The advantage of PC for my research is that the object of an activity is conceived of as emerging within the developmental process of the activity itself. As I'm studying the revolutionary process in Egypt, such a perspective allows for an understanding of the real transformations of actions and activities involved. A concrete activity obviously constitutes concrete actions (e.g. the broad activity of protesting on 25 January constituted the actions of meetings, demonstrations, etc.), but the development of actions has the potential to reconstitute the activity (the demonstration on Tahrir turned into an occupation, which, in turn, created a space for alternative politics; the mass character of the demonstrations reconstituted the object of the protest towards "an end to the regime", i.e. revolution; etc.). In abstract terms: the relation between individual protesters and the activity of protesting (the project) is mediated by particular actions (their collaboration), and, vice versa, the relation between individual protesters and their particular actions is mediated by the "overarching" activity of protest.
This neat scheme becomes much more complex when you take into account the relations between various projects, both "horizontally" and "vertically". Horizontally, the spontaneous revolutionary project arises in contradiction /solidarity to a bunch of other projects (e.g. Islamism, the state, etc.). Vertically, and "from the bottom-up" this project is part of such historical systems as the Egyptian social formation and global capitalism; and "top-down" it is constituted by and reconstitutes a series of smaller projects (students' movements for better education; workers' movements for better wages; villages demanding water and electricity, etc.).
Added to this - and against the notion of the "omniscient" scientist-observer - the social researcher him/herself is a constitutive/constituted actor vis-à-vis the project, in the sense that his/her actions (publishing papers, doing fieldwork, writing books, attending conferences, conducting interviews, etc.) plays a potential mediating role, for example in the understanding of the project of itself, in crafting intellectual tools to achieve (or undermine) the goals of the project, etc.
I do not know if this amounts to a critique of AT, but this is the way "actions" and "activity" have been productive concepts for my research.
Best, Brecht Quoting Martin Packer <firstname.lastname@example.org>:
Hi Brecht,Yes, a rational critique of ontology is possible, and indeed necessary. I was trying to engage in such a critique of activity theory, which it seems to me departs considerably rather the admirable (though not unquestionable) ontology that Marx proposed. (And yes, as you suggest, the claim to be "purely empirical" seems to me a return to the outdated and simplistic notion that there is on the one hand 'metaphysics' and on the other hand 'genuine science.' But let that pass.) Activity theory, in my view, essentializes a particular organization of human activity and in doing so obscures the historical character of that organization. Would you agree?MartinOn Mar 25, 2013, at 4:00 AM, Brecht De Smet <Brechttie.DeSmet@UGent.be> wrote:Martin, I obviously agree with your presentation of the historical lineages of the "word" metaphysics. However, with regard to the current discussion on the "terms of the debate", it is quite obvious that Andy's original remark: "So there is no metaphysics here. No hypothetical "states of mind", or intelligent infants, etc" clearly deployed metaphysics in the critical (derogatory?) sense of a "false ontology", i.e. the domain of fantastic "a priori" speculation. Retorting that everyone uses metaphysics, a.k.a. an ontology-epistemology, paradigm, Weltanschauung, etc. obscures the fact that a rational critique of particular ontologies is possible and even a necessary part of the scientific project.With regard to the "concept" of metaphysics, the Marxian critique is important because at the time it did not only posited its "own" metaphysics against the dominant paradigms, but, instead of analyzing the social relations and politics that emerged from a certain philosophy, it studied the concrete historical social relations and politics that gave rise to shapes of metaphysics. In this sense it constituted a "Copernican revolution". Superficially, yes, "the materialist method" as Marx calls it in the German Ideology has an "ontology", in the sense that it is based on a number of premises, but, in contradistinction to the theories that came before: "The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way." (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm)Of course we can make a lot of fuss about the supposed empiricism of this passage, but its essence amounts to a call for an emancipatory project with at its core real, historical humanity. Within the history of this project, the "insult of metaphysics" has taken on many forms, from a rational critique of a-historical, idealist, or anti-humanist ontologies to the sectarian attacks by the ideologists of (ironically the extremely "metaphysical" ossified doctrine of) "Marxism-Leninism". We may deem such insults as unfortunate, but they are perhaps unavoidable when the domain of ontology is as much penetrated by politics as politics is by metaphysics. To conclude: if anything, Marx subverted the "neutrality" of the philosophical "category" of ontology/epistemology and its "constitutive" position within society.Best, BrechtHi Brecht,Yes, of course you're correct, Andy is reading Hegel from a Marxist point of view, therefore upside down, so to speak. But Marx's materialism is still an ontology, still a metaphysics.Your confusion comes from the fact that there have been two uses of the word 'metaphysics.' One use is to label some kind of talk as having no basis in reality, as completely speculative and unverifiable. The logical positivists, for example, wanted to eliminate metaphysics in this sense from science - for them any notion was metaphysical if it was not verifiable. They realized that Newtonian physics contained unverifiable concepts, and they believed that Einstein's physics had eliminated metaphysics by defining everything in terms of operations of observation and measurement.We know now how narrow, unfruitful, and inconsistent the positivist view of science turned out to be. The second use of the word 'metaphysics' helps us understand why: "'metaphysics' refers to accounts of what truly exists, and to accounts of relationships between 'existences' (e.g. reduction relations, and perhaps other forms of dependence or priority)" (Kreines, 2006). That is, metaphysics is the brach of philosophy that deals with ontology (and sometimes epistemology is included), as well as the assumptions that any science makes about the entities that it studies.One person's ontology is another person's metaphysics. That is, when someone disagrees with another's ontological claims, a quick and easy insult is to label them "metaphysical." But the word itself simply came from the sequence of titles in Aristotle's texts: the text which dealt with what we would now call ontology and epistemology was simply next in the traditional list of titles after the 'Physica,' and so was called 'Meta-physica.'Did Marx make ontological assumptions? Certainly! For example, as you point out, for Marx the "essence of man" is "in reality,' "the ensemble of social relations." In this passage Marx states one of his core ontological assumptions. Much has been written about the ontological assumptions of Marxism (e.g. Gould, 1978). In the same passage Marx himself confuses things by using the term metaphysics in its first, derogatory sense. Unsympathetic readers of Marx's writings have also at times judged them merely metaphysical. Others, sympathetic readers, have also often referred to them as metaphysical, but in a positive sense. The negative use of the term is falling into disuse, with good reason. As the importance of ontology is now understood, it no longer makes sense to reject all talk about ontology as speculative and unscientific, or unphilosophical.MartinGould, C. C. (1978). Marx's social ontology: Individuality and community in Marx's theory of social relations. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Kreines, J. (2006). Hegel's metaphysics: Changing the debate. Philosophy Compass, 1(5), 466-480.On Mar 24, 2013, at 5:16 AM, Brecht De Smet <Brechttie.DeSmet@UGent.be> wrote:Because I do not want to derail the current thread, I start a new one:My point was that Hegel is hardly the person to turn to if one wants to avoid metaphysics! Individual, Universal, Particular - there's a whole metaphysics here.Well, if you look how Andy appropriates Hegel in his various writings I think you can hardly call what he does a form of metaphysics. On the contrary, he turns Hegel upside down, reading his logic in a materialist and non-metaphysical way.In this regard I think the philosophical implications of Marx's Theses on Feuerbach are still grossly underestimated. In a few lines he summarizes the deficiences of both idealism and materialism, subjectivism and objectivism, finishing off a few centuries of philosophical thought (of course the theses were but the end product of a whole project). After the theses Marx largely moves on from philosophical critique to developing his "materialist method". http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/index.htmThesis 1: with regard to "ontology": Marx criticized classical materialism because it conceived of the actual world not as human practice (subjective), but as merely objective. Whereas for Hegel the world consisted merely of thought-objects, for Feuerbach the world was constituted by sensuous objects. In both perspectives human practice was absent, as either an objective or subjective activity. As such both were forms of metaphysical thinking, i.e. a form of thinking and activity that did not place human practice at its core. (Also see thesis 5)Thesis 2: with regard to "epistemology": "The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the this-sidedness [Diesseitigkeit] of his thinking, in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question."This is almost a Copernican revolution with regard to epistemology. True knowledge, "truth", is not derived from either formal or dialectical logic, but from the encounter between human thought and human practice. The reality of any phenomenon outside this encounter "is a purely scholastic question" or an exercise in metaphysics. Cf. snare theory, dark matter, etc. Thesis 8 reasserts this premisse: "All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice." Real human practice or activity is the only base for gaining true knowledge about humanity.Thesis 3: with regard to "emancipation": classical (mechanical) materialism pointed out that humans are the product of their environments. Changing their environments resulted in changed humans. Of course, who changes their environments? Humans themselves. So transformation of circumstances + human activity = self-change = revolutionary practice.Thesis 4: with regard to the position of a critical or emancipatory science: It is insufficient to just deconstruct oppressive ideological concepts, "after completing this work, the chief thing still remains to be done". The reverse movement should be explained as well: how real social relations are the basis for these ideological forms. Of course, this means that the contradiction cannot be resolved in thought, but has to be overcome in reality, in practice. This is the core meaning of thesis 11: "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."In this sense, metaphysics was also a way of resolving real contradictions in the realm of thought.Thesis 6: with regard to the "essence" of humankind: "...the essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In reality, it is the ensemble of the social relations." Taking "the individual" as the unit of philosophy/social sciences is an a-historical and atomizing abstraction which "belongs in reality to a particular social form" (Thesis 7). A social science basing itself on the actions, intentions, emotions, etc. of discrete individuals takes a metaphysical and abstract view of humanity as its departure point. See also thesis 9 and 10.-- Brecht De Smet Assistant Professor at the Department Conflict and Development Studies Researcher at MENARG (Middle East and North Africa Research Group) Department of Political and Sciences Ghent University www.psw.ugent.be/menarg Universiteitsstraat 8 / 9000 Gent / Belgium Citeren Martin Packer <email@example.com>:Oh! (he exclaims). My point was that Hegel is hardly the person to turn to if one wants to avoid metaphysics! Individual, Universal, Particular - there's a whole metaphysics here. Take a look at the Stanford Enc of Philosophy entry on Hegel (link below) for a sense of the debate over this. There has been an "orthodox or traditional understanding of Hegel as a ?metaphysical? thinker in the pre-Kantian ?dogmatic? sense. This was followed by a view by some that "particular works, such as the Phenomenology of Spirit, or particular areas of Hegel's philosophy, especially his ethical and political philosophy, can be understood as standing independently of the type of unacceptable metaphysical system sketched above." (But Andy hates the Phenomenology!) And then there are people who are "appealing to contemporary analytic metaphysics as exemplifying a legitimate project of philosophical inquiry into fundamental ?features? or ?structures? of the world itself."Myself, I'm closest to the last of these views. I don't think we want to *avoid* metaphysics (ontology and epistemology) ; indeed I don't think that is possible. rather, we need to adopt the *right* metaphysics. We can debate what the criteria of that need to be. But to claim of a position, in philosophy or the social sciences, that there is "No metaphysics here!" is a tad naive.<http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel/> MartinOn Mar 23, 2013, at 12:36 PM, Carol Macdonald <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:I thought that what he said was avoiding it: back up your exclamation MartinCarol On 23 March 2013 16:48, Martin Packer <email@example.com> wrote:I though you wanted to *avoid* metaphysics, Andy! Martin On Mar 22, 2013, at 8:17 PM, Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:Thank you Manfred for that clear explanation, and for correcting mytyping mistake! :(This might be an occasion to mention how my own development of ActivityTheory differs from yours and that of ANL.I do not work with duality of "the publically assigned meaning and thepersonally felt sense". Rather I use Hegel's approach in which theIndividual and Universal are mediated by the Particular. This is a relationwhich is applicable not just to motives, but any concept. It allows the meaning of the situation to be something which is *realised*. This word "realised" is what Wiulliam James would have described as a "double-barrelled word" (following Charles Dickens' "double barrelled compliment), in that it means both "realised" in the objective sense of"made real", as in "The plan was at last realised when the judge deliveredhis verdict," and subjective in the sense of "woke up to", as in "Irealised that my efforts to reconcile with my wife were doomed to failure."I believe that this resolves certain problems which arise in Actvity Theory, but remaining within the Activity approach as outlined in your excellent paper.Andy Holodynski, Manfred wrote:Dear colleagues, thank you very much for all your valued comments on my article. Thereare a lot of aspects already discussed and I have some difficulties tofollow all lines of argumentation. Therefore, I would like to answer to thefollowing:1. Emotions as psychological function within the macrostructure ofactivity.As Andy claims it I get my Activity Theory from AN Leont'ev and Ifocused especially on his concept of macrostructure of activity and itslevels of activity that is related to motives, actions that are related togoals and operations that are related to the conditions under which anaction is given. And Andy gets precisely to the heart of it when he stated that my article needs to be read with attention to motivation and how themacrostructure of an activity is related to the motives and goals of an individual. One activity can be realized by different actions, and one action can realize different activities.be inferred/learnt. Emotional expression and experience signal the success,May I quote Andy's words: " Because motives are not given to immediate perception; they have tofailure, frustration, expectation, etc. of goals and motives for bothparticipant/observers and the individual subject themself, emotion is tied up with motives and goals and therefore with the structure of an activity. One and the same action could be part of different ??actions activities (!)(MH)??. It is the emotions which signal (internally and externally) thesuccess, etc., etc., that is, in an action's furthering an activity, and it is this which makes manifest and actual that connection between action andactivity, for both the observer/participant and the individual subject.So there is no metaphysics here. No hypothetical "states of mind", orintelligent infants, etc."a) Take the example of the opening of the window. That's the behavior.What's the goal?b) Imagine the person is a leader and opens the window in order togreet his followers and to hold a speech. That's the goal. What is the activity?part of a political activity in order to celebrate the election victory. So, if the leader also feels pride and enthusiasm about the victory there is coincidence between the publically assigned meaning and the personallyc) If one look at the circumstances one can derive that the speech is afelt sense of the situation. However, it may also be possible that he doesn't feel pride but a great burden and he personally feels to be overloaded with the duties and future expectations. Then the societalmeaning assigned by the followers to this situation and the personal sense assigned by the leader himself are not congruent. The leader framed this situation under an achievement perspective whether he is able to fulfillthe leadership.But, note when we talk about actions and activity, then we speak aboutan advanced level of activity e.g. in children or adults, but not in infants who start to have intentions but still not a mental image of a future state of affairs.2. Differentiation between the basic level in infants and advancedlevel in older children:- A young infant has not already established a goal-driven level ofactions. In the first weeks one can observe the acquisition of first operations and of first expectations what should happen. But theseexpectations are not yet represented as a mental image about the desiredfuture states. This is the product of the acquisition of a sign systemwhich enables the person to evoke and imagine a future state in the hereand now and to start to strive for it. And for this starting point, notonly to imagine different future states, but also to select one of them and to start to strive for it, emotional processes come into play that colorone of the imagined future state e.g. in a state worth striving for and that mobilize the executive power to start striving for it.them into actions is not something that occurs automatically. It emerges in a long-drawn ontogenetic learning process in which the attainment of goalsHowever, the ability to form such notions of goals and to transformthrough actions is tried, tested, and increasingly optimized. Older children areSo, for an understanding of my emotion concept the macrostructure of anactivity is very decisive because I embedded emotions as a specific psychological function within the macrostructure of an activity.Best Manfred Prof. Dr. Manfred Holodynski Institut für Psychologie in Bildung und Erziehung Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster Fliednerstr. 21 D-48149 Münster +49-(0)-251-83-34311 +49-(0)-251-83-34310 (Sekretariat) +49-(0)-251-83-34314 (Fax) http://wwwpsy.uni-muenster.de/Psychologie.inst5/AEHolodynski/index.html email@example.com -----Ursprüngliche Nachricht----- Von: Andy Blunden [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Gesendet: Freitag, 22. März 2013 04:13 An: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity Cc: Holodynski, Manfred Betreff: Re: Polls are closed: Manfred Holodynsk's article is choice Mike, Manfred gets his Activity Theory from AN Leontyev, rather thanEngestrom's "systems of activity."Manfred's article needs to be read with attention to motivation and how the structure of an activity is related to motives and goals. Because motivesSo actions and activities are defined by their goals and motives. Soare not given to immediate perception; they have to be inferred/learnt. Emotional expression and experience signal the success, failure, frustration, expectation, etc. of goals and motives for bothparticipant/observers and the individual subject themself, emotion is tied up with motives and goals and therefore with the structure of an activity.One and the same action could be part of different actions. It is theemotions which signal (internally and externally) the success, etc., etc., that is, in an action's furthering an activity, and it is this which makes manifest and actual that connection between action and activity, for boththe observer/participant and the individual subject.So there is no metaphysics here. No hypothetical "states of mind", orintelligent infants, etc.It's all in there. Andy mike cole wrote:Hi Andy - and here I was wondering why operation/action/activity werenot prominent in Manfred's article. Where does he lay out the views inthis note? Am I reading too superficially as usual? Seems importantfor me to get clear about!MikeOn Thursday, March 21, 2013, Andy Blunden wrote:Think of your illustration,Martin, about whether, in opening thewindow, you were acting as a technician or moral leader. I.e., themeaning of the action lies in the activity of which it is a part,which is not immediately given. Manfred does not refer this to"intention" or "belief". Manfred is quite specific that thesignalising and self-perception of an action in relation to anactivity - i.e., an action's being of this and not that activity -is a function played by emotion. Concepts like internal state andintention are derivative from operation/action/activity, notfundamental.Andy-- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ *Andy Blunden* Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/ Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts http://marxists.academia.edu/AndyBlunden __________________________________________ _____ xmca mailing list email@example.com http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca__________________________________________ _____ xmca mailing list firstname.lastname@example.org http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca-- Carol A Macdonald Ph D (Edin) Developmental psycholinguist: EMBED Academic, Researcher, Writer and Editor Honorary Research Fellow: Department of Linguistics, Unisa __________________________________________ _____ xmca mailing list email@example.com http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca__________________________________________ _____ xmca mailing list firstname.lastname@example.org http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca__________________________________________ _____ xmca mailing list email@example.com http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca__________________________________________ _____ xmca mailing list firstname.lastname@example.org http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca __________________________________________ _____ xmca mailing list email@example.com http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca