The Constitution of the Activity Domain

The Constitution of the Activity Domain

Lars Taxén (Linköping University, Sweden)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 30
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-192-6.ch005
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The purpose of the activity domain construct is to capture the essence of the coordination of human activity. As indicated by the mammoth hunting example, this essence is assumed to be invariant to the various forms activities take in time and place. The same basic constitution of activity applies to the collection of edible roots at the dawn of humankind as to the production of sophisticated products and services by global enterprises of today. The invariance of the fundamental features of the activity domain implies that its constitution can ultimately be traced back to the phylogenetic evolution of the human species. We have developed the faculty of cognizing constituting elements of activities, and this faculty is inherent in all healthy human beings.
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Aspects Of The Activity Domain

One motivation for introducing the activity domain into the organizational discourse is the need for an intermediate construct between the individual and the organization. In social science, an ongoing debate concerns the relation between “macro” and “micro” perspectives (e.g. Wiley, 1988). Macro perspectives utilize systemic and trans-individual concepts, while micro perspectives focus on individually related constructs in analyzing the firm. These perspectives are often referred to as different levels of inquiry (ibid), and can be traced in pairs of opposites like “individual knowledge” – “organizational knowledge”, “individual capability” – “organizational capability”, “personal memory” – “organizational memory”, and the like. In line with this, the firm is conceptualized as an institution for integrating knowledge possessed by individual specialists:

If the strategically most important resource of the firm is knowledge, and if knowledge resides in specialized form among individual organizational members, then the essence of organizational capability is the integration of individuals' specialized knowledge. (Grant, 1996b, p. 375)

The conception of knowledge integration exposed in these and similar statements foregrounds the individual and decontextualizes the intra-organizational view on knowledge. Knowledge construction occurs at the individual level, and there is a direct, transparent link between the individual/micro level and the organizational/macro level. Nothing shields the individual in her everyday doings from the events taking place at the organizational boundary.

Such a view of knowledge integration unfortunately pushes two important aspects into oblivion: 1) it leaves the question of what the knowledge is about unattended, and 2), from AT we know that individual actions can only be understood in relation to the activity in which the individual actions are carried out. The organizational level is in general too distant to be the immediate determinant of individual knowledge. These two aspects are central in the activity domain based view of coordination I wish to pursue here.

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