Toward a typology of activities
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  • Intro self. Excited to be here. Talk about typology of activities and why we need it.
  • The first part follows the argument of this article, which was supplied to you. The question of the object, which defines an activity.
  • Let’s use the illustration of farming.
  • Kaptelinin: The object is the seed of the activity system.Both objective (material: brute earth) and projective (plan: the field of grain).The cycle or pulse of transformation. Here, transformation is governed by the seasons: plant in spring, harvest in fall.Photos:Framboise: http://www.flickr.com/photos/framboise/6478994/sizes/o/in/photolist-zcYN-2JTzq-2JTH2-3kdkr-8Rzn7-cgGDS-iHkD3-kWkLs-pHW2e-svGsn-yFY2e-yFY67-yFYne-Ecrfs-J2vDK-JUBTQ-KniLv-KMTM6-KYhmB-2pNH8z-37WQqy-38aeMQ-3wyCFF-4b6Dp4-4tgx2j-4C81rN-4GGh3o-4U62VH-55uVBk-5r9ky6-5rD5Zq-5rD75o-5v5MfZ-5AJybP-5AJyDr-5D31y7-5DimkX-5RcrED-5SR8Wz-5XUwai-5YWxA1-626XTA-66wUE3-69H981-6aHK7K-6b8F7m-6deahi-6deaqr-6deatv-6deawa-6deazp/ChrisSteam http://www.flickr.com/photos/29150861@N02/2840955234/sizes/l/in/photolist-5k3D1N-5kstvV-5n13ki-5D7h1A-5EgD68-5FGCAU-5JbyLg-5UG5Mg-6371j6-6attdS-6qSpEj-6wgT32-6yZLtC-6CGRrV-6DT1ua-6GGjrE-6GGjFE-6JVkoo-6McjcR-6Pu5zc-6Pu5BR-6To3RX-6VDWdi-73532W-74eNQx-7jzKGX-7jDRSJ-7t36Gm-7tPnfF-9WDPYo-a8ekwo-fjtBed-a5uGax-9T9o3m-9QJ5p2-chGJiQ-9TmNBu-dU6uyR-aWvNBc-cfRthS-a9zX2u-fnMob6-ak2Rs2-8VxDhF-akdoxd-aDvAuH-cuHzRo-8TPsXi-acAmua-9LBGwm-8hNJWG/
  • (from Topsight)Around this object – and its cycle of transformation – develop an array of resources. The actors and community stakeholders who are invested in transforming it; the rules, tools, and DOL that mediate its transformation. The cycle means that over time, these different resources can be stabilized. We develop and hone tools, rules, DOL; we invest actors and community stakeholders in the activity.
  • (farm pic)But farming is, like any activity, a bit more complex than these activity system diagrams tend to let on.
  • For instance, like everyone else, farmers are increasingly using information technology to guide their transformation of the object: they plot their fields using GPS and they plan their work around weather via weather satellites. They’re layering on different kinds of information and thus representing the object in different ways.(picture via CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture)http://www.flickr.com/photos/ciat/4821530518/sizes/l/in/photolist-8m4B3w-cAje1f-8J7L1B-8J7LKp-8J7K6z-89R6Gf-82nVRy-ecz1Qd-djE34P-9YL69D/)
  • They must also identify a market. Should they go for the organic market, with high margins? Considering this issue involves expanding the object: to administrative agencies, land, crops, customers.Seppänen, L. (2004). Learning Challenges in Organic Vegetable Farming of On-Farm Practices. Learning. University of Helsinki.
  • Or should they produce in high volume, using the agribusiness model with its large economies of scale? Should they use GMOs? If so, do they need to get the law involved when GMO seed travels to the next field?Each choice potentially adds new perspectives to the object, involves different existing activities, and shapes the other parts of the activity.Picture: CIMMYT http://www.flickr.com/photos/cimmyt/8072668264/sizes/o/
  • Agribusiness, such as Monsanto, may find itself spreading far beyond the field in order to keep transforming its object—see, for instance, the revelation that the private security firm Blackwater sought to provide infiltration services to Monsanto.
  • And, at an even larger scale, consider global warming—what Engestrom calls a “runaway object,” one that is so big that all of us participate in it and no defined subgroup can conceptualize or address it adequately.Photo: yeimaya, http://www.flickr.com/photos/yeimaya/337352632/sizes/o/
  • As I argue in my 2011 paper Losing by Expanding, we have seen two movements in activity theory research that, together, expand the object.Methodologically, we have applied activity theory to objects of larger and larger scale. In 1987, Engestrom was examining doctor-patient dyads. In 2008, he was examining global warming. The movement is toward larger, more expansive cases with greater context, attempting to address how an object is touched by other activities.Theoretically, we have begun to understand activities as more overlapped and multidimensional: each object is potentially touched or shared by more trades, disciplines, and organizations. The humble farmer’s field is transformed by many perspectives, on many cycles. The more multidimensional an object is, the more likely it is to have several configurations of activity around it—several sets of actors, community stakeholders, tools, rules, and divisions of labor. Multidimensionality, not surprisingly, often leads to internal contradictions. These are the engines of change in an activity, as Engestrom has long told us. But we must come to grips with them, understanding how different dimensions or aspects of an object can lead to contradictions among the activity’s other elements.As a first step, I propose a typology of activities—a way to characterize different configurations of activities forming around objects with different characteristics. Since the activities’ objects can be multidimensional, typing the dimensions or perspectives of these objects can help us to think through the internal contradictions that form around them.
  • For brevity, I’ll simply list some previous examples of AT typologies. These all do what they are intended to do—but they do not characterize objects using consistent criteria, so they’re not suitable for the goal I’m pursuing.
  • Similarly, I won’t go over the existing organizational typologies outside of activity theory, since they do not characterize objectives either—although there is some good work here in characterizing organizations, and some of this work helped me to think through the typology I propose.
  • In this typology, I start with the object, the seed of the activity system. And I ask two questions which become the axes of a matrix.First: How is the object defined? Is it defined explicitly, ahead of time, and deductively achieved—that is, do people know exactly what they’re trying to accomplish at the beginning of the activity’s cycle? Or is it defined implicitly and inductively achieved—do people define it in the act?Second: Where is the object defined? Is it defined internally to the division of labor, by the actors and community stakeholders within the activity? Or is it defined externally to the division of labor, by other activities in which the completed object will be used?
  • These two dimensions form a matrix within which we can locate objects. The quadrants of the matrix imply a configuration for activities oriented to transforming objects with these qualities.Think of these quadrants as ideal types. It’s rare, I think, that you’ll find an activity that fits squarely into one quadrant. But they provide a way of thinking through how activities can be oriented.Notice that these quadrants correspond to types that have been described elsewhere. For instance, in his 2008 book, Engestrom cites Powell in discussing hierarchies, markets, and networks as different types of activity. You can see similarities in Ronfeldt’s TIMN framework; Quinn’s CVF framework; Ouchi’s description of Clans, Markets, and Hierarchies; and Boisot and Child’s C-Space.Let’s discuss each quadrant. I’ll draw on four AT studies to illustrate.
  • HierarchiesDefined internally to DOLDefined explicitlyHierarchies must pulse objects steadily and reliably, with low tolerances. Consequently, they require strong authority and strong process specifications.Examples: manufacturing, law, other areas that involve regular and reliable outcomes. Study: Schuster, M. L., & Propen, A. D. (2011). Victim advocacy in the courtroom: Persuasive practices in domestic violence and child protection cases. Boston: Northeastern.Courts are developed to provide regular, legal, and reasonably predictable decisions.They rely on authority and defined process.They rely on institutional trust.
  • MarketsDefined externally to DOLDefined explicitlyMarkets must pulse the object rapidly and flexibly. A party outside the DOL provides the specifications, and many parties must compete for jobs. This configuration emphasizes flexibility and competition. Trust is low. Arrangements are often temporary. Examples: market goods, but also grant writing, other work that involves competing for a temporary partnership with others outside one’s activity. Study: Ding, H. (2008). The Use of Cognitive and Social Apprenticeship to Teach a Disciplinary Genre: Initiation of Graduate Students Into NIH Grant Writing. Written Communication, 25(1), 3–52. Grants are written to outside granting agencies, which supply and judge the specifications.They’re competitive. Granting agencies require explicit documentation rather than extending trust.
  • ClansDefined internally to DOLDefined implicitlyClans form to develop high-trust relationships and identity within a group. If you’ve read your Durkheim, this quadrant corresponds most closely to mechanical solidarity, i.e., solidarity among similar people. Think in terms of esprit de corps.Examples: professions, working groups, competitive teams. Apple’s Macintosh team. Corporate culture. Shared values and high trust.Study: Artemeva, N., & Freedman, A. (2001). Just the boys playing on computers": An activity theory analysis of differences in the cultures of two engineering firms. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 15(2), 164–194.In this case, a schism in corporate culture developed. Software engineers perceived an outside challenge to their values and inductively developed solidarity in response.Eventually, the software engineers split from the original company to create their own company.
  • NetworksDefined externally to DOLDefined implicitlyNetworks have been around for a long time, but are resurging due to much lower communication costs and a consequent emphasis on multidisciplinary work. They excel at attacking temporary projects requiring cross-specialization. They require swift trust and they develop values as they go. Examples: adhocracies; freelancing; open source software; terrorism; collaborative communities.As Adler and Heckscher argue, emerging values and swift trust. Think in terms of specialists who each “own” aspects of a project and must rotate leadership among them. This sort of activity is the most multiperspectival and has led Engestrom, Yamazumi, and others to call for a fourth generation of AT to analyze it.Study: Sherlock, L. (2009). Genre, Activity, and Collaborative Work and Play in World of Warcraft: Places and Problems of Open Systems in Online Gaming. Journal Of Business And Technical Communication, 23(3), 263–293.Players are from all over the world, may never meet each other, but periodically come together for “grouping” (attacking a project with a team of specialists).Grouping is not well defined in the software publisher’s documentation. Players developed the concept, including tactics and rules, in ancillary documentation such as Wikis and FAQs.
  • So there’s the typology. But recall that these are ideal types. In practice, activities are multiperspectival, and as we saw earlier, they are tending to become more multidimensional and multicontextual. They tend to involve more people, even peripherally, and consequently activities tend to be hybrids of the ideal types. And that means that they develop competing configurations—and internal contradictions among those configurations.
  • Let’s look at some examples.
  • Artemeva and Freedman (2001): an engineering company’s hardware and software groups were segregated and treated differently by upper management. Clannish divisions developed because of “the introduction of a new product into the existing activity system” which “led to a reconstruction of internal relationships between different parts of the functioning organism” (2001, p.179). This new product, software, set up tensions that cascaded across other parts of the activity system: it necessitated a different pulse mediated by different actors (subjects), tools, rules, community, and division of labor. This set of cascading issues emphasized and exacerbated the cultural differences between hardware and software engineers, causing them to identify more strongly in clans—and eventually causing those clans to part ways.Ding (2008): novice researchers working within defined, hierarchically structured research groups had to write competitive grant applications to external agencies. So, although these research groups had their own, internally defined objects, to acquire grant money, the novice researchers had to also define these objects in ways that were attractive to the external agencies. That move from internal to external criteria was complex. Novicegrant writers had to learn a range of genres and the practices behind them, genres and practices that were situated in an unfamiliar activity and conditioned by that activity’s values.Sherlock (2009): the game publisher Blizzard marketed its game to a broad audience of players; some of these players became co-creators, developing various innovations to support ad hoc in-game collaboration.For both Blizzard and the players, the object was the game. But Blizzard saw the object as market-oriented—a game for which a market would pay—while the players saw the object as network-oriented—a game around which they could form specialized adhocratic teams. Much of the time, these perspectives did not clash. But when they did, Blizzard partially closed the system, restricting access or information to protect its market investment.
  • But as the examples above suggest, contradictions form where stakeholders’ perspectives on the object place it in different quadrants: when a hierarchical bureaucracy and a clannish group of engineers clash over workplace culture, when a hierarchical research team must reposition their work to reach a granting agency’s objectives, when a software publisher attempts to build a market by controlling the game that adhocratic networks are trying to modify. In these cases, different stakeholders have arrayed different activity systems to pulse the object as they perceive it in different ways. Those activity systems have taken on different tools, rules, actors, divisions of labor, and communities; they have adopted different pulses with different cycles.I hope that this can help us as we think through these internal contradictions, why they occur, and etc. I’ve applied this perspective to a case study (in review) and believe that it has been illuminating.

Toward a typology of activities Presentation Transcript

  • 1. TOWARD A TYPOLOGY OF ACTIVITIES Clay Spinuzzi, University of Texas at Austin
  • 2. Spinuzzi, C. (2011). Losing by Expanding: Corralling the Runaway Object. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 25(4), 449 – 486. The problem: The expanding object hdo.utexas.edu
  • 3. Farming hdo.utexas.edu
  • 4. Engestrom and Escalante 1996 hdo.utexas.edu  Farming‟s object is the field that is “transformed time and again from brute earth to crops of grain” (Engeström & Escalante 1996, p.360)
  • 5. The activity of farming hdo.utexas.edu
  • 6. hdo.utexas.edu
  • 7. hdo.utexas.edu
  • 8. Seppanen 2004 hdo.utexas.edu  “The formal requirements forced the farmers to expand their object towards administrative agencies, rules and subsidies.” (p.32)  “Essentially, the object of organic vegetable farming is the process of making „raw materials‟ into products and selling them to customers. The land, crops and the customers are part of the object. ... The concept of the object is by nature multifaceted.” (p.48)  “farmers construct their farming object, although the same in general terms, in different ways. … Although the object can be historically understood, it is not fixed.” (p.55)
  • 9. hdo.utexas.edu
  • 10. hdo.utexas.edu
  • 11. hdo.utexas.edu Global warming
  • 12. The cycle of the expanding object hdo.utexas.edu Methodological expansion Theoretical expansion Method- movement 1 Method- movement 2 Method- movement 3 Method- movement 4 Theory- movement 1 Theory- movement 2 Theory- movement 3 Theory- movement 4 Toward greater context Toward deeper multidimensionality o b j e c t o b j e c t o b j e c t o b j e c t o b j e c t
  • 13. AT typologies hdo.utexas.edu  Historical progressions  Engeström, Y. (1987)  Engeström, Y. (2008)  Yamazumi, K. (2009)  Matrices  Engeström, Y., Brown, K., Christopher, L. C., & Gregory, J. (1997)  Engeström, Y. (2008)  Jarzabkowski, P. (2003)
  • 14. Organizational typologies hdo.utexas.edu  The Three Waves (Toffler 1980)  Markets, Bureaucracies, and Clans (Ouchi 1980)  TIMN (Ronfeldt 1996)  C-Space (Boisot & Child 1999)  Cynefin (Snowden & Boone 2007)  Markets, Hierarchices, Collaborative Communities (Adler & Heckscher 2007)  Competing Values Framework (Cameron & Quinn 2011)
  • 15. How is the object defined? (tacitly or explicitly?) Where is the object defined? (internal or external to the division of labor?) The proposed typology hdo.utexas.edu
  • 16. hdo.utexas.edu A typology of activities Object is tacitly defined (High discretion; Inductive; Flexible) Object is explicitly defined (Low discretion; Deductive; Stable) Object defined externally to activity’s division of labor, within an activity network (service) Object defined internally to activity’s division of labor (Authority) CLANS uniting; relations, identity; shared values high trust “Let's develop the object based on our values.” NETWORKS cross-specialization projects; emerging values swift trust “Let's develop the object based on emerging values.” MARKETS exchange; price; exchange value, not “values”; bargaining low trust “Produce the object based on these specifications—if you want my business.” HIERARCHIES process; authority; institutional values institutional trust “Produce the object based on these specifications—if you want a job.”
  • 17. Hierarchies: explicit, internally defined objects hdo.utexas.edu ct defined ernally to division of labor Authority) shared values high trust “Let's develop the object based on our values.” emerging values swift trust “Let's develop th emerging values MARKETS exchange; price not “values”; ba low trust “Produce the ob specifications—i business.” HIERARCHIES process; authority; institutional values institutional trust “Produce the object based on these specifications—if you want a job.”
  • 18. Markets: explicit, externally defined objects hdo.utexas.edu Object de externall activity’s labor, with activity ne (service) red values high trust the object ur values.” emerging values swift trust “Let's develop the object based on emerging values.” MARKETS exchange; price; exchange value, not “values”; bargaining low trust “Produce the object based on these specifications—if you want my business.” ARCHIES authority; nal values ional trust ject based cations—if ant a job.”
  • 19. Clans: implicit, internally defined objects hdo.utexas.edu Object is tacitly defined (High discretion; Inductive; Flexibl Object defined internally to y’s division of labor (Authority) CLANS uniting; relations, identity; shared values high trust “Let's develop the object based on our values.” NETWORKS cross-specializ emerging valu swift trust “Let's develop emerging valu MARKETSHIERARCHIES
  • 20. Networks: implicit, externally defined objects hdo.utexas.edu Object is tacitly defined discretion; Inductive; Flexible) Object d externa activity’s labor, wi CLANS identity; ed values high trust he object values.” NETWORKS cross-specialization projects; emerging values swift trust “Let's develop the object based on emerging values.”
  • 21. hdo.utexas.edu A typology of activities Object is tacitly defined (High discretion; Inductive; Flexible) Object is explicitly defined (Low discretion; Deductive; Stable) Object defined externally to activity’s division of labor, within an activity network (service) Object defined internally to activity’s division of labor (Authority) CLANS uniting; relations, identity; shared values high trust “Let's develop the object based on our values.” NETWORKS cross-specialization projects; emerging values swift trust “Let's develop the object based on emerging values.” MARKETS exchange; price; exchange value, not “values”; bargaining low trust “Produce the object based on these specifications—if you want my business.” HIERARCHIES process; authority; institutional values institutional trust “Produce the object based on these specifications—if you want a job.”
  • 22. Interference patterns and internal contradictions hdo.utexas.edu
  • 23. Internal contradictions between types of activity  Artemeva and Freedman 2001: Clan vs. Hierarchy  Ding 2008: Market vs. Hierarchy  Sherlock 2009: Network vs. Market hdo.utexas.edu
  • 24. Internal contradictions  Internal contradictions form where stakeholders’ perspectives on the object place it in different quadrants.  Different stakeholders have arrayed different activity systems to pulse the object as they perceive it in different ways.  Those activity systems have taken on different tools, rules, actors, divisions of labor, and communities; they have adopted different pulses with different cycles. hdo.utexas.edu
  • 25. Questions? hdo.utexas.edu