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Re: [xmca] Anna Stetsenko's notion of Social Conduct

I appreciate you bringing this post by Anna Stetsenko up, Larry. That 2005 MCA article by Anna was influential on me. It caused me to think more deeply about the analytical unit "activity," and about how it is a unity of the subject and object, and the material and ideal. Here is the gist of what I got out of that aspect of paper.

She summarizes a key point in her paper:

... 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.

To visualize this, here is how I have added, in my thinking process, Anna's point to the familiar activity triangle diagram.

That diagram, as many here know, places the "subject" on the left side and the "object" on the right side, and suggests movement from left to right. Anna's point could be taken as saying that up to now, Activity Theory has tended to emphasize, in a one-sided way, the objective aspects, that is, the factors involved in the production of the "object," represented on the right side of that diagram. She recommends that the role of subjective and intersubjective processes must **also** be taken in account by AT.

Just as the little activity triangle diagram in theory can apply to any scale of activity, I also see Anna's point as applying to any scale. My view of activity sees it as simultaneously and interactively taking place in nested cycles at many social levels, and many levels of tasks, goals and motives - such as a single operation (opening a door), an action (driving a car), getting through a school quarter, planting and harvesting a crop of corn, organizing a union movement, etc.

I see the activity triangle diagram as being a little mneumonic tool that reminds us 1) of the internal and external mediational processes that take place in any activity and 2) that activity, in its normal state of equilibrium, tends to be cumulative and repetitive. To represent 2), I see the activity triangle as constantly "spinning," symbolizing the fact that the objects being acted upon **keep changing** with every "cycle" of task-based operations, goal-based actions, and motive-based activities. Cooking a meal might involve dozens of operational "cycles" as the object (the meal) keeps developing.

Anna's point adds an essential **third** dimension that is equally important to keep in mind, and this is what I especially appreciated about her paper and her posts to xmca. This point could be stated as 3) activity not only changes **objects**, but it also changes **subjects**. These changing subjects, in turn, act upon the changing objects.

In this view of activity, the zillions and zillions of activity "triangles" that humans are constantly keeping in motion are constantly changing not only material objects - but the human subjects themselves. We are not just changing nature, we are changing ourselves.

So the activity triangle diagram, to capture this concept, needs not just a "changing object," but also a "changing subject" represented on the right side. Many versions of the diagram also add the term "outcome" next to "object." Following Anna's argument, this outcome needs to include both the changing object AND a changing subject (or subjects).

As the triangle "spins" and generates new "cycles," the changing subject continuously acts upon the changing object in a way that is being **mediated** by the previous "cycles." The subjects themselves are mediated. Subjectivity therefore keeps changing.

Eventually, if this continues, gradual changes to the given object(s) and the relevant subject(s) will accumulate, equilibriums will finally snap, and leaps to new situations will take place. That is the dialectic of development, the sudden changeover from evolutionary to revolutionary processes and the eventual creation of new conditions. But if we only focus on the **objective** aspects of activity, and don't also simultaneously maintain a close understanding of the **subjective** aspects, we will miss out on many essentials.

So that's the gist of the theoretical idea that I got from that 2005 paper by Anna and that xmca discussion. It has helped me understand how the framework of CHAT can be used to help track objective social processes (the creation and development of changing objects) and at the same time also track subjective psychological processes (the creation and development of changing subjects).

The general idea of activity as the unity of subjectivity and objectivity - and the subject and object, and the ideal and material - has been sincerely discussed by most if not all AT theorists, including those that have used the triangle diagram, and many that have not. Anna's contribution on these issues in that 2005 article, in my view, was to suggest ways to expand AT on the question of subjectivity while leaving AT's previous accomplishments with regard to analyzing objectivity intact.

Vygotsky stressed that the laws of motion and development are different for social history and individual psychology. For me, CHAT's ability to create a tower where one can observe both has been very valuable. Anna's ideas, for me, help make that tower a little taller.

- Steve

On Apr 18, 2011, at 11:47 PM, Larry Purss wrote:

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

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 there. 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 that, 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

Larry __________________________________________ _____ xmca mailing list xmca@weber.ucsd.edu http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca

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