Making HCI Theory Work: An Analysis of the Use of Activity Theory in HCI Research

Torkil Clemmensen, Victor Kaptelinin, Bonnie Nardi

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    This paper reports a study of the use of activity theory in human–computer interaction (HCI) research. We analyse activity theory in HCI since its first appearance about 25 years ago. Through an analysis and meta-synthesis of 109 selected HCI activity theory papers, we created a taxonomy of 5 different ways of using activity theory: (1) analysing unique features, principles, and problematic aspects of the theory; (2) identifying domain-specific requirements for new theoretical tools; (3) developing new conceptual accounts of issues in the field of HCI; (4) guiding and supporting empirical analyses of HCI phenomena; and (5) providing new design illustrations, claims, and guidelines. We conclude that HCI researchers are not only users of imported theory, but also theory-makers who adapt and develop theory for different purposes.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalBehaviour and Information Technology
    Issue number8
    Pages (from-to)608-627
    Number of pages20
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


    • HCI theory
    • Activity theory
    • Theory use

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