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Biography

Georgy Petrovich Shchedrovitsky was born in Moscow on February 23, 1929. His father, Pyotr Georgievich, a graduate of the Moscow Higher Technical School, worked in the aviation industry. His mother, Kapitolina Nikolayevna, worked as a physician after graduating from the First Moscow Medical College.

In 1946, G. P. Shchedrovitsky entered the Physics Department at Moscow State University (MSU) majoring in theoretical physics. His academic interests had formed during his first years in the Physics Department and were directed toward the structure of scientific theories with the intention to develop a project of the theory of thought. This interest predetermined his transfer (in 1949) to the Philosophy Department where he studied philosophical issues of natural science, and later, the logic and methodology of science. In his fourth year at the university he started to work as a high school teacher of logic, psychology and physics. In 1953 he graduated cum laude. His diploma thesis was devoted to the mechanisms of the genesis of scientific concepts.

Immediately upon graduation G. P. Shchedrovitsky started working on his candidate dissertation, Lingual Thinking and Methods of its Analysis, which was his attempt to accommodate in his own way the ideas, means, and methods of logic, linguistics, psychology and social studies. He successfully defended his dissertation and was awarded a candidate degree in philosophy (1964).

The year 1957 marks the date of Georgy Petrovich’s first research publications on issues of thought and thinking activity. During the same period the journal ‘Reports of the Academy of Pedagogical Studies of the Russian Federation’ published a programme for interdisciplinary research of thought and activity, which he developed together with N. G. Alexeyev and I. S. Ladenko. This programme is still instrumental today in various types of research.

Seminars played a very important role in Georgy Petrovich’s research and teaching, as they allowed for the greater involvement of his students and young colleagues in his research programmes. In 1955, he conducted a methodological seminar and started a seminar for the interdisciplinary systemic study of thought at the Chair of Logic of the MSU Philosophy Department. In March 1958 under the auspices of the All-Union Psychologists Society, Georgy Petrovich formed a Commission for The Study of The Psychology of Thought and Logic (jointly with V. V. Davydov and with the support of Prof. P. A. Shevaryov), the activities of which he promoted until his death. In 1962 he and his colleagues, V. N. Sadovsky and E. G. Yudin, set up the Interdisciplinary Seminar on Structural and Systemic Methods of Analysis in Science and Technology at the Commission on Cybernetics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (or, Scientific Board on interdisciplinary problem ‘Cybernetcs’ at the Præsidium of the Academy headed by A. I. Berg). Georgy Petrovich led the Seminar through 1976. The seminar discussions resulted in a collection of papers Problems of Research in Systems and Structures (1965) and a monograph by G. P. Shchedrovitsky, Methodological Problems of Systems Research (1964).

Starting from April 1958, Georgy Petrovich worked at the Publishing House of the Academy of the Pedagogical Sciences of the Russian Federation. Initially, in the editorial office of the Pedagogical Dictionary he supervised the sections of psychology, physiology and vocational education. Later, in the editorial office of pedagogy he edited works by N. K. Krupskaya, P. P. Blonsky, and books on the theory and history of pedagogy. During the same period he worked as an editor for the journal, Psychological Issues.

During this period he focused on such research problems as the structural and systemic analysis of knowledge and thinking activity; the status and limits of logical and prescriptive methods of analysis of thought in their relation to psychological as well as psychological-pedagogical studies of thought.

From October 1960 to August 1965, he was a junior researcher at the Laboratory of Psychology and Psychophysiology at the Research Institute of Preschool Education of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the Russian Federation. G. P. Shchedrovitsky studied the intellectual development of preschool children, the issues of children’s play and its role in the development of a ‘children’s society,’ the development of preschool and primary school children under teaching conditions, and the analysis and typology of learning and teaching. The primary topics of research at that period were: Study of A Child’s Thought Process in Solving Arithmetic Problems (published works of 1960, 1961, 1964, 1965, 1974); The Methodology of the Pedagogical Study of Play (1963, 1964, 1966, 1973); The Interconnection of Education and Development from the Systems-of-Activity Viewpoint (1966, 1968, 1974). During this same period, Shchedrovitsky together with B. V. Sazonov, V. M. Rozin, N. I. Nyepomnyashchaya, N. G. Alexeyev, and A. S. Moskayeva worked on a fundamental volume of Pedagogics and Logic which reflected the basic direction of research within the limits of contensive genetic logic and the theory of activity.

Starting in 1960, G. P. Shchedrovitsky devoted much of his time to the issues of speech and language outlining a programme for systems-of-activity semiotics. The primary research topics of that period are: On Method of Semiotic Study of Sign Systems (publications of 1963–67), ‘Natural’ and ‘Artificial’ of Semiotic Systems (1965–1967), and On the Main Approaches in the Study of Signs and Sign Systems (1964–1967).

At the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Technical Aesthetics at the State Committee on Science and Technology of the USSR (August 1965 through March 1969) G. P. Shchedrovitsky was a senior researcher and headed the Research Team for Design Methodology. His research during this time was focused on the basic concepts of the theory of activity, specific features of design thought and design activity, and methods of historical and critical analysis. The results of this period are presented in such works as Designing in a System of Total Design (1965–1967) and Designer’s Thought (1966–1969). Simultaneously he attempted to transfer the ideas about the sphere of activity (developed for design) into the realm of pedagogy and linguistics. These attempts are reflected in such works as System of Pedagogical Research (publications of 1966 and 1970) and The Methodological Value of the Problem of Linguistic Universals (1966 and 1969). At the same time the sociological approaches to the study of activity and thought were being developed and elaborated with issues of organisation, direction, and management coming to the foreground. This initiated the study of the scientific and technological movements in design, systems research, organisation and management, etc.

In February 1968 Moscow was the scene of a show trial against A. I. Ginzburg and Yu. T. Galanskov. The latter had attended the school where Georgy Petrovich taught at one time. This coincidence might have been the reason Shchedrovitsky signed a collective protest letter drafted by cultural leaders and academicians who supported the accused. The letter was addressed to the CPSU and government leadership. In July and August of the same year G. P. Shchedrovitsky was expelled from the CPSU (which he had joined in 1956) by the district and Moscow city committees of the CPSU for ‘actions aimed at the detriment of the party and the state.’ Plans to publish the book Pedagogics and Logic were cancelled (it was finally published and gained widespread circulation in 1993).

Nevertheless, until March 1969 when he was abruptly dismissed through staff reductions, Georgy Petrovich continued to work at the Department of Design Theory and Methodology at the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Technical Aesthetics, where he was in charge of the preparation of the collective monograph Methodological Problems of Design Theory. The  immediate cause of the dismissal was the Remark, published by ‘Pravda’ newspaper and signed by its then Deputy Editor-in-Chief V. G. Afanasyev, which referred to the article Scientific Data Or Self-Deception? by G. P. Shchedrovitsky in ‘Literaturnaya Gazeta’. The article (named as such by the editorial board) claimed that no data provided by sociological surveys can be regarded as scientifically correct until sociology formed its scientific subject.

As a result Georgy Petrovich was out of work and ultimately without any means of support. At that time it was unlikely that anyone would offer a position to a candidate of philosophy who had been expelled from the CPSU. However, someone did just that. In April 1969, G. P. Shchedrovitsky was hired as a staff member of the Central Educational and Experimental Workshop of the Union of Artists of the USSR, first as a guidance counsellor and later as head of the Laboratory of Teaching Methodology.

Throughout the whole period and notwithstanding the ‘circumstances’ Georgy Petrovich continued researching the problems of semiotics and the theory of understanding (hermeneutics); studied the specific features of design, planning, and programming thought; and analysed the prospects for the development of methodological thought and methodology, specific forms of methods and methodological work, while using every chance to publish the results of his research as well as the results of the collective work he was part of.

The basic works of that period include Sense and Meaning in the Structure of Sign (publications of 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1974), The Issues of the Historical Development of Thought (1973, 1974, and 1975), and The Systems Research Movement and the Prospect of the Development of Systemic and Structural Methodology (1974, 1979, 1981, and 1985). This is also the period when major research into the basis of the general theory of activity, reflexive processes and their role in activity development was attempted along with a more detailed analysis of the processes of communication. This branch of research is represented in the following publications: Meanings and Knowledge (1971), Communication, Activity, Reflexion (1975), Sense and Understanding (1977).

The year 1975 marked the publication of a collective monograph (by A. G. Rappaport, O. I. Genisaretsky, B. V. Sazonov, and others): Development and Implementation of Automated Systems in Design. Theory and Methodology. Georgy Petrovich authored the section Basic Notions and Categoric Means of the Theory of Activity, where he accommodated the main ideas of the theory of activity and the systems approach.

In October 1974, G. P. Shchedrovitsky transferred to the Moscow Regional State College of Physical Culture as a senior lecturer of the Pedagogical faculty. He lectured on pedagogy and the history of pedagogy, introduction to specialities, and read courses in methodology of pedagogical research in the sphere of sports and methodology of designing systems of sports training, as well as special courses in the social and psychological structure of sports teams. From 1975 he focused his research on the topic of Methodological Recommendations for Designing a Year-Long Cycle of Training (Content and Models for Organising Classes for Olympic Alternate Team Coaches).

The sports administrators’ interest in methodology was well justified by the approaching Moscow Olympic Games of 1980. Starting in 1974, Georgy Petrovich served on the Research Council of the Sports Committee of the USSR and headed the Commission for Structural and Systemic R&D in Physical Culture and Sports. In three years, the Commission held five All-Union Conferences on the systems-of-activity analysis of physical culture and sports issues. At this time, he and L. N. Zhdanov conducted a Scientific and Methodological Seminar on Physical Culture and Sports Issues at the Moscow Regional State College of Physical Culture (from 1976) and implemented an interdisciplinary scientific and methodological research programme during the professional internship and training of students (from 1979) set up by the Ministry of Higher Education of the USSR.

During this period such issues as the forms of organising collective thought and activity; the organisational, social and psychological structure of collective teams, groups and team communication; and interdisciplinary relations gained prominence in his research. The main results of this work are elucidated by the following texts: On the Main Aspects of Sociological Research in Physical Culture and Sports as a Sphere of Activity (1977), On the Main Issues and Directions of the Scientific and Methodological Research in the Sphere of Sports (1977), Interdisciplinary Organisation of Scientific Research as a Social and Technical System (1979), and others.

In 1979, Georgy Petrovich began his research on the topic of An Analysis of the Techniques of Solving Complicated Problems and Tasks with Incomplete Information and Collective Action. This research gave rise to the development of a new way to organise collective thought and activity, aimed to solve complicated interdisciplinary, industrial, scientific and technological and managerial problems which became known as Activity Organising Games (AOG). Through 1979–91 G. P. Shchedrovitsky conducted over 90 AOGs and all of them provided data for his study and served as a means for further research in thought, understanding and reflexion. Thus, in 1983 Shchedrovitsky and his co-authors prepared the following works under the research topic of Prospects and Ways to Automate Systems of Thought-Activity: Situational Analysis and an Analysis of Situations, Schemes and Signs in Thought and Activity, Schemes in Thought and Signs in Communication, and Operating Schemes for Activity Organising Games.

In 1980–83 G. P. Shchedrovitsky worked as a senior researcher at the Psychology Department of the Scientific Research Institute of General and Pedagogical Psychology at the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the USSR. In December 1983 due to changes in the Institute’s leadership and by the decision of the Præsidium of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences to suspend all research in the psychology of management activity, he transferred to the Central Scientific Research Institute of Design of the State Construction Committee of the USSR, Department of Methodology and Theory of Engineering Research (which was later reorganised and made part of the Industrial and Scientific Research Institute for Engineering Surveys and Construction under the same State Committee).

During that period his research focused on the subject of the Rank of Complexity in Design and Surveys and The Typology of Situations in Design and Surveys. Georgy Petrovich also conducted an inter-university seminar in systems approach in geology at Moscow’s Gubkin Institute of the Petrochemical and Natural Gas Industries.

His next posting found G. P. Shchedrovitsky at the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of the Theory of Architecture and Urban Development where he headed the Laboratory of Management in Design and Construction (December 1988 through April 1992). At this time he was able to restore his former line of projects and programmes.

Georgy Petrovich’s last position was at the International Academy of Business and Banking (now Togliatti Academy of Management) where he worked from April 1992 to January 1994. At the Academy he guided a group of his young colleagues who had founded the Network of Methodological Laboratories to design a modern system of education and methodological training and started the project implementation.

In total, Georgy Petrovich authored more than 150 published works, including publications in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Bulgaria, and other countries. And this is but a small part of his writings over 40 years of intense work, incessant meditations, discussions and discourse with colleagues, friends and pupils.

His last years coincided with the period of perestroika which helped to introduce methodology to society. In the structure of the Union of Scientific and Engineering Societies of the USSR, G. P. Shchedrovitsky formed the Committee on Methodology of Thought-Activity Systems and Activity Organising Games. Íå arranged and conducted five All-Union Methodological Conventions (in Kiev, Samara and Moscow), the last of which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Moscow Methodological Circle.

This text was prepared by G. A. Davydova in 1994 from autobiographical documents of G. P. Shchedrovitsky.

Translated from Russian by M. V. Oborina, Cand. Sc. (Philology)

 
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