Russian Revolution: The Activity Theory

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In 1917, after the Russian revolution, there was a large effort to develop a new psychology based on Marxist philosophy. After several debates, Soviet psychologists agreed upon Marx’s “principle of unity and inseparability of consciousness and activity,” that is, how consciousness “comes to exist, develops, and can only be understood within the context of meaningful, goal-oriented, and socially determined interaction between human beings and their material environment” (Bannon 1997). In the 1920s and 1930s revolutionary Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934) and his colleagues, Alexi Leont’ev (1903–1979) and Alexander Luria (1902–1977), sought to rise above the dualist idealism and founded the cultural-historical school of Russian psychology. Grounded in the dialectical materialist approach of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Vygotsky’s school is credited with developing the fundaments of what Leont’ev later developed into the conceptual framework known as Activity Theory (AT). Vygotsky’s cultural-historical psychology and Leont’ev’s AT are closely related, and as such, are commonly combined and referred to as cultural-historical activity theory, or CHAT (Kaptelinin & Nardi 2006). Although AT discourse initiated in the former socialist countries, it is no longer exclusively a Russian approach. AT was internationalized in the 1970s and 1980s by Leont’ev, but it was not until the 1990s when the work of Yrjö Engeström re-popularized the theoretical perspective (ibid). In their book Acting with Technology: Activity Theory and Interaction Design, Victor Kaptelinin and Bonnie Nardi (Engeström’s contemporaries) develop an AT approach to exploring intentional human relationships to technology. Kaptelinin and Nardi offer up a definit...

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