Within developmentally oriented cognitive psychology, the unsatisfactory state of learning theory has recently evoked attempts at serious reconceptualization. One such attempt is Carl Bereiter's (1985) discussion on the 'learning paradox'. Another is Friedhart Klix's (1982) treatment of the evolutionary nature of learning processes. In an exemplary manner, these two attempts manifest the qualitative difference - or the paradigmatic boundary - between cognitivism and the cultural-historical approach to human development. They do this in spite of their advanced striving for ecological validity, and precisely because of it. By stretching the limits of cognitivism,  attempts like these make the limits visible.

Bereiter illustrates the 'learning paradox' as follows.

"What needs explaining from the standpoint of the learning paradox is not only how the child learns to test theories but also how the child acquires the theories to be tested. Statements to the effect that the child 'learns from experience' (...) dodge the issue and are often not very plausible. Out of the infinitude of correspondences that might be noticed between one event and another, how does it happen that children notice just those ones that make for simple theories about how the world works - and that, furthermore, different children, with a consistency far beyond chance, tend to notice the same correspondences?" (Bereiter 1985, 204.)

The author then formulates the 'learning paradox' on the metatheoretical and theoretical levels. Metatheoretically, the problem is "how can a structure generate another structure more complex than itself?" Theoretically, the problem is "how can the development of complex mental structures be accounted for by mechanisms that are not themselves highly intelligent or richly endowed with knowledge?" In other words, how is progress toward higher levels of complexity possible without there "already being some ladder or rope to climb on". (Bereiter 1985, 204-205.)

Bereiter correctly points out that the learning paradox "descends with full force on those kinds of learning of central concern to educators (...)  - the kinds of learning that lead to understanding core concepts of a discipline, mastering more powerful intellectual tools, and being able to use knowledge critically and creatively" (Bereiter 1985, 202). He also notes that problems very similar to the learning paradox occur in efforts to explain intuition and creativity (Bereiter 1985, 205-206).

The author then proceeds to consider culture as an explanation, offered notably by Vygotsky.

"Following Vygotsky (1978), for instance, one might formulate the following explanation: Learning does, indeed, depend on the prior existence of more complex cognitive structures, but these more complex cognitive structures are situated in the culture, not in the child. The child acquires them through interaction with adults, who help the child do things that it could not do alone. Through such shared activities the child internalizes the cognitive structures necessary to carry on independently. Such an explanation, satisfying as it may appear, does not eliminate the learning paradox at all. The whole paradox lies in the word 'internalizes.' How does internalization take place? (...) Solving that problem means confronting, not circumventing, the learning paradox." (Bereiter 1985, 206.)

After this rather brief rebuttal to the cultural-historical approach, Bereiter goes on to present what he calls "10 theoretical principles that seem to hold promise as contributions to a theory of how bootstrapping can occur in cognitive development" (Bereiter 1985, 208). At the core of the ten principles, there are 'field facilitation', 'imitation', 'learning support systems', and  'concrete behavior settings'. All these are actually different aspects of the idea of exploiting the 'more complex cognitive structures situated in the culture', both in material artifacts and in patterns of social interaction. In other words, Bereiter is presenting a list of possible explanatory mechanisms that might account for the processes of internalization.

One is tempted to point out that a list is not a theory (especially as no attempt is made to "deal with the overlap or potential connections among principles" [Bereiter 1985, 208]). One is also tempted to point out that during the 50 years passed after Vygotsky's death,  voluminous work has been done (and published even in English) by Vygotsky's followers - especially by Leont'ev, Luria, Gal'perin, El'konin, Davydov and Meshcheryakov - to grasp theoretically and practically the very essence of internalization. But these arguments would be beside the point.

The heart of the matter is: Does the whole paradox really lie in the word 'internalizes'? Can the learning paradox really be solved by finding out how internalization takes place?

Here we find a curious anomaly in Bereiter's discussion. On the one hand, he repeatedly speaks of the higher forms of learning as 'creation'. But, on the other hand, creation for him seems to mean only creation of new cognitive structures subjectively, 'in the head' of the individual.  Thus, learning is effectively reduced to internalization - even if internalization is considered as a process of creative restructuring.

Can creation really be understood as internalization only? If that be so, how can we explain the emergence and renewal of external culture? Does it have nothing to do with learning? Or is it just a self-evident consequence or byproduct of internalization?

This is the first complex of questions motivating my quest in this chapter. To formulate the second complex, I now turn to the article of Friedhart Klix (1982).

A prelude may be mentioned first.  A year before Klix published his article, Pat Langley and Herbert Simon (1981, 378) argued that "assuming learning is invariant  is a useful research strategy for the immediate future" (italics in the original).

Klix starts out by questioning the assumption that learning is invariant, i.e.,  that the laws of learning are in principle the same in all organisms. He points out that there are two qualitatively different broad classes of learning performances in animals and man, namely the class of conditioning  and the class of reasoning  or cognitive learning.  These originate on different levels of evolution. In other words, learning processes are not an evolutionary invariant.

Within the class of conditioning, the subclasses of habituation, conditioned reflex and instrumental (operant) conditioning are mentioned. Within reasoning, the subclasses of hypothesis formation, inductive and deductive inferences, analogical reasoning and rule learning (heuristic techniques) are mentioned. The essential qualitative difference between the two basic classes lies in the main information source for decision-making. In conditioning, the source is "environmental properties".  In reasoning, the source is "long-term-memory properties: concepts, relations, procedures"  (Klix 1982, 389). In other words, "insight is not entirely mediated by perceptual information but rather based on mental or cognitive operations which become applied to stored knowledge" (Klix 1982, 388). With cognitive learning, "an increasing independency of any specific environment comes into being"; cognitive learning is "nonspecialized adaptive behavior" (Klix 1982, 389).

According to Klix (1982, 386), "early modes of inferential (or cognitive) learning may be found among  pre-human primates", in limited sense (hypothesis-checking) even among dogs.  Thus, the class of reasoning or cognitive learning in no principled way distinguishes man from other mammals.

For the theoretical understanding and practical mastery of human learning, it would be essential to know whether humans have some evolutionary qualities that make their learning potentialities qualitatively different from those of other species. Klix's analysis indicates that this is not the case. It indicates that the essence of human (and of all cognitive) learning is just the fact that it is cognitive, that it relies on the properties of long- term memory. To put it in simple terms, human learning is essentially learning 'within the head' of the individual - it often allows the individual to "predict and derive the right decision without any overt false trial" (Klix 1982, 388).

Is the evolution of learning essentially a story of progressively enlarged capacity for internal individual processing of information? Is man finally leaving behind the restrictively specific influence of environmental properties? Is man's  crucial feature simply the fact that he thinks more than his evolutionary  predecessors?

This is the second complex of problems. In order to tackle the two complexes, I'll first consult P. I. Zinchenko for methodological advice.


In 1939, P. I. Zinchenko published an important large paper titled The Problem of Involuntary Memory. This work has immediate bearing on the analysis of learning undertaken in the present chapter.

Zinchenko tackles the problem of the evolution of memory.

"The position that involuntary memory is the first genetic stage in the development of memory is beyond dispute in both classical and contemporary psychology. In both the historical development of human consciousness and the development of the child's consciousness, the initial forms of memory are involuntary. Of course, in animals, involuntary memory is not merely the first but the only form of memory (...).

In spite of the extreme diversity of current views on the nature of memory, involuntary memory is consistently characterized as mechanical memory. (...) Here, there is a division of memory into mechanical and logical forms, forms that are understood as two sequential, genetic stages in the development of memory." (Zinchenko 1983-84, 56-57.)

Zinchenko argues that this kind of interpretation of the evolutionary nature of memory is fundamentally distorted and false. It actually reproduces both of the two classical cul-de-sacs of traditional psychology. Firstly, it reproduces associationism and mechanistic materialism by treating involuntary memory as something purely mechanical and physiological. Secondly, it reproduces intellectualism and idealism by treating voluntary memory as something purely logical and mental.

To overcome this position, it is necessary to grasp that involuntary memory is not the same as mechanical memory. Involuntary memory may be defined as follows.

"It is characterized by the fact that remembering occurs within an action of a different  nature, an action that has a definite task, goal and motive and a definite significance for the subject, but that is not directly oriented toward the task of remembering." (Zinchenko 1983-84, 77.)

Examples of involuntary memory are common in everyday situations: we remember many things which are embedded in some for us significant actions without ever consciously trying to remember them. According to Zinchenko, "none of these forms of memory can be reduced to the laws of associative or conditioned-reflex connections, since these are always external to the actual content of the action" (Zinchenko 1983-84, 77). In other words, involuntary remembering changes and develops along with changes in the nature of the subject's activity, of the actions within which it occurs. It is literally a byproduct and byprocess - but not a simple and mechanical one.

Correspondingly, even though voluntary memory is clearly a later and thus higher evolutionary form, it is by no means necessarily logical or non-mechanical. Voluntary remembering is simply a special action devoted to remembering; "the subject is consciously aware of the object of the action as an object of remembering" (Zinchenko 1983-84, 78). As a matter of fact, voluntary memory quite often takes the form of mechanical memorizing.

"In our view, what is referred to as mechanical memory is not a stage in the genesis of memory: it is a special form of memory that tends to occur when conditions make it difficult for the subject to carry out the meaningful activity required in a particular situation. The resulting memory is 'mechanical' in the sense that an object is remembered under conditions in which its meaning or significance is not apparent to the subject. It is important to emphasize, though, that even this kind of memory is psychological rather than physiological. It is not, in the final analysis, 'nonmeaningful'; and it is not a function of mechanical impressions made on a passive subject. It is the result of the subject's activity, activity that realizes the subject's relationship to a given object. When remembering is mechanical, however, this relationship is not adequate to the situation in which the activity is carried out." (Zinchenko 1983-84, 108-109.)

Similarly, so called 'logical memory', employing logical operations, may be either voluntary or involuntary.

Zinchenko sums up his article with a merciless verdict.

"The division of memory into mechanical and logical forms, as if these were two genetically consecutive stages, is false. This perspective is linked to a tendency to identify and contrast the mental and the physiological, a tendency to indentify and contrast the essence of mind and its material basis." (Zinchenko 1983-84, 108.)

There are three important lessons to be drawn from Zinchenko's contribution.

Firstly, the manner in which Klix treats the evolution of learning matches perfectly with the criteria of false analysis worked out by Zinchenko. In evolutionary terms, it is illegitimate to treat earlier or lower types of learning as 'conditioning' and later or higher types as 'reasoning'. Various forms of reasoning are to be found in quite early evolutionary forms of learning - and vice versa (a point partially demonstrated by Klix himself).

Secondly, in evolutionary terms, the initial form of learning is that of incidental (or involuntary) learning operations  which take place as a tacit and casual byproduct and byprocess of other activities and actions. Conscious, goal-directed learning actions  are a later and higher formation (though I would not go so far as to restrict them to the human species only; a reservation substantiated in Chapter 3).

Thirdly, to understand the structure and dynamics of different forms of learning, whether incidental or conscious, we have to study them as parts or aspects of concrete historical activities with specifiable subjects, objects and instruments,  within specifiable contexts.

The third lesson implies that we must have some conceptual means with which activities can be analyzed. The next sections aim at deriving such conceptual means. Only after that we can return to the analysis of learning.


In the 19th century, philosophy, biology and social sciences experienced fundamental conceptual and methodological breakthroughs which were more or less directly intertwined with the huge development of the productive forces and global commerce through industrial capitalism. In philosophy, the breakthrough was realized above all by Hegel. In biology, it was realized by Darwin. And in social sciences, it was realized by Marx.

Two fundamental features are evident in these breakthroughs. Firstly,  they meant that organism and environment, man and society, were no more seen as separate entities but as integral systems within which retroactive causality and internal dynamic transitions prevail. Secondly, these breakthroughs meant that organism and environment, man and society, could no more be understood as stable, unchanging entities but only as something characterized by qualitative transformations requiring a historical perspective.

Each of the three breakthroughs had its specific content and impact. In the most general terms,  Hegel's contribution may be summarized as follows.

"Basing himself on the solid national tradition (the German enlightenment, Kant, Fichte, Schelling), Hegel from the outset links the activeness of human consciousness not with the peculiarities of man's bodily, natural organisation, but with the process of each individual's active assimilation of the spiritual wealth accumulated  by previous history, and with the realisation of what he has assimilated in his own activity that overcomes the resistance of object." (Mikhailov 1980, 87.)

Hegel was the first philosopher to draw attention to the role of material, productive activity and the instruments of labor in the development of knowledge. He clearly enunciated the theory that individual consciousness is formed under the influence of knowledge accumulated by society and objectified in the world of things created by humanity.

"The individual possesses consciousness (spirit) insofar as the spirit of history has possessed him, insofar as history acts in him and through him." (Mikhailov 1980, 92; for a recent interpretation of Hegel's psychological importance, see Marková 1982.)

It was Charles Darwin who laid the natural scientific, empirical foundation for the systemic and historical conception of man.

"By coordinating the opposing forces of internal structure and external environment, Darwin eliminated the need to appeal to supernatural forces in scientific explanation. He created the first powerful model of a natural, self-contained system that changed progressively." (Richards, Armon & Commons 1984, xx.)

As Howard Gruber (1974, 71) notes in his excellent Darwin on Man,  Marx and Engels greeted The  Origin of Species  enthusiastically when it appeared. Marx and Engels brought together the insights of Hegel and Darwin. More than that, they put forward a conception where man was not only a product of evolution and an assimilator of culture but a creator and transformer.

"The chief defect of all previous materialism (...) is that things [Gegenstand], reality, sensuousness are conceived only in the form of the object, or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice,  not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active  side was set forth abstractly by idealism - which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such. (...)

The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that the educator must himself be educated. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.

The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice."  (Marx 1976, 615-616.)

These famous lines from Thesis on Feuerbach  set the standard for my further inquiry. The problem is that the human sciences of the 20th century, especially psychology and education, have not yet met the challenge of constructing coherent theoretical instruments for grasping and bringing about processes where 'circumstances are changed by men and the educator himself is educated'.  Yet, as Bibler (1970, 157)  points out, the conceptual upheaval foreseen by Hegel and Marx "now takes hold of productive activity in general, becomes a logical necessity".

Though the challenge of the 19th century breakthroughs has not been met yet, it has been faced and dealt with by certain lineages of thought in the 20th century. These lineages have taken seriously the idea of man as a systemic and historical being.  On this basis, they have produced attempts at modelling the basic structure of human activity.

I'll restrain my search for a viable root model of human activity with the following initial delimitations. First, activity must be pictured  in its simplest, genetically original structural form, as the smallest unit that still preserves the essential unity and quality behind any complex activity.

Second,  activity must be analyzable in its dynamics and transformations, in its evolution and historical change. No static or eternal models will do.

Third, activity must be analyzable as a contextual or ecological phenomenon. The models will have to concentrate on systemic relations between the individual and the outside world.

Fourth, specifically human activity must be analyzable as culturally mediated phenomenon. No dyadic organism-environment models will suffice. This requirement stems already from Hegel's insistence on the  culturally mediated, triadic  or triangular  structure of human activity. 

The first delimitation excludes, among other theories, the work of Habermas from the present discussion. Instead of the original inner unity, Habermas takes the division of action into labor and interaction as his starting point (see Giddens 1982).

The last delimitation makes it unnecessary, for example, to consider here Piaget's concept of activity (see Piaget 1977 and Gallagher 1978; for insightful criticism see especially Damerow 1980; Wartofsky 1983).

Prerequisites for a theory of human activity that fulfill these four requirements may be found in three broad research traditions. The first one is the theorizing on signs, meanings and knowledge, beginning with Peirce* and extending through Ogden and Richards all the way to Popper's evolutionary epistemology. The second one is the study of the genesis of intersubjectivity, founded by G. H. Mead and finding  continuity in studies of infant communication and language development. And the third one is the cultural-historical school of psychology, starting with Vygotsky and maturing in Leont'ev. In all these theories, the concept of mediation, of thirdness or triangularity, is seen as the constitutive feature of human activity. This idea is frequently expressed, developed and applied in the form of graphic models.

The First Lineage: From Peirce to Popper

C. S. Peirce, one of the founders of semiotics, built his theory of mediation on the idea of a triadic relationship between an object, a mental interpretant and a sign.

*) For the sake of clarity, Peirce's excessive and often opaque work (see Peirce 1931-1935) is here discussed only through the concise but balanced interpretation of Parmentier (1985); see also the related volume of Pharies (1984).

"A Sign,  or Representamen,  is a First which stands in such a genuine triadic relation to a Second, called its Object, as to be capable of determining a Third, called its Interpretant, to assume the same triadic relation to its object in which it stands itself to the same Object." (Peirce 1902, cited in Parmentier 1985, 27.)

The triadic relation is not reducible to independent dyads. Otherwise, the dynamic character of the triad is destroyed and "there is no interpretation or representation by the resultant moment of the earlier moment; no symbolic or conventional relations exist among the elements; and no thought, idea, or meaning is embodied and transmitted in the process" (Parmentier 1985, 26).

There are two vectors in this dynamism. First, there is the vector of representation  pointing from the sign and interpretant toward the object. Second, there is the vector of determination  pointing from the object toward both sign and interpretant.

"This interlocking of the vectors of representation and determination implies that the three elements in the sign relation are never permanently object, representamen, and interpretant, but rather each shifts roles as further determinations and representations are realized. (...) Semiosis is, thus, an 'infinite process' or an 'endless series' in which the interpretant approaches a true representation of the object as further determinations are accumulated in each moment." (Parmentier 1985, 29.)

Besides purely logical and linguistic entities, Peirce applied his conception to human actions, too.

"In all action governed by reason such genuine triplicity will be found; while purely mechanical actions take place between pairs of particles. A man gives a brooch to his wife. The merely mechanical part of the act consists of his laying the brooch down while uttering certain sounds, and her taking it up. There is no genuine triplicity here; but there is no giving either. The giving consists in his agreeing that a certain intellectual principle shall govern the relations of the brooch to his wife. The merchant in the Arabian Nights threw away a datestone which struck the eye of a Jinnee. This was purely mechanical, and there was no genuine triplicity. The throwing and the striking were independent of one another. But has he aimed at the Jinnee's eye, there would have been more than merely throwing away the stone. There would have been genuine triplicity, the stone being not merely thrown, but thrown at  the eye. Here, intention, the mind's action, would have come in. Intellectual triplicity, or Mediation, is my third category." (Peirce 1902, cited in Parmentier 1985, 41.)

This citation reveals the first fundamental problem in Peirce's conception.

The mediating sign is here, in the context of human action, treated as something purely mental and intentional. It thus loses its potentially anti-Cartesian, cultural quality and reverts to individualism and rationalism.

"Although Peirce often made clear that his notion of representation included everything, mental as well as nonmental, that possesses attributes, he gave little attention to the sensible or material qualities of signs in the nonmental category, or what he later termed the representamen. In fact, the need for some 'medium of outward expression' is admitted only as something that may be necessary to translate a 'thought-sign' to another person; and these material qualities are, in themselves, only a residue of nonsemiotic properties of the sign that play no positive role in the sign's representative function." (Parmentier 1985, 33.)

The second problem in Peirce's thought became dominant toward the end of his productive career. This problem is the strict separation of the form from the content of the signs and the exclusive interest in the pure form. The  contents in no way contributed to the determination of the form, and sign forms became "blind vehicles for communicating meanings that they do not influence" (Parmentier 1985, 45).

In their seminal work on the meaning of meaning, Ogden and Richards (1923) present the following diagram (Figure 2.1) as their point of departure.

Figure 2.1: Meaning as the triad of thoughts, words and things (Ogden & Richards 1923, 11).

The authors point out the specific nature of the bottom line of the triangle, i.e., the relation between symbol (word) and referent (thing).

"Between the symbol and the referent there is no relevant relation other than the indirect one, which consists in its being used by someone to stand for a referent. Symbol and Referent, that is to say, are not connected directly (...) but only indirectly round the two sides of the triangle." (Ogden & Richards 1923, 11-12.)

This means that there is no direct correspondence between the symbol and the thing it symbolizes, or between words and things. Their relation is always constructed  by man and thus historically changing.

"We shall find, however, that the kind of simplification typified by this once universal theory of direct meaning relations between words and things is the source of almost all the difficulties which thought encounters." (Ogden & Richards 1932, 12.)

So meanings are constructions. The construction of meaning is the specifically human type of activity.

But Ogden and Richards, much in the manner of Peirce, conceive of the construction of the relation between symbol and referent purely and exclusively as a thought process,  as a mental act of the individual.  Furthermore, they see meaning embedded and embodied exclusively in symbols and language, not in material things and artifacts in general. This renders them rather helpless at the face of the problem of the origination of thought, symbols and language.

It is also symptomatic that Ogden and Richards restrict the indirect, mediated nature to the bottom line of the triangle. The other two relations, that between thought and symbol and that between thought and thing, are seen as "more or less direct" (Ogden & Richards 1923, 11).

Can these two relations really be direct? Consider first the relation between thought and symbol. Symbols are socio-historically produced and transmitted artifacts. They are abstracted and generalized from the production and use of material tools and objects. The relation of an individual  to a symbol appears  direct. But the cultural  development of symbols can never be understood in direct individual terms. It is a super-individual, collective process, based on the mediated, indirect interaction of subjects with symbols via objects (referents). Also the individual grasp and use of symbols originate from  practical encounters with the world of objects which the symbols represent and stem from.

This origination of words and symbols from practical material actions is pointed out by Malinowski in his supplement to the book of Ogden and Richards.

"Thus, when a savage learns to understand the meaning of a word, this process is not accomplished by explanations, by a series of acts of apperception, but by learning to handle it. A word means  to a native the proper use of the thing for which it stands (...)." (Malinowski 1923, 321.)

"The real knowledge of a word comes through the practice of appropriately using it within a certain situation. The word, like any man-made implement, becomes significant only after it has been used and properly used under all sorts of conditions." (Malinowski 1923, 325.)


Historically and theoretically this theme has been elaborated by Leont'ev (1981, especially 219-220), Leroi-Gourhan (1980, especially 147-153) and  Tran Duc Thao (1984). Within cognitive psychology, David McNeill (1985) has recently discussed the common origins of gestures and speech. The most convincing experimental material is provided by Meshcheryakov (1979) from his work with the education of deaf-blind children. Meshcheryakov's reappraisal of Helen Keller's development, often characterized as the unfolding of the inner spiritual essence dormant within, is  refreshing in its own right.

"By the time her teacher appeared on the scene Helen could find her way about the house easily, also in the orchard, vegetable garden and the whole of the immediate vicinity of the house. She was familiar with many household objects, kitchen utensils and garden implements, she knew what many of the objects around her were used for and was able to use them properly. She used a well-developed language of gestures which she made wide and systematic use of (...). Indeed, there are definite grounds for maintaining that Helen Keller's first teacher was the little black girl Martha Washington. It was she who first began to break down the wall isolating the little deaf-blind girl, and it was thanks to her contact with Martha that Helen started to evolve her language of gestures. It should be pointed out that neither Anne Sullivan, nor those specialists who later attempted to analyse Helen's instruction from the psychological angle, attached any particular, let alone decisive importance to this period of Helen's life." (Mescheryakov 1979, 60.)

The relation between thought and thing may be analyzed in a similar vein. Things are not just there, to be thought about and referred to. They are produced and used by human beings in their collective life activities, in their practice. This does not take place directly but always with the (visible or invisible) help of symbols, i.e., of tools and models, concerning the qualities and behavior of the things. Again, as we look at an individual referring to a material object, it appears that he or she has a direct relation to that object. But the referring is always done with some means - gestures, pictures, words, other objects, - which must be communicable and understandable to at least some other individuals. The act is not direct, not even when it proceeds automatically. The mediating cultural instrument is there, whether the subject is conscious of it or not.

In the triangle of Ogden and Richards, the prime mover is the uppermost corner, the thought.  But the subject not only - and not primarily - thinks. Above all, he or she acts practically, molds the material environment. And the subject does this co-operatively, not alone.

Among modern epistemological theories, Karl Popper's (1972) conception of the three worlds is certainly the most well-known version of triplicity. The basic position is the following.

"First, there is the physical world - the universe of physical entities (...); this I will call'World 1'. Second, there is the world of mental states, including states of consciousness and psychological dispositions and unconscious states; this I will call 'World 2'. But there is also a third  such world, the world of the contents of thought, and, indeed, of the products of the human mind; this I will call 'World 3'(...)." (Popper & Eccles 1977, 38.)

In his World 3, Popper includes stories, explanatory myths, tools, scientific theories, scientific problems, social instutions, and works of art. These entities may and often do exist in material form. But the material aspect is not essential. World 3 entities can also exist in a nonmaterial, unembodied form. The prime example of such entities are scientific and other problem situations.  Problem situations, according to Popper, exist objectively within the mass of knowledge, regardless of whether men have become conscious of them or not. The task is to discover them. Popper contends that grasping World 3 objects is totally independent of the material embodiments of those objects.

"Both (...) theories and their logical relations are World 3 objects, and in general it makes no difference, neither to their character as World 3 objects nor to our World 2 grasp of them, whether or not these objects are embodied. Thus a not yet discovered and not yet embodied logical problem situation may prove decisive for our thought processes, and may lead to actions with repercussions in the physical World 1, for example to a publication." (Popper & Eccles 1977, 46.)

But certainly even problems and logical possibilities have to be fixed in some kind of language. Popper readily admits this. But still these entities are unembodied - because language itself is.

"Language is non-material,  and appears in the most varied physical shapes - that is to say, in the form of very different systems of physical sounds." (Popper & Eccles 1977, 49; italics added.)

In other words, Popper insists on the absolute separation of content and form, of the immaterial substance and the material vehicle, much in the manner of the late Peirce (whom he considers to be "one of the greatest philosophers of all time" [Popper 1972, 212]). Time and again, this leads him to statements upholding the independent and discrete nature of each of the three worlds. Again, Helen Keller's development is a case in point.

"All normal men speak; and speech is of the utmost importance for them; so much so that even a deaf, dumb and blind little girl like Helen Keller acquired with enthusiasm, and speedily, a substitute for speech through which she obtained a real mastery of the English language and of literature. Physically, her language was vastly different from spoken English; but it had a one-to-one correspondence with written or printed English. There can be no doubt that she would have acquired any other language in place of English. Her urgent though unconscious need was for language - language in the abstract."  (Popper & Eccles 1977, 49; italics added.)

Would Popper hold that even Helen Keller's early, gestural language, with its inseparably intertwined earthly contents and forms, was 'immaterial'? Probably.

According to Popper (1972, 155), "the three worlds are so related that the first two can interact, and that the last two can interact". In other words, he postulates discontinuous relations between the three worlds.He reduces the triangle into two dyads  - something that Peirce considered legitimate only within the sphere of purely mechanical actions, such as the movement of billiard balls (Parmentier 1985, 25-26).

This dyadic reductionism actually destroys the intended interactionist or systemic character of Popper's theory. Instead of mediation as real practical movement, as activity, we have three worlds living their autonomous lives and entering into the familiar  dualistic subject-object  relations with one of the other worlds at the time. Thus, the theories of World 3 not only exist but also act autonomously, "they create new, unintended and unexpected problems, autonomous problems, problems to be discovered" (Popper 1972, 161). In other words, problem situations are situated - one could say stored - in World 3.

From the point of view of activity, this makes no sense. Problem situations are not statically situated or stored, they are rather one essential form  of the movement of the triangle,  being constructed and appearing in and between all the three 'corners'.

 Popper does speak of activity - "the activity of understanding consists, essentially, in operating with third-world objects"  (Popper 1972, 164). This dyadic conception fails to explain how World 3 objects are created. Understanding becomes receptive intellectualism, not just in the ordinary sense of being detached from World 1, but in the more important sense of being unable to grasp practically the productive nature of the continuous triplicity of activity.

The biologist and epistemologist R. C. Lewontin cogently summarizes Popper's position of 'evolutionary epistemology'.

"For Popper, science and nature, the individual and the real world, are each alienated from the other (...). Each has its autonomous processes. The external world is in part a fixed reality with eternal laws of nature, but in part evolves by physical processes of cosmic and terrestrial evolution. (...) Living beings, on the other hand, have an autonomous process of variation, the throwing up of novelties, of 'conjectures'. Their generation has no particular connection with external nature, except, of course, that they are manifestations of universal molecular and physical forces. The autonomous variation of organisms and the autonomous states of external nature are then connected to each other by a unidirectional process in which the organism adapts to outer nature by the differential survival of variations. So, too, individual psyches generate conjectural novelties which are then refuted by the outer world." (Lewontin 1982, 163-164.)

What remains after the critique? The first lineage leading to the theory of activity has provided us with the fundamental idea of knowledge and meaning as mediated construction.  Even Popper testifies to that.

"According to my view, we may understand the grasping of a World 3 object as an active process. We have to explain it as the making, the re-creation, of that object. In order to understand a difficult Latin sentence, we have to construe it: to see how it is made, and to re-construct it, to re-make it." (Popper & Eccles 1977, 44.)

But the theories of the first lineage narrow human activity down to individual intellectual understanding. They provide little cues for grasping how material culture is created in joint activity.

The Second Lineage: From Mead to Trevarthen

The second lineage toward the theory of activity was initiated by G. H. Mead's 'social behaviorism'. Mead's theory was aimed at overcoming individualism and intellectualism.

"We are not, in social psychology, building up the behavior of the social group in terms of the behavior of the separate individuals composing it; rather, we are starting out with a given social whole of complex group activity, into which we analyze (as elements) the behavior of each of the  separate individual composing it. (...)

In social psychology we get at the social process from the inside as well as from the outside. Social psychology is behavioristic in the sense of starting off with an observable activity - the dynamic, on-going social process, and the social acts which are its component elements - to be studied and analyzed scientifically. But it is not behavioristic in the sense of ignoring the inner experience of the individual - the inner phase of that process or activity. On the contrary, it is particularly concerned with the rise of such experience within the process as a whole. It simply works  from the outside to the inside instead of from the inside to the outside (...)." (Mead 1934, 7-8.)

Mead's approach is commonly called 'symbolic interactionism' or theory of 'symbol-mediated interaction' (Joas 1980). One central tenet of this approach is the priority of social objects and social consciousness to physical objects.

"The social process, as involving communication, is in a sense responsible for the appearance of new objects in the field of experience of the individual organisms implicated in that process. Organic processes or responses in a sense constitute the objects to which they are responses; that is to say, any given biological organism is in a sense responsible for the existence (in the sense of the meanings they have for it) of the objects to which it physiologically and chemically responds. There would, for example, be no food - no edible objects - if there were no organisms which could digest it. And similarly, the social process in a sense constitutes the objects to which it responds, or to which it is an adjustment. That is to say, objects are constituted in terms of meanings within the social process of experience and behavior through the mutual adjustment to one another of the responses or actions of the various individual organisms involved in that process, an adjustment made possible by means of a communication which takes the form of a conversation of gestures in the earlier evolutionary stages of that process, and of language in its later stages." (Mead 1934, 77.)

This social, interactive construction of physical objects  takes place through symbols.

"Symbolization constitutes objects not constituted before , objects which would not exist except for the context of social relationships wherein symbolization occurs. Language does not simply symbolize a situation or object which is already there in advance; it makes possible the existence or appearance of that situation or object, for it is a part of the mechanism whereby that situation or object is created. The social process relates the responses of one individual to the gestures of another, as the meanings of the latter, and is thus responsible for the rise and existence of new objects in the social situation, objects dependent upon or constituted by these meanings." (Mead 1934, 78.)

Thus, a triadic definition of meaning is worked out.

"This threefold or triadic relation between gesture, adjustive response, and resultant of the social act which the gesture initiates is the basis of meaning; for the existence of meaning depends upon the fact that the adjustive response of the second organism is directed toward the resultant of the given social act as initiated and indicated by the gesture of the first organism. The basis of meaning is thus objectively there in social conduct, or in nature in its relation to such conduct." (Mead 1934, 80.)

Now there seem to be four basic elements in Mead's reasoning about activity: the individual, the other(s), the symbol, and the object. The intriguing question is that of the origin of symbols. According to Mead, symbols grow out of gestures.

"The primitive situation is that of the social act which involves the interaction of different forms, which involves, therefore, the adjustment of the conduct of these different forms to each other, in carrying out the social process. Within that process one can find what we term the gestures, those phases of the act which bring about the adjustment of the response of the other form. (...)

The vocal gesture becomes a significant symbol (...) when it has the same effect on the individual making it that it has on the individual to whom it is addressed or who explicitly responds to it, and thus involves a reference to the self of the individual making it. The gesture in general, and the vocal gesture in particular, indicates some object or other within the field of social behavior,  an object of common interest to all the individuals involved in the given social act thus directed toward or upon that object. The function of the gesture is to make adjustment possible among the individuals implicated in any given social act with reference to the object or objects with which that act is concerned; and the significant gesture or significant symbol affords far greater facilities for such adjustment and readjustment than does the non-significant gesture (...)." (Mead 1934, 45-46.)

But where do gestures come from? For Mead, they are something originally given in both human and animal behavior. However, significant or conscious gestures are found only among humans (Mead 1934, 81). How these significant or conscious gestures arise is not explained.

It is instructive to compare Mead's conception with those of Leont'ev and Tran Duc Thao. These authors agree with Mead on the constructed nature of objects. But they disagree with Mead on the interpretation of construction as mere communication and symbolization. For them, the construction of objects is above all sensuous, material construction by means of tools, i.e., production. Communication and symbolization are seen as derivative, though organically intertwined aspects of production.

According to Leont'ev, conscious gestures originated as people experienced that even when a work movement did not lead to its practical result for some reason or other, it was still capable of affecting others involved in production. It could, for example, draw them into the fulfilment of a given action.

"Movements thus arose that preserved the form of the corresponding work movements but lacked practical contact with the object, and consequently also lacked the effort that converted them into real work movements. These movements, together with the vocal sounds that accompanied them, were separated from the tasks of acting on an object, and separated from labour activity, and preserved in themselves only the function of acting on people, the function of speech intercourse. In other words, they were converted into gestures. A gesture is nothing else than a movement separated from its result, i.e. not applied to the object at which it is aimed." (Leontyev 1981, 219.)

Tran Duc Thao elaborates this line of reasoning in detail. He sees the precursor of language in the prehominid indicative sign.

"(...) most likely from the very beginning of the prehominid development, in the cognizance of the indicative sign, the original form of the circular arc gesture was transmuted into the straight line form. Yet if, by virtue of the excitation of collective work, the straight line indicative gesture is prolonged for an instant, the prehominid necessarily follows the object in its motion:  for example, the game that is fleeing or falls down, or the bone fragment or piece of wood which pierces the animal like a beak or a dagger. The gestural sign developed in this way is reinforced each time by a diffuse sound,  of emotional origin, but which is now related to the tendential image projected by the gesture, and in this way obtains value as a word  with an objective meaning: 'this here  in a motion in the form of distancing, overturning, piercing', etc. (...) It is evident that the communication of such a meaning content allows a coordination of collective labor by far superior to the simple concentration of the forces of the group on the object indicated as the 'this here!'." (Tran Duc Thao 1984, 56.)

Both Leont'ev and Tran Duc Thao stress the genetic connection of gestures  and tool-mediated work on material objects. Their point of departure is the original unity of instrumental and communicative aspects of activity. Therefore, signs and symbols are seen as derivative instruments of productive activity which necessarily has an interactive, communicative form. For Mead, the original situation is that of interaction, of a 'social process' with only secondary and abstract presence of material objects. For him, symbols are not primarily instruments for mastering tool-mediated procedures on objects.

"A symbol is nothing but the stimulus whose response is given in advance. That is all we mean by a symbol. There is a word, and a blow. The blow is the historical antecedent of the word, but if the word means an insult, the response is one now involved in the word, something given in the very stimulus itself. That is all that is meant by a symbol. Now, if that response can be given in terms of an attitude utilized for the further control of action, then the relation of that stimulus and attitude is what we mean by a significant symbol." (Mead 1934, 181.)

Control of action means here control of interaction between people. Objects to be worked on and molded into useful artifacts by means of instruments play  an accidental role, if any.

Mead does discuss material production. He takes it up toward the end of  his Mind, Self, and Society  (1934, 248-249; 363). He points out that human act "has this implemental stage that comes between the actual consummation and the beginning of the act" (Mead 1934, 248). The human hand is the fundamental tool and implement of material production. Mead (1934, 363) appreciates its cognitive importance by noting that "man's manual contacts, intermediate between the beginnings and the ends of his acts, provide a multitude of different stimuli to a multitude of different ways of doing things, and thus invite alternative impulses to express themselves in the accomplishment of his acts, when obstacles and hindrances arise".

But this instrumental line of thought remains more or less a separate sidetrack in Mead's work. Communicative and instrumental aspects of activity do not form a unified system. Their interrelations are not worked out in any recognizable manner.

Hans Joas, a connoisseur and proponent of Mead's legacy, has one important reservation concerning the theory of symbol-mediated interaction, namely "that Mead's concept of action is oriented too much toward a model of adaptive intercourse and too little toward objectification  and material production of the new" (Joas 1980, 231). It's easy to sympathize with this assessment. However, it is hardly a question of 'too much' or 'too little'. What is lacking are dynamic relationships between the two.

Mead's ideas have experienced a revival in recent research on infants'  communicative development (see Lock 1978; Bullowa 1979).  One of the most inventive attempts in this direction is the work of Colwyn Trevarthen on what he calls secondary intersubjectivity in small children.

According to Trevarthen, a fundamental qualitative change takes place in human communication about 40 weeks after birth, well before speech begins.

"The most important feature of the new behaviour at 9 months is (...) its systematically combining of interests of the infant in the physical, privately-known reality near him, and his acts of communication addressed to persons. A deliberately sought sharing of experiences about events and things is achieved for the first time. Before this, objects are perceived and used, and persons are communicated with - but these two kinds of intention are expressed separately. Infants under 9 months share themselves with others but not their knowledge or intentions about things." (Trevarthen & Hubley 1978, 184.)

The authors point out that "once free interaction between communicative and praxic modes of action is achieved, the infant suddenly shows behaviour that is unique to man in its complexity" (Trevarthen & Hubley 1978, 213-214).  This formation of secondary intersubjectivity links "mother, infant and object on an equal plane of importance" (Trevarthen & Hubley 1978, 214; italics added). This is illustrated with the help of a series of diagrams (Figure 2.2). Halliday (1975) and Nelson (1979) present  analysis in similar lines, though locating the co-ordination of the social and object spheres at later points in ontogenesis.

Figure 2.2: Primary and secondary intersubjectivity exemplified (adapted from Trevarthen & Hubley 1978, 215)
Primary intersubjectivity: (A) Communicating: baby and mother interact face-to-face; no interest in object. (B) Acting on an object: baby acts; mother watches.
Secondary intersubjectivity: (A) Baby gives object and shows pleasure when it is accepted. (B) Full person-person-object fluency, e.g. mother shows baby how to do a task (1+2), baby accepts (3+4), then looks at mother and both are pleased (5+6).

The transition from primary to secondary intersubjectivity takes place through games, described in detail by Trevarthen. Trevarthen's results seem to establish something that was lacking in Mead, namely the relationship between communicative and instrumental aspects of activity. But here we should hesitate for a moment. Trevarthen speaks about a praxic mode of action, not about an instrumental one. As a matter of fact, he gives no serious consideration to the role of instruments or tools as something essentially different from and yet intrinsically  related  to  the objects they are applied upon. In this respect, Trevarthen's model of secondary intersubjectivity is entirely compatible with Mead's conception of intersubjectivity.

There is, however, another element which Mead considers essential but which is not incorporated in Trevarthen's model - the symbol. Symbols represent for Mead the universal or public dimension of interaction. As we saw, they are dissociated from instruments and procedures of material production - but they are definitely societal and historical. This socio-historical aspect is no more present in Trevarthen's model.

John R. Morss's recent critique of the basic assumptions of what he calls the neo-Meadian school is interesting against this background. According to Morss, the neo-Meadians have a fundamentally flawed interpretation of Mead's theory.

"Mead places great emphasis on the 'generalised other' as the personification  of group values, but it must be emphasised that this entity is a highly abstract one. As in early role-playing, social meaning is not  tied to specific individual others: the generalised other is actually a general  other. Mead's concern is therefore with the individual in his relationships with a community, not with specific other individuals. The neo-Meadian emphasis on dyadic interaction in general, and on the mother-infant dyad in particular, thus deviates radically from Mead. (...) the neo-Meadian view does not appear to question the equation of 'social' with 'interpersonal' (nor, indeed, the reduction of 'interpersonal' to 'dyadic')." (Morss 1985, 168.)

Morss argues that this reduction leads to a view of knowledge opposite to that of the original Mead. For Mead, the social character of knowledge meant that knowledge is above all public, impersonal. For the neo-Meadians, the social character of knowledge means that knowledge is interpersonal.

"That is, it can be interpreted to require fully cognisant individuals who set out to establish contact with one another. Interpersonalism in this sense is merely an elaboration of personalism - as it were, a pluralistic personalism." (Morss 1985, 171; see also the ensuing debate between Shotter 1986 and Morss 1986.)

This means that the neo-Meadians end up in a new version in individualism or privatism  as they tacitly set aside the truly societal, public dimension of Mead's theory.

If the first lineage from Peirce to Popper provided us with the idea of activity as individual construction of knowledge, what has the second lineage to offer? Mead obviously extends the picture, giving us the social, interactive, symbol-mediated construction of reality. But this construction is still conceived of as construction-for-the-mind, not as practical material construction.

The Third Lineage: From Vygotsky to Leont'ev

In 1930, L. S. Vygotsky, the founder of the Soviet cultural-historical school of psychology, sketched his idea of mediation as follows.

"Every elementary form of behavior presupposes direct  reaction to the task set before the organism (which can be expressed with the simple S - R formula). But the structure of sign operations requires an intermediate link between the stimulus and the response. This intermediate link is a second order stimulus (sign) that is drawn into the operation where it fulfills a special function; it creates a new relation between S and R. The term 'drawn into' indicates that an individual must be actively engaged in establishing such a link. The sign also possesses the important characteristic of reverse action (that is, it operates on the individual, not the environment).


Consequently, the simple stimulus-response process is replaced by a complex, mediated act, which we picture as:

(Figure 2.3: The structure of the mediated act [Vygotsky 1978, 40])
In this new process the direct impulse to react is inhibited, and an auxiliary stimulus that facilitates the completion of the operation by indirect means is incorporated.
Careful studies demonstrate that this type of organization is basic to all higher psychological processes, although in much more sophisticated forms than that shown above. The intermediate link in this formula is not simply a method of improving the previously existing operation, nor is a mere additional link in an S-R chain. Because this auxiliary stimulus possesses the specific function of reverse action, it transfers the psychological operation to higher and qualitatively new forms and permits humans, by the aid of extrinsic stimuli, to control their behavior from the outside.  The use of signs leads humans to a specific structure of behavior that breaks away from biological development and creates new forms of a culturally-based psychological process." (Vygostky 1978, 39-40.)

Vygotsky distinguished between two interrelated types of mediating instruments in human activity: tools and signs. The latter belonged to the broader category of 'psychological tools'.

"The tool's function is to serve as the conductor of human influence on the object of activity; it is externally   oriented; it must lead to changes in objects. It is a means by which a human external activity is aimed at mastering, and triumphing over, nature." (Vygotsky 1978, 55.)

Psychological tools have a different character.

"They are directed toward the mastery or control of behavioral processes - someone else's or one's own - just as technical means are directed toward the control of processes of nature.

The following can serve as examples of psychological tools and their complex systems: language; various systems for counting; mnemonic techniques; algebraic symbol systems; works of art; writing; schemes, diagrams, maps, and mechanical drawings; all sorts of conventional signs; etc." (Vygotsky 1981, 137.)

Both technical tools and psychological tools mediate activity. But only psychological tools imply and require reflective mediation, consciousness of one's (or the other person's) procedures. Vygotsky (1979, 54) describes these two types of instruments as parallel, as "subsumed under the same category" of mediated activity. However, a little later in the same text he characterizes  their relation in hierarchical  terms.

"The use of artificial means, the transition to mediated activity, fundamentally changes all psychological operations just as the use of tools limitlessly broadens the range of activities within which the new psychological functions may operate. In this context, we can use the term higher   psychological function, or higher behavior  as referring to the combination of tool and sign in psychological activity." (Vygotsky 1979, 55.)

The latter, hierarchical characterization is essential.  In my interpretation, we may actually distinguish between two levels of mediation: the primary level of mediation by tools and gestures dissociated from one another  (where gestures are not yet real psychological tools), and the secondary level of mediation by tools combined with corresponding signs or other psychological tools. The acquisition and application of new tools broadens  the sphere of influence. The acquisition and application of new psychological tools elevates  the level of influence (potentially; the result is actually achieved only when the tool and the psychological tool meet each other).  

The essence of psychological tools is that they are originally instruments for  co-operative, communicative and self-conscious shaping and controlling  of the procedures of using and making  technical tools  (including the human hand).  This original function is well demonstrated  in Tran Duc Thao's (1984) analysis of the emergence of developed indicative gestures and first representations among prehominids. I would contend that this formation of psychological tools ( = secondary instruments ) through the combination of previously separate gestures and technical tools ( = primary instruments ) is actually the essence of what Mead called the emergence of 'significant gestures' or 'significant symbols' and of what Trevarthen calls 'secondary intersubjectivity'.

The idea of primary and secondary intruments is clearly expressed by Marx Wartofsky.

"(...) what constitutes a distinctively human form of action is the creation and use of artifacts, as tools, in the production of the means of existence and in the reproduction of the species. Primary  artifacts are those directly used in this production; secondary  artifacts are those used in the preservation and transmission of the acquired skills or modes of action or praxis by which this production is carried out. Secondary artifacts are therefore representations  of such modes of action, and in this sense are mimetic,  not simply of the objects  of an environment which are of interest or use in this production, but of these objects as they are acted upon, or of the mode of operation or action involving such objects. Canons of representation, therefore, have a large element of convention, corresponding to the change or evolution of different forms of action or praxis,  and thus cannot be reduced to some simple notion of 'natural' semblance or resemblance. Nature, or the world becomes a world-for-us, in this process, by the mediation of such representations (...)." (Wartofsky 1979, 202.)

Wartofsky calls secondary artifacts 'reflexive embodiments'. He points out that their mode may be gestural, oral or visual, but "obviously such that they may be communicated in one or more sense-modalities" (Wartofsky 1979, 201). These representations "are not 'in the mind', as mental entities"; they are "externally embodied representations" (Wartofsky 1979, 202; see also Keiler & Schurig 1978, 146-147).

For me, Wartofsky's secondary artifacts and Vygotsky's psychological tools are essentially the same thing. Vygotsky's intellectualist bias (see Leontiev & Luria 1968, 354-355) led to a somewhat one-sided emphasis on signs and word meanings. The broader category of psychological tools, as well as the exciting relations between technical and psychological tools were not elaborated concretely by Vygotsky. Ironically, the activity-oriented approach in Soviet psychology after Vygotsky tried to get rid of Vygotsky's intellectualism by neglecting the problem of signs and psychological tools in general: "if the polemic with concrete works of Vygotsky on the problem of the sign was necessary and natural, the removal of this problematic - in principle - led only to a substantial 'narrowing' of the theory of activity" (Davydov & Radzikhovskii 1985, 60). In the recent revival of Vygotskian studies, signs may again be treated too much 'on their own', separated from the spectrum of psychological tools and their relations with primary tools. This danger seems to lure even in outstanding analysis,  such as that of Wertsch's (1985b) on Vygotsky's concept of semiotic mediation.

According to Vygotsky, the instrumentally mediated act "is the simplest segment of behavior that is dealt with by research based on elementary units" (Vygotsky 1981, 140). On the other hand, as V. P. Zinchenko (1985, 100) demonstrates, in concerete research, especially in Thinking and Speech, Vygotsky used another basic unit of analysis, namely that of meaning or word meaning.

V. P. Zinchenko (1985, 100) argues that meaning "cannot be accepted as a self-sufficient analytic unit since in meaning there is no 'motive force' for its own transformation into consciousness".  Only the cognitive aspect of thinking is fixed in meaning; the affective and volitional aspect is left unexplained.

The author then suggests that the adequate unit is tool-mediated action - which is actually the same thing as Vygotsky's instrumental act. Furthermore, as V. P. Zinchenko (1985, 103) correctly states, "one can consider tool-mediated action as being very close to meaning as unit of analysis" because "of necessity, tool-mediated action gives rise both to object meaning and to categorical meaning".

But V. P. Zinchenko fails to demonstrate how the suggested unit of tool-mediated action will overcome the limitations inherent in the unit of meaning. Tool-mediated action in no way solves the problems of motivation, emotion and creation.  To the contrary, it seems that both meaning and tool-mediated action are formations of the same structural level. This is the level of goal-directed individual cognition, the 'rational level' of human functioning. The problems of motivation, emotion and creation seem to be unanswerable on this level. They belong to a higher, collective and - paradoxically - less conscious level of functioning. Shoots of this  line of analysis are visible in Vygotsky's insistence on the concept of higher psychological functions. But this hierarchical aspect of Vygotsky's conception is left undeveloped by V. P. Zinchenko.

As a matter of fact, P. I. Zinchenko (father of V. P. Zinchenko) came close to this problem is his 1939 article. In a critical review of Vygotsky's ideas of the instrumental act, he wrote the following rather opaque lines.

"But, in Vygotsky's thinking, the relationship of the means to its object was divorced from the subject's relationship to reality considered in its actual and complete content. In the strict sense, this relationship between the means and the object was a logical rather than a psychological relationship. But the history of social development cannot be reduced to the history of the development of culture. (...) The history of cultural development must be included in the history of society's social and economic development; it must be considered in the context of the particular social and economic relationships that determine the origin and development of culture." (Zinchenko 1983-84, 70.)

However, the problem of a level of functioning beyond separate actions is also present in the most thoughtful cognitivist analyses - if only in the form of an intriguing mystery. Thus, V. P. Zinchenko ends his article by taking up the notion of 'liberated action'.

"According to specialists in the prevention of aviation catastrophes, in complex flying conditions humans and machines turn out to be, as it were, outside of time (we have in mind here the 'time' of consciously controlled decisions and actions). It is precisely this fact that provides the potential for avoiding catastrophes. But where does this potential originate? Or must we assume in such cases, as a minimum, a double reading of time - that is, actual situational time and a suprasituational time that flows in the space of the activity itself? And must we also assume their coordination? But by whom are they coordinated? Is there a subject who is responsible for this act of coordination?

The obvious precondition here is the subject's loss of self-control (i.e., the separation of the personal 'I' from the situation and, consequently, its separation not only from the time of objects  but from the time of the subject as well). This means that the 'I' is 'outside of time.' This kind of 'switching off' may not affect the possibility of self-reflection on the actions being performed. But the subject does not plan or control their realization. It is the subject's observing beyond himself or herself that may give him or her the possibility of fixing actions in memory. (...)

In fact, we find that in such situations we are faced with liberated or unloosed action. And as the ancients said, a liberated person does not make mistakes. (...)

The timelessness of liberated action in situations that are critical for the subject is like the timelessness of acts of creation, acts of brutality, and acts of discovery. In all of these the necessary condition is the liberation or unfettering of the subject, the repudiation of strict subjectivity." (Zinchenko 1985, 112-114.)

Zinchenko's lines remind us of Jung's concept of the collective psyche (Chapter 1). It is more than a mere coincidence that Sir Frederic Bartlett (1941) took up the same question of a superior level of functioning using the same example of extreme situations in flying. While Zinchenko discusses instances where the individual performance goes beyond the expected, Bartlett, as reported  by Broadbent,  discussed cases where the individual performance deteriorates dramatically.

"(...) the Cambridge laboratory had been looking at the breakdown of skill in RAF pilots flying on a simulator. The full task was to control height, course, and air speed as well as to undertake peripheral functions. Bartlett quotes data showing that prolonged performance of one part of the task by itself showed no decline in efficiency; but that when all the parts were being done together, there was such a drop. Instead of attributing the drop to  over-loading of a single level, he says, 'It is not the local response that has lost its accuracy or its power. It is the central control which has functionally, but without knowledge, expanded the limits of its indifference range.' Not the isolated tasks, but the way they fit together. He notes that conscious verbal report comes only from one of the levels involved; he discusses the fact that the pilots were frequently quite unaware that their skills had deteriorated, and rather blamed the experimenter or the apparatus for any apparent error." (Broadbent 1977, 183.)

The problem with both Zinchenko and Broadbent (of Bartlett I am not sure; see Edwards & Middleton 1986) is that they are seeking the explanation to  essentially super-individual phenomena within the  individual head. Flying typically is an activity with an elaborate 'infrastructure' of interaction and division of labor (between the pilot and the ground control, especially) - though it looks like a lonely job. Both the extraordinary performances and the unexpected breakdowns might be fruitfully analyzed from that angle.  Zinchenko's timeless subject might also acquire some flesh and blood that way.

The problem of levels in human functioning was theoretically worked out by A. N. Leont'ev, a collaborator and pupil of Vygotsky.

"When a member of a group performs his labour activity he also does it to satisfy one of his needs. A beater, for example, taking part in a primaeval collective hunt, was stimulated by a need for food or, perhaps, by a need for clothing, which the skin of the dead animal would meet for him. At what, however, was his activity directly aimed? It may have been directed, for example, at frightening a herd of animals and sending them toward other hunters, hiding in ambush. That, properly speaking, is what should be the result of the activity of this man. And the activity of this individual member of the hunt ends with that. The rest is completed by the other members. This result, i.e., the frightening of game, etc., understandably does not in itself, and may not, lead to satisfaction of the beater's need for food, or the skin of the animal. What the processes of his activity were directed to did not, consequently, coincide with what stimulated them, i.e., did not coincide with the motive of his activity; the two were divided from one another in this instance. Processes, the object and motive of which do not coincide with one another, we shall call 'actions'. We can say, for example, that the beater's activity is the hunt, and the frightening of game his action." (Leontyev  1981, 210.)

"(...) what unites the direct result of this activity with its final outcome? Obviously nothing other than the given individual's relation with the other members of the group, by virtue of which he gets his share of the bag from them, i.e., part of the product of their joint labor activity. This relationship, this connection is realised through the activity of other people, which means that it is the activity of other people that constitutes the objective basis of the specific structure of the human individual's activity, means that historically, i.e., through its genesis, the connection between the motive and the object of an action reflects objective social connections and relations rather than natural ones." (Leontyev 1981, 212.)

These lines, originally published in 1947, demonstrate the insufficiency of an individual tool-mediated action as a unit of psychological analysis. Without consideration of the overall collective activity, the individual beater's action seems "senseless and unjustified" (Leontyev 1981, 213). Human labor, the mother form of all human activity, is co-operative from the very beginning. We may well speak of the activity of the individual,  but never of individual activity;  only actions are individual.

Furthermore, what distinguishes one activity from another is its object. According to Leont'ev, the object of an activity is its true motive. Thus, the concept of activity is necessarily connected with the concept of motive. Under the conditions of division of labor, the individual participates in activities mostly without being fully conscious of their objects and motives. The total activity seems to control the individual, instead of the individual controlling the activity.

Activities are realized by goal-directed actions, subordinated to conscious purposes. These are the typical objects of the cognitive psychology of skills and performances, whether they be motor or mental.

But human practice is not just a series or a sum of actions. In other words, "activity is a molar, not an additive unit" (Leont'ev 1978, 50).

"Correspondingly, actions are not special 'units' that are included in the structure of activity. Human activity does not exist except in the form of action or a chain of actions." (Leont'ev 1978, 64.)

On the other hand, one and the same action may accomplish various activities and may transfer from one activity to another. And one motive may obviously find expression in various goals and actions.

Finally actions are carried out in variable concrete circumstances. The methods with which the action is accomplished are called operations. Actions are related to conscious goals, operations to conditions not often consciously reflected by the subject. Tools are crystallized operations.

"Thus in the total flow of activity that forms human life, in its higher manifestations mediated by psychic reflection, analysis isolates separate (specific) activities in the first place according to the criterion of motives that elicit them. Then actions are isolated - processes that are subordinated to conscious goals, finally, operations that directly depend on the conditions of attaining concrete goals." (Leont'ev 1978, 66-67.)

The hunting example demonstrates the development from activity to actions as the consequence of division of labor. There is also the opposite direction of development, often neglected in the interpretation of Leont'ev's work. Actions may develop into an activity.

"These are the ordinary cases when a person undertakes to perform some actions under the influence of a certain motive, and then performs them for their own sake because the motive seems to have been displaced to their objective. And that means that the actions are transformed into activity." (Leontyev 1981, 238.)

In a pathological case, some separate actions become the meaning and motive of the whole life of an individual - be they drinking or preaching  (see Leont'ev 1978, 112-113). This implies that the tasks or actions (including their objects) themselves are not objectively transformed. They are attributed an overwhelming illusionary importance and often a repetitively increased volume. This is the kernel of Jung's concept of 'inflation', discussed in Chapter 1.

In the expansive case, the actions themselves are objectively transformed.

"Motives of activity that have such an origin are conscious motives. They do not become conscious, however, of themselves, automatically. It requires a certain, special activity, some special act. This is an act of reflecting the relation of the motive of a given, concrete activity to the motive of a wider activity, that realises a broader, more general life relation that includes the given, concrete activity." (Leontyev 1981, 238.)

I shall later substantiate the proposal that in this very passage, pointing out the necessity of some 'special activity',  Leont'ev actually foresees the psychological core of what will be the concept of learning activity, or learning by expanding.

For Leont'ev, activity is a systemic formation in constant internal movement.

"In this process man's cognition of the objects takes place, exceeding the possibilities of direct sensory reflection. If in direct action, 'subject-object,' the latter discloses its properties only within limits conditioned by the kind and degree of subtlety that the subject can sense, then in the process of interaction mediated by an instrument, cognition goes beyond these limits. Thus, in  mechanical processing of an object made of one material with an object made of another, we carry out an unmistakable test of their relative hardness within limits completely inaccessible to our organs of skin-muscle sensitivity: On the basis of the change of form of one of the objects, we draw a conclusion about the greater hardness of the other. In this sense the instrument is the first real abstraction." (Leont'ev 1978, 23.)

"In activity there does take place a transfer of an object into its subjective form, into an image; also in activity a transfer of activity into its objective results, into its products, is brought about. Taken from this point of view, activity appears as a process in which mutual transfers between the poles 'subject-object' are accomplished." (Leont'ev 1978, 50.)

Hans Joas (1980), Klaus Ottomeyer (1980) and some other interactionists criticize Leont'ev and his followers for a one-sided emphasis on the instrumental-productive aspect of activity and for a neglect of the social and communicative aspect. The above citations seem to support this criticism.

But a fair reading gives a more sophisticated picture.

"Another condition (besides the instrumental; Y.E.) is that the individual's relations with the world of human objects should be mediated by his relations with people, and that these relations should be included in a process of intercourse. This condition is always present. For the notion of an individual, a child, who is all by itself with the world of objects is a completely artificial abstraction.

The individual, the child, is not simply thrown into the human world; it is introduced into this world by the people around it, and they guide it in that world." (Leontyev 1981, 135.)

"Only through a relation with other people does man relate to nature itself, which means that labour appears from the very beginning as a process mediated by tools (in the broad sense) and at the same time mediated socially." (Leontyev 1981, 208.)

And Meshcheryakov, a disciple of Leont'ev, calls the unit of analysis "shared object activity" (Meshcheryakov 1979, 294).

"A kind of vicious circle develops: in order to know how to act with the tool the child has to know it, and in order to know the tool it is essential that the child act with it. The vicious circle is broken when the adult begins to teach the child to act with the tool in the process of satisfying its needs. This instruction is only possible in the form of joint object action shared between the adult and the child." (Meshcheryakov 1979, 296.)

The problem is that the instrumental and the communicative aspect of activity were not brought into a unified complex model by Leont'ev. Vygotsky's model of the instrumental act (Figure 2.3) was not graphically superseded in Leont'ev's work.

This incomplete unification of the two aspects of activity in Leont'ev's work gave room for Lomov's (1976; 1980) attempt to separate activity and communication as the two spheres of the life process of the individual. According to Lomov, activity should be understood as the relation subject-object, while communication comprises the relation subject-subject. This dualistic conception was heavily criticized by A. N. Leont'ev's son A. A. Leont'ev. According to him, activity cannot be legitimately characterized as individual; rather it is social in all its components (A. A. Leontjew 1980, 527).

"Thus, when we are dealing with joint activity, we can with full justification speak of a collective subject  or of a total subject of this activity, whose interrelation with the 'individual' subjects can only be comprehended through a psychological analysis of the structure of the joint activity." (A. A. Leontjew 1980, 530.)

Thus, communication for A. A. Leont'ev is an integral aspect of every activity. On the other hand, communication may also differentiate into its own specialized activity system - very clearly in various forms of mass communication, for example. But in this case, it retains all the basic elements of activity (including the aspect of internal communication within it). 

A. A. Leont'ev's point is convincing enough. But he, too, refrained from producing a more adequate unified model of activity. In other words, the essential elements and inner relations of activity were not comprehensively analysed and modelled by either the older or the younger Leont'ev.

Symptomatically, this problem has recently again been taken up in Soviet discussion, this time by Radzikhovskii (1984).

"This morphological paradigm (of A. N. Leont'ev; Y.E.) does not (...) explain very well why activity should change as a consequence of the real or imagined presence of other people; nor does it answer the question of wherein, from the psychological point of view, lies the qualitative difference between 'another' person and any other physical object, e.g., questions associated with communication, interaction, etc. (...) the social nature of motives and means of activity is by no means reflected in a specific structure of activity; this social nature is invariant relative to this structure (...)."  (Radzikhovskii 1984, 37.)

Radzikhovskii's most important argument is that "the genesis of activity itself is not illuminated, i.e., the structural-genetic original unit from which the structure of activity (...) unfolds is not demonstrated" (Radzikhovskii 1984, 40). The author proposes 'social action' or 'joint action' as the alternative unit of analysis.

"Concretely, we are saying that the general structure of ontogenetically primary joint activity (or, more accurately, primary joint action) includes at least the following elements: subject (child), object, subject (adult). The object here also has a symbolic function and plays the role of the primary sign. In fact, the child's movement toward, and manipulation of, an object, even when he is pursuing the goal of satisfying a vital need, is also simultaneously a sign for an adult: to help, to intervene, to take part. (...) In other words, true communication, communication through signs, takes place here between the adult and the child. An objective act is built up around the object as an object, and sign communication is built up around the same object as the sign. Communication and the objective act coincide completely here, and can be separated only artificially (...)." (Radzikhovskii 1984, 44.)

"The unit defined above should be seen as genetically earlier (in ontogeny), as determining the basic internal sign structure of human activity, and, finally, as a universal unit and a component of individual activity." (Radzikhovskii 1984, 49.)

At the first glance, Radzikhovskii is merely adopting the neo-Meadian conception of activity, exemplified in Trevarthen's model of secondary intersubjectivity (Figure 2.2). However, Radzikhovskii's account of the genesis of 'primary joint action' differs substantially from those of Mead and Trevarthen. For Radzikhovskii, the use of the sign in the primary joint action is non-conscious and completely fused into the action on the object. For Mead, this kind of sign usage is something that precedes the specifically human stage of conscious 'significant gestures'. And Trevarthen's elaborate data shows that up to nine moths the infant's gestures and object-actions are separate,  not fused together. Their combination (not merger) is a developmental achievement, signifying a new level in the child's self-consciousness.

Actually this very same principle was formulated by El'konin in 1971. El'konin pointed out that the dominant thought form in psychology splits development into two mutually disjointed spheres: the need-motivational sphere on the one hand and the cognitive-instrumental sphere on the other hand. The former represents the 'world of people', the latter the 'world of things'. This dichotomous thought form is by no means merely a subjective fancy. It reflects rather accurately, though non-consciously, the historical division of labor within class societies, "rearing certain children primarily as performers of the operational and technical aspects of labor while educating others chiefly as bearers of the objectives and motives of that activity" (El'konin 1977, 552).

"If things are viewed as physical objects and other people as random individuals, then the child's adaptation to these 'two worlds' actually does seem to proceed along two parallel, fundamentally independent lines." (El'konin 1977, 547.)

"If we look at the formation of personality in the system 'child in society,' we can see how the links in the systems 'child-thing' and 'child-individual adult' assume a radically different character. They change from two independent systems into one unified system. And, as a result, the content of each system is essentially changed. When we examine the system 'child-thing' we now see that things, possessing definite physical and spatial properties, appear to the child as social objects: it is the socially evolved modes of action with these objects that predominate." (El'konin 1977, 549.)

It almost seems that Radzikhovskii's description of the 'primary joint action'  might correspond to the actual structure of animal activity preceding humanity in evolutionary terms.  Radzikhovskii's nearly total neglect of the role of material production and material instruments (and their relations to signs and other 'psychological tools') supports this conclusion.

In spite of its rather regressive outcome, Radzikhovskii's attempt is a symptom of the existence of an unsolved problem in the Vygotsky - Leont'ev tradition.

This third lineage, from Vygotsky to Leont'ev, gives birth to the concept of activity based on material production, mediated by technical and psychological tools as well as by other human beings. This is the lineage I'll try to continue and develop. The next task is to derive a model of the structure of human activity through genetic analysis.


The general mode of biological adaptation as the animal form of activity may be depicted as follows (Figure 2.4).

A central tenet embedded in this model is the immediately collective and populational character of animal activity and species development (see Jensen 1981). Species is seen as a systemic formation, as a 'methodology of survival', produced to solve the contradiction between population and nature. In this formation, the prototype and the procedure define each other in a complementary manner.

The adaptive nature of animal activity does not mean passive acquiescence  in the demands and pressures of nature. As Lewontin (1982, 160-161) shows, organisms and environments always penetrate each other in several ways.


Figure 2.4: The general structure of the animal form of activity

"The  importance  of  these  various   forms   of  dialectical  interaction  between   organism   and environment is that we cannot regard evolution as the 'solution' by species of some predetermined environmental 'problems' because it is the life activities of the species themselves that determine both the problems and the solutions simultaneously. (...) Organisms within their individual lifetimes and in the course of their evolution as species do not adapt  to environments; they construct  them." (Lewontin 1982, 162-163.)

On higher levels of animal evolution, we witness ruptures in each of the three sides of the triangle depicted in Figure 2.4. The uppermost side of 'individual survival' is ruptured by the emerging utilization of tools, most clearly demonstrated by the anthropoid apes (see Schurig 1976). The left hand side of 'social life' is ruptured by collective traditions, rituals and  rules, originating at the crossing of adaptation and mating. The right hand side of 'collective survival' is ruptured by division of labor, influenced by the practices of breeding, upbringing and mating, and appearing first as the evolving division of labor between the sexes.

These ruptures cannot be comprehended "simply as a linear process of higher development, but rather as a process in which, under the influence of various different evolutionary factors, differing competing lines of development may have emerged" (Keiler 1981, 150). Anthropoid apes are the prime example of the rupture by tools. Dolphins, with their extraordinary "capacity to organize many individuals into a system which  operates as a whole" (Keiler 1981, 151),  may be a prime example of the ruptures in 'doing together' and 'being together'.

This stage of 'ruptures' is actually the still quite dim transitional field between animal and man. It may be depicted with the help of Figure 2.5.


Figure 2.5: Structure of activity in transition from animal to man

Anthropoid apes do not make and preserve tools systematically. Tool making and tool utilization are still exceptional rather than dominant forms  of their activity. The activity of dolphins may be assessed analogously.

"The fact (...) that the transition from animal psyche to human consciousness is not completed in the case of the dolphins is (...) to be explained by the circumstance that there is no active, instrumentally mediated, appropriation of material reality within the social behaviour of dolphins parallel to the use and preparation of external aids for the completion of operations such as is found in the phylogenetic line of the apes, and which can be seen as an anticipation of human productive (that is, mediated by tools) activity at the animal level. However complex the social life of dolphins may be, the relationships that arise within it are not coordinated by 'the activity of production', they are not determined by it and do not depend upon it." (Keiler 1981, 153.)

The breakthrough into human cultural evolution - into the specifically human form of activity - requires that what used to be separate ruptures or emerging mediators become unified determining factors.  At the same time, what used to be ecological and natural becomes economic and historical. 

"Since intentional action is frequently co-operative and socially regulated in non-human primates, it makes more sense to derive co-operation from social interactions where it already exists than from object-using programs where it does not. Consequently, a theory of the evolution of human technology should place less emphasis on differences in the tool-using capacities between human and apes (important as they are) but ask instead how emergent tool-using capacities become integrated into the domain of intentional social action." (Reynolds 1982, 382; see also Reynolds 1981.)

Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin propose an elegant sketch of this original integration. They point out that humans are the only primate who collect  food to be eaten later. In their mixed economy, the early humans did this both by gathering plants and by scavenging and hunting meat. However, "sharing, not hunting or gathering as such, is what made us human" (Leakey & Lewin 1983, 120).

"(...) the invention of a primitive container - the first carrier bag - transformed the early hominids' subsistence ecology into a food-sharing economy. The digging stick may have come before or after the carrier bag, but, important though it was, it lacked the social impact of the container: the digging stick may have made life easier, but it didn't usher in an entirely new life-style." (Leakey & Lewin 1983, 127.)

Another point of integration was the emergence of collectively organized tool-making, concentrated on steady campsites (Leakey & Lewin 1983, 83; 128).

The paleoanthropological ideas of Leakey and Lewin correspond to the philosophical point made by Peter Ruben.

"Every social system is faced with the analytical problem of dividing the total product into necessary and surplus product. And the regulations created for distribution of these products provide the norms for 'justice' in each system. So the existence of a surplus of labour beyond necessary labour is given  a  priori  in every system of labour, and one can say that sociality, in contrast to individuality, is perceivable exactly in this surplus product. (...) It is the struggle for the surplus product that constituted sociality! (...) Thus, a social mechanism that is especially a mechanism of political domination (...) does not serve as a genetical precondition for bringing about the surplus product, but as a means for its quantitative expansion." (Ruben 1981, 128-129.)

The whole structure of activity is thus reorganized (Figure 2.6).


Figure 2.6: The structure of human activity

The model depicted in Figure 2.6 is a logical continuation of the transitional model depicted in Figure 2.5. What used to be adaptive activity is transformed into consumption and subordinated to the three dominant aspects of human activity - production, distribution and exchange (or communication).

The model suggests the possibility of analyzing a multitude of relations within the triangular structure of activity. However, the essential task is always to grasp the systemic whole, not just separate connections. Here the analysis provided by Karl Marx in the introduction to Grundrisse  is essential.

"Production creates the objects which correspond to the given needs; distribution divides them up according to social laws; exchange further parcels out the already divided shares in accord with individual needs; and finally, in consumption, the product steps outside this social movement and becomes a direct object and servant of individual need, and satisfies it in being consumed. Thus production appears to be the point of departure, consumption as the conclusion, distribution and exchange as the middle (...)." (Marx 1973, 89.)

Marx goes on to show that things are not so simple as this. Production is always also consumption of the individual's abilities and of the means of production. Correspondingly, consumption is also production of the human beings themselves. Furthermore, distribution seems to be not just a consequence of production but also its immanent prerequisite in the form of distribution of instruments of production and distribution of members of the society among the different kinds of production.  Finally, exchange, too, is found inside production, in the form of communication, interaction and exchange of unfinished products between the producers.

Does this mean that the boundaries between the sub-triangles of Figure 2.6 are blurred and eventually given up?

"The conclusion we reach is not that production, distribution, exchange and consumption are identical, but that they all form the members of a totality, distinctions within a unity. Production predominates not only over itself, in the antithetical definition of production, but over the other moments as well. The process always returns to production to begin anew. That exchange and consumption cannot be predominant is self-evident. Likewise, distribution as distribution of products; while as distribution of the agents of production it is itself a moment of production. A definite production thus determines a definite consumption, distribution and exchange as well as definite relations between these different moments.  Admittedly, however, in its one-sided form,  production is itself determined by the other moments. For example if the market, i.e. the sphere of exchange, expands, then production grows in quantity and the divisions between its different branches become deeper. A change in distribution changes production, e.g. concentration of capital, different distribution of the population between town and country, etc. Finally, the needs of consumption determine production. Mutual interaction takes place between the different moments. This is the case with every organic whole." (Marx 1973, 99-100.)

Marx's notions of 'the antithetical definition of production' and of production 'in its one-sided form', especially when applied to the earliest simple forms of societal organization, seem to refer to the double existence of production as both  the whole activity system of Figure 2.6 and  as the uppermost sub-triangle or action-type of that system.   

Take the primordial gatherer-hunters described by Leakey and Lewin. The total practice of their life may be called production in the broad sense. On the other hand, they used only a certain amount of time in gathering and hunting - these may be called production  in the narrow sense. The sharing of the food produced was a distinctive part of their daily life - it may be called distribution.  Having obtained their shares of the food, they ate them - consumption.  Finally, there was "a good deal of spare time" (Leakey & Lewin 1983, 126) used in various forms of social interaction - exchange.

In other words, each sub-triangle in Figure 2.6 is potentially an activity of  its own. Within the total practice of the society, the sub-triangles are initially only actions since their object is still a relatively undifferentiated whole (mainly food) and the temporal, spatial and social boundaries between them are fluid. As Leakey and Lewin (1983, 109) point out, "there are no separate living areas and 'workshop' areas" and, likewise, "no specialists in gatherer-hunter communities". However, demanding tasks such as hunting very early acquire a division of labor of their own and become relatively independent activities, as was shown in Leont'ev's hunting example earlier in this chapter.

In a more complex and differentiated society, there exist a multitude of relatively independent activities, representing all the sub-triangles. But within any such relatively independent activity system, we find the same internal structure  as depicted in Figure 2.6.  Thus, an activity representing for example exchange within the total societal practice (e.g., a leisure-time hobby activity) has within it the sub-triangles of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption. This has the important implication that there is no activity without the component of production;  only actions may be void of it.

The specificity of human production is that it yields more than what goes into the immediate reproduction of the subjects of production. One part of this 'more' is the surplus product that leads to sharing and sociality, discussed by Leakey & Lewin and Ruben above. The other part is the tools and instruments created for and within the process of production.

"From them the process of labor can begin each time anew, and in such way that it is not only a repetition of the same process but a repetition on the basis of changed conditions, i.e., of conditions created and extended by the subjects themselves. (...) with regard to the specificity of the human labor process, this means that it is a process of tendentially extended reproduction." (Damerow, Furth, Heidtmann & Lefèvre 1980, 238.)

In a complex society, 'the antithetical definition of production' refers primarily to the simultaneous existence of productive activity (1) in the form of the total practice of the society and  (2)in the form of the numerous specific productive activities within the same society. Damerow, Furth, Heidtmann and Lefèvre (1980, 241) call the former 'the concrete general labor' and the latter 'the concrete specific labor'. 

The model of Figure 2.6 may now be compared with the four criteria of a root model of human activity, set forth earlier in this chapter.

Firstly, I argue that the model is actually the smallest and most simple unit that still preserves the essential unity and integral quality behind any human activity. The simpler models presented in Figures 2.1 to 2.5 have been shown to be either oversimplifications or representations of genetically earlier forms of activity. Such simplifications may naturally be useful when applied in contexts demanding focussing on or abstraction of certain aspects of human activity. However, reduction requires conscious justification in order not to become distortion.

Secondly,  I maintain that with the help of this model activity can be analyzed in its inner dynamic relations and historical change. However, this claim must be substantiated by using and transforming the model in the analysis of the development of concrete activities. In this chapter, the cultural evolution of learning will serve as such a developmental problem. In Chapters 3 and 4, four historical cases of activity development are analyzed.  Before these analyses can be carried out, the concept of inner contradictions  must be introduced as the source of dynamics and development in human activity (next section).

With regard to the third  and fourth  criteria (activity as a contextual and ecological phenomenon; activity as a mediated phenomenon), the status of the model of Figure 2.6 is rather evident.


The basic internal contradiction of human activity is its dual existence  as the total societal production and  as one specific production among many. This means that any specific production must at the same be independent of and subordinated  to  the total societal production (see Damerow, Furth, Heidtmann & Lefèvre 1980, 240-241). Within the structure of any specific productive activity, the contradiction is renewed as the clash between individual actions and the total activity system. This fundamental contradiction acquires a different historical form in each socio-economic formation.

The fundamental contradiction arises out of the division of labor.

"Divison of labour in a society, and the corresponding tying down of individual to a particular calling, develops itself (...) from opposite starting points. Within a family, and (...) within a tribe, there springs up naturally a division of labour, caused by differences of sex and age, a division that is consequently based on a purely physiological foundation, which division enlarges its materials by the expansion of the community, by the increase of population, and more especially, by the conflicts between different tribes, and the subjugation of one tribe by another. On the other hand, (...) the exchange of products springs up at the points where different families, tribes, communities, come in contact; for, in the beginning of civilization, it is not private individuals but families, tribes etc. that meet on an independent footing. Different communities find different means of production, and different means of subsistence in their natural environment. Hence, their modes of production, and of living, and their products are different. It is this spontaneously developed difference which, when different communities come in contact, calls forth the mutual exchange of products, and the consequent gradual conversion of those products into commodities. Exchange does not create the differences between the spheres of production, but brings what are already different into relation, and thus converts them into more or less interdependent branches of the collective production of an enlarged society. In the latter case, the social division of labour arises from the exchange between spheres of production, that are originally distinct and independent of each other. In the former, where the physiological division of labour is the starting point, the particular organs of a compact whole grow loose and break off, principally owing to the exchange of commodities with foreign communities, and then isolate themselves so far, that the sole bond, still connecting the various kinds of work, is the exchange of the products as commodities. In the one case, it is the making dependent what was before independent; in the other case, the making independent what was before dependent." (Marx 1909, 344-345.)

The two directions or 'opposite starting points', from within  an activityand from between  two activities, are  essential for the emerging  concept of expansion, as will become clear in Chapter 3. Here, I shall focus on the dialectic between independency and subordination.

In pre-capitalist socio-economic formations, the basic contradiction, the subordination of individual producers to the total system of production, took the form of immediately visible personal suppression by force,  be it exercised by slave-owners or feudal lords.

"The less social power the medium of exchange possesses (and at this stage it is still closely bound to the nature of the direct product of labour and the direct needs of the partners in exchange) the greater must be the power of the community which binds the individuals together, the patriarchal relation, the community of antiquity, feudalism and the guild system. (...) Relations of personal dependence (entirely spontaneous at the outset) are the first social forms in which human productive capacity develops only to a slight extent and at isolated points." (Marx 1973, 157-158.)

In capitalism, the contradiction acquires the general form of commodity.  Commodity is an object that possesses value  (i.e., exchange value),  not only and not primarily use value..  The value of the commodity is basically determined by the average necessary amount of social labour needed for its production. This entails "the reduction of all phenomena to 'labour in general', to labour devoid of all qualitative differences" (Ilyenkov 1982, 97). 

"As a general rule, articles of utility become commodities only because they are products of the labour of private individuals or groups of individuals who carry on their work independently of each other. (...) Since the producers do not come into social contact with each other until they exchange their products, the specific social character of each producer's labour does not show itself except in the act of exchange. (...) It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire, as values, one uniform social status, distinct from their varied forms of existence as objects of utility. This division of a product into a useful thing and a value becomes practically important only when exchange has acquired such an extension that useful articles are produced for the purpose of being exchanged, and their character as values has therefore to be taken into account, beforehand, during production. From this moment the labour of the individual producer acquires socially a two-fold character. On the one hand, it must, as a definite useful kind of labour, satisfy a definite social want, and thus hold its place as part and parcel of the collective labour of all, as a branch of a social division of labour that has sprung up spontaneously. On the other hand, it can satisfy the manifold wants of the individual producer himself, only in so far as the mutual exchangeability of all kinds of useful private labour is an established social fact, and therefore the private useful labour of each producer ranks on an equality with that of all others." (Marx 1909, 44.)

In capitalism, all things, activities and relations become saturated by the dual nature of commodity - they become commodified. The relation between individual actions and collective activity, between specific productions and the total production, is transformed accordingly.

"The reciprocal and all-sided dependence of individuals who are indifferent to one another forms their social connection. This social bond is expressed in exchange value,  by means of which alone each individual's own activity or his product becomes an activity and a product for him; he must produce a general product - exchange value,  or, the latter isolated for itself and individualized, money.  On the other side, the power which each individual exercises over the activity of others or over social wealth exists in him as the owner of exchange values,  of money. The individual carries his social power, as well as his bond with society, in his pocket. Activity, regardless of its individual manifestation, and the product of activity, regardless of its particular make-up, are always exchange value,  and exchange value is a generality, in which all individuality and peculiarity are negated and extinguished. (...)

The social character of activity, as well as the social form of the product, and the share of individuals in production here appears as something alien and objective, confronting the individuals, not as their relation to one another, but as their subordination to relations which subsist independently of them and which arise out of collisions between mutually indifferent individuals. The general exchange of activities and products, which has become a vital condition for each individual - their mutual interconnection - here appears as something alien to them, autonomous, as a thing. In exchange value, the social connection between persons is transformed into a social relation between things; personal capacity into objective wealth." (Marx 1973, 156-157.) 

The essential contradiction is the mutual exclusion and simultaneous mutual dependency of use value and exchange value in each commodity. This double nature   and inner unrest is characteristic to all the corners of the triangular structure of activity. It penetrates the subject and community corners because labour force itself is a special kind of commodity.

Leont'ev realised this contradiction as a necessary precondition for a scientific study of activity in capitalism.

"Everything acquires a dual aspect under the dominance of private ownership of the means of production, viz., both man's own activity and the world of objects around him.

(...) The doctor who buys a practice in some little provincial place may be very seriously trying to reduce his fellow citizens' suffering from illness, and may see his calling in just that. He must, however, want the number of the sick to increase, because his life and practical opportunity to follow his calling depend on that.

(...) The penetration of these relations into consciousness also finds psychological reflection in a 'disintegration' of its general structure characterised by the rise of an estrangement between the senses and meanings in which the world around man and his own life are refracted for him." (Leontyev 1981, 254-255.)

This is not just a subsidiary aspect for Leont'ev.

"To ignore these peculiarities and remove them from the context of psychological research is to deprive psychology of historical concreteness, converting it into a science solely of the psyche of an abstract man, of 'man in general'." (Leontyev 1981, 255.)

Moreover, it is a question of a real contradiction, not of one-dimensional repression and alienation. In other words, there are competing opposite forces within the capitalist labor activity  - positive as well as negative.

"(a) It (labour, Y.E.) is positive as the means of his activity. They constitute real wealth, the 'technical' side, so to speak, of his life; it is the wealth of knowledge, skills and know-how that he must possess in order to perform his labour activity.

(b) It is positive as a condition of the enriching of his life with a new content quite different to that proper of his alienated activity, but nevertheless engendered precisely by it. The worker in a capitalist mill not only alienates his labour; he enters into relations with other people in that way (...)." (Leontyev 1981, 256.)

Marx points out this positive perspective in a more global fashion.

"Since (...) the autonomization of the world market (in which the activity of each individual is included) increases with the development of monetary relations (exchange value) and vice versa, since the general bond and all-round interdependence in production and consumption increase together with the independence and indifference of the consumers and producers to one another; since this contradiction leads to crises, etc., hence, together with the development of this alienation, and on the same basis, efforts are made to overcome it: institutions emerge whereby each individual can acquire information about the activity of all others and attempt to adjust his own accordingly, e.g. lists of current prices, rates of exchange, interconnections between those active in commerce through the mails, telegraphs etc. (the means of communication of course grow at the same time). (...) Although on the given standpoint, alienation is not overcome by these means, nevertheless relations and connections are introduced thereby which include the possibility of suspending the old standpoint." (Marx 1973, 160-161.)

Marx goes on to emphasize that the objective social bond of exchange value  and market is a historical product brought about by the individuals. It is a necessary intermediate stage, producing not only alienation of the individual from himself and from others,  but "also the universality and the comprehensiveness of his relations and capacities" (Marx 1973, 162). Thus, it would be ridiculous romanticism to yearn for a return to an imaginary 'original fullness'. 

Internal contradictions find their outward expressions in external ones. The latter are no less real, but derivative in genetic terms (see Ilyenkov 1977, 334-335). In the analysis of human activity, four levels or layers of contradictions may be discerned. These levels may be illustrated with the help of Figure 2.7, an elaboration of the model of activity depicted in Figure 2.6.

The primary contradiction of activities in capitalist socio-economic formations lives as the inner conflict between exchange value and use value within each corner of the triangle of activity.

The secondary contradictions are those appearing between the corners. The stiff hierarchical division of labor lagging behind and preventing the possibilities opened by advanced instruments is a typical example.

The tertiary contradiction appears when representatives of culture (e.g., teachers) introduce the object and motive of a culturally more advanced form of the central activity into the dominant form of the central activity. For example, the primary school pupil goes to school in order to play with his mates (the dominant motive), but the parents and the teacher try to make him study seriously (the culturally more advanced motive). The culturally more advanced object and motive may also be actively sought by the subjects of the central activity themselves.

The quaternary contradictions require that we take into consideration the essential 'neighbour activities' linked with the central activity which is the original object of our study.

The 'neighbour activities' include first  of all the activities where the immediately appearing objects and outcomes of the central activity are embedded (let's call them object-activities). Secondly,  they include the activities that produce the key instruments for the central activity (instrument-producing activities), the most general representatives being  science and art. Thirdly,  they include activities like education and schooling of the subjects of the central activity (subject-producing activities). Fourthly, they include activities like administration and legistlation (rule-producing activities). Naturally the 'neighbour activities' also include central activities which are in some other way, for a longer or shorter period, connected or related to the given central activity, potentially hybridizing each other through their exchanges.


Figure 2.7: Four levels of contradictions within the human activity system
Level 1: Primary inner contradiction (double nature) within  each constituent component of the central activity.
Level 2:  Secondary contradictions between  the constituents of the central activity.
Level 3: Tertiary contradiction between  the object/motive of the dominant form of the central activity and the object/motive of a culturally more advanced form of the central activity.
Level 4: Quaternary contradictions between  the central activity and   its  neighbour activities.


Now the quaternary contradictions are those that emerge between the central activity and the neighbouring activity in their interaction. Conflicts and resistances appearing in the course of the 'implementation' of the outcomes of the central activity in the system of the object-activity are a case in point.

The work activity of physicians in primary medical care (general practitioners) may serve as an illustration of the four levels of contradictions.

The primary contradiction, the dual nature of use value and exchange value, may be analyzed by focusing on any of the corners of the 'central activity' of the doctor. For example, instruments  of this work activity include a tremendous variety of medicaments and drugs. But they are not just useful preparations - they are above all commodities with prices, manufactured for a market, advertised and sold for profit. Every doctor faces this contradiction in his daily decision making.

A typical secondary contradiction in this work activity would be the conflict between the traditional biomedical conceptual instruments concerning the classification of diseases and correct diagnosis on the one hand and  the changing nature of the objects,  namely the increasingly ambivalent and complex problems and symptoms of the patients. These problems more and more often do not comply with the standards of classical diagnosis and nomenclature. They require an integrated social, psychological and biomedical approach which may  not yet exist.

A tertiary contradiction arises when, say, the administrators of the medical care system order the practitioners to employ certain new procedures corresponding to the ideals of a more wholistic and integrated medicine. The new procedures may be formally implemented, but probably still subordinated to and resisted by the old general form of the activity.

Suppose that a doctor, working on such a new wholistic and integrated basis, orders or suggests that the patient shall accept a new habit or conception and  change his way of life in some respect. The patient may react with resistance. This is an instance of the quaternary contradictions. The patient's way of life or his 'health behavior' is here the object-activity.  If patients are regarded as abstract symptoms and diseases, isolated from their activity contexts, it will be impossible to grasp the developmental dynamics of the central activity, too.

Contradictions are not just inevitable features of activity. They are "the principle of its self-movement and (...) the form in which the development is cast" (Ilyenkov 1977, 330).  This means that new qualitative stages and forms of activity emerge as solutions to the contradictions of the preceding stage of form. This in turn takes place in the form of 'invisible breakthroughs'.

"In reality it always happens that a phenomenon which later becomes universal originally emerges as an individual, particular, specific phenomenon, as an exception from the rule. It cannot actually emerge in any other way.  Otherwise history would have a rather mysterious form.

Thus, any new improvement of labour, every new mode of man's action in production, before becoming generally accepted and recognised, first emerge as a certain deviation from previously accepted and codified norms. Having emerged as an individual exception  from the rule in the labour of one or several men, the new form is then taken over by others, becoming in time a new universal norm.  If the new norm did not originally appear in this exact manner, it would never become a really universal form, but would exist merely in fantasy, in wishful thinking." (Ilyenkov 1982, 83-84.)

After this important conclusion, Ilyenkov proceeds by pointing out that in thinking, a truly developed concept "directly includes in it a conception of the dialectics of the transformation of the individual and the particular into the universal" (Ilyenkov 1982, 84). Recall here Leont'ev's point about the development of individual actions into activity. Leont'ev spoke of "reflecting the relation of the motive of a given, concrete activity to the motive of a wider activity". This kind of 'reflecting' is actually the same thing as Ilyenkov's 'developed concept'. They are both preliminary formulations of the psychological and epistemological substance of learning activity.

In Chapter 3, I shall elaborate further on the analysis of contradictions as successive forms of the expansive development of a new activity.


 "'Learning activity' cannot be invented or simply be found by chance and afterwards be shaped into systematic theoretical concepts.

Nor does 'learning activity' represent a pedagogical idea as such, that can be explained in terms of the history of pedagogical thinking, for instance in terms of 'self-activity' in Renaissance pedagogy.

Nor is 'learning activity' being developed out of learning in school in some evolutionary and immanent way, as for example out of growing complexity of the organization and institution of instruction and school.

'Learning activity' rather represents a fundamentally new type of learning in school, being fundamentally opposite to a thousand-year-old tradition of learning in school." (Fichtner 1985, 47.)

In other words, the concept of learning activity can only be constructed through a historical analysis of the inner contradictions of the presently dominant forms of societally organized human learning.

The original forms of human learning are those where learning appears predominantly as an unintentional and inseparable aspect of the basic work activity (Alt 1975; Wilhelmer 1979).  In terms of activity theory, this kind of incidental learning consists of non-conscious learning operations, embedded in the daily participation in joint work.

The emergence of first distinct, specialized forms of transmisson of knowledge and experience brings about the first conscious learning actions. Three such early forms of transmission may be identified.

The first is situated in the uppermost subtriangle 'production' within the structure of Figure 2.6. Fichtner (1985, 49) calls it "the transmission of handicrafts". It is embedded in the immediate context of productive work and directed to the single person, the individual apprentice. The second form of early transmission is situated in the subtriangle 'distribution'. It is essentially learning to divide and control the production and distribution of surplus; it could be called 'the apprenticeship of power' - not surprisingly the least well known of the three forms of primitive transmission. Finally, the third form of early transmission is situated in the subtriangle 'exchange'. Initiation ceremonies are a typical example of this form.

"(...) here, systematic instruction is disconnected from 'seriousness' and from any connection to everyday life and working in a spatial and temporal way. (...) Nothing is produced here, there is only demonstration of how to behave. This 'demonstrating' can appear in quite different ways, but it is always directed to behavior in its social dimension (...) never orientated to a single person but always to the whole group." (Fichtner 1985, 49-50.)

These three early forms of transmission generate such specific learning actions as 'conscious imitation', 'conscious memorizing' and 'conscious trial-and-error'. This does not mean that such 'higher-order' cognitive performances as forming and testing hypotheses do not exist. They do take place (see Leakey & Lewin 1983, 102-105), but not as actions aimed specifically at learning. Rather, they appear as actions aimed at solving problems of the production, distribution and exchange themselves - not as actions aimed at learning  to solve those problems. Specific learning actions are actions where 'the subject is consciously aware of the object of the action as an object of learning', to paraphrase Zinchenko. Thus, learning actions (even those of the first form of transmission),  are already 'off-line' from the viewpoint of the immediate aims of work activity. For that very reason, they remain relatively simple. Complicated reflective actions may be necessary in exceptional situations of the work activity. But it would be irrational to train novices with learning tasks of such exceptional kind.

From this point on, the cultural evolution of human learning must be analyzed in a differentiated manner. The prerequisites of the emergence of learning as an independent activity system may be found by tracing the formation of learning actions within historically earlier types of societal activity. In the preceding sections, I sketched  three theoretical lineages leading to the concept of activity. In the following, I shall consider three activity types as  practical lineages  leading to the formation of learning activity. These three are the activity of school-going, the activity of work, and the activities of science and art.

School is the central socially organized institution which proclaims human learning as its objective. Schooling, or school-going as I shall here call it, is therefore an obvious candidate for the birthplace of learning activity.

However, as I pointed out above, learning originally takes place as an unintentional and inseparable aspect of the basic work activity. Learning at the workplace has continued its own line of development relatively independently of formal schooling. The historical transition from craft apprenticeship to industrial wage-labor is often regarded one-dimensionally as gradual elimination of the learning potential of work. Yet recent empirical studies have seriously challenged this view, making work activity another candidate demanding closer analysis.

Learning has been characterized as a search for truth and beauty. On the other hand, science and art define themselves as activities dedicated to the search of those very same values. The difference between science/art and learning is commonly seen in that the former produce  truth and beauty while the latter reproduces  them. In the ideal case, it is said, learning also reproduces in essence the course of scientific/artistic production. This implies that human learning at its best is a simplified reproduction of scientific research and artistic creation. This gives us sufficient grounds to consider science and art as the third candidate for the birthplace of learning activity.  

The first lineage: Learning within school-going

The early forms of transmission are not yet schools. We know that during the past two thousand years or so, school has been the increasingly dominant  organizational form of human learning. Two questions arise. First:  What  made schooling necessary? Second: What is the relationship between schooling and learning activity?

To understand the emergence of schooling, we must return to the difference between primary and secondary instruments. As long as the secondary instruments - those "used in the preservation and transmission of the acquired skills or modes of action" (Wartofsky) - remain specific representations, their transmission and acquisition can be carried out by means of discrete learning actions of the types named above. But the situation changes dramatically as soon as a truly general  secondary instrument appears. Written language, more specifically that based on the phonetic alphabet, is such a general instrument.

"Using a phonetic alphabet, writing was radically separated from each figurative symbolism. It has become a system of signs, no longer representing things but words in such a way that words are visually present all at once, can be divided into segments and be put together again. (...) The letters of the phonetic alphabet no longer are symbols for facts, objects of a natural, social or divine order, but they are symbols for a process, namely symbols for the process of human speech.

So there is no object being expressed but a relation to an object. Now it is possible to note down anything you can talk about. In principle, the system gets constructive by this simple possibility to combine." (Fichtner 1985, 50.)

Schools do indeed appear wherever people start reading and writing. In their very generality, reading and writing are such abstract or indirect instruments that they cannot be learned by simply participating in work activity. Writing seems to have been invented to help debit deliveries, register credits and compensations, stockpile and determine quantities of goods, write down capacities, volumes, amounts, sizes, incomes, etc. (see Schmandt-Besserat 1978).

"Writing and reading soon grow to an administrative skill which can no longer be learnt spontaneously. (...) 'Workshops for writing and reading' very early develop into writers' schools and then into writing schools which then do not only give instruction in the skilled techniques of reading and writing but also - to a certain extent - their contents. (...) To a remarkable extent, instruction and school emerge, being fully developed and perfected, at the very same time as do written language and the necessity of its transmission." (Fichtner 1985, 49.)

Much good research has been made on the psychological consequences of literacy ( e.g., Coulmas & Ehlich 1982; Havelock 1976; Olson, Torrance & Hildyard 1985; Ong 1982; Scribner & Cole 1981). Research of this kind has revealed impressive powers peculiar to written language. In contrast to oral culture, written language entails a distinct tendency to decontextualization, to definiteness and expliciteness. Language acquires an autonomous, self-sufficient mode of existence - it becomes text. The storing, transport and transmission of knowledge are greatly enhanced. Phonetical writing opens up the metalingustic function of language. Due to its fixed nature, text brings forth reflective awareness and  analysis of language. This property makes possible important strides in the development of logical thinking.

One could think that such a powerful instrument would make schools centers of critical, productive and experimental activity - that all doors would be opened for imagination and reflective thinking. But this was not the case. Learning remained "reproductive and receptive" (Fichtner 1985, 51).

"(...) neither the traditional wisdom peddled by the rhetoricians, not the theoretical analysis of the philosophers, could contribute at all usefully to the solution of contemporary problems. (...) Except for the fact that it guaranteed literacy and certain habits of industry and ordered thought, education impeded rather than helped its possessors in the world of affairs (...). They (the Athenian educators; Y.E.) remained blind to the fact that the continued existence of their world turned upon the effective exercise of many skills; they overvalued the politician's arts and underestimated the growing consequence of administrative, economic, and technical achievement." (Bolgar 1969, 48-49.)

But this 'betrayal' of the potentialities of text was not restricted to the schools of the Hellenistic age. It was not caused only by conditions 'external' to the instrument of written language. To the contrary, the subsequent history of schooling in the Middle Ages testifies to the the double-edged character of the text itself.

"The concentration of the 'humaniora' on grammar, rhetoric and - above all - on dialectic, that is, the concentration on the most general level of language seems very formal and to be supported by a concept of knowledge to which all reality is text. I would like to regard this as the kernel of the Middle Ages' literacy. It forms a tight, figurative unity of formal symbols, the content and the analogies connecting these symbols and the objects. In this figurative unity, knowledge is - in principle - static and non-changeable analogies.

For the Middle Ages, the identity of knowledge and text at the same time is the adequate form of the obligations of knowledge itself. What really happened in instruction, especially in the faculty arts, seems to correspond to this static conception. In the European Middle Ages, knowledge is understanding texts. Getting to know reality means to learn what authorities wrote about it. The recitation of texts is the most important means of communication of scientific knowledge.

It forces a memorizing of what has been heard and enormous techniques of recollection, especially when it wasn't allowed to make notes. Learning is a continuous memorizing of given patterns, a moulding of an exemplary universality on the single, individual intellect: Learning is 'imitatio'. The constancy  of knowledge is equivalent to a likewise non-developability of the learning person. (...) The central principle in the medieval instruction, 'simultaneity', is an expression of just this non-developability of both, subject and object of learning." (Fichtner 1985, 53-54.)

Written text thus becomes the central pillar of a static, hierarchical world view, somehow very foreign to the critical potentialities of written language listed above.

"The paradox lies in the fact that the deadness of the text, its removal from the living human lifeworld, its rigid visual fixity, assures its endurance and its potential for being resurrected into limitless living contexts by a potentially infinite number of living readers." (Ong 1982, 81.)

In a similar vein, Leroi-Gourhan (1980, 264) speaks of the tendency of written text to  "narrow down the images,  to linearize the symbols rigorously", which eventually also means "an impoverishment of the means for  expressing  irrational moments".

It may be argued that the emergence of modern science, of the printing press,  and of capitalism changed everything.  According to Fichtner, the essential revolution was that of 'setting free' the medieval signs, the decomposition of the seemingly absolute identity of sign and the denotation, of knowledge and the way it is represented.

"In a way, signs now have their new positions again and again, and that happens by active cognition. (...) Signs become means to develop ideas and - more important - means to shape ideas. On the other hand, reality as such can be organized in a quite new constructive way: as empiricism. (...) The manifold forms of standardizing knowledge enable and facilitate its development. Tables, schedules, curves, maps, diagrams and models allow - to a previously unknown extent - to detect contradictions, to discover and record relationships but also to make changes and supplements, to clear off open points and errors." (Fichtner 1985, 55.)

Fichtner (1985, 54) argues that this implies a general change in the attitude toward knowledge. Knowledge becomes something to be developed, implying "a concept of cognition as a process of knowledge-construction".

It seems to me that accounts like that of Fichtner's are basically correct in regard with the rather narrow 'learned communities' of science and letters. But I think these accounts underestimate the inertia inherent in text, especially as it continues to function within the schooling of  masses. This point is rather nicely summarized by Elizabeth Eisenstein in her discussion on the printing press as an agent of change.

"Image worship gave way to bibliolatry among the masses of faithful in Protestant lands. At the same time, men of learning (whether Protestant or Catholic) often became less certain than earlier scholars had been about the literal meaning of the sacred word." (Eisenstein 1985, 21.)

Thus, if we consider the basic forms of organized learning,  not primarily scientific and artistic activities, a different picture emerges. 'Bibliolatry' is a fitting term in this context.

"Cathecisms and textbooks presented 'facts' or their equivalents: memorizable, flat statements that told straight-forwardly and inclusively how matters stood in a given field." (Ong 1982, 134.)

No doubt the emergence of general obligatory school systems in the 19th century signaled a major change in the nature of education and school learning. School-going became an activity required of each and every new member of the society. Instead of church and religion, education oriented to science emerged as the integrating force of society, as the new and higher form of generality. This meant that, for the first time in history, all people had to learn to carry out certain voluntary and disciplined learning actions.

Still I maintain that the general transition to modernity and public schooling has not  been a qualitative breakthrough into learning activity. The seemingly endless stream of literature on the crisis and obsoleteness of school learning should be taken as a first symptomatic indication in favor of this claim.

But it would also be incorrect to blame the inherent properties of text for the quality of schooling. Scribner and Cole (1981) have convincingly demonstrated that literacy, mastery of written language, may be acquired  also without school-going and literacy alone does not have the same cognitive consequences as literacy through schooling. So far, I have merely endeavoured to point out the double-edged nature of text as an instrument. The task is now to place this instrument in the general context of the activity of school-going.

According to Sharp, Cole and Lave (1979), the cognitive effects of schooling are found in tasks emphasizing paradigmatic  relations between words and demanding readiness to solve problems 'for their own sake', independent of their relationship to problem solving outside the school. This conclusion is substantiated by recent studies comparing people's performances in everyday problem tasks and in school-like tasks with analogous structure.

"There appear to be discontinuities between problem-solving in the supermarket and arithmetic problem-solving in school. School problems seem designed primarily to elicit the learning and display of procedures, using set inputs. School lessons are fraught with difficulty and failure for many students. On the other hand, extraordinarily successful arithmetic activity takes place in situations outside school. (...) Researchers in the Adult Math Project discovered that all  participants had poor opinions of their arithmetic practices in everyday settings. They apologized for not doing what they called 'real math' - the math taught in school. This is especially interesting in the face of their extraordinary arithmetic efficacy in kitchen and supermarket." (Lave 1985, 174.)

The essential peculiarity of school-going  as the activity of pupils is the strange 'reversal' of object and instrument. In societal practice text (including the text of arithmetic algorithms) appears as a general secondary instrument. In school-going, text takes the role of the object. This object is molded by pupils in a curious manner: the outcome of their activity is above all the same text reproduced and modified orally or in written form (summarized, classified, organized, recombined, and applied in a strictly predetermined manner to solve well-structured, 'closed' problems). As Gladwin (1985, 209) says, "school takes away the sense of problem and substitutes hierarchies of abstraction".

"On the whole, the general scheme of such education is the same as that of the Middle Ages when a literate master transferred his utilitarian skills to his apprentices. Generally, the master himself did not realize in what way these skills appeared,  on what basis they can be actually universal and applicable in all the situations, or how to find the possibilities of application of these skills in unexpected situations unlike those in which they had been mastered. As for the pupils, they received from their teacher the ready form of notions and skills without asking themselves about the universal premises of their emergence and formation. Besides, they master these notions by way of continuous excercises, adapting themselves to their ready models (...).

Such education is a form of practical  interaction of children and adults oriented to mastering ready utilitarian results of previous human activity. Naturally, the very means of obtaining these results, the very means of comprehending the condition of their origin and further formation remain outside both teacher's and pupil's consciousness and outside the real educational process." (Davydov 1982, 39.)

This has two important implications. First, since the dominant task is to reproduce and modify the given text, the role of the text in the societal practice, in the activity systems where it is created and used, is necessarily of peripheral importance. In other words, text becomes a closed world, a dead object cut off from its living context. Second, since text is not employed as instrument, a chronic 'instrumental poverty' arises in school-going.  Dominant primary instruments are pencils and pens, erasers and notebooks. Dominant secondary instruments are formal study techniques. If texts were treated as living object-systems (as in literary criticism and historical research, for example), the ridiculous inadequacy of these instruments would be readily transparent.

In capitalism, these features of the activity of school-going are further determined by the primary contradiction of this socio-economic formation, the double nature of commodity as a unity of value and use value. The constituent elements of this activity appear to the pupil in two competing forms. Thus, the object 'text' has a twofold meaning. First of all, it is a dead object to be reproduced for the purpose of gaining grades or other 'success markers' which cumulatively determine the future value of the pupil himself in the labor market.  On the other hand, text tendentially also appears as a living instrument of mastering one's own relation to society outside the school. In this respect, the school text possesses potential use value. As the object of the activity is also its true motive, the inherently dual nature of the motive of school-going is now visible.

The structure of the activity of school-going in capitalism may be depicted with the help of a diagram (Figure 2.8). Notice that when I here and later speak of capitalism, I do not imply that analogous contradictions would disappear in socialism. But I do imply that we cannot dump these two socio-economic formations under one rubric of 'industrialized societies'. The inner contradictions of activities in socialism require their own analysis.

Figure 2.8: The primary contradiction of the activity of school-going

In the activity of school-going, certain learning actions are cultivated systematically. But as a whole, school-going is a far cry from learning activity. Pupils remain subjects of separate learning actions, not of a whole system of learning activity.

The essential difference is to be found in the object. My contention is that the object of learning activity cannot be reduced to text. Such a reduction normally leads to the minimization of the productivity of learning (text as a dead object), and even in the best case to the narrowing down of productivity into intellectualism (production of text only).

But who says learning should or could be productive? Is it not enough that we solve the problem of internalization, as Bereiter urges us to do? Are there really some objective grounds or forces which justify the claim that a new productive type of human learning is about to emerge? And if so, what will be the object of this new learning activity?

The inner contradiction of school-going, depicted in Figure 2.8, produces continuously also 'deviant' pupil actions toward the use-value aspect of this activity.  The history of the school is also a history of inventing tricks for beating the system, and of protesting and breaking out. But although these actions are age-old, they have not expanded into a new type of activity - into learning activity. No doubt the inner contradiction of school-going becomes increasingly aggravated as today's pupils are at an early age intensively drawn into the market as relatively independent consumers, even as producers of exchange values (as computer hackers, as sport stars and performers, etc.). When the pupils' direct participation in the societal production is intensified, the 'holding power' of the school is endangered.  In this respect, school-going may well be approaching a crisis of new qualitative dimensions. Whether this will mean a breakthrough into learning activity in school - that remains to be seen.

The contradictions and forces leading to learning activity obviously cannot be found exclusively within school-going. The school does not have a monopoly of organized human learning. To the contrary, the preceding analysis indicates that learning within school has remained and is likely to remain with remarkable persistence a series of more or less disconnected though systematically repeated learning actions (for a nice historical specimen on the persistence of recitation, see Hoetker & Ahlbrand 1969; for a general historical account, see Cuban 1984). These are complemented by equally disconnected 'deviant' and emancipatory actions. The symptoms of a deeper qualitative change in school learning are still premature.

Learning actions appear with increasing frequency within other activities, too. Two such fundamental activity types are work  activity on the one hand and the activities of scientific research  and artistic creation  on the other hand.

The second lineage: Learning within work activity

While schools are organized around the instrument of written language,  learning continues within work practice, too. Learning on the job is usually considered inferior to learning in school: more restricted, even crippling in its adherence to fixed routines. This conception gains impetus as industrialization, mechanization and Taylorization wipe out the traditional handworkers' craftsmanship.

"Not as with the instrument, which the worker animates and makes into his organ with his skill and strength, and whose handling therefore depends on his virtuosity. Rather, it is the machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it (...). The worker's activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of the machinery, and not the opposite. The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker's consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power, as the power of the machine itself." (Marx 1973, 692-693.)

In the sociology of work, theories of alienation, dequalification and polarization of the labor force gradually become the dominant credo, presented masterfully in Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital  (1974) - with the telling subtitle The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century.

Theories of dequalification and polarization are based on the tacit assumption that the qualifications of different kinds of work can be compared and quantitatively measured with a common universal yardstick. Thus, it is always a question of 'higher' or 'lower', 'more' or 'less' qualified work. In closer scrutiny, the criterion of measurement (often characterized  as 'autonomy' or 'variety of tasks') turns out to be taken from the ideal model of handicraft. Against this background, it is naturally found that in modern mechanized or automated factory the workers' qualifications are 'lower' than in handwork. In other words, there really is very little left of the original quality of handicraft. In that meaning, work has indeed been 'degraded'. But this argumentation is based on a rear-mirror perspective. The qualification comparisons and prognoses remain abstract and hollow,  and very vulnerable empirically. They have about the same theoretical status as a comparison stating that medieval serfs were 'more free'/'less free' than ancient Roman slaves. The possibility that something qualitatively new  might be developing in the new form of industrial work, replacing the vanishing handwork qualifications, is tacitly set aside. What really would be needed is a qualitatively new yardstick for the new type of work.

This new yardstick is to be found in the radically  increased societal character  and productivity of work. In terms of activity theory, this means that in industrial capitalism it is increasingly difficult for the individual worker to grasp and master the total work activity in which he performs only comparatively small subordinated actions. The sheer volume as well as the technological, economic and organizational complexity of the production process of the plant or firm seem to be absolutely overwhelming for an individual. The whole machinery seems to run by itself, directed by scientific management and planning far beyond the reach of the worker. This immediate appearance gives plenty of nourishment for theories of dequalification.

But strangely enough, theories of dequalification and polarization have all but collapsed within the last five years or so. Ten years after Braverman's book, the so far leading European proponents of polarization theory, Horst Kern and Michael Schumann, after a new cycle of comprehensive empirical  data collection,  made a full break with their earlier stance and published a book named The End of Division of Labor?  (1984).  And this is not a lonely phenomenon, rather a symbol of the general turn of the tide, started already a few years earlier (see Wood 1982; for a review of literature, see Wood 1987). What has caused this change?

"(...) to the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose 'powerful effectiveness' is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production. (...) Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself. (What holds for machinery holds likewise for the combination of human activities and the development of human intercourse.) No longer does the worker insert a modified natural thing [Naturgegenstand  ] as middle link between the object [Objekt ] and himself; rather, he inserts the process of nature, transformed into an industrial process, as a means between himself and inorganic nature, mastering it. He steps to the side of production process instead of being its chief actor. In this transformation, it is neither the direct human labour he himself performs, nor the time during which he works, but rather the appropriation of his own general productive power, his understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence as a social body - it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth. The theft of alien labour time, on which the present wealth is based,  appears as a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large-scale industry itself. As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labour of the mass  has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few,  for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down (...). Capital itself  is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. (...) On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labour time employed on it. On the other side, it wants to use labour time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value." (Marx 1973, 704-706.)

This aspect in Marx's visionary analysis is regularly neglected by theorists of dequalification. Is there any real basis to it?

Consider the nuclear power plant accident at Three Mile Island in 1979.

"A nuclear reactor has been described as a very complicated way to boil water. One of the key problems is controlling the immense heat generated by nuclear fission. A nuclear power plant therefore is an elaborate plumbing system of intricate water and steam pipes designed to draw off the excess heat not used to drive the steam turbine and generate electricity.

The accident at Three Mile Island began when two water pumps failed, causing water temperature and pressure inside the reactor to soar. A feedback device correctly shut down the reactor, but the excess heat triggered several other breakdowns that intensified the threat to the entire system. A relief valve, which automatically opened to vent excess steam, remained stuck in the open position. Inside the reactor core, steam was interfering with the primary cooling system, leaving the hot core partly uncovered, and threatening the ultimate disaster, a meltdown.

All of these events happened within the first few minutes of the accident. This was an entirely unanticipated emergency of multiple, accelerating breakdowns involving high  temperature and low  pressure. It overwhelmed both the computer and the human workers in the TMI control room. More than a hundred different alarm lights lit up the control board, each signaling a different malfunction. By midmorning, the computer had a three hour backlog of data waiting to be printed out, which workers desperately needed in order to determine the cause of the breakdown, the extent of the damage, and the corrective measures that were still possible. At one point, the computer began printing out question marks. Workers frantically leafed through the 'Emergency Procedures' manuals, but this particular emergency had not been foreseen. It was several hours before workers and engineers sorted out what had happened." (Hirschhorn 1982, 42-43.)

One clear conclusion from the accident is that "insufficient, rote training produced workers who could not adapt to the demands of an emergency which the system did not anticipate" (Hirschhorn 1982, 44).

"(...) workers in cybernated systems cannot function as passive machine tenders, looking to instruction manuals for the appropriate response. This suggests an entirely new definition of work in a post-industrial setting. Skills can no longer be defined in terms of a particular set of actions, but as a general ability to understand how a system functions and to think flexibly in trying to solve problems.

At Three Mile Island, of course, workers were inflexible in their conceptual approach, because they had been trained to be inflexible. Notwithstanding the new technology and new demands on the workforce, managers and engineers in traditional industries remain highly reluctant to introduce workers to questions of system design, or to train workers to think conceptually beyond a limited list of specified responses to anticipated problems.

(...) Real accidents, however, often procede through a train of events, a set of interdependent failures (where one failure increases the probability that another will occur) and in interaction with the workers." (Hirschhorn 1982, 45.)

What is the general weight of an argument based on such an extreme case? Hirschhorn (1982, 46) points out two pertinent facts. Firstly, "increasingly, manufacturing is placing workers in the control room rather than on the assembly line". Secondly, "just as workers must respond to emergencies, so must they be ready to control the controls when new machinery is introduced or new products are manufactured".

This kind of development raises the inner contradictions of work up to the surface.

"The logic of the post-industrial workplace leaves both management and labor in a paradoxical position. Management's traditional interest in keeping control requires workers with limited skills and aspirations. But to protect their machinery, management needs highly skilled workers who are trained to think independently.

(...) Effective training might require teams: in a crisis like the Three Mile Island emergency, for example, where the crucial need is accurate diagnosis, each worker needs to have some familiarity with the tasks and skills of other workers. Otherwise the diagnostic process breaks down. (...) But work teams tend to flatten hierarchy and challenge traditional management notions of supervision and control.

Like managers, trade unionists also find themselves in a contradictory position. Worker solidarity requires unions to emphasize the class divide that separates workers and managers, but in doing so unions underplay the professional character of control room work. At the same time, unions need to protect the skills and increase the competence of workers to prevent demoralization and vulnerability in the face of technological change." (Hirschhorn 1982, 46-47.)


Marx pointed out that labour time 'appears as a miserable foundation' in conditions of automation. The idea of cost-effectiveness, of squeezing out more 'output' per hour, is indeed a miserable foundation for managing production processes like the one at Three Mile Island.

The release of methyl isocyanite (MIC) at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal India on the night of December 2, 1984, killed and blinded thousands of people. This catastrophe makes it abundantly clear why the saving of labour time is such a miserable foundation in automated production.

"When the plant was started up, (...) only individuals with university degrees or technical school diplomas were hired as operators - and 'subjected to six months' theoretical training and then trained on the job.' By the time of the accident, operators had been taken on without academic science backgrounds - some were simply transferred in from other units or plants - and nobody was being given the original rigorous training.

The size of the staff was also reduced (...). Initially, the crew included twelve operators, three supervisors, and two maintenance supervisors; a superintendent responsible for about half the operations at the plant was also on duty during each shift. In December 1984, the MIC crew included six operators and one supervisor. The was no maintenance supervisor on the night shift, and the superintendent on duty had responsibility for the entire plant." (Krigman 1985, 13.)  

Hirschhorn's argumentation is further enriched by the findings of Jens Rasmussen, one of the most prominent researchers of human error reports.

"What bothers me is that the explanations of major industrial incidents in terms of human errors are often based on superficial analysis which result in ad hoc  changes of the system and, almost invariably, in recommendations for better training together with 'stricter administrative  control of the adherence to instructions'. Needless to say, we have good evidence that this will not solve the problem - especially when at the same time the acceptable probability of the release of potential accidents is steadily decreasing." (Rasmussen 1980, 97-98.)

Rasmussen presents data on the character of 200 reports of 'operational problems' in nuclear power plants. The error modes to which Rasmussen ascribes greatest substantial importance are those of inadequate consideration of latent causes and inadequate consideration of side effects in selecting procedures.

"These two kinds of error are very probably related to difficulty of the human mind to keep track of the spread of events in the complex causal net of a technical system. Constructive recall of a procedure, or modification of a procedure to fit special circumstances, demands simultaneous consideration of several potential causal conditions and possible side effects of the intended actions. This is difficult for unsupported, linear natural language reasoning due to the limitations of working memory.

(...) In large installations, we also have to consider rare events for which operators cannot be prepared by trained procedures. In such cases, the operator has to generate proper procedures by functional evaluation and causal reasoning based on knowledge about system properties." (Rasmussen 1980, 105-106.)

Rasmussen's conclusion touches the core of the contradiction.

"The essence of this argument is that the development towards large, centralized installations has now reached a state where the design and operation of many systems can no longer be considered separate activities which are effectively decoupled by a commissioning test period. Effective feed-back of operational experience, especially concerning the co-performance of system and staff during the entire plant life is important for acceptable systems design. (...) To cope with unplanned situations and to co-operate effectively with automatic instrumentation and control functions, operating staff needs much more systematic access to the information base, performance criteria and decision strategies used by designers." (Rasmussen 1980, 112-113; see also Rasmussen, Duncan & Leplat 1987.)

Very similar analyses have recently been presented by specialists in other branches of industrial production, including small batch production with NC-machines (Brödner 1985) and flexible manufacturing systems [FMS] (Köhler, Schultz-Wild & Lutz 1983; Toikka, Hyötyläinen & Norros 1986). Cherns (1980, 264) summarizes the argumentation by pointing out a general shift of skills "away from deciding how to act in this situation  towards deciding what kind of situation  this is"; in other words, "as in modern medicine, treatment becomes routine, diagnosis becomes the key".

The primary inner contradictions  of  modern  work,  situated   within   the corners of the structure of activity and stemming from its dual commodity character, may now be sketched with the help of the familiar diagram (Figure 2.9).

The two poles of the contradiction within each corner of the model suggest two competing alternative strategies both for the management and for the trade unions. Brödner (1985) has identified these two strategies as the strategy of 'the unmanned factory' and the strategy of 'skill-based production'. It should be noted that, contrary to the single-minded optimism of some representatives of the socio-technical school (e.g., Cherns 1980; Davis 1980), we are dealing here with real contradictions, that is, with developments where both sides of the contradiction co-exist, struggle and penetrate each other.

Figure 2.9: The primary contradiction of modern work activity

In terms of activity theory, we may say that there is on the one hand the object-activity (appearing in the form of market demands) requiring high quality, flexibility, variability and short delivery times from the products, which in turn require complex programmable cybernated instruments. However, there is an acute conflict between these factors and the striving for immediate cost-efficiency, manifested above all in the polar and compartmentalized division of labor.  In effect, industrial capitalism has split the work activity in two basic layers of actions,  those of operating or performing and those of design and management.

The increasingly societal nature of work processes, their internal complexity and interconnectedness as well as their massive volumes in capital and capacity, are making it evident that, at least in periods of acute disturbance or intensive change, no one actually quite masters the work activity  as a whole, though the control and planning of the whole is formally in the hands of the management. This creates something that might be called 'grey zones' (Projekt Automation und Qualifikation 1981), areas of vacuum or 'no man's land', where initiative and determined action from practically any level of the corporate hierarchy may have unexpected effects.

What has this got to do with the emergence of learning activity? The answer is rather obvious. There is an objective pressure, manifesting itself in various forms, toward taking over the mastery of the whole work activity  into the hands of the people who participate in that activity.  This pressure is felt on both sides of the primary contradiction. Both the strategy of 'the unmanned factory' and the strategy of 'skill-based production' require, in opposite ways, major qualitative change and expansion in the practical and cognitive steering of work. The former strategy promises to practically exclude the unreliable and costly human operator. The latter builds on the flexibility and inventiveness of the very same operator.

To gain mastery of the whole work activity means to move from actions to activity in the sense tentatively characterized by Leont'ev and Ilyenkov. As I pointed out earlier, the expansive form of this transition implies that the actions themselves are objectively transformed. Moreover, such a transition requires 'reflecting the relation of the motive of a given, concrete activity to the motive of a wider activity' (Leont'ev). In other words, the subjects must become aware of the contradictory nature of their present work activity and relate it to a future form of the work activity 'that realises a broader, more general life relation that includes  the given, concrete activity' (meaning that the given form of work is not eliminated or replaced at once). This is a tall order that cannot be accomplished without 'a certain, special activity' of new type - learning activity.

The argument presented so far might be interpreted to indicate that the shoots of learning activity emerge within work activity only on the soil provided by advanced automation. I contest this conception, widespread among the 'post-dequalification' sociologists of work. The contradictions of work activity described above have in principle existed since the maturation of capitalism. New cybernated technologies have aggravated those contradictions and made them visible. But, as Figure 2.9 implies, changes in the objects, market conditions and products may be of equal or greater importance in this aggravation. It is systemic and holistic change, not a monocausal one.

"(...) firms following this strategy (of 'the unmanned factory'; Y.E.) would suffer from relative inflexibility with respect to both alteration of batches and process innovation. This is due to the fact that every change of a customer order or a piece of production equipment has first to be modelled in the computer system. In the long run the firm might even loose its innovative capability, since production knowledge and creativity on the human side have been wasting away over time. All this is in contrast to market requirements." (Brödner 1985, 2.)

This means that the pressure and demand for learning activity is not necessarily restricted to work activities employing costly advanced technologies. Other work activities facing new kinds of market conditions and product demands may well contain similar possibilities of breakthrough. This is demonstrated by Donald Schön for professional work.

"In such fields as medicine, management, and engineering, for example, leading professionals speak of a new awareness of a complexity which resists the skills and techniques of traditional expertise. As physicians have turned their attention from traditional images of medical practice to the predicament of the larger health care system, they have come to see the larger system as a 'tangled web' that traditional medical knowledge and skill cannot untangle. How can physicians influence a massively complex health care system which they do not understand and of which only a very small fraction is under their direct control?

(...) The situations of practice are not problems to be solved but problematic situations characterized by uncertainty, disorder, and indeterminacy." (Schön 1983, 14-16.)

The third lineage: Learning within science and art

In the centuries from 1300 to 1600, three layers of intellectuals could be identified in European culture: the university scholars, the humanists, and the skilled artisans (engineers, artists, healers, navigators, and the like). The university scholars and humanists were trained in logical thinking, but they despised handwork and experimentation.

"Thus the two components of scientific method were separated by a social barrier: logical training was reserved for the learned of the upper class; experimentation, causal interest and quantitative methods were more or less left to the plebeian artisans. Science was born as, along with technological advance, the experimental method finally overcame the social prejudices against handwork and was taken over by rationally educated scholars. This was accomplished around 1600 (Gilbert, Galilei, Bacon). (...) The whole process was embedded in the development of early capitalism which weakened the collective consciousness, magic thinking and belief in authority, pushing forward secular, causal, rational and quantitative thinking." (Zilsel 1976, 49.)

But what is the difference between science and handwork?

"As long as natural forces are used in work as effects and properties of certain natural objects, not scientific cognition but knowledge about the things and their properties (...) is required as the intellectual moment of work. In contrast, scientific cognition is required when it is a question of using natural forces in their general  form." (Lefèvre 1978, 23; italics added.)

This implies that the object of science is not the external world of natural and cultural objects or events as some kind of self-sustained virgin rawmaterial. Such a virgin material does not exist. As Wartofsky (1979, 206) notes, nature becomes transformed, not only in the direct practical way of becoming cultivated, or shaped into objects of use, "it becomes transformed as an object or arena of action, so that the forest or the river itself becomes an 'artifact' in this ramified sense". Already by observing and describing an object, man incorporates it into the sphere of his cultural construction. Without these acts, it does not exist for him as an object.

"We never make concrete occurrences as such  the object of explanation, rather it is always a question of occurrences considered through a certain description.  Instead of mere spatio-temporal chunks, we try to explain ones described  in a certain way." (Jensen 1978, 27.)

The true object of science is the general  in nature and culture - or in culturally penetrated nature and naturally penetrated culture. As Malinowski (1944,11) observes, "we find, first and foremost, the isolation of the real and relevant factors in a given process". Scientific activity begins with the isolation of the general, although "often in spite of the conscious logical precepts and maxims that its representatives profess" (Ilyenkov 1977, 361). We can say with Peter Ruben (1978, 20) that science is "universal labor" which "makes objects isolated from the surrounding world into models of general determinations".

Science tries to capture and fixate the general into models. Models are simultaneously secondary instruments and outcomes of science. But science cannot be understood without the sensitive link of transmission and translation of scientific models into secondary instruments of work or other productive practice outside science - something Malinowski (1944, 11) calls the necessary ingredient of "control of academic discourse by practical application".

The object of science is the general, but the general is not directly available. It must be constructed through a complex series of actions, beginning with preliminary isolation and description of "a field for experiment or observation" (Malinowski 1944, 11). This is the paradox of science: its object is and is not there. This slippery, transitional character of the object of science is in fact the very essence of this activity. It is a special kind of indirectness.  The object must be 'fetched' from the world, as it were, but it only becomes an object after being transfered into the reflective system of science - and back again. The problem in true research is that the researcher doesn't exactly know what he is looking for before he has found it. If he knew it at the beginning, nothing new would be discovered. Of course this aspect of unexpectedness resides in any productive work activity, too - but only as an aspect. In science it is the dominant motive force.

The general is slippery, first of all,  because it is relational.

"The general is anything but continuously repeated similarity in every single object taken separately and represented by a common attribute and fixed by a sign. The universal is above all the regular connection of two (or more) particular individuals that converts them into moments of one and the same concrete, real unity. (...) Here the general functions as the law or principle of the connection of these details in the make-up of some whole, or totality (...)" (Ilyenkov 1977, 350.)

Moreover, the general would not be general if it remained isolated and static. The general contains the expansive movement of 'becoming' from the isolated to the interconnected, from the simple relation to the complex system.

"The general includes and embodies in itself the whole wealth of details, not as the 'idea' but as a quite real, particular phenomenon with a tendency to become general, and developing 'from itself' (by virtue of its inner contradictions) other just as real phenomena, other particular forms of actual movement." (Ilyenkov 1977, 369.)

Jacob Bronowski expresses the same expansive idea of science in more familiar words.

"A theory does not simply state the facts: it shows them to flow from an inner order and imaginative arrangement of a few deep central concepts. That is the nature of a scientific theory, and that is why I have called it the creation of the human mind. Of course a good theory has practical consequences, and forecasts true results, which go beyond the facts from which it started. But these successful forecasts do not make the theory true - they only show that it was even wider that its creator supposed." (Bronowski 1978, 31.)

In a similar vein, Lefèvre (1978, 115) points out that as the modern natural science emerged, it only superficially seemed to divorce itself from practice. Actually it ran ahead   of practice, anticipating and paving way for "a stage of practice whose realization in material production required still more than a hundred years of development".

But science itself has been industrialized and commodified. It is increasingly organized into large research centers with intricate division of labor. Research operates with costly complex primary instruments, but secondary instruments (models and theories) seem to fall into a myriad of disconnected micro-theories. The objects of science appear in the form of separate 'problems' or 'tasks' given from outside. Above all, science is tendentially reduced to its immediate products or results possessing exchange value in the 'science market' and being essentially known or fixed in advance  (as 'customer's orders' or promises from the researchers).

This commodification is experienced among  the practitioners or 'users' of scientific results, too.

"They gape at the discovery from the outside, and they may find it strange or marvelous, but their finding is passive; they do not enter and follow and relive the steps by which the new idea was created. But no creative work, in art or in science, truly exists for us unless we ourselves help to recreate it." (Bronowski 1978, 23.)

The contradiction inherent in this development is manifested in the poor productivity or 'problem-solving capacity' of science as the tasks exceed certain limits in complexity. Various attempts to find relief in 'holistic' philosophies (Bohm 1980) and cosmology (Toulmin 1982) bear witness to the uneasiness felt with this state of science. These attempts typically do not deal with the contradiction but rather paint pictures of harmonious alternatives and utopias.

The essence of the contradiction is the tension between the fixed, reified, predetermined  nature of the  exchange-value aspect of scientific objects on the one hand and the transitional, expansive, unexpected  nature of their use-value aspect on the other hand. This may be expressed with the help of the diagram (Figure 2.10).

Figure 2.10: The primary contradiction of the activity of science

Here again, it is not a question of 'choosing' the more appealing alternative within each corner of the model. One has to take both. The contradiction cannot be swept away by moral decisions.

There is a fairly obvious kinship between science and art. Both are specifically indirect modes of imaginative, experimental practice, aimed at producing 'alternative worlds'.

"On this reconstruction, we may speak of a class of artifacts which can come to constitute a relatively autonomous 'world,' in which the rules, conventions and outcomes no longer appear directly practical, or which, indeed, seem to constitute an arena of non-practical, or 'free' play or  game  activity.  (...) So  called  'disinterested'  perception,  or  aesthetic perception, or sheer contemplation then becomes a possibility; but not in the sense that it has no  use. Rather, in the sense that the original role of the representation has been, so to speak, suspended or bracketed.

(...) the construction of alternative imaginative perceptual modes, freed from the direct representation of ongoing forms of action, and relatively autonomous in this sense, feeds back into actual praxis, as a representation of possibilities which go beyond present actualities." (Wartofsky 1979, 208-209.)

But art is not science. Artistic activity has its own peculiar object. According to Wartofsky  (1979, 357), art "takes itself  as its own object".

"(...) art represents its own process of coming into being and (...) exemplifies and objectifies the distinctively human capacity of creation. It is in the self-recognition of this creative capacity that human beings come to know themselves as human, in the specific sense that they come to know themselves as creators or as artists. Thus it is not what  is portrayed, or depicted which provides the humanizing content of the artwork, but rather the reading back of the very process of its genesis which makes the artwork an objective representation of human creativity.  Art thus exemplifies or symbolizes the activity of art. The artist thus becomes a model of the potentialities of human nature, of human creativity (...)." (Wartofsky 1979, 357.)

Art is a continuous indirect reflection of the creative core of productive practice. Both science and art 'fetch' the substance of their objects from human productive practice (from the 'central activity' of Figure 2.7). Science enters this substance from the 'object' corner; art enters the same substance from the 'subject' corner. Both construct their objects in a 'distanced' or 'disinterested' manner, within their own systemic structure. And it is a matter of life and death for both to transfer the object back into the productive practice.

It must be kept in mind that "it is not the product - the artwork, the completed and dead image - which is the mirror of human nature, but rather the process of artistic creation itself, and  the process of recreation in the act of aesthetic appreciation" (Wartofsky 1979, 362). This processual nature of the object of art is not linear. As Vygotsky  pointed out, it is characterized by qualitative expansion and transformation.

"Art would have a dull and ungrateful task if its only purpose were to infect one or many persons with feelings. If this were so, its significance would be very small, because there would be only a quantitative expansion and no qualitative expansion beyond an individual's feeling. The miracle of art would then be like the bleak miracle of the Gospel, when five barley loaves and two small fishes fed thousands of people, all of whom ate and were satisfied, and a dozen baskets were filled with the remaining food. The miracle is only quantitative: thousands were fed and were satisfied, but each of them ate only fish and bread. But was this not their daily diet at home, without any miracles?

(...) The miracle of art reminds us much more of another miracle in the Gospel, the transformation of water into wine. Indeed, art's true nature is that of transsubstantiation, something that transcends ordinary feelings; for the fear, pain, or excitement caused by art includes something above and beyond its normal, conventional content. This 'something' overcomes feelings of fear and pain, changes water into wine(...). Initially, an emotion is individual, and only by means of a work of art does it become  social or generalized." (Vygotsky 1971, 243.)

The learning actions inherent in scientific and artistic activity are those of learning to imagine, learning to 'go beyond the given', not in the privacy of the individual mind but in public, material objectifications.

"A physicist experiments with material situations whose properties he does not wholly know, and a poet tries to find his way through human situations which he does not wholly understand. Both are learning by experiment." (Bronowski 1978, 22.)

However, art, too, has become commodified. Wartofsky has an interesting characterization of the effects of this process.

"When the activity becomes ritual or automatic; when the object comes to be seen only in its surface appearances - e.g. as description or portrayal, as thematic content, or even as sheer aesthetic surface (...), or as form alone - the human content of the artwork becomes transparent and redundant: it is seen through but not realized. In this case, one may speak of an alienated aesthetic consciousness, a fetishism of the artwork, in which the object is taken as an autonomous and independent reality." (Wartofsky 1979, 366-367.)

It is easy to see the similarity of this phenomenon with the phenomena brought about by the industrialization of science. In both cases, the counter-reaction is visible. As Wartofsky (1979, 368) notes, "the newer artforms focus on a return to the process: but perversely". What in science takes the form of search for wholism may be observed in art in the form of 'institutionalized despair'. The learning actions of experimentation and imaginative world-making, the most sophisticated techniques and skills of art and science, turn out to be insufficient for the purpose of taking hold of the activity of art or science itself as a whole, in its own commodified contradictoriness.  For this, 'a certain special activity' of reflecting is required.


The argument presented so far may be summarized in the following thesis.

1. Human learning begins in the form of learning operations and learning actions embedded in other activities, phylogenetically above all in work.

2. Learning activity has an object and a systemic structure of its own. Its prerequisites are currently developing within earlier activity types: school-going, work, and science/art. In the network of human activities, learning activity will mediate between science/art on the one hand and work or other central productive practice on the other hand (Figure 2.11).

 Figure 2.11: The place of learning activity in the network of human activities

3. The essence of learning activity is production of objectively, societally new activity structures (including new objects, instruments, etc.) out of actions manifesting the inner contradictions of the preceding form of the activity in question. Learning activity is mastery of expansion from actions to a new activity.  While traditional school-going is essentially a subject-producing activity and traditional science is essentially an instrument-producing activity, learning activity is an activity-producing activity.

But what is the specific object of learning activity? What is its structure like?

The object of learning activity is the societal productive practice, or the social life-world, in its full diversity and complexity. The productive practice, or the central activity, exists in its presently dominant form as well asin its historically more advanced and earlier, already surpassed forms. Learning activity makes the interaction of these forms, i.e., the historical development of activity systems, its object.

This object appears to the subject first in the form of discrete tasks, problems and actions. As Michael Cole (1983, 51) notes, "discovery of the goals is essential to true activity". Learning activity (a) analyzes and connects these discrete elements with their systemic activity contexts, (b) transforms  them into contradictions demanding creative solution., and (c) expands and generalizes them into a qualitatively new activity structure within societal productive practice.

According to V. V. Davydov (1982, 39), the motive of learning activity is theoretical relation to the reality.  In other words, the  components (a), (b) and (c) above result in a theoretical reconstruction of the object. The concept of theoretical relation to reality shall be subjected to closer elaboration in Chapter 4.

By what means does this theoretical reconstruction take place? The essential instruments of learning activity are models. With the help of models, the subject fixes and objectifies the essential relations of the object. However, the construction of theoretical models is accomplished with the help of a more general instrument - a methodology. Learning activity may be conceived of as expansive movement from models to the methodology of making models - and back. 

Theoretical models and methodologies are entities typically produced by science and art. These instruments, however, cannot be directly taken over from science and art. Activity types differ from each other in the extent and intensity to which they produce their own instruments. Science and art are  activities strongly oriented toward producing their own instruments. Although work activities do also mold and produce their own instruments,  they do it less intensively and are more dependent on instruments produced by other activities.

Learning activity occupies the place between these two. It uses the products of science and art, but they become usable for learning activity only as they are recreated and reworked into more economical, as if stylized, representations than the original products of science and art.  And this is not a question of mere popularization or simplification for illustrative purposes. Learning activity has much of the quality of play, "dissociating means and ends to permit exploration of their relation to each other" (Bruner 1985, 603). But learning activity is more than this. It is true development of instruments: 'purification' by elimination of secondary or accidental features, variation and enrichment, testing novel connections and disconnections. By bringing the products of science and art into a new type of formative contact with productive practice, learning activity introduces a new creative moment into the activities of science and art themselves. In other words, learning activity never leaves its instruments qualitatively intact. It is not just consumption of instruments given from outside.

The structure of learning activity may now be presented in diagrammatic form (Figure 2.12). The diagram shows the essential quality of learning activity, namely its transitional and expansive character.

Figure 2.12: The structure of learning activity

But what kind of a subject is required and produced by learning activity? This is very much a question of the quality of consciousness associated with learning activity. The problem of consciousness in learning, in turn, is currently discussed under the conceptual umbrella of 'metacognition'.



 According to Flavell (1976, 232), metacognition "refers to one's knowledge concerning one's own cognitive processes and products or anything related to them, e.g., the learning-relevant properties of information or data". Brown and DeLoache (1978) present a list of basic metacognitive skills. These include predicting the consequences of an action or event, checking the results of one's own actions, monitoring one's ongoing activity, reality testing, and a variety of other behaviors for coordinating and controlling deliberate learning and problem solving.

In another paper, Brown (1978) names the basic metacognitive skills of checking, planning, asking questions, self-testing, and monitoring.

"Perhaps it would be possible to train the child to stop and think before attempting a problem, to ask questions of himself and others to determine if he recognizes the problem, to check his solutions against reality by asking not 'is it right' but 'is it reasonable,' and to monitor his attempts to learn to see if they are working or are worth the effort." (Brown 1978, 139.)

Recently Brown, Campione and Day (1982) have developed further the idea of metacognition as the basis of 'learning to learn'. They use a four-factor model of the learning situation as their point of departure.

"In order to become expert learners, students must develop some of the same insights as the psychologist into the demands of the learning situation. They must learn about their own cognitive characteristics, their available learning strategies, the demands of various learning tasks and the inherent structure of the material. They must tailor their activities finely to the competing demands of all these forces in order to become flexible and effective learners." (Brown, Campione & Day 1982, 16-17.)

In other words, the authors have realized that the metacognitive skills do not exist and function in a vacuum. But this realization is formal. Regardless of the context and contents, the metacognitive skills remain qualitatively the same - it is just a question of using them in varying situations. A case in point is the skill of 'reality testing' (asking 'does this make sense?'), mentioned by Brown. What does it mean to 'make sense'? Brown and her colleagues (Brown, Campione & Day 1982, 20) stress the arbitrary character of the criterial tasks or objectives of learning and the need to "tailor efforts accordingly". But what if the goal or task given to the learner  does not  make sense to him? This possibility is not discussed by the authors. To the contrary, since verbatim learning of texts, for example, is often demanded by the school, it must be considered "a worthwhile activity" (Brown, Campione & Day 1982,16). What first looks like the optimally self-directed and self-conscious learner is actually the maximally flexible individual, finding the most successful technique of adaptation in any situation given by the authorities.

Thus, my first critique of Brown's approach is directed against the use of the situation  as the unit of metacognition. Situations are defined by tasks. They are typical action-level units, portraying human behavior as rational adaptive choice and cognitive calculation. The possibility that the learner might himself create new situations  is tacitly ruled out.

My second critique concerns the undialectical conception of learning situations and tasks presented by Brown and her colleagues. According to them, the four factors (characteristics of the learners, learning strategies, criterial tasks, and structure of the materials) must be considered in a balanced manner. But there is no awareness of the possibility that the tasks themselves might be inherently contradictory. Consider the following example.

"I observed the professor in one class beginning the term by explaining that the students were expected to be creative and involved; in short, they were to be engaged. They would have the opportunity to take intellectual risks, to make mistakes. (...) Five weeks later the first quiz was given. The students found they were asked to return a large amount of information that they could only have mastered by memorization. (...) In spite of the professor's opening pronouncements, the hidden but required task was not  to be imaginative or creative but to play a specific, tightly circumscribed academic game. The consequences for the students varied: some became cynical and said, 'Okay, if that's the way you play the academic game, if that's what he really wants, I won't make the same mistake again. Next time I'll memorize the key points.'" (Snyder 1973, 16-17.)

The students quoted by Snyder display the awakening of a kind of metacognition in Brown's terms - metacognition for successful adaptation to the exchange-value aspect of studying. But how about the students' nagging feeling of missing something beyond the game of success - the feeling that knowledge should be acquired and used to master reality, to master societal productive practice? If a student protests and eventually becomes a 'troublemaker', is his metacognition poorly developed?

The essential question is: What  is to be metacognitively controlled and monitored? It would probably be fairly easy to obtain handsome results and transfer effects by teaching students such metacognitive skills as 'how to fool the teacher,' 'how to get good grades with minimum effort,' 'how to cheat successfully,' etc. The substantive logic of these skills corrersponds to the dominant exchange-value logic of schooling.

It follows from these two critical points that a truly high level of metacognitive awareness in learning requires (a) conscious analysis and mastery of not just discrete learning situations but of the continuous activity context in which the situations are embedded (whether they be situated within school-going, work, science, art, or some other activity), (b) not just balancing the components of the learning situation but 'seeing through' the inherent contradictoriness of the learning tasks, i.e., their double nature as unities of exchange value and use value.

These are the two essential prerequisites for the emergence of the subject of learning activity. As indicated in Figure 2.12, this subject is a transitional being, beginning in individual and developing into collective subjectivity. Its first spontaneous indications probably appear in the form of disturbing questions, counter-arguments, attempts to break away,  and the like.


 Leont'ev (1981, 401-404) discusses the transition from one leading activity to another in the ontogenesis. He uses the transition from play to study as the example. In his example, a pupil in the first grade cannot be made to do his homework. The pupil knows well that the homework must be done, it is a duty  which he accepts in principle. But this 'understandable motive' is not effective: "another motive, however, is really effective, namely to get permission to go out and play" (Leont'ev 1981, 402).

Now, the child is told that he may go out to play only after he has finished his homework. That does the trick and the pupil does his homework.

"Once, while copying something out, it suddenly stops and leaves the table, crying. 'Why have you stopped working?' it is asked. 'What's the good,' it explains, 'I'll just get a pass or a bad mark; I've written very untidily.'

This case reveals a new effective motive for its homework. It is doing its lessons now because it wants to get a good mark. (...)

The really effective motive inducing the child to do its homework now is a motive that was previously 'only understandable' for it.

How does this transformation of motive come about? The question can be simply answered. It is a matter of an action's result being more significant, in certain conditions, than the motive that actually induces it. (...) A new 'objectivation' of its needs comes about, which means that they are understood at a higher level." (Leont'ev 1981, 402-403.)

Leont'ev's account may be systematically presented as a sequence of four steps.

(1) Along with the subject's dominant activity (for example play), there is a culturally valued motive for a more advanced activity (for example studying). In the subject's consciousness, the latter exists as an 'understandable' motive only.

(2) The representatives of culture induce by some means (e.g., rewards) the subject to engage in selected actions or components of the more advanced activity within the motivational framework of the earlier activity.

(3) The 'understandable' motive of the more advanced activity begins to be 'effective' as the selected actions representing it begin to produce results that exceed the limits of the motive of the earlier activity. This transition manifests itself in disturbances - for example, the selected actions are temporarily terminated because the subject senses acutely their inadequate quality in relation to the emerging more advanced motive.

(4) Eventually, the new motive and activity take over the leading role.

Leont'ev seeks the mechanism of emergence of new activities in the contradiction between  the motive of the previous activity and the motive of the new, more advanced activity. The problem is the external character of this contradiction. It seems as if the seed of the conflict, the new motive, were 'transplanted' from outside, by the wise men of the culture. In his account Leont'ev fails to penetrate into the inner contradiction within  the previous activity.

This problem is visible in the characterization of the new, more advanced activity of Leont'ev's example.  The new motive is supposed to be 'to get a good mark'. This would correspond to the exchange-value aspect of the motive of school-going. The whole inner contradictoriness of this motive is here set aside.

The idea of inner contradictions of the existing dominant activity as the dynamic source of transition to the new activity was formulated by El'konin (1977). He postulated two phases within the development of each leading activity in the ontogenesis. In the first phase, the socio-emotional and motivational aspects of activity (the relations between the subject and the others) dominate. Gradually, the mastery of the operational-technical aspect (the relations between the subject, the instruments, and the objects) improves, becoming dominant in the second phase. The contradiction arises as the operational-technical possibilities acquired by the subject exceed the limits of the motive of the activity.

"The transition from one period to the next is marked by a discrepancy between the child's operational and technical capacities and the tasks and motives that constitute the fabric of which these capacities are woven." (El'konin 1977, 560-561.)

Davydov, Markova and Shumilin (1980) have applied this principle to the analysis of the ontogenetic emergence of learning activity in the early school age. According to them, play produces the means and operations of imagination and symbolic transformation.

"Developed imagination and symbolic transformation start gradually to miss comprehensive and wide contents which could offer the child a possibility to use the hidden potentials of these abilities. But play in itself cannot offer such contents to the child." (Davydov, Markova & Shumilin 1980, 11.)

The problem with this formulation is its ahistorical nature. Inner contradictions of activities always take a form peculiar to the given socio-economic formation. In the conceptions cited above, the inner contradiction of play becomes abstract and universal.

What would be the quality of the inner contradiction of play activity peculiar to capitalism? If the object of play is imaginary practice, the contradiction must exist in the double nature of this very object. Symptomatically, the words 'play' and 'imagination' awaken associations of futility and escape, on the one hand - and of creative construction, on the other hand.

In her critique of the theories and practices of role-playing, Frigga Haug (1977) argues that in capitalist society role-playing is effectively reduced to pure interaction. It is socialization into flexible role exchange and intrinsic motivation without objects and instruments.  This abstract aspect of role play would be motivated simply by the peer contacts and release of energy offered in play situations.

The relative poverty of the objective and instrumental aspect of play would mean that the inner contradiction of play activity often remains latent and inarticulate - manifesting itself mainly in  complaints like 'mother, I don't know what to play'. In the sphere of imaginary production, this would explain the prevalence of flat stereotypical reproductions of the models given by mass media and entertainment industry. This peculiar underdevelopment of the inner contradiction of play  would also explain the relatively weak spontaneous aspiration for initial forms of learning activity found among primary-school children.

Jerome Bruner suggests that the mechanism behind this impoverishment of the objective-instrumental aspect of play is the general estrangement of industrialized man from the contents of work. According to him, "the young become more and more remote from the nature of the effort involved in running a society" because "vocation, competence, skill, sense of place in the system (...) become more and more difficult for the young to fathom" (Bruner 1976, 55.) As a consequence, the fulfillment of play is postponed to youth.

"Now 'the play of the babes' has become separate from, dissociated from, the adult community and not understood by that community any better than the young comprehend or accept the ideals of the adult community.

A place is made automatically, perhaps for the first time in our cultural tradition, for an intermediate generation, with power to model new forms of behaviour. Their power comes precisely, I think, from the fact that they offer deep play (...)." (Bruner 1976, 59.)

The developers of the theory of learning activity in the Soviet cultural-historical school, especially El'konin and Davydov, have concentrated their theoretical and experimental efforts on primary school children. Learning activity is supposed to emerge directly after the dominance of role play, within the administrative and physical framework of school-going (Davydov 1982, 37). Against the background of my conceptualization of learning activity, this means that the primary object of learning activity in that age is the development of learning activity itself.  In other words, the primary school pupils' task is to expand the discrete, internally contradictory learning actions occurring within the activity of school-going into the objectively new system of learning activity. The motive of this activity is to learn how to acquire skills and knowledge and solve problems by expanding the tasks into objectively novel activity systems,  resulting eventually not just in acquiring and solving the given, but in creating tasks and problems out of the larger activity context.

But learning activity cannot be acquired and developed 'in general'. Even if it is its own primary object, it simultaneously requires an object activity (or several) outside of itself. In primary school, such object activities are reading, writing and communicating with language, mathematics, rudiments of natural and social sciences, music, etc. Can pupils of that age really enter these varied and complex societal activity systems and bring them to a historically new developmental stage? Hardly. What they  perhaps can do is develop human learning into an objectively new qualitative stage - the stage of learning activity.

Thus, the object systems of language, mathematics, etc. function here as secondary, derived objects, as 'demonstration samples' for the methodology of learning activity. To take them as such requires a well developed instrumentarium of play, enabling the pupils to see through this 'demonstration sample' character of the school subjects and yet tackle them with full vigour. Using Bateson's (1972, 185) cryptic terminology: "in primary processes, map and territory are equated; in secondary processes, they can be discriminated", but "in play, they are both equated and discriminated".

Provided that the inner contradiction of play activity is more developed than it presently is in capitalist societies, this is a reasonable task. Indeed, there is some evidence of substantial differences between play activities in socialism and capitalism (Helenius 1982). However, it would be unfounded to delimit the possibility of the ontogenetic emergence of learning activity to the confines of primary school years. At least in capitalism, the inner contradictions of school-going, work, and science/art seem to be more developed and mature than the inner contradiction of play.  This is not surprising, for the intensive commodification of play is of relatively recent origin. As play is commodified, it is, paradoxically, rearmed with instruments with which one may be able to penetrate the abstract societal practices and create imaginary ones. I refer to the emerging sophisticated general-purpose toys, ranging from Lego blocks to micro-computers. But this development has barely begun.

In conclusion, I suggest that the ontogenetic emergence of learning activity, at least in present-day capitalist societies, may with the highest probability take place in adulthood or adolescence, when the subject faces historically and individually pressing inner contradictions within his or her leading activity - be it work, school-going, science or art.


 In this chapter, the concept of learning activity has been derived from the evolution of the general concept of activity on the one hand, and from the cultural evolution of learning within other, historically earlier activities on the other hand.

The concept of learning activity proposed here may be crystallized as learning by expanding.  This formulation evokes several questions. What exactly is the relation of learning activity to other, supposedly 'lower' forms of human learning? What is the relation of learning activity to development? And above all, how and through what steps does the proposed learning activity proceed in practice? I'll turn to these questions in Chapter 3.