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.

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