Re: [xmca] Activity theory and qualitative research

From: <kplakits who-is-at>
Date: Sat Nov 29 2008 - 13:46:19 PST

Αρχικό μήνυμα από Jay Lemke <>:

Hi all,

I am Katerina Plakitsi from the University of Ioannina in Greece. I am science
educator and in our research group we try to transfer activity theory to
science education. I supervise tree PhD programs where we try to use activity
theory within three domains: a) teaching science in primary schools by using
some elements of the history of science and also new technologies, b) teaching
natural sciences in earnly childhood, and c) science education in science
museums and science centers.
We have done some pilot studies and we ended that the third generation and
especially Engestrom’s model seems more appropriate for our researches. But,
now we try to design the didactical activities using the activity theory. And,
instead of the many articles that use activity theory in order to analyze the
systems of activities, we could not find any recent or appropriate articles on
the design of the activities themselves. Do you have anything about the

You know, I had been for a long time studying personal and social
constructivism. Into this context, I have made research and have written Greek
school science textbooks ( enlightened by social
constructivism. In our researches (unfortunately the most in Greek) we were
focusing to the cognitive obstacles, dialogue analysis and argumentation. I am
familiar to design didactical strategies under a socio-cognitive perspective.
But is it &#8220;right&#8221; to ask for the same way of thought into the
activity theory context? Or, I have to think about things in a more dialectical
way? Is it feasible to move from the analysis to designing with the activity
theory as a tool for the scope?

Katerina Plakitsi
Assistant Professor of Science Education
Department of Early Childhood Education
School of Education
University of Ioannina
tel. +302651095771
fax. +302651095842

A brief Newsletter for November-December 2008.
>From the 6th to the 9th of November, I organized the 5th
Pan-Hellenic Conference with International Participation entitled "Science in
Society:Teaching natural sciences in early childhood"
Michael Roth was a keynote speaker during the
opening ceremony.
Now, I organize the 5th Winter School for the PhD Students of
the Greek Union of Science Education (
It is been scheduled for March 20-22 at the University of Ioannina.
Furthermore, I am on board for the symposium to be
proposed for ESERA 2009 conference in Istanbul, entitled "Cultural studies of
science education in Europe: Mapping issues and trends". The symposium is being
organized by Michiel van Eijck, Eindhoven University of Technology, The
Netherlands. The editors of CSSE Justin Dillon, King's College London, UK, as
well as Mariona Espinet, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain,will be on
board for the symposium too.

> Obviously this is a big topic. Alina's symposium, which I participated
> in, was very helpful on many issues, and I hope those papers are
> available somewhere.
> I think it is helpful to distinguish somewhat different levels and
> functions of the theory-methodology-methods complex. CHAT is, at least
> in some research centers' actual practices, a model for all three. I
> take the functions of these levels to be: Theory: saying how we
> understand human action to happen as it does and to change its
> patterns over time. Methodology: providing criteria for choosing
> theoretically appropriate research methods across a range of possible
> questions, contexts, and interests. Methods: specific procedures that
> are expected to be useful across a range of different projects or
> studies.
> Social constructivism, or constructionism, is not the third of these,
> and probably not very much the second. It is a bit of the first, and
> more generally, it is a set of epistemological propositions about how
> people know and what we can know, through action and social
> interaction. It is a very broad framework, more a philosophy than a
> theory or a method.
> Many versions of social constructivism do include some account of the
> relationship between individual knowing or ideas and collective,
> social, or cultural ways of knowing. Those that pay a lot of attention
> to the culture of a community as a basis for individual knowledge
> through action tend to also produce more specific theories of how this
> happens, and get labeled, broadly, sociocultural theories of ....
> something. (e.g. learning, education, development, etc.)
> Qualitative research comprises a wide range of methods (at least as
> many and probably more diverse than those called quantitative
> methods), as well as some methodological principles or advice. The
> methodology is grounded in an epistemology which shares many features
> with social constructivism, but is generally more interpretivist or
> hermeneutic. That is, it is more about how to make useful sense of
> experience/data, rather than about how people learn through social
> interaction, though there are overlaps in many cases.
> Qualitative research methods is an oddly named category. It presumes
> that quantitative research methods are the norm, if not the unmarked
> case, which in many research programs they are not. Nor do all non-
> quantitative methods have anything interesting in common just because
> they are not quantitative. And in fact it is possible to count
> features and compare counts within almost any sort of "qualitative"
> data, even ethnographic fieldnotes or videos.
> The more significant contrast is at the level of epistemology and
> methodology. Quantitative methods are generally chosen when the
> research paradigm assumes that there are causal relationships at work
> which produce quantitatively distinct degrees of effects, and that
> what is of interest in how much of x produces how much of y. If the
> interest is rather in exactly how it happens that any x produces any
> y, then you need a qualitative theory of what's going on. In natural
> science you tend to start with such a theory first, and then test it
> quantitatively. In social sciences either one does not have much of a
> theory to start with, just some expectations about causal connections,
> or you have a theory that tells you that quantitative differences are
> not what really matters for your research interests. Many disciplines
> such as quantitative sociology or experimental psychology try to
> develop theories by doing lots and lots of experiments. Personally, I
> think this is a hopeless approach. Theories come from prior theories
> and new ideas. The trajectory of theory-building can be constrained by
> empirical findings, and even inspired by them, but trying to put
> theory together out of networks of weak causal connections suggested
> by experiment is the naivest empiricism; or so my experience tells me.
> CHAT for me is like a theory, but not quite a theory. Its object is
> too general to make a theory about. There are just too many kinds of
> activity systems and relations among them, in too many different sorts
> of cultural and material contexts, to have one theory. Instead, CHAT
> is a starting point, a starter kit, for creating theories about
> activity systems without having to start from zero. It embodies a lot
> of conceptual insight into what matters when studying an activity
> system, etc. I agree with what some others have said that it's most
> unique feature is its emphasis on history, on the dynamics of change
> across multiple timescales, and its assumptions, derived from Marx
> that concrete material contradictions (and depending on your version,
> their manifestation as or the relatively autonomously emergent "ideal"
> or semiotic-discursive-ideological contradictions) are the primary
> engines of change.
> CHAT methods seem to have been developed in the course of long-term
> research programs in various places (e.g. Moscow, Helsinki, San
> Diego), but they are far from identical. CHAT as proto-theory does not
> determine specific research methods, though it favors some over others
> (which gives it methodological force, in my terminology). Many
> research methods can be adapted or used in a way that is faithful to
> the intellectual program we trace back to LSV and Leontiev, and that
> includes, I think many that are called "qualitative" ... such as
> interviews, focus groups, ethnographic observation, participant
> ethnography, discourse analysis, multimedia semiotic analysis, video
> ethnography, biographical studies, case studies, historical studies,
> longitudinal developmental studies, tracking or trailing studies,
> tracing network connections (ala Latour's ANT), etc. Each must be
> transformed in some ways to be most consistent with CHAT. But then
> each must be transformed in any case to fit the needs of a particular
> research effort.
> I know that some people like to develop specific methods and refine
> them for re-use in many similar studies. This is a productive
> approach. But it can sometimes lead us to forget that the real work of
> research is its creative dimension: coming up with new ways of
> figuring things out, building on what we and others have done before.
> If our interests are theoretical and broad, then we are likely to find
> ourselves participating in a wide range of different kinds of studies
> over a research lifetime, and we need to be prepared to reinvent our
> methods, our theories, and even our epistemologies as we go.
> JAY.
> Jay Lemke
> Professor
> Educational Studies
> University of Michigan
> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
> On Nov 19, 2008, at 2:04 PM, 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 &#65533;activity theory&#65533;. There are elements of
> > 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 &#65533;interpretivist&#65533; &#65533; this means:
> > * assuming that people&#65533;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, &#65533;thick description&#65533;
> > 1973), of these experiences.
> > * and assuming that an understanding of human experience requires a
> > contextual approach (Schwandt, 1994; Denzin & Lincoln, 2005); that the
> > &#65533;meaning&#65533; of a phenomenon is indexical, and thus human
> > 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 &#65533; but I
> > think it is meant in this way i.e. that there is a dialectical
> > interaction between social and individual &#65533;levels of
> >
> > And what about the &#65533;critique&#65533; of the situated perspective
> > predominates in ethnographic approaches? This is articulated as
> > follows:
> > * there is a need to move beyond describing and
&#65533;understanding&#65533; 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&#65533; words, is insufficient for an
> > explanation of a phenomenon. There is a need to provide an
> > elaboration,
> > or expansion, of the participant&#65533;s account.
> >
> > And what of the social constructionist perspective: which argues,
> > drawing on Terre Blanche, Kelly and Durrheim (2006), that
> > participants&#65533;
> > thoughts, feelings and experiences are products of systems of
> > meaning at
> > a social level (Terre Blanche et al, 2006). Constructionist research
> > is
> > about &#65533;interpreting the social world as a kind of language; that is,
> > as
> > a system of meanings and practices that construct reality&#65533; (p.280)
> > These
> > &#65533;everyday actions or images create and maintain&#65533; 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 &#65533;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&#65533; (ibid, p.282). When we act, they argue,
> > what
> > we achieve is to &#65533;reproduce the ruling discourses of out time and
> > re-enact established relational patterns&#65533; (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
> >
> > Please find our Email Disclaimer here:
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> >
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