Activity Theory in empirical higher education research : choices, uses, and values

Bligh, Brett and Flood, Michelle (2017) Activity Theory in empirical higher education research : choices, uses, and values. Tertiary Education and Management, 23 (2). pp. 125-152. ISSN 1358-3883

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This paper contributes to discussion of theory-application in higher education research. We examine 59 empirical research papers from specialist journals that use a particular theory: activity theory. We scrutinise stated reasons for choosing the theory, functions played by the theory, and how the theory is valorised. We find that the theory is usually chosen for its direct empirical applicability; used for abstraction, explanation and contextualisation; and valorised for apprehending complex situational dynamics. It is rarely chosen to challenge conceptualisation of the research object; used to establish investigative paradigms; or valorised in ways that implicate wider bodies of knowledge or potential theory development. We argue that higher education researchers should reconsider how their application of activity theory is interwoven with interpretative processes, how the theory might frame research design rather than simply data analysis, and how they account for the range of roles that the theory actually plays across research endeavours.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Tertiary Education and Management
Additional Information:
This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Tertiary Education and Management on 02/02/2017, available online:
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? theorytheory applicationhigher education researchactivity theoryeducationorganizational behavior and human resource management ??
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Deposited On:
17 Jan 2017 15:32
Last Modified:
26 Jan 2024 01:20