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Tätigkeitstheorie: E-Journal for Activity Theoretical Research in Germany

Publisher: Georg Rückriem & Hartmut Giest

ISSN: 2191-6667

Started in 2010

Published quarterly

Free of fees
Open Access Journal


A.N. Leontyev's "Materials about Consciousness" (1936): a key text 276

Peter Keiler
PhD in Psychology, Professor, Sub-Department of Psychology, Department of Educational Sciences and Psychology, Free University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany

In his manuscript “Materials About Consciousness,” written apparently in the spring of 1936 and not published during his lifetime, A.N. Leontiev gives an account of his basic positions in theoretical-methodological questions as well as in regard to the “cultural-historical” approach in general and the views of L.S. Vygotsky in particular. Based on this account, the research program of the “Kharkov-group” of psychologists (founded in 1932 and headed by Leontiev) is expounded. The analysis of the manuscript reveals a close affinity of Leontiev’s basic positions to the “monistic” views of A.A. Bogdanov on one hand and the ideas of the French Durkheim-school about the “societal consciousness” on the other. In his critical survey of Vygotsky’s views, the influence of S.L. Rubinshtein’s claim for a more consequent consideration of K. Marx’ ideas on psychology, as expressed especially in his early writings, is much in evidence. Furthermore, Leontiev’s criticism of Vygotsky’s, drawing on “Vygotsky in the year 1931” (without detailed reference), shows a strong bias toward the reduction of the comprehensive problem of “meaning” to the problem of “word meaning”. Imputing to Vygotsky the idea of “communication between consciousnesses” being the source of mental development, Leontiev puts forward, as a counterpart, his own conception of tool mediated activity (“industry”) as the decisive condition of the formation of human consciousness. By all this, the reader gets the impression that Leontiev is not arguing against the authentic conceptions of Vygotsky but a caricature of them. The fact that Leontiev in “Materials About Consciousness” apparently miss-conceives Vygotsky’s ideas puts in question the established belief that he was an intimate connoisseur of the latter’s lifework. Instead, the counterthesis must be formulated (and is evidenced by further examination of other texts of Leontiev written in the 30s) that Leontiev, due to his “exile” in Kharkov, as early as 1932 was no longer well informed about Vygotsky’s actual (multifarious) research programs, and in the end had lost completely the connection with the latter’s theoretical conceptions, developed in the last three years of his life.

Keywords: history of labour and higher mental functions development, critique of cultural-historical theory, relationships between ideal and rudimentary forms of activity, theory of consciousness by L. S. Vygotsky, “societal consciousness” in the works by A. N. Leontyev, relationships between societal and individual consciousness, Leontyev’s attitudes towards Durkheim school, influence of S. L. Rubinschtein on A. N. Leontyev

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