Dourish, P. (2001). _Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction_. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Paul Dourish, PhD Computer Science from University College London, is Professor of Informatics in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at UC, Irvine. He also has courtesy appointments in Computer Science and Anthropology, and is co-director, with Bill Maurer, of UCI’s new partnership with Intel, the Center for Social Computing. His research is at the nexus of computer science and social science, with a particular interest in ubiquitous and mobile computing and the cultural practices surrounding new media.

“Embodied interaction is interaction with computer systems [everything, really] that occupy our world, a world of physical and social reality, and that exploit this fact in how they interact with us” (3).

This book has a four-part hypothesis. (1) Tangible computing, the notion we improve our everyday lives with direct interaction with devices of computational power, and social computing, the process of using social sciences and anthropology to enhance user/system interface, share a common base. (2) Embodiment is that common base. (3) Embodiment is not a new idea but has deep roots in phenomenology. E.g. Husserl’s lebenswelt, Heidegger’s preontological experiences, Schutz’s model of intersubjectivity, and Merleau-Ponty’s three aspects of embodiment. (4) These and related explorations of and into embodiment offer material for devising a basis for embodied interaction.

Tangible computing (either virtual reality or ubiquitous computing) designs foreground awareness: of communication, of the importance of holistic design, and that the computer and physical worlds are connected.

Social computing holds design is shaped through sociological methods and reasoning. Context has several definitions: the system’s tasks being performed, why they’re being performed, the settings of that research, etc. “The context, though, is as much social as technical” (57).

Dourish privileges place over space. Where space amounts to physical properties, literal and metaphorical, place is contextual and “refers to the way that social understandings convey an appropriate behavioral framing for an environment” (90). The upshot:

  • place is comprised by its activities, rather than its dimensions or structure
  • “place can’t be designed, only designed for” (91)
  • place relates to a specific “community of practice” (91)

Finally (well not finally — there is much more to this book than I’m writing about), I want to add Dourish’s thoughts about affordance. His office chair’s size and dimensions match his legs’, and thus affords him a comfortable seat.* But the seat would not be so comfortable for a horse or a rabbit, which “are not ‘appropriately equipped individuals” (118).

“In other words, an affordance is a three-way relationship between the environment, the organism, and an activity. This three-way relationship is at the heart of ecological psychology, and the challenge of ecological psychology lies in just how it is centered on the notion of an organism acting in an environment: being in the world” (118).

*William H. Whyte writes about how certain public spaces afford (or don’t) people comfortable seats — and gives specific measurements — in his great The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces [1980]).

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Media Arts, Minor Field, Research Fields

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