Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW)

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 63-93

First online:

Expansive Visibilization of Work: An Activity-Theoretical Perspective

  • Yrjö EngeströmAffiliated withThe Academy of Finland, Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research, University of HelsinkiLaboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, University of California, San Diego

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Work is commonly made visible along two dimensions: the linear and the socio-spatial. Both are limited to depicting work in terms of relatively discrete actions. Activity theory introduces the crucial distinction between collective activity systems and individual actions. Expansive visibilization of collective activity systems offers a powerful intervention methodology for dealing with major transformations of work. The linear and the socio-spatial dimensions of work actions are seen in the broader perspective of a third, developmental dimension of work activity. Four steps are identified in a cycle of expansive visibilization, combining activity-level visions and action-level concretizations. The cycle is examined in detail as it unfolded in an intervention study at a children's hospital in Finland. It is concluded that expansive visibilization, driven by contradictions and seeking to reconceptualize the object and motive of work, is not a straightforward process which can be neatly controlled from above. Coherent analytical explanation and goal-setting may come only after the creation and practical implementation of innovative solutions.

activity theory action transformation expansive learning intervention visibilization health care medical records