Monday, February 16, 2009

Methodology: How to Study Interactivity?

As Bødker has pointed out (Bødker, 1990), computer science has always been multi-
disciplinary in that it has borrowed from other fields. Borrowing from other disciplines
always involves elements of selection, translation, and synthesis. These processes are by no
means straightforward. In its early days, when the research problems were mainly related to
making the computer work in a purely technical sense, computer science borrowed mainly
from formal disciplines like logic, mathematics, and linguistics. It took fairly long before
computer scientists had to take seriously the fact that computer users are human beings with
bodies, minds, history, culture, language, and social relations. Today, a lot of the research
problems are related to how computers are used. Computer science consequently now
borrows from the humanities and the social sciences.
Learning from history, I do not expect new insights concerning interactivity to emerge
from within the current computer-science tradition alone. I have consequently found it
necessary to seek inspiration from outside my own field, with all the complications involved.
The structure of the sciences
One way to start a scientific investigation is to look for the largest possible picture. In this
case that would be to have a look at the structure of the sciences. In “Knowledge and Human
Interests”, Habermas (1971) identifies three "knowledge interests" working as driving forces in
science. He uses the terms technical interest, hermeneutic interest, and emancipatory interest:
• The technical interest is governing research aimed at improving our control of nature
and/or society. Most research in the natural sciences fit this description.
• The hermeneutic ("practical") interest aims at getting a deeper understanding of a
phenomenon, not focusing on the "usefulness" of such an endeavor from a technical/
economical point of view. Most research in the humanities fit here.
• The emancipatory interest is governing research aimed at removing repression and
injustice by unveiling the power relations in society. Such research is always
political in some sense or another. Examples of such research can be found in the
Action Research tradition in organization theory.

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