Re: [xmca] Activity theory and qualitative research

From: Arturo Escandon <arturo.escandon who-is-at>
Date: Wed Nov 19 2008 - 15:19:19 PST

Hi Mary.

Quite interesting. Your questions go obviously beyond the few lines I
can drop here. I will try to make some points from a meta-scientific
point of view. I think Mike gave an answer from the point of view of
practice already.

> need to be explored and examined in context, as they are lived. This, in
> part, means understanding the social, linguistic and historical features
> which shape human phenomena (Kelly 2006).

Fair enough but does the qualitative research paradigm make a
distinction between ready-made concepts and the enaction of those in
particular "contexts" (activity systems)? Does it see the (potential,
eventual) contradiction between a fossilised language, product of kind
of obsolete social relations, and the enaction of the needs, or, as
Leontiev puts it, the orientation of activity towards an object? The
whole advantage of CHAT is its unit of analysis. The social,
linguistic and historical features are contained in the unit of
analysis. I do not see how an "approach" can do that without some form
of Hegelian methodological rendition.

> [this bit seems to have the most synergies with CHAT – but I don't
> think it is meant in this way i.e. that there is a dialectical
> interaction between social and individual 'levels of analysis']

In CHAT the unit of analysis overcomes the "individual/social"
analysis. Vygotsky thought of "word meaning" as a unit, which also
tries to evercome that problem.
> And what about the 'critique' of the situated perspective which
> predominates in ethnographic approaches? This is articulated as follows:
> * there is a need to move beyond describing and 'understanding' human
> experience in situ. Kelly (1994) argues that the participant, embedded
> in his or her reality, perspective and context, does not possesses the
> perspective necessary to provide a comprehensive account of an
> experience or phenomenon. There is thus a need to provide an account of
> a phenomenon which exceeds the self-understanding of the participants, a
> distanciated account (Kelly, 2006). Thus description alone, and a
> description in the participants' words, is insufficient for an
> explanation of a phenomenon. There is a need to provide an elaboration,
> or expansion, of the participant's account.

> Is Activity Theory just a social constructionist approach? It might
> emphasize the historical trajectory ofand dilemmas, but it seems to be essentially concerned with the same
> thing.

In social constructionism, meaning and sense are thought to be the
very same thing because they are undifferentiated. Social
constructionism is based upon the idea of "meaning negotiation" in
the construction of the social world, but it does not deploy the
conceptual tools to understand the difference between objective
meanings and personal meanings. More obscure yet is social
constructionism's concept of subject. I think CHAT has enough trouble
with the Notion of subject (in the Hegelian sense), but in social
constructionism there is no Notion at all (understood as a
methodological construct whereby the parts are contained in the unit
of analysis). There are many ontological issues here (see references
bellow). In an activity system, the division of labour gives you an
idea of the distribution of power but culture, understood as
ideological formations as well, is undertheorised in CHAT.

> Has anybody been writing about this?

Not precisely on qualitative research and CHAT as such that I know of,
but certain issues are touched by Sawyer, Perez Campos, and by Billet.

Perez Campos,

Billet (2003) Sociogenesis, Activity and Ontogeny, Culture &
Psychology, Vol. 9, No. 2, 133-169 (2003)

I would appreciate if you can report back your findings to the list.


Arturo J Escandon

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