[Research] Reading Notes about Activity Theory

(taken from Activity Theory by Liam Bannon) AT is based on Marxist philosophy and soviet psychology that consider the “principle of unity and inseparability of consciousness and activity”: mind comes to exist, develops and can only be understood within the context of meaningful, goal-oriented activity). Rubinshtein and Vygotski claimed that human action is a unit of psychological analysis. Leontiev developed the conceptual framework known as AT.

At is not a theory strictly speaking, it is rather a set of basic principles that constitute a general conceptual system. Review of those principles below. - The concept of activity implies that there is an agent who acts (individual or collective). Activity mediates interaction between subjects (agents) and objects (things).

- Object-orientedness: human beings live in a reality which is objective in a broad sense; the things which constitute this reality have not only the properties which are considered objective according to natural sciences (physics, biology...) but social/culturally defined properties as well.

- Activity Theory differentiates between internal and external activities. The traditional notion of mental processes corresponds to internal activities. Activity Theory emphasizes that internal activities cannot be understood if they are analyzed separately, in isolation from external activities, because there are mutual transformations between these two kinds of activities: internalization and externalization.

- Internalization, i.e., transformation of external activities into internal ones, provides a possibility for human beings to simulate potential interactions with reality without performing actual manipulations on real objects.

- Externalization, i.e., transformation of internal activities into external ones, is often necessary when an internalized action needs to be "repaired" or when a collaboration between several agents requires their activities to be performed externally in order to be coordinated.

- The Activity Theory emphasis on social factors and on interaction between agents and their environments explains why the principle of tool mediation plays a central role within the approach. Tools shape the way human beings interact with reality. And, tools usually reflect the experiences of other people who have tried to solve similar problems at an earlier time and invented/ modified the tool to make it more efficient. On the one hand, tools expand our possibilities to manipulate and transform different objects, but on the other hand the object is perceived and manipulated not "as such" but within the limitations set by the tool. Tools are never used in a vacuum, but have been shaped by the social and cultural context where the use is taking place.

- Leontiev's version of Activity Theory is often associated with a three-level scheme describing the hierarchical structure of activity. The central level (or, rather, group of levels) is that of actions. Actions are oriented towards goals, which are the objects of actions. This top-level goal, which in Activity Theory is designated as "motive", is the object of a whole activity. herefore, activities, which are driven by motives, are performed through certain actions which are directed at goals and which, in turn, are implemented through certain operations.