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Unit of Analysis in Cultural Historical Activity Theoretical Research: Can we Talk about the Methodological Dilemmas?
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Unit of Analysis in Cultural Historical Activity Theoretical Research: Can we Talk about the Methodological Dilemmas?

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  • 1. UNIT OF ANALYSIS INCULTURAL HISTORICALACTIVITY THEORETICALRESEARCH: CAN WE TALKABOUT THEMETHODOLOGICALDILEMMAS?Lisa C. Yamagata-LynchUniversity of Tennessee at Knoxville
  • 2. Purpose Address methodological dilemmas related tothe unit of analysis that investigatorsencounter while engaging in research from aCultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT)research Not about uniformity, start an open discussion
  • 3. Why have this discussion? Methodological dilemmas in CHAT research areunavoidable because investigators need to find abalance between their epistemological beliefs andmethodological decisions in their work(Stetsenko, 2010) CHAT scholars embrace a generous stanceunderstanding how people learn/develop and areinterested in human activity in real-world settings At the same time in research, a manageable unitof analysis has to be identified to guidemethodological decisions for datacollection, analysis, and reporting
  • 4. Why focus on the unit ofanalysis? Unit of analysis is a conceptual tool for guidinginvestigators to engage in meaningful andsystematic observations and analyses Unit of analysis can beindividuals, groups, artifacts, interactions amongindividuals, or any other bounded system definedby the investigator (Merriam, 2009; Patton, 2002;Stake 1995) Guides methodological decisions for investigatoras a human instrument (Lincoln and Guba, 1985)to take responsibility identifying what constitutes ameaningful and relevant data
  • 5. Plan for this Presentation Run through epistemological assumptions Examine how the unit of analysis is definedwithin CHAT Refer to three sample works and how authorsidentified the unit of analysis and engaged inthe investigation Discuss areas that needresponsible, thoughtful, and purposefulmethodological decisions guided by CHATepistemology and study situation
  • 6. Epistemological AssumptionsCelebrate widened scope and context oflearning/development Human learning and development iscomplex, organic, reciprocal through mediatedaction (Vygotsky, 1978) Mediated action is a sociocultural processwhere human beings interact withartifacts, cultural tools, peers, and social setting(Cole, 1996; Gauvain, 2001; Tobach etal., 1997; Wertsch, 1991; Wertsch, 1998)
  • 7. More Epistemological AssumptionsCelebrate widened scope and context oflearning/development Learning and development is inseparable fromits context (Lave,1988; Rogoff, 1990) Learning and development takes place ineveryday settings through practice (Chaiklin &Lave, 1993; Lave & Wenger, 1991) Human cognition is distributed among socialothers, cultural artifacts, and shared cognition(Salomon, 1993; Wells, 1999)
  • 8. And More EpistemologicalAssumptionsCelebrate widened scope and context oflearning/development Learning and development is expansive andparticipatory while participants encountercontradictions (Engeström, 1989, 1993;Engeström & Sannino, 2010) Human identity development takes place withinmultiple contexts and is mediated throughconceptual and physical cultural artifacts(Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, Cain; 1998)
  • 9. CHAT Conversations about Unit ofAnalysisUnit of Analysis is… Mediated action (Rogoff,1995; Wertsch, 1991) Human activity (Leontiev, 1974), including bothobservable and mental activities(Galperin, 1992)Can be…. Distributed amongindividuals, artifacts, context(Engeström, 1987; Wertsch 1991) Collective, joint activities with shared objects(Engeström, 2001)
  • 10. Analytic FrameworksEfforts for Bringing Ideas Together for Engaging inResearch Efforts made by activity theorists creatinganalytic categories to examine interactionsbetween human beings and their socialenvironment (Scribner, 1997) Object-Oriented Activity (Leontiev, 1974) Goal-Directed Actions (Leontiev, 1974) Orienting-Activity (Galperin, 1992)
  • 11. More Analytic FrameworksEfforts for Bringing Ideas Together for Engaging inResearch Other analytic categories Activity Settings (Gallimore & Tharp, 1990) Activity Systems (Engeström, 1987) Four Levels of Inner Contradictions(Engeström, 1987, 1993) Expansive Learning Cycles and Three Generations ofActivity Theory (Engeström; 1996, 2001) Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Lave &Wenger, 1991) Three Planes of Sociocultural Analysis (Rogoff, 1995) Figured Worlds(Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, Cain, 1998)
  • 12. Discussion of Sample StudiesSelection Criteria Relied on CHAT in the theoreticalframework, data analysis, and discussion In the methods, the authors used one or moreof the CHAT analytical framework to guidedata collection and analysis The authors shared discussions that showed aconcern for identifying the unit of analysis inCHAT
  • 13. Examining Three StudiesFoot (2001) Igira & Aanestad(2009)Yamagata-Lynch& Haudenschild(2009)ResearchPurposeTracing activitiesof a largemultinationalhumansociopoliticalnetworkTracing evolvingcontradictions in aevolvinghealthcarepractices relatedto thedevelopment of anew informationsystemIdentifyingteacherperspectives ofcontradictions inprofessionaldevelopmentApproach toHuman Activitythrough CHATExamine humanactivity as object-oriented activity toanalyzecontradictionsExamine humanactivity withinsocial context andhistoricallyevolvingExamine humanactivity as acomplexphenomenonshared among
  • 14. Examining of Three StudiesFoot (2001) Igira & Aanestad(2009)Yamagata-Lynch& Haudenschild(2009)Unit of Analysis EntiremultinationalnetworkNetwork ofactivities initiatedand engaged bymultiple subjectsin healthcarenetwork that wererevealed in thedataDistinct units ofactivities initiatedby differentsubjects that wererevealed in thedataAnalyticalFrameworkContradictions Activity systemsand contradictionsFour levels ofinnercontradictions andjoint activitysystems similar tosecond
  • 15. Examining of Three StudiesFoot (2001) Igira & Aanestad(2009)Yamagata-Lynch& Haudenschild(2009)InvestigatorParticipationLevelParticipatory, butno description ofdegree ofparticipationParticipatory, butno description ofdegree ofparticipationObserverData CollectionMethodsEthnographic,participantobservation,interviews, anddiscussion in thefieldEthnographic,observations,interviews,informal talks, anddocumentanalysisNaturalisticinquiry, semi-structuredinterviews anddocumentanalysis
  • 16. Examining of Three StudiesFoot (2001) Igira & Aanestad(2009)Yamagata-Lynch& Haudenschild(2009)Analysis Thematic withfocus onobservablediscoordinationsin collectivenetwork activitiesTriangulated dataand identifiedcontradictions inparticipanthealthcareactivities andmappedexpansive cycleConstantcomparativemethod, thickdescription,identified activitysystems andinnercontradictionsConclusions Networkcontradictionswere related tosociopolitical andeconomicconcernsHealthcaresystemdevelopment wascomplex anddifficult torepresent inTeachersperceiveddifficulties inprofessionaldevelopment (PD)when they did not
  • 17. Overall Characteristics Research purpose are openended, exploratory, and relies on participantand researcher experiences in the field Unit of analysis is broad inscope, emergent, and situational to the study Data collection methods are primarilyqualitative Research approach can be participatory ordescriptive Unclear how the unit of analysis affected dataanalysis
  • 18. Data Collection DilemmasClarifying Role of the Unit of Analysis Drawing boundaries in human activities duringdata collection while embracing generousscope and emergent nature of researchpurpose Access opportunity to data  Time, establishedrelations, and professional roles Investigator engagement level  collecting datawhile participating in evolving activities Focusing on what is data  sorting data while itsexponential growth
  • 19. Analysis DilemmasClarifying Role of the Unit of Analysis Drawing purposeful boundaries in analysis byrelying on researchpurpose/question, emergent findings, andanalytical frameworks Thematic analysis  search for potentialbounded systems while making sense of as muchdata as possible Organize data  find narratives that aremeaningful and relevant to researchpurpose/question guided by emergent findings
  • 20. Analysis DilemmasClarifying Role of the Unit of Analysis Identify bounded systems  rely on analyticalframework to identify bounded units that can beanalyzed and discussed in research report Ensure participant voices are heard  examinebounded units in analysis and ensure theyrepresent participant perspectives
  • 21. Reporting DilemmasClarifying Role of the Unit of Analysis Reporting a messy real-world situation in acommunicative format Preparing descriptions  act of engaging inCHAT research may be messy andparticipatory, but reporting that involvesstorytelling need to be descriptive with abeginning, middle, and an end(Eisner, 2008, Hatch, 2002)
  • 22. ConclusionsWhere are we now? Collectively we have a strong professionaldiscourse regarding CHAT epistemology We tend to not spend time on discussingmethodological issues including the dilemmasassociated to how to work with the generousscope of our epistemology that is reflected inour unit of analysis, and how that affects ourapproach to data collection, analysis, andreporting Where can we start discussions?

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