An Activity Theory View of E-HR and Open Source

An Activity Theory View of E-HR and Open Source

Veronique Guilloux, Michel Kalika
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-883-3.ch002
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The free licenses specify the principles of use and diffusion of the free software while supporting the open and collective innovation (Chesbrough, 2003). Often, the successes of the open-source community seem like an implausible form of magic (see the magic cauldron from Raymond [1999]). As Demazière, Horn, and Zune (2006) recall it, if open source projects can be regarded as virtual teams (Lipnack & Stamps, 2000), it should also be stressed that they seem like a true “enigma” in sociologists eyes. Open source rests on voluntary developers (Muffato) and does not function on modes of production framed by wage. Moreover these communities are not subjected to a strong planning of work but rather to a flexible calendar. What is the human resources (HR) secret management of open source project? In this article two main elements will be discussed: firstly the activity theory and HR and secondly the open source project and the organizational learning development.
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Several theoretical fields propose practice, action, and experiment to understand the field of computer supported cooperative work. The theory of distributed cognition makes the assumption that knowledge is not only in the human brain but also in cognitive systems including/understanding of the interactions between users and the artifacts which they use (Hutchins). The theory of situated action is centered on human activity which emerges from a situation of work. The unit of analysis is not the individual but the actor in the actor’s environment (Suchmann). The activity theory concentrates on the mediation towards the tool and offers a body of concepts making it possible to make bridges with other approaches coming from social sciences. It locates the conscience in the daily practical experiment and affirms that the actions are always integrated in a social group composed of individuals and artifacts. It integrates analysis of individual knowledge, processes of distributed cognition, artifacts, social contexts, and interrelationships between these elements(Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Mediation at the individual and collective level (adapted from Engeström)


Elements of the model include object, subjects, tool, community, rules, and division of labor.

The next schema shows mediation by the tool at the individual and collective level (Engeström, 2001)

The model integrates object of the activity, the open source project usually accessible in a forge.

Community is associated with subjects who adhere to the same object of activity. They can be associated with an “epistemic community” as a producer of the open source project knowing (Cohendet, Creplet, & Dupouët 2003) and with hybridization, because they can bring different points of view since the innovation can be simultaneously worked by heterogeneous rationalities. The community can be described as hybrid since it mixes heterogeneous profiles driven by divergent interests, but they are carrying changes since they are relying on different intentionnalities (Engeström, 2001).

Toolrepresents material tools (data processing) or intellectual tools (language) used in the process of transformation.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Intrinsic Motivation: Defined as the doing of an activity for its inherent satisfactions rather than for some separable consequence.

Awareness: Defined as being conscious of the presence of the other users and their actions while interacting through the application.

Extrinsic Motivation: A construct that pertains whenever an activity is done in order to attain some separable outcome.

Epistemic Community: A network of knowledge-based experts.

Virtual Team: A group of people who interact through interdependent tasks guided by a “common purpose” and work “across space, time, and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technologies ( Lipnack & Stamps, 2000 )

Organizational learning: An area of knowledge within organizational theory that studies models and theories about the way an organization learns.

Meritocracy: Means that people ascend to positions of authority based on accomplishment, achievement, and expertise rather than hierarchical level.

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