A theory of Conversation that allows design requires personal presence

February 6, 2013

Just happened to be reading two papers this morning that both reached publication in 2004.

The first refers to the issue at stake: the “debate about determinism framed within the quantum mechanics literature (that) has raged for the last eighty years at least (Freire, 2003)” . The first paper embraces the reality of human presence as a key determinative of knowledge moving forward. The second is dismissive of “interpretivism”, and tries to stay rooted in deterministic approaches, based on the argument that technical solutions need technical theories. Human presence is problematic and leads to theories of only limited usefulness.

From the viewpoint of a decade on and the rise of social media, I venture to say that the “interpretivism” stance still holds more promise for human activity systems. And as Geoffrey Moore has pointed out , the IT battle field is now very much located in “systems of engagement”. For my money, theories of conversation that lead to IT products are more likely to prosper in such a world…

Paper #1:

Osberg, Deborah and Gert J.J. Biesta. 2004. Complexity, knowledge and the incalculable: Epistemological and pedagogical implications of ‘strong emergence’. Paper presented at the Complexity Science and Educational Research Conference, Chaffey’s Locks, Canada, Sept 29–Oct 1.

“This critique of classical determinism can also be aligned with a broader debate in theoretical physics which Max Planck referred to as the ‘determinism quarrel’ (see Freire, 2003) which is mostly concerned with the philosophical (epistemological) implications of quantum mechanics.3 This debate about determinism framed within the quantum mechanics literature has raged for the last eighty years at least (Freire, 2003) . We believe the reason quantum mechanics has been (and continues to be) so unsettling in theoretical physics is precisely because it brings into question the idea of presence, the foundation upon which modern epistemology depends. Quantum mechanics says the universe is not ‘there’ for us, as objects in our every day world appear to be ‘there’ for us.4 The debate about quantum mechanics is, in other words, a scientific controversy with fundamental epistemological implications. But the problematisation of presence is by no means restricted to theoretical physics. It is in fact most well developed in Derrida’s critique of the ‘metaphysics of presence’5 (Derrida, 1976).”

Paper #2:

Information Systems Foundations: Constructing and Criticising Dennis N. Hart and Shirley D. Gregor (Editors) Chapter 1. Gregor, S The struggle towards an understanding of theory in information systems http://www.google.com/url?sa=D&q=http://epress.anu.edu.au/info_systems/mobile_devices/ch14s04.html&usg=AFQjCNHYGV-ce51c01KTQH0fCG5onVgUPg

“Intrepretivism and constructivism are related approaches to research that are characteristic of particular philosophical world views. Schwandt (1994) describes these terms as sensitising concepts that steer researchers towards a particular outlook: Proponents of these persuasions share the goal of understanding the complex world of lived experience from the point of view of those who live it. This goal is variously spoken of as an abiding concern for the life world, for the emic point of view, for understanding meaning, for grasping the actor’s definition of a situation, for Verstehen. The world of lived reality and situation-specific meanings that constitute the general object of investigation is thought to be constructed by social actors (p. 118). Many of the ideas in these approaches stem from the German intellectual tradition of hermeneutics and the Verstehen tradition in sociology, from phenomenology, and from critiques of positivism in the social sciences. Interpretivists reject the notions of theory-neutral observations and the idea of universal laws as in science. Theory in this paradigm takes on a different perspective. Knowledge consists of those constructions about which there is a relative consensus (or at least some movement towards consensus) among those competent (and in the case of more arcane material, trusted) to interpret the substance of the construction. Multiple ‘knowledges’ can coexist when equally competent (or trusted) interpreters disagree (Guba and Lincoln, 1994, p. 113). The emergence of interpretivism in information system research is described by Walsham (1995). Walsham saw interpretivism as gaining ground at that point against a predominantly positivist research tradition in information systems. Klein and Myers (1999) consider that theory plays a crucial role in interpretive research in information systems. Theory is used as a ‘sensitising device’ to view the world in a certain way. Particular observations can be related to abstract categories and to ideas and concepts that apply to multiple situations, implying some generalisability. The types of theory that information systems researchers are likely to reference are social theories such as structuration theory or actor-network theory. The interpretivist paradigm leads to a view of theory which is theory for understanding (Type III), theory that possibly does not have strong predictive power and is of limited generality.”

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