HCI and grounded versus speculative reasoning
There's an insightful discussion going on at "interaction culture" (Jeffrey Bardzell's blog) about grounded versus speculative reasoning in HCI. It basically revolves around how HCI, though crying out for new approaches is still based on the normative notions of science, and therefore have trouble accepting other forms of knowledge productions. Namely, more speculative forms coming from philosophy (but I would also add, to some extent, more design-based discourse). What generally happens in peer-review is the following, as decribed by Bardzell:
"Part of social science’s rigor is in “grounding.” There are two acceptable ways (well, more than two but I’m focusing on two here) to ground reasoning in social sciences: one is through the careful collection, analysis, and interpretation of data. One eye opener for me as a humanist entering HCI years ago was (to me, at that time) obsessive care with which claims were made. It seemed to me then that social scientists would only make the tiniest, safest, most conservative claims; they shied away from the bold and interesting ones that really push understanding. Now I understand why that is the case: when you are making truth claims about reality, unless you have that care, there can be serious consequences as a result of speculation not only to knowledge of a state of affairs, but also action taken based on the assumption that that knowledge is true (policymaking, design, and other human interventions intended to change our world for the better). The other acceptable way to ground reasoning is by appealing to some other authority who has already done such an analysis. In this special and limited context, appeals to authority in the social sciences are, if not logically airtight, at least able to provide the epistemological foundation required for the work of the field. (...) Philosophy and more generally the humanities, in contrast, are not as strongly oriented toward truth claims about the world as it actually is. (...) So the most important question of a philosophical paper about principles in HCI is not whether the argument is grounded (an ontological concern), but rather whether the paper helps us think more productively about our field (an epistemological concern)."
To which I generally agree, based on the comments I received on paper I submitted in journal or conferences. This sort of issue was one of the reason I turned myself to design research.
Interestingly, Adam Greenfield commented on the blogpost, which is quite interesting as "Everyware" is a highly relevant piece even if, by science standards, it falls out of academic work in HCI. An excerpt from Adam's comment:
"I’m under no illusion that my work is informed by any particular intellectual rigor, let alone anything that would pass academic muster, but by the same token I obviously feel it represents some contribution to the field. Prior to publication, my expectation was very much that my book on ubicomp would be ignored by HCI-at-large, which is to say not discussed and certainly not cited. I was very pleasantly surprised that this has not been the case, which seems to me to constitute proof from existence that the field (at least as instantiated by certain institutions and powerful individuals, and at certain times and places) is able to welcome input external to almost all of its mechanisms for assessing rigor/”groundedness.”
As far as I’m concerned, that presents a felicitous picture: one of a discipline with considerable reserves of intellectual confidence and maturity."
Why do I blog this? this is an important discussion about the evolution of a field such as HCI/interaction design. Although I generally agree with Bardzell, I hope that examples such Adam's work can pave the way for the integration of more speculative work in the field.