Engestrom, Yrjo.  “Interobjectivity, Ideality, and Dialectics.”  Culture, Mind, and Activity.  3 4 (1996).  259-266.  Print.

  • E. begins by highlighting how Latour’s theory of interobjectivity is analogous to many tenants of CHAT.  First, E. notes that Latour’s theory of object-directed action shares much with Leont’ev’s description of activity:  “The expression of ‘objectless activity’ is devoid of any meaning’” (259).
  • Goal of article: demonstrate convergences and divergences from Latour’s call for an object-oriented sociological theory of society in CHAT and AT.
  • E. first notes that Latour’s recognition of non-traditional tools (walls, roads, parks, clothes, etc.) poses an interesting question for AT:  these are infrastructural, man-made tools; however, they aren’t necessarily attached to a specific set of purposes and uses.  As such, E. sees these sorts of objects as utilities and media rather than utensils and means; however, he doesn’t exclude them from being a part of activity systems.  Here’s E.’s graphic for the role of a wall in a human activity system followed by his text explaining the graphic:












  • E. agrees with Latour that societal structures are the causes of any action; however, E. disagrees with Latour’s flattening of networks of association.  (For an extended discussion of this flattening, see notes in Part II from Reassembling the Social).  For E. the three-fold nature of activity (operation, action, activity) makes this flattening difficult to swallow.  Furthermore, the way that AT understands context (via rules, division of labor, community, etc.) in the composition of a system are removed in Latour’s description of flattening from “On Interobjectivity.”  E. makes his criticism this way, “Instead of jumping directly from actants to networks, I suggest stopping to discover the intermediate institutional anatomy of each central actant – that is, the historically accumulated durability, the interactive dynamics, and the inner contradictions of local activity systems.  And I recommend keeping one’s eyes open for both vertical and horizontal relations in activity systems and their networks” (263).
  • E. is a bit hesitant to recognize how objects carry with them “people who are absent today, although their action continues to make itself felt” (263).  Here’s why:  First, E. defines ideality as “the form of social human activity represented in the thing” (via Ilyenkov).  The most prominent examples he provides are money and value – in capitalist market economies the value-form is the dominant ideal of things like money.  So, in this sense, things are actually commodities (“contradictory unities of use value and exchange value”).  Next, E. uses the example of the commodity form to critique Latour’s strict adherence to the “inherent sociality” of actants.  In other words, E. wants to provide a historical background to any object; specifically, he wants to draw attention to the way that the commodity form somehow interferes with the inherent sociality of an object (I need help here- anyone?!? )
  • E.’s most trenchant critique is with Latour’s method:  Latour bemoans dialectics and attempts to overcome them in theories of networks; however, as E. points out, Latour engages in dialecticality in this piece:  he poses a dialectical contradiction between micro (interactionist) and macro (structural) explanations of sociality then proceeds to offer a third way via object-orientedness.  A dialectician?!?

Leave a Reply