Inicio > Psicología marxista > «Working With Cultural-Historical Activity Theory»: Wolff-Michael Roth, Luis Radford & Lionel LaCroix

«Working With Cultural-Historical Activity Theory»: Wolff-Michael Roth, Luis Radford & Lionel LaCroix

Abstract: This article focuses on the experiences of two researchers, Wolff-Michael ROTH and Luis RADFORD, using cultural-historical activity theory in mathematics education. The aim is to provide insights into the ways these researchers see and engage with activity theory, how they have come to adopt and expand it, and some of the challenges and concerns that they have had using it. These questions are not usually addressed within typical scientific papers. Yet, they are important for understanding both the dynamics of research and the practical use of cultural-historical activity theory. Since the format of research report papers is not necessarily well suited to convey personal experiences and thinking, the present article takes the form of a conversation, which provides an effective vehicle for exploring and articulating these matters. This provides a basis for understanding more deeply the underlying assumptions of this theory; its dynamics and how it is applied in research of mathematics practice, thinking, and learning; and insights into the manner in which experienced researchers grapple with the theoretical dimensions of their research.

Key words: cultural-historical activity theory; dialectical thinking; Leont’ev; Vygotsky; mathematics education; objectification; subjectification

Table of Contents

1. Background to Activity Theory

2. Background to the Conversation

3. The Conversation: Coming to Activity Theory

3.1 Essential features of cultural-historical activity theory

3.2 Developing theoretical tools to study mathematical thinking and learning

3.3 Dialectical thinking and implications for understanding activity

3.4 Comparing activity theory with other research perspectives

3.5 Mathematics and cultural-historical activity

3.6 Challenges and concerns working with activity theory

1. Background to Activity Theory

Lionel: Activity theory or cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) is a cross-disciplinary framework for studying how humans purposefully transform natural and social reality, including themselves, as an ongoing culturally and historically situated, materially and socially mediated process. Rooted in the dialectical psychology of VYGOTSKY (e.g., 1978) and LEONT’EV (e.g., 1978, 1981), this perspective transcends traditional dichotomies of micro and macro, internal and external, mental and material, individual and social, thought and action, quantitative and qualitative, observation and intervention, as well as agency and structure by integrating three perspectives: the objective, the ecological, and the socio-cultural (ENGESTRÖM, 1993). An essential feature of activity theory is the recognition of subject, object, community, material and semiotic tools, and other features of cultural practice as constitutive moments of activity—the irreducible, minimum unit of analysis. [1]

CHAT offers a radical departure from the dualistic views of thinking and being that pervade most other theories of human interaction, learning, and development. As a result, understanding the epistemological and ontological commitments of activity theory along with their implications for interpreting human activity can be a significant challenge for newcomers. Compounding this are the different takes on activity theory in the research literature reflecting both the wide range of problems and contexts where this theory is applied as well as varying degrees of consistency of existent research with its foundational principles. [2]

The present article provides insights to the ways that two accomplished activity theory researchers, Michael ROTH and Luis RADFORD, have come to adopt and apply this perspective in their own research related to mathematics practice, thinking, and learning.1) A semi-structured interview with these researchers was conducted, video recorded, and transcribed verbatim. Each of the three authors then shared in the editing of the transcript for clarity. The questions that guided this effort were as follows: What motivated the researchers to adopt a CHAT perspective for their own work? What were the dynamics of their becoming acquainted with and adopting a CHAT perspective? What do they see as essential features of CHAT? And, what challenges and concerns do they have working with it? In short, this article provides insights to these researchers’ own activity of engaging with CHAT. [3]

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