Analysing communicative action in institutions: where the cultural historical shapes the interactional

Abstract: Analysing communicative action in institutions: where the cultural historical shapes the...

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Giota Alevizou
10 March 2010

Abstract: Analysing communicative action in institutions: where the cultural historical shapes the interactional This presentation is concerned with the way which we understand and investigate the relationship between human functioning and social setting. It deploys post Vygotskian theory which attempts to account for the social
formation of mind mediated by artefacts understood as cultural historical products and Bernsteinian theory (e.g. Bernstein, 2000) which seeks to forge analytical linkages between structure, communication and consciousness. As I have noted elsewhere much of the sociocultural or Activity Theory research  that claims a Vygotskian root
fails to fully articulate an appropriate  theory of social structure and an account of  how it directs and deflects the attention of the individuals it constrains  and enables (Daniels, 2008,1). The central argument of this presentation draws on the work of Bernstein and Vygotsky. A novel approach to the study of the mutual shaping of human action and institutional settings is developed and an empirical example of its application is
presented and discussed. The research reported here is drawn from a 4 year ESRC TLRP funded study of professional learning in and for interagency working in Children’s Services in England. The talk will describe and discuss an approach to the analysis of innovatory learning as a sequential and contingent process that takes place across many workspaces and over an extended period of time.

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Harry Daniels Activity Theory into Communicative practices

The talk looked at the background and then linked to Bernstein’s views to bring out how the TLRP project led by Harry Daniels and Anne Edwards has used these both operationally and to bring out results.

Examples of “Post-Vygotskian” introduction of cultural tools that transform practice. Such as bookkeeping into Italy having a huge effect on the approach to arithmetic and business. Mobile phones changing the way we interact with each other. New ideas also require new tools – an many initiatives get introduced as new ideas first without the tools that enable the transformation.  Cross-school working that failed because of lack of availability information – sharing in a very simple way on paper the available contacts at different times then had a large impact on the success of the projects.

The local context on complex national initiatives almost always introduces the need to consider institutional context (e.g. individual schools’ views of national curriculum).

The triangle diagram of activity theory offers many strengths:

  1. object oriented activity: often find this is missed
  2. multi-voicedness of activity systems: complexity not a single activity
  3. historicity: can be missed
  4. contradictions
  5. expansive cycle

Communicative action – based on situated talk. Talk is a tool for change – but needs to be also linked to history. But there is also “invisible mediation” which draws on the environment and community.  E.g. the way an institution works – that it might take 2 years to get a feel for and see as “entirely natural”.

There has been a development of working approaches from

Craft -> Mass Production -> Process Enhancement -> Mass customisation -> Co-configuration

In practice though there needs to be learning process to cope with this, in particular as teams and working roles change over time.  An approach of Knotworking to allow flexibility.

TLRP Learning in and for Interagency Working (LIW)

Research questions:

  1. What are the professionals learning
  2. What forms of interpersonal and organisational practice associated with this learning?

Research team of up to 14 people – so sharing methods and analysis tricky. Adopted the Developmental Work Research (DWR) approach of Yrjo Engestrom to set up case studies. To get uniformity from research teams across reading, reviewing, interrogating, comparing, collating. Adopted D-Analysis:

  • Deixis
  • Delineation
  • Deliberation
  • Departure
  • Development

Tracking issues that sometimes surface and then did not meet a resolution – and those that did.

Analysis of cases then identified the Instructional discourse and Regulatory discourse. Across the case studies then have to address where there was weaker discourse where communicative action could have an effect.

Question: Would the result of this be an adjustment of schools rather than real change.

Answer: Yes there has been talk to rolling out the results. Not a single formulation – but does mean there is a need to help school think about the implication of their approach to management and structure. Need to broaden out the argument as well to look at well-being of students.

Question: I v R analysis implies addressing the area that is weaker.

Answer: That reflects what happened.

Patrick McAndrew
13:52 on 10 March 2010 (Edited 14:12 on 10 March 2010)

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Giota Alevizou
1:09pm 10 March 2010


Think of instituions, tools use and modalities of practice in children's services.

The multivoidness of activity systems, historicity and tensions/contradictions are key.

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