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

Hi Eric and Steve

Thanks for the response.  I agree that Anna's work is a "bridge" that links
noncanonical CHAT perspectives to other frameworks that I also am wrestling
with. In particular, philosophical hermeneutics [in contrast to 'romantic'
hermeneutics].  Anna is exploring the range of models that link up notions
of 'structure' [as historical] with goals and meaning and also with notions
of operations [Garfinkel's & Goffman's enactments] as moment by moment
intersubjective processes.  The linking of EXTRAlocal and local as
simultaneous processes AND also subjectivity [psyche] as all being CENTRAL
to this historical/ontological dynamic is exciting.

Eric and Steve, I also appreciate Anna's perspective that all 3 processes
are linked in a holistic weaving together of a single regulated unit of
analysis that is historical/ontological development.

SUBJECTIVITY may be discussed in various models of CHAT but Anna's project
to reinvigorate noncanonical activity theory is an attempt to make the
subjective [psyche] CENTRAL and foregrounded and explicit AS AN HISTORICAL
dynamic.   Her perspective helps me orient to other traditions which Jack
Martin and Suzanne Kirschner explore as  multiple sociocultural accounts
[discursive, dialogical, philosophical hermeneutics, activity, and
relational psychoanalysis] .

Most of the time I am moving on parallel tracks as I tack back and forth
among these multiple frameworks which are all exploring linking historical
and subjective processes.  Anna's reflections seem to share a similar spirit
of wonder.

On Tue, Apr 19, 2011 at 3:50 PM, Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch@me.com> wrote:

> 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
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