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

A few further thoughts on Anna Stetsenko's project.

I decided to track down the companion article that Anna refers to in the
XMCA conversation I posted earlier.

 In the Journal "Theory & Psychology" she wrote "The Self in
Cultural-Historical Activity Theory" 2004  Vol.14(4): p.475-503.  In her
introduction she is referring to the multiple emerging traditions or
frameworks that are exploring the relational situated self.  Her goal in the
paper is to CHART the newly evolving conceptualizations of the self
generated within multiple sociocultural accounts that address BOTH
individual (agentive) and social dimensions of the self in a
non-dichotomizing way.

Anna's stated goal is to chart these newly emerging conceptualizations of
the self as a way TO CREATE A CONTEXT in which the distinctiveness of CHAT
can be revealed.  This idealistic attempt to link up the various frameworks
as a background context for highlighting the uniqueness of the CHAT
perspective is a very respectful way of opening up a dialogue with the
various sociocultural accounts in a manner similar to Jack Martin and
Suzanne Kirschner.

The spirit of Anna's approach lends itself to encouraging opening a dialogue
in school settings among teachers where folk psychology notions of self,
learning, and development are discussed and debated [without understanding
the foundations of their conceptualizations].   I don't work within
university contexts and so I am invited  to engage in folk psychology
narratives and am searching for approaches which can TRANSFORM the
narratives in a respectful way.  Anna's notion of using alternative
perspectives to PROVIDE a context in which to foreground a particular CHAT
perspective seems to hold promise as a way to enter folk psychology
dialogues that may become transformative.


On Tue, Apr 19, 2011 at 7:56 PM, Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com> wrote:

> 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.
> Larry
> 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
>>> Larry __________________________________________ _____ xmca mailing list
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