Russian Revolution: The Activity Theory Essay

1150 words - 5 pages

In 1917, after the Russian revolution, there was a large effort to develop a new psychology based on Marxist philosophy. After several debates, Soviet psychologists agreed upon Marx’s “principle of unity and inseparability of consciousness and activity,” that is, how consciousness “comes to exist, develops, and can only be understood within the context of meaningful, goal-oriented, and socially determined interaction between human beings and their material environment” (Bannon 1997). In the 1920s and 1930s revolutionary Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934) and his colleagues, Alexi Leont’ev (1903–1979) and Alexander Luria (1902–1977), sought to rise above the dualist idealism and ...view middle of the document...

Consciousness is constituted as the enactment of our capacity for attention, intention, memory, learning, reasoning, speech, reflection, and imagination. It is through the exercise of these capacities in everyday activities that we develop; indeed this is the basis of our very existence” (8).

Vygotsky’s cultural-historical psychology is considered first generation AT. Vygotsky was interested in establishing a theory that could simultaneously account for consciousness as the result of human actions and sociocultural mediation. Particularly, the relationship between the mind and culture and society and attempted to discover the origins of such situated consciousness (ibid). His cultural-historical psychology “maintained that culture and society are not external factors influencing the mind but rather are generative forces directly involved in the very production of mind,” and that to illuminate the effect of culture on the mind psychologists had to follow “developmental, historical transformations of mental phenomena in the social and cultural context” (ibid, p. 39). Key concepts of first generation AT include object-orientedness, higher psychological functions, tool mediation, and the dual concepts of internalization/externalization, and human agency (Bannon 1997; Kaptelinin & Nardi 2006).

The most important principle of AT is the principle of object-orientedness—its ontological perspective. Grounded in the materialistic philosophy of Marxism—”human beings live in objective reality which determines and shapes the nature of subjective phenomena”—making possible an objective account of subjective phenomena (Bannon 1997). This means reality is objective in a general purpose, that is, “things which constitute this reality have not only the properties which are considered objective according to natural sciences but socially/culturally defined properties as well” (ibid). The concepts of mediation and internalization are derived from Vygotsky’s notion of higher psychological functions (Kaptelinin & Nardi 2006). Higher mental functions arise when natural mental functions (memory, perception, etc.) are restructured by the cultural environment. Kaptelinin and Nardi (2006) describe the restructuring “as an emerging mediation of natural psychological functions” (42). In an activity-theoretical perspective, human beings seldom interact directly with world. Human experiences are mediated by artifacts/tools, and this, according to AT, “is the hallmark of living the life of a human being” (ibid, p. 42). Vygotsky’s triangular model of action transcends the Cartesian defects evident in stimulus-response (S, R) behaviorism (idealism) by inserting a complex mediated act (X) (Figure 1A: Vygotsky’s model of mediation). The triangular model is commonly interpreted by activity theorists as the triad of subject, object, and mediating artifact (Figure 1B: first generation AT (Vygotskyian) model of...

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