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“Artefacts, practice & knowledge elaboration” seminary notes

Artefacts, practice & knowledge elaboration: an interdisciplinary perspective


Two views of artefacts:

  • [Artefacts in groups?]
  • Artefacts as the prolongation of cognitive systems.

There are still discussions on the exact definition of the “artifact” concept.

Integrating knowledge about artefacts from diverse disciplines

In which conception of science can an interdiscplinary integration take place? [model of science]

Example: sciences that take a relativist vs. universal base. Can they be merged?

“Social sciences” is an umbrella term, contains siloed disciplines that have no shared explicit model.

Simon: “a system that is shaped in order to attain goals and to function in a certain (evolving) context”. Under this definition, it can't be studied as a natural object, thus can't be studied under the “sciences of nature“ framework, because it is based on replication and you can't replicate social situations.

Alternative model: “the sciences of the artificial”. Goal: develop knowledge about design, functioning and evolution of artefacts in their contexts.

Simon’s core notions:

  • Artefacts are constructions based upon symbols (Simon, 1969, p.22).
  • Processes: Decision-making, Modeling, Heuristic search in a problem search, Designing without final goals, Means/ends analysis.
  • Procedural rationality.

Simon: “Sciences of engineering are akin to, but very different from, Engineering sciences”. “Sciences of design”. Term that took up in academic research: “Design sciences” -> Le Moigne, 2001; Hatchuel, 2001; Romme, 2003; Van Aken, 2004, 2005; Tranfield, 2006; Denyer et al, 2008; Avenier, 2010…).

Pierce’ triadic conception of “sign”.

How can it be performed and justified? [philosophy of science]

Models of “sciences of the artificial” and “design sciences” are compatible with most contemporary research.

[Matrix of possible integrations and needed re-interpretations between theoretical and epistemological frameworks]

Method for integration:

  1. Specify the destination theoretical framework.
  2. Surface underlying assumptions of original framework and examine compatibility with the destination one.
  3. Interpret knowledge to be integrated in light of underlying assumptions of destination framework.

Needs critical reflection (Piaget, 1967).

Artefacts and activity theory

Ref: Vygotsky.

Tool vs. sign

  • Both tools and signs are subsumed under general concept of indirect mediated activity.
  • Tools are externally oriented (change objects of activity), sign is internally oriented (psychological tool, used to control one’s or other’s behavior).

Levels of artifact mediation

Engeström 1987, Wartofsky 1979:

  • primary artifact: tool;
  • secondary: representation of modes of action;
  • tertiary: an alternative imaginary perceptual model.

More precise decomposition in Engeström 2007.

Design of artifact functions

Latour, 1992, Actor network theory.

  • Transdiscursive terms, “buzzwords” are artefacts too.

Comparison of characteristics of concepts (Ewenstein & Whyte, 2009, 10) Boundary object (Star & Giesemer), Epistemic object (Knorr-Cetina), Technical object (Rheinberger), Intermediary reworkable object.

Materiality of digital tools

Digital objects and tools are often treated as immaterial (Negroponte, 1995, 14; Kallinikos, 2009, 196).

BIM: “here”, “there”: representation used to support the discourse and help building a solution. Reminds of standup analysis, yet software building is much more abstract. Usage same as Tracker, even though target domain is very different. So, digital tools can make tangible abstract elements… and themselves. Artefacts being necessary to design themselves -> scale of artefacts? Building upon abstract layers to build more abstract layers, reminds of computing model -> Conway’s law?

Is it common that artefacts are needed to create new artefacts?

Artefacts as ways to get “out of the system”? What does “Code as documentation” mean in terms of artefacts?

Impact of ICT on human cognition

Rückriem, 2009: maybe our concepts are not sufficient to analyze and understand the changes digital technologies bring to human mind and cognition.

Artefacts, the Agent and Distribution of Agency. A Semiotic Approach to Experience and Action.

Artefacts are both a physical object that has a history, and a teleological apparatus.

It can stem from:

  • An existing object that is ascribed a novel use depending on the context, with consolidation and conventionalisation of the new use.
  • A new object created for its purpose.

What artefacts do: clever artefacts and dumb humans

In certain cases, artefacts can be seen as external components that are part of cognition, thus extending the mind (Clark &Chalmers, 1998).

Concept of “coupling” between artefacts and operator limbs to minimize the amount of cognitive energy.

Two distinct answers to “what artefacts do?” (Wheeler, 2008):

  1. “Scaffolds”, cognitive aids that facilitate a task.
  2. Members of cognition.

The case of Otto (Alzheimer patient relying on a notebook to achieve tasks) proves that all the components in the system play an active role: if one is removed, the competence of the system is dropped (Clark & Chalmers).

“Functional parity”: an artefact has a role that can replace an internal cognitive process. “Implementational materiality”: the body is conceptualized as “no more than” a material realizer of functionally specified cognitive architectures.

Two ways of how cognition can depend on an artifact:

  • Causal dependence: cognition aided by the use of an artifact.
  • Constituve dependence: cannot be realized without the use of an artifact.

Ethnography of paper and pencil to solve complex math problems (Rumelhart et al. 1986).

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