Re: [xmca] Activity theory and qualitative research

From: Elina Lampert-Shepel <ellampert who-is-at>
Date: Wed Nov 19 2008 - 23:34:11 PST

Mary and Mike,
 I have been interested in this theme for quite a long time. Mary, you raise
some important issues. I organized 2007 AERA symposium on exactly the same
topic and the presentations were fascinating. Martin Parker organized AERA
symposium on CHAT as a research methodology in 2008. I am now at Vygotskian
Russian Institute of Pscyhology participating in the conference on *Methodology
and methods of psychological research (cultural-historical aspect)* and it
has been already three days we were discusing various issues related to
cultural-historical methodology as well as research methodology that is
grounded on it.

There is a lot to say, but I need to come back to New York before I can
fully participate in the discussion. In my presentation I tried to explore
various form of relationships between cultural-historical psychology and
focused most of all on their complementarity. I would argue
that cultural-historical psychology has been used mainly as a theoretical
framework in qualitative research rather than research methodology.
To be continued,

On Wed, Nov 19, 2008 at 10:49 PM, Mike Cole <> wrote:

> Mary--
> Your note come at a time when a professor and group of students in Bogota,
> Columbia, are, among other things, asking the same questions.
> The topic seems so worthwhile of systematic co-reading and discussion in
> order to create significant common ground that it seems unlikely we can get
> a mutually satisfying grip on the issues in the helter-skelter of XMCA. But
> we could create, within the existing XMCA framework, a focused
> discussion on this topic which always had the same header and where
> participants agreed to read together, discuss together, even do interactive
> video discussions together.
> It has worked in the past and our facilities are stronger, so it can work
> again.
> I have written some on this issue and my very short answer is that
> depending
> upon the purposes of the research, both what are considered qualitative and
> quantitative methods
> (under at least some of the desiderata that different people
> focus on when discussing qualitative research) are appropriate within a
> chat
> framework.
> An example I use is one where we start with fieldnotes written by
> undergraduates. On the basis of those notes we
> are able to identify/classify/count various kinds of events
> involving characteristic behaviors and artifacts. We then
> can provide interesting evidence (quantitative) to justify claims for a
> particular designed environment as increasing,
> relative to relevant contrasting situation, behaviors we had hoped to
> foster. But then, we also see trends (say, by age)
> in the frequency of some one(s) of those countable categories and we are
> driven back to the fieldnotes because the categories "lied." They lumped
> together variations which,
> as a first pass, we could pass over, but which we were pushed back to at a
> later stage.
> In so far as CHAT is interested in developmental transformations, and in so
> far as the term, "developmental transformation" involves qualitative
> variation, what would it mean to exclude qualitative methods? If it is
> claimed that the use of the change laboratory has effects desired by postal
> workers in Helsinki, what would it mean if there was no quantitative
> evidence that they had achieved goals that were a part of the strategies
> they had decided to implement, a process which is itself a process of
> qualitative change?? Sure as hell their managers are going to do some
> counting.
> The above is by way of an unsatisfactory answer and a call for those who
> have serious common interests in such complex problems to coordinate in an
> effective manner to make headway on obtaining answers that they found
> productive according to their local criteria
> mike
> On Wed, Nov 19, 2008 at 5:04 AM, Mary van der Riet <
> >wrote:
> > Activity theory as emblematic of qualitative research?
> >
> > I have a question. Many studies which use cultural-historical activity
> > theory, do not explicitly identify a research design or paradigm (this
> > might be because activity theory operates on both methodological and
> > method levels, but that is another issue)
> >
> > I have been trying to draw out some of the links between the qualitative
> > research paradigm and 'activity theory'. There are elements of this
> > methodology that draw on different dimensions of qualitative research
> > and could be said to have allegiances to different paradigms/positions
> > and practices within the qualitative approach (interpretive,
> > hermeneutic, grounded theory, social constructionist).
> > Perhaps you have some ideas?
> >
> > Broadly, qualitative research is defined (in the classic approaches) as
> >
> > * an open-ended and inductive exploration of a phenomenon, rather than
> > providing causal explanations (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994).
> > * having a concern with making sense of/obtaining an understanding of,
> > human experience,
> > * broadly 'interpretivist' this means:
> > * assuming that people's subjective experiences, the meaning these
> > experiences have for them, and thus their representation of reality, can
> > and should be a focus of study (Kvale, 1996).
> > * and that it is a search for a detailed, 'thick description' (Geertz,
> > 1973), of these experiences.
> > * and assuming that an understanding of human experience requires a
> > contextual approach (Schwandt, 1994; Denzin & Lincoln, 2005); that the
> > 'meaning' of a phenomenon is indexical, and thus human experiences
> > 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).
> >
> > [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']
> >
> > 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.
> >
> > And what of the social constructionist perspective: which argues,
> > drawing on Terre Blanche, Kelly and Durrheim (2006), that participants'
> > thoughts, feelings and experiences are products of systems of meaning at
> > a social level (Terre Blanche et al, 2006). Constructionist research is
> > about "interpreting the social world as a kind of language; that is, as
> > a system of meanings and practices that construct reality" (p.280) These
> > "everyday actions or images create and maintain" the world in which we
> > live (Terre Blanche et al, 2006, p.280). They argue that interpreting
> > this social world means understanding and examining this system of
> > meanings, these representations of reality, practices, and physical
> > arrangements which "construct particular versions of the world by
> > providing a framework or system through which we can understand objects
> > and practices as well as understand who we are and what we should do in
> > relation to these systems" (ibid, p.282). When we act, they argue, what
> > we achieve is to "reproduce the ruling discourses of out time and
> > re-enact established relational patterns" (p.282).
> >
> > 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.
> >
> > Has anybody been writing about this?
> >
> > Mary
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > Mary van der Riet; School of Psychology; University of KwaZulu-Natal
> > Private Bag X01, Scottsville, 3209
> >
> > email:
> > tel: 033 260 6163; fax: 033 2605809
> >
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Received on Wed Nov 19 23:35:01 2008

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