Activity Theory Annotated Bibliography

  • Bedny, GZ., Seglin, MH., Miester, D. (2000). Activity theory: history, research, and application. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science 1(2), 168-206.
    This article outlines activity theory (referred to as AT), a theoretical approach developed by the psychologists of the former Soviet Union beginning in the 1930s and continuing to the present. “Under the rubrics of AT, plans, motives, methods of performance and goal-directed behavior as a whole can be formulated consciously or unconsciously, but the goal of an activity is always conscious.” Covers mediated mental actions (thoughts) assigns and explores how they figure into the steps of activity theory.
  • Bruner, J (1987), Engels F. (1940). Activity theory. Prologue. The collected works of L. Vygotsky. Volume 1. Dialects of Nature. International Publishers.
    This article discusses the “philosophical underpinnings” of Activity Theory while also examines how Activity Theory evolved from Vygotsky to its present form.  The article lists the main aspects within the theory while also describing the use of Activity Theory as a “conceptual aid to research or design constructivist learning environments.”
  • Canary, H. (2010). Structuring activity theory: an integrative approach to policy knowledge. Communication Theory 20(1), 21-29.
    Abstract (provided by author): This article presents a theoretical framework for investigating the communicative construction of policy knowledge. Research regarding public policy and organizational knowledge demonstrates the importance of these areas for organizational communication scholars. In light of this research, structuring activity theory is offered as an integration of structuration theory and cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT). Four theoretical constructs are discussed: (a) structuration through activity, (b) mediation of social activity, (c) contradictions as generative mechanisms, and (d) intersections of activity systems. Six propositions offer the explanatory significance of each construct, and then the theory is applied to a case study of the construction of special education policy knowledge. Additional applications of the structuring activity theory are proposed and suggestions for future research directions are offered.
  • Dayton, David. Activity theory: A versatile framework for workplace research. University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. 1-7.
    Abstract provided by the author: During the past decade activity theory has attracted a small but influential group of researchers in two fields that contribute to theory and research in technical communication: human-computer interaction and composition studies. In my STC-sponsored research into electronic editing in technical communication, I am applying activity theory to provide a coherent explanatory perspective on the findings of the qualitative portion of my study. This paper provides a brief introduction to activity theory and applies its analytical framework to help make sense of the qualitative data I gathered on electronic editing practices and attitudes in three different technical communication workplaces.
  • Engestrom, Y., (2000). Activity theory as a framework for analyzing and redesigning work. Ergonomics 43(7), 960-974.
    The author examines the use of the work/redesigned work in the context of the activity theory pattern and examines the difference between goal-directed actions and object-oriented activity systems. Activity systems are driven by communal motives that are often difficult to articulate for individual participants. Such transformations proceed through stepwise cycles of expansive learning which begin with actions of questioning the existing standard practice, then proceed to actions of analyzing its contradictions and modeling a vision for its zone of proximal development, then to actions of examining and implementing the new model in practice.”
  • Stroud, S., (2008). John Dewey and the question of artful communication. Philosophy and Rhetoric. 41(2), 153-183.
    This article looks at the power of communication in work, community, experiences and individual improvement. Examines Dewey’s studies of community and how communication helps shape and form the basis for the vitality and success of the community.
  • Wegner, Diana. (2004). The collaborative construction of a management report in a municipal community of practice: text and context, genre and learning. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 18(4), 411-451.
    Provided by the author, “Drawing on rhetorical genre studies and recent work in activity system theory, this study focuses on the collaborative development of a new written form, a municipal land for protecting and managing natural areas. The author advances a twofold claim: (a) that the written plan is developed in the absence of a stable textual model and (b) that the text, as part of the context, functions, in turn, as a mediational tool for solving the rhetorical problem of audience resistance. Findings show that as participants reconfigure the project into successive cycles of activity, they create corresponding zones of proximal development. This study contributes to our understanding of the dynamics of the text-context relationship and to recent elaborations of a genre as an activity system that helps explain the relationship between genre and learning.”