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In this post I will mention what I want to look at for the pre-writing assignment. It will be an off-load of initial thoughts so that I can move on to the systematic process that Jeff suggested. The reason why I want to do this is to define a position and a purpose to give context and guidance to the pre-writing activities. Please jump in, comment, and help me with any thoughts you have.

I want to look at the possible ways social interaction takes place on online forums. Particularly, I will pull http://www.allepposoft.net as an exemplar, and specifically the participation of two members on that forum. My main focus is attempting to illustrate what the forum possibly meant to these two members and how they participated, projected themselves and clashed.

Alepposoft is a forum for college students in the school of Computer Science where I went for my undergrad studies. It was established around 2004 and serves mainly as a platform for hosting conversations, sharing documents, exchanging information about lectures and events, and the casual entertaining chit-chat.

The two members I’m considering were two students at the School of Computer Science at the University of Aleppo. One of them (A) was among the founders and an administrator, while the other (B) was mostly a critical voice (both at the school and on the forum). Even if risking to oversimplify I will go ahead and make an analogy of the first member (A) being a “dominant” and the second (B) being a “rogue”.

As mentioned above, my main focus is to go down to the personal experience of these two members to explain their online interaction and how the forum “hosted” their online experience and facilitated, influenced, and inhibited aspects of their interaction. As I tried to justify in a previous post, I will not completely commit to a theory (and I need your feedback on this). This is further justified, I think, by my intent to come up with statements on participation, performance, and marginalization through conversation on online platforms. This means that I have a kind of an argument to make – an argument about how features of technology facilitate and inhibit aspects of our interaction, and how this relates to physical presence when both are co-occurring (in my example of the forum, people interacted both in school and on the online forum). This sketchy argument will help guide, filter, and appropriate statements made by relevant theories… I’m thus oriented by a position and a set of questions rather than by a theory.

So what theories I am going to draw from to guide, phrase, and interpret observations? Again, my orientation is to understand a small subset of personal experiences. Gadamer’s (and Heiedgger’s) work on horizons and lifeworlds would serve to justify this and helps in examining the lifeworlds of the two members on the forum. Also, since all online interactions are mediated by technical features, I believe that at least a simple artifact analysis would make sense to give context to these individual experiences. To further elaborate on that context , and since the experiences of these two members are inherently social, social forces should be taken into account (norms, power structures). To that Hebdige and Polhemus seem to be informative in linking formal features to meaning in social contexts. Finally, and most importantly, McCarthy & Wright, Dewey, and Bakhtin would help stitch together all the bits and pieces in composing a unified vision with personal experience in the center.

To summarize, the outcome would be an understanding of what this forum stands for for its users and how they experience it in light of their lifeworlds. This would further illuminate how such socio-technical systems support certain forms of expressions and inhibit others in relation to technical features and social contexts.

I’m interested in knowing your thoughts on this!

Some keywords: social norms, marginalized individuals, religion, politics, history, personal history, conflict, values, power relations, dominance, resistance

Coming to this issue again and again in the readings and during class, I would hint to my impression – that it is restrictive and limiting to critique an interaction having a couple of theories at hand. The content in this post is probably redundant (we have talked about that in class), but still I wanted to put it in one place.

In almost all theories that we looked at, which mainly attempted to show where the meaning, aesthetics of a work are located and how they are constructed, a theory on its own does not suffice. Only in a theory that claims that a meaning of a work is contained and intrinsic to that work (a formalistic theory) then it would seem sufficient to look at the work by analyzing it’s elemental forms. Otherwise, theories often draw on others to contribute to the understanding of that work.  [Hebdige & Polehmus], for instance, explain the meaning of visual cultures in terms of social dynamics and formal styles that are co-constructed. On the other hand, expressionist approaches attempt to reconstruct an understanding of the work by examining the biography, intentions, social norms, desires, and repressions of the creator. In Gadamer’s hermenutics, although meaning and aesthetics are explained in terms of interpretation and fusion of horizons, the space remains open to incorporate other approaches to explain these horizons – approaches that use social structures, formal elements, and personal histories to satisfy some explanation of a particular work. A theory in criticism therefore is often not ready to be operationalized on its own, but  rather in a conversation with other theories and approaches.

I would agree however, that a certain theory/approach would probably take prominence in terms of the orientation that we might want to assume. Such as if we want to examine meaning that resides in and is constructed by the individual we would start by taking Gadamer or Dewey (for instance) and weave our observations in that context – that is, we would use approaches that examine the artifact, the creator, and/or the social context to explain individual interpretation and experience. Hence, a particular theory provides an orientation for the critic rather than a toolset, while the toolset  emerges with the criticism by putting supporting theories in combination and in conversation. This combination is emergent and associative as the analysis of the work takes shape.

According to all mentioned I would find it difficult to completely identify a certain set of theories and resources that are relevant in advance. While this is partially possible, it would also be healthy to let the analysis speak for itself.. I would play with the interaction that I’m examining and let meanings that emerge get freely associated with theories and resources that they trigger… I would dissolve and become an ethereal medium where the interaction can find space to get interpreted in a dialogue with diverse voices.. OK, forget the last sentence :P

I’m wirting this to clarify some confusion I had while reading Barnard’s chapter on Form and Style.

Now, here’s the thing.. Barnard illustrates the works of Hebdige and Polehmus on form and style. He makes the case that they overcome challenges to pure form/style-oriented approaches by accounting for the relation between form and the construction of meaning in relation to class, gender, and ethnic identity. He then says that such an approach is structural because it is primarily concerned with internal characteristics (formal visual elements) and their configurations. However, in this demonstrations I feel that he implies that class, gender, and ethnicity have nothing to do with structures. I would say that Hebdige’s and Polehmus’s works are also structural because and not in spite of being considered in relation class, gender, and ethnicity. This is because class, gender and ethnicity are structural constructs.. what else can they be?.. They all are types of categories that group people into structures to understand their relationships and oppositions.. It is the case that as soon that we attempt to understand anything that is generalizable to more than one individual then we follow a structural approach.. that’s because we would be talking about groups and patterns with relations to each other.

In that sense, all approaches that attempt to understand social contexts are inherently structural.. When we want to learn about a population that we design for then we are following a structural approach. We might account for personal experience, but by the very act of generalizing our findings and assuming that people share commonalities (or recognitional strategies) then we are back to being structurally-oriented.. Surveys and interviews are structurally oriented methods.. Even individual and situated methods such as contextual inquiry and ethnography are deemed to generalizing patterns over groups of people, and therefore they are structurally-oriented..So, as Thomas argued, a quest of a designer in developing and inter-subjective sensibility to understand people is ultimately about understanding structures and how people identify their being as situated in structures.

In summary, I’m wondering whether every form of accounting for social contexts is structurally oriented. I say yes, and therefore a designer (in a way) should develop sensibility to understand these structures and their relationships to meaning and experience.

Thought of attempting initiate a small summary of where an author-oriented analysis and critique could help in interaction design..

  • The most explicit use is to be able examine the circumstances and the identity of the maker to inform our understanding of the interaction itself.
  • Understanding the author/maker can inform our own practices. We could draw on the analysis of other designers/authors/makers to reflect on our own methods, techniques, values, and relationships while we learn about our spaces and compose our solutions.
  • In observing how the identity and circumstances of an author/designer contributes to the making of the work, we can employ this understanding into observing our selves during design.. We therefore become more aware of the meanings we are imposing and question whether we want these meanings to be embedded in the design.

Thoughts?

Up till now, we kind of had some chances to review some works of criticism and to practice some on the blog. However, we did not have much chance to practice critiquing digital interactions.. I thought we might be interested in that since we are seeking to cultivate sensibility and the ability to do close reading of interactions.

Maybe we could find some interesting exemplars around us or online.. or maybe we can even pull some designs from our own previous projects and critique them.. That way we could draw direct connection between design and criticism while having a personal connection to the subject of critique.

What think you?

Here’s some serious ad to analyze :)

I guess the creator had a repressed desire for kicking asses.. tenderly :P

I deeply appreciate the culmination that this article leads to after getting introduced to various topics in the past two weeks.

As Jeff mentions, the article is concerned with professional criticism which is explained to require developing sensibility and expertise in the field. It further implies, through examples that are pulled from the literature, that criticism is formed around art, certain works, or what Turner referred to as “cultural expressions”. This is enforced by the parallel drawn to support interaction criticism as a deep involvement to achieve a better understanding during and after design.

However, and here’s my inquiry, it seems that interaction criticism (as well as criticism) revolves around the design of the artifact itself.. Although is concerned with the artifact, the context, the user, and the designer, it still starts from an “artifact” or “work of art” perspective. Criticism as described seems that it is also useful in examining any cultural activity.. any social situation.. any human condition, such as a conversation with a friend, cooking dinner, or feeling crappy after doing bad on the exam. By employing criticism here means that it becomes useful as inquiry prior to design; a lens to understand people and their “micro cultural expressions” in addition to considering the potential “interface” or “design” or “work of art”.

Well, now upon writing that I think I bypassed the definition of criticism, and restated what is already established in ethnography: to negotiate a deeper understanding of people’s subjectivity.. I don’t know.. Please help me distill this out!

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