The basic unit of analysis within the frames of cultural-historical activity theory (Leont’yev 1978; Engeström 1987). It provides a dynamic systems approach to examining individual and social transformations. An activity system consists of subject (e.g., an individual, team), object of activity, mediating tools and instruments. Activity systems are anchored in institutional practices characterized by certain division of labor, broader community, and shared rules. The theory of the 'activity system' is based on a few central points: the object-orientedness of human activity, mediation through cultural-historically developed tools of intelligent activity, and contradictions emerging between the elements of activity systems. This perspective focuses on examining reciprocal relations and inter-dependence between individual actions and collective activities. Doing new things is difficult both for individuals and their communities, but necessary when practices embedded in the activity system are not sufficient to solve and conceptualize contradictions arising within the system or in relation to its environment.

See also Activity, Action, Operation


Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit.

Leont'yev, A. N. (1978). Activity, consciousness, and personality. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

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