Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-r5zm4 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-19T01:05:27.419Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Chapter 1 - Motives, Mediation and Motion

Towards an Inherently Learning- and Development-Orientated Perspective on Agency

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 November 2023

Nick Hopwood
University of Technology, Sydney
Annalisa Sannino
Tampere University, Finland
Get access


Studies of agency are crucial if we are to grapple with pressing societal and environmental problems. Relevant conceptual and methodological solutions are needed to make alternative futures possible. This chapter outlines a broad position from which the subsequent contributions to this edited volume depart: one that recognises the urgency of agency and the value of cultural-historical perspectives in breaking away from problematic notions that frame agency as a matter of individuals pitted against the social, or in which individual actions lose their social contingency. Elaborating agency as a matter of struggle where individual and social are in dialectic relations, the chapter focusses on motives, mediation and motion. Within a broader and still-evolving cultural-historical framework, these motifs offer a distinctive way to deal with the challenges of conceptualising and facilitating agency, one which brings alternative futures into the realm of the possible by linking agency with learning and development.

Agency and Transformation
Motives, Mediation, and Motion
, pp. 1 - 34
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Archer, M. S. (1996). Culture and agency: The place of culture in social theory. Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Archer, M. S. (2003). Structure, agency and the internal conversation. Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Arievitch, I. & Stetsenko, A. (2014). The ‘magic of signs’: Developmental trajectory of cultural mediation. In Yasnitsky, A., van der Veer, R. & Ferrari, M. (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of cultural-historical psychology (pp. 217–44). Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Bakhurst, D. (2007). Vygotsky’s demons. In Daniels, H., Cole, M. & Wertsch, J. V. (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Vygotsky (pp. 5076). Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bal, A., Bird Bear, A., Ko, D. & Orie, L. (2021). Indigenous Learning Lab: Inclusive knowledge-production and systemic design toward Indigenous prolepsis. In Cavendish, W. & Samson, J. F. (Eds.), Intersectionality in education: Toward more equitable policy, research and practice (pp. 122–50). Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. Freeman.Google Scholar
Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 126. ScholarPubMed
Barker, C., Cox, L., Krinsky, K. & Nilsen, A. G. (Eds.). (2013). Marxism and social movements. Brill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barkin, J. S. (2020). Utopia and the Anthropocene. Global Environmental Politics, 20(1), 122–6. Scholar
Bermudez, J. L. (2010). Action and awareness of agency: Comments on Chris Frith. Pragmatics & Cognition, 18(3), 576–88. Scholar
Bierria, A. (2014). Missing in action: Violence, power, and discerning agency. Hypatia, 29(1), 129–45. Scholar
Biesta, G. & Tedder, M. (2007). Agency and learning in the lifecourse: Towards an ecological perspective. Studies in the Education of Adults, 39(2), 132–49. Scholar
Bina, O., Inch, A. & Pereira, L. (2020). Beyond techno-utopia and its discontents: On the role of utopianism and speculative fiction in shaping alternatives to the smart city imaginary. Futures, 115, 102475. Scholar
Blachet-Cohen, N. & Reilly, R. C. (2017). Immigrant children promoting environmental care: Enhancing learning, agency and integration through culturally-responsive environmental education. Environmental Education Research, 23(4), 553–72. Scholar
Boyte, H. C. & Finders, M. J. (2016). A liberation of powers: Agency and education for democracy. Educational Theory, 66(1–2), 127–45. Scholar
Campbell, C. (2009). Distinguishing the power of agency from agentic power: A note on Weber and the ‘black box’ of personal agency. Sociological Theory, 27(4), 407–18. Scholar
Caronia, L. & Mortari, L. (2015). The agency of things: How spaces and artefacts organize the moral order of an intensive care unit. Social Semiotics, 25(4), 401–22. Scholar
Chaiklin, S. (2012). A conceptual perspective for investigating motive in cultural-historical theory. In Hedegaard, M., Edwards, A. & Fleer, M. (Eds.), Motives in children’s development: Cultural-historical approaches (pp. 209–24). Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Chaiklin, S. (2019). The meaning and origin of the activity concept in Soviet psychology – with primary focus on A. N. Leontiev’s approach. Theory & Psychology, 29(1), 326. Scholar
Cole, M., Kaptelinin, V., Nardi, B. & Vadeboncoeur, J. A. (2016). Scale, agency, and relationships: The work of cultural-historical and activity theoretical research. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 23(2), 93–4. Scholar
Cole, M., Ferholt, B., Jornet, A. et al. (2019). Acknowledging changes and the challenges ahead. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 26(4), 283–5. Scholar
Cooren, F., Fairhurst, G. & Huët, R. (2012). Why matter always matters in (organizational) communication. In Leonardi, M., Nardi, B. & Kallinikos, J. (Eds.), Materiality and organizing: Social interaction in a technological world (pp. 297315). Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Dafermos, M. (2018). Rethinking cultural-historical theory: A dialectical perspective to Vygotsky. Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Davydov, V. V. (1990). Soviet studies in mathematics education, Volume 2. Types of generalization in instruction: Logical and psychological problems in the structuring of school curricula. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.Google Scholar
Davydov, V. V. (2008). Problems of developmental instruction: A theoretical and experimental psychological study. Nova Science Publishers.Google Scholar
del Río, P. & Álvarez, A. (2007). Inside and outside the Zone of Proximal Development: An ecofunctional reading of Vygotsky. In Daniels, H., Cole, M. & Wertsch, J. (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Vygotsky (pp. 276303). Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Edwards, A. (2005). Relational agency: Learning to be a resourceful practitioner. International Journal of Educational Research, 43(3), 168–82. Scholar
Edwards, A. (2009). From the systemic to the relational: Relational agency and activity theory. In Sannino, A., Daniels, H. & Gutiérrez, K. D. (Eds.), Learning and expanding with activity theory (pp. 197211). Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Edwards, A. (2012). The role of common knowledge in achieving collaboration across practices. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 1, 2232. Scholar
Edwards, A. (2017). Revealing relational work. In Edwards, A. (Ed.), Working relationally in and across practices: Cultural-historical approaches to collaboration (pp. 121). Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Edwards, A. (2020). Agency, common knowledge and motive orientation: Working with insights from Hedegaard in research on provision for vulnerable children and young people. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 26, 100224. Scholar
Edwards, A. & Evangelou, M. (2019). Easing transitions into school for children from socially excluded ‘hard to reach’ families: From risk and resilience to agency and demand. In Hedegaard, M. & Edwards, A. (Eds.), Support for children, young people and their carers in difficult transitions: Working in the zone of social concern (pp. 115–30). Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
Edwards, A. & Hedegaard, M. (2019). Rethinking professional support for challenging transitions: Enabling the agency of children, young people and their families. In Hedegaard, M. & Edwards, A. (Eds.), Supporting difficult transitions: Children, young people and their carers (pp. 118). Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
Edwards, A. & Mackenzie, L. (2005). Steps towards participation: The social support of learning trajectories. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 24(4), 282302. Scholar
Edwards, A., Chan, J. & Tan, D. (2019). Motive orientation and the exercise of agency: Responding to recurrent demands in practices. In Edwards, A., Fleer, M. & Bøttcher, L. (Eds.), Cultural-historical approaches to studying learning and development: Societal, institutional and personal perspectives (pp. 201–14). Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Elbasha, T. & Wright, A. (2017). Reconciling structure and agency in strategy-as-practice research: Towards a strong-structuration theory approach. M@n@gement, 20(2), 107–28. Scholar
Emirbayer, M. & Mische, A. (1998). What is agency? American Journal of Sociology, 103(4), 9621023. Scholar
Engeström, Y. (1987/2015). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to developmental research. Orienta-Konsultit.Google Scholar
Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive learning at work: Toward an activity theoretical reconceptualisation. Journal of Education and Work, 14(1), 133–56. Scholar
Engeström, Y. (2005). Developmental work research: Expanding activity theory in practice. Lehmanns Media.Google Scholar
Engeström, Y. (2007). Putting Vygotsky to work: The Change Laboratory as an application of double stimulation. In Daniels, H., Cole, M. & Wertsch, J. (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Vygotsky (pp. 363–82). Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Engeström, Y. (2016). Studies in expansive learning: Learning what is not yet there. Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Engeström, Y. (2017, 28 August to 1 September). Expansive learning in social movements. 5th International Congress of the International Society for Cultural-historical Activity Research, Quebec City.Google Scholar
Engeström, Y. (2020a). Ascending from the abstract to the concrete as a principle of expansive learning. Psychological Science and Education, 25(5), 3143. Scholar
Engeström, Y. (2020b). Concept formation in the wild: Towards a research agenda. Éducation et didactique, 14(2), 99113. Scholar
Engeström, Y. & Sannino, A. (2010). Studies of expansive learning: Foundations, findings and future challenges. Educational Research Review, 5(1), 124. Scholar
Engeström, Y. & Sannino, A. (2021). From mediated actions to heterogenous coalitions: Four generations of activity-theoretical studies of work and learning. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 28(1), 423. Scholar
Engeström, Y., Nummijoki, J. & Sannino, A. (2012). Embodied germ cell at work: Building an expansive concept of physical mobility in home care. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19(3), 287309. Scholar
Engeström, Y., Nuttall, J., & Hopwood, N. (2022). Transformative agency by double stimulation: Advances in theory and methodology. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 30 (1), 17. Scholar
Frith, C. D. (2014). Action, agency and responsibility. Neuropsychologia, 55, 137–42. ScholarPubMed
Frith, C. D. (2017). Our illusory sense of agency has a deeply important social purpose. Aeon. Scholar
Fuchs, S. (2001). Beyond agency. Sociological Theory, 19(1), 2440. Scholar
Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. University of California Press.Google Scholar
Glăveanu, V. P. (2020). A sociocultural theory of creativity: Bridging the social, the material, and the psychological. Review of General Psychology, 24(4), 335–54. Scholar
Haapasaari, A. & Kerosuo, H. (2015). Transformative agency: The challenges of sustainability in a long chain of double stimulation. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 4, 3747. Scholar
Haapasaari, A., Engeström, Y. & Kerosuo, H. (2016). The emergence of learners’ transformative agency in a Change Laboratory intervention. Journal of Education and Work, 29(2), 232–62. Scholar
Hedegaard, M. (2012). Analyzing children’s learning and development in everyday settings from a cultural-historical wholeness approach. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19(2), 127–38. Scholar
Hedegaard, M. (2020). Children’s perspectives and institutional practices as keys in a wholeness approach to children’s social situations of development. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 26. Scholar
Hedegaard, M. & Edwards, A. (Eds.). (2019). Supporting difficult transitions: Children, young people and their carers. Bloomsbury.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hopwood, N. & Gottschalk, B. (2017). Double stimulation ‘in the wild’: Services for families with children at risk. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 13, 2337. Scholar
Hopwood, N. & Gottschalk, B. (2022). From volitional action to transformative agency: Double stimulation in services for families with young children. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 30(1), 3552. Scholar
Ilyenkov, E. V. (1960/82). The dialectics of the abstract and the concrete in Marx’s Capital. Progress.Google Scholar
Kajamaa, A. & Kumpulainen, K. (2019). Agency in the making: Analyzing students’ transformative agency in a school-based makerspace. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 26(3), 266–81. Scholar
Kaptelinin, V. & Nardi, B. (2006). Acting with technology: Activity theory and interaction design. MIT Press.Google Scholar
Kilgore, D. W. (2010). Understanding learning in social movements: A theory of collective learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 18(3), 191202. Scholar
Ko, D., Bal, A., Bird Bear, A., Sannino, A. & Engeström, Y. (2022). Transformative agency for justice: Addressing racial disparity of school discipline with the indigenous learning lab. Race Ethnicity and Education, 25(7), 9971020. Scholar
Latour, B. (1996). On interobjectivity. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 3(4), 228–45. Scholar
Latour, B. (2007). Reassembling the social: An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Leontiev, A. N. (1978). Activity, consciousness, and personality. Prentice-Hall Inc.Google Scholar
Lukitsch, O. (2020). Effort, uncertainty, and the sense of agency. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 11(4), 955–75. Scholar
Lund, A. & Vestøl, J. M. (2020). An analytical unit of transformative agency: Dynamics and dialectics. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 25. Scholar
Matyushkin, A. M. (1997). Epilogue. In Rieber, R. (Ed.), The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky, Vol. 4: The history of the development of higher mental functions (pp. 261–78). Plenum Press.Google Scholar
Moll, L. (2000). Inspired by Vygotsky: Ethnographic experiments in education. In Lee, C. & Smagorinsky, P. (Eds.), Vygotskian perspectives on literacy research: Constructing meaning through collaborative inquiry (pp. 256–68). Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Moore, J. W. (2016). What is the sense of agency and why does it matter? Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 19. ScholarPubMed
Moore, J. W. O., S S. (2012). Intentional binding and the sense of agency: A review. Consciousness and Cognition, 21(1), 546–61. ScholarPubMed
Morselli, D. (2021). A three-levels analysis of double stimulation in a Change Laboratory. Journal of Workplace Learning, 33(7). Scholar
Nardi, B. (2017). The transformative mind: Expanding Vygotsky’s approach to development and education (book review). Mind, Culture, and Activity, 24(4), 393–6. Scholar
Nicolini, D. (2012). Practice theory, work, and organization: An introduction. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Nummijoki, J., Engeström, Y. & Sannino, A. (2018). Defensive and expansive cycles of learning: A study of home care encounters. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 27(2), 224–64. Scholar
Priestley, M., Biesta, G. J. & Robinson, S. (2015). Teacher agency: An ecological approach. Bloomsbury.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roth, W. M., Lee, Y. J. & Hsu, P. L. (2009). A tool for changing the world: Possibilities of cultural‐historical activity theory to reinvigorate science education. Studies in Science Education, 45(2), 131–67. Scholar
Roth, W.-M., Tobin, K., Elmesky, R., Carambo, C., McKnight, Y.-M. & Beers, J. (2004). Re/making identities in the praxis of urban schooling: A cultural historical perspective. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 11(1), 4869. Scholar
Sannino, A. (2008). From talk to action: Experiencing interlocution in developmental interventions. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 15(3), 234–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sannino, A. (2010). Teachers’ talk of experiencing: Conflict, resistance and agency. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26, 838–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sannino, A. (2011). Activity theory as an activist and interventionist theory. Theory & Psychology, 21(5), 571–97. Scholar
Sannino, A. (2015a). The emergence of transformative agency and double stimulation: Activity-based studies in the Vygotskian tradition. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 4, 13. Scholar
Sannino, A. (2015b). The principle of double stimulation: A path to volitional action. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 6, 115. Scholar
Sannino, A. (2018). Counteracting the stigma of homelessness: The Finnish Housing First strategy as educational work. Educação, 41(3), 385–92. Scholar
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), 163–79. Scholar
Sannino, A. (2022). Transformative agency as warping: How collectives accomplish change amid uncertainty. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 30(1), 933. Scholar
Sannino, A., Engeström, Y. & Jokinen, E. (2021). Digital peer learning for transformative professional agency: The case of homelessness practitioners in Finland. British Journal of Educational Technology, 52(4), 1612–28. Scholar
Sannino, A., Engeström, Y. & Lemos, M. (2016). Formative interventions for expansive learning and transformative agency. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 25(4), 599633. Scholar
Schatzki, T. R. (2002). The site of the social: A philosophical account of the constitution of social life and change. Pennsylvania State University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schatzki, T. R. (2010). Materiality and social life. Nature and Culture, 5(2), 123–49. Scholar
Sewell, W. H. (1992). A theory of structure: Duality, agency, and transformation. American Journal of Sociology, 98, 129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shotter, J. (1993). Cultural politics of everyday life. Open University Press.Google Scholar
Stetsenko, A. (2008). From relational ontology to transformative activist stance on development and learning: Expanding Vygotsky’s (CHAT) project. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 3(2), 471–91. Scholar
Stetsenko, A. (2015). Theory for and as social practice of realizing the future. In Martin, J., Sugarman, J. & Slaney, K. L. (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of theoretical and philosophical psychology: Methods, approaches and new directions for social sciences (pp. 102–16). John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
Stetsenko, A. (2017). The transformative mind: Expanding Vygotsky’s approach to development and education. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Stetsenko, A. (2019). Radical-transformative agency: Continuities and contrasts with relational agency and implications for education. Frontiers in Education, 4. Scholar
Stetsenko, A. (2020a). Critical challenges in cultural-historical activity theory: The urgency of agency. Cultural-Historical Psychology, 16(2), 518. Scholar
Stetsenko, A. (2020b). Hope, political imagination, and agency in Marxism and beyond: Explicating the transformative worldview and ethico-ontoepistemology. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 52(7), 726–37. Scholar
Stetsenko, A. (2020c). Personhood through the lens of radical-transformative agency. In Sugarman, J. & Martin, J. (Eds.), A humanities approach to the psychology of personhood (pp. 6583). Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stetsenko, A. (2020d). Research and activist projects of resistance: The ethical-political foundations for a transformative ethico-onto-epistemology. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 26. Scholar
Stetsenko, A. (2020e). Transformative-activist and social justice approaches to the history of psychology. Oxford Research Encyclopedias: Psychology. Scholar
Stetsenko, A. (2021). Scholarship in the context of a historic socioeconomic and political turmoil: Reassessing and taking stock of CHAT. Commentary on Y. Engeström and A. Sannino ‘From mediated actions to heterogenous coalitions: four generations of activity-theoretical studies of work and learning’. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 28(1), 3243. Scholar
Stetsenko, A. & Arievitch, I. (2004). The self in cultural-historical activity theory: Reclaiming the unity of social and individual dimensions of human development. Theory & Psychology, 14(4), 475503. Scholar
Swanson, G. E. (1992). Doing things together: Some basic forms of agency and structure in collective action and some explanations. Social Psychology Quarterly, 55(2), 94117. Scholar
Taylor, C. (1898). Sources of the self. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Taylor, C. (1977). What is human agency? In Mischel, T. (Ed.), The self: Psychological and philosophical issues (pp. 103–35). Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
Taylor, C. (1991). The ethics of authenticity. Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Tomaz, V., Sannino, A. & Engeström, Y. (in press). Mathematics and agency: Learning to manage money between Indigenous and market-based logics of life. Cognition and Instruction.Google Scholar
Ueno, N., Sawyer, R. & Moro, Y. (2017). Reconstitution of sociotechnical arrangements: Agency and the design of artifacts. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 24(2), 95109. Scholar
Vasileva, O. & Balyasnikova, N. (2019). (Re)Introducing Vygotsky’s thought: From historical overview to contemporary psychology. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1515. ScholarPubMed
Vasilyuk, F. (1988). The psychology of experiencing. Progress.Google Scholar
Vianna, E. & Stetsenko, A. (2019). Turning resistance into passion for knowledge with the tools of agency: Teaching-learning about theories of evolution for social justice among foster youth. Perspectiva, 37(4), 864–86. Scholar
Virkkunen, J. (2006). Dilemmas in building shared transformative agency. @ctivités, 3(1), 4366. Scholar
Virkkunen, J. & Newnham, S. (2013). The Change Laboratory: A tool for collaborative development of work and education. Sense.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vygotsky, L. S. (1960/97). The history of the development of higher mental functions. In Rieber, R. (Ed.), The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky, Vol. 4: The history of the development of higher mental functions. Plenum Press.Google Scholar
Vygotsky, L. S. (1981). The instrumental method in psychology. In Wertsch, J. V. (Ed.), The concept of activity in Soviet psychology (pp. 134–43). Sharpe.Google Scholar
Weber, M. (1920/65). The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism (T. Parsons, trans.). Unwin University Books.Google Scholar
Wertsch, J. (2007). Mediation. In Daniels, H., Cole, M. & Wertsch, J. (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Vygotsky (pp. 178–92). Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats