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Building on activity theory to enhance capabilities in international development projects

3.1 Farther reaches of theoretical and methodological explorations
Paper in a Symposium (Symp)
3:10 PM, Thursday 31 Aug 2017 (20 minutes)
Afternoon Refreshments   03:30 PM to 03:50 PM (20 minutes)
Vygotsky brought attention to individual and collective agency, and affordances that social, cultural and historical factors offer. The concept of human agency has been at the forefront of international development discourse, shaping human-centred approach and capabilities framework. In this view, development must help expand people’s choices and create a conducive environment for people to develop their full potential and to have a reasonable chance of leading productive, creative, and meaningful lives in accordance to their needs and interests (Chandler, 2013). But subjects cannot be separated from their social, cultural and political environment and the structures of power. This complexity is compounded further by the diversity and multiplicity of stakeholder networks. This chaotic open system requires critical system thinking. Engeström’s third generation cultural-historical activity allows to expand the unit of analysis from a single activity system to multiple interacting activity systems. This presentation links the cultural-historical activity framework to complex adaptive systems analysis and Sen’s capabilities approach to highlight the debated strategies to enhance participation, empowerment, choice-making capabilities, freedom, individual and collective values and agency. Several international projects over the past two decades will be used to illustrate strategies and lessons learned. 
École nationale d'administration publique
Associate professor