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So, this reading immediately took me back to my childhood and all the films my mom liked to watch. I watched them by proxy much like I listened to Reba McEntire and watched endless hours of The Golden Girls and The Nanny. Anyway, on page 211 I started humming 9 to 5. It’s a pretty terrible song, and after some searching, I found the movie the song is featured in ala Dolly Parton.

Note the power dressing circa 1980 and oddly inserted window into the studio session with a scantily dressed Dolly Parton.

This reading got me thinking of movies as windows into culture and time periods. I like to do this activity for home movies, too. But to the point, this idea of the technological self is really intriguing as we externalize our identity, but it is very much shaped by the medium. How is the current technological age affecting our day to day appearances and identities? I read an article in the Economist today talking about the underwear language. that cited an article discussing how texting is shaping spoken Swiss German, so much so that the dialect is nearly unintelligible to German speakers. There is a process of shaping and being shaped here, and I am sure people better equipped with knowledge than myself have discussed it.

One more line of thought this reading provoked was the idea of the cultural development of visual language and how since we have this recorded medium, we can nearly watch the evolution and development unfold through different contexts of use. I kind of imagine different types of ‘power dressers’ all hanging around together and grouping themselves so the patterns emerge. Concerning this idea and relating it back to my area of interest, Info Vis, this language is developing and is observable. I’m thinking of historical and situational contexts of use for instance with pie charts. Pie charts have become over-used and misused so that the community rejects them. However, they didn’t start out so hated (insert history lesson here). Maps have different contexts of use that have evolved over time starting with literal navigation purposes, to then being re-appropriated to navigate abstracts fields of thought. This is rough, but I just wanted to share some of my musings inspired by the reading. I’m sure they will get revisited soon.

Mudit posted a comment in the “Severe” game storytelling post by Brian that got me thinking. Mudit said our profile pics were our avatars. This special nature of those pics justifies having a separate album of just profile photos for each person. The “profile pic” album is a history of our portrayal of ourselves. I can look back and see how I used to be a much bigger douche. I don’t currently consider myself a douche, but countless other people doubtlessly do, and my future selves may as well. The profile pic allows me to reflect on who I was… and through an act of comparison, allows me to understand who I am.

The new Facebook timeline is a stronger version of the same thing.  They’re both potential tools for personal reflection. That is pretty cool.

The denotation of the timeline is a list of dates and associated pictures. The connotation is a reflection of my life and a way to understand who I am, both as a function of my personal history and as a comparison to something (douche) that I no longer am (at least as I understand the term now).

This TED talk explains how an artifact affects our current culture.

Behold the coffee lid – gateway to hot caffeinated energy for the drinker on-the-go.

Signifier – the text used on the lid serves as an interface between the contents of the cup and eyes of the user (coffee drinker). In this sense, the lid itself (sign) is a specifically formed hunk of plastic that simultaneously maintains temperature within the cup and prevents spilling. It is a seal, separating the contents of the cup from the outside world. It is also an interface, creating a small point of interaction between contents and the outside world for the express purpose of consuming what is inside.

Signified – The lid, as a whole, represents the contents of the cup. The text on the lid itself is representative of its contents. Although this particular lid has no marks on it, labels are present so that the coffee can be marked as decaf or regular. More broadly speaking, the lid represents the fact that the contents of the cup are something that is desirable (due to it’s ability to interface) but that also should be kept contained. The label of it as a “traveller” lid points to the fact that the contents are meant to travel. This speaks to the social context of the consumption of the contents. This is not something that should maintain a high degree of attention (to avoid spills) nor is it something that should always be enjoyed in the same place. The lack of ornament and the general cheapness of construction speaks to an item that is disposable – it serves its purpose briefly, and then can be tossed aside, only to be replaced by another just like it.

Monaco reading (Pg 160)

Using the above concepts, what can we say about ‘an interaction’?

Barnard claims that there are two intellectual traditions from which stem all understanding [of visual culture]: the “structural tradition” (fairly self-explanatory) and the “hermeneutic tradition” (understanding and meaning as the business of individuals.) I’m wondering if anyone else finds this dichotomy bizarre or troubling in any way. While I certainly won’t argue with Barnard that these may be two of the most fundamental foundations for understanding [visual culture] I feel uneasy accepting these as the only two – especially since hermeneutic seems like a bit of a cop-out to me. After all, some structural interpretation is certainly subjective to personal perspective; but then again, Barnard even specifically cites that there is overlap, methods that inhabit both traditions.

I guess my problem is that he is saying we either understand because of the structures inherent [in visual culture] or because how we as individuals bring our unique perspectives to our perceptions and understanding of cultural norms and artefacts. Now, I’m as much an interpretivist as the next girl, but is Barnard suggesting that there is no discovery way of knowing, no real “Truth” that can be known? Where does Barnard draw the line between “knowing” and “understanding?” Can we truly ever “know” what visual culture means? In that case, as scholars, how do we reconcile the need for a class such as this, for an “understanding” or interaction culture, when there is no real truth?

I don’t have answers for all of these questions, but I think they open the door to some potentially interesting questions…


***I forgot to update my post last night, but I realized after completing the second (Cross) reading for this class that I had read the incorrect Barnard for today. By the time I realized this and rectified that reading snafu, I had forgotten about coming and updating my blog post to be more relevant. Sorry! 😛

Some Like It Hot: Friction in Interaction Design

Abstract: In the field of Human-Computer Interaction, onscreen digital interfaces continue to evolve as a primary means of interacting with digital artifacts. In many ways, however, the development of meaningful and compelling onscreen interactions has been sparse. In this paper, formal qualities of interactions in video games, referred to as “frictions” by Tim Rogers, will first be examined through the lens aesthetic theory for their potential to create a compelling and meaningful interaction. Afterwards, friction’s usefulness outside of the arena of video games will be considered.


Thanks for your help, everyone!


if anyone who was linked here from kotaku wants to see my other work, feel free to check it out and comment!


I want to expand on my previous post about Etsy Gifts. I’ve been thinking about this some more and I want to pose the argument that Etsy gifts is a mediocre gift suggestion system because it is based in structuralism, when the best gifts come from a phenomenological understanding of a persons lifeworld or a relationships fusion of horizons.

We’ve explored phenomenology over the course of this semester. Phenomenology as an approach to studying culture“stresses the role of the individual consciousness in understanding. Here understanding is either something that individuals do or something that happens to individuals :either way it is the product of specific, intentional, historically and spatially located individual awareness.” It “principally concerned with the elements of human experience” [1]. Barnard discusses how the interpreter as well as the artist (author) both have intentions. These intentions are the “beliefs, hopes, fears, and desires about the world and its contents an individual has at any one time.” [2]  These intentions are all different for each individual. They change and are dependent on an individual’s context. Each individual also has a lifeworld of their own; a set of horizons which are constructed through an individuals experiences.

Giving a gift is a phenomenological action because it requires the giver to interpret and understand the lifeworld of the gift receiver. This is wrapped in context, interpretation, subjective understanding of a person, and awareness of the other individual. If we related gift giving to Gadamaer’s explain of understanding in a hermeneutic perspective, it is a “mediation, a fusing of the horizons” [2].

Etsy gifts fails to take a phenomenological approach because it does not take into account that the computer doesn’t recognize the lifeworlds of me and Jeff. I am a student he is teacher. It doesn’t consider that he is male (earrings). It does not take into account that toilet paper with Obama’s face on it was not meant for someone who supports Obama. The application removes context from the item being presented, the meaning of a search term (supporting Obama vs not), and the relationship between the giver and receiver of the gift.

We’ve also discussed structuralism. Barnard discusses this in terms of the mind saying that the mind “operates in terms of categories. These categories, sets of distinctions and oppositions form structures. These structures may be used to understand the external world. Consequently, they may also be used to understand the culture that is itself using them. These categories, these structures, are not under the control of individuals. They are a product of mind, or consciousness, but they are not the products of individual minds or consciousness” [2]. Facebook uses these structures and categories to help users construct a profile or online identity of themselves. You can select if you are a part of the population that identifies themselves as a swimmer (or not), singer (or not), shopper (or not), etc.

A friend’s profile consists of terms that create an identity of themselves. What they are interested in or like, what they see as important to share and represent, etc. In a way, the actual creation of this profile is somewhat hermeneutic because they have determined what information is important to share or not. They have selected the language used to describe themselves. However, the profile itself is situated in a structuralist way through the links created by Facebook. Clicking on “swimming” will go to a swimming page which connects everyone in the “I like swimming” category. The same thing happens when an Etsy seller posts an item. They use “tags” to assign labels to each item. These tags categorize and group certain items together


It is this profile information that provides Etsy Gifts with the information for the gift recommendations. When Etsy Gifts gives a user recommendation, they use these categories of interests to search for items. Each interest just becomes a word or a phrase, but does not take other pieces of information into context. Barnard stated “These categories, these structures, are not under the control of individuals” but these structures have been created by developers of the Facebook API and the Etsy application. They have completely left out social context, and rather based the recommendations on word or phrases.

So, again, Etsy gifts is a mediocre gift suggestion system because it is based in structuralism, when the best gifts come from a phenomenological understanding of a persons lifeworld or a relationships fusion of horizons.

What improvements could be made to make this gifting application more phenomenological? Take context into consideration. Look not only for key search terms but also at the relationship between the friends, ages, gender, context of the terms (Obama example), etc.


[1] Dourish, Paul. (2001). Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. Cambridge: MIT Press.

[2] Barnard, Malcolm. (2001). Approaches to Understanding Visual Culture. New York: Palgrave.

Etsy recently launched “Gift Ideas for Facebook Friends describes the feature as follows:

“The Gift Ideas for Facebook Friends tool gives shopping for friends and family a new twist by connecting with Facebook to find gift ideas based on their public profile information. When you connect to Facebook using Gift Ideas, Etsy can suggest items to you related to the likes and interests of your Facebook friends.”

Great! I don’t have to work quite as hard coming up with Christmas gift ideas for Jeff! Let’s see what Etsy and Facebook suggested I get him:

Interesting, we have some nice accessories that relate to some class novels and embroidered toilet paper. Would I give any of these things to Jeff as a gift? Most likely not. This has not accomplished the task of making my Christmas shopping list easier to figure out.

Etsy Gifts, Netflix recommendations, Amazon recommendations, or other similar search and recommendation sites, all have a major issue. These features don’t have lifeworlds and can never have the context that we has humans have. These sites are built in a very structuralist way: does the key phrase “Barack Obama” appear in the title of an item on sale? Yes, put it in the results. No, don’t put it in the results. However, building search and recommendation results based on this binary opposition misses a lot of the key contexts. Someone who likes Barack Obama most likely won’t use toilet paper with his face on it — the connotations of that just don’t quite match up to real feelings about Mr. President.

Now as a shopper, I can look at these results and know that I’ve never seen Jeff in dangly earrings and he most likely won’t hang a crocheted Obama tapestry in his office as it would clash with his current decor. Because of my lifeworld and my interpretation of Jeff’s lifeworld, I can make a judgment on the appropriateness of a gift. This falls in line with the phenomenological perspective.

I want to take this one step further: how do we construct the identity of a person through applications like this? Jeff did his part by making a publicly available list of things he likes or is interests him:

This isn’t a holistic view of Jeff, but it is one that he constructed as a way to represent himself. This profile screen shot is only a fragment of Jeff. takes a fraction of this fragment by only displaying 11 of his many interests listed.

In modernism, the self is seen as static and unified where as in post-modernism the self is fragmented and is continually being constructed through remediation, appropriation, and construction of fragments. Initially, computers were designed for efficiency, and unity but as they become more ubiquitous, they have become “universal media machines” (Manovich) where information is fragmented and we must use them and our knowledge of culture to construct our understandings.

When one constructs an online profile, they pick fragments of who they are and post them online. There is a disconnect between who they are in a profile and who they are in real life. What I see on for Jeff does not do an accurate job of portraying the Jeff Bardzell that I know. Sharon Turkle wrote :

As we stand on the boundary between the real and the virtual, our experience recalls what the anthropologist Victor Turner termed a liminal moment, a moment of passage when new cultural symbols and meanings can emerge. Liminal moment are times of tension, extreme reactions, and great opportunity.

I don’t feel like is using this liminal moment of self-identify as an opportunity. It isn’t exploiting the possibilities because it is stuck in its code, where ones identity, although initially constructed by themselves on facebook, has been distorted and reduced to a point where it doesn’t really grasp who a person is, what their interests are, or how to shop for them. doesn’t know that I am Jeff’s student, that I’ve never seen him with dangle earrings, and doesn’t know the connotations of toilet paper with someones face on it. It doesn’t know who Jeff is as a whole, or who I am as a whole, or any of that. Sure, it’s fun to play around with, but it doesn’t accomplish its intended  goal of finding gifts for someone.

Special thanks to Christian Briggs and his i310 material from Fall 2008, I hope I didn’t butcher it too much 🙂

In class on Thursday I was getting caught up on the word “Identity” and I’d like to use this post to discuss different meanings of identity.

Jeff wrote “Difference vs Identity” on the board refering to structuralism and phenomenology* where difference stood for the idea that nothing has meaning in itself but rather only has meaning when it is in a network and creates oppositions where was Identity was the idea that someone or something had inherent properties, it has an essence, and this was not dependent on context.

So how does this idea of Identity as essentialism relate back to the idea of ones personal identity? For me, the two are very interrelated. Identity in the essentialism way states that I have some sort of Katie-ness which is intact even when my context changes. However, I think that my Katie-ness is constructed based on my past experiences. It is what we experience in life that shapes our lifeworld. If my lifeworld changes do I still have the same essences as Katie? How do these two relate to each other?

In class, Jeff seemed to have a fairly strong stand on this, although we didn’t really get into his thoughts on it. I’m curious what others in the class thought about this. Can we separate who we are from our lifeworld and experiences? How do they related to each other? Do they relate to each other? What exactly is the difference between Identity and Identity?

* Can Phenomenology and Hermeneutics be used interchangeably? I’ve been using them interchangeably but I’m not sure if there is some subtle difference between the two that I missed…