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Cultural-Historical Psychology

Publisher: Moscow State University of Psychology and Education

ISSN (printed version): 1816-5435

ISSN (online): 2224-8935


License: CC BY-NC 4.0

Started in 2005

Published quarterly

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Critical Challenges in Cultural-Historical Activity Theory: the Urgency of Agency 185

Stetsenko A.P.
PhD in Psychology, Full Professor, Head of the Department, Psychology and Professor of Urban Education The Graduate Center, New York city University, New York, USA

The article addresses the challenge of conceptualizing agency within a non-dichotomous, dialectical approach that gives full credit to the social roots of agency and does justice to it being an achievement of togetherness possible only in a communal world shared with others. Critical steps in this direction are undertaken by the Transformative Activist Stance (TAS) approach advanced by this article’s author and further developed and applied to various topics by scholars from many parts of the world. This approach is firmly rooted in cultural-historical activity theory yet also moves beyond it in overcoming some of its impasses. The core elements of TAS are discussed to reveal how they coalesce on the nexus of social practices of self- and world-making. Agency is the process that enacts this nexus of ongoing, ceaseless social-individual transformations whereby people simultaneously, in one process, co-create their world and themselves so that each individual person makes a difference and matters in the totality of social practices. Ethical-political entailments of TAS are discussed to combat the legacy of passivity and inequality still permeating psychology and neighboring fields.

Keywords: transformation, nexus of social practices, Vygotsky, ethics, politics, ontoepistemology, equality

Column: Cultural-Historical Psychology: Traditions and Innovations


A Part of Article

In this paper, I address what can be consider to be one of today’s major challenges in theorizing human development and mind including within cultural-historical activity theory and related approaches such as sociocultural, cultural, and critical frameworks in psychology, education, literary theory, and communication studies, among others. This challenge is how to conceptualize human agency yet not slip into the pitfalls of traditional approaches premised on assumptions about agency as an autonomous, solipsistic achievement of isolated individuals understood either as “free-will” subjects or, on another spectrum of views, as puppets of extraneous influences at the whim of powerful forces outside of one’s control and even awareness.

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