Engeström tracked back human activity to the animal form of activity. He said, “A central tenet embedded in this model is the immediately collective and populational character of animal activity and species development (see Jensen 1981).”(p.91)

The general structure of the animal form of activity (Engeström, 1987, p.91)

The next stage is the evolution from animal to human. Engeström pointed out three major changes which are represented within the following diagram.

  • Doing alone: the emerging utilization of tools.
  • Being together: collective traditions, rituals and rules.
  • Doing together: division of labor between the sexes and more.

The next stage is transforming from “ecological and natural” to “economic and historical”. Engeström said, “What used to be adaptive activity is transformed into consumption and subordinated to the three dominant aspects of human activity — production, distribution and exchange (or communication). The model suggests the possibility of analyzing a multitude of relations within the triangular structure of activity. However, the essential task is always to grasp the systemic whole, not just separate connections.”

Now, we see another major theoretical tradition behind the diagram. Engeström pointed out, Karl Marx provided an essential analysis in the introduction to Grundrisse, “Production creates the objects which correspond to the given needs; distribution divides them up according to social laws; exchange further parcels out the already divided shares in accord with individual needs; and finally, in consumption, the product steps outside this social movement and becomes a direct object and servant of individual need, and satisfies it in being consumed. Thus production appears to be the point of departure, consumption as the conclusion, distribution and exchange as the middle (…).” (Marx 1973, 89. cited in Engeström, 1987, p.94)

Engeström called this diagram the Activity System. This means “an activity is a system”. Also, he argued that “…there is no activity without the component of production; only actions may be void of it.”

Genetic Analysis

What's the method behind the above diagramming process?

It is called Genetic Analysis which is a popular method for Activity Theorists.

Why do Activity Theorists like Genetic Analysis? Because one principle of Activity Theory is historical development. In order to understand a thing, we should trace back the historical development of the thing.