[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] discourse and unit

AN Leontyev occasionally does talk about units, including in this piece, which is why I was quite qualified in what I said. Leontyev's son said in 2006:

   “Throughout, even within the framework of activity theory itself, an
   ambiguous understanding of the units and levels of activity
   organization can be seen. ... As is well known, A.N. Leontyev does
   not provide an explicit definition of it; as a rule, he puts the
   term “unit” within quotation marks, and in so doing, “determines”
   it. And this is justified: after all, as it applies to his point of
   view, the concept of unit has little applicability to activity,
   action, or operation, since it presumes their /discrete /nature. ...
   In A.N. Leontyev’s conception, the only thing that can be called a
   “unit” in the strict sense is activity (an activity act).” "‘Units’
   and Levels of Activity,"/ Journal of Russian and East European
   Psychology/, vol. 44, no. 3: 30-46, M. E. Sharpe.

It is not, for me, that ANL didn't have units in his work, but that his method is not /based/ on this idea. I think AAL's words are not completely correct actually, but it does reflect a problem in ANL's work. Operations are amenable to an analysis by units; Actions is the domain already dealt with by Vygotsky; Activity needs an analysis by units, but I think ANL did not have a clear view of what an analysis by units of this domain entailed.


mike cole wrote:

How do we interpret the following in light of your reply to Monica?
Leontiev defines activity as
“..the non-additive, molar unit of life for material, corporeal subject…. It is the unit of life that is mediated by mental reflection. The real function of this unit is to orient the subject in the world of objects. In other words, activity is not reaction or aggregate of reactions, but a system with its own structure, its own internal transformations, and its own development.” (Leontiev, 1981: p.46)
In contrast

On Sat, Apr 23, 2011 at 8:36 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:

    Yes, if I understand you correctly, that is what I was driving at.

    Why do I say  "Not many people, even in the history of CHAT, do"?

    Well, LSV was very explicit about it and what he meant by unit.
    Everyone recognises that. But AN Leontyev for example does not
    follow this aspect of Vygotsky's method. True "operation" and
    "action" are units, but I don't think his conception of "activity"
    follows LSV's method. It could be seen in that way, but I don't
    think ANL himself saw his work as guided by an "analysis by units"
    and although we know of 3 units in his work, I don't think he uses
    them methodologically as units. Engestrom accepts LSV's unit of
    "artefact-mediated action" but it is kind of sublated into a
    method which hinges around a "root model" of a system of activity
    which is not a unit of analysis. Davydov follows LSV's method in
    this respect n his method of maths teaching. Meshcheryakov
    developed it in his work teaching the deaf-blind. But otherwise,
    very broadly, I think people see it as part of the history of CHAT
    and not really relevant to their own work. I might be wrong. I
    haven't done a comprehensive survey on it. But that's the
    impression I get.


    Monica Hansen wrote:

        Just so I understand: When you asked Anna Sfard about "unit of
        analysis", you were trying to get
        her to make her assumptions explicit about the practice/method
        of using the
        "unit of analysis" in psychology as a science. Vygotsky's use
        of this term
        is appropriate in the larger discourse of psychology at the
        time, isn't it?
        I wouldn't say a historical accident, but rather as he is
        participating in a
        scientific discourse with logical argument it is likely that
        his word choice
        is deliberate. What do you mean by the following statement,
        "Not many
        people, even in the history of CHAT, do"?
        Just following along this very interesting thread.


        -----Original Message-----
        From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
        <mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu>] On
        Behalf Of Andy Blunden
        Sent: Saturday, April 23, 2011 12:20 AM
        To: annasfar@math.msu.edu <mailto:annasfar@math.msu.edu>
        Cc: 'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'
        Subject: Re: [xmca] discourse and unit

        OK, having taken the time to read what you say, you are quite
        explicit then. You don't agree with the method of analysis by
        units, in the sense that Vygotsky used the term. Which is
        fine. Not many people, even in the history of CHAT, do.


        anna sfard wrote:
            You seem to imply a unit must be a part of a greater
            whole, perhaps even
            invisible part, as is the case for molecules or cells.
            While I don't see
            invisibility ("see invisibility"? well, you know what I
            mean) as a
            property of unit of analysis, I do believe that being a
            part of something
            bigger is a useful characteristic.  The discourses I named
            are all
            irreducible parts, at least for me, of the greater whole
            which is our
            communicational activity - our thinking.  The discourses I
            named are
            irreducible in that when you look at their separate
            elements (e.g., words
            concepts), the effect is exactly like in the case of
            looking at single
            inside a molecule: you lose the ties/relations to the
            other atoms and the
gestalt is gone. And now, I'm afraid, I must be gone. My immediate
            non-virtual community
            makes sounds of being annoyed with my unexpected departure
            (whereas xmca
            community may be annoyed with my intensive - all too
            intensive - presence
            these last few days, for which I'm asking its forgiveness).


            -----Original Message-----
            From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
            <mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu>] On
            Behalf Of Andy Blunden
            Sent: Saturday, April 23, 2011 8:53 AM
            To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
            Subject: [xmca] discourse and unit

            The answer to my question, Anna, is that you just don't
            see the word
            "unit". Let's look at the whole of that Vygotsky quote
            (apologies to
            David and Martin for using the Minnick translation):

               "In our view, an entirely different form of analysis is
               to further development of theories of thinking and
            speech. This form
               of analysis relies on the partitioning of the complex
            whole into
               /units/. In contrast to the term 'element', the term 'unit'
               designates a product of analysis that possesses /all
            the basic
               characteristics of the whole/. The unit is a vital and
               part of the whole. The key to the explanation of the
               of water lies not in the investigation of its chemical
            formula but
               in the investigation of its molecular movements. In
            precisely the
               same sense, the living cell is the real unit of
            biological analysis
               because it preserves the basic characteristics of life
            that are
               inherent in the living organism." (Vygotsky 1986)

            My problem with what you say, Anna, is that I can't see
            "discourse" as
            an irreducible part, "cell" or "molecule," to be
            contrasted with the
            whole. I always took discourse to be a whole, or a Gestalt
            which, if not
            a whole , then a holistic element of a wider life which
            discourse as an aspect. But not a unit.

            anna sfard wrote:
                Here is how Vygotsky answers your question, Andy,
                after stating that
                meaning [concept] is [his] unit of analysis":
                "'unit' is a product of analysis that possesses *all*
                the basic
                of the whole" (T&S, 1987, p. 46, emphasis in the
                And he famously illustrated this definition by
                speaking about the mistake
                one makes when using too small a unit of analysis and
                trying to tell
                properties of water by investigating the properties of
                oxygen and
                In my own words, the word "unit", when used in the
                context of the
                "unit of analysis" is the smallest aggregate of
                phenomena I need to
                in my research to be able to say anything really
                helpful/useful and
                I'm not sure what to make of your " historical
                accident, or a mistake, or
                simply a trivial thing". Why should unit of analysis
                be any of those?
                you, please, extend the set of possible choices buy
                adding, say, a
                decision (that is, a decision made for an articulable
                Oh,.. now I can see, I think. You don't like the
                traditional divisions
                I seemed to be making while speaking about
                mathematical discourse,
                scientific discourse, political discourse... You even
                asked whether my
                of analysis is the same thing as "subject matter". Ok,
                so no, i'm talking
                about *discourses*, which is ontologically quite
                different than the
                (underdefined) "subject matter". And why the
                "disciplinary" division?
                Because these discourses display the kind of inner
                cohesiveness (not
                necessarily in the Halliday's sense of the word
                cohesiveness) - in their
                word use, in their routines and meta-rules, in visual
                mediators, in their
                narratives - that make them stand out as obvious units
                of analysis. Or,
                put it differently, when I start with a word, such as
                "number", and am
                trying to investigate as much of its uses as necessary
                to see anything of
                importance, I invariably end up, whether I want it or
                not, with looking
                the whole of formal and informal) numerical
                *discourse*, in any of its
developmental versions. Did I mange to make myself understandable?
                PS. Of course, you may go on and ask what I mean by
                "the whole" of a
                discourse. The boundaries are blurry, and I don't
                really mean I am
                every piece of this rather elusive entity. But I do as
                far as necessary,
                never excluding in advance anything that may be deemed
                as belonging to a
discourse in question. -----Original Message-----
                From: Andy Blunden [mailto:ablunden@mira.net
                <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>] Sent: Saturday, April 23,
                2011 4:22 AM
                To: annasfar@math.msu.edu
                <mailto:annasfar@math.msu.edu>; eXtended Mind,
                Culture, Activity
                Subject: Re: [xmca] activity and reification

                Anna, no-one took this up, but let me pursue it
                I said I think we disagreee about what Vygotsky meant
                by "unit of
                You concluded your third message in this exchange:

                   "...to speak about it as the use of word in
                discourse (not just a
                   single act, Andy; rather, a discursive activity
                with the word) ...
                   discourse (understood as a specific type of
                communication) is what
                   may usefully be taken as a unit of analysis in
                developmental (and,
                   obviously, historical) studies."

                Leaving all other issues aside (I actually agree with
                most of what you
                in this message in response to Martin), what do you
                make of the word
                in the term "unit of analysis"? Do you see it as a
                kind of historical
                accident, or a mistake, or simply a trivial thing? I
                take it seriously,

                Do you see what I am getting at Anna? You seem to use
                the term to mean
                "subject matter."

-- ------------------------------------------------------------------------
    *Andy Blunden*
    Joint Editor MCA:
    Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/ <http://home.mira.net/%7Eandy/>
    Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857
    MIA: http://www.marxists.org

    xmca mailing list
    xmca@weber.ucsd.edu <mailto:xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>

*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

xmca mailing list