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University of Helsinki Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research

Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research

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Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research
Department of Education
P.O. Box 26 (Teollisuuskatu 23)
FIN-00014 University of Helsinki

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Ritva Engeström, Ph.D., Senior Researcher

Tel.: +358-9-1914760
Mobile: +358-40-5618506
Fax: +358-9-1914844

Postal address:
Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research
P.O. Box 47
FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland

Current Activities

My current research has liaisons to the beginnings of Developmental Work Research two decades ago. Since then, my colleagues and I have used reflexive methods of data gathering and analyzing, such as stimulated recall interviews, on line video interviews, and interactive ethnography. My interest in reflexivity has expanded in the context of social science to questioning: what are the theoretical and methodological tools with which we can approach and operationalize reflexivity – not only related to people’s accounts of their lives and activities but also linked to the researchers’ role and research practices. In the field of situated communication, my studies aim at intertwining practical-discursive and developmental-reflexive dimensions of activities, and at elaborating the epistemology of change in studying culture in interaction.

The possibilities of working with such interests in mind are favorable in the context of an interventionist methodology called the Change Laboratory. The approach has been developed by researchers at our center (including myself) in Developmental Work Research projects in varied fields of working life.

I work to further develop my expertise in institutional discourse, genre studies and interactive ethnography, and employed epistemologies like Mikhail Bakhtin’s dialogism, ethnomethodology and phenomenology, interstecting them with activity theory (see ‘the method of voices’ 1995, 1999). The basic design of the Change Laboratory keeps concerning me with institutional transformations, co-configuration between the practitioners and researchers, distributed work order, and discussions related to neoinstitutionalism. In the context of institutional change, my current work on reflexivity draws from the analysis of experiencing and agency. When one puts on the 'eyeglasses' of activity theory, experience is not only internal and subjective but expands to include collective artifact-mediated activity.

The central contents of my research and special expertise arise from our research sites. In the field of health care (from the perspectives of organizational studies and medical sociology), our studies concern negotiated care, collaborative artifacts, boundary crossing between primary and specialized medical care and, at once, the patient’s participation in the joint construction of a comprehensive view of disease management.

My other field of interest is school education and knowledge work in new information technology environments. Like in health care, our central focus here is on new forms of work and collaboration which are enabling the object of school work to expand beyond the information given in curricula and texts. We integrate paradigmatic thoughts into questions concerning how to make pedagogical changes from procedure-oriented drill to problem- and principle-oriented knowledge production, and from encapsulated classroom work to networked learning in partnerships between the school and other organizations.

Short Biography

From the 1980s and 1990s to the present, I have been employed mostly by the research projects funded by the Academy of Finland and conducted at the University of Helsinki. Between 1987 and 1995, I worked for five years as a visiting scholar at the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, University California in San Diego. In 1999, I received my Ph.D in sociology from the University of Helsinki. Currently I am a Senior Researcher at the Center of Excellence and mentor of a group of Ph.D students.



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