Clay Spinuzzi

Personal Homepage
http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/rhetoric/faculty/spinuzzi
Employer
University of Texas at Austin (http://www.utexas.edu/)
Email
clay.spinuzzi@gmail.com

Associate professor of rhetoric at The University of Texas at Austin. Clay's research interests include research methods and methodology, workplace research, and computer-mediated activity. My first book, Tracing Genres through Organizations, was published by MIT Press in 2003 and was named NCTE's 2004 Best Book in Technical or Scientific Communication. My second book, Network, was published in 2008 by Cambridge University Press.

Publication Statistics

Publication period start
1999
Publication period end
2008
Number of co-authors
2

Co-authors
Number of publications with favourite co-authors

Productive Colleagues
Most productive colleagues in number of publications

Publications

Zachry, Mark, Hart-Davidson, William, Spinuzzi, Clay (2008): Advances in understanding knowledge work: an experience report. In: DOC08 , 2008, . pp. 243-248. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1456536.1456585

Hart-Davidson, William, Spinuzzi, Clay, Zachry, Mark (2007): Capturing & visualizing knowledge work: results & implications of a pilot study of. In: Proceedings of the 25th annual ACM international conference on Design of communication , 2007, El Paso, Texas, USA. pp. 113-119. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1297144.1297168

Zachry, Mark, Spinuzzi, Clay, Hart-Davidson, William (2007): Visual documentation of knowledge work: an examination of competing approaches. In: Proceedings of the 25th annual ACM international conference on Design of communication , 2007, El Paso, Texas, USA. pp. 120-126. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1297144.1297169

Spinuzzi, Clay (2007): Learning our ABCs: accessibility, bottlenecks, and control in an organized research unit\'. In: Proceedings of the 25th annual ACM international conference on Design of communication , 2007, El Paso, Texas, USA. pp. 201-206. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1297144.1297186

Spinuzzi, Clay, Hart-Davidson, William, Zachry, Mark (2006): Chains and ecologies: methodological notes toward a communicative-mediational model of tec. In: ACM 24th International Conference on Design of Communication , 2006, . pp. 43-50. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1166324.1166336

Hart-Davidson, William, Spinuzzi, Clay, Zachry, Mark (2006): Visualizing writing activity as knowledge work: challenges & opportunities. In: ACM 24th International Conference on Design of Communication , 2006, . pp. 70-77. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1166324.1166341

Zachry, Mark, Spinuzzi, Clay, Hart-Davidson, William (2006): Researching proposal development: accounting for the complexity of designing persuasive te. In: ACM 24th International Conference on Design of Communication , 2006, . pp. 142-148. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1166324.1166359

Spinuzzi, Clay (2004): Four ways to investigate assemblages of texts: genre sets, systems, repertoires, and ecolo. In: ACM 22nd International Conference on Computer Documentation , 2004, . pp. 110-116. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1026533.1026560

Spinuzzi, Clay (2003): Using a handheld PC to collect and analyze observational data. In: ACM 21st International Conference on Computer Documentation , 2003, . pp. 73-79. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/944868.944884

Spinuzzi, Clay (2002): A Scandinavian challenge, a US response: methodological assumptions in Scandinavian and US. In: ACM 20th International Conference on Computer Documentation , 2002, . pp. 208-215. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/584955.584986

Spinuzzi, Clay (2002): Modeling genre ecologies. In: ACM 20th International Conference on Computer Documentation , 2002, . pp. 200-207. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/584955.584985

Spinuzzi, Clay (2002): Documentation, participatory citizenship, and the web: the potential of open systems. In: ACM 20th International Conference on Computer Documentation , 2002, . pp. 194-199. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/584955.584984

Spinuzzi, Clay (2001): Software development as mediated activity: applying three analytical frameworks for studyi. In: IEEE ACM 19th International Conference on Computer Documentation , 2001, . pp. 58-67. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/501516.501528

Spinuzzi, Clay (2000): Investigating the Technology-Work Relationship: A Critical Comparison of Three Qualitative. In: IEEE IPCC 2000 / ACM 18th International Conference on Systems Documentation , 2000, . pp. 419-432.

Spinuzzi, Clay, Zachry, Mark (2000): Genre Ecologies: An Open-System Approach to Understanding and Constructing Documentation. In ACM SIGDOC *Journal of Computer Documentation, 24 (3) pp. 169-181. http://www.acm.org/pubs/articles/journals/jcd/2000-24-3/p169-spinuzzi/p169-spinuzzi.pdf

Spinuzzi, Clay (2000): Exploring the Blind Spot: Audience, Purpose, and Context in Products, Process, and Profit. In ACM SIGDOC *Journal of Computer Documentation, 24 (4) pp. 213-219. http://www.acm.org/pubs/articles/journals/jcd/2000-24-4/p213-spinuzzi/p213-spinuzzi.pdf

Spinuzzi, Clay (1999): Grappling with Distributed Usability: A Cultural-Historical Examination of Documentation G. In: ACM 17th International Conference on Systems Documentation , 1999, . pp. 16-21. http://www.acm.org/pubs/articles/proceedings/doc/318372/p16-spinuzzi/p16-spinuzzi.pdf

Spinuzzi, Clay

16.9 Commentary by Clay Spinuzzi

In Kaptelinin’s conclusion, he argues that activity theory must develop to address new work organization. He says:

the conceptual framework of activity theory needs to be expanded to more adequately deal with coordination of multiple activities and cross-activity integration. Cross-activity integration is becoming an increasingly important issue in current uses of technology, characterized by complex social contexts (e.g., a combination of work and non-work factors typical of everyday practices of teleworkers) and employing multiple digital and non-digital technologies.
 

Examples might include university-industry partnerships (Gygi & Zachry 2010); massive multiplayer online role-playing games (Nardi 2010); coworking (Spinuzzi 2012, in press); classroom collaborations that span locations and disciplines (Paretti, McNair & Holloway-Attaway 2007); and sales engineers, who must bridge between clients and engineers (Ludvigsen et al. 2003). As Kaptelinin stated, such cross-activity work poses challenges to the conceptual framework of activity theory - and such examples are multiplying as activities become more networked.

Why is cross-activity integration such a critical issue now, and how must activity theory develop to address it? The answer lies, in part, in changes to work organization that were not anticipated during earlier stages of the theory’s development. And the challenge lies in addressing these changes while keeping the theory relatively coherent.

The foundational ideas of activity theory came of age during the industrial era, grounded in Marx’s critique of early industrialization (1990) and developed during the rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union (see especially Luria 1976). In fact, its early examples reflect agricultural and craft labor: hunting, fishing, farming, blacksmithing. But as Yrjö Engeström began developing third-generation activity theory (3GAT)1, he recognized that work organization is changing in “the age of information technology” (1990, p.50), i.e., in the age of knowledge work, and that we are undergoing a historical transformation in the nature of expertise, moving toward “multi-professional team and network work and expertise” (1992, p.25). More recently, Engeström has suggested that we need a fourth generation of activity theory to address such work (2009, p.310). He argues that “Third-generation activity theory still treats activity systems as reasonably well-bounded, although interlocking and networked, structured units. What goes on between activity systems is processes, such as the flow of rules from management to workers”. But, he says,

In social production and peer production, the boundaries and structures of activity systems seem to fade away. Processes become simultaneous, multidirectional, and often reciprocal. The density and crisscrossing of processes makes the distinction between processes and structure somewhat obsolete. The movements of information create textures that are constantly changing but not arbitrary or momentary.
-- Engeström 2009, p.309
 

Like Kaptelinin and Engeström, others see challenges to activity theory as currently constituted (Bødker 2009; Lompscher 2006; Ruckriem 2009). For instance, Yamazumi (2009, p.212) argues that the knowledge society has shifted from mass production to interorganizational collaboration (cf. Castells 1996, 2003), resulting in “new types of agency [that] are collaborations and engagements with a shared object in and for relationships of interaction between multiple activity systems” (p.213). As Engeström puts it, “social production requires and generates bounded hubs of concentrated coordination efforts” (Engeström 2009, p.310), hubs in which interorganizational collaboration constitutes an aspect of the activity’s object (cf. Adler & Heckscher 2007; Gygi & Zachry 2010). Consequently, if we are to perform an activity theory analysis that is oriented toward knowledge work, we must examine the interorganizational collaborations to which they contribute.

Given these changes, activity theorists are increasingly concerned with addressing knowledge work. In the past few years, at least three collections on activity theory have addressed how it must adapt to discussing knowledge work (Sawchuk et al. 2006; Sannino et al 2009; Daniels et al. 2010), as have various monographs (Kaptelinin & Nardi 2006; Engeström 2008; Spinuzzi 2008).

As Kaptelin and Nardi argue: “Work itself is changing. Work is more distributed, more contingent, less stable. How do we understand social forms such as networks and virtual teams that partially replace standard organizational hierarchies? ... Knowledge work usually involves multitasking and working with diverse groups and individuals” (2006, p.26). And they describe the theoretical difficulties associated with this sort of work:

Can activity theory provide an account of multiple activities including an understanding of their structure and dependencies? In principle, yes. However, the conceptual apparatus of activity theory currently does not provide an elaborated set of concepts for the analysis of multiple activities.
-- Kaptelinin & Nardi 2006, p.256
 

So the issue is known, but the elaborated concepts are yet to be developed. As we attempt to develop them, our great challenge will be to keep the theory coherent and focused while expanding it to address such analyses.

16.9.1 Additional references

  • Adler, P. S., & Heckscher, C. (2007). Towards Collaborative Community. In C. Heckscher & P. S. Adler (Eds.), The Firm as a Collaborative Community: Reconstructing Trust in the Knowledge Economy (pp. 11-105). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Avis, J. (2009). Transformation or transformism: Engestrom’s version of activity theory? Educational Review, 61(2), 151-165.
  • Bakhurst, D. (2009). Reflections on activity theory. Educational Review, 61(2), 197-210.
  • Bodker, S. (2009). Past experiences and recent challenges in participatory design research. In A. Sannino, H. Daniels, & K. D. Gutierrez (Eds.), Learning and expanding with activity theory (pp. 274-285). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Castells, M. (1996). Rise of The Network Society (p. 481). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • Castells, M. (2003). The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Daniels, H., Edwards, A., Engeström, Y., & Ludvigsen, S. R. (Eds.). (2010). Activity Theory in Practice: Promoting Learning Across Boundaries and Agencies. New York: Routledge.
  • Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit Oy. Retrieved from http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Paper/Engestrom/expanding/toc.htm
  • Engeström, Y. (1990). Learning, working, and imagining: Twelve studies in activity theory. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit Oy.
  • Engeström, Y. (1992). Interactive expertise: Studies in distributed working intelligence. Helsinki: University of Helsinki.
  • Engeström, Y. (2009). The future of activity theory: A rough draft. In A. Sannino, H. Daniels, & K. Gutierrez (Eds.), Learning and expanding with activity theory. New York: Cambridge.
  • Gygi, K., & Zachry, M. (2010). Productive tensions and the regulatory work of genres in the development of an engineering communication workshop in a transnational corporation. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 24(3), 358-381.
  • Kaptelinin, V., & Nardi, B. A. (2006). Acting with technology: Activity theory and interaction design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Lompscher, J. (2006). The Cultural-Historical Development of Activity Theory: Some Aspects of Development. In P. Sawchuk, N. Duarte, & M. Elhammoumi (Eds.), Critical Perspectives on Activity: Explorations Across Education, Work, and Everyday Life (pp. 35-51). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Ludvigsen, S. R., Havnes, A., & Lahn, L. C. (2003). Workplace learning across activity systems: A case study of sales engineers. In T. Tuomi-Gröhn & Y. Engeström (Eds.), Between school and work: New perspectives on transfer and boundary-crossing (pp. 291-310). Boston: Pergamon.
  • Martin, D., & Peim, N. (2009). Critical perspectives on activity theory. Educational Review, 61(2), 131-138.
  • Marx, K. (1990). Capital: Volume 1. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Nardi, B. A. (2010). My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
  • Paretti, M. C., McNair, L. D., & Holloway-Attaway, L. (2007). Teaching Technical Communication in an Era of Distributed Work: A Case Study of Collaboration Between U.S. and Swedish Students. Technical Communication Quarterly, 16(3), 327-352.
  • Peim, N. (2009). Activity theory and ontology. Educational Review, 61(2), 167-180.
  • Roth, W.-M. (2007). Emotion at Work: A Contribution to Third-Generation Cultural-Historical Activity Theory. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 14(1), 40-63.
  • Ruckriem, G. (2009). Digital Technology and Mediation: A Challenge to Activity Theory. In A. Sannino, H. Daniels, & K. D. Gutierrez (Eds.), Learning and Expanding with Activity Theory (pp. 88-111). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sannino, A., Daniels, H., & Gutierrez, K. D. (Eds.). (2009). Learning and Expanding with Activity Theory. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sawchuk, P., Duarte, N., & Elhammoumi, M. (Eds.). (2006). Critical Perspectives on Activity: Explorations Across Education, Work, and Everyday Life. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Spinuzzi, C. (2008). Network: Theorizing knowledge work in telecommunications. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Spinuzzi, C. (2011). Losing by Expanding: Corralling the Runaway Object. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 25(4).
  • Spinuzzi, C. (2012, in press). Working Alone, Together: Coworking as Emergent Collaborative Activity. Journal of Business And Technical Communication, 26(4).
  • Witte, S. P. (2005). Research in Activity: An Analysis of Speed Bumps as Mediational Means. Written Communication, 22(2), 127-165.
  • Yamazumi, K. (2009). Expansive Agency in Multi-Activity Collaboration. In A. Sannino, H. Daniels, & K. D. Gutierrez (Eds.), Learning and Expanding with Activity Theory (pp. 212-227). New York: Cambridge University Press.

16.9.2 Footnotes

  1. The term “third-generation activity theory” is controversial, since it suggests that activity theory has developed linearly from the first generation (Vygotsky) to a second (Leont’ev, Luria, Ilyenkov, and other Soviet thinkers), and finally to a third (Engeström and others primarily in the West). This is the story Engeström tells (1987 et passim) and it is told quite frequently by others operating in 3GAT (e.g., Lompscher 2006; Roth 2007). But others object that Engeström’s version breaks theoretically and methodologically from its progenitors and that Engeström has tended to eclectically appropriate parts from theoretically divergent areas (Avis 2009; Bakhurst 2009; Martin & Peim 2009; Peim 2009; Witte 2005). Rather than engaging with that question, here, I restrict my scope to 3GAT, which I use as a synonym for Engeströmian AT.
  2. This argument is a shorter version of the argument in Spinuzzi (2011).

16.9.3 Notes

This commentary is a shorter version of the argument in Spinuzzi (2011)

Spinuzzi, Clay (2008): Network: Theorizing Knowledge Work in Telecommunications, Cambridge University Press,

Spinuzzi, Clay (2003): Tracing Genres through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design (Acting with Technology), The MIT Press,