among people genetically underlie all higher
functions and their relationships.'


Now, my comment from Nov 4, 2005.

Mike has suggested that the discussion on xmca moves on to new topics. I
totally agree and now want to thank all the participants for their time and
effort. I do need to make up on my promise to comment, not to start a new
round of discussions but to highlight a couple of things. I start with a
response to Viktor – because this is a good way to sum up the main points --

and then make a few more general comments.
 Viktor: You presented a fascinating analysis of Ilyenkov and I find myself
agreeing with the main thrust of your arguments. In fact, I think there is
much more agreement between what you are saying and my paper than you seem
to imply. Let me explain this, necessarily briefly.

First. My treatment of Ilyenkov is very sketchy in my paper (as you noticed)

whereas you presented a much more detailed and, already due to this, a more
fair account of his views. However, all the sketchiness of my treatment of
EVI notwithstanding, my main argument does not depart that strongly from
yours. Namely, I imply that it is a puzzle that EVI's dialectical – as I
directly say -- view is not consistently pushed through and that it is
often, de facto, does not say what needs to be said (your take) or is in
contradiction with his own passages on ideality as reified in objects (my
take). I attribute this puzzle, and you do too, to the difficulty of
Ilyenkov's position in the sinister atmosphere of his society and the
related impasse of not being able to fully integrate creative agency of
individuals into the picture. Yes, you are right, because that would have
threatened the status quo of the then established presumably perfect social
order, which in reality was a stifling bureaucracy (I admit, you say it more

openly than I did).
 Secondly and more importantly, regarding your central claim:

<<For Marx (and Ilyenkov), subjectivity, the object, and the ideal develop
simultaneously as the outcome of the special conditions of human sociality;
the voluntary (in the sense here of non-instinctive) collaboration of mostly

if not entirely socialized individuals for the purpose of producing the
means for satisfaction of collective and individual needs. >>
 What I did in my paper was to show that it is indeed this central Marxist
idea (my formulation of it, also attributing it to Marx, differs from yours
in phrasing only rather than in essence) that is at the foundation of CHAT –

Vygotsky, Leontiev … and Ilyenkov's works. We are much in agreement here
again. In addition, I addressed how CHAT theorists differed in that they
placed more relative emphasis on some of the links within this system but
not others (see details in paper; also note that some aspects are explained
better in my Theory&Psychology paper - these two are really complementary).
 But all in all, this is the foundation and this foundation is indeed good,
as I said many times in my paper. We agree here too, no doubt. I did not
take anything away from this foundation and from all the great CHAT
theorists, I believe, in my account.
 However, my central claim was that the concomitant idea -- of subjectivity,

ideal, intersubjectivity being not ONLY THE OUTCOME but also the SOURCE for
human condition and life – was either downplayed or neglected by ANL, EVI
and other AT theorists. Or, in other words, that they did not consistently
pursue the flexible and dialectical relations within this system taken in
its totality. Therefore, I argued, the manifold relationship among material
production, subjectivity (psychological processes) and intersubjectivity
(culture, politics, ideality etc.) needs to be emphasized, re-instated (if
not introduced anew) into AT and CHAT for us to move ahead.
Thus reinstating both the materialist ontology of human subjectivity and the

humanist ontology of material practice – together, at once, and not one
instead of the other.
 This is especially urgent given TODAY's context where postmodernist and
poststructuralist accounts with their rampant moral relativism (as well as
the outright biologizing of human development a la evolutionary psychology
and other brain-reductionist approaches) are winning, and winning big, over
dialectical and consistently materialist views. ((though not directly
addressed in my MCA 2005 paper, critique of reductionist biologizing views
is part of my works, as reflected e.g. in my recent talk at Penn State where

some of xmca'ers where present)).
 Incidentally, I also focus on the importance of not loosing a developmental

stance (this has not been noticed in previous discussion of my paper on
xmca) – as when I speak of MATURE forms of practice that simultaneously
produce and are produced by subjectivity and intersubjectivity and when I
say that this multi-fold relation gradually emerges in history of humankind
and ontogeny.
 This is the bare bone of my argument. Now, addressing the xmca community
more broadly. I realize that the paper, due to space constraints, does sound

to many as too abstract (i.e., too few examples) and very dense. This is
indeed the case and I can only vindicate myself by saying two things. One is

that my argument has already found its way into interpreting some very
concrete research findings – in Rejo Miettinen paper in the same MCA issue
(as Rejo gracefully acknowledges there). Two is that I am now working,
together with Arievitch on a book where many issues will be addressed in
much more detail (integrating also important contributions by Galperin, so
far grossly misunderstood).
 Are there lessons to be learned from the discussion in general? Clearly
there is one for me – I see better where I need to elaborate more on my
arguments to avoid misunderstandings. There is also one more general lesson,

I believe. As it transpired in the discussion, the very foundations of AT
and CHAT are in need of more work (e.g., we can't quickly make general
claims such as that mediation or activity or culture is important or
something like this and think that all issues are resolved to then simply
move to concrete investigations). This work on the foundations of CHAT is a
difficult one but it is necessary. As bb (I use the initials only because
this is how I know the author, not having seen the full name – is it Bill
Barrow?) pointedly stated, this kind of work is inherently difficult because

it requires 'taking in' all the previous theorizing and then moving from
 Also, this work needs to be collaborative, not confrontational, as happens
too often, leaving activity theorists in limbo due to incessant arguments
among themselves and thus letting really opposite views take over in
mainstream science and popular consciousness. Collaboration does not exclude

contradiction and challenge (which is good and necessary) – it only excludes

flat out dismissals based in misunderstandings and biased perceptions
(including those that are gender biased – to use the mildest of
expressions), or the combination of the two. Collaboration is not easy
because it entails leaving aside our personal ambitions and becoming more
open minded and generous – not an easy task by any count. I want to thank
many of you and especially Mary Bryson and Vera John-Steiner for being
exactly this – open minded and very generous.
 As to gender biases, since this has been in the focus, here is one comment.

It is a well established finding that they are still alive and well in
academia (e.g., see discussions around Larry Summers' 'remarkable' talk; MIT

study by Hopkins and also research that shows that ONE AND THE SAME PAPER is

perceived starkly differently if presented as authored by an apparently male

or female scholar). This is the case everywhere in the world, though more in

some places than others, with for example Russia now developing egregious
forms of sexism. A great topic to be discussed in any account of what is
going on in that country (I have written on this and have done some
research; this is another area that I feel strongly about).
 I still think, and want to emphasize it again, that LSV and ANL and EVI is
a great foundation, at least I do not see a better one, and I have invited
the CHAT community, having made one step in my paper, to re-examine and
critically evaluate the very core of their work, expanding and strengthening

it, so that we can move ahead, taking these very theorists with us, into
today's context with its really formidable challenges.
Thanks again to all,
Anna Stetsenko
 PS. To Lois Holzman: Lois, thank you for your comment. I would need to
explain more but don't want to take too much space here – we sure will meet
some time soon, our paths seem to cross very often. For a position close to
mine (in one important part), I refer you and others with similar questions
to your recent discussion with Ian Parker in Theory & Psychology and my
paper with IA in Critical Psychology). One quote from my paper: "Since the
…purpose of and meaning of science are seen as grounded in its role and
ability to contribute to inevitably determinate pursuits undertaken in a
certain direction and with certain GOALS OF CREATING CHANGES in the world,
knowledge too turns out to be determinate and directional. This is NOT the
old-fashioned, positivist-type, ahistorical determinacy of science… Neither
is it a complete indeterminacy and uncertainty of constructivist accounts.
Instead, it is a kind of a historically and culturally foregrounded
determinacy of science that has to do with it being practical,
goal-oriented, and therefore, transformative and value-laden pursuits of
always determinate versions of the world".
 So, no disagreement that science is about changing the world. Our
disagreement appears to be that I think changing the world entails having
goals – i.e., direction, knowledge of where one wants to get that is
value-laden -- whereas you seem to avoid talking about this kind of
knowledge (goals, orientation, directionality).
 And just one more thing. Many views and issues from 19th century are indeed

still prevalent today as well as  those from 17th and even earlier ones. I
respect your efforts to develop what you call a tool-and-result approach.
Indeed, the answers can't be found by putting together few quotes from Marx
or anybody else, I would think, but by developing one's own system of ideas
to address major issues that are not going away any time soon – those of
knowledge, mind, human development, learning, teaching, human condition and
so on.


The reason I posted this historical snippet is to highlight Mike's
recommendation to go back into the archives to inquire how others on XMCA
have responded to themes such as the place of "subjectivity" and
"intersubjectivity" in CHAT.  Anna's more recent article published in MCA
titled "Sociological Understandings of Conduct for a Noncanonical Activity
Theory: Exploring Intersections and Complementarities. [written with Peter
Sawchuck] 2008, Vol. 15 , p 339-360. is a further elaboration of themes
discussed in 2005 as she explores social conduct.

Anna's general notion of social conduct as broken into theories of social
action [historically structured] and theories of enactment [moment to moment
interaction] and contemporary attempts at critical integration.  In this
article she maps theorists of social conduct in relation to the concept of
activity.  Anna & Peter's mapping proceeds by exploring the roots of the
development of sociology as a discipline [predominantly focused on
EXTRAlocal social action as structure].  Anna & Pater link social action
with the perspectives of enactment which places local constructions at the
center of intersubjective models of enactment.

I appreciate Anna and Peter's article because they are exploring notions of
subjectivity & intersubjectivity as a central SOURCE of  human development
along with material conditions as an approach to noncanonical activity
theory.  They write,

"however, we still need to assess explicitly how these different approaches
to social conduct inform the THREEFOLD dialectic of material production,
intersubjective exchanges, and subjectivity that, along with a clear
conceptualization of social change, define what we call noncanonical
activity theory" (p.355)

I found the previous discussion in 2005 that is archived and linked to my
reading the 2008 article a fascinating way to reflect on notions of activity
and concepts  that are currently being discussed on XMCA

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