From Object-Oriented to Fluid Ontology: a Case Study of the Materiality of Design Work in Agile Software Development


In much of extant research on design cooperation, design materials are approached from noun-oriented ontologies and social topologies where the notion of ‘object’ is central. There is a long history of critique concerning such ontologies, most recently coming from the anthropology of making, because they are failing to capture the dynamic and fluid aspects that characterize the living, constantly changing world that we inhabit. Though often recognized, the implications these critiques have for design cooperation research and practice have been drawn only to a limited extent. In this study, we discuss and empirically examine such implications by adopting a fluid ontology in the analysis of design cooperation. We use data from design conversations in a firm that practices extreme programming, a form of agile software development, to exhibit what theorizing design activity in terms of fluid things, fluid spaces, and continuity has to offer to practitioners and analysts.

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  1. 1.

    ‘Object’ may also be used in the sense of goal or aim at which an intention or effort is directed. In this sense, too, the object is in the form of a noun and treated as a ‘blob.’

  2. 2.

    An Institutional (ethics) Review Board approved the study; all individuals appearing in the video recordings signed ethics forms, which also granted them confidentiality.

  3. 3.

    Actually, the reactions from the desktop lead during the afternoon session show that the two developers were perceived to have worked on a ‘simple editor’ rather than on the design of a ‘simplest editor.’

  4. 4.

    Rendering refers to the process that transforms algorithms into the images that can be seen on the display device.

  5. 5.

    In a material phenomenology, consciousness arises from the self-affection of life; this radically immanent self-affection ‘is nothing other than our flesh [chair]’ (Henry 2000, p. 173).

  6. 6.

    Dewey and Bentley (1949/1999) use between and in-between synonymously, opposing it to the use of inter- as ‘mutually’ and ‘reciprocally.’ Our use of in-between is in the latter sense.

  7. 7.

    Dewey and Bentley (1949/1999, p. 138) also use the adjective ‘intra-organic transactional.’


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Alfredo Jornet contributed while holding a post-doctoral fellowship co-funded by the National Research Council of Norway and Marie Curie Actions of the European Commission.

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Correspondence to Wolff-Michael Roth.

Appendix A: Transcription conventions

Appendix A: Transcription conventions

The transcription conventions are those of standard conversation analysis (Jefferson 2004). All words are written using small letters (unless exception noted below); they are run together when the corresponding sound wave is.


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Roth, WM., Jornet, A. From Object-Oriented to Fluid Ontology: a Case Study of the Materiality of Design Work in Agile Software Development. Comput Supported Coop Work 27, 37–75 (2018).

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  • Objects
  • Ontology
  • Social topology
  • Fluids
  • Lines
  • Materiality
  • Communication
  • Extreme programming
  • Agile software development