What constitutes “an activity"?

Andy Blunden, January 2022

Activity Theory is the science which takes social life to be an aggregate of activities, that is, it takes activities as “units of analysis.” This is an epoch-making innovation in the human sciences. “Activity” differs from “behaviour” because activity is understood to be inclusive of the consciousness with which the activity is done. Activity is more or less synonymous with “practice.”

But what is an activity? An activity, according to the Soviet-era founder of Activity Theory, A.N. Leontyev, is characterised by its object. For Leontyev, the object is the externally existing reality which orients the activity and provides its motive.

Thus the concept of activity is necessarily connected with the concept of motive. Activity does not exist without a motive; ‘non-motivated’ activity is not activity without a motive but activity with a subjectively and objectively hidden motive. (Leontyev, 1978)

“Society produces the activity of the individuals forming it” (op. cit.), but not in an immediate way, as if by a stimulus→response reaction, but mediated by psychic reflection, which in turn has been shaped by prior participation of individuals in the life of their society. The object is also a societal product which exists independently of every person but which, generally in a socially mediated way, meets the needs of the individual (for example by providing an income). To use a Hegelian expression, the object differs from its concept in some way; for example, it is a useful product which, having been consumed must be reproduced before it can be consumed again, or it is a person’s health which is defective and needs to be rectified by medical treatment. Yrjö Engeström calls the object a “problem space.”

Although this definition is intuitively compelling and remains the main foundation of Activity Theory to this day, it is rife with contradictions. I have examined the contradictions in Leontyev’s theory at length in my article “Leontyev’s Activity Theory and Social Theory"(2015), and I will only briefly review these contradictions here, insofar as they are relevant to all versions of Activity Theory, including Yrjö Engeström’s theory and modern European and American versions of Leontyev’s theory. What I have come to realise more recently however is that this definition is too restrictive both from the point of view of representing human life and from the point of view of the use of activity theory as a means for research. Thus I will follow up my clarification of Activity Theory in its classical form with a suggestion for directions in which it can be usefully expanded.

What is an Activity?

However one solves the problem of constituting an activity – the segmentation of activity into units – it remains the case that an activity is an aggregate of actions; it is not a mental entity, such as my image of a better world, or an aggregate of people, such as an organisation or institution or an aggregate of behaviours such as is generally to subject matter of “social psychology.” Further, Leontyev says that activities are ‘non-additive’ units of activity because any action may be part of more than one activity at the same time. The issue is: how do we know which actions aggregate together as an activity? What is it about all the actions which mean that they are all part of the same activity?

Leontyev (2009) answers this question rather nicely with a genetic derivation of activity. All the higher animals live by means of actions. An action in turn is defined as a behavioural act in which the goal differs from the motive which is controlling it. That is, an action is done for a reason, not for its own sake. An action does not meet the need which provides the motive immediately, but rather through a series of actions each of which achieves an intermediate goal towards the achievement of the object. Whereas an activity, defined this way, can be achieved by one and the same person through a series of actions, each oriented to a specific goal, in general, the different actions making up an activity in human societies are each executed by different persons, but all share the same motive. Thus, an activity is an aggregate of actions, each in general executed by a different person for a specific goal, and all directed towards the achievement of the same more remote object.

(Human actions are mediated by the use of artefacts – material objects which are products of human labour and are in turn used in human activity. The mediating artefact differs in principle from the object which mediates or controls the activity. Activity Theory takes it as given that actions are artefact-mediated actions).

Let us take three examples of activities in which the relation between the component actions and the object orienting the activity is in some way problematised.

(1) A child learning to read. Any parent or teacher knows that a young child cannot be motivated to work at reading if the only motive they have is to equip themselves to be responsible citizens of the nation, or even to pass an exam which will give them admission to a paying job. The young child has not yet matured so that by means of psychic reflection these more remote objects can generate the motive to keep their nose to the grindstone. The teacher will devise a situation – some kind of game perhaps or merely to sit on mummy’s lap while she reads – where the child is motivated to collaborate with the teacher in the reading activity because it is enjoyable in itself (i.e. initially, for the child it is a collaborative action, but not an activity). Leontyev says that the teacher provides a “really effective motive” distinct from the “objective motive” which at this point in the child’s development is known only by the teacher. The “really effective motive” is conceived of as individual and subjective; the “objective motive” is that which is societally approved, and the teacher or parent acts here as the agent of the nation, blessed with understanding of and possibly being motivated by this motive – the production of literate adults. As the child matures they become capable of acquiring more remote motives. Hopefully, in the initial phase the child becomes able to enjoy reading in itself and over time, as their personality develops, they acquire commitments to social goals such as earning their own living and promoting the welfare of the nation at large. Leontyev says that the aim of the teacher is to see that the really effective motive more and more merges with the objective motive.

This is fine so far as it goes, but two things. (a) The situation of the child is conceived in an unmediated individual-universal dichotomy which Leontyev casts as subjective-objective. In reality, the child is not an individual but a member of a definite social class, and the child’s relation to the activity of reading is mediated by the conditions and social expectations imposed on a member of their class. (b) The teacher is not an agent of “objectivity,” but (leaving aside the teacher’s motives as a wage-earner) is the agent of the Education Department (and other relevant institutions) which is riddled with its own social interests.

That is, Leontyev’s Activity Theory is, despite itself, consistently dualistic and asocial; Leontyev sees society as an aggregate of individuals, shaped, yes, by the use of culturally sourced artefacts in societally constructed activities, but there are no classes – economic or otherwise – in this utopian society, modelled on the self-image of the Soviet Union. In contemporary society, teachers must be sensitive to the social situations of students and critical of their own bosses. (This line of criticism is to some extent answered in Leontyev’s theory of the personality, but the above remarks remain true with respect to the usual reception of Leontyev’s theory).

(2) A wage worker employed in a capitalist firm. The wage worker turns up to work each day and is diligent at his given role, archetypically, because he/she expects to be paid. At the same time, the worker collaborates with fellow-employees so as to successfully and efficiently produce the relevant object. Leontyev says that the worker is motivated by the “really effective motive” as well as the “already understood motive.” With good management, the employee will develop so as to fully embrace the already understood “objective motive.” Note also that the capitalist owner is in the same situation; the capitalist participates (if at all) in order to ensure capital accumulation. However, capitalists, like any other human beings, may come to value their contribution to the nation, but this is not essential.

The object, the “objective motive,” is to reproduce the means of some social need. These needs are not restricted to any kind of “basic need,” but arise from the social process itself. In the planned economy of the USSR, these objective motives were set in 5-year plans determined by the Politburo. The needs of the worker – their career, their living and their family’s needs – are met by whatever system of distribution the Politburo determines, either a labour market or a centrally determined scale of wages or the distribution of products according to need. Thus needs and their satisfaction are mediated by the social arrangements made for distribution and management of the economy. Thus, casinos, fattening food, criminal enterprises, tobacco and liquor, pornography and so on take on the status of “objective motives.”

The characterisation of the “already understood” motive as “objective” is implausible. Clearly, the object of any capitalist firm is capital accumulation, and even public services in capitalist countries are usually run so as to foster capital accumulation in the private sector. The actual social benefit – the object as defined in Activity Theory – appears as a kind of side-effect, not a “motive” at all. And the idea of extending the concept of “motive” to include ends (such as obesity-inducing foods) which are merely mediating the activity of capital accumulation is unconvincing. “Motive” has become a social category more or less identical with “demand,” a social category masquerading as a psychological concept. Such a concept of motive cannot explain why people act as they do, and it is for this reason that Leontyev’s version of Activity Theory can be characterised as Functionalism.

In reality, a public service institution or a capitalist firm are collaborative projects, or activities, in which a number of distinct activities are in play. The capitalists want to accumulate capital and uses the product as a mediating artefact in that action (M-C-M'); the worker is furthering his or her project of raising a family and building a career (C-M-C); some workers are indeed motivated to produce some social good and enjoy the internal rewards of that activity; all are trying to minimise the burden of work on their own lives. The actual work activity which results from this collaboration is the outcome not only of cooperation (despite differing objects) but also of class struggle.

The main idea which Leontyev offers to deal with complexities like these is to say that the personal sense of the object is different for each participant in the activity. This preserves the object as something objective while allowing that for each participant the object has a personal sense. This personal sense is formed by means of ideology, which expresses meanings appropriate to one or another social position, in interaction with the life experiences of each individual in the course of their activity. All the meanings expressed by ideologies are objective, but are more or less adequate to the lives of the individual, to the extent that the ideology expresses a broad social interest.

These ideas go part of the way towards a genuinely social conception of human activity, but only on the side of the individual, of Psychology. As a social theory, Leontyev’s Activity Theory cannot comprehend anything beyond a planned economy run by a disinterested bureaucrat. We still have these “objective motives” of which one person is the agent and another not. Furthermore, the theory is essentially one of stasis: the continual consumption and reproduction of a given array of socially and culturally produced products answering to a given and static array of social needs. There is no place for an activity whose aim is to transform activity, abolishing some needs and create others, and expanding the horizon of activity; and yet virtually all activities nowadays are of this kind, be they simple capital accumulation or radical projects for social change. And even if we allow for the social formation of the personal sense of every participant, there is no “universal person” here whose “personal sense” can be deemed to be the “object” or “objective motive.”

At this point, I prefer to use the word “project,” which is synonymous with “an activity” except that (1) “project” does not carry the connotation of stasis, but of transformation, and (2) a “project” is always collaboration towards some end, and there are a number of different ways this collaboration may take place, which is excluded by the dualistic conception of Leontyev (each worker has a personal sense of the objective motive). We need a specific analysis of collaboration. I see projects, such as a public service or a capitalist firm, but also the whole range of activities underway in a modern society, as collaborations between a number of projects, each with the own motives (See Origins of Collective Decision Making, Blunden 2014).

Consequently, I will not talk of “personal sense,” which is OK so far as it goes, on one hand, and “objective meaning” or “ideological meaning” on the other. I allow that all participants (shaped as Leontyev says, through the interaction of ideological meanings more or less adequate to their life experience as a someone having a certain social position) have a different concept of the object being worked upon (Arbeitsgegenstand in German). But this object-concept is not to be conceived of as a mental entity, but rather is itself a form of activity. That is, a concept and an activity are two expressions of the same social reality. Only by this means can Leontyev’s dualism be overcome.

(3) Rivals political parties competing for government of the country. There was no room for such a scenario in Leontyev’s world but this is certainly of interest for life in almost any country nowadays. The object for all the parties is the government of the country, itself an activity. Even those parties who are not in a majority coalition are participants in this project. What differs between the parties is that they have different concepts of government of the country, that is, they each diagnose a dissonance between a concept of governance and its present state. It is this concept which governs their activity and determines the character of the internal life of each party. The actual governance of the country is an object-activity which is conceived of differently between diverse parties; taken as a whole, the governance exhibits the basis for such a diversity of concepts.

Several aspects of this process may be noted. (1) We do not have a dichotomy between concepts and activities – a concept is a form of activity; (2) the divers projects both conflict with one another, and, to extent that they work within a shared set of rules and do not try to physically assault one another, they cooperate. This combination of cooperation and conflict is called collaboration.

Elsewhere I have developed a typology of collaboration – colonisation, bargaining, solidarity and collaboration as such which implies the complete merging of different processes. In the event of collaboration as such individuals or delegates make collective decisions by counsel, majority or consensus, according to the tradition in which the project is situated. (See my article Collaborative Ethics 2015a).

Present day Activity Theory has appropriated the concept of “boundary object” to theorise the collaboration between different projects. The problem with the concept of “boundary object” is that the boundary object is constituted outside of activity theory and outside the relevant projects. It may be that the concept of boundary object is unproblematic in a given instance. All the relevant projects may have identical concepts of the object. So long as we conceive of the object as an unproblematic Arbeitsgegenstand, this makes sense, but the ideal or concept against which the Arbeitsgegenstand is assessed differs from one project to another. This is precisely the problem, so the concept of “boundary object” does not contribute anything to the theorisation of the collaboration of different projects. Self-evidently, projects can only cooperate or conflict to the extent that they share a Arbeitsgegenstand.

Having made these points, and establishing that an activity is constituted by the concept it has of its object, three problems arise.

(1) Projects are learning processes, and in the course of the life of a project, its concept of its object will change. So, when we say a project is characterised by the concept it has of its object, we have to allow that projects change in the course of their development, and may undergo splits and crises and so on according to how this learning process and development unfolds.

(2) The object is an integral part, the ideal aspect of the project, and not something controlling the project from outside. In Leontyev’s theory, activities are slaves of objects which, although products of activity in general, exist independently of the project for which they are the object. Leontyev’s theory then is not an activity theory at all, but rather a theory of objects, or social needs. Activities are generated by needs. But what we want is an activity theory, a theory in which objects and motives can themselves be explained as abstractions from and products of activities.

(3) How are we to know the object concept characterising a collaborative project (i.e. an activity) if there are all these conflicting projects at work and furthermore we cannot rely on an problematic conception of the object existing outside of the activity itself? The answer is that the object is immanent in the project itself. It can be gleaned only by studying the collaboration between all the participants and identifying what end it is that all the collaborative actions are directed towards. The object cannot be deemed to exist outside of the activity itself or as a mental object.

Workers know that expansion of the owner’s capital is the capitalist’s object and in being offered a wage they are being invited to collaborate with boss in maximising profit, just as they expect the boss to collaborate them in providing decent wages and safe working condition so that the worker can advance their project, be that a professional career, the raising of a family or self-improvement. The capitalist collaborates with customers by acting with honesty and respect in the market. In all these cases, the mode of collaboration is exchange or bargaining.

This is what is demanded by a consistent, thoroughgoing and non-dualistic Activity Theory.

What is the difference between an Activity Theory and Vygotsky’s Cultural Psychology?

Leaving aside unproductive polemics in the terrible conditions of scientific discourse which existed in Stalin’s Soviet Union, and some theoretical weaknesses in Leontyev’s elaboration of Activity Theory, it remains the case that Activity Theorists recognise as their basic (micro) unit of analysis “artefact-mediated actions,” aggregates of which make up activities. This is the same unit that Vygotsky used in various particular forms in his various studies. Both theorists aimed to produce a general theory of psychology, even though, in addition, Leontyev did attempt to extend Activity Theory into the domain of Sociology. This move was accomplished somewhat more successfully by Leontyev’s successor in Finland, Yrjö Engeström, by the conception of an activity as a “system” and marginalising the significance of outside other activities outside the organisation which is the subject matter of intervention. The whole idea of activities as units of analysis is negated if there is only one activity.

Vygotsky’s most famous book, Thinking and Speech (1934), the subject matter is the formation of concepts. The book begins, however, with a discourse on units of analysis, and adopts as a unit of analysis word meaning. Word meaning can be seen as a special case of artefact-mediated action, although Vygotsky was at pains to distinguish sign-mediated actions, of which word meaning is an instance, from tool mediated action, as in the case of labour activity. Vygotsky summed up the distinction with his own twist on Goethe twist on Genesis: “In the beginning was the (tool mediated) act” and by implication, subsequent development of the intellect is driven not by tool-use but by speech and sign-use. There is nothing “idealist” about this position.

More importantly however, close attention to Thinking and Speech shows that concepts appear in Chapter 5 explicitly as forms of action, and the mental activity normally associated with “concepts” arises through the in-growing of these forms of action and growing ease in their use. Thus, for Vygotsky concepts are forms of activity, including speech activity. This simple realisation gives us a monist theory of Psychology in which behaviour and consciousness are both abstractions from activity.

Thus there is no contradiction between Vygotsky’s Cultural Psychology and Activity Theory, provided the activity theory is implemented as a consistent and comprehensive, monist theory of human activity.

So much for activity theory in which activities are understood as aggregates of actions executed in collaboration towards realising a shared concept of the object.

But there are situations and activities which it seems to me are not easily amenable to this kind of analysis and there may be other ways of aggregating actions to define an activity which are not based on the assumption that actors are collaborating towards the achievement of a shared object.

Activities characterised by a shared Motif

The idea of using motif I have appropriated from a paper by Morten Nissen (Banks, de Neergaard & Nissen, 2021). Nissen’s work deals with a group of social workers serving marginalised young drug users in Copenhagen. He points out that the word “motif” in Germanic languages translates as “motive” in English as well as “motif” in the sense in which it is used to indicate a concept of aesthetics.

Aesthetics is a highly technical and contested field of philosophy and I don’t wish to enter into that field, but it is worth noting that Vygotsky’s own early development was tied up with aesthetics and his first book was The Psychology of Art. To use a concept of aesthetics in the characterisation of an activity is to take the activity under an aesthetic frame, that is, to view it as a work of art. As is widely accepted nowadays, to take an activity as a work of art, to regard it aesthetically, does not presuppose that the motive of the producer was aesthetic.

Aesthetics differs from a theory of practice precisely because an activity may be judged to be virtuous and enjoyed without an implication that the practice serves the viewer or anyone else’s practical interest or social needs. That is, it is judged from precisely the opposite standpoint from that of object-oriented activity theory. Virtue is appreciated for its own sake, whatever may have been the intention of the actor.

Vygotsky viewed art in terms of its capacity to illicit emotions in the viewer, creatively producing an artefact which gives external material form to an inner feeling, reproducing the experience of the author in the reader. Vygotsky’s theory of creativity is a subject of great interest among Vygotsky scholars at the present moment, and the insight that activities can be judged through an aesthetic frames offers new avenues for the development of Vygotsky’s ideas.

A motif is an element of the work which invests it with its particular aesthetic character. It can be a single element whose content ‘spills out’ and drives the unfolding of the work (like a striking event which sets off the series of events making up the plot of a novel), or it may be a pattern which repeats itself, perhaps in successive forms, driving the development of the whole work (such as is common in musical works). Thus motif is an element of the work which can characterise the whole practice, and therefore gives a possible means of grasping the activity as a whole and characterising its distinctive character alongside other activities.

Nissen et al use the idea of motif somewhat indirectly; a young person is invited to make a short video on any topic that takes their fancy, and the video is analysed aesthetically with the assistance of a professional film-maker, with the aim of determining the motif which is “driving” the action in the video. The suggestion is that this motif has been transferred from their own life experience and by making this motif objective and explicit, the young person shares this inner feeling with the therapist in a way that astonishes them and engages them in productive shared reflection.

The first thing this idea provides is the opportunity to mobilise all the insights of art criticism for a psychological purpose, to regard a young person’s activities not from the point of view of the object they are trying to realise, but less developed, embryonic motivations – motivations which have not yet developed to the point of initiating action towards realising some object, but is still at the stage of emotion. That is, we can take emotions as germ cells of activities, the germ cells of reasons for acting that have not yet reached conscious awareness (See Blunden 2017).

So what unites the series of actions, archetypically all executed by the same person, is not an object-concept. Leontyev would (if he were to be consistent) respond that the activity has a “subjectively and objectively hidden motive,” and this may indeed be exactly the case. But let us suppose that the motive is not hidden from the subject or the observer. For example, a group of youth engage in a football game or a gentleman joins a bushwalking club or a chess tournament. There is nothing hidden about the motive here. On the other hand, these activities are enjoyed in their own right not as goals towards another motive. It could be claimed that the motive of these activities are social needs like sociability, fitness, rehabilitation, and so on. And consequently they are not problematic and in need of analysis. However, the example of the young drug users belies the claim that these activities are enjoyed in themselves and lack social implications and are not in need of theoretical analysis. All creative activity offers insights into the social conditions surrounding the artist and are definitively social not merely individual activities.

My niece participates in a social movement calling itself Solar Punk. What these young people do is share ideas about a technologically wired sustainable and humane possible future form of social life. By interviewing my niece I could determine that this was not a movement aimed at bringing about such a future. The bitter political struggle which is entailed in that project is quite unwelcome within Solar Punk; they are indifferent to accusations of utopianism just as a science fiction writer would be indifferent to such an accusation. To cast Solar Punk as an object-oriented activity would be to misunderstand it; and yet this movement collaborative in its ethos and is surely of considerable social and political interest!

To take an example from the other side. How can we grasp the nature of the anti-vax movement? If it is to be judged as an object-oriented activity, it seems to be aimed at bringing about an absolutely libertarian dystopia in which there is no moral or legal restraint on any individual’s actions. But doesn’t this belie the motif of the movement which expresses a kind of egoistic entitlement and unbounded misanthropy? Which view gives us a glimpse of the possible future evolution of the movement? Which view makes sense of why white-supremacists and Nazis participate in an outwardly libertarian movement?

Very likely what is an aesthetic project today will be an object-oriented project tomorrow.

Activities characterised by a Narrative

Granted that activities are collaborative projects. But as Hegel said: “A person is the series of their actions.” A person’s life is itself an activity, a project. A person lives their life in continuous relations of collaboration, but while each of the projects to which a person commits themselves can be analysed as an activity which exists independently of the subject, one project to which a person is committed is that in which they themselves are the object, their own life.

A person’s life could be grasped in many ways, but one important way a life can be conceptualised is through the development of their personality. Just as described in the first example of a child learning to read, the development of the personality is characterised in Activity Theory by an evolving hierarchy of commitments, commitments to objectively-existing projects. Over the course of a lifetime these commitments tend to become less and less personal and self-serving and more and more projects serving the social good and fostering social virtues work their way to the peak of the hierarchy of motives (See Blunden 2015 for an analysis of Leontyev’s (1978) theory of personality along these lines). Vygotsky’s theory of the personality sits very comfortably with this idea of the personality (lichnost) as a life-project. Vygotsky (1934a) theorised that these commitments which make up a person’s persona undergo crisis at different points in their life. During such periods of crisis the subject engages in a specific kind of work called perezhivanie, in which one’s commitment to various projects are restructured. Fedor Vasilyuk (1984) gave definite shape to the concept of perezhivaniya in his theory of psychotherapy.

Although the individual is at the centre of their own life-project, all these perezhivaniya are collaborations, implicitly if not explicitly.

Although Leontyev and his student Vasilyuk has given us a theoretical structure for the analysis of perezhivaniya, literary theory provides great resources for writing a person’s biography or your own autobiography and of critical analysis in fact of any novel or historical work of literature is a means of understanding the person or social formation which is the subject of the narrative.

In other words, there is nothing contradicting activity theory most generally conceived in using the methods of narrative criticism to analyse activities, be it the life of an individual, a developing social movement or a particular experience.

Take for example the Activity Theory analysis of the work of a hospital. Public teaching hospitals are vast and extremely complex and even chaotic institutions. To theorise a modern teaching hospital as a ‘system of activity’ is wishful thinking; a single clinic perhaps, but a modern hospital only at the expense of reductionism and simplification. Each of the hospital’s specialist medical, paramedical and administrative departments have their own motives, hierarchies and norms; every department interacts with every other department and as a patient passes through the hospital – from admission to discharge and rehabilitation – they engage in collaboration with a succession of hospital officials acting as agents for their department. The hospital must be theorised as a complex collaboration of many distinct projects, but the most important project of them all is that expressed in the therapeutic narrative – the story of a patient’s experiences as they pass through the hospital, committing themself to collaborations with a succession of hospital departments and their agents as well as interdisciplinary teams.

Manidis and Scheeres (2012) followed a single patient from admission to discharge and her story shed invaluable light on what was going on in the hospital and lent itself immediately to proposals for a productive intervention. Lingard, McDougall, Levstik, Chandok, Spafford and Shryer (2012) followed a single specialist team in difficult interactions with other specialist teams in the course of dealing with one complex case, producing one of several possible therapeutic narratives relating to the various hospital departments.

It is possible to define a motive for each of these narratives – the patient is suffering and wishes to get well, the team wants another team to adapt their actions to ameliorate the difficulties the patient presents for their own discipline. But this would be an entirely extraneous post facto exercise. Understanding narratives is as basic a mode of human cognition as is understanding concepts. In fact, the two modes of knowing mutual constitute one another: you can’t make sense of a concept without knowing the story behind it and you can’t follow a story if you are unfamiliar with the concepts being deployed (unless the author takes care to introduce the reader to the relevant concepts).

The idea of having a unit of analysis is to give the researcher purchase on forbiddingly complex processes. Manidis and Scheeres’ patient narrative did not in itself elucidate why things are done the way they are, but it did highlight in very sharp outline what the c0ntradictions were. To rectify the problem (lack of communication between health professionals, not listening to the patient, and in particular the responsible doctor not seeking insights from nursing staff who had spent more time listening to the patient) would require a more traditional kind of analysis and once isolated, the problem could be tackled in terms of an Engeström-type ‘system of activity’ or a traditional activity-theory approach. The same comments apply to the study of the medical narrative.

But the fact remains that narrative analysis can be a means of identifying the relevant activities, understanding how the constituent actions cohere meaningfully, and understanding the shared experience as a whole. A clinical team has a ‘personality’ in a way quite analogous to an individual person, a personality which develops through perezhivaniya.


The essential concept of Activity Theory is the use of aggregates of artefact mediated actions, activities, as units of analysis. It is the collaboration between different persons making common cause which allows the object-concept to shine through.

However, not all activities can sensibly be understood as oriented to the realisation of a common outcome or even any outcome at all. Consequently, aesthetic analysis may allow us to reveal with embryonic motives developing within the activity.

Further, interactions between projects in very complex settings, such as a modern teaching hospital, can be subject to an initial theorisation by means of analysing activities through narratives which allow us to make sense of specific episodes of interaction.

Whether we use object-concept, motif or narratives to make sense of aggregates of artefact mediated actions as specific activities, does not affect the fundamental basis of Activity Theory. Further, an Activity Theory demands that we understand the object concepts and emotions as integral to the activity itself, nor something lying outside the activity, governing it from outside.


Banks, M., de Neergaard, E. & Nissen, M. (2021). Aesthetic Motifs and the Materiality of Motives.

Blunden, A. (2014). Origins of Collective Decision Making.

Blunden, A. (2015). Leontyev’s Activity Theory and Social Theory.

Blunden, A. (2015a). Collaborative Ethics.

Blunden, A. (2017). Spinoza in the history of Cultural Psychology and Activity Theory.

Leontyev, A. N. (1977/1978). Activity and Consciousness, pp. 395-409, The Development of Mind.

Leontyev, A. N. (1978). Activity, Consciousness, and Personality.

Leontyev, A. N. (2009). The Development of Mind.

Lingard, L., McDougall, A., Levstik, M., Chandok, N., M. Spafford & Shryer. C., (2012). Representing complexity well: a story about teamwork, with implications for how we teach collaboration.

Manidis, M. & Scheeres, H. (2012). Towards Understanding Workplace Learning Through Theorising Practice: At Work in Hospital Emergency Departments.

Vasilyuk, F. (1984). The Psychology of Perezhivanie.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1934). Thinking and Speech.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1934a). The Problem of the Environment.