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Joshua Bell!
Born in good ol’ Bloomington, Indiana.
This grammy winning violinist is a world renown artist.

In 2007, The Washington Post arranged a little social experiment – “an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”

Here is the gist of it – Bell appeared incognito at the L’Enfant Plaza Metros station and played 6 classical pieces for 43 minutes on a Monday morning at 7:30 am. 1,097 people passed by. 7 people stopped for about a minute to listen to him. 27 people gave him some change which amounted to a grand total of $32.17.

Here is the full article .

If we skim past the usual we’re-too-busy-to-watch-the-sunrise drone, the article makes some very interesting points that I believe are VERY relevant to what we have been talking in the class. Here are a few excerpts. (The article, IMO, is scholarly for a post!)

It’s an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the koan about the tree in the forest. Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?”

“Before he began, Bell hadn’t known what to expect. What he does know is that, for some reason, he was nervous.
“It wasn’t exactly stage fright, but there were butterflies,” he says. “I was stressing a little.”
Bell has played, literally, before crowned heads of Europe. Why the anxiety at the Washington Metro?
“When you play for ticket-holders,” Bell explains, “you are already validated. I have no sense that I need to be accepted. I’m already accepted. Here, there was this thought: What if they don’t like me? What if they resent my presence . . .”
He was, in short, art without a frame.

The last line in particular struck a chord with me – art without a frame . It is easier to simply brush this off by simply naming the passer-by’s as uncouth or preach about the values of slowing down or adopt a defensive stance about the fact that it was 7:30 am on a Monday morning. I think there lies a much more valuable observation for us to make, specifically in the context of this class.

Is there ever a right frame for art? Can art ever be without a frame? Is art in itself a frame?

Thoughts/comments welcome!


In our class yesterday Jeff was talking about different definitions of style. I thought it would be useful for my paper to go through our book, Barnard’s Approaches to Understanding Visual Culture, to gather different definitions.

Meyer Schapiro defines style as

“constant form – sometimes the constant element, qualities, and expression in art of an individual or group” (Barnard, p. 173)

Barnard himself uses Schapiro’s definition to inform his own definition of style as

“the consistency in the way an individual or group treats the formal elements of art or visual culture” (Barnard, p. 173)

Hebdige, in the chapter on Formalism and Structuralism defines style as

“intentional communication, as homology and a signifying practice” (Barnard, p. 187)

In the chapter on Marxism Hadjinicolaou says that style

“stems from the society which produces it.” He goes on to say that style is “both form and content” and that it “belongs to a class or section of a class” (Barnard, p. 122-123)

Hadjinicolaou then agrees with Antal’s definition of style as

“a specific combination of the elements of subject and form” (Barnard, p. 123)

I think it’s clear that these notions and definitions of style all vary in some way, which makes style a bit hard to clearly define. Are there other definitions of style that might inform my paper?

Further on, Barnard talks about Hadjinicolauo’s definition of visual ideology which I find interesting. Hadjinicolauo defines visual ideology as

“a specific combination of the formal and thematic elements of a practice through which people express the way they relate their lives to the conditions of their existence.” (Barnard, p. 123)

Today, I was hard at work in the ‘fish bowl’ or white board room in the new Design Studio. I had laid out about 7 papers, 2 books, and my laptop as resources. I quickly went through my cliff notes from all the papers I had before me to refresh my mind. After getting situated I started scrawling on the white boards. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I wrote around the entire room. Every surface has some sort of writing upon it. I was mentally empty, but not ‘drained’.

After a quick break, I came back in an effort to “climate control” my brainstorm session (Bardzell, 2010). I took up some markers and started jotting down some quesitons. I started making connections between readings. Circling here, arrows everywhere, doodles strewn acorss the walls. I was feeling good and making some awesome connections, when I had a sudden insight, which I quicky and sloppy wrote on the wall. I was looking to form a connection between formal elements of a design (the critique feature on Deviant Art) and the experience of leaving a critique. I could ‘see’ how it all fit in my mind, but I couldn’t really explain it.

I had been in this spot before with my post on Flickr. But this time was different. After my last post, I went and talked with Jeff. We spoke of how I could use some theories that we had been learning to bridge this gap between formal elements and experience. But, I had no real idea how to do this. Today, I might have made the leap.

Here is the insight I had. Bell talks about formal (intrinsic elements) but leaves out social influences. Hebdige and Polhemus bridge formal elements to style which is hard to take directly to interaction design. Then Lowgren takes style to Interaction (styles) with Use Qualities (the piece I was missing before). Finally Dewey and Baktin can bridge interaction to experience.

In a more simple form, it looks like this:

I’m wondering what other people think. Does this make sense to you? Does it seem like a good direction in which to head? I think that most of my argument relies on this bridging, so commentary would help a lot. Thanks! Also, to add more context, if needed, here is my pre-writing work. HillJohnWayne_pre-writing.

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 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 😛

[Note: This post was originally shared on my own blog, but I’ve re-posted here because I thought it might be interesting]

In looking at exemplars of photo sharing and critiquing sites, I’ve attempted to list out the formal qualities of each particular website. In this post I’ll be specifically looking at Flickr. I’ll list out the formal qualities found throughout most of Flickr, focus in on a photo page, look at Flickr groups, and finally try to draw out an interaction style of Flickr.

Formal Qualities of Flickr

Through Flickr the following formal qualities can be found, in no particular order:
Read the rest of this entry »

After reading about the seven beauties of San Francisco, I MEAN SCIENCE FICTION, I immediately challenged it and was thinking, “Great. Here’s another reading about ‘something’ and I have no idea why we are reading this and how it applies to interaction design.”

Well, I’m going to try and apply (some of) the seven beauties to interaction design. Reflecting on this reading, I tried to think a bit more about HCI/d, what we do in class, what we learn in class and everything else that encompasses our study. As practitioners, we need to design for the future, possibly making science fiction reality, however, (I think) we do it on a much much smaller scale than what science fiction is really perceived to be. We try to design for five to ten years into the future.

Fictive neology:

“Readers of sf expect to encounter new words and other signs that indicate worlds changed from their own” (Csicsery-Ronay 5).

Since, in many cases, we are creating something new or even when enhancing something we will add a particular uniqueness to our artifact by naming and labeling it. For example, as a group project last year in one class, our group created a prototype of a scavenger/treasure hunt game we called “Seekaboo”. A non-existent term which we brought into the world as real.

Fictive novums:

“The concept of the novum, introduced in sf studies by Darko Suvin, refers to a historically unprecedented and unpredicted “new thing” that intervenes in the routine coures of social life and changes the trajectory of history” (Csicsery-Ronay 5).

I think this one is more obvious than others because of the fact that in many cases we end up creating new artifacts from our designs. (Facebook? Military drones?)

Future history:

“Although sf need not always be set in the future, the genre is inherently future-oriented” (Csicsery-Ronay 6).

WOW, we as designers are extremely future oriented because of the simple fact that we ARE designing for the future, but more importantly we explicitly focus on designing for the future (hence 5+ years).

Imaginary Science: Skipping. More below.

Science-fictional sublime:

“Of all contemporary genres, sf is the one most expected to evoke the experience of the sublime” (Csicsery-Ronay 6).

Seriously, just take a look at the iPhone, which took the world by storm. The iPhone pretty much redefined the role of the mobile phone

Science-fictional grotesque: Skipping. More below.

The technologiade: Skipping. More below.

Okay, so I only took a few of the seven beauties because the ones I skipped I probably didn’t fully understand it enough to relate it to HCI. I would like to hear what others have to say about this and if it is even appropriate to use the seven beauties of science fiction in relation to HCI. I think some of these really do connect and make sense when looking at what we do. Thoughts? Comments?

Also, did anyone else keep reading San Francisco when they saw “sf”?

I am having trouble finding where Bell, or others from this school of thought, actually define art. Without it, their argument for excluding certain contextual relationships in favor of others becomes kind of… irrelevant. I mean, if it’s not proper to view the painting in context of my past experience, then I have no choice but to frame it through my current experience only.

However, what parts of that current experience am I expected to ignore? In the case of a painting, would it be everything outside of a canvas frame that that isn’t specifically intended to visually stimulate my senses? Even when locked into a current experience, the amount of information I’m processing at that moment in order to make sense of the thing I’m concentrating on is monumental. For that matter, what is considered the current experience is completely convoluted, since I have to draw on my past experience of .234 seconds ago to make sense of the thing I just moved my eye to.

I’m wondering if these issues are worked out anywhere, and I just blurred over them. Completely possible. Either way, any thoughts about it from you guys?

Clive Bell says

To “appreciate a work of art we need bring with us nothing from life, no knowledge of its ideas and affairs, no familiarity with its emotions” (Barnard,p. 171)

I find it strange that the above is considered to be a weakness. To see something with no attachments or associations, to look at an object as if one had never seen it before seems instead to be a strength. If one looks upon an object and sees (not the object) but the associations that the object brings to one’s consciousness, then are all objects perceived nothing more than the summation of the individual’s associations and attachments?

And what about the object itself? If you put too much attention towards associations and attachments, then some type of reality or quality inherent to the object might be ignored or forgotten.

It seems better to look and detach from one’s mind every association, good, bad, and neutral. So that one can see the object as if they have never seen it before.

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.