Activity Theory

The activity theory simply represents the complexity of interaction within activities.

According to Martin Ryder, “an activity is defined as the engagement of a subject toward a certain goal or objective” (Ryder). In nature, the majority of activities are not mediated. Therefore, these activities for the most part are instincts of such subjects as animals. For example, if a rabbit eats grass, it is an instinct of hunter. However, if a human is picking plants from vegetation that has three leaves, there would be cultural motivations; for those who know this motivation, they would avoid this plant for fear of poison ivy. Therefore, although activities in nature are commonly unmediated, human activity is; relating most actions to previous cultural experience. A division of the factors involved in activities describe subject, object, artifact, community and division of labour.


Subject – people or living beings (almost always humanoids)
Object – the solution of a goal or task
Artifact – tools or technology involved
Praxis – norms governing activity - “practice” OR rules (cultural factors)
Community – others affected by the activity
Division of labour – power relations through social levels

Activity_Theory.gifImage sourced by Ivan Webb

A combined definition of these factors within mediated activity states:
“An activity is undertaken by a human agent (subject) who is motivated toward the solution of a problem or purpose (object), and mediated by tools (artifacts) in collaboration with others (community). The structure of the activity is constrained by cultural factors including conventions (rules) and social strata (division of labor) within the context” (Ryder).


The term ‘CHAT’ refers to the Cultural History of the Activity Theory (Webb). This theory began as a Soviet psychological framework of the basis of Vygotsky’s concepts. The founders of this theory were Alexei Leont’ev and Sergei Rubinshtein. Throughout the earlier 20th century, this theory was used by the former USSR in many cultural settings, defining humans as unique beings, yet rejecting the isolation of individuals. This concept was dedicated to an origin of communism as it focused on the cultural and technical activity of being human. This theory stretched into ideas of learning and knowledge, distinguishing that “learning and activity cannot be separated” (Webb).


Ryder, Martin. What is Activity Theory? University of Colorado. Denver. December 02, 2006. <>.
Webb, Ivan. Activity Theory. University of Tasmania. <>.