Using 4th Generation Activity Theory to fight homelessness in Finland

The video is an excerpt from a talk by Professor Annalisa Sannino (Tampere University, Finland) and Professor Yrjö Engeström (CRADLE, University of Helsinki, Finland) on “The contributions of formative interventions and Cultural-Historical Activity theory in the context of contemporary work.”

75th Meeting of the FORUMAT, organized by the Faculty of Public Health, University of São Paulo, 23th October 2020.

11 thoughts on “Using 4th Generation Activity Theory to fight homelessness in Finland

  1. I must confess that I had a difficult time making sense of this three minutes and fourteen seconds. I was unclear how the homelessness and learning and fourth generation activity theory fit together. Can someone help explain these connections?
    With apologies for my ignorance.

    1. Perhaps reading can help. Here are some suggestions:

      -Sannino, A. (2020). Transformative agency as warping: How collectives accomplish change amidst uncertainty. Pedagogy, Culture & Society. DOI: 10.1080/14681366.2020.1805493

      -Engeström, Y. & Sannino, A. (2020). From mediated actions to heterogeneous coalitions: Four generations of activity-theoretical studies of work and learning. Mind, Culture, and Activity. DOI: 10.1080/10749039.2020.1806328

      -Sannino, A. (2020). Enacting the utopia of eradicating homelessness: Toward a new generation of activity-theoretical studies of learning. Studies in Continuing Education, 42:2, 163-179.


  2. Dear Annalisa,

    I still have a difficulty in understanding what 4th Generation of Activity means. What is really different from the previuos generation of Activity Theory? Analysing learning cycles (an object of analysis) or analysing another object of the activity is for me quite the same. The processes you need to analyse them are the same.

    Another issue I have is about replicability of research (I am not talking about Design Based Research here!). If we consider the number of homeless people in Finland, and the number of homeless people in Brazil – and also the conditions they have in each country – how can we think of using the results of your research to help improving the conditions in Brazil? If not, what is the real contribution to scientific knowledge of such a research project?

    Thank you for your attention,

    1. Dear Fernando,

      The unit of analysis of interlinked cycles of expansive learning would be a distinctive feature of 4th generation work, with a focus on how they intersect and how formative interventions such as the Change Laboratory can support these intersections.

      As to the replicability, this work is centred in the specific context of a sustained effort to eradicate homelessness in Finland. This effort, despite having deep roots and a long history, it also has to face big struggles to sustain itself. The contributions that this work will hopefully make are 1) to help other researchers to identify efforts such as this which are of critical importance for the common good; 2) to help analysing the learning and agency formation processes involved in efforts such as this; and 3) to offer pedagogical tools with which formative interventionists may contribute to support these processes. Also, this work does not aim at replicability, but at generatively (see: Sannino, A., Engeström, Y., & Lemos, M. (2016). Formative interventions for expansive learning and transformative agency. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 25(4), 599-633.)

  3. First of all, thank you Professor Annalisa for sharing the piece with Cultural Praxis and for the important conversation with the team of ForumAT, Faculty of Pulbic Health, University of São Paulo.
    It seems to me there are two main points between the third genration of CHAT and a possible 4th generation.
    The first one is that the 3rd GAT was based on interconnected activity systems while the 4th GAT embraces interconnected learning cycles, which can also comprise multiple activity systems. The second point involves the distinction between a systemic level in a relational learning and the in depth dynamics of learning processes.

  4. Professor Sannino, thanks for the important reflections.
    I am trying to comprehend the 4th Generation of Activity. For me it is similar of what I thought it would be “Activity Theory”, involving dialectics, multivocality, where we see new objects collectively emerging of an interconnect system of activity. By watching the video, it seems that the 4th Generation (even you said it is full of fluidity, interconnected dynamics of expansive learning systems) is what I thought to be the previously Activity Theory.
    Also, based on your paper “Enacting the utopia of eradicating homelessness: toward a new generation of activity-theoretical studies of learning”, I wonder how can we draft an agenda aimed at eradicating homelessness in our country (Brazil- with higher numbers of case and worse conditions) where necropolitics and ‘hate speech’ prevails nowadays?
    Thank you again!
    Daniela Vendramini-Zanella (University of Sorocaba SP; LACE – Research group, PUC SP)

  5. Professor Sannino, I read your piece about this project, in which you mention that there are other problems underlying homelessness, such as drug abuse, home violence. Is it possible to reach the FHF before looking into these other problems?

    As Fernando mentioned here, we try to relate this project to our country. Undoubtedly we have very different realities, starting from the size of the countries. Such a project would take much longer to be accomplished here in Brazil. Maybe we could start in small cities and before we take the national extent. Anyway, the question is did the project work with these underlying problems before dealing with homelessness?

    Thanks for you time!

  6. Dear Professor Annalisa,

    When I read your work, it seemed similar to the concept of Creative Chain proposed by professor Fernanda Liberali in the 2000s. The Creative Chain – with the purpose of being liberating (FREIRE, 1967) – is based on interconnected activities that have different objects, but all of these objects lead to the aim of the whole community involving different groups, different levels of different institutions and all of them conduct to the same final result which is collectively elaborated in different activities considering the treatment of problems expressed by the community. So, my question is: what’s the difference or the relationship between the Fourth Generation mentioned by you and the Creative Chain proposed by professor Fernanda Liberali?

    Thank you!!
    Ulysses Diegues

  7. Thank you for the insights, Dr. Sannino.
    I was specially triggered to know more about the Change Lab. It seems to me that many researches based on Activity Theory end up analysing changes, rather than intentionally provoking them, as we see in Liberali’s Creative Chain. In the case of homelessness, I understand this would be an ethical and political stance.
    On the other hand, given the complexity of the matter, I would be inclined to think that a multidisciplinary approach to this analysis would be more likely to shed light into the problem. Do you think this addition could bring about more promising outcomes?

  8. Dear Annalisa, could you please discuss the process of double stimulation in relation to dealing with problematic situations in the different sectors of the chain of activities involved in the process of transforming unfair housing conditions? How does it help create collective and creative means for transformation of the individual and the collectivity? What is the role of language in this process?

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