Advertisement

Activity Theory and Distributed Cognition: Or What Does CSCW Need to DO with Theories?

  • Christine A. Halverson
Article

Abstract

This essay compares activity theory (AT) with distributed cognitiontheory (DCOG), asking what each can do for CSCW. It approaches this task by proposing that theories – when viewed as conceptual tools formaking sense of a domain – have four important attributes: descriptivepower; rhetorical power; inferential power; and application power.It observes that AT and DCOG are not so different: both emphasizecognition; both include the social and cultural context of cognition;both share a commitment to ethnographically collected data. Startingwith a description of the distributed cognition approach, it uses anexample of a DCOG analysis to ground a discussion of the strengths andweaknesses of AT and DCOG as an approach to issues in CSCW. Finally,the essay considers what theoretical work is being done by theattributes of the respective theories, and whether AT, DCOG, or anytheory developed outside the context of group work, will workfor CSCW.

activity theory analysis distributed cognition methodology 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Ackerman, M.S. and C.A. Halverson (1998): Considering an Organization's Memory. Proceeding of the Conference on Computer Supported Co.Google Scholar
  2. Ackerman, M.S. and C.A. Halverson (1999): Organizational Memory: Processes, Boundary Objects, and Trajectories. 32nd Hawaiian International Conference on Systems Science. Maui, HI: IEEE.Google Scholar
  3. Ackerman, M.S. and C.A. Halverson (2000): Re-Examining Organizational Memory. Communications of the ACM, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 58–64.Google Scholar
  4. Bardram, J. (1997): Plans as Situated Action: An Activity Theory Approach toWorkflow Systems. In John A. Hughes, Wolfgang Prinz, Tom Rodden and Kjeld Schmidt (eds.): ECSCW 97: Proceedings of the Fifth European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Kluwer Academic Press, pp. 17–32.Google Scholar
  5. Bardram, J. (1998): Designing for the Dynamics of Cooperative Work Activities. Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, Seattle,WA, ACM.Google Scholar
  6. Barthelmess, P. and K.M. Anderson (2002): A View of Software Development Environments Based on Activity Theory. Computer Supperted Cooperative Work, vol. 11, nos. 1–2, pp. 13–37.Google Scholar
  7. Bentley, R., T. Rodden, P. Sawyer, I. Sommerville, J. Hughes, et al. (1994): Ethnographicallyinformed Systems Design of Air Traffic Control. Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Toronto Canada, ACM.Google Scholar
  8. Beyer, H. and K. Holtzblatt (1998): Contextual Design: Defining Customer-centered Systems. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.Google Scholar
  9. Blumer, H. (1986): Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bødker, S. (1991): Through the Interface: A Human activity Approach to User Interface Design. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  11. Button, G. (ed.) (1991): Ethnomethodology and the Human Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Button, G. and P. Dourish (1996): Technomethodology: Paradoxes and Possibilities. ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems CHI '96, Vancouver, BC. Canada, ACM.Google Scholar
  13. Carstensen, P.H. and M. Nielsen (2000): Guiding the Thrust! Analytical Concepts in the Service of Coordination Support Systems. In R. Dieng, A. Giboin, L. Karsenty and G.D. Michelis (eds.), Designing Cooperative Systems: the Use of Theories and Models. Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on the Design of Cooperative Systems (COOP '2000). Amsterdam: IOS Press.Google Scholar
  14. Clark, A. (1997): Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World together Again. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  15. Clases, C. and T. Wehner (2002): Steps Across the Border – Cooperation, Knowledge Production and Systems Design. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, vol. 11, nos. 1–2, pp. 39–54.Google Scholar
  16. Cole, M. and Y. Engeström (1993): A Cultural-historical Approach to Distributed Cognition. In G. Salomon (ed.), Distributed Cognitions: Psychological and Educational Considerations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–46.Google Scholar
  17. Collins, P., S. Shukla and D. Redmiles (2002): Activity Theory and System Design: A View from the Trenches. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, vol. 11, nos. 1–2, pp. 55–80.Google Scholar
  18. Engeström, Y. (1987): Learning by Expanding: An Activity-theoretical Approach to Developmental Research. Helsinki, Orienta-Konsultit Oy.Google Scholar
  19. Engeström, Y., R. Engeström and T. Vahaaho (1999): When the Center Does not Hold: the Importance of Knotworking. In S. Chaiklin, M. Hedegaard and U. Jensen (eds.), Activity Theory and Social Practice: Cultural Historical Approaches. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Engeström, Y., R. Miettinen and R.-L. Punamaki (eds.) (1999): Perspectives on Activity Theory. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Fjeld, M., K. Lauche, M. Bichsel, F. Voorhorst, H. Krueger and M. Rauterberg (2002): Physical and Virtual Tools: Activity Theory Applied to the Design of Groupware. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, vol. 11, nos. 1–2, pp. 153–180.Google Scholar
  22. Fitzpatrick, G., S. Kaplan and T. Mansfield. (1996): Physical Spaces, Virtual Places and Social Worlds: A Study of Work in the Virtual. Proceedings of the Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Cambridge MA: ACM, pp. 334–343.Google Scholar
  23. Flor, N.V. and E.L. Hutchins (1992): Analyzing Distributed Cognition in Software Teams: a Case Study of Collaborative Programming During Adaptive Software Maintenance. In J. Koenemann-Belliveau, T. Moher and S. Robertson (eds.), Empirical Studies of Programmers. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  24. Frohlich, D. and P. Luff (1989): Conversational Resources for Situated Action. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Wings for the Mind. Austin, TX: ACM, pp. 253–258.Google Scholar
  25. Gardner, H. (1984): The Mind's New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution. Basic Books.Google Scholar
  26. Garfinkel, H. (1967): Studies in Ethnomethodology. Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  27. Glaser, B.G. and A.L. Strauss (1967): Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Chicago: Walter De Gruyter.Google Scholar
  28. Greenbaum, J. and M. Kyng (1991): Design at Work: Cooperative Design of Computer Systems. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  29. Haack, S. (1998): Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  30. Halverson, C.A. (1995): Inside the Cognitive Workplace: New Technology and Air Traffic Control. Unpublished dissertation, Cognitive Science Department, University of California, San Diego.Google Scholar
  31. Heath, C. and P. Luff (1996): Documents and Professional Practice: ‘Bad’ Organisational Reasons for ‘Good’ Clinical Records. Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Boston, MA: ACM.Google Scholar
  32. Holder, B.E. (1999): Cognition in Flight: Understanding Cockpits as Cognitive Systems. Dissertation, Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego.Google Scholar
  33. Hollan, J.D., E.L. Hutchins and D. Kirsh (in press): Distributed Cognition: A New Theoretical Foundation for Numan-computer Interaction Research. ACM Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction.Google Scholar
  34. Hutchins, E. (1988): The Technology of Team Navigation. In R.K.J. Galegher and C. Egido (eds.), Intellectual Teamwork: Social and Technical Bases of Cooperative Work. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  35. Hutchins, E. (1990): Organizing Work by Adaptation. Organization Science, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 14–39.Google Scholar
  36. Hutchins, E. (1991): The Social Organization of Distributed Cognition. In L. Resnick and J. Levine (eds.), Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition. Washington, D.C.: APA Press.Google Scholar
  37. Hutchins, E. (1995a): How a Cockpit Remembers Its Speeds. Journal of the Cognitive Science Society, vol. 19.Google Scholar
  38. Hutchins, E. and B. Hazlehurst (1990): Learning in the Cultural Process, Institute of Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego.Google Scholar
  39. Hutchins, E. and T. Klausen (1992): Distributed Cognition in an Airline Cockpit. In D. Middleton and Y. Engeström (eds.), Communication and Cognition atWork. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Books.Google Scholar
  40. Hutchins, E.L. (1995b): Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  41. Hutchins, E.L. and L. Palen (1993): Constructing Meaning from Space, Gesture, and Talk. Discourse, tools, and reasoning: situated cognition and technologically supported environments., Lucca, Italy.Google Scholar
  42. Katzenberg, B. and J. McDermott (1994): Meaning-making in the Creation of Useful Summary Reports. Proceedings of the Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Chapel Hill, NC: ACM, pp. 199–206.Google Scholar
  43. Korpela, M., A. Mursu and H.A. Soriyan (2002): Information Systems Development as an Activity. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, vol. 11, nos. 1–2, pp. 111–128.Google Scholar
  44. Kuutti, K. (1991): The concept of Activity as a Basic Unit of Analysis for CSCW Research. Proceedings of the Second European Conference on CSCW. Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  45. Kuutti, K. (1996): Activity Theory as a Potential Framework for Human-computer Interaction Research. In B.A. Nardi (ed.), Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-computer Interaction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 17–44.Google Scholar
  46. Leont'ev, A.N. (1978): Activity, Consciousness, and Personality. Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  47. Marr, D. (1983): Vision: A Computational Investigation into the Human Representation and Processing of Visual Information. New York: W. H. Freeman & Co.Google Scholar
  48. Miettinen, R. and M. Hasu (2002): Articulating User Needs in Collaborative Design: Towards an Activity-Theoretical Approach. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, vol. 11, nos. 1–2, pp. 129–151.Google Scholar
  49. Nardi, B. (1996a): Studying Context: A Comparison of Activity Theory, Situated Action Models, and Distributed Cognition. In B. Nardi (ed.), Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-computer Interaction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  50. Nardi, B.A. (ed.) (1996b): Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-computer Interaction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  51. Nardi, B.A., S. Whittaker and H. Schwarz (2002): NetWORKers and their Activity in Intensional Networks. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, vol. 11, nos. 1–2, pp. 205–242.Google Scholar
  52. Newell, A. and H. Simon (1972): Human Problem Solving. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  53. Norman, D.A. (1991): Cognitive Artifacts. In J.M. Carroll (ed.), Designing Interaction. Psychology at the Human-computer Interface. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 17–38.Google Scholar
  54. Norman, D.A. and S.W. Draper (eds.) (1986): User Centered System Design. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  55. Perry, M. (1997): Distributed Cognition and Computer Supported Collaborative Design: The Organisation of Work in Construction Engineering. Department of Information Systems and Computing, Brunel University, UK.Google Scholar
  56. Popper, K.R. (1992 (reprint)): Logic of Scientific Discovery. Routledge.Google Scholar
  57. Raeithel, A. and B. Velichkovsky (1995): Joint Attention and Co-construction: New Ways to Foster User-designer Collaboration. In B. Nardi (ed.), Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-computer Interaction. Boston: The MIT Press, pp. 199–233.Google Scholar
  58. Rogers, Y. (2000): Recent Theoretical Developments in HCI: Their Value for Informing System Design.Google Scholar
  59. Rogers, Y. and J. Ellis (1994): Distributed Cognition: an Alternative Framework for Analysing and Explaining Collaborative Working. Journal of Information Technology, vol. 9, 119–128.Google Scholar
  60. Rouncefield, M., J. Hughes, T. Rodden and S. Viller (1994): Working with Constant Interruption: CSCW and the Small office. Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Chapel Hill, NC: ACM.Google Scholar
  61. Sacks, H. (1992): Lectures on Conversation. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  62. Sacks, H., E. Schegloff and G. Jefferson (1978): A Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-taking in Conversation. In J. Schenkein (ed.), Studies in the Organization of Conversational Interaction. New York, NY: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  63. Salomon, G. (ed.) (1993): Distributed Cognitions. Learning in doing: Social, Cognitive, and Computational Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Schiff, L, Van House, N. and M. Butler. (1997): Understanding Complex Information Environments: A Social Analysis of Watershed Planning. Proceedings of the Conference on Digital Libraries. Philadelphia, PA: ACM, pp. 161–168.Google Scholar
  65. Schmidt, K. and C. Simone (1996): Coordination Mechanisms: Towards a Conceptual Foundation of CSCW Systems Design. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, The Journal of Collaborative Computing, vol. 5, nos. 2–3, pp. 155–200.Google Scholar
  66. Shapiro, D. (1994): The Limits of Ethnography: Combining Social Sciences for CSCW. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Chapel Hill, NC, ACM.Google Scholar
  67. Simon, H.A. (1990): The Sciences of the Artificial. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  68. Spasser, M.A. (2002): Realist Activity Theory for Digital Library Evaluation: Conceptual Framework and Case Study. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, vol. 11, nos. 1–2, pp. 81–110.Google Scholar
  69. Strauss, A.L. and J.M. Corbin (1998): Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  70. Suchman, L. (1987): Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem of Human-machine Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Tolman, C.W. and B. Piekkola (1989): John Dewey and Dialectical Materialism. Activity Theory, vol. 1, nos. 3/4, pp. 43–46.Google Scholar
  72. Zager, D. (2002): Collaboration as an Activity. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, vol. 11, nos. 1–2, pp. 181–204.Google Scholar
  73. Zhang, J. and A. Norman (1991): Distributed Cognition: The Interaction of Internal and External Representations.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine A. Halverson
    • 1
  1. 1.IBM ResearchSan JoseU.S.A.

Personalised recommendations