Basic principles in analyzing instruction and development from the perspective of the theory of activity

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Basic principles in analyzing instruction and development from the perspective of the theory of activity

G. P. Shchedrovitskii Basic principles in analyzing instruction and development from the perspective of the theory of activity // Soviet Psychology, Vol. 26. Summer, 1988, pp. 5-41. (перевод работы Г.П. Щедровицкий Об исходных принципах анализа проблемы обучения и развития в рамках теории деятельности // Обучение и развитие. Материалы к симпозиуму. М., 1966)


Published in «Soviet Psychology», Summer 1988/Vol. XXVI, pp. 3-41. From Obuchenie i razvitie [Instruction and development] (Papers from a symposium). Moscow: «Prosveshchenie» Publishers, 1966. Pp. 89-119.

G. P. Shchedrovitskii

«Reports on a method for developmental studies in psychology and for defining criteria for the intellectual development of children gave rise to a special discussion. The discussants criticized the speakers for their ten­dency to reduce development to learning and for their denial of the existence of inherent laws of development of the child’s mind» (from a «Review of the Proceedings of a Ukrainian Conference on Psychology, December 1964,» Vop. Psikhol., 1965, No. 3, pp. 188-89).

This article is an attempt to examine the methodological and logical principles underlying the different points of view on this question. Only a clear understanding of these principles will, we think, enable us to imbue the discussion with the quality of a truly scientific argument.

Who can solve this problem?

1. The problem of learning and development arose at the border­line between the educational sciences and psychology, and it might seem that it must be solved within the framework of these two sciences, using their tools. But this is a mistake. Psychologists can study and describe changes taking place in the mind and behavior of children during instruction [obuchenie],* and on this basis establish the «laws» or «norms» of development. Experts on educational methods may or may not take these «norms» into account in developing a curriculum and the means and techniques of teaching/learning. Educational theo­rists can analyze and describe teaching/learning situations, the struc ture of school subjects, etc. But neither group has the means to discuss and resolve the actual problem of the relationship between «teaching/learning» and «development»; to resolve this «problem,» i.e., the aggregate of theoretical difficulties and paradoxes subsumed under this term, it is necessary to view the study of instruction and the study of development from the side, so to speak, and to pinpoint and compare instruction and development themselves as a reality, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, as existing concepts of instruction and develop­ment. This can be done only in terms of a special science, the theory of activity, and its tools, which make possible a special kind of method­ological analysis.

Thus, all preceding discussions of the problem that we have con­ducted exclusively in terms of the concepts of psychology and educa­tional science have essentially been fruitless—indeed, have made peo­ple somewhat tired of such theorizing.

Activity: «mass» and «particular»

2. For a long time «activity» was subsumed under the category of process, which also determined the methods chosen to study it. But in my view, this was one of the two main reasons for the failures in the study of activity. The second reason was that, in most cases, activity was seen as belonging to the individual, as produced by him, and the individual was seen as an actor relative to activity.

I regard activity primarily as a very complex structure made up of disparate elements and the relations among them; moreover, it is a /w/y structure, i.e., it consists of many structures super­imposed one upon the other, as it were, each of these, in turn, consisting of many hierarchically organized substructures. The cate­gory of a polystructure is the criterion applied in selecting methods for studying activity.

Depending on the purpose of an investigation, different structures and substructures can be distinguished in activity as relatively integral and autonomous objects for study; this will yield qualitatively different notions of activity, which means that several different «units» will figure in the theory of activity.

For example, the whole of a social organism may be taken as a unit of activity; this will constitute a universe of activity. The structure of such a unit will include things, people themselves, and the processes of change in them; people in this case will be elements of activity. I consider such a sociological notion of activity basic to its theory; it constitutes the domain of «mass activity.»

Similarly, different fragments or parts of the social organism, e.g., the sphere of production, the sphere of consumption, «clubs,» etc., may be represented within the framework of «mass activity.»

But we may also consider the means by which particular problems are solved the unit of activity. This will constitute a notion of activity seen, as it were, from another angle and at another level of magnification. These structures are termed «particular structures,» or simply «activity.»

A certain order has been established in the theory of activity for examining all these units, since analysis of certain structures of activity and knowledge and description of others are interdependent. More­over, theoretical relations have been established between these units: substantive relations in the ontological system of a theory, and formal relations between assertions about diverse structures.

3. The character and configuration of each structure are deter­mined by the processes in which an activity «lives,» because the structures themselves are nothing more than a special way for fixing and expressing the mechanisms of these processes.

In «mass activity» the main process determining, the nature of its entire structure is reproduction, which encompasses all other social processes, including transmission and learning.

The reproduction and transmission of «culture»

4. It is quite natural to endeavor to represent re­production as cycles resulting in the formation of a new social structure on the basis of some preceding one. In this case, the object of study may be represent­ed in its simplest and most abstract form in the struc­ture depicted in Figure 1. This will also be the unit studied in this subsection of the theory of activity. The social structures S1 and S2, which are, respectively, the first and the last in the cycle of reproduction, and their representations on the diagram we shall call states.

Next in line in the process of developing the subject of our analysis will, of course, be to determine, first, those elements and components of states of social structures that must be reproduced, and, secondly, the mechanisms effecting their reproduction.

The first task entails a detailed description and classification of all possible components of the social organism. For a methodological analysis it is quite sufficient to name only a few completely undisputed elements, to wit, the tools and objects of labor, the conditions and objects of consumption, people themselves, relations among them, and the organizational forms of their activity. Resolution of the second task is closely connected with resolution of the first since the possible mechanisms of reproduction clearly depend on the nature of the ele­ments reproduced (the methodological aspect of this question is ana­lyzed in more detail in a separate article, see [29]).

The primary and simplest form among the many diverse mechanisms of reproduction is simple «spilling over,» or simple transmis­sion of elements from one decaying state of a social structure into
another in the process of being constituted. Thus, tools, objects, and products of labor can pass from one state into another, as can individual people and certain organizations of people. This material transmission
of elements from one state to another essentially does not require reconstruction (or reproduction) in the precise sense of the term, but it is a necessary constituent process in production. We call this the transmission of the elements of the social organism (see [6,20,25,29]).

The mechanism of reproduction becomes more complex in cases in which the elements of an initial decayed state do not themselves pass on directly into the second state and do not become its elements,
but serve as kinds of models or standards for the fashioning of other, precisely the same, sort of entities in a second state of a social structure. Schematically this may be represented as in Figure 2.

Models or standards have a quite special function in a social organ­ism: they must, in a sense, bear within themselves an «imprint» of what there is in the first state in order later, on its basis, to «print» what is to go into the second state. Consequently, models or standards themselves already have a «life» independent of these states; they move somewhat parallel to them, ensuring continu­ous reproduction of social structures (Figure 3). And so we find we must discriminate with­in the body social two different spheres, pro­duction itself and «culture,» the latter being the aggregate of those means by which produc­tion structures (at least some of them) are reproduced. (Let me forthwith point out that drawing such a distinction between these two spheres is valid only for this level of abstraction, and refinements will be necessary as the model becomes more compli­cated.)

With this mechanism for the reconstitution of states we have repro­duction in the precise sense of the word. But an indispensable condition for reproduction is activity: models or standards will be able to fulfill their function only if there is a human being present who is able to construct from standards the new components of production structures (Figure 4). This means that such a process of transmission is meaning­ful only if an activity is continuously being transmitted at the same time. But how will this be possible?

7. As I have said, activity occupies a quite special place in the system of the social body. It is, essentially, the factor that transforms all the latter’s elements (things and relations) into one or several internal structures. There are neither means of production, signs, nor objects of art independent of activity; people themselves do not exist independent of activity. Similarly, activity occupies a fundamental place in the process of reproduction of the body social; it is both that which is reproduced and that which ensures reproduction.

The absolutely simplest form of transmission of activity is the tran­sition of people themselves, the vehicles of activity, from one pro­duction structure to another. This occasions no special difficulties or problems since reproduction of an activity itself does not take place; complex situations arise only when an activity must be actual­ly reproduced.

As in the transmission of other elements of the body social, the simplest case will again be that in which specific activities penetrate the sphere of culture and serve as models for effecting the same activity in production structures. The material mechanism for this is the acquisition by certain persons of a special function that enables them to shape the habits, ac­tions, and activity of other people. A famous duelist and gambler, a great political activist, or a movie star is often a semiotic, «cultural» entity of the body social par excellence in that he or she serves as a model for imitation («hair like Bridget Bardot’s,» «a sweater like the one Jean Marais wears»). The activity of a model worker, a well-known innovator, etc., inevitably acquires a special «cultural» function since it becomes a model for imitation. Under certain conditions, these people cease work­ing in the production sphere proper, and their activity becomes only a model, and thus a purely «cultural» entity. This, in particular, is what happens with master workers teaching in secondary and vocational schools. An educator in general is, in many respects, an element of culture quite independently of his will and wishes; but even from die standpoint of consciously formulated requirements, one of an educator’s most important pedagogical functions is to be a living vehicle of certain activities and to develop them as models for imitation by other people. This is represented schematically in Figure 5.

8. But conveying models of activity in this way, i.e., in the persons of living people, is only one of me ways of concretizing activity in the process of transmission. Any product of an activity (both material and symbolic) can be a means for concretizing that activity; these products of an activity preserve and transmit the properties and structure of the activity. A special form of transmission of activity is the transmission of the symbolic entities that were used as means or tools in constructing the activity. This is represented schematically in Figure 6, in which P is any product of the particular activity, SM are its symbolic means, and MM are its material means.

In the first stages, the material and symbolic means of an activity are conveyed in precisely those combinations and relationships in which they were used in problem solving (see [15,16]). In this way, for exam­ple, texts are created that then find a place in the scientific literature proper.

But in whatever way an activity is conveyed, whether in the form of «living» models or in the form of objects, i.e., products and symbolic means, its reproduction by other people in new states of the social
system is possible only if those people have the ability to do this, i.e., only if they are able to «copy» the activity of other people or recon­struct an activity from its products and the symbolic means or devices
used in it. If this ability is lacking, then a break occurs in the continuity of the process of reproduction even though the activity may have been transmitted.

Historically, systematic training was born and developed precisely as a means for repairing or preventing such breaks.

The transmission of «culture» and systematic training

9. The function of systematic training in the system of social reproduction consists in effecting the development in individuals of activities conforming to models represented in the cultural sphere by a ‘ ‘live,» actually existing activity or by symbolic means and products of activities. Thus, the learning of activities is the second necessary step in the reproduction process; it complements the process of transmission and, in a certain sense, functions even as an opposing mechanism to transmission. This aspect is especially clear when an activity is trans­mitted not in «live» form, but merely in the form of its means and products: transmission «materializes» an activity, it gives it a trans­formed, materialized or symbolic form; and systematic training recon­verts the materialized and symbolic forms back into the activity of individuals – it, so to speak, «cultivates» the activity in conformity with these forms. This is represented schematically in Figure 7.

It is important, at this point, to note that materialized and symbolic standards and the products and means of an activity enter into com­pletely different contexts of a person’s real activity depending on whether he has already mastered that activity or must still learn it. For a person who has mastered mathematics, formulas are auxiliary de­vices that enable him to translate the substantive work of thought into formal and even purely mechanical work. For the learner, a formula has a completely different meaning: the learner must identify and clarify in it those systems of substantive operations in place of which, or in the context of which, the formula is employed; only in this way is he able to gain mastery over both the formula and the activity expressed in it. Activity of this second type is called «studying.» Often, the object of studying becomes the activity of other people chosen as models (i.e., as is depicted in Figure 5). The activity of studying in a sense «intersects» or overlaps with systematic training.

Systematic training and «pedagogical production»

10. Thus, teaching/learning in the system of reproduction has a quite specific task: it must form or teach an activity using various material and symbolic elements. It is now no longer important whether these symbolic means or devices will later become part of the activity or not. Only one thing is important for systematic training: that these symbolic means should be optimally adapted as aids in teaching an activity. But the vast majority of symbolic means and products of activity, particularly scientific activity, are not at all suited for this. Moreover, very often the conditions under which they are used in an activity require that everything that really reflects the nature and the structure of the activity itself be excluded. Hence, a new problem arises from the specific requirements of systematic training: to generate and transmit from one state of the system to another special descriptions of an activity, [along with] combinations of material and symbolic devices that will best correspond to the processes of reconstructing the struc­ture of the activity itself.

This requirement, in turn, makes it necessary to devise especially new forms for the material and symbolic expression of an activity. We may call this «pedagogical reproduction.» Obviously, it must be guid­ed primarily by the specific laws and mechanisms of the processes of systematic training (see [22,14,7,25,10]). This is represented schematically in Figure 8.

It is important to stress that «teaching aids» replace those products and material and symbolic devices of an activity that earlier were transmitted directly (Figure 7) and had become objects of study. As soon as special teaching aids are created, the activity of studying becomes «formal learning activity,» which no longer intersects with the activity of studying, but must be subordinated to it. Whereas in the first stages the activity of studying was a dominant activity and the teacher only provided a «live» model of an activity that had to be copied, now the dominant activity becomes systematic training itself, and study activity is subsumed in it or, in any event, is guided by it. (Later, if the level of development of the pupils is relatively high, the relationship between these two types of activity changes again: many elements of systematic training merge with studying activity, and the resulting aggregate is conveyed to the pupil; «self-instruction» and self-education come into being.)

Simplifying the diagram in Figure 8, we can eliminate «peda­gogical production» and represent the situation in such a way that teaching aids are simply transmitted from one state of the social system to another so that an activity may be mastered in the process of system­atic training.

11. And thus we come to a very important distinction between scientific knowledge in the strict sense and instructional knowledge. The former and, accordingly, the symbolic constructions expressing it are destined ultimately to become part of production activity (including the production of other scientific knowledge activity). Scientific, knowledge is based on the assumption that people are able to carry out this activity and effect the incorporation of its means. In­structional knowledge, on the other hand, is based on the assumption that people do not yet know how to carry out the required activity and must learn it using the material, and with the aid, of these constructions (see [10]).

This distinction is, of course, abstract: it pinpoints a difference – we can even say an opposition –between two functions that in reality always «work» together. But what follows from this is not that we should reject this distinction itself, but merely that it must be comple­mented by more information that will answer the question of the degree to which the symbolic constructions corresponding to these two differ­ent functions are compatible with one another or, on the contrary, are mutually exclusive. What are the rules or laws for combining this information into unified, complex, symbolic structures, etc.? Once this information is obtained, we shall be able to put the above abstract distinction to effective practical use.

The «system» of systematic training and education

12. In the preceding analysis we were constantly confronted with the circumstance that the use of any structures transmitted from one state to another presupposes people’s possession of some activity. This applies equally to cases in which an activity itself is being transmitted. To learn an activity, even under conditions of systematic training, it is necessary already to have mastered some activities that then serve as premises for learning, and in a number of cases also become «ele­ments» of, the new activity being learned. Hence, a complex series of interrelations of one set of activities with others is formed. This inter­relationship determines how activities are organized in transmission and the order in which they are to be taken up in systematic training. The comparatively simple types of activities that constitute the basic building blocks for other, more complicated types of activities and are hence the bases for learning the latter are separated into special instruc­tional systems and transmitted along special «channels»; they are learned first. They are the first group of channels for transmitting an activity and, accordingly, the first subdivision of systematic training. If we then assume that the general elements of activities have been ac­quired, the transmission of more complex activities is reduced to the transmission of the symbolic means that enable one to construct this complex activity out of these newly learned elements. This is the second group of channels for transmitting an activity. It is important to stress that these two groups of channels are of fundamentally different kinds, and stand in contrast to one another: the first is formed on the basis of the direct transmission of an activity, whereas the second is built on the transmission of symbolic means for constructing complex activities from simpler activities.

This is, thus far, a very abstract paradigm. In reality, both groups break down further into a multitude of dissimilar components. First, systematic training in the general elements of an activity is made up of several stages, each of which is based on the preceding ones; consequently, for each stage from the second one on, a special system of symbolic means or tools is constructed. Thus, even the very first group of channels breaks down into» components in accordance with the same paradigm in terms of which it was itself introduced, and this process continues down into the present. In addition, «systematic training» breaks down into types of activity, e.g., «education» (physical, moral, esthetic, etc.), general education, specialized education, vocational training; and each type requires its own organization of the process of transmission and its own special sym­bolic means.

A no less complicated differentiation takes place in the second group of channels. The use of symbolic means to construct an activity itself re­quires special activities. Further, the more dissimilar the various symbol­ic means, the more varied will be these activities, and they, too, must then be specially learned. Thus, the expansion and increasing complexity of the second group of channels for transmitting an activity pose special tasks for the first group, increasing the list of the elementary activities that must be learned in preliminary instruction. Over time, it turns out that the activities necessary for the use of symbolic tools constitute the lion’s share of all social activities.

Hence, the end result of this entire process is the creation of a unique structure, long sequences of mutually dependent special teaching aids and the learning situations corresponding to them.

13. This discussion can be generalized. Although each stage in the systematic training and education of children is not reducible to teach­ing aids alone, but rather presupposes a considerably broader system of «living» relations to other children, to the teacher, to surrounding events, etc., we are fully warranted in saying that these systems as a whole are transmitted and constructed artificially for the purposes of education and upbringing. We can speak of a long sequence of life situations which are created in order that a child may learn socially fixed activities and through which society «coaxes» the child in the process of his education and upbringing. This is represented schemati­cally in Figure 9.

It should be stressed that this «channel» is an artificially created system (hence, we also call it an incubator); it appeared at a specific stage in the historical evolution of society, at first as a very small structure, not yet separate from the system of production itself, and then gradually expanded. Its growth was from «left to right» in the figure, i.e., from production and the formal learning intertwined with it to «pure» forms of instruction, from learning complex activities to learning the increas­ingly simpler activities underlying all others; of course, this also entailed a reorganization of the entire system. The training and education situa­tions that developed in this way and their sequences became entrenched in special means of transmission and were conveyed from generation to generation. This means that the child’s life situations throughout this entire «incubator» system were also entrenched in special means of transmission, handed down from generation to generation and imposed upon the child.

There is an important dependence between the successive parts or stages of the system, a dependence that is the inverse of the child’s real movement over time through the system. The child goes from «right to left,» and his passage through the «right» parts of the system is a precondition and a basis for his passage through the subsequent ones on the «left.» A directly opposite relation exists in the structure of the system: the existence and the necessity of the «left» components of the system are the basis for discriminating and constructing the rigorously defined’ ‘right» component. In fact, we have a single bidirectional depen­dence: to master an activity on the «left» side, a child must first have mastered activities on the «right» side; hence, the right side must be given precedence over the left in the system of education and training.

Systematic training and education as a sphere of «mass activity»

14. In the preceding sections of this article, I have described the place and functions of systematic training and education in the system of social reproduction. At the same tune, I began to explore and depict the structure and mechanisms of the components of reproduction, viewing them as a special sphere of «mass activity.» Thus, within the sphere of education and training, a special subdivision, «pedagogical production,» appeared (Figure 8). But the picture so far is still very incomplete, and must be defined and further developed.

A. A special kind of pedagogical activity is engendered in the context of practical training; this is «generalization of the experience of train­ing,» which consists of comparing and contrasting different procedures in a training activity and selecting the most effective.

At first the teacher wants simply to teach his pupils, and all of his actions are directed to this purpose. If he does not succeed the first time, he repeats his actions, adding new, more effective elements and discard­ing the unsuccessful ones. Hence, he repeats himself, again and again, until the practical training task is resolved. A series of varying activi­ties – D’, D», D»’…, results, each of which is directed toward the solution of the same training task. The better variants are intuitively singled out by the teacher and fixed in his individual activity as standards. But this very practice of repetition of an activity in different variations creates the conditions and the material for the emergence of activity of a fundamentally new type: the comparison and analysis of already produced activities for the purpose of selecting from them (or constructing from their elements) the best, most complete and effective activities. As a result of the need to transmit a training activity to a constantly expanding circle of people, the activity begins to be practiced with increasing fre­quency, until it finally becomes a specialty in its own right. The teacher becomes a specialist in method, who constructs techniques and methods for systematic training. His activity yields products different from those created in a teacher’s activity, and is directed toward different objects; his activity begins to serve the activity of teachers and, at the same time, to guide it.

B. The activity described above of constructing teaching aids for mastering production activity maintains itself and continuously develops. But it, in turn, generates another discrete activity of compiling training curricula, which then begins to regulate the direct development of teaching aids.

The mechanisms by which this new area of specialization acquires definition are analogous to the mechanism for separating the practical activity of a teacher from the activity of the specialist in method, who designs training techniques: after specific teaching aids and subjects have been created, or have developed, it becomes necessary to relate them to one another, to coordinate and combine them into a single system, and transmit that system from generation to generation. This work already requires other means than the designing of special teaching aids (I shall return to this point later) and hence is defined, and becomes, a discrete area of specialization in its own right; the educator, specialist in method, who develops programs for education and upbringing, appears on the scene.

C. To construct an educational curriculum and the particular subjects and means for realizing it, it is necessary to have an idea of the goals of education and training, or else to formulate them. This, too, is a special job. At the early stages of evolution of society, it is usually people active in political and cultural life who do this, i.e., people who, by the very nature of their occupations, have no direct relationship with pedagogy. But the expansion of the educational system, the increasing differentiation of the specialists in training, the growing complexity and refinement of the techniques of education and training, etc., make it necessary to provide more and more detailed and concrete definitions of goals (see [22,31,34]). Increasingly scrupulous, hence increasingly specialized, work is neces­sary to bring this about. Thus, the formulation and concrete development of the goals of education begin more and more to become a part of the system of «pedagogical production» itself, and demarcate themselves more and more from a strictly political formulation of the goals of devel­opment of society. In the system of pedagogy, a discrete area of specializa­tion, that of the educational planner, who develops tentative models of the man of future society, comes into being.

If we now try to combine all the areas of specialization demarcated within «pedagogical production,» we obtain a diagram such as that presented in Figure 10.

The activity of all these specialists constitutes a single, unified domain in which all the components are linked and interdependent: a specific project expressing the goals of education must be formulated in order then to construct a program for education and training; a program is needed to define the number, type, and relationship among the disciplines that are a necessary part of the system of education; tech­niques and methods of instruction, developed according to the nature of the teaching aids, are used to convey the latter to the pupils [future educators, in this case – Ed.]. Thus, the products of the activity of one specialist are conveyed to another and for him become either means, regulative controls, or components of the objects of activity; all these things together form a single system of cooperative activity.

15. When all this work is done, when teaching aids have been devel­oped in accordance with the program and teaching techniques ensure that these means are assimilated, when the «incubator» system as a whole is such as to make it possible to educate and train precisely those people needed by society, then the entire structure of cooperative activity under-girding teachers in their work, described above, becomes unnecessary. The system of school subjects and techniques of instruction and training, once developed, pursue an independent existence in the sphere of «cul­ture,» and are continuously transmitted from one state of the social body to another, underpinning the work of teachers and the training of pupils. They remain in the sphere of «culture,» and are transmitted both as a project expressing the goals of education and as a program; at any moment they may be retrieved from storehouses and used to justify the existing system of education and training. Thus, methodological work is «compacted» into the work of transmitting its already finished products.1

But things continue in this way only so long as the system of education that has evolved continues to train people who satisfy the existing system of the «production-consumption-club»; when a discrepancy arises be­tween the requirements of this «active» part of the social body and the «incubator,» all the above-described system of methodological activity is unrolled again so as to create in systematic fashion a new project of goals, a new program for education, a new system of subjects, and new tech­niques for learning them. All this alters the nature and the products of the activity of training and eliminates the discrepancy between trained people and the needs of society (see [22,6]).

In a rapidly developing society, methodological work goes on not in the form of sporadic impulses, as described above, but on a continuous basis, in special institutions; but it may still be directed only toward altering the existing system of education and training, either bit by bit or the entire system at one fell swoop.

16. The picture of pedagogical production sketched out above is by no means complete. First, I have deliberately left out all activities occurring in this system in connection with the tasks involved in the state organiza­tion of the «system of public education» and in its management. This is a special series of issues, which I shall not touch upon here. Second, the system still does not contain activities aimed at obtaining knowledge of use to «pedagogical production.» But this cannot continue to be disre­garded since it is in it, and in its relation to methodological work, that the solution to the problem we are examining lies. And it is to a discussion of this subject that we must now turn.

The above graphic portrayal of the sphere of education and training is a methods researcher’s subject of inquiry, whether in its completely devel­oped and detailed form or in only an incomplete and partial form; in other words, in methodological discussions we assume that the sphere of educa­tion and training is a discrete subject of study (see [28,20]). The singular­ity of this object consists in the fact that it is ‘ ‘mass activity.» The people involved in it are people who occupy specific places in the system of social reproduction. All of them have some knowledge about that area of the subject with which they must work, which, figuratively speaking, is «in their hands.» This knowledge is as much an objective element and com­ponent of the structure of «mass activity» as all the rest. It can be analyzed in terms of those areas of the subject about which it constitutes knowledge or, on the other hand, as tools and instruments, as means, used by anyone involved in pedagogical production in his specialized work. Thus, the researcher in methods can, making use of his «vision» of this sphere of activity as a subject: (1) coordinate the «locus» and function of knowledge in an activity with the area of its subjects and with content (the kind of subject matter and the way it is presented) and (2) compare the »sets of interrelationships» so obtained with one another to determine the dependence of the subject and the content of knowledge on the «locus» of the service for which it was developed in the first place. At the same time, he can, making use of the special conceptual apparatus of substantive genetic logic, describe the nature of this knowledge and ways to obtain it (see [33]).

Then, adopting in turn the vantage point of each of the different pedagogical workers introduced above, the researcher in methods will be able to «visualize» this range of subjects as they «see» it; but each of these particular and specialized «visions» will now be explainable in terms of the characteristics of that «locus» in the sphere of pedagogical production in which it is used and will appear not as an isolated and self-sufficient picture of the subject, but as an element within a broader notion defined in terms of activity theory, combining or, more accurately, giving a configuration to the aggregate of different bits of knowledge (regarding die idea of a configurated factor, see [24,30,29]). This knowledge should also include psychological knowledge about child development obtained from one rigorously defined position. But I shall have to come back to this point later. The first question with which we must begin can be posed in a very general form: What knowledge is essential for the different workers in pedagogical production?

Practical and methodological, technical and constructive, and narrowly scientific knowledge

17. Despite all their differences, the knowledge necessary for edu­cators may be described in terms of a number of common logical attributes.

Any activity, whether it be rearing children or developing new scien­tific knowledge, may be seen as the acquisition of a specific product corresponding to the requirements of a task or to «goals.» Whatever form a task may assume, it must always contain specific knowledge about the product of an activity; this knowledge forms the basic core of all the knowledge necessary to construct an activity.2 The second com­ponent is knowledge about the material or objects from which the necessary product can and must be obtained. The third type of knowl­edge specifies the means of activity and actions regarding their use.The fourth component is knowledge about the sequence of actions or »operations» that must be accomplished to obtain the necessary product from a given or selected materi­al. The form in which this knowl­edge is concretized can vary wide­ly, from simple skills to complex, branched algorithms or «method­ological principles.»

Even so, all these types of knowledge do not «exist» in isolation; rather, they form systems in which all the above-enumerated aspects of practical activity are interrelated: the material selected to obtain the envi­sioned products is determined by the nature of the available means and actions; a change in the material, in turn, makes it necessary to change the means and the actions employed. These dependencies are expressed in knowledge of a very diversified semantic structure and logical form. If we disregard differences in meaning and form and consider only the content of all this knowledge and represent it in the form of a structurally disjunc­tive «reality,» we obtain the model presented in Figure 11. Оn is the initial object or material to be transformed; Ok is the product of the activity being examined; O1 and O2 are intermediate products and objects for transformations; M are means; and D are actions. Of course, this model portrays only the simplest and most general structure of the content of the knowledge undergirding a practical activity.

18. The first characteristic of knowledge directly subserving a prac­tical activity consists in the fact that all the objects involved in the activity (as shown in Figure 11) are present in it exclusively in the form of objects of the activity: as the material transformed by the activity, as the products resulting from such transformations, or as the means used in these transformations. This is quite natural since when accomplish­ing a practical activity, a person must have direct knowledge of only one thing: what he must do, and the objects with which he must do it.

The second characteristic of this knowledge is that it is directed toward obtaining a specific product. The prototypical form for this type of knowledge will be: «To obtain product E, it is necessary to take object A and perform actions a, β, and γ with respect to it.» It is not difficult to see that the semantic structure of this knowledge is centered on the product of the activity, and that it is itself organized in such a way as to enable people to construct a practical activity. In other words, this knowledge is organized in the form of rules for an activity. Accord­ingly, we can call this kind of knowledge «practical methodological knowledge.»

19. Although practical methodological knowledge is, with regard to its form and the way it is organized, oriented toward a new, as yet unexpected activity (it tells what it is necessary to do), nonetheless in
its content it most often records the experience of already accomplished actions. One or several bits of  knowledge registering the results of past activities exist for every practical methodological piece of knowledge (in fact, the latter is generated through the processing of the former).

Whether this knowledge is scientific or nonscientific, it has one constant feature that distinguishes it from practical methodological knowledge, namely, the fact that its semantic structure is centered not on the product, but on the object of transformations; this knowledge tells about the object, or about what takes place or can take place with it.

The form this knowledge takes and the methods by which it is concretized may vary.

One large category is knowledge that tells us what will happen to a given object when we act upon it in a certain way. A prototypical form for this kind of knowledge is: «If we apply actions a, β, and γ to object A, we obtain object E.» Here the analysis of the objects is perceived exclusively from the standpoint of activity; this aspect makes knowl­edge of this type similar to practical-methodological knowledge. But another aspect, namely, the fact that the semantic structure of the knowledge is centered on the object, drastically distinguishes this type of knowledge from the latter. Moreover, as I shall show later, this knowledge differs substantially from strictly scientific knowledge with regard to other features as well. I shall call these «constructive-technical features.»4

New constructive-technical knowledge can, in its original and specific form,5 come into being only as new kinds and types of practical transfor­mations of objects are devised and are given practical implementation. In each case it records individual cases of such transformations, and is congealed in the form of general knowledge in specific people and collec­tives if there are many similar cases. Generalization here rests solely on the experience of many discrete practical transformations and does not yet have any special means and procedures for a «scientific analysis» of the objects themselves; hence, the real universality and practical efficacy of this knowledge turn out to be very limited.

20. On the basis of links already elaborated between constructive-technical knowledge and practical-methodological knowledge, people carry out transformations on new objects in the sphere of their activity. They endeavor to obtain certain definite products, and to do so they apply to objects means and actions already familiar to them. But the material results of their activity by no means always meet their expecta­tions. This is understandable, since any object «resists» the actions of people; it has its own independent «life» and its own «behavior,» which indeed we discover when we begin to act upon it: the material result of any transformation is determined not only by our activity but also by the characteristics of the object, by its «nature.» For a practical actor this circumstance is most often evident in a discrepancy between his goals and expectations and that which actually turns out to be the case, a breach of his experience and knowledge in the form in which it is preserved. It forces him to review and reorganize his existing knowl­edge, but only so that a similar discrepancy may soon appear, and this be repeated again and again.

This series of continually recurring discrepancies makes a funda­mentally new approach to the world of objects necessary. It becomes essential to explain the causes of these continually recurring dis­crepancies between the objectives of an activity and its results. Once this orientation is formed, it creates the basic precondition for the emergence of a special kind of «explanatory» effort, and then later for scientific knowledge and scientific analysis in the strict sense.

Many different conditions – economic, social, technical, and politi­cal – are necessary for a science to assume material contours. But with regard to ideas, the decisive factor is a radical shift in the way the objects of an activity are viewed. Although for a practical actor objects are always changed in activity and are the product of such change, he must at this point look upon them as «natural» processes taking place independently of his activity and governed by their own «internal» mechanisms and «internal» laws.

If a rock falls, it is always for some reason; before it fell it lay in its place. But until the actual falling of the rock, it is seen as an effect of this cause. There can be no scientific analysis of this process (2000 years of totally unproductive discussions and attempts at analysis are ample testi­mony to this; see [2,37,38,39]). A projectile is fired by a weapon made by people, and people guide it to its target. But so long as the flight of the projectile is viewed only in relation to the actions of people and the weapon, there can be no scientific knowledge. To obtain scientific knowl­edge, the flight of the projectile must be seen as a natural process taking place in accordance with laws that are independent of the activity of people. A wheel has no analogs in unsocialized nature; it is a machine invented by man. But to acquire scientific knowledge about the rolling of the wheel, it must be viewed as a natural process governed by «natural» laws.

There is a certain contradiction in this position. Indeed, in principle, a person (and mankind in general) is interested only in what is already part of, or can be part of, an activity and is consequently not interested in that which is «natural»; but if he wishes to organize his activity in the best way, he is forced to find within that activity that which he can conceive of as «natural,» i.e., that which takes place independently of his activity in accordance with its own «intrinsic» mechanisms and laws.

Therein lies the specific feature distinguishing a strictly scientific approach and scientific (natural scientific) knowledge from practical-methodological and constructive-technical knowledge.

21. The transition from constructive-technical knowledge to scien­tific knowledge is also reflected in the logical structure of the assertions expressing this type of knowledge. First we obtain a passive form: «Object A can be transformed into object B,» in which actions are omitted; next we obtain a specification of the possibility of transform­ing object A into many different objects – E, К, М, etc. – and then, further, a form of the type «When conditions P and Q are present, changes В, С, and D will take place in object A»; and, finally, an abstract, idealized form of the type «Changes in object (A) are gov­erned by law F.»6

But these differences in logical meaning and form, which are specif­ic for scientific knowledge, are only one particular manifestation of the changes related to the emergence of science. Science is a completely new sphere of activity, which differs in literally every respect from the sphere of practice and the elaboration of practical-methodological and constructive-technical knowledge.

A. Scientific knowledge, as I have noted, must distinguish and delimit certain’ ‘natural» processes that take place in objects and are governed by their’ ‘intrinsic» laws, and it must do this under conditions in which these objects are part of an activity and are evaluated from the standpoint of the goals and mechanisms of that activity. For this it is necessary to find and single out or stipulate such «objective» structures as would possess such «natural» laws or, more accurately, structures to which such laws could be attributed with a high degree of probability. These objective agglomer­ations or constructions should form an integral or closed system relative to those «natural» and «intrinsic» laws we seek. Strictly speaking, they are called «intrinsic» to stress their independence of the transforming activity of mankind and of their «natural» surroundings.

The singling out and delimitation of such objective constructions are a quite artificial and, in many cases, an arbitrary matter. A characteristic example is the description of the movement of a body in space. The body constantly interacts with the environment during its movement. But in formulating the law of motion, we do not specify the environment and interaction in the object to which the law applies, and we do not analyze the mechanisms and laws of the interaction itself. The law of motion stipulates and expresses only a change in the spatial coordinates of the body and time. But this means that we specify only the body itself and its «motion» as an objective construction for our knowledge. Interaction is taken into account implicitly, in specifying the conditions of the body’s movement («in air,» «in oil,» «in an airless space») or in the form of so-called limiting conditions.7

Furthermore, it is not always easy to define and delimit the boundaries of this construction, which will possess «natural» intrinsic laws. Often structures discriminated with regard to one law, e.g., the law of function­ing, may be incomplete or simply «not relevant» in terms of another law, e.g., the law of development (see [21,23]).

B. Since the boundaries of’ ‘objective structures» delineated for scien­tific analysis are correlated with the type of knowledge we obtain in this particular case, we can say that in science we always have links between objective constructions and the symbolic forms in which knowledge of them is nested. These links are «objects of scientific study» or «the subject matter of science» (see [28,24]). Knowledge that is, in a sense, above the object, stipulates not only how the object is «seen» but also the direction further development of the science will take. In other words, an «object» composed of heterogeneous elements of knowledge and objec­tive constructs is an organic system that lives and unfolds according to its own laws, distinct from the laws of the life of empirical objects (see [24,23,28]).

С. But even objective constructions themselves, developing within the subject matter of science (always in terms of particular «natural» pro­cesses and laws), cannot be discrete empirical objects or their links; they must necessarily be general, i.e., abstract structures; otherwise, scientific knowledge could not guarantee the effectiveness of such a diverse and continually changing practice.

This requirement of the object of scientific knowledge is combined with the requirement described at point A, and both are fulfilled in the definition and development of special «abstract» or «ideal» objects of knowledge, different from solitary empirical objects within the subject matter of science. The ideal objects of science form a special «reality,» which exists along with solitary, empirical objects and is in no sense less real than they (see [4,28,24]).

All the constructions described in the foregoing points, plus some of their interrelations, are represented in Figure 12.

D. The scientific knowledge and ideal objects that are part of the structure of scientific subject matter are elaborated using special procedures that are different from the analysis of empirically given objects. Initially, the simultaneous production of general knowledge appears as the creation of ideal, generalized objects implicitly assumed to be knowledge
and represented in the form of their «meaning» (the simplest of these procedures are described in [19]); the construction of ideal objects then becomes a discrete activity in its own right within scientific investigation. This type of activity finds its most distinct expression in the creation of symbolic models of objects (see [9,14,24]).

A specially organized cognitive activity begins to unfold on the basis of ideal objects: on the one hand, these objects are studied and described in terms of specialized knowledge, and on the other, they are continually expanded and further molded by the instruments of science and within the framework that science establishes. This activity gradually frees itself from its direct connection with practice and with the activity of elaborat­ing practical methodological and constructive-technical knowledge. This gives rise to the thesis that objects may be studied as such, thus opening up the prospect of constructing ever more multifaceted ideal objects and producing synthetic and «concrete» models (see [1,3]).

The expression of ideal objects in special symbolic forms, different from the forms hi which descriptive knowledge is expressed («ontological paradigms of meaning,» «models,» etc.), alters the procedures for producing general knowledge. They acquire the character of theoretical work in the strict sense, and are henceforth almost completely dissociated from analysis of empirical material (see [8,23]). All this takes place within the subjects studied by science and the scientific structures uniting them, and is governed by the special principles and laws of development of those subjects as unique organic systems (see [24,28]).

E. The separation of scientific disciplines from the sphere of practical activity and from the practical methodological and constructive-technical knowledge undergirding it creates a whole series of special difficulties in the practical application of scientific knowledge. These are related, on the one hand, to the experimental testing of particular empirical objects of knowledge obtained by studying ideal objects and, on the other hand, to the construction of practical and constructive-technical activity on the basis of scientific knowledge. As these difficulties are progressively resolved, special procedures are devised for applying scientific knowledge to discrete empirical objects. These procedures are based on specific comparison and contrasting of ideal objects with the discrete objects that enter into practical or methodological-constructive activity.

The application of scientific knowledge alters both the way of develop­ing practical-methodological and constructive-technical knowledge and putting it into practice.

Practical actions themselves begin to enter consciousness and to take form as actions that realize the «natural» and «intrinsic» potential ob­jects have for change that has been congealed hi existing scientific knowl­edge. (This frequently results in erroneous beliefs that other changes and practical transformations of these objects are in general impossible; the contemporary pedagogical orientation toward the «natural» laws of men­tal development of children is a good example of this.)

The availability of theoretically obtained knowledge about the possible and impossible changes in objects enables us to predict the results and consequences of new practical actions directed toward empirical objects and consciously to seek means and methods of action that might realize the potential latent in objects. Scientific knowledge is then processed simulta­neously into practical, methodological or constructive-technical knowl­edge.

This entire effort reveals with ever-increasing clarity that rigorously defined correlations exist between practical and constructive-technical activity, on the one hand, and scientific investigatory activity, on the other. To build up any practical or constructive-technical activity and to obtain the necessary products of it, it is necessary to construct and develop specific scientific subject matter and to obtain rigorously defined knowl­edge hi the latter. But, on the other hand, any scientific subject matter and any knowledge it contains opens up strictly defined and always very limited possibilities for constructing practical and constructive-technical activities.

It is from this standpoint that we must examine certain particular types of scientific knowledge and scientific subject matters that are important for an understanding of the problem of systematic training and develop­ment.

«Technical» analysis of causes and scientific analysis of «natural» processes

22. Every sphere of practical activity has its own particular set of practical problems and special means and techniques of activity for solving them. The means and the techniques of an activity have been gradually developed, selected, and accumulated over the course of history, while problems – the result of an activity’s becoming an object of awareness – have defined the relation of these means and techniques to the potential products and materials of the activity. The existing means and techniques of activity have corresponded, in principle, to potential problems, i.e., they have been adequate to their solution. But at certain moments and periods in the historical development of an activity, a situation has arisen in which the systems of practical activity that have developed and become fixed in tradition have ceased to yield solutions to the problems before them; indeed, this process has con­stantly repeated itself.

The reasons why such disruptions have arisen in the system of an activity are extremely varied:

  1. Society may have posed new tasks and goals.
  2. The material of an activity may have disappeared or undergone modification.
  3. Certain of the existing means and techniques may have van­ished.
  4. The system of organization of the activity may have broken down, or another type of organization may have become neces­sary, etc.

In such situations a rather major and relatively rapid reorgan­ization of the systems of an activity is necessary. Practical work­ers and design engineers begin to seek, construct, and apply new means and techniques. They do this relying on their intuition and creative ingenuity; but, however thorough they may be, such practical quests and design ingenuity are quite inadequate in producing the desired results. As a rule, newly invented means and techniques of an activity yield, at least initially, products that differ consider­ably from what had been expected. It then becomes necessary to look for the «causes» of this discrepancy between what has actually been obtained and what was expected, and then to eliminate the discrepancy or to fashion new means and new actions to overcome these diver­gences.

But this means that a new function and a new type of activity appear in the system of the particular sphere of production. Alongside the practical worker and the design engineer, the figure of the «explainer» enters the picture; this person does not operate with the objects of production, nor does he transform them into a prescribed form; rather, he seeks and determines the «reasons» why everything has taken place as it has instead of otherwise.8 Schematically, the situation may be represented as shown in Figure 13.

This newly emergent explanatory activity depends organically on prac­tical and constructive-technical activity; the unsuccessful results of a practical activity create an empirical object to which the «explainer» directs his activity and, in many respects, determine the direction of the explanation itself. Actually, the particular actions of a practice (employ­ing the means of that practice, under the conditions in which the latter had to be carried out) ought themselves, objectively speaking, to have pro­duced the result that was obtained. But that result differed from what practice itself expected on the basis of its past experience and the new project associated with it. Of course, it is natural that, from a subjective viewpoint, what was obtained should be completely different from what ought to have been obtained. From the standpoint of past experience and the new project, the obtained result is a deviation from the «norm,» and must be explained as such. Accordingly, even the question of «reasons» is posed as a question of the causes of the deviations obtained, and these causes are sought so that practice itself can be reorganized in accordance with knowledge about these causes. Indeed, this is where the dependence of «explanatory» activity on practical and constructive-technical activity is most evident.

The concept of cause so defined and an orientation toward a subsequent reorganization of practice establish the contours of the direction of ex­planatory analysis. The discrepancy between the actually obtained results of a practical activity and past experience and the intended result may be explained either by the fact that in the particular case «another object» was used at the outset, or by the fact that there were new conditions and new outside intervening factors that distorted the results of the practical activity. These two possible sources of the causes of deviations from the «norm» also determine the two principal paths of cognitive analysis.

In the first case, people compare the object of transformations of a new practical situation with an object that had earlier been used in analogous situations, identify its special distinctive properties, and begin to perceive the causes of the produced discrepancies in them. Schematically, this path of analysis is represented by Figure 14. The brackets linking the objects designate cognitive comparisons; (ABCD) is knowledge defining the dis­crepancy between the expected and the obtained result; and (a, β, and γ) is knowledge about the distinctive properties of the object Оn relative to the object Ok from past situations.

In the second case, in the process of seeking the causes of an obtained result, those condi­tions and factors whose influence in the new practical situation caused an unusual change in the original object are sought and described (relative to certain standards). This path of analysis is represented schematically in Figure 15. Here, P and Q represent the conditions of the new and of the old practical transformation, respectively; (S) represents knowledge about the difference between them that is regarded as the reason why Ok was obtained instead of O2.9

It is important to observe that at this stage of an «explanatory» analysis, human transforming actions are not included in the realm of the «causes» of the discrepancy obtained in practice from the ex­pected «norm» and are not analyzed; this is understandable since only such an orientation conforms to the practical tasks of analysis: namely, to find the reason why customary practical actions did not yield the desired results.


It is also important that all this work is not a scientific investigation in the strict sense and does not yet generate either scientific knowledge or a subject of scientific inquiry. The relation of a cause to its effect may be expressed in the terms of scientific knowledge in the strict sense only if it is encountered sufficiently frequently and admits practically of a signifi­cant generalized form of representation. But to obtain such a relationship between a cause and its effect, the question must be posed in a fundamen­tally different way from that in which it is posed in practice. Indeed, in all this work the principal and decisive element is the pinpointing of discrep­ancies between what is actually obtained and what is expected. Even when these discrepancies become constant and recurrent, they are still regarded as deviations, i.e., as random occurrences connected in no necessary manner with the basic element that is the focus of our expectations. This directly fits the concept of conditions, which in their actions alter the results of our transforming activity (Figure 15). But even when the cause of deviations is sought in the very object being transformed (Figure 14), it is still only those properties that distinguish it from the necessary model that are discriminated and focused on, so that, as a consequence, they are regarded as mere supplementary properties, randomly introduced. Hence, the search for me «causes» of discrepancies between actually obtained and expected results calls for special analyses and notions of situations of practical activity and of the objects transformed in that activity; but these analyses and notions are of such a nature that no strictly scientific general knowledge can be obtained, nor can the subject matter of scientific study be defined on their basis.

23. The task of obtaining general knowledge leads to the special job of delimiting the subject matter of scientific study. Initially, this takes place under the aegis of the category of causality elaborated in connec­tion with the above-described «technical» analysis; it is merely given a special turn by regarding the results obtained in practical transforma­tions, whatever they may be relative to past experience, not as random deviations from the «norm,» but as necessary and lawful results. Then a «cause» must be sought not for the deviations of the actually obtained result from the expected’ ‘norm,» but for the result as a whole, regard­ed as a «norm.»

But such a «cause,» which is not difficult to ascertain in a method­ological analysis, can only be the aggregate of the «nature» of the object being transformed, the conditions of its transformation, and the practical acts that effect the transformation. These three factors will determine the type and the nature of the final product of the transformations.

If we define the category of causality in this way, then it is not difficult to see that all the knowledge elaborated in conformity with mat category loses its practical sense. Actually, in the situation afforded by «technical analysis,» it was necessary to identify and analyze the deviations so as then later to reorganize, in conformity with the obtained knowledge, that (strictly determined) system of practical acts that yielded the unexpected results. But why is knowledge about «causes» developed on this point? In fact, this knowledge is correlated with results that already exist, are considered necessary, and can be obtained again with the same means and techniques. At this level, all such knowledge only repeats what has al­ready been set down once in «experience» and in the skills of a practical activity; it has no importance either for the practical activity itself or for its reorganization. To put it simply, if we have already obtained and are obtaining in practice what we need, then why do we still have to know for what reason it was obtained! In any event, even if such knowledge should have some significance for practice and for constructive-technical activ­ity, it definitely does not have any significance for the activities described above.

In addition, it turns out that, in general, it is impossible to construct a system of knowledge about concrete instances that would correspond to the structure of a newly defined category of cause. Indeed, as noted earlier, the nature and the type of product obtained in a practical transfor­mation are defined by, three groups of very disparate factors of unequal importance: (1) the «nature» of the object to be transformed, (2) the external conditions of the transformation, and (3) the practical actions of the person (Figure 16). All these factors must be included in the sphere of objects describable theoretically in accordance with the structure of a category of cause. But since these factors are very heterogeneous and participate in different ways in the formation of a product Ok, each of them must be identified and analyzed separately from the others; the product of this analysis should be general knowledge about each factor and its effect. Then, the effects of all three factors must be in some way summated, and knowledge about them combined into one complex of theoretical knowledge. This is what the task of producing a strictly scien­tific description of complex objects requires. However, neither an analysis of such an object in terms of its individual components nor, especially, a synthesis of the particular bits of knowledge related to its different com­ponents can be carried out at this point.

Thus, the conditions of transformations – and this may be regarded as a principle – can­not be identified to their full extent. The differ­ences between the final state of the object and its initial state are therefore usually noted, and the cause of these differences is sought. But the cause obviously resides not only in the external conditions but also in the actions of a person and in the «nature» of the object. The only way to discriminate the conditions from other components of a cause is by analysis of variation. But then me conditions, by the very way they are given, function as something that is randomly and constantly changing, as something only externally related to a transformation. In contrast, the transformation itself, which is deter­mined by the initial state of the object, functions as a constant and remains unchanged as the conditions vary. This opposition, however, makes it a priori impossible to identify the effect of conditions in general scientific knowledge; they can be regarded only as a factor modifying the basic relationship of the transition from Оn to Ok, but in the vast majority of cases, even this encounters difficulties, which are yet to be overcome (see [3,2,35,28]).

The situation is even more complicated with regard to analysis of the practical acts of people and their influence on the «nature» of objects. Until quite recently the problem of studying these acts as unique, «natur­al» structures governed by objective laws had not even been posed, and no concepts for their general scientific analysis had been developed (see [5,28,33]).

The only component of the object represented in Figure 16 that could be scientifically analyzed and described in terms of generalized knowl­edge was thus the relationship between the initial and the final states of the object being transformed. The use at this point of the concept of cause (despite the obvious methodological inconsistency of such an approach) resulted in a very important and fruitful identification of the connection between On and Ok as a special and independent object of study and made it possible to contrast and compare it with other connec­tions and to delimit objects themselves as a special and integral world apart.10

Thus was the world of «natural» processes fashioned and grounded.

The very concept of «natural» was in direct contradiction to the concept of cause, although people were not aware of this for a long time, and are not fully aware of it even yet; but it was not this profound philosophical contradiction, but much more particular aspects that at this point caused the eclipse of the concept of cause: after «natural» processes had been identified and become an object or study, it was no longer theoretically or practically meaningful to characterize the initial state of an object as being the cause of its final state. Hence, on the one hand, the very category of cause began to change appreciably, acquiring a completely new content and meaning, and, on the other hand, other categories began to be used in the scientific analysis of the «natural» world, and on their basis the principal scientific disciplines were later constructed. The most important of these were the category of process and the category of development.

24. As I have said, the principal preconditions for the formation of a strictly scientific approach were two:

  1. What occurred as a result of transformations began to be viewed as something that had to occur.
  2. The practical actions of human beings in general were eliminat­ed from analysis. At first this was done without any reasons being given at all; later the reason given was that human actions were not what produced the result, were not its «cause,» but only a «means» that permitted the intrinsic «natural» forces and causes residing in the object itself to become manifest.

When this hypothesis appeared, it became possible to examine all the forms assumed by an object in the course of its transformation as successive states in a single, unitary process of change. The stages and steps of the process of change itself began to be considered. (These two expressions signal two different conceptions, and, if we may use such an expression, two different visions of an object of study; the transition from the first to the second was extremely important since it made it possible to analyze and describe processes themselves as objects.)

The «natural» changes in an object in a single process and the «natural process» of changes in an object were analyzed and depicted differently.

The simplest form was representation in the form of a limited (usual­ly small) sequence of fixed states of the object characterized by certain parameters. These could be qualitatively different characteristics of the form a, β, γ, δ or quantitatively different characteristics within one quality, a1a2a3 . . .; the latter case is called the growth of the object. The set of such characteristics serves as a norm and a normative scale of a process of change. At this stage of the analysis, differences still arise between the representation of the process of changes and the representation of objects themselves as they undergo change: a se­quence of parameters serves as a picture of the process itself, and each individual parameter becomes a picture of a specific state of an object.

A more complex form of representation emerges when we try to find or devise some regular rule that could be used to characterize the development of the entire series of parameters. In this case we either «go deeper» into the object itself and begin to analyze its structure and the «internal» processes taking place in it, or we move to a purely phenomenological plane and attempt to construe some dependence of a change in parameters on time (velocity) or on preceding values of these parameters (intensity). Either version of phenomenological analysis reveals what is called the laws of change of objects. «Laws» are related to processes, and characteristics of the states of objects are derived from these laws through special procedures. Thus, differences arise between the representations of objects in the process of their change and representations of processes – representations that essen­tially bear no relation to the specificity and internal structure of the objects themselves as they undergo change.

Even when phenomenological knowledge is in the form of laws describing the «life» of objects, it only characterizes and describes «phenomena,» and hence is very limited. Knowledge about the structure of objects and their «internal» processes is more essential, but is difficult to obtain since we are always encountering the problem of achieving a relatively complete and exhaustive delimitation of the boundaries of the objects studied. In a phenomenological description it is sufficient to have a set of discrete parameters, and one can come up with relevant general statements; in a structural analysis, it is absolutely necessary to discriminate all the elements and connections participat­ing in the «internal» process being examined (see [25]), and this is always a very difficult matter. Hence, in the actual practice of investi­gation and inquiry, preference is often given to phenomenological knowledge.

Even more complicated are representations of processes of change in that, based on structural notions of the objects and the internal processes taking place in them, the first step is to analyze the mecha­nisms of the «life» of an object and introduce concepts of functioning and development, and then on this basis to construct models of the functioning and developing objects.

At this stage of analysis, the difference and opposition between representations of changing objects and the processes of change them­selves are again suspended: the phenomenological laws of change of objects are derived from their structural models and then explained.

The above-described forms must not be regarded as simply parallel; they trace a sequence of development and deepening of knowledge about’ ‘natural» processes that all sciences evidently pass through until they begin to be grounded and synthesized within the framework of the theory of activity.

25. Psychology also follows this path completely in its elaboration of the concept of the mental development of children.

To demonstrate this on the basis of specific historical material, we must examine:

(1) the first stages in the genesis of notions about a child’s «natur­al» development and his or her various mental characteristics in terms of education and psychology;

(2) the further immanent development of the subject matter, after it has taken shape in this way, within the framework of the science of psychology;

(3) the effects of pedagogical practice on the development of psy­chological notions concerning the development of a child and possible ways to use psychological knowledge about development in pedagogical practice;

(4) theoretical difficulties in the «psychology of development» resulting from linking its conceptions with those of other sciences, e.g., biology, logic, and, most importantly, sociology, as part of efforts to bring all of these together within one single conception of man (see [11,22,25,33]);

(5) theoretical difficulties in applying the concept of development itself to man and mankind, on the one hand, and, on the other, to such abstract objects as «cognition,» the «mind,» «aptitudes,» «the per­sonality,» etc. (see [11,12,20,25,27]);

(6) the development of a «cultural-historical» conception in psy­chology and the related phenomenon of «educational psychology,» with its special object of study, no longer reducible to man as such or to
man’s specific qualities;

(7) the discrepancy thus arising between new ontological concep­tions of man and man’s development under conditions of systematic training, on the one hand, and earlier developmental techniques and
methods for studying processes of development, on the other (see [11,25,26,27]).

Such a historical-critical analysis of the problem should then make it possible to:

(a) construct a new, detailed conception of systematic training as a discrete sphere of mass activity and a special subsection of the body social;

(b) develop methods for delimiting the processes of development within systematic training in order to then study them as phenomena dependent on the systems of education and training (both existing or

(c) develop methods for projecting the man of future society and for defining the goals of education in conformity with such projections;

(d) develop methods projecting new systems of education and training that will provide optimal paths for achieving the goals of education (see [12,26,25]).


  1. Hence, every new state of the body social and every activity in it are related to activities from preceding states.
  2. In some cases this knowledge will be expressed in a, for it, completely nonspe­cific form of a material prototype of the product (see [13]). But this does not essentially alter the issue.
  3. In some cases knowledge about means and knowledge about actions are distinct from one another, and may even exist without any connection whatever between them; in other cases, means and actions are merged into a single whole, into «operations,» and then they are, of course, fixed in one single type of knowledge. This is especially clear when certain knowledge must be the product of activity and the means of the activity exist in the form of «operative systems» (see [14,17,32]).
  4. Here the term technical is used not in the sense of modern «technology» and the engineering industry of machinery production, but in the sense of the ancient Greek «art» or «artificiality.» This in fact is the source of the characterization of pedagogy as an «art» in the works of K. D. Ushinskii et al.
  5. Evidently, constructive-technical knowledge historically precedes scientific knowledge. Like many other components of organic systems, it «lives» and develops independently of scientific knowledge up to a certain moment, merely generating
    within itself the conditions for scientific knowledge to appear later. But then when scientific knowledge has come into being, it in many areas embraces and subordinates to itself constructive-technical knowledge, reorganizing the entire system and procedure of development of the latter. From this point on, constructive-technical knowledge begins to be built up on the basis of scientific knowledge and in conformity with it. When we speak about the initial and specific forms of constructive-technical knowl­edge, we are thinking about those forms that develop before it becomes subordinated to scientific knowledge.
  6. The question of the difference between types of scientific knowledge has been almost entirely neglected and is not studied in modern logic; we can say that only the very first steps have been taken in this area, and that so far it is not so much results as a
    multitude of difficult problems that have been produced (see [18, bibliography; 36, also bibliography]).
  7. This does not mean that in mechanics there is no more complex knowledge in which the attempt is made to take into account as well the mechanisms of interaction with the environment in deriving the laws of movement of bodies (see [35]). But it must
    be conceded that, so far, there has not been much success in dealing with this problem.
  8. 8. It is clear that nothing changes in essence if initially the same people begin to look for causes who previously have carried out practical and engineering and designing work; this still remains a special and new activity. The goal represents what should
    have been obtained as a result of practical actions, Ok being what actually was obtained and Оn the initial material for processing.
  9. The question of what, under such conditions, may be considered a «cause,» and the cause of what, is very complicated in itself; in particular, major difficulties arise owing to the fact that in the analysis and representation of such situations, it is
    necessary to use structures of two types: on the one hand, objects and, on the other, properties (differences) represented as ideal objects. These structures lie on different planes of substitution in knowledge and in the reality represented in them, and they can
    be correlated with one another in reasoning processes only in accordance with special, very complicated, logical paradigms. In this article I shall not analyze all these subtle aspects, but limit myself to the simplest and crudest of them (some additional com­ments are given below).
  10. Descartes’s thesis that matter is the cause of itself was the reflection of this revolution in philosophical knowledge.


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  4. Il’enkov, E. V. [The ideal]. Filosofskaya entsiklopediya, Vol. 2.
  5. Kotarbin’skii, T. [Praxiology]. [Selected works]Moscow, 1963.
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* The term obuchenie, rendered here as «instruction,» implies a two-sided process of teaching and learning. Hereafter it will be rendered as «teaching/learning.» – Ed.