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Activity has an hierarchical structure, and can be analyzed at different levels: activities, actions and operations. (Leontiev 1974)

The structure of human activity (source: interaction-design.org)

The top level is activity itself, oriented towards its motive. At a lower level lie conscious goal-directed actions that must be undertaken to fulfill the object. Goals can be decomposed into sub-goals, and so forth, meaning actions can have a hierarchical structure of their own. At the lowest level lie automatic processes which happen subconsciously, called operations. This is how actions are eventually carried out.

I'm not entirely sure where the distinction lies between motives and goals. A motive is an object that meets a certain need of the subject, while actions are goal-directed processes that must be undertaken to fulfill the object. (Kaptelinin 2009)

It seems like as long as a certain action has some underlying higher motive it is only part of an activity, while as no higher motive can be identified it should be considered an activity instead.

  • Do you arbitrarily decide on what to define the activity, and what to define as the underlying actions?
  • How does e.g. a potential underlying motive for all actions as 'survival' fit into this picture?

Leontiev, Aleksei N. (1974). The Problem of Activity in Psychology. Soviet Psychology, 13, 4-33.
Kaptelinin, Victor & Nardi, Bonnie A. (2009). Acting with Technology: Activity Theory and Interaction Design. The MIT Press

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I guess you have alredy found your answer or no longer need it. If you are still looking for an answer, the page you link to has it. You must remember that this theory was developed in a Marxist context and is closely tied to the concept of the division of labor. The motive is the fullfillment of a need (e.g. food). The goal is what you have to do to achieve that motive in the context of society. For example, to build a car (motive) one individual or team in a factory will aim to attach the wheels (goal) while someone else will paint the body (goal). Both have the same motive but diff goals. –  what Jan 3 at 21:04
While individuals can have motives (food) and goals (consume a meal in a restaurant), too, the background to the development of activity theory is the political system of the early Soviet Union. As a theory developped at a Soviet university it must be interpreted from that background. –  what Jan 3 at 21:16

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