Theoretical influences

On this page we have collected short introductions to some of the key authors whose writings have particular importance for cultural-historical activity theory.

Karl Marx
Karl MarxKarl Marx formulated in Theses on Feuerbach the foundational idea of object-oriented human activity as revolutionizing practice that transcends both idealism ("individuals have free will") and mechanical materialism ("individuals are mere reproductions of societal conditions"). He also pointed out that activity is always riddled with internal contradictions which are the driving force of history - in capitalism, the contradiction between the use value and exchange value pervades all activities.
For some of Marx's works online, see the Marx/Engels Library >>

Lev Vygotsky
Lev VygotskyLev Vygotsky created the foundation of cultural-historical psychology, based on the concept of mediation. Human action is not a direct response to the environment - it is mediated by culturally meaningful tools and signs which make the human being able to control him- or herself from the outside. Collaboration with other humans creates zones of proximal development for individuals, enabling them to go beyond their current capacity by grasping and constructing new mediating tools and signs. To uncover human potential, we need to conduct formative experiments which induce zones of proximal development. Vygotsky archive >>

Alexei Leont'ev
Alexei Leont'evAlexei Leont'ev formulated the concept of activity as a systemic formation and unit of analysis for human sciences. Activity is a collective system driven by an object and motive. It is realized through individual actions driven by goals. Actions in turn are realized by means of routinized operations, dependent on the conditions of the action. To understand and facilitate development, we need to study and change entire collective activity systems, their objects and motives, not just isolated actions and skills. Leont'ev archive >>

Alexander Luria
Alexander LuriaAlexander Luria showed that our ways of thinking and reasoning are indeed culturally mediated and change when ways of life undergo historical transformations. He also showed that our brain is a flexible organ which, working together with cultural tools and signs, enables us to remediate our activities even when we are seriously impaired by injury. Luria archive >>

Evald Il'enkow
Evald Il'enkovEvald Il'enkov showed how human activity systems can be analyzed by ascending from the abstract to the concrete - that is, by tracing their evolution through internal contradictions from initial simple forms to complex and diverse totalities. Il'enkow archive >>

Michael Cole
Michael ColeMichael Cole demonstrated that activity theory needs to understand the simultaneous co-existence and interaction of various different cultures and activities - not just the historical evolution of a single culture. His utopian methodology of studying human potential by creating new activity systems pushes forward Vygotsky's legacy of formative experiments.
Michael Cole's home page >>

Recent Publications

  • Kaatrakoski, H., Littlejohn, A. & Hood, N. Learning challenges in higher education: an analysis of contradictions within open educational practice. High Educ (2016). doi:10.1007/s10734-016-0067-z Publication>>

  • Kaatrakoski, H., & Lahikainen, J., "What We Do Every Day Is Impossible": Managing Change by Developing a Knotworking Culture in an Academic Library, The Journal of Academic Librarianship (2016), Publication>>

  • Kajamaa, A. & Lahtinen, P. (2016). Carnivalization as a new mode of collaboration. Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 28 Iss 4 pp. 188 - 205. DOI Publication>>

  • Sannino,A., Engeström, Y. & Lemos, M. (2016). Formative Interventions for Expansive Learning and Transformative Agency, Journal of the Learning
    DOI: 10.1080/10508406.2016.1204547 Publication>>
  • Sannino, A., Engeström Y. & Lahikainen, J. (2016). The dialectics of authoring expansive learning: tracing the long tail of a Change Laboratory. Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 28 Iss 4 pp. 245 - 26 Publication>>
  • Engeström, Y. & Sannino, A. (2016). Expansive learning on the move: insights from ongoing research / El aprendizaje expansivo en movimiento: aportaciones de la investigación en curs. Journal for the Study of Education and Development/ Infancia y Aprendizaje Publication >>
  • Rantavuori, J., Engeström, Y., & Lipponen, L. (2016). Learning actions, objects and types of interaction: A methodological analysis of expansive learning among pre-service teachers. Frontline Learning Research, 4(3), 1-27. Publication >>
  • Korpela, J., Miettinen, R., Salmikivi , T., & Ihalainen, J. 2015. The challenges and potentials of utilizing building information modeling in facility management. The case of the Center for Property and facilities of the University of Helsinki. Construction Management and Economies 33(1), 3-17. Publication >>
  • Kerosuo, H., Miettinen, R., Paavola, S., Mäki, T. & Korpela, J. 2015. Challenges of the expansive use of Building Information Modeling in construction projects. Production 25(2), 289-297.Publication >>
  • Miettinen, R., Tuunainen, J. & E.   Esko (2015).  Epistemological, Artefactual and Interactional–Institutional Foundations of Social Impact of Academic Research. Minerva 53(3), 257-277 Publication >>
  • Sannino, A. (2015). The principle of double stimulation: A path to volitional action. Learning, Culture, and Social Interaction, 6, 1-15. Publication >>
  • Sannino, A. (2015). Double stimulation in the waiting experiment with collectives. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science. DOI: 10.1007/s12124-015-9324-4 Publication >>
  • Sannino, A. & Vainio, J. (2015). Gendered hegemony and its contradictions among Finnish university physicists. Gender and Education. DOI:10.1080/09540253.2015.1045455 Publication >>
  • Kerosuo H., Miettinen, R., Paavola S., & Mäki T., (2015). Challenges of the expansive1 use of Building ­Information Modeling (BIM) in construction projects. Production Journal, vol.25, n.2, p.289-297, 2015 Publication >>
  • Engeström Y., Kajamaa A., Lahtinen P. & Sannino A. (2015). Toward a Grammar of Collaboration, Mind, Culture, and Activity, 22:2, 92-111, DOI:10.1080/10749039.2015.1024326 Publication >>
  • Schulz, K-P., Kajamaa, A. & Kerosuo, H. (2015). Creating innovative work practices through reflexive interventions. International Journal of Work Innovation 1 (2): 143 - 160. DOI: 10.1504/IJWI.2015.071193 Publication >>
  • Seppänen, L. (2015). Review of 'Collaborative projects: an interdisciplinary study'. Book edited by Andy Blunden. Outlines - Critical Practice Studies, 16(1), 93-97. Publication >>
  • Vänninen I., Pereira-Querol M., Engeström Y. (2015). Generating transformative agency among horticultural producers: An activity-theoretical approach to transforming Integrated Pest Management Original Research Article. Agricultural Systems, Volume 139, October 2015, Pages 38-49 Publication >>
  • Kerosuo, H. (2015). BIM-based collaboration across organizational and disciplinary boundaries through knotworking. 8th Nordic Conference on Construction Economics and Organization. Procedia Economics and Finance, 21, 201-208.Publication >>
  • Mäki, T. (2015) Multi-disciplinary discourse on design-related issues in construction site meetings. 8th Nordic Conference on Construction Economics and Organization. Procedia Economics and Finance, 21, 231-238. Publication >>
  • Mäki, T. and Kerosuo, H. (2015) Site managers' daily work and the uses of building information modelling in construction site. Construction Management and Economics, published on line 5 May, 2015. Publication >>

Publications news archive >>


News and higlights archive >>

Concept Formation
in the Wild

Special issue of Mind, Culture, and Activity