Forgive the personal reflections embedded in this post, however there is substance. After the first few weeks of challenging myself to dive deep into such heady material in an attempt to understand the underpinnings of various fields of thought, the most recent Smith reading puts me in familiar territory: I read it. I understood it. I can dig it. If I spent just a little more time organizing my thoughts on all of this theory, I could write some seriously fancy-pants papers that might even get published.

But then I force myself to switch gears and remember that I am not headed into academia anytime soon. I will hopefully be in a design job in about a year, and as tempting as it may seem, I don’t want to be known as the designer that talks about Foucault and Saussure but has no clue how they apply to my job. So in the middle of this reading my brain switched from “understand the history of how micro theories of culture have come about and how they are situated in cultural studies with regards to macro theories of culture” to:

“Understand the history of blah blah blah blah…What does this mean to interaction design?”

I in no way mean to impugn what we are reading or learning thus far in this class. I am all about it. I just feel that, for myself, I have perhaps been focused too much on trying to deeply understand all of this stuff without stepping back and looking at how it applies to interaction design. So with a monocle of practicality I honed in on a particular passage in this reading:

[Studies of “work”] involve the use of conversation analysis to study settings like doctor’s consultations, telephone helplines, and school classrooms. The idea here is to detect how the kinds of devices identified by Garfinkel and Sacks allow people to get their job done. A major focus is on the ways that the “setting” for the interaction is something to which members reflexively organize their behavior, providing both a resource for intersubjectivity and an outcome of their activities.

Hallelujah! This is exactly what I have been looking for: something in the readings that directly applies to interaction design. Let’s read the passage again and replace a few words to make it a little more “Interaction Design-ish.”

Critiques of “interaction or experience” involve the use of various HCI methods of observation (including critique) to study settings like doctor’s consultations, telephone helplines, school classrooms, etc. The idea here is to detect (and critique) how the design of devices, artifacts, and systems allow people to get their jobs done, navigate their daily lives, interact with other people, etc. A major focus (among many) is on the ways that the “setting” for the interaction or experience is something to which users reflexively organize their behavior, providing both a resource for intersubjectivity and an outcome of their activities.

This brings us to: What should these studies or critiques look like? What types of approaches can we use to say or understand something new about these “settings?” For our purposes the answer is bi-focal lenses: phenomenology and structuralism. As this paper points out, macro and micro approaches to cultural theory are not opposite or competing, and insomuch as phenomenology and structuralism can be attributed to macro and micro approaches (can they?), they basically mean nothing without each other. Granted, I can’t immediately turn that into practical design advice or heuristics (as if this is even something to aspire to). But at least I can begin to frame all of this with regards to interaction design, which for all intents and purposes is what Jeff is trying to get us to do.

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