Activity theory and ontology

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This paper seeks to re-examine Yrio Engestrom's activity theory as a technology of knowledge designed to enable positive transformations of specific practices. The paper focuses on a key paper where Engestrom defines the nature and present state of activity theory. Beginning with a brief account of the relations between activity theory and ontology, the paper asserts that Engestrom's take on Vygotsky is restricted by a commitment to a progressive, apolitical ideology of improvement. The paper goes on to consider Vygotsky's metaphysics in relation to Heidegger's elaboration of ontology, and Engestrom's elaboration of what activity theory is and of its global mission. Engestrom's activity theory is defined in terms of its expression of a will-to-power and is questioned in terms of its lack of engagement with the philosophical tradition it claims to inherit and its misappropriation of the Vygotskian legacy.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-180
Number of pages14
JournalEducational Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2009


  • will-to-power, activity theory, Engestrom, improvement, technology of knowledge, ontology, Vygotsky, Heidegger, metaphysics