On Business Exchange Activity : Activity Systems and Business Networks

University dissertation from Uppsala : Företagsekonomiska institutionen

Abstract: Starting from an empirical study of a business firm’s problems with implementing an information system in its business activity, this thesis identifies a need to theoretically model and conceptually develop the general business activity of a firm. This puts the context in focus, as a well-functioning information system needs to be anchored and developed to support and enhance the activities for which it is used, that is, contextualized. Activity theory is used to develop an understanding of the context in which an information system functions. This context of a business firm can be conceptualised in many ways. The main enquiry motivating this study is therefore: how can business exchange activity in a business network be conceptualized and modeled using activity theory? The context is seen as the object-oriented, collective, and culturally mediated human activity system that surrounds, gives rise to, and cultivates business exchange activity. This study aims at contributing theoretically to the understanding of the activities that business firms engage in within industrial markets, but also at contributing to explaining why the empirically investigated firm had problems with utilizing its information system. In using activity systems models as analytical tools, the purpose is to develop activity systems based models of business exchange activity. In the literature, four central activities in business exchange activity can be identified in terms of: buying/selling activity, producing/using activity, cooperation activity, and networking activity. These four activities are modeled as four neighboring activity systems through a procedure called the analysis readiness review (ARR), developed for this purpose. Findings suggest that the four central activities can be viewed as four closures of activity systems, and that in closing an activity system, the participating subjects choose to enhance certain features of business exchange activity, while suppressing others. The central activities comprise partly contradictory elements, and give rise to dialectical tensions, or double binds. These tensions drive change. They are the very engine that propels business exchange activity, and the raison d’être for business entities to engage in such exchange.

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