New Journal Article

Terrific (not-so-new) news! She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation published an article I wrote with Erik Stolterman about whether knowledge claims could be a useful way to distinguish research communities from one another. Here is the abstract:

While much has been written about designerly knowledge and designerly ways of knowing in the professions, less has been written about the production and presentation of knowledge in the design discipline. In the present paper, we examine the possibility that knowledge claims might be an effective way to distinguish the design discipline from other disciplines. We compare the kinds of knowledge claims made in journal publications from the natural sciences, social sciences, and design. And we find that natural and social science publications tend to make singular knowledge claims of similar kinds whereas design publications often contain multiple knowledge claims of different kinds. We raise possible explanations for this pattern and its implications for design research.

… and a link to the article, which is freely available for download. I’d welcome any comments or feedback. This is part of a broader project investigating the transfer and interplay of knowledge in research communities.

what should theory mean?

I’ve been collecting (and modifying and losing) thoughts about theory and the different ways it has been discussed and debated in academia for some time now. Recently I started organizing a collection of readings on/about theory according to different concepts like: theory development, theory-practice relationship, theory-artifact relationship, etc.

What’s really striking about all these readings is the way in which authors talk about what theory means before ultimately choosing a meaning to work with. There is almost universal agreement that theory is a complex word that can mean lots of things to lots of different people who work in different places and think about different things.

But how do we make a choice between different meanings and do we examine the consequences for our choices? Why do we not write about the choice when we write about the multiple meanings of theory?

Contemplating these questions would bring a great deal of clarity to an ambiguous discourse (esp. in HCI where researchers have since the early days of the field wrestled with theoretical adequacy, the relationship between artifacts and theory, etc.)

Knowledge Contributions | Discourse Analysis

Borrowing from a personal email exchange, in my final paper I’d like to look at “how publications in a journal like Nature talk about their knowledge contributions and how publications in a journal like Design Studies talk about their knowledge contributions.” The interest stems from a parallel research project I’m doing about theoretical vs schematic knowledge contributions.

One of the things driving this topic is the seemingly perpetual comparison (stacking up?) that seems to happen between science and scientific knowledge and other disciplines and other types of knowledge in the academy. I’m not really taking issue with the comparison. Of course, one way disciplines come to achieve “self” knowledge is by comparing themselves to others. It’s important for design to compare itself with science, art, sociology, psychology, medicine, etc. in order to map the intersections and divergences. Divergences. That’s a key for me right now.

Wooffitt writes, in the section on externalizing devices, “How can we use language to establish that something is ‘out there’, and that it has an independent objective existence?” And in the context of the chapter (and elsewhere) it’s quite apparent why we would want to do that. It enhances our credibility in casual conversations and in publishing academic research. I pulled the following from a document that serves both as part of my final project research for this class and as a part of an outside research project:

After skimming five [design research] articles, there seems to be a balance between the use of the language of “truth” and that of the language of “utility” with regard to the knowledge contribution. I looked both at abstracts and conclusion sections as primary sites in the texts for talking about the knowledge contribution(s)…

There are lots of instances of what could be construed as scientific buzz words [words that lend themselves to the idea of objective existence] like “experiment,” “results,” and “hypothesis.” These words are of course flexible and they are not necessarily connotative of [empirical] science. However, when these words are used primarily by authors in talking about their “observations” or “experiments” it seems fairly obvious that, in context, they are imbued with the values of empirical science. In other words, they are tools for affirming the objectivity of the claims being made.

There’s no 1:1 correlation between the language of truth as I describe it in the above paragraphs and the language of utility. And actually the question I’m grappling with right now is whether it’s possible to warrant a claim to utility without appealing to the language of truth. For instance, one of the texts I read contains the following quote:

“We have repeatedly observed that with descriptions of biological phenomena, designers tend to rely on non-analogous associations over analogical reasoning… Our work suggests that specific mapping instructions and problem-independent scenario mapping could enable designers to better focus on analogical reasoning.”

The “observations” in the first sentence seem to me to be an example of language use that establishes that “something is out there” and not “from the researchers themselves.” This is what I’m calling the language of truth. The second sentence is interesting, too, because it contains elements of the language of truth. The blue text imbues “our work,” which is not the same thing as “us,” with the authority of more objective truth to warrant the utility claim highlighted in green. Note that the scientific language in the first sentence reaffirms the “objective truth value” of the blue text. It creates some space between the scientists (who are biased and flawed) from their work, which, so long as it followed a scientific process, transcends their biases and flaws.

Currently, I’m curious to know how these claims can be made in different ways. And so this is where I think something like Jorgensen’s analytical tools can come in handy. Something like substitution, perhaps? How do the words “repeatedly observed” effect the claim? How does the claim “read” differently with words cut and/or swapped out?

With descriptions of biological phenomena, designers tend to rely on non-analogous associations over analogical reasoning… We suggest that specific mapping instructions and problem-independent scenario mapping could enable designers to better focus on analogical reasoning.”

What’s lost? What’s gained? There is certainly objectivity lost. But could it also be argued that “designerliness” is gained? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know yet. It is an agenda-laden question, too. I ask it as someone currently trying to understand what makes a designerly knowledge contribution different from a scientific one and, ultimately, probably, to argue for making more the former in design research publications in order to build design as a discipline.

Critical Discourse Analysis

Some background: I read this week’s readings, went back and re-read the notes I took from last week’s readings, looked at my last few blog entries for this class, and took a (brief) second pass at this week’s readings. Here’s where I’m at: We’re learning different schools of discourse analysis and I’m having a heck of a time drawing lines between them. There are examples in this week’s Jorgensen reading where the lines appear clear.

For example, “Critical discourse analysis engages in concrete, linguistic textual analysis of language use in social interaction. This distinguishes it from Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory, which does not carry out systematic, empirical studies of language use.” Aside from the fact that when I read this, I said to myself, “Ok, so what exactly does Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory “do” when it does analysis then?” The distinction between the approaches is at least clear in theory. But there are other cases where I read the text and the lines blurred.

For instance, the authors write that, “… an important difference between Fairclough and poststructuralist discourse theory is that, in the former, discourse is not only seen as constitutive but as constituted.” Is this supposed to be different from Laclau and Mouffe’s thinking because “constituted” implies that there is an entity external to discourse that is “constituting” it? Maybe. But it seems like it’s possible for both Fairclough (who believes that some social phenomena “are not of a linguistic-discursive character”) and Laclau and Mouffe (who believe that “the whole social field is understood as a web of processes in which meaning is created,” which I’m translating as “all social phenomena are of a discursive character) to subscribe to the idea of discourse as constitutive and constituted without giving up their positions on boundaries between discourse and (external) social practice. In Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory, this process would be internal to the system. It builds (and re-builds) itself. Internal regulation. And in Fairclough’s it would be an interaction between two systems: discourse constitutes social practices and is constituted by them.

I’m especially interested by the issue of line drawing, I think, because this week’s readings (in general) left me wondering a lot about the relationship between the meta-theoretical underpinnings of the different approaches and the actual carrying out of an analysis. I need to do some re-reading of this and past week’s examples of analysis, but I think it would be worthwhile to try and (1) chart the similarities and differences between Luke’s analysis of “texts of home and community life, classrooms, and schools,” Wetherell’s approach to the analysis of Diana’s Panorama interview, and Lester and Gabriel’s analysis of the construction of intelligence in introductory ed psych textbooks and (2) to think about what analyses of the same material from a different approach might look like. If, for example, Luke was looking at constructions of intelligence from a CDA perspective, what would that analysis look like?

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