[MyResearch] About the relevance of importing theories in CSCW
The paper "Activity theory and distributed cognition: or What does CSCW to do with theories?" by C. Halverson discusses a very hot issue that I have to deal with for my phd: what are we doing with all the theories/conceptual framework CSCW/HCI adopted. HCI indeed 'imported' lots of framework: activity theory [engestrom; kuuti; nardi] , actor-network theory [latour], conversation analysis [goffman],coordination theory [Schmidt, nielsen, carstenson], distributed cognition theory [Halverson, hutchins, perry, rogers], ethnomethodology [Button; Hughes et al; randall et al], grounded theory [Strauss], situated action [suchman], and social/symbolic interactionism [Strauss; Star]. The problem is actually that these theories deal with the use and the study of CSCW systems but they poorly address the design of such systems.
By adopting theories from other fields we may be bringing theoretical constructs into focus that are not appropriate for CSCW. For example, activity theory and distributed cognition theory are both theories about cognition. What they can say about group interaction is based on what they say about cognition. That may be OK, depending on how we use the theory. But how do we evaluate their usefulness for us?
She then describes three uses of these theories: - descriptive power: theories are useful to described the world - rhetorical power: theories are useful to talk about the world - inferential power: theories help us to do inferences
She takes the example of Activity Theory and Distributed Cognition to show it can apply to CSCW. She shows that while both AT and DCOG are cognitively based theories they operate very differently. They direct our focus as analysts to different aspects of their respective unit of analyses based on both what they deem as important to analyze (scope of the unit) as well as how they perform the analysis, and how they communicate it.