The Social Construction of Displays

Coordinate Displays and Ecologically Distributed Networks
  • Andy Crabtree
  • Terry Hemmings
  • Tom Rodden
Part of the The Kluwer International series on Computer Supported Cooperative Work book series (CSCW, volume 2)


We employ ethnography to consider the nature of existing non-electronic ‘displays’ in the home. The word display is placed in scare quotes to draw attention to the act of displaying. Seen from the point of view of action it is evident that displays are socially constructed by people in their routine interactions with the material technologies available in the settings where their actions are situated. Through the use of a setting’s material technologies to construct mutually intelligible displays for one another people come to coordinate their actions. Our ethnographic studies show that these ‘coordinate displays’ are distributed across a variety of locations within a setting. Taken together these displays articulate an ecologically distributed network elaborating the unique needs of particular environments and requirements for the development of computer support for cooperative work. We elaborate this point of view through an ethnographic study of the coordinate displays implicated in mail use in the home environment.

Key words

Ethnography home mail coordinate displays. 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Blumer, H. Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.Google Scholar
  2. Bowers, J. and Rodden, T. Exploding the interface. Proceedings of the ACM INTERCHI '93 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1993; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; 255 - 262. Amsterdam: ACM Press.Google Scholar
  3. COMIC Deliverable 2.1 Informing CSCW Requirements, Esprit Basic Research Project 6225; 1994; Lancaster University: Computing Department. pub/comic/Google Scholar
  4. Crabtree, A. Designing Collaborative Systems: A Practical Guide to Ethnography, London: Springer-Verlag, 2003.Google Scholar
  5. Duchenaut, N. and Bellotti, V. Email as habitat. Interactions 2001; 8 (5): 30 - 38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Garfinkel, H. Studies in Ethnomethodology, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1967.Google Scholar
  7. Garfinkel, H. “Respecification: evidence for locally produced, naturally accountable phenomena of order.” In Ethnomethodology and the Human Sciences, Graham Button, ed, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.Google Scholar
  8. Garfinkel, H. Working Out Durkheim’s Aphorism: Ethnomethodology’s Program (ed. Rawls, A. ), Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001.Google Scholar
  9. Grudin, J. Interface. Proceedings of the CSCW’90 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work; 1990; Los Angeles, California; 269-278, ACM Press.Google Scholar
  10. Gwizdka, J. Timely reminders: a case study of temporal guidance in PIM and email tools usage. Proceedings of the CHI ‘00 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems; 2000; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; 163-164, ACM Press.Google Scholar
  11. Harper, R., Evergeti, V., Hamill, L. and Strain, J. Paper-mail in the home of the 21st Century: an analysis of the future of paper mail and implications for the design of electronic alternatives; 2000; Digital World Research Centre, The University of Surrey. Scholar
  12. Hindus, D. The importance of homes in technology research. Proceedings of the 2nd International Workshop on Cooperative Buildings; 1999; Pittsburg, PA, USA; 199 - 207; Pittsburgh: Springer.Google Scholar
  13. Kensing, F. and Simonsen, J. Using ethnography in contextual design. Communications of the ACM 1997; 40 (7): 82 - 88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lynch, M. Scientific Practice and Ordinary Action, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.Google Scholar
  15. Mackay, W. More than just a communication system: diversity in the use of electronic mail. ACM Transactions on Information Systems 1988; 6 (4): 380 - 397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. O’Brien, J., Rodden, T., Rouncefield, M. and Hughes, J.A. At home with the technology. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction 1999; 6 (3): 282 - 308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Sacks, H. “Notes on methodology.” In Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, Maxwell, J.M. and Heritage, J., eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.Google Scholar
  18. Schmidt, K. and Bannon, L. Taking CSCW seriously: supporting articulation work. Computer Supported Cooperative Work: An International Journal 1992; 1 (1): 7 - 40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Shapiro, D. The limits of ethnography: combining social sciences for CSCW. Proceedings of CSCW ‘94 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work; 1994; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; 417-428, ACM Press.Google Scholar
  20. Suchman, L. Office procedures as practical action: models of work and system design. ACM Transactions on Office Information Systems, 1983; 1 (4): 320 - 328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Suchman, L. and Trigg, R. “Understanding practice: video as a medium for reflection and design.” In Design at Work: Cooperative Design of Computer Systems, Greenbaum, J. and Kyng, M., eds. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991.Google Scholar
  22. Suchman, L. Making work visible. Communications of the ACM 1995; 38 (9): 56 - 64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Tolmie, P., Pycock, J., Diggins, T., Maclean, A. and Karsenty, A. Unremarkable computing, Proceedings of the CHI ‘02 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems; 2002; Minneapolis, MN, USA; 399-406, ACM PressGoogle Scholar
  24. Venkatesh, A. A conceptualization of the household/technology interaction. Advances in Consumer Research 1985; 12: 189 - 194.Google Scholar
  25. Venkatesh, A. Computers and other interactive technologies for the home. Communications of the ACM 1996; 39 (12): 47 - 54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Venkatesh, A. and Nicosia, F. New technologies for the home. Advances in Consumer Research, 1997; 24: 522 - 528.Google Scholar
  27. Venolia, G.D., Dabbish, L., Cadiz, J.J. and Anoop, G. Supporting email workflow, 2001; Microsoft Research, Report MSR-TR-2001-88, scripts/pubs/view.asp?TR_ID=MSR-TR-2001-88Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andy Crabtree
    • 1
  • Terry Hemmings
    • 1
  • Tom Rodden
    • 1
  1. 1.University of NottinghamUK

Personalised recommendations