The contribution of Gregory Bedny's systemic-structural activity theory to the science of activity
Authors: Fred Voskoboynikov, Waldemar Karwowski
Abstract: In this paper we will make an attempt to present a brief overview of General, Applied and Systemic-Structural Activity Theories. The focus mostly will be on the creation and development of the Systemic-Structural Activity Theory (SSAT). We will consider some basic concepts of activity theory and will outline some difficulties that Western scientists experiense in interpretation and application of the theory. General activity theory (AT) was developed in the former Soviet Union. Three prominent scientists Rubinstein, Leont’iev and Vygotsky are responsible for the creation of the theory. For a long period of time attempts were made to use this theory for the study of human work. However, there was not enough significantly developed data for applying it to the study of human work. With the development of mechanization and automation in the industry, in transport, in the military sphere and other modern fields of human activity it became obvious that the direct application of general activity theory was not possible. To the response of technological progress a more advanced theory, an Applied Activity Theory (ATT), was developed by these scientists in 1970s. The most important fields where AAT was applied to were aviation systems, automated control systems for technological processes, remote control systems, software and some others. The further development of ATT led to the creation of the Systemic-Structural Activity theory. Thanks to the research of Gregory Bedny, the SSAT was born. The main postulate of SSAT is that it views activity as a structurally-organized self-regulating system, rather than the set of responses to multiple incentives. This system is considered to be purposeful and self-regulating in changing environmental conditions. Activity theory, and specifically its applied fields, AAT and SSAT, utilize teminology with a totally different meaning of what it is used in the West. It explains why the adaptation of general activity theory to the task analysis in general and to human-computer interaction specifically was ineffective. That was also the reason why analysis of basic concepts of activity theory in the West demonstrates an unfortunate failure of Western scientists in the attempts to capture the original meaning of activity theory terminology. Gregory Bedny illustrates it by the following example. The Russian word deyatel’nost’ loosely translates into English as activity. However, deyatel'nost is a much broader concept than the English word activity. Deyatel'nost is a coherent system of internal mental processes and external behavior actions, and motivation, that are combined and directed to achieve conscious goals. By analyzing, interpreting, explaining, and translating the general activity theory terminology, he provided a great gift to Western scientists, and thus made a significant contribution to understanding of the theory. The SSAT received recognition in the West, and particularly in the USA. In this work we will describe the terminology used in SSAT and the basic concepts of the theory: self-regulation, goal and task. The significance of the AAT and SSAT is that, based on the data developed, it can now be applied for the sudy and practice of human work.
Keywords: General activity theory, Systemic, structural activity theory, self, regulation of activity
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