Toward an Organic Theory for the Cultural-Historical Sciences

Abstract

In present-day cultural-historical sciences, explanations of activity are provided in terms of thing-like, independent, and self-actional entities including subject, object, tool, sign, mind, culture, meaning, and community. In this theory-building contribution, I instead suggest an organic theory to theorize activity in terms of events, characterized by actuality and becomingness. Organic theories have radical consequences for the cultural sciences in that cherished notions—e.g. mediation, identity, intersubjectivity, and cause–effect relation—no longer have a place in organic theories of human activity. This study describes the foundations of an organic approach, provides an analysis exemplifying an organic view, and develops some of its implications for the cultural-historical sciences.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I use the term cultural-historical sciences and cultural-historical theories to refer to the complex of communities and theories that somehow anchor their origins in Vygotsky, Leont’ev, Luria, and others using varying labels to distinguish themselves from others.

  2. 2.

    In some indigenous languages, animals, for example, are named by what they do, like a fish taking bate easily or disappearing into the woods quickly.

  3. 3.

    Involuntary remembering similarly is to be understood as event that arises from and accompanies the events of material life, in which it has an organic function, as living memory, rather than being some static form: memory (Zinchenko 2008).

  4. 4.

    Conscious awareness itself is theorized in terms of the specious present, that is, as a temporally extended phenomenon in which the past and future are part of the present.

  5. 5.

    Dewey (1929) uses the example of a bullet entering the heart of a person. He shows why “the mere firing of the shot” (p. 448) cannot be the cause of death; and the entering of the bullet in the vital organs (e.g. the heart) cannot be the cause of dying because it is a constituent of it.

  6. 6.

    The self-avowed intellectualism of Vygotsky’s work likely was one of the conditions why he never realized the aspirations of a “concrete human psychology” outlined in an eponymously entitled, fragmentary text (Vygotsky 1989).

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Roth, W. Toward an Organic Theory for the Cultural-Historical Sciences. Integr. psych. behav. 54, 286–307 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-019-09510-6

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Keywords

  • Organic theory
  • Event
  • Transaction
  • Occasion
  • Pragmatism
  • James
  • Whitehead
  • Mead