Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

The Challenge of Individuality in Cultural-Historical Activity Theory: "Collectividual" Dialectics from a Transformative Activist Stance

Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

The Challenge of Individuality in Cultural-Historical Activity Theory: "Collectividual" Dialectics from a Transformative Activist Stance

Article excerpt

Abstract

In addressing the persistent challenge of fully integrating individual dimensions and human subjectivity within the cultural-historical activity theory, this paper suggests several steps to revise its core onto-epistemology in an expansive approach termed the transformative activist stance. This approach outlines the subtle dialectics of individual and collective planes of human praxis whereby each individual is shaped by collective history and collaborative practices while at the same time shaping and real-izing them through contributing to their collective, dynamic materiality in moving beyond the status quo. In capitalizing on people always transcending what exists in 'the here and now, ' in a non-adaptive fashion, based in a commitment and vision to how the world "ought to be, " the individual subjectivity is reclaimed as itself a fully social, embodied, material-discursive process. Individual subjectivity and agency gain status through contributing to changes in "collectividual" practices as the primary onto-epistemology of a unitary realm that is individual and social/collective at the same time.

Introduction

Cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) is currently enjoying much popularity and success in a variety of fields and disciplines ranging from organizational and human- computer interactions studies to research on self-regulation, second language acquisition and literacy, among many others. This theory has launched a number of theoretical breakthroughs (not yet fully explored) that are in close unison with directions that are now spearheading no less than a conceptual revolution such as dynamic systems theory, developmental systems approach, participatory learning, embodied, dynamic, enacted and situated cognition, and developmental epigenetics, among others. All of these causes for celebration notwithstanding, it is important to continue to expansively critique and interrogate this theory's basic tenets and propositions. Theories are kept alive by continuously revisiting and re-figuring their grounds in what can be called "a critique from within" (Stetsenko, 1990/1995) - a type of analysis meant to advance, rather than refute, a given theory through working out contradictions within its ever-evolving zones of proximal development that result from its dynamics within the shifting social contexts of which it partakes (see also Langemeyer, 2006). Paraphrasing a famous saying, one can say that if there had not been any controversies in the CHAT, they would have to be invented just to keep it alive. No less significantly, self-reflection is needed to address possible liabilities of the CHAT's entanglement with the historical-political dynamics, including during the recent tumultuous decades, to avoid the risk of being blind to the issues of context, power, and social change.

This strategy of critically interrogating, revisiting, and reconfiguring broad theoretical premises of CHAT does not signify a move away from practical and empirical investigations but instead, can be seen as inherently a part of such investigations. Success of CHAT has always been associated with its authors' deep engagement with theoretical and philosophical issues and its most remarkable practical applications directly resulted from such an engagement. These include developmental programs for children with disabilities (works by Mesheryakov and Sokolyansky, for overview, see Bakhurst & Padden, 1991) and educational programs (Davydov, e.g., 1988, 1995; for overview, see Arievitch & Stetsenko, 2000). It is no accident that the authors of these educational programs were primarily committed to developing very broad, philosophical conceptualizations of human development. For example, Vassily V. Davydov's works have been marked by his deep grasp of the Hegelian-Marxist legacy and supported by his close collaboration with philosophers such as E.V. Ilyenkov. These works stand as a direct example of realizing the credo shared by Vygotsky and other CHAT founders - the conviction about the deeply practical nature of theory, the capacity of the seemingly abstract theorizing to shape and even determine solutions for the utmost practical problems, and at a deeper level, about inseparability of theoretical and practical dimensions of all human activities and endeavors. …

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