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

For ergonomists throughout the world, the value of the concept of activity clearly goes beyond its face value as a tool for understanding the work of production operators. It may also contribute to furthering knowledge about the professional identity of ergonomists and discussion about professional practice. The specific concepts of ergonomics in the French-speaking world often give rise to a form of irritated curiosity in international meetings. Researchers and practitioners from other countries tend to have difficulty in understanding French-speaking ergonomists owing to the inadequacy of their publications in English and require them to explain their concepts and methods on the international scene. Meeting such a challenge is not easy because, beyond the problems of language, there are differences in paradigms. French-speaking ergonomists who are used to spending long hours analysing operating strategies, the regulations set up by workers to manage the variations that occur in their workshop and the difficulties that workers come up against, may well say that they are performing ‘activity analysis’. They still have difficulty in describing the difference that they see between the ‘job analysis’ or ‘task analysis’ that a colleague in another country may perform. Discussions about similarities and differences in ergonomic practices could be made easier by sharing clearer views about the historical roots of the concepts taught in each part of the world. Many efforts are now being made in this direction (e.g. Chapanis 1999, Kuorinka 2000), to which this paper aims at contributing. (p.422)


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



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