Re: [xmca] Activity theory and qualitative research

From: Michalis Kontopodis <michalis.kontopodis who-is-at>
Date: Mon Dec 01 2008 - 03:23:48 PST

Hallo Katerina,

I am not an expert in science education but I am a cultural-historical
scholar (among other 'identities') and am happy to discover one more
interested Greek person. My name is Michalis Kontopodis, I work in
Berlin, Germany and will come back to you in a more personal email
later. You can also contact me at any time, if I can be of help to you.

What might be of interest to the list (and to you): there has recently
been great scholarship in CHAT in Greece, with a 400 pages Collective
Volume edited by Marios Pourkos, 2 books (one on Vygotsky and one on
Gipsies' Education) written by M. Dafermos and a series of articles on
Maths Education published by Anna Chronaki.

You probably know all these works better than me, but I just wanted to
express my enthousiasm for all this work been made by great colleagues
under difficult circumstances in terms of practical support, academic
acceptance etc.

nice to 'see' you in the list,


Michalis Kontopodis

research associate
humboldt university berlin
tel.: +49 (0) 30 2093 3716
fax.: +49 (0) 30 2093 3739

On 30.11.2008, at 19:40, wrote:

> Αρχικό μήνυμα από Mike Cole <>:
> Thanks for all. I am grateful for your kindness and generosity.
> I will be in touch.
> Katerina
>> Welcome Katerina. Seems like you must be pretty busy!!
>> There are a good many descriptions of "design of the activities
>> themselves"
>> and in fact, among some on xmca there is active interest in CHAT
>> approaches
>> to what is called "design experimentation." Some is about science,
>> some not.
>> Early work of Ann Brown and Joe Campione is relevant. You kno
>> You know work of Hedegaard on teaching evolution?
>> Traditions related to Davydov on teaching math or language?
>> Di Sessa, Cobb, who are less in CHAT tradition but might very
>> interested in
>> design experimentation?
>> Our work on 5th Dimension? (see work related to our
>> lab and for many different lines of design work with
>> somewhat varying theoretical orientations).
>> The ISCAR conf reports on many specific curricular design efforts.
>> Other XMCA-ites. Send suggestions! This is all from top of my head
>> And, Katerina, please ask more directed questions if answers such
>> as mine
>> are not targeted enough. If you send me mail address, I can send
>> you book
>> about 15 years of work on 5thDimension design work. Others can do
>> likewise
>> for their efforts.
>> mike
>> On Sat, Nov 29, 2008 at 1:46 PM, <> wrote:
>>> 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
>>> designing?
>>> 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?
>>> Yours
>>> Katerina
>>> Katerina Plakitsi
>>> Assistant Professor of Science Education
>>> Department of Early Childhood Education
>>> School of Education
>>> University of Ioannina
>>> Greece
>>> 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
>>> 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 &#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;
>>> (Geertz,
>>>>> 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
>>> 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 &#65533;
>>>>> but I
>>> don&#65533;t
>>>>> think it is meant in this way i.e. that there is a dialectical
>>>>> interaction between social and individual &#65533;levels of
>>> analysis&#65533;]
>>>>> And what about the &#65533;critique&#65533; of the situated
>>>>> perspective
>>> which
>>>>> 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:
>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>> xmca mailing list
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> xmca mailing list
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list
Received on Mon Dec 1 03:25:30 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Jan 06 2009 - 13:39:38 PST