Layers of Silence, Arenas of Voice: The Ecology of Visible and Invisible Work

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Abstract

No work is inherently either visible or invisible. We always “see” work through a selection of indicators: straining muscles, finished artifacts, a changed state of affairs. The indicators change with context, and that context becomes a negotiation about the relationship between visible and invisible work. With shifts in industrial practice these negotiations require longer chains of inference and representation, and may become solely abstract.
This article provides a framework for analyzing invisible work in CSCW systems. We sample across a variety of kinds of work to enrich the understanding of how invisibility and visibility operate. Processes examined include creating a “non-person” in domestic work; disembedding background work; and going backstage. Understanding these processes may inform the design of CSCW systems and the development of related social theory.