This section presents a short introduction to "Activity Theory", and some brief comments on human creativity in activity theory and the implications of activity theory for tacit knowledge and learning.


  • Activity theory begins with the notion of activity.
  • An activity is seen as a "system of human doing" whereby a subject works on an object in order to obtain a desired outcome.
  • In order to do this, the subject employs tools, which may be external (eg an axe, a computer) or internal (eg a plan).

As an illustration, an activity might be the operation of an automated call centre. As we shall see later, many subjects may be involved in the activity and each subject may have one or more motives (e.g. improved supply management, career advancement or gaining control over a vital organisational power source). A simple example of an activity within a call centre might be a telephone operator (subject) who is modifying a customer's billing record (object) so that the billing data is correct (outcome) using a graphical front end to a database (tool).

Kuutti formulates activity theory in terms of the structure of an activity.

"An activity is a form of doing directed to an object, and activities are distinguished from each other according to their objects. Transforming the object into an outcome motivates the existence of an activity. An object can be a material thing, but it can also be less tangible"

Kuutti then adds a third term, the "tool" , which ‘mediates’ between the activity and the object.

"The tool is at the same time both enabling and limiting: it empowers the subject in the transformation process with the historically collected experience and skill ‘crystallised’ to it, but it also restricts the interaction to be from the perspective of that particular tool or instrument; other potential features of an object remain invisible to the subject."

As Verenikina remarks, "tools are social objects with certain modes of operation developed socially in the course of labour and are only possible because they correspond to the objectives of a practical action."