On Oct 19, 2022, I reflected on the Knowledge Curation project and made the diagram below.

The above diagram is called Creative Life Curation. You can find more details in the following three articles

Yesterday I sent an email to a friend and I mentioned the Activity U project. Originally, I only wanted to write an article in order to test a diagram. Later, it led to several possible books and a three-year journey.

I realized that I can use the Creative Life Curation framework to reflect on the Activity U project. See the attached diagram.

This article aims to offer more details of the above diagram.


1. The Brief of Creative Life Curation
2. Explore Widely
3. Inquire Deeply
4. Crystallize Thematically
5. Work Deeply
6. Play Widely
7. Second-wave Development
8. New Branch: The Activity Circle
9. Third-wave Development

1. The Brief of Creative Life Curation

I roughly use five movements to model my journey of the Knowledge Curation project. These five movements form a basic model for understanding Creative Life Curation.

  • Explore Widely
  • Inquire Deeply
  • Crystallize Thematically
  • Work Deeply
  • Play Widely

I also use First-wave, Second-wave, and Third-wave to describe the dynamics of the model. All these dynamics can be found in my journey.

Now let's apply this model to discuss the Activity U project.

2. Explore Widely

Activity Theory or the “Cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT)” is an interdisciplinary philosophical framework for studying both individual and social aspects of human behavior. According to Kaptelinin & Nardi (2012), “The immediate conceptual origins of activity can be found in Russian/Soviet psychology of the 1920s and 1930s. During that time theoretical explorations in Russian psychology were heavily influenced by Marxist philosophy… Leontiev’s activity theory emerged as an outgrowth of the sociocultural perspective. The theory employs a number of ideas developed by Lev Vygotsky, Leontiev’s mentor and friend. It is also strongly influenced by the work of Sergei Rubinshtein, a major figure in Russian psychology and a long-time colleague of Leontiev.”(p.13–14)

The figure below (Roth and Lee, 2007) shows growth between 1975 and 2005 in the frequency of journal citations to the term “activity theory” and three books and one article about activity theory.

(Roth & Lee, 2007, p.188. cited in Yrjö Engeström, 2008)

In the beginning, activity theory is a psychological theory about the mind and it focused on the development of individual psychological functions. Leontiev used “Activity, Consciousness, and Personality” as the title for his book. Later, activity theory became what Michael Cole called a “monolithic enterprise” with several sub-traditions and local thought of schools such as German tradition, a Scandinavian/Nordic tradition, and an American tradition (Cole, 1996. p.139).

A major development of activity theory was contributed by Finnish educational researcher Yrjö Engeström who upgraded the activity theory from the individual activity level to the collective activity level with a conceptual model of “activity system” in order to apply activity theory to educational settings, organizational development and other fields (Engeström,1987).

I started the Activity U project on August 19, 2020. Initially, I just made a diagram called “Activity U” which is a test of the “HERO U” framework. I wrote a post to explain the diagram “Activity U”.

The original title of the post is Activity U: The Landscape of Activity Theory. Later, I added “(Part I)” to the end of the title. It expanded from one post to a series of articles.

On Dec 8, 2020, I collected my articles about Activity Theory and edited a possible book titled Activity U: How to Think and Act Like an Activity Theorist.

The book has the following parts.

  • Part 1: Background
  • Part 2: Theory
  • Part 3: Project-oriented Activity Theory
  • Part 4: Practice
  • Part 5: Heuristics
  • Part 6: Life as Activity
  • Appendix: The Curativity of Activity

There is an emergent pattern in my writing: HERO — IDEA — OTHER — ECHO. Each time I focus on an activity theorist (HERO) and one related notion of activity theory (IDEA), I then expand the scope of discussion by adding related resources from other activity theorists and other disciplines (OTHER), I also share my own experience and reflection on some topics (ECHO).

In fact, Activity Theory is not one theory, but a group of theories. For this particular case, Explore Widely means exploring the landscape of Activity Theory and touching on many theoretical approaches of the field of Activity Theory, not only one theoretical approach.

3. Inquire Deeply

During the process, I found Andy Blunden's 2010 book An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity from an activity theorist's blog. Then, I started reading Andy Blunden's books. I realized that Andy Blunden's work is a major development of Activity Theory during the past decade.

In order to develop the theoretical foundation of “Project as a unit of Activity”, Blunden adopts Hegel’s logic and Vygotsky’s theory about Concept as theoretical resources. The process is documented in three books: An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity (2010), Concepts: A Critical Approach (2012), and Collaborative Projects: An Interdisciplinary Study (2014).

In his 2010 book An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity, Blunden traces the roots of Activity Theory from Goethe, Hegel, and Marx in order to present an immanent critique of Activity Theory and its contemporary version CHAT. The core of Blunden's argument is a theoretical-methodological issue: Unit of Analysis. For Blunden, the concept of “Unit of Analysis” should be understood as Goethe’s Urphanomenwhich is also known as the ‘cell’.Blunden believes that the unit of analysis should be followed by an explanatory principle of “the part contains the whole”. In other words, if we want to understand a complex phenomenon, we should start with the most primitive form of the phenomenon. For activity theorists, if they agree that their theoretical roots are ideas from Goethe, Hegel, Marx, and Vygotsky, then they have to respect this methodological criticism because the Urphanomen principle has been adopted by all of these predecessors.

Blunden’s 2012 book Concepts: A Critical Approach continues the journey. Blunden reviews the theoretical development of Concepts in an interdisciplinary approach that curates theories about Concepts from various disciplines such as cognitive psychology, analytic philosophy, linguistics, and the history of science. He adopts Hegel’s theory of concept and Lev Vygotsky’s cultural-historical psychology as theoretical resources and proposes a new approach to Concepts. He argues that concepts are equally subjective and objective: units both of consciousness and of the cultural formation of which one’s consciousness is part. In other words, the formation of concepts is an activity.

“Project as a unit of activity” and “formation of concepts is activity” are combined in Blunden’s 2014 book Collaborative Projects: An Interdisciplinary Study which is a collection of twelve research reports with a common theme. As the editor of the book, Blunden invites his friends to write a report about a concrete collaborative project and write a review on their story. The book also contains an introduction and a conclusion which are written by Blunden. In addition, Blunden also writes a case study about “Collaborative Learning Space” which was initiated by him in 1999.

What Blunden suggested are that 1) We can use “Project” as a new unit of analysis for Activity Theory, 2) Project should be understood as a “formulation of concepts”, and 3) The archetypal unit of “Project” is two people working together in a common project.

After deliberately reviewing the unique theoretical concept of “Project-oriented Activity Theory”, I was attracted by its significance and promising prospect. I also found some of my ideas echoed Blunden’s approach. Furthermore, Blunden’s approach is perfect for supporting my newest frameworks the Life-as-Activity approach and the Platform for Development framework.

I designed a series of diagrams to represent Andy Blunden's ideas. My approach is quite unique. I started with designing a "germ-cell" diagram for Andy Blunden's idea and expanded it to a diagram network.

One of three significant notions of Blunden’s approach is Goethe’s “germ-cell”. In fact, I should say Goethe’s “Urphänomen”. It is just the same concept with different words. However, Goethe’s word is “Urphänomen”.

Each year, I always pick one idea I learned within one year as the idea of the year. The notion of “germ-cell” is so powerful, that I just picked it as my idea for 2020. According to Blunden, “…in order to understand a complex process as an integral whole or gestalt, we have to identify and understand just its simplest immediately given part — a radical departure from the ‘Newtonian’ approach to science based on discovering intangible forces and hidden laws” (2020)

Blunden has given us several successful examples of applying the idea of “germ-cell” for social science, such as Hegel’s formulation of the idea, Marx’s Capital, and Vygotsky’s five ideas.

Can we apply the idea of “germ-cell” to diagramming for social science?

I accepted this challenge with a concrete task: designing a series of diagrams for Blunden’s Project-oriented Activity Theory with a germ-cell diagram. This task echoed my ideas about “meta-diagram, diagram, and diagram system”.

A germ-cell diagram is a special type of meta-diagram that can easily generate a diagram system with the same intrinsic spatial logic. A typical structure of a diagram system is a multiple-level analysis system. The first challenge of adopting a germ-cell diagram is to design a spatial logic that can apply to different levels of a multiple-level diagram system. In other words, we only need one spatial logic for the whole system since the one spatial logic is a whole.

The above diagram is the "germ-cell" diagram for Project-oriented Activity Theory. It is better to think about this diagram as a room with two windows and one door.

A room is a container that separates inside space and outside space. There are some actions people can do within a room. I pay attention to one special type of action: connecting to the outside space from the inside space. Let’s call it “Process”. The two windows are interfaces that refer to two “Tendencies”, Window1 refers to “Tendency 1” while Window 2 refers to “Tendency 2”. Each window has its own view of the outside space. Finally, there is a door that allows people to actually go out of the room. The door refers to “Orientation” which represents a direction of a real action of going out of the inside space. Once you get into the outside space, you can consider the new space as a new room and repeat the diagram.

This is a special type of spatial logic. The terms such as “Process”, “Tendency” and “Orientation” are placeholders of texts for describing the spatial logic. From the perspective of my diagram theory, the pure meta-diagram doesn’t need text. For instance, the Yin-yang symbol or Taijitu is a meta-diagram, can you find one text from it? However, we can add some texts as placeholders to a pure meta-diagram in order to better describe it.

You can see more applications of the "germ-cell" diagram in the original article Activity U (VIIII): Project-oriented Activity Theory. Below are three diagrams of the diagram network.

There are three phases of the formation of a concept: Phase 1: Initialization; Phase 2: Objectification; Phase 3: Institutionalization. See the diagram below.

Blunden clearly claims that there are three aspects of objectification of a concept: symbolic, instrumental, and practical. By adopting the germ-cell diagram, we can present these ideas with the diagram below.

The last diagram zooms out to a large view that connects Individual mind (Idea) and Collective theme (Zeitgeist) through Collective Projects (Concept). This view also suggests a new way of understanding “Culture”.

There are many ways to Inquire Deeply. Translating a theory from texts to diagrams is my way to inquire about Andy Blunden's ideas deeply.

In fact, Activity Theory is not one theory, but a group of theories. For this particular case, Explore Widely means exploring the landscape of Activity Theory and touching on many theoretical approaches of the field of Activity Theory, not only one theoretical approach.

4. Crystallize Thematically

Eventually, I wrote five articles about Project-oriented Activity Theory. Blunden doesn’t use this term to name his account. I also expanded Blunden’s approach with some new ideas I learned from Ecological Psychology.

Later, I edited a new book titled Project-oriented Activity Theory on Jan 24, 2022.

Though these articles are my learning notes, they are also considered as my proposal since I add many new ideas to expand Blunden’s original approach.

This was the movement of Crystallize Thematically. Moreover, it was Multi-them Development.

The following list can help readers distinguish Blunden’s original approach and my interpretation:

  • I add “Projectivity” and “Zone of Project” as two theoretical concepts to the original approach.
  • I distinguish between Idea and Concept in order to keep the term “Project” for normal works and social movements.
  • Based on the concept of “Projectivity”, I develop a model called “Cultural Projection Analysis”.
  • I find a connection between my own idea “Themes of Practice” and Blunden’s “Formation of Concept”.
  • I find a connection between my own idea “Ecological Zone” and Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development”.
  • In addition, I develop “Impact Projects” and “Serial Creators” as new intermediate concepts for applying Project-oriented Activity Theory to study knowledge works and the development of knowledge workers.

I designed the picture below to visualize my own thought behind the work. The picture has seven red dots: Domain, Resource, Tools, Problem, Method, Concept, and Diagram. These elements are from the HERO U framework (the article, the diagram). The seven red balls refer to Personal Conditions of Knowing. The first group is Domain, Resource, and Tools, they define the outside setting of the knowing activity. The second group is Method and Problem, they define the source of competence and solution. The third group is Diagram and Concept, they define the representation format of the outcome of knowing. These three groups form a process of knowing.

The above diagram represents the whole picture of my interpretation of Blunden’s approach. Readers can use this diagram as a map for reading my articles. The most important piece is the five steps.

  • The first article provides some background for the work and focuses on one case study which is conducted by Andy Blunden.
  • The second article uses a 3–3–3–1 schema to summarize Blunden’s approach. It also introduces a series of diagrams.
  • The third article introduces the concept of Projectivity with a series of diagrams.
  • The fourth article introduces the concept of Zone of Project through a two-step process of conceptual curation.
  • The fifth article introduces a book and its website as a heuristic tool for developing ideas and concepts.

Readers can also pay attention to my methods: Immanent Development, Conceptual Curation, and Diagramming as Theorizing.

  • Immanent Development: I adopt ideas from Blunden’s books and continuously develop these ideas. In particular, I use the “germ-cell” idea to guide the development of diagrams.
  • Conceptual Curation: By curating ideas from the Cultural-historical theory of psychology and ecological psychology, I develop new concepts in order to expand Blunden’s original approach.
  • Diagramming as Theorizing: I design a series of diagrams that help me better understand Blunden’s ideas. It could be useful for other learners who want to adopt Blunden’s approach.

Blunden’s original approach doesn’t adopt the Activity System model. I claim that it is possible to keep Blunden’s approach and the Activity System model within a theoretical framework by distinguishing between Idea and Concept. In this manner, we can grow Activity Theory without discarding the Activity System model since it is an established branch of Activity Theory.

While Engeström's model is perfect for dealing with traditional work projects, Blunden's approach considers collaborative projects as the foundation of social movements and cultural innovation.

By curating the above two approaches together, the toolkit offers a cross-boundary solution for achieving a balance between individual impact and collective impact. In this way, the toolkit could lead us to an innovative way of connecting personal life themes and cultural themes in order to build a sustainable society together.

This significant insight led to the Project Engagement toolkit (v1.0) which was originally published on Feb 3, 2021.

5. Work Deeply

After Feb 2021, I didn't directly work on the Activity U project. However, I started using ideas I learned from the Activity U project.  

On March 24, 2021, I published the Concept-fit framework for understanding platform innovation. The term “Concept” is adopted from Project-oriented Activity Theory which considers an activity as a process of formation of a brand new concept.

The above diagram is based on the HERO U diagram. Blue circles refer to technological concepts and green circles refer to sociocultural concepts. Each side has three levels of concepts. Thus, the term “Concept-fit” means six types of concepts fit together from two sides and three levels.

  • Technological concepts at the Theoretical level
  • Technological concepts at the Operational level
  • Technological concepts at the Product level
  • Sociocultural concepts at the Collective level
  • Sociocultural concepts at the Individual level
  • Sociocultural concepts at the Project level

The distinction between Technological concepts and Sociocultural concepts corresponds to the distinction between Natural science and Social science/humanities. Thus, socio-cultural concepts refer to any non-technological concepts including political concepts and economical concepts.

Readers may argue that this is an oppositional dualism: the nature-culture divide. However, it is better to consider the above U diagram as a spectrum. We should think about nature and culture as part of the spectrum as a whole. Moreover, I will adopt Hegel’s theory of Concept for understanding these three levels. It will provide us with a great approach to thinking dynamic process of fit between nature and culture.

You can find more details in Platform Innovation as Concept-fit.

From August 2021 to Dec 2021, I worked on the D as Diagramming project which aims to explore the power of diagramming for developing tacit knowledge. During the process, I made several new diagrams about my ideas about the Life-as-Activity framework.

On Sept 10, 2021, I published the Life-as-Activity framework (v2.0). See the diagram below.

I also adopted the pair of "Object - Objective" from Activity Theory to discuss a framework about "Self, Other, Present, Future". Later, I also developed a new concept called "Second-order Activity".

These two ideas led to the Anticipatory Activity System framework. You can find more details in D as Diagramming: Strategy as Anticipatory Activity System.

On Nov 29, 2021, I published an article titled An Integrated Framework for Studying Knowledge Diagrams (Part 3A). I adopted the perspective of "Mediating Instrument" for developing a framework for discussing diagrams and diagramming.

On Feb 2022, I worked on the Life Discovery project and the Life-as-Project approach.

The primary object of the Life Discovery project is developing Life Discovery Canvas which is inspired by Thematic Space Canvas. See the diagram below.

There is a deep analogy between the two projects.

I consider both “Developing Tacit Knowledge” and “Life Discovery” as Activities. From the perspective of Activity Theory, Thematic Space Canvas and Life Discovery Canvas are both Mediating Tools.

You can find more details in The Life Discovery Canvas (v1.0) — Part 2: Spatial Structure.

On Feb 13, 2022, I published Life Discovery: The Life-as-Project Approach and suggested a strategy for developing a Project-centered approach:

Project as A Multiple Dimension Concept

This simple strategy creates a new thematic space for creative exploration. In The Life Discovery Canvas (v1.0) — Part 1: Theoretical Background, I highlighted the following six basic principles of the Project-centered approach for Life Discovery Activity:

  • Being by Doing
  • Engagement as Method
  • End as Means
  • Discovery as Development
  • Performance as Experiment
  • Curativity as Creativity

Later, I returned to the Project Engagement approach and ungrated it to v2.1.

From Feb 2021 to Feb 2022, I didn't directly work on the Activity U project. However, I Worked Deeply on ideas I learned from the Activity U project.

6. Play Widely

In 2022, I worked on some programs and tools for Life Discovery Activity.

On Feb 7, 2022, I launched the Life Discovery Toolkit (v1).

On Feb 27, 2022, I launched the Life Discovery Canvas (v1.0).

On March 22, 2022, I launched the AAS4LT framework. AAS4LT stands for Activity System framework to Life Transitions.

The AAS4LT is inspired by the following knowledge resources:

  • Anticipatory Activity System: The center of the above diagram.
  • Life Discovery Activity: It is a Second-order Activity.
  • Developmental Project: It is a First-order Activity.

The Anticipatory Activity System framework (AAS) is an abstract model which aims to understand a special type of human activity that highlights “Self, Other, Present, Future”.

As an application of AAS, the AAS4LT was developed with eight steps for guiding a life transition coaching program.

The Second-order Activity is a specific type of activity in which subjects aim to define objectives and goals for their further activities. For the AAS4LT framework, I choose the Life Discovery Activity for the Second-order Activity.

I adopt three modules from the Life Discovery Toolkit (v1.0) for the AAS4LT framework:

  • Aspiration
  • Awareness
  • Achievement

I also started hosting an AAS board on Milanote for a life transition coach program from March 26, 2022 to June 30, 2022.

You can find more details in CALL for LIFE: Anticipatory Activity System for Life Transitions and CALL for LIFE: Modeling A Developmental Project.

In 2022, I also worked on Activity Analysis Center which hosts the ActivityAnalysis.net website, and some independent research projects such as the Slow Cognition project.

For each knowledge center, I use three keywords to describe its focus. For the Activity Analysis Center, the focus is described with the following themes:

  • Curativity: curating knowledge resources about Activity Theory and social practice theories.
  • Creativity: creating new approaches, frameworks, and models about human activity and social practices.
  • Activity: understanding human activity and social practices.

The Activity U project was officially closed on April 1, 2022. You can find the long journey on a Milanote board.

The above Milanote board was published on March 31, 2022. It doesn't record events of the Activity Analysis project after April 1, 2022.

7. Second-wave Development

I also use First-wave, Second-wave, and Third-wave to describe the dynamics of the model. All these dynamics can be found in my journey.

In 2022, I worked on three projects which belong to Second-wave Development of the project.

  • Project Engagement (v2.1)
  • Rethinking Activity Theory
  • The Activity Circle

As mentioned above, the Life-as-Project framework and the Life Discovery project inspired me to upgrade the Project Engagement approach from v1.0 to v2.1.

In July 2022, I wrote a 116-page file with the following three keywords: Significance, Complexity, and Genidentity.

Initially, I used the term "Project Engagement" to name the second part of my 2020/2021 book Project-oriented Activity Theory which introduces Andy Blunden's "project as a unit of analysis of activity" to Activity Theory. I summarized Andy Blunden's ideas and the historical development of Activity Theory in Part 1 (Project, Projecting, and Activity).

Part 2 (Significance) introduces two frameworks and one method which are about the "Person - Project" relationship. Why does a person start or join a project? What does a project look like? These three modules were originally introduced in the second part of Project-oriented Activity Theory. In fact, I call them Project Engagement (v1.0). Two frameworks are Developmental Project Model and Zone of Project. The method is called Cultural Projection Analysis.

The goal of the thesis is to sort out my new ideas about the approach. Part 3 (Complexity) focuses on the complexity of Project Network. How does the network of projects represent the dynamics of individual life and social life? From Jan 2022 to June 2022, I worked on testing Project Engagement (v1.0) and realized that I should expand it to the "Project - Project" relationship. The following six parts were introduced in Part 3:

  • Activity Landscape Analysis
  • Project Network
  • Thematic Spaces
  • Mapping Project Network
  • Significant Insights Analysis
  • Life-History Topology

Part 4 (Genidentity) is not part of my original plan. It was born from the journey of writing the thesis. The term "Genidentity" refers to the transformation from a theme to a project, then a platform. How does a project keep its uniqueness?

This idea is a Significant Insight because I realized that I can detach the Platform Genidentity framework from the Platform Ecology project, and attach it to the Project Engagement approach.

You can find more details in Project Engagement (v2.1) as an Innovation Approach.

In June 2022, I read a book titled The Scientific Project of Sociology (Ping-keung Lui, 2010) which is the second series of lectures on sociology-philosophy, taught in a course for MA(Part-time) students at the Department of Philosophy, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Fall 2010. Its original title was “The Philosophers, the Sociologists, and the Scientific Project of Sociology”.

The book was organized into four parts:

  • Introduction: Philosophy of Social Science
  • Part I: Realism
  • Part II: Method
  • Conclusion: The Scientific Project of Sociology

Lui developed his account in two steps. First, he curated some theories in sociology and philosophy for his lectures by selecting, quoting, analyzing, and discussing them. Second, he created his own perspective by reflecting and responding to these theories. This is an amazing example of Curativity as Creativity.

To be honest, it is a challenge to read this book for me. However, it offers me a guide to reading some social theoretical thinkers such as Schutz, Giddens, Bourdieu, Goffman, etc.

During the process of reading this book, I asked myself a question:

Is Activity Theory a sociological theory?

It’s not easy to answer this question because there are many branches of Activity Theory. In fact, the term “Activity Theory” is not an official name for a particular theoretical account. People just use it as a name to refer to a family of similar approaches.

This question led me to rethink activity theory. The outcome is several semiotic system diagrams.

8. New Branch: The Activity Circle

There are several forms of second-wave development. The above two examples are about returning to "Subjectification".

However, we should notice that Second-wave development can be a new branch of "Objectification". See the diagram below.

The Activity Circle focuses on “Self, Other, Thing, and Think”. It is perfect for discussing a special object which has double properties: material property and mental property. This idea was inspired by cultural-historical psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s two types of mediating tools: technological tools and psychological tools.

The original idea of the Activity Circle is called the "Activity - Relationship" perspective which was developed in 2017.

In 2021, I used it to connect Activity Theory with Relevance Theory. The model was named The Relevance of Zone.

In 2022, I rediscovered it with several new triggers and decided to rename it Activity Circle.

9. Third-wave Development

Third-wave Development considers the dynamics of a project network and the creative thematic dialogue.

On Sept 15, 2022, I launched the Thematic Engagement Toolkit (v1.0) which is for understanding knowledge engagement, thematic conversation, controversy, thematic reflection, etc. The toolkit refers to a dialogue between the following two knowledge frameworks:

1. The Themes of Practice Approach (2019, 2021)
2. The Project Engagement Approach (2021, 2022)

In fact, there are several "ECHOes" that led to the final closure.

The above diagram shows the following five Sources that led to the notion of "Thematic Engagement".

  • Themes of Practice
  • Project Engagement
  • Thematic Space
  • Knowledge Center
  • Thematics Controversy

From 2019 to 2022, there are six ECHOes between these five sources. The rest of the article will offer more details about these ECHOes.

  • Sept 29, 2020 - Echo 1: The "Hierarchy" of Human Activity
  • Dec 26, 2022 - Echo 2: “Formation of Concept” and “Themes of Practice”
  • April 2021 - Echo 3: The "Themes of Practice" Framework
  • July 20, 2022 - Echo 4: Rethinking Activity Theory
  • July 31, 2022 - Echo 5: Controversy Mapping and The Thematic Controversy Project
  • Sept 6, 2022 - Echo 6: Grow A Knowledge Enterprise

If we see these echoes as a meaningful whole, we can call it a thematic dialogue.

You can find more details in Slow Cognition: The Echoes of A Thematic Dialogue.