Activity theory

Theory and practice

Authored by: Manolis Dafermos

Handbook of Critical Psychology

Print publication date:  April  2015
Online publication date:  April  2015

Print ISBN: 9781848722187
eBook ISBN: 9781315726526
Adobe ISBN: 9781317537182


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Activity theory has been characterized by Yrjö Engeström as ‘the best kept secret of academia’ (Engeström 1993: 64). In the last decades the number of publications on activity theory has increased rapidly, and various applications of activity theory to different systems (learning, work, information systems, etc.) and disciplines (psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, anthropology, etc.) have taken place (Engeström et al. 2005; Sannino and Nocon 2008). Roth (2004: 1) argues that ‘activity theory no longer is the secret that it was in 1993’. However, if we take into account Nissen’s (2011) statement about the existence of directly opposite readings of the Russian legacy of activity theory, we can conclude that activity theory remains a secret of academia. As Hegel pointed out ‘The familiar or well-known in general, because it is well known [bekkant] is not known [erkannt]’ (Hegel and Yovel 2005: 125).

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