Higher Education

, Volume 77, Issue 2, pp 301–322 | Cite as

Sources of complexity in participatory curriculum development: an activity system and stakeholder analysis approach to the analyses of tensions and contradictions

  • Ian Keith Alexander
  • Carsten Nico HjortsøEmail author


The purpose of this article is to contribute to a better understanding of the nature of participatory curriculum development in higher education institutions. We conducted a longitudinal case study that scrutinized an international participatory curriculum development process. Our research spanned six universities across four countries in Africa. We used cultural-historical activity theory as a theoretical lens to identify the critical tensions underlying the curriculum development activity. Six primary contradictions and four secondary contradictions were identified. These tensions were mainly rooted in issues concerning stakeholder relations, rule rigidity, and resource availability. We integrate a stakeholder perspective and discuss how practitioners who seek to design and implement effective participatory curriculum development processes can benefit from applying a combination of activity system and stakeholder analyses during planning as well as implementation stages.


Participatory curriculum development Cultural-historical activity theory Contradictions Stakeholder analysis Africa 



We would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.

Funding information

This work has been conducted as part of a PhD thesis project supported by the Agricultural Transformation by Innovation (AGTRAIN) Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate Program, funded by the EACEA (Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency) of the European Commission.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Food and Resource EconomicsUniversity of CopenhagenFrederiksbergDenmark

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