For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The French-speaking ergonomists' approach to work activity: cross-influences of field intervention and conceptual models"

by Daniellou *, François (2005)


French-speaking ergonomists generally consider the concept of activity to be central in their approach to work and to changing it. However, their understanding of the term developed in a specific context, combining the influence of Soviet psychology with that of other forms of thinking already developed in France. Since then, the notion has received considerable input. The concept of activity as it has been developed in French-speaking countries (and thereafter in others like Brazil as it has spread) is not exactly identical to that developed by Engeström, even if there are obviously many common points. The aim of this article is not to make a systematic international comparison of approaches all referring to the concept of activity. Rather, the author's objective is limited to explaining the emergence of the concept as it is taught in France with its theoretical and methodological consequences. The reader should, therefore, not be unduly surprised by the focus on French-speaking ergonomists; this is not testimony to ignorance of the international literature, but constitutes the specific nature of this essay. If other authors attempt a similar clarification of thought at a later date, it will be easier for the international ergonomic community to distinguish the resemblances and differences between the approaches on an international level.

Key Passage

Dejours (1993 [1980]) develops an approach to the psychopathology of work and later its ‘psycho-dynamics’, which takes root in psychoanalytical theories. The approach looks at how workers resist the threats to their mental health that certain characteristics of work situations represent. In particular, he shows that in situations which are too difficult to bear and could be a threat to one’s psychic equilibrium, workers are led to develop defence mechanisms which are both individual and collective and which modify their perception of the situation. Such a defence plays a protective role in relation to mental health but does also involve drawbacks because by modifying the perception, defences may in particular lead to risk-taking.  (p.414)


Ergonomics, Activity Analysis, History Of Ergonomics, Working Conditions, Human Activity, Psychoanalysis, Soviet Psychology



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