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Activity Theory in HCI


Status Active - open for registrations
School IDA-gemensam (IDA)
Division IXS
Owner Mattias Arvola

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Course plan

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion of this 7.5 ECTS credits course, the student will be able to:
- identify, describe, and discuss variants of activity theory in relation to phenomena in human-computer interaction (HCI)
- make an analysis of the relationship between human-computer activity, experience, design product, or design process informed by activity theory
- orally and in writing critically review and relate to activity theory in human-computer interaction.

Course Content

The course focuses on cultural historical activity theory and applications in the field of human-computer interaction. The course covers the following subjects:
- Activity theory in HCI
- Theoretical reflections
- Expansive learning
- Activity-centric computing
- Artifact ecologies
- Activity networks and multiple perspectives on activity
- Future directions
- Applications.

Teaching and Working Methods

The course is based on a series of 8 literature seminars, a smaller research work, and writing of a paper and a presentation seminar.


For a passing grade, participation in six of eight seminars is required. The research work must be completed. A paper that reports the research work in relation to activity theory must also be written.


Two-grade scale, pass/fail.


7.5 ECTS study credits is awarded for this course.

Course Literature


Kaptelinin, V., & Nardi, B. (2012). Activity theory in HCI: Fundamentals and reflections. San Rafael, California: Morgan and Claypool.

Clemmensen, T., Kaptelinin, V., & Nardi, B. (2016). Making HCI theory work: An analysis of the use of activity theory in HCI research. Behaviour & Information Technology, 35(8), 608-627. doi:10.1080/0144929X.2016.1175507


Bakhurst, D. (2009). Reflections on activity theory, Educational Review, 61(2), 197-210, DOI: 10.1080/00131910902846916

Miettinen, R. (2006). Epistemology of Transformative Material Activity: John Dewey's pragmatism and cultural‐historical activity theory. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 36(4), 389-408. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-5914.2006.00316.x

Norros, L. (2018). Understanding Acting in Complex Environments: Building a Synergy of Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, Peirce, and Ecofunctionalism. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 25(1), 68-85. DOI: 10.1080/10749039.2017.1350714


Engeström, Y. (2000). Activity theory as a framework for analyzing and redesigning work, Ergonomics, 43(7), 960-974. DOI: 10.1080/001401300409143

Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive Learning at Work: Toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14(1), 133-156. DOI: 10.1080/13639080020028747


Bardram, J.E. Activity-based computing for medical work in hospitals. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact., 16(2), (June 2009), 10:1-10:36. https://doi. org/10.1145/1534.903.1534907

Houben, S., Tell, P. & Bardram, J.E. (2014). ActivitySpace: Managing device ecologies in an activity-centric configuration space. In Proceedings of the 9th ACM International Conference on Interactive Tabletops and Surfaces (pp. 119-128). ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2669.485.2669493

Bardram, J. E., Jeuris, S., Tell, P., Houben, S., & Voida. S. (2019). Activity-centric computing systems. Commun. ACM, 62(8) (August 2019), 72–81. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3325901


Bødker, S., & Klokmose, C. N. (2011). The human–artifact model: An activity theoretical approach to artifact ecologies. Human–Computer Interaction, 26(4), 315-371. DOI: 10.1080/07370024.2011.626709

Bødker, S., & Klokmose, C. N. (2012). Dynamics in Artifact Ecologies. In Proceedings of the 7th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction: Making Sense Through Design (Copenhagen, Denmark) (NordiCHI '12) (pp. 448-457). ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2399016.2399085

Kobbelgaard, F. V., Bødker, S., & Kanstrup, A. M. (2020). Designing a game to explore human artefact ecologies for assistive robotics: Basing design games on an activity theoretical framework. In Proceedings of the 11th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction: Shaping Experiences, Shaping Society (NordiCHI '20) (Article 27, 1–10.). ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/3419249.3420181


Spinuzzi, C. (2015). Toward a typology of activities: Understanding internal contradictions in multiperspectival activities. ​Journal of Business and Technical Communication​ 29(1), 3-35.

Spinuzzi, C. (2017). “I think you should explore the kinky market”: How Entrepreneurs Develop Value Propositions as Emergent Objects of Activity Networks. ​Mind, Culture and Activity​ 24(3), 258-272.

Spinuzzi, C. (2020) “Trying to predict the future”: third-generation activity theory’s codesign orientation, Mind, Culture, and Activity, 27(1), 4-18, DOI: 10.1080/10749039.2019.1660790


Engeström, Y., & Sannino, A. (2021). From mediated actions to heterogenous coalitions: four generations of activity-theoretical studies of work and learning, Mind, Culture, and Activity, 28(1), 4-23. DOI: 10.1080/10749039.2020.1806328

Karanasios, S., Nardi, B., Spinuzzi, C., & Malaurent, J. (2021). Moving forward with activity theory in a digital world. Mind, Culture, and Activity, DOI: 10.1080/10749039.2021.1914662


Chu, W., Glad, W., & Wever, R. (2021). A meta-synthesis of the use of activity theory in design for sustainable behaviour. Design Science, 7, E17. doi:10.1017/dsj.2021.17

Rozendaal, M. C., Boon, B., & Kaptelinin, V. 2019. Objects with Intent: Designing Everyday Things as Collaborative Partners. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact., 26(4), Article 26 (July 2019), 33 pages. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3325277

Mukute, M., Mudokwani, K., McAllister, G., & Nyikahadzoi, K. (2018). Exploring the Potential of Developmental Work Research and Change Laboratory to Support Sustainability Transformations: A Case Study of Organic Agriculture in Zimbabwe. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 25(3), 229-246, DOI: 10.1080/10749039.2018.1451542

Cornet, V., Voida, S., & Holden, R. J. (2018). Activity Theory Analysis of Heart Failure Self-Care, Mind, Culture, and Activity, 25(1), 22-39, DOI: 10.1080/10749039.2017.1372785

Pammer-Schindler, V., & Prilla, M. (2021). The Reflection Object: An Activity-Theory Informed Concept for Designing for Reflection. Interacting with Computers, 2021, iwab027. https://doi.org/10.1093/iwc/iwab027

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