Re: Activity theory, ontology and critical realism(!?)

From: Wilma Clark (
Date: Wed Jun 15 2005 - 02:03:29 PDT

---- Original Message ----
Subject: FW: Re: Activity theory, ontology and critical realism(!?)
Date: Wed, 15 Jun 2005 10:00:02 +0100

Hi Mike J.

You might find this (very readable) book useful... whilst it does
have more of a semiotic (meaning-making) slant, it has a lot of info
on activities in the science classroom which you might find useful.

"Multimodal Teaching and Learning: The Rhetorics of the Science
Classroom" (2001) Kress, G. Jewitt, C. et al. London: Continuum.

Also, there's an interesting article in Nature Journal this month
about interconnectivity and parallels between social networks,
communities of practice and scientific 'networks' (biological, etc.)
which might be of interest. Not sure if that's what you're looking

Uncovering the overlapping community structure of complex networks in
nature and society p814
Gergely Palla, Imre Derényi, Illés Farkas and Tamás Vicsek

doi: 10.1038/nature03607

---- Original Message ----
Subject: Re: Activity theory, ontology and critical realism(!?)
Date: Tue, 14 Jun 2005 16:14:00 -0700

>A very interesting topic to me, Mike J, but one I do not feel
>competent to
>answer. While it may be that individual people who are committeed
>to cultural-historical activity theory have strong ontological
>I doubt if your question (Does Activity Theory have a particular
>answer to
>these questions?) is answerable. No 1 speaks for AT, but the study of
>number of people who use those ideas might turn up some kind of
>agreement. I really don't know. If you find out, by all means tells
>about it!
>On 6/14/05, Michael JOHNSON <> wrote:
>> Dear XMCA community,
>> Without wanting to stir up a hornets nest or sound stupid (fat
>chance) I
>> have been trying to work out my ideas about the philosophy of
>science -
>> shouldn't be too difficult ho-ho! Not that I presume that my ideas
>should or
>> are likely to remain fixed. I am just seeking a modest level of
>> knowledge about ontology and epistemology (Masters dissertation
>> looms - not to mention turning up at Seville and not being able to
>> understand a word of what is said!!). Does Activity Theory have a
>> answer to these questions? Pardon my ignorance for not even knowing
>> these are important questions for Activity Theory! My main source
>so far has
>> been Perspectives on Activity Theory. Yrjö Engeström quotes Roy
>Bhasker with
>> approval (p. 10). So does AT admit a (critical) realist ontology as
>> in the paper by Jason Ferdinand (faculty staff at Liverpool
>> School)?
>> where he says (on page 14):
>> "To enable our discussion of objects dialectical critical realism
>offers a
>> different discourse if you will, one where we may differentiate
>> modes or moments of reality within a stratified ontology where
>change is
>> fundamental. This overcomes the limitations of discourse
>phenomenalism yet
>> avoids positivistic epistemic commitments. Furthermore what
>> critical realism brings is an alternative but complementary
>approach that
>> may be employed in connection with the four research traditions
>> earlier.This could resonate with Activity Theorists who's work is
>> predicated on Vygotsky's psychology, for as both Ilyenkov and
>Bakhurst note
>> Vygotsky's dialectical method resonates with Marx's as does
>> critical realism. By making the commitment to rejecting scientism's
>> entities, and by rejecting positivism's notion of direct and
>> knowledge of reality dialectical critical realism could be
>developed in
>> harmony with postmodern and social constructionist accounts by
>means of a
>> clearly articulated ontological stance. The focus for subsequent
>> could remain in discursive debate but would be ontologically
>> allowing researchers to explore not only the discourse but factors
>> influence discursive formation."
>> Also Jörgen Hansson's Phd proposal combines AT and critical realism
>> [Thinks: "Is there any relationship between Ethel Tobach's
>> Levels and items 1, 2, 3 in the list at the bottom of this
>message?"]. I
>> have just cantered through Mind and Society and there were one or
>> implicit references to ontology there but I may be hunting in the
>> haystack or looking for something I wouldnt even recognise if I
>> Thanks for listening,
>> Mike Johnson, Cardiff Uni, Wales, UK
>> PS - Sorry to Phil - hope this doesnt distract too much from the
>> discussion...
>> PPS - I collected the fundamental assertions of critical realism
>> Archer, M., Sharp, R., Stones, R., & Woodiwiss, T. (1998). Critical
>> and research methodology. Retrieved 18th May, 2005, from
>> 1. That the world is a stratified open system.
>> a. the empirical (experiences)
>> b. the actual (events)
>> c. the real (structures and causal powers)
>> 2. 'Independently existing reality of social objects or relations'
>> but it is comprehensible and not forever lost to us (p16).
>> 3. Social structures and human agency exhibit causal powers -
>> explore their interaction.
>> 4. The World's openness, and the plurality and contingency of
>causes and
>> effects in different circumstances.
>> 5. Research is obligatory because 'reality exists independently of
>> thought about it.' Requiring dialogue between theoretical and
>empirical work
>> but because there is 'an irreducible difference between our thought
>and that
>> which it seeks to comprehend' (p15), realists' 'work cannot be
>taken as the
>> truth', thus realism is always affected by a scepticism.
>> 6. Research methods are interdisciplinary. They attempt 'reference'
>> as much rigor as possible. Acknowledging that all they do is
>fallible, they
>> must ensure it is also corrigible.

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