System, Lifeword, Artifacts -> Design

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Benjamin Belton
Earthlight Design

This pattern is meant to further address the "Colonization of the Lifeworld" antipattern described in Pattern #177 "Reclaming the Lifeworld" by providing an abstract, but specific, set of relationships that need to be described and analyzed to create socially constructive design processes.


This pattern can (and should) co-occur with any design activity that might affect

  • a social or physical system
  • an individual or group lifeworld
  • the creation or change of a designed artifact.

The Archaeology of Cyberspace:
Material Culture and Information

A more visual discussion may be found here

How can we systematically investigate the social aspects of information in a theoretically grounded way?
An outline of a social science/cultural studies model for critical information research
Leading to a material culture approach to critical information research
And a proposal for a method to elucidate what significance and meaning interactions have for users

Barnard et al., “Macrotheory for Systems of Interactors,” (ACM TOCHI 2000, 2)
Johan Galtung, Methodology and Ideology (1978)
Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action (1987)
Wolfgang Iser, The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response (1978)
Niklas Luhmann, Social Systems (1995), & The Reality of the Mass Media (2000)
M.B. Schiffer, The Material Culture of Human Beings: Artifacts, Behavior, and Communication (1999)

A Social Science/Cultural Studies Model for Information Science Research
This model from Galtung, Methodology and Ideology (1978)
Data + theory → Empiricism
Data + values → Criticism
Values + theory → Constructivism

HCI Efforts to Integrate Theory
Barnard et al: HCI (Human Computer Interaction) theory is currently a “boundless domain” [similar arguments are made re IS]
Local theories adapted form many disciplines Cannot abandon theory
Unproductive to develop “more and more unconnected local theories at different levels and in different domains”
Current theory runs risk of resulting in “range of theories dealing with individual user performance, of the behavior of groups, and of larger organizations”, and so
These theories are “unlikely to ‘fit together’ in a coherent way to resolve the conceptual jigsaw puzzles that exist in real design spaces”
Barnard proposes a macrotheoretical approach

Macrotheory in HCI
[B=Basic Interactors; C=Constituent Interactors]
HCI needs
“Type 1” microtheories of interactors and macrotheories of their interaction
“Type 2” theories that specify the semantic transformations that occur when moveing from one layer of systems to another
System is “a collection of components that are linked together in some arrangement and interact, thus producing behavior at that system level”
Note that Barnard et al do not
explicitly include social systems (although no conceptual reason not to)
nor do they explicity include intersubjectivity

System and Lifeworld in Social Science Models
Lifeworld: constituted through intersubjective interaction and through the media of language and culture; includes institutions and personality structures; action-oriented; site of social integration
System (= sum social systems): provides steering mechanisms for lifeworlds; fulfills conditions for maintenance of sociocultural lifeworlds (money, e.g.)
Societies are simultaneously systems and lifeworlds; System and lifeworld interpenetrate one another
May actually be easier to conceptualize from the standpoint of the “virtual archaeologist

System, Lifeworld, and Artifact
Draws from Michael Brian Schiffer, Material Culture of Human Beings
In tradition of Birdwhistell’s non-verbal communication and Edward T. Hall’s proxemics
Extends communication theory to include artifacts as interactors at the same level as humans [note parallels to HCI]
Information systems would be in the artifact plane, intersecting with the social system of technology and the lifeworld
This model allows social systems and intersubjectively constituted lifeworlds to be added to Barnard’s model

System & Lifeworld in Cyberspace
Interestingly, concepts of system and lifeworld are easier to understand when applied to cyberspace
Lifeworld = virtual community, interaction of avatars
System = enabling infrastructure
Note that “lifeworld” in cyberspace may be parasitical – system’s “purpose” may not be to support virtual lifeworld
Status of observer:
The archaeologist external to cyberspace may be better able to see system and system effects
We might equate the status of the real-world social scientist to an archaeologist within cyberspace

Status of artifact:
What is an artifact within cyberspace? à A representation
Questions of representation important, but postponed

A Material Culture Approach to Information Science
Schiffer (an archaeologist) asserts that prior communication theories are deficient because they ignore the fact that “humans interact not with other humans per se but with artifacts and humans compounded with artifacts”
That people’s lives are spent shaping and responding to this material medium
Concept of communication needs to be broadened “to include the information that people acquire, through inference, from all kinds of interactors participating in the material medium”
Therefore “the process of archaeological inference is a more appropriate paradigm for studying communication phenomena than two persons conversing—the language-based, ‘two-body’ model that underlies all conventional theories”

Interactors and Interaction
Types of interactors:
Combined in various ways to form compound interactors, which tend to interact as a single entity
Interaction modes

Interactor Roles

Performance and Artifacts
Performance and performance characteristics
For an interaction to take place, each participating interactor must carry out one or more performances
A performance is one interactor’s minimal engagement with another in a specific interaction
The performance of any actor playing any role depends partly on its life history, and partly in the activity itself (other emissions)*
People, artifacts, and externs (interactors) each have life histories
An interaction takes place at the synchronic nexus of the interactors’ life histories
In conventional theories, artifacts play supportive “mediation” roles between sender and receiver (telephone, e.g.)
For Schiffer, “mediation is merely the special case of an artifact playing the emitter role when the sender is a person”

Receiver Orientation
Schiffer’s theory is strongly “receiver oriented” (rather than conventional sender oriented) because
“the investigator comes quickly to appreciate that information obtained through inference can lead directly and immediately to a response, thereby contributing to an activities forward motion. As a result, a receiver-oriented theory allows one explicitly to tie communication to all other human behavior.”
In sender orientation, disputes about intent are irresolvable
What matters is that a receiver has acquired consequential information from emissions
Modeled on archaeological inference: “Inference, and thus any communication phenomenon, has as its context a specific place and activity”
“A reception event . . . yields inferences, regardless of whether the receiver is a person, animal, or artifact”
Recall Brookes (1980): K(S) + ∆I = K(S + ∆S)

System, Lifeworld, & Interaction
HCI/Interaction design models focus mainly on immediate context of interaction
IPE models see environment as “context” for communication, not as consisting of interactor(s) itself
Schiffer allows taking care of 1 & 2

Gaps in HCI & Schiffer
Neither HCI nor Schiffer explicitly deals with social/cultural constraints on communication at level of the interaction
Neither model makes no explicit reference or linkage to system/lifeworld concepts
Neither model includes an explicit link to theories of social construction through intersubjectivity
So, neither provides any explicit method to critique social/cultural constraints on interaction from either the system or lifeworld perspectives
Schiffer’s receiver orientation is good as far as it goes, but does not address questions of significance or meaning for the interactor (user)

Extending Schiffer
In the SLADE model, artifacts are used in the lifeworld, but produced by means of social systems (generally speaking)
Artifacts are


SLADE: System, Lifeworld, Artifact -> Design

Next steps:
Operationalizing as a critical methodology for design and design criticism
Implications for systems design
Explicating centrality of the concept of ‘representation’

Pattern status: