Categories, disciplines, and social coordination

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Citation: Terry Winograd (1994) Categories, disciplines, and social coordination. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1007/BF00749016
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1007/BF00749016
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1007/BF00749016
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Categories, disciplines, and social coordination


Winograd's article is response to Lucy Suchman's article Do categories have politics which is, itself, indirectly a critique of a body of influential work in CSCW that includes Winograd's highly cited work on the Coordinator project and his influential article Understanding computers and cognition: A new foundation for design around speech act theory that Winograd had been involved on as a way of providing workflow support in CSCW applications.

Winograd's key point in his earlier work that one part of speech acts -- tracking the illocutionary status of the speech transaction or whether or not individuals participants claim that there interest have been met or not -- is readily transfered to a computer process. This allows the computer to model the status of the current social reality without respect to to any external reality and social claims made about it.

Lucy Suchman countered with an article that suggested that the type of workflow support made possible by Winograd would be deployed in a particular context and be used a means of control by those already in power and as a mean to monitor, tame, and domesticate workers.

Winograd defends his heavily workflow and category based approach, which he agrees is imperfect, and argues that Suchman's core mistake was that it treated the system as a doctrine and that he never claimed the type of doctrinal quality of his theory of the systems that come from that Suchman ascribes to it.

He agrees with Suchman on several key points:

  • Explicit representations are sometimes more appropriate than they are in other situations or organizational contexts
  • The generation of new representations can only be done well with the participation of all the stakeholders and participants
  • It is dangerous to believe that the any representation captures what is meaningful to people in a particular context.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

The Wikipedia article on speech acts has a detailed section that provides good background. For its part, this small response has been cited 140 times since it was published 16 years ago.