Monday, October 11, 2004

Systems Thinking and Activity Theory

The best way for me to describe how Vygotskian activity theory can be used as a tool for genre analysis, is to take you to David Russell's classic essay from which I will quote:

"An activity system is any ongoing, object-directed, historically-conditioned, dialectically-structured, tool-mediated human interaction: a family, a religious organization, an advocacy group, a political movement, a course of study, a school, a discipline, a research laboratory, a profession, and so on. These activity systems are mutually (re)constructed by participants using certain tools and not others (including discursive tools such as speech sounds and inscriptions)...The activity system is the basic unit of analysis for both groups' and individuals' behavior, in that it analyzes the way concrete tools are used to mediate the motive (direction, trajectory) and the object (the "problem space" or focus) of behavior and changes in it"

Activity diagrams require the analyst to define the subject, or agent, whose writing is being considered; the exigency, or motive for the writing; the mediational means, or tools being used, including words and medium. Furthermore, activity analysis of a "genre" might include several such systems. In Russell's article which analyzes an "intermediate cell biology course" as a genre, or type of "course," the system includes three subsystems: a subsystem of researchers who are writing and reveiwing scientific articles on teh subject; a subsystem of teachers who are using textbooks, as well as the scientific article to teach the subject; and a subsystem of university administrators who maintain the infrastructure, the rules for grading and class attendance, and the accredidation of the course. Each of these subsystems are also related to other activity systems.

Activity diagrams such as those in Russell's article make visible the complex relationship between writer, audience, text, information, and tools which we call "rhetoric." When learning a new genre, they point us towards knowledge we need in order to gain expertise with the activity of the genre syste,.

Russell, David R. "Rethinking Genre in School and Society: An Activity Theory Analysis."


Post a Comment

<< Home