Manual The Ideal in Human Activity (Classics in Activity Theory)

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In both societies, most of what is produced cannot be bought or sold, and therefore, does not have any price. In accounting for the extraordinary fact that everything produced in capitalist society has a price, Marx emphasizes the separation of the worker from the means of production whereas slaves and serfs are tied to their means of production and the sale of his or her labor power that this separation makes necessary. To survive, the workers, who lack all means to produce, must sell their labor power. In selling their labor power, they give up all claims to the products of their labor.

Hence, these products become available for exchange in the market, indeed are produced with this exchange in mind, while workers are able to consume only that portion of their products which they can buy back in the market with the wages they are paid for their labor power. Rather than a particular price, value stands for the whole set of conditions which are necessary for a commodity to have any price at all. It is in this sense that Marx calls value a product of capitalism. The ideal price "exchange value" of a commodity and the ways in which it is meant to he used "use value" likewise exhibit in their different ways the distinctive relationships Marx uncovered between workers and their activities, products and other people in capitalist society.

Through alienation, the relations between workers has been reduced to the quantity of labor that goes into their respective products. Only then can these products exchange for each other at a ratio which reflects these quantities. It is this which explains Smith's and Ricardo's finding that the value of a commodity is equal to the amount of labor time which has gone into its production.

Surplus-value, the third aspect of value, is the difference between the amount of exchange and use value created by workers and the amount returned to them as wages. The capitalist buys the worker's labor power, as any other commodity, and puts it to work for eight or more hours a day. However, workers can make in, say, five hours products which are the equivalent of their wages. In the remaining three or more hours an amount of wealth is produced which remains in the hands of the capitalist.

The capitalists' control over this surplus is the basis of their power over the workers and the rest of society. Marx's labor theory of value also provides a detailed account of the struggle between capitalists and workers over the size of the surplus value, with the capitalists trying to extend the length of the working day, speed up the pace of work, etc. Because of the competition among capitalists, workers are constantly being replaced by machinery, enabling and requiring capitalists to extract ever greater amounts of surplus value from the workers who remain.

Paradoxically, the amount of surplus value is also the source of capitalism's greatest weakness. Because only part of their product is returned to them as wages, the workers cannot buy a large portion of the consumables that they produce. Under pressure from the constant growth of the total product, the capitalists periodically fail to find new markets to take up the slack.

This leads to crises of "overproduction", capitalism's classic contradiction, in which people are forced to live on too little because they produce too much. How did capitalism originate, and where is it leading? Marx's materialist conception of history answers the first part of this question with an account of the transformation of feudalism into capitalism. He stresses the contradictions that arose through the growth of towns, population, technology and trade, which at a certain point burst asunder the feudal social and political forms in which production had been organized.

Relations of lord to serf based on feudal rights and obligations had become a hindrance to the further development of these productive forces; over an extended period and after a series of political battles, they were replaced by the contractual relation of capitalists to workers. With capitalists free to pursue profits wherever they might take them and workers equally "free" to sell their labor power to the capitalists however they might use it, the productive potential inherent in the new forces of production, especially in technology and science, grew to unmeasured proportions.

However, if maximizing profits leads to rapid growth when rapid growth results in large profits, then growth is restricted as soon as it becomes unprofitable. The periodic crises which have plagued capitalism from about on are clear evidence of this. Since that time, the new forces of production which have come into being in capitalism, their growth and potential for producing wealth, have come increasingly into contradiction with the capitalist social relations in which production is organized. The capitalists put the factories, machines, raw materials, and labor power all of which they own into motion to produce goods only if they feel they can make a profit, no matter what the availability of these "factors of production", and no matter what the need of consumers for their products.

The cost to society in wealth that is never produced and in wealth which is produced but in forms that are anti-social in their character continues to grow and with it the need for another, more efficient, more humane way of organizing production. Within this framework the actual course of history is determined by class struggle. According to Marx, each class is defined chiefly by its relation to the productive process and has objective interests rooted in that relation.

The capitalists' interests lie in securing their power and expanding profits. The class struggle involves everything that these two major classes do to promote their incompatible interests at each other's expense. In capitalism, the state is an instrument in the hands of the capitalists that is used to repress dangerous dissent and to help expand surplus value.

This is done mainly by passing and enforcing anti-working class laws and by providing the capitalists with various economic subsidies "capitalist welfare". And, finally, the state is an arena for class struggle where class and class factions contend for political advantage in an unfair fight that finds the capitalists holding all the most powerful weapons.

An adequate understanding of the role of the capitalist state as a complex social relation requires that it be approached from each of these three angles: as an instrument of the capitalist class, as a structure of political offices and processes, and as an arena of class struggle. In order to supplement the institutions of force, capitalism has given rise to an ideology, or way of thinking, which gets people to accept the status quo or, at least, confuses them as to the possibility of replacing it with something better.

Perspectives on Activity Theory

For the most part, the ideas and concepts which make up this ideology work by getting people to focus on the observable aspects of any event or institution, neglecting its history and potential for change as well as the broader context in which it resides. For example, in capitalist ideology, consumers are considered sovereign, as if consumers actually determine what gets produced through the choices they make in the supermarket; and no effort is made to analyze how they develop their preferences history or who determines the range of available choices 1arger system.

As the attempted separation of what cannot be separated without distortion, capitalist ideology reflects in thought the fractured lives of alienated people, while at the same time making it increasingly difficult for them to grasp their alienation. As the contradictions of capitalism become greater, more intense, and less amenable to disguise, neither the state nor ideology can restrain the mass of the workers, white and blue collar, from recognizing their interests becoming "class conscious" and acting upon them.

The overthrow of capitalism, when it comes, Marx believed, would proceed as quickly and democratically as the nature of capitalist opposition allowed. Out of the revolution would emerge a socialist society which would fully utilize and develop much further the productive potential inherited from capitalism. Through democratic planning, production would now be directed to serving social needs instead of maximizing private profit.

The final goal, toward which socialist society would constantly build, is the human one of abolishing alienation. Marx called the attainment of this goal "communism". Capitalism has obviously changed a lot in the hundred years since Marx wrote. In the basic relations and structures which distinguish capitalism from feudalism and socialism, however, it has changed very little, and these are the main features of capitalism addressed in Marx's theories.

Workers, for example, may earn more money now than they did in the last century, but so do the capitalists. Consequently, the wealth and income gaps between the two classes is as great or greater than ever. The workers' relations to their labor, products and capitalists which are traced in the theory of alienation and the labor theory of value are basically unchanged from Marx's day. Probably the greatest difference between our capitalism and Marx's has to do with the more direct involvement of the state in the capitalist economy primarily to bolster flagging profits and, as a consequence of this, the expanded role of ideology to disguise the increasingly obvious ties between the agencies of the state and the capitalist class.

From its beginnings, Marxism has been under attack from all sides, but the major criticisms have been directed against claims that Marx never made.

2. The Discipline of Phenomenology

For example, some have mistakenly viewed Marx's materialism as evidence that he ignored the role of ideas in history and in people's lives. Viewed as an "economic determinism", Marxism has also been criticized for presenting politics, culture, religion, etc. This would be undialectical. Viewed as a claim that labor is the only factor in determining prices equated here with "value" , the labor theory of value has been wrongly attacked for ignoring the effect of competition on prices.

And viewing what are projections of capitalism's tendencies into the future as inviolable predictions, Marx has been accused of making false predictions. Bevis compares a technical model against a professional model for clinical nurse education as a table Table 1. This does indeed provide a dichotomy that curriculum design has to span or avoid.

However the dichotomy between knowledge transmission and professional competence in modern United Kingdom orthodoxy in vocational activity, however, which would encourage us to search for an alternative approach. There is a clear need for the development of alternative conceptions in the use of learning technology that can provide practical guidelines in the implementation of new systems that support learning with is based on practitioners reflection on their work, which gains strength from collaborations with their colleagues. This is particularly true when developing computer mediated courses to be made available in open and distant modes, as the "system" is the reality of course for its participants.

The process of professional development within a formal framework ie a course needs to take into account the socio-cultural context in which such a course is going to exist. This is particularly true when the course is innovative however most changes are necessarily innovative. In a course of professional development the process of development of a new professional involves engagement in a community; and knowledge and understanding of the professional activity is knowledge distributed amongst a community and artefacts documents, classrooms in our case and so on.

Following the work of Vygotsky , Engestrom and Cole propose a model for understanding systems of distributed knowledge as cultural-historic activity systems. In the initial formulation of activity in the world, Vygotsky illustrates the idea through a simple triangular relation between the subject, the object and the mediation system.

The mediation system being the linguistic and cultural including tools means in which the communication between subject and object take place. Engestrom and Cole's formulation extends this model to incorporate wider issues including the rules such as legislative framework , community eg the shared value system of significant colleagues , and division of labour eg who else is involved in the enterprise and what are co-responsibilities.

For the course designer this framework of analysis facilitates the identification of those issues that need to be considered in the development of a new activity system, which in turn may need to fit into and existing activity system. In terms of a teacher development system, which the author is developing, it may be necessary to take into account the following factors:. A trainee may find that they are in a school that is avoiding innovative activity because of government inspection and thus do not experience the opportunity of "being innovative".

In another case the school community may reward administration with promotion over and above other aspects of a teachers work. In other cases the rules may inhibit the trainees access to a photocopier thus limiting their ability to produce their own unique resources. A corollary is that the trainee does not have to "invent" systems from scratch.

The trainee is entering into a system where there are already rich bodies of tools, discourse and organisation that the "system" has already devised to "act" in its environment. The trainee does not have to invent these for themselves. On the other hand the trainee should not necessarily take these as givens. Further the trainees themselves are not outside these activity systems. The trainee has a major body of experience of teaching, and what it is to be a teacher. It is unlikely that a trainee would not put themselves forward for training as a teacher if they did not have fairly firm ideas about what constitutes teaching and will have well developed concepts of teachers' role, the community of teaching and societies expectation of teachers.

The key issues in the design of learning environments however are that these are issues which will greatly influence outcomes. Kaptelinin also adopts the use of Activity Theory as a methodology for human-computer systems design that also has relevance in this study. Activity theory encourages a focus on how a system transforms the work life of a computer user. He also stresses are that Activity Theory is a set of basic principles that constitute a general conceptual system, rather than a highly predictive theory.

These issues have provided Kaptelinin with a set of guidance that will be incorporated into a proposed model for design discussed below. The kind of learning we propose to support is highly focussed on interaction between professionals. However this is not a haphazard interaction. There is a need for structure and the tools must provide support for that structure. There is a belief that process of professional development comes from interactions with fellow and more expert professionals.

Ijikuro Nonaka discusses the knowledge creation as part of the learning of professionals. Nonaka explains a Japanese concept of Ba. Ba is a "place" for the foundation of knowledge and shared meanings.

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It is a shared space for emerging relationships. This space can be physical, virtual or mental. Nonaka proposes 4 kinds of Ba in which knowledge is converted. The notion of conversion is based on the premise that we work on tacit and explicit knowledge, and the process of gaining new knowledge is the conversion from one to the other. He proposes a spiral process "SECI". Initially we start with tacit understanding, which is in our internal meaning ba originating ba. Through interaction with our immediate peers this knowledge becomes externalised and hence explicit interacting Ba.

This shared; local social knowledge is then tested against the "community". Nonaka recognises the use of ICT in this process and describes this as "cyber ba".

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Finally this new group knowledge becomes the internalised tacit knowledge of the community and the modus vivendi, the exercising ba. These are reflected in the following table table 2 :. Through joint activities and physical proximity rather than written or verbal instructions. Learning by continuous self-refinement though on-the-job or peripheral and active participation.

In the construction of curricula for professional development the model provides pointers for the integration of models of activity. Cycles of private thinking, learning from peers, learning from practical experience on the job and the continuous relationship between acting and reflecting, and builds to the goal of reflective practitioners, and integrates that practice into new shared tacit knowledge. The concept of reflective practitioner is closely associated with the work of Schon Schon presents a model of becoming "professional" reflective action and induction into a profession.

What is ACTIVITY THEORY? What does ACTIVITY THEORY mean? ACTIVITY THEORY meaning & explanation

The model is very appealing however it needs some further elaboration in socio-cultural terms. A profession teaching or whatever is in itself not aproblematic. Following the arguments of cultural historic activity theory or the ideas of Nonaka a profession is a dynamic system which is subject to renewal and change and therefore models of professional development need to base their processes on that dynamic redefining. Lave argues that learning as it normally occurs is a function of the activity, context and culture in which it occurs i.

This contrasts with most classroom learning activities which involve knowledge which is abstract and out of context. Social interaction is a critical component of situated learning -- learners become involved in a "community of practice" which embodies certain beliefs and behaviours to be acquired.

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As the beginner or newcomer moves from the periphery of this community to its centre, they become more active and engaged within the culture and hence assume the role of expert. Furthermore, situated learning is usually unintentional rather than deliberate. The idea being that traditional learning through an apprenticeship involved induction into a community of expert practice in which the "teacher" continuously engages in and is a master at the practice being learned.

His or her performance constitutes the standard for the apprentice. Collins, Brown, and Newman propose incorporating key elements of traditional apprenticeship. The model ignores the usual distinctions between academic and vocational education, its objective being to initiate the novice into a community of expert practice. These models of learning firmly base professional development and learning as process of conversation and action: a reflexive dialogue.

The challenge for the learning technologist is to conceive of systems that provide support for this reflexive activity to proceed. A teaching and learning system is more than a system for knowledge building and creating. It is contextualised within institutions physical or virtual and society, and this places practical demands on the ways a course is structured and delivered.

In particular issues of accountability are important for the benefit of the students and the provider, in recording and validating the work on the course. There is a need for the validation system that reflects the experiential learning. The notion assessment distinct from the work on the course does not fit. The process of assessment that needs supporting is one that allows the recording of the evidence of achievement, knowing and doing. It is a system for developing evidence of work done on course rather than terminal assessment or even "course work".

The idea of a "course memory" Conklin , Guerrero provides the framework for such a tool. The course memory provides views of the memory for different activities for different actors in the system. Thus the learner has their own record of evidence of achievement whilst the course administration is able to have an overview of the system community will have an ever increasing knowledge base on which they can draw.

Further in a wish list of things that should be included in any system which would help us design a learning environment concern the issues of change. A failure of past learning technologies has been the development of monolithic highly integrated and contained systems. There was a tendency for the reductive analysis to define to fine details because often these systems would then be irrevocably committed to the printing press of the computer encoding.

These are expensive processes and therefore there is a clear need to be all-inclusive. Additional print runs were often out of the question. The systems we describe call for a flexibility dynamism and change. A new system needs to have ease of evolution, so that there can be formative evaluation and change in use. In computer software terms, the system should have ease of maintenance. This quality is often a function of modularity in design. There are from these elements key requirements that arise from the above considerations and make more specific the original user needs defined by our REM project:.

We have a list of requirements therefore based on the need for activity and dialogue and recording with a variety of actors taking different roles in a system.


Kaptelinin and Nardi suggest a checklist in their application of Activity Theory to human computer systems design. The checklist is a conceptual tool for identifying the most important factors influencing the use of computer technologies in a particular setting. As this has been designed from a need identified in the development of software there process is described in a technology-oriented language. The process of starting to design from their perspective follows a sequence: Starting from observational data to indicate potential problems, formulate requests for further analysis, and provide some suggestions on how the "problem" can be solved.

In the second phase an Activity Checklist is introduced. The general structure of the Checklist corresponds to the four main perspectives on the use of the technology to be evaluated:. There are reliable systems for software engineering which allow the design of complex software that can start with prose description of the complexity and proceed to a modular abstraction of the complexity.

Such systems describe complex software systems in terms of their actions in relation with human and other agents with whom they interact. I do not wish to suggest that such systems can effectively model the complexity and the range of nuance which human learning systems demand, however the systems do begin to provide some ideas for formalisms which can serve to describe the design and development of rich and complex learning environments.

The Booch method distinguishes between the logical and physical structure of a system and describes for both the static and dynamic semantics. Macro Development Process The macro process is used for controlling the micro process. It discusses five activities:. Micro Development Process The micro process basically represents the daily activities of the developer s and consists of four non-sequential major steps:. These are of course computer science terms. If we substitute language that is more descriptive of a learning environment we arrive at:. UML models an object-oriented software system using several types of diagrams to represent different perspective views of the system.