Button and Dourish: "Technomethodology: Paradoxes and Possibilities"

Button, G., & Dourish, P. (1996). Technomethodology: Paradoxes and Possibilities. In R. Bilger, S. Guest, & T. Michael J. (Eds.), Electronic Proceedings. Presented at the CHI 96, Vancouver, BC, Canada: ACM''s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction. Retrieved from http://www.sigchi.org/chi96/proceedings/papers/Button/jpd_txt.htm



Consideration: this article is 15 years old. CSCW= Computer Supported Cooperative Work


This is specifically discussing why ethnographic methods should be used as part of research into technology design/ HCI.


Using ethnomethodology in design (is this closer to what we do than ethnography?). Consideration that "the requirements for technology should be developed around the work situations of users" (duh?).


Authors'' goal:


In this paper we want to unpack the issues surrounding the application of ethnomethodological accounts of working situations, and, critically, of ethnomethodology itself, not only to situations which involve technology, but to the design and introduction of advanced technologies. Our goal is primarily to understand and develop the relationship between ethnomethodology and technological design; secondarily, we hope that this might address some issues in the relationship of the human sciences to HCI practice more widely.


Aspects of Technomethodology


Studies fall into two related areas of inquiry: investigations of the organization of social action and interaction, and investigations of the organization of work and work settings.


The Organisation of Social Action and Interaction


id''s conversation analysis as a branch of ethnomethodology. "The thrust of this work is to furnish descriptions of the ways in which persons normally organise their actions and interactions and then compare this to what is possible or not possible using the technology."


The Organization of Work


the examination of the practices and methods through which people accomplish their work, especially those actions which make it unique to others.


Ethnomethodological Critiques of Technology


often has found that tech often fails to support the work it is designed for/ or allow ppl to actually engage in their work.


Critique and Design--Two Paradoxes


claims that ethnomethodology has uncovered the "paradox of system design--that the introduction of technology designed to support ''large-scale'' activities while fundamentally transforming the ''small-scale'' detail of action can systematically undermine exactly the detailed features of working practice through which the ''large scale'' activity is, in fact, accomplished."


leads to "the paradox of technomethodology" which lead to the "ethnographers'' dilemma." Described as such:


"Given the concern with the particular, with detail, and with the moment-by-moment organisation of action, how can ethnomethodology be applied to the design of new technologies? Certainly, ethnomethodologists have urged that designers take into account the methods and practices through which social action, interaction and categories of work are organised; but in the face of the unavoidably transformational nature of technology and system design in working settings, it would seem that ethnomethodology becomes relatively powerless."


It''s an analyzing practice rather than a means of invention. Leads to question of how design can "productively learn from ethnomethodology?"


Learning from Ethnomethodology


Ok. so how do you apply what you''ve studied?


Learning from the Ethnomethodologist


ethnomethodologist, not the report, will be primary resource for design process. Argues that ethnomethodologist becomes proxy for field setting itself (alb note: shouldn''t designers be part of the field visit process?)


The account is what''s important. Argues second strategy (analysis of a working situation) builds on ethnomethodological understanding...


Learning from Ethnomethodology


This view takes on the policy of ethnomethodology. This is (for its time) a radical idea, rather Johnson-esque, dealing with the


"generally operative social processes which are the currency of ethnomethodology: elements such as situatedness, practical action and representation...on the other hand, it deals with the fundamental, almost impocit, aspects of system design--generalization and abstraction, configuration, data and process..."


ok. This following attempt to make this more concrete was actually quite confusing to me.


Human Sciences and Design Practice


"The general problem which we have addressed here--on the relationship between a body of disciplinary knowledge and the practice of HCI or CSCW design--is hardly a new one to the HCI community."


Argues that the issues reflect issues in the entire field.


Reasons to explore issues: collaborative systems create new issues for theoretical exploration; connection between ethnomethodology and system design is not linking theory and practice but theory and theory; ethnomethodology attends to detail of practice, which is a relationship between the abstract and the particular.


Abstraction and Particularity


argues ethnomethodology deals with everyday, while systems design perceived to be about abstractions.


It seems as if they''re trying to argue for the value of ''soft science'' in ''hard science.''




aspects of ethnomethodology are problematic for design practice, even if successful.


"The paradox of technomethodology lies in the attempt to design novel technological solutions based on an analytical perspective with a specific orientation towards the existing detail of practical action."