Activity Theory

A critical overview


Andy Blunden completes his immanent critique of Activity Theory, begun in 2010 with An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity. A summary of the ontological foundations of Activity Theory introduces a critical review of the work of activity theorists across the world with a focus of applications in medical and educational contexts, and concluded with a review of the ethics of collaboration. Blunden expands the domain of Activity Theory to address the pressing problems facing humanity today and activities lacking in clear objects, collaboration in voluntary projects and social movements, the life projects of individuals and emerging practices. Blunden brings an understanding of Marxist and Hegelian philosophy to bear on the application of Activity Theory to problems of social change.

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Andy Blunden is an independent scholar in Melbourne, Australia, who has written on Activity Theory, collaboration and collective decision making, social movements and Hegelian philosophy. Andy is Secretary of the Marxists Internet Archive, and former editor of Mind, Culture & Activity.


List of Figures and Tables

Part 1
Basic Principles of Activity Theory
1 Behaviour, Consciousness and Activity

2 Substance, Monism and Dualism

3 Continuity and Discontinuity

4 Actions, Goals and Motives
 4.1 Operations

5 Artefacts
 5.1 Words, Tools and Signs

6 Activities
 6.1 What Is an Activity?

 6.2 Activities Which Fall Short of Leontyev’s Ideal-Typical Activity

7 Motivation
 7.1 The “Unconscious”?

8 The Genealogy of Activity Theory

9 Activity Theory and Vygotsky’s Socio-cultural Theory

10 Germ Cell and Unit of Analysis

11 Activities and Concepts

12 Abstract and Concrete

13 Analysis by Units and Analysis by Elements
 13.1 Monism Again

14 Subject, Object and Participant Research

15 Activities Have a Life Cycle

16 The Context of Activities
 16.1 The Immediate and Societal Contexts of Activities

 16.2 The Historical Context of Activities

17 Perezhivanie

18 The Development of the Personality

19 Narrative Analysis

20 Summary: Motivation

Part 2
Diverse Research in Activity Theory
Introduction to Part 2

2Building Institutions
1 A Child Learning to Read.
 1.1 Question Asking Reading (King, Griffin, et al.)

 1.2 Putting Academic Knowledge to Work

2 Vasilyuk’s Work on Resolving “Impossible Situations”
 2.1 Types of “Life-World”

 2.2 Types of Perezhivanie

3 A Wage Worker Employed in a Capitalist Firm

3Activities Characterised by a Narrative
1 The Life Course of an Individual Person
 1.1 Luria’s Romantic Science

2 The Narrative of a Patient Visiting a Hospital and Receiving Treatment
 2.1 The Story of a Female Trainee Surgeon Who Chooses to Leave Training

 2.2 A Medical Student in Their First Months as a Hospital Doctor

3 The History of a Practice, Such as a Science or Profession

4Transformative Projects
1 The Activist Stance
1.1 Agency
1.1.1 Vygotsky on Self-Control

1.1.2 Sannino on Collective Decision Making

1.1.3 Gutierrez on Transgression

1.1.4 Stetsenko on Agency

1.1.5 Holland and Edwards on Relational Agency

1.1.6 Horton on Freedom

1.1.7 Discussion

2 The Germ Cell of a New Practice
2.1 Marx’s Use of the Idea of a Germ Cell or Unit in Capital
2.1.1 The Introduction of Trade into a Traditional Society

 2.2 Vygotsky Made Word Meaning a Unit of Analysis
2.2.1 Concepts and Activities

 2.3 Vasily Davydov’s Mathematics Curriculum

5Intervening with Activity Theory
1 Transforming Activities with a Germ Cell
1.1 The Sit-to-Stand Exercise

1.2 Junior Doctors Using Purple Pen for Prescribing

1.3 Collaborative Learning Spaces

1.4 The “Root Model” for Teaching Topics in School

6Political Life
1 A Trade Union Organising Workers in an Enterprise

2 Rival Political Parties Competing for Government of the Country
2.1 Elections

2.2 The Formation of Public Opinion

7Social Movements
1 The Women’s Liberation Movement
1.1 The Life Cycle of the  wlm 

1.2 The  wlm  as a Learning Process

1.3 Decision Making within Projects

1.4 Transforming the Object-Concept

1.5 Relations between Projects

1.6 The Urpraxis of a Movement

8Incoherent Activities
1 Activities Characterised by a Shared Motif
 1.1 The Solar Punk Youth Movement

 1.2 The Anti-vax Campaign against Public Health Measures

9Formative Interventions
1 Construction of Utopian Forms of Activity as Educational Artefacts
1.1 Mike Cole et al.’s 5th Dimension

1.2 Aydin Bal’s Learning Lab

1.3 Fernanda Liberali’s  lace 

2 Postcolonial Projects

1 The Ethics of Collaboration
1.1 Social Science and Ethics

1.2 Modern Ethics
1.2.1 Religion and Ethics

1.2.2 John Rawls’ Political Liberalism

1.2.3 Habermas’s Communicative Ethics

1.2.4 Seyla Benhabib

1.2.5 Amartya Sen

1.2.6 Agnes Heller

1.2.7 Alasdair MacIntyre

1.2.8 Thick and Thin Ethos

1.3 Collaborative Ethics

1.4 Participant Researchers

2 Social Class

3 The Urpraxis of Socialism
3.1 The Worldwide Anti-capitalist Struggle




Graduates in education, sociology, political science, social theory, medical educators and administrators, social movement activists and senior civil servants, psychologists, social workers, literary critics.
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