Journal of Information Technology

Document Type

Research Article


This paper examines the theoretical and practical problems that arise from attempts to develop formal characterizations and explanations of many work activities, in particular, collaborative activities. We argue that even seemingly discrete individual activities occur in, and frequently draw upon a complex network of factors: individual, social and organizational. Similarly, organizational and social constraints and practices impact upon individual cognitive processes and the realization of these in specific tasks. Any adequate characterization of work activities therefore requires the analysis and synthesis of information from these traditionally separate sources. We argue that existing frameworks, emanating separately from the respective disciplines (cognitive, social and organizational) do not present an adequate means of studying the dynamics of collaborative activity in situ. An alternative framework, advocated in this paper, is distributed cognition. Its theoretical basis is outlined together with examples of applied studies of computer-mediated work activities in different organizational settings.