Designing Activity Systems Research
The greatest challenge facing an Activity-Theory-based approached to researching interconnected networks and activity systems is the tension between the necessarily holistic view of “better contextuality” suggested by Kuuti, and the need for an appropriate level of analytic abstraction and “generalizable” research results required for the research to have utility across disciplines (as cited in Nardi, 1996, p. 22; Nardi, 1996, p.70). This tension can be partially mitigated by focusing simultaneously on object/motive-oriented research of individuals and on community-object-oriented research of larger subject communities. Thus in a research setting, the object, activity, and operation levels of each individual subject would be documented, both as subjectively articulated in interviews, and as prescribed in that individual’s task description. The overarching community object, activity, and operation levels of the various interacting subject communities would also be documented, in terms of a written prospectus of the group’s initial goals and any obtainable data regarding any sub-group’s particular objects, either explicitly or implicitly stated. Because of the magnitude of data likely resulting from such research techniques, trends from the collected data are probably best analyzed through statistics-based computer modeling. Any truly contextual understanding of activity systems requires researchers to pay close attention in particular to what Kuuti calls action-operation dynamics, noting when and how, for individual subjects, the orientation phase of a given action has passed and the action has been internalized as operation (as cited in Nardi, 1996, p. 31). This phenomenon could be identified in a number of ways. For instance, when individuals begin to elide unnecessary orientation-phase-steps in a process, or when they have re-articulated their objects to indicate a broadening of scope, it is likely...
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