Geertz & scope of concerns

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Mark Notess

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Jul 6, 2006, 2:43:37 PM7/6/06
to User Research Theory Study Group Planning
My reaction to Geertz, reading it through the lense of someone
interested in ethnography in the service of design, is that Geertz'
scope of concerns (nationalism, violence, identity, human nature,
legitimacy, revolution, ethnicity, urbanization, status, death, time
and the situating of these in particular cultures -- see p. 30) is the
typical set of anthropological concerns. Ethnography is writing about
people-groups (ethne) or cultures.

My own interests are likewise near the top of Geertz' stack of turtles,
but are not politics, economics, or "stratificatory realities" -- or at
least not usually. Rather, I'm concerned with thick description of what
is sometimes called "work practice" so that in my design work, I can
improve the work, and the experience of the workers.

So to me, Geertz and other sociologists/anthropologists are mainly
socio-political, whereas what I'm after is socio-technical. Not that
the two don't overlap. But I think I need something that provides a
more useful account of the environment, the tools, the intentions, and
other contextual elements.

Geertz says that ethnographic description is "interpretive of ... the
flow of social discourse" (p. 20). Perhaps. Maybe some of the things
I'm interested in are less social--human-computer interaction or
learning. Both of these are social to some extent, but they also have
things to describe that are less socially discursive. For instance, I'm
interested in how people learn from interacting with creative artifacts
(music, literature). Is this always social discourse? Or best viewed as
such?

I'm going to stop here, in part because by own lurking here has been in
part caused by the great length of some of the previous replies. That
may well be my own failing, but for me right now, I find it easier to
participate in conversations with a shorter mean length of utterance.
:)

Mark

Emily Ulrich

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Jul 7, 2006, 1:48:47 PM7/7/06
to Mark Notess, User Research Theory Study Group Planning
I'd just like to say that these reflections of Mark's resonate with me...

>> So to me, Geertz and other sociologists/anthropologists are mainly
socio-political, whereas what I'm after is socio-technical. Not that
the two don't overlap. But I think I need something that provides a
more useful account of the environment, the tools, the intentions, and
other contextual elements."

>> ... For instance, I'm interested in how people learn from


interacting with creative artifacts (music, literature). Is this
always social discourse? Or best viewed as such?

... which is notable, since my entire brain seems to be utterly
distracted by my impending move to San Francisco and all the
complexities therein.

I'm deeply interested in broadening the perspective beyond HCI as
well, and understanding how 'knowledge workers' (for lack of a better
term) employ lateral thinking and other sort of benchmarking
approaches to solve complex problems in new ways. I don't believe this
would be always categorized as social discourse, since the interaction
may be entirely within the mind of the individual and exhibit no
interaction. But I'll always say "no" to the question of always.

If I'm way off base here, attribute it to my addled brain in
transition to a newly inspiring place and look forward to more clarity
(hopefully) in the future.

Cheers,
Emily-no-longer-lurking

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