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In the “activity square” : International perspectives on labor, work and activity - C. Licoppe

Christian Licoppe
Department of Social Science, Institut Telecom, Telecom Paris Tech, 46, rue Barrault, 75013 Paris, France

Available online 6 October 2009 on ScienceDirect

This article describes the particular “space” where research focuses on work as it actually takes place, and aims to characterize the way various ethnographic approaches to labor are evolving at the international level. That workspace is a “square” delineated by four major points of view : Distributed Cognition, Activity Theory, Ethnomethodology and its related approaches, and Science and Technology Studies (STS). After exposing their underlying principles, the four perspectives and their points of tension and differences are highlighted with regard to several factors that are critical when analyzing work-related situations : the kind of data collecting during fieldwork, the roles of persons and artefacts and their position in the dialectics of continuity and change. The development of information and communications technologies (ICT) provides a starting point for (re)interrogating the four perspectives and suggests overlapping areas and possible reconfigurations.

Keywords : Work ; Economic activity ; Communication ; Distribution ; Actor-network ; Ethnomethodology ; Technology

Article Outline

  • 1. The sociology of work and actual work
  • 2. The “activity square” : a space for research on work and activity framed by four broad ethnographic orientations
    • 2.1. Distributed cognition
    • 2.2. Activity Theory
    • 2.3. Research inspired by Ethnomethodology : conversation analysis, situated action, and “Workplace Studies”
    • 2.4. Science and Technology Studies (STS) and recent developments
  • 3. Tensions in the “activity square”
    • 3.1. “Observing” activity
    • 3.2. Dealing with artefacts and the distribution of the capacity to act
    • 3.3. The question of stability and change
  • 4. The pervasiveness of ICT in work settings : putting the “activity square” to the test
  • 5. Conclusion
  • References

Sociologie du Travail
Volume 51, Supplement 2, November 2009, Pages e155–e169
Translation : Gabrielle Varro