Cultural-Historical Activity Theory in the Framework of the “Functional Paradigm”



The aim of the paper is to highlight the peculiarity of the present state of the Cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) in psychology, as compared to previous periods of its development in the general context of theory development in psychology. The author sees this peculiarity in that CHAT exemplifies an anti-Aristotelian paradigm which suggests that the actual functioning of living systems cannot be fully deduced from a priori existing morphological and psychological structures. This emphasis unites CHAT with two other influential approaches to the explanation of human conduct, existentialism and the systems approach to autoregulating systems, which can be found from early cybernetics to synergetics and the theory of complexity of our own day. Although they each occupied marginal positions in human sciences in the middle of the last century, all three approaches now find themselves articulating the same message in different words; basic similarities between them allow us to speak of their confluence into what may be called the functional paradigm. The functional paradigm states the primacy of the process, actual functioning, activity, or existence, the absoluteness of uncertainty and changeability, and thus seems to be the most relevant paradigm for the challenges of our times.

General Information

Keywords: Cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT), regulation, self-regulation, autoregulation, cybernetics, existentialism, agency

Journal rubric: Problems of Cultural-Historical and Activity Psychology

Article type: scientific article


Funding. The study was funded by the Russian Science Foundation (RSCF), project # 16-18-10439 “The Systemic and Dynamic Analysis of the Activity Regulation”.

Acknowledgements. The author is grateful to Dr. Martin Lynch for helping in the language editing.

For citation: Leontiev D.A. Cultural-Historical Activity Theory in the Framework of the “Functional Paradigm”. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2020. Vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 19–24. DOI: 10.17759/chp.2020160203.

A Part of Article

The conceptual foundations and thesaurus of the Cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) have been rather stable for decades; nevertheless, the foci of theoretical and empirical research shifted through its history from one to another problem and concept. Vygotsky’s emphasis in the late 1920s—1930s was on the relation between individual mind and culture, on the issues of social and cultural mechanisms of shaping the human mind, on the problems of social and genetic psychology.


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Information About the Authors

Dmitriy A. Leontiev, Doctor of Psychology, Leading Research Fellow, The Laboratory for Comparative Research in Quality of Life, National Research Tomsk State University, Head of International Laboratory of Positive Psychology of Personality and Motivation; Professor of Faculty of Social Sciences, School of Psychology, HSE University, Moscow, Tomsk, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:



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