An activity theory of research methods in architecture and urbanism

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Background: using activity theory this article argues that intentional activities are central to knowledge-production and may be compared to methods in research, and the worldview within which these activities are perceived as meaningful by the actors who deploy them may be compared to methodologies. Accordingly, research activities are dependent on their context and cannot simply be transferred from one context to another.
Methods: taking the scientific method as an example, the article discusses the underlying materialist assumptions that give the scientific method its meaning, and that helps to identify selective data as evidence for its propositions. By exposing this process as one of narrative construction that is situated and given meaning by the community that deploys it, the article argues that alternative narratives are possible and argues against the assumption that data and evidence are neutral or objective. The purpose of this argument is not to undermine the scientific method, but merely to show that its power lies in the strong connection between the worldview of science and the methods it employs for its development, with the intention of providing a similarly robust framework for architecture and urbanism.
Results: the article rejects ontological and epistemological accounts of knowledge production in favour of a socio-cultural approach that sees a community of academics and professionals, such as those in science or in architecture and urbanism, as an interpretative community of shared values and beliefs. These communities share fundamental views about the nature of their disciplines and what is important within them. As a result they determine through their practices what kind of questions are important and what kind of responses are meaningful. In the field of research, they also determine what research outcomes are significant and impactful, and hence represent an advance or knowledge production in the field.
Conclusions: on this basis, a proposal is made in which architecture and urbanism is one such interpretative community supporting methodologies and research methods, resulting in a framework for the further development of research practices and research by design.
Original languageEnglish
Article number16
JournalCity, Territory and Architecture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2014


  • research; academic; professional; values; community; methods; impact; meaning; significance


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