Visiting Scholar Talk: Reconceptualising agency through an analysis of discourse and interaction in educational settings

Date: Thursday, February 13th, 2020
Time: 2:30-4:00pm
Location: Ponderosa Commons, Oak House, PCOH 2012

Speaker: Kristiina Kumpulainen (PhD)
Visiting Scholar in Human Development, Learning, and Culture (HDLC)
Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki

Human agency has attracted researchers’ attention for long. The field of educational research is no exception. My talk joins these research endeavors by considering how a sociocultural approach and micro-level analyses of discourse and interaction can inform educational research on agency. Drawing on empirical research studies situated in the cultural context of Finland, I unpack the relational, ecological, material, and transformative forms of agency that emerge in the everyday interactions of teachers and students and how these interactional manifestations of agency create possibilities and tensions for educational change efforts, participation and learning at the level of individuals and collectives. Altogether, agency continues to be a promising lens for addressing societally relevant issues facing contemporary education. However, theories and research methods that define agency as exclusively about empowered individuals having opportunities to exercise choice and make decisions obscure the complexity of agency. A sociocultural approach amplified by studies of discourse and interaction offer a promising starting point for reconceptualizing agency as interactionally, contextually and historically situated.


Kajamaa, A. & Kumpulainen, K. (2019). Agency in the making: Analyzing students’ transformative agency. Mind, Culture, and Activity. DOI: 10.1080/10749039.2019.1647547

Kumpulainen, K., & Ouakrim-Soivio, N. (2019). “My Treasure Box”: Pedagogical documentation, digital portfolios and children’s agency in Finnish early years education. In A. Eckhoff (Ed.), Participatory research with young children (pp. 105-123). (Educating the Young Child: Advances in Theory and Research, Implications for Practice; Vol. 17). Cham: Springer.

Kumpulainen, K., Kajamaa, A., & Rajala, A. (2018). Understanding educational change: Agency-structure dynamics in a novel design and making environment. Digital Education Review, 33, 26-38.

Rajala, A. & Kumpulainen, K. (2017). Researching teachers’ agentic orientations to educational change in Finnish schools. In M. Coller & S. Paloniemi (Eds.), Agency at work: An agentic perspective on professional learning and development (pp. 311-329). Amsterdam: Springer.

Rajala, A., Martin, J., & Kumpulainen, K. (2016). Agency and learning: Researching agency in educational interactions. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 10, 1-3.

Kumpulainen, K. & Lipponen, L. (2013). Crossing boundaries in dialogic learning: A chronotopic analysis of learners’ agency work. In M. Cesar & B. Ligorio (Eds.), Interplays between dialogical learning and dialogical self (pp. 193-217). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Pub (IAP).

Lipponen, L. & Kumpulainen, K. (2011). Acting as accountable authors: Creating interactional spaces for agency work in teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27(5), 812-819.


Kristiina Kumpulainen is Professor of Education and Scientific Director of the Playful Learning Center at the Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland. She also leads the Learning, Culture and Interventions (LECI) expert research group in her faculty. In 2019, she was nominated to become a fellow of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. Kristiina has led numerous research projects and published widely on socioculturally informed studies on children’s and teachers’ agency and learning across early years and primary education, cultural institutions, and homes. Her research has addressed pedagogies and learning environments that create opportunities for creative, playful, and participatory learning. Her ongoing research projects include The Joy of Learning Multiliteracies funded by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture and Learning by Making: The Educational Potential of School-based Makerspaces for Young Learners’ Digital Competencies funded by the Academy of Finland, and Digital mediation of children’s interactions with the more than human world funded by Australian Research Council. At present, she also leads the Nordic Research Network on Digitalising Childhoods funded by the NOS HS program funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers.

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