Analysing third generation activity systems: labour-power, subject position and personal transformation

H Daniels, P Warmington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (SciVal)


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to describe how Engeström's “third generation” activity theory, with its emphasis on developing conceptual tools to understand dialogues, multiple perspectives and networks of interacting activity systems, has informed research into professional learning in multiagency service settings in England.

Design/methodology/approach – Researchers worked intensively with multi-professional teams in five English local authorities. Through the use of developmental research work (DWR) methodologies, they sought to understand and facilitate the expansive learning that takes place in and for multiagency work.

Findings – Provisional analysis of data has emphasised the need to understand activity systems in terms of contradictions, which may be developed through reference to the notion of labour-power; subject positioning and identity within activities; emotional experiencing in processes of personal transformation. The general working hypothesis of learning itself requires expansion to include notions of experiencing and identity formation within an account that includes systematic and coherent analysis of the wider social structuring of society.

Practical implications – The paper describes the beginnings of a refinement of DWR methodology, workshop methods and activity theory derived analyses of data generated through DWR.

Originality/value – The analysis offered represents an advance beyond second generation activity theory, which was concerned with single activity systems. The conceptual strands (upon labour-power related contradictions, subject positioning, emotional experiencing) have been under-developed in activity theory. This project exemplifies the complexities of the “dual motive” of object-oriented activity systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-391
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Workplace Learning
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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