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[Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary Objects

Thanks Michael,

I think we are saying the same things, indeed, or at least more or less. I am quite certain that Bateson referred to energy, and that he used the mentioned examples (or similar ones) to show how the energy that moves the pig is not a direct transfer of energy from the kick, whereas in the case of the billiard balls, the movement of one ball is caused by the energy that the kicking ball brings. I might be wrong in the context within which Bateson was discussing the example, and I see that your account is in that regard is more accurate. But the point is the same: you can not intend the outcomes of a system by addressing only its parts as if they were connected directly, in a linear causal fashion; as if the whole was the sum of its parts. I do see a link with Vygotsky's rejection of S-R and his inclusion of a third element that transforms the whole system.

But I totally agree with your comments on design intentions as they relate to ecology, and I, as I know also Rolf does, also like very much the notion of ecology to address these issues.

If I read you correctly, and citing Don Norman (whose work I ignore), you suggest the possibility that the relations between design intentions and actual experience could be thought of in terms of different levels? That one thing is to design for what is general, but that we cannot design for the particular. Is that right? If so, I think that Bateson had a similar argument on prediction, does not him? That we can predict on general levels (e.g. population), but not at the level of the particular (e.g., individual). I haven't gone that way, but seems a promising road to consider this jumps between levels of generality or scales.

Finally, I am not sure if I get what you mean when you say that we can design for constrains but not for affordances. I still see that the one presupposes the other; you can separate them in talk, but, to me, in actual experience, a constrain is an affordance and vice-versa. I don't see how the road has any inherent constrain that could not be an affordance at the same time. Of course, if you take the normative stance that roads are for cars driving through them, you may be right. But if we think of roads as asphalt on the ground, as yet more ground only of a different shape, texture, and color, how is that a constrain but not an affordance? Or an affordance but not a constrain? Of course, culture constrains once you are within the road and you are driving. But then, the constrain is not in the road, as you seem to suggest, but in the journey; in the journeyman that carries some cultural way of orienting and affectively relating to its environment so that particular constrains are taken for granted despite the possibility of being otherwise. But I might not have thought it well/long enough and of course I might be wrong. I would like to understand your position here better.

From: xmca-l-bounces+a.g.jornet=iped.uio.no@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces+a.g.jornet=iped.uio.no@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of Glassman, Michael <glassman.13@osu.edu>
Sent: 15 July 2015 20:32
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary Objects

Hi Alfredo,

I have been reading Bateson through a cybernetics lens lately (Bateson along with Lewin and his wife Margaret Mead were part of the original Sears conferences)  and I'm not sure that's right or I am victim to the "when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail" but....

I think Bateson was arguing with those looking to apply the more physical/mathematical origins of cybernetics to human or really (pace the pig story) and system that moves beyond simple physical feedback loops.  I think his larger point is that everything has a response within the larger feedback system that exists but we cannot go - what Bateson refers to as MIND.  Attempts to create and control feedback loops, to try and design a system for specific types of feedback is a dangerous proposition.

This I think is the reason that affordances really can't be designed into an ecology, only a recognition of the context in which actions are taking place (and I say this having no idea what Gibson's relationship to cybernetics was).  Taking Larry's example of the girl it is perhaps also likely that the girl could have taken the fixing of hair as a criticism, an attack, and it might have destroyed her confidence.  Both make sense in terms of feedback loops, but only ad hoc.  So if a designer does in some way design that experience into the action, even without meaning they are taking a large chance, because they do not know the trajectory it will take.  We simply need objects that are part of our journey, part of the larger context but not designed for purpose, for feedback.  There is no assumption about trajectory.

I think Don Norman sort of muddied the waters on this, but in an interesting way.  That we can assume people are going to want to do certain things in a very general environment - when  you enter a dark room you want light, so it is possible to design objects that meet that need that we are more likely to find in the moment that we need them.  But I think that is very different from the idea of specifically guiding feedback loops that even take generalized experience in a certain direction.  I am thinking about Dewey, and he makes a similar argument to Bateson with his concept of transactions.  Although he does seem to think that it is possible to create a larger field of action so we can see at least local interrelationships.  But his idea of experience is also very much one of discovery based on needs at the immediate moment - social relations act as a vehicle for these discoveriesn(Dewey of course was writing before Gibson and for most of his life before cybernetics.  I also wonder what he thought of cybernetics).

I think I disagree with you, constraints are not about the journey but about the road.  If you build a road on the side of the river you are constrained because no matter what, you cannot turn right.  Your direction has already been partially determined by the designer of the road.  But the mistake we make is in thinking that also controls the trajectory of the individual's journey.  The effect of designers on trajectories of action is important, but limited.

The primary place that designers have influence on affordances it seems to me is by being able to create a unique context for an individual's and a group's that limit possible trajectories on an individual's journey.  But we should never mistake those constraints for affordances.  I think Bateson might argue it is hubris to do so.  Perhaps this is what you are saying Alfredo.


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces+mglassman=ehe.ohio-state.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces+mglassman=ehe.ohio-state.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Alfredo Jornet Gil
Sent: Wednesday, July 15, 2015 12:38 PM
To: Rolf Steier; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary Objects

I'd like to follow up on Michael's post by asking a question: Are not affordances presupposed by constraints and are not constraints presupposed by affordances? If so, I would wonder whether it makes sense to ask whether museums should be designed for affordances and constraints.

What I think is clear from the anecdote that you bring about the Jackson Pollock corner is that whatever EXPERIENCE emerges from being somewhere (i.e. being someone at some time in some place) cannot be INTENDED. And I think this applies both to designers and users, to those who set things up for you to experience and to you, who could not foresee what your experience was going to turn you into before you go through it.

I think that the big issue that you bring on the table (to continue with Larry's metaphor) has to do with a difference between physical relations and social relations, and the idea of MEDIATION. Gregory Bateson noticed that the relations that are the subject matter in physics are not the same as those that are the subject matter in communication. He noticed that physical relations (relations that are the object of study of physics) transfer energy in direct manners: a billiard ball hits another ball and we can anticipate the exact speed and direction that the second ball will take based on the energy that is in the system ball + ball + someone hitting. In living beings, the things are different. Bateson explained, if we kick a pig's ass (I think he used this somehow bizarre example) the reaction of the pig is not accounted for by the energy that is contained in the kick, at least not in a direct manner. The energy that moves the pig is from a different source. Before Bateson, it was Vygotsky and his notion of mediation who would most clearly state that social relations are not direct, but mediated.

So, how can design go about this? If we, along with Dewey and Vygotsky, consider experience to be a unity of person and environment, and we assume as well that this is a social (not just individual) category, and that how a situation is experienced is also refracted through the social relations within which we engage, the most designers can do is to foster social relations go on, giving afordances to prcesses of signification, without intending to embed meanings. It is about affordances/constraints, but not about how to interpret something, but about going about interpreting. I think.

Best wishes,
From: xmca-l-bounces+a.g.jornet=iped.uio.no@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces+a.g.jornet=iped.uio.no@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of Glassman, Michael <glassman.13@osu.edu>
Sent: 15 July 2015 18:04
To: Rolf Steier; eXtended Mind, Culture,        Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary Objects

So after reading the article and the e-mail discussion I'm beginning to think there is a really big issue here that I am trying to grapple with, especially in terms of boundary objects (which I admittedly do not understand very well).  And it relates to the metaphor of the table (both as discussed by Larry and Ingold as interpreted by Rolf).  It is this, in the museum should the place be set up as affordances, perceived affordances, or constraints?  It seems the museum in the study has potential affordances for the users.  The cultural historical moment (unable to think of any other word) of the museum sets the context, meaning those walking through the museum are going to be restricted by the historical and cultural boundaries leading up to the art work, along with the expectations and needs of the individuals moving through the museum, but they will come across objects/artifacts that they think meets the needs of their particular journeys. The posing becomes both an internalization and externalization of the thinking (or are they one continuum at this point?) in which they both make sense of the object in terms of their own meaning and needs and also try and communicate what they found, leaving a potential trails for others.

An example that has stayed with me for years.  Living in New York I used to go to the Museum of Modern Art on a semi-regular basis (in large part to try and meet women, always unsuccessful).  I would often visit the Jackson Pollock corner.  I would look and it would always be meaningful to me and I would move one quickly.  Once, soon after graduating college and unemployed and about as frustrated as I'd ever been I viewed the same paintings.  At that moment Pollock made sense to me, a deep emotional punch - the paintings became objects that could bridge my rage, sadness and fear to the next moment in my life.  There is no way a designer could have planned this affordance.  It was based on the movement not just through the museum but my life.  I think back to what my gestures, or even posing might have been at that moment.  A slumping in to myself, an internalization perhaps of a socially sanctioned symbol of rage.  But perhaps a posture also that said stay away.  The place I created in that moment was one that included me and whatever demons Jackson Pollock fought with.

Or should museums should be designed for what Don Norman refers to as perceived affordances?  The table that is set up can be one of perceived affordances.  What I grab for the spoon because its shape makes sense in my need/desire to eat cereal.  The focus goes from cultural history setting a general context - Jackson Pollock is a sanctioned way to bridge emotions, to actually setting the trajectory of the act.  I sit at a table, I want to eat cereal, I must follow sanctioned rule systems, I know what I need at that moment and look for objects that fit my needs.  Is the room in the article about perceived affordances.  Should the museum be designed for perceived affordances.  A person coming upon an object may be thinking this because of what it means in our society to be walking through a museum.  The object offers an opportunity to make communicative gestures, such as recreating the posture of The Thinker the authors refer to.  I have seen many shows, movies where this happens, from movies from the 1940s to the Rugrats.  This is the cultural cue of what we do with art objects in a museum, we gesture to both understand and communicate.

Or should museums be designed as constraints.  In the Metropolitan Museum of Art (sorry for the New York centric places but that's where I spent most of my museum life) the rooms are set up very, very carefully, so that in many ways the objects (at least are meant to I think) to constrain your thinking, so that you are responding to a certain period or school of art, understanding how it all fits together.  The table metaphor fits here as well I think.  Does the table constrain our actions, limiting to certain types of behavior (use only certain types of forks for certain types of food).

Okay, too much I know.


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces+mglassman=ehe.ohio-state.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces+mglassman=ehe.ohio-state.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Rolf Steier
Sent: Wednesday, July 15, 2015 6:58 AM
To: Alfredo Jornet Gil
Cc: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity; mike cole; lchc-l@mailman.ucsd.edu
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary Objects

Thank you for your thoughts Larry,

I wanted to pick up on your suggestion of the table metaphor because I think that's really interesting. I believe you are proposing the shared meal as analogous to the kind of orientation work (or perhaps Leigh Star might consider this translation or pre-translation work?) that precedes the task at hand (in the case of our study, the task is design). Excerpt 3 from our study might be relevant here, when in turn 6, the curator turns to the researcher, leans in, and points in order to create a shared visual field.
The curator and the researcher can now orient towards the existing gallery in order to imagine future, possible changes in the gallery. The curator is in a sense extending an invitation to sit down at the same table to be able to share his vision for the gallery.

This shared meal might of course also be considered designed. Ingold (
*Making*) actually uses this same table metaphor to demonstrate the facilitation of activity as an aspect of design - *"Everyday design catches the narrative and pins it down, establishing a kind of choreography for the ensuing permanence that allows it to proceed from the moment you sit down to eat. In such a straightforward task as laying the table - in enrolling into your relation bowl and spoon, milk jug and cereal box - you are designing breakfast."*

There is an improvisational quality to the bodily/performative orientation work that is maybe not captured by the shared expectations of sitting down to a meal. But at the same time, we can also consider the workspace of the multidisciplinary design team as designed in the same way that the meal is designed in order to support the objective of the meeting. That is, the, design team must first engage in a place-making activity for their collaborative setting in order to attend to the design of the exhibition space. The designers set the table with a white board, sketches and design ideas, perhaps some coffee... etc., before turning to the task of imagining the future exhibition.

Lubomir, you asked - *"who are the placemakers -- the architects or the USERS of designed/created/socially produced spaces?" *I think this is difficult to answer because both architect and user play a role in the place-making process. The architects embed possible meanings (if place and meaning are analogous than perhaps these might be considered 'place
potentials') that only emerge through the activity of the users. I'm only thinking through this now, so feel free to elaborate or to disagree!


On Tue, Jul 14, 2015 at 11:28 PM, Alfredo Jornet Gil <a.j.gil@iped.uio.no>

> Thanks a lot, Lubomir!
> On to your question, I am tempted to stretch a bit across frameworks
> and answer that, the difference between the process of performing an
> activity in space and developing a sense of place would be akin to the
> difference between an operation and an action as per Activity theory.
> Again, we must be careful on the distinction between space as a sort
> of objective geometrical coordinate, or space as not becoming a part of "an"
> experience (in Dewey's sense). In the first sense, the sentence
> "performing an activity in space" makes only sense when talking about
> geometrical practices, for example; one may think that in some
> engineering practices, it is possible to orient to space as space, as
> a coordinate. BUT still, the experience of being doing such practice,
> if it has import to further development in the person, it must be
> refracted through the person's experience; there must be involvement,
> and therefore placemaking. In the second case, we might think of us
> performing some activity within taking much of it, without noticing we
> are doing. It is in this sense that I do the bridge with operations versus actions.
> I would not have many problems in associating place with meaning and
> placemaking with meaning-making, although I personally would be
> careful if doing so, emphasizing the situational and distributed
> nature of the process that placemaking attempts to capture.
> Hope this helps
> Alfredo
> ________________________________________
> From: Lubomir Savov Popov <lspopov@bgsu.edu>
> Sent: 14 July 2015 23:06
> To: Alfredo Jornet Gil; Rolf Steier; eXtended Mind, Culture,    Activity
> Cc: mike cole; lchc-l@mailman.ucsd.edu
> Subject: RE: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary Objects
> Thank you Alfredo,
> By the way, I should have started my mail with an appreciation for
> your article and Mike's choice to bring it to our attention.
> Now it is almost clear how you use the word and conceptualize the
> phenomenon. I would respectfully ask you for a few more things: what
> is the difference between the process of performing an activity in
> space and developing a sense of place. I personally interpret place in
> terms of appropriation of space in the process of human activity and
> the subsequent meaning making which has existential importance for the
> individual. The phenomenon of place is on par with the phenomenon of
> meaning and placemaking is a process on par with meaning making. How
> do you position yourself regarding such conceptualization?
> On a similar note, who are the placemakers -- the architects or the
> USERS of designed/created/socially produced spaces?
> By the way, I might be stretching too much the part on place and
> distracting from other aspects of your wonderful article.
> Best wishes,
> Lubomir
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Alfredo Jornet Gil [mailto:a.j.gil@iped.uio.no]
> Sent: Tuesday, July 14, 2015 4:31 PM
> To: Lubomir Savov Popov; Rolf Steier; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Cc: mike cole; lchc-l@mailman.ucsd.edu
> Subject: Re: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary Objects
> Dear Lubomir,
> thanks for your questions. I agree that the notion of place has been
> around in different forms during at least the last 20 years or so,
> from geography with Tuan, technology with Dourish, to the so-called
> place-based education. I must also admit that we did not work with a
> carefully operationalized definition when using the term in the paper,
> but I can of course share my view on the issue and how I understand it.
> For me, as in most of the cases mentioned above, place is a way of
> emphasizing the experiential in what comes to be socially or humanly
> relevant. Most simply, and this most of you probably know, is about
> the difference between a rationalistic, geometrical conception of
> space versus a more phenomenological one. I read Streek (2010) citing
> Cresswell about
> place: "Place is about stopping and resting and becoming involved".
> This is precisely what we aimed to emphasize in our paper, that
> whatever practices were involved in getting things done together in an
> interdisciplinary group, they involved a process of becoming involved,
> experientially, emotionally, bodily, with the materials and currents
> going on in a given situation.
> I also read Ingold (2011) warning against the difference between space
> and place in terms of space being a reality substance and place being
> constituted by subsequent level of abstractions. In my view,
> experience is not about abstraction, but about involvement. And place
> is about space as it is refracted in intelligible experience; not
> about an abstraction over an objective field, but more related to a perezhivanie in Vygotsky's sense.
> Alfredo
> ________________________________________
> From: Lubomir Savov Popov <lspopov@bgsu.edu>
> Sent: 14 July 2015 21:55
> To: Rolf Steier; eXtended Mind, Culture,        Activity; Alfredo Jornet
> Gil
> Cc: mike cole; lchc-l@mailman.ucsd.edu
> Subject: RE: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary Objects
> Dear Rolf and Alfredo,
> What is your definition for place? How is place different from space?
> I ask because people use the words place and peacemaking in dozens of
> different ways; it is just mindboggling.
> Thanks,
> Lubomir
> -----Original Message-----
> From: xmca-l-bounces+lspopov=bgsu.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:
> xmca-l-bounces+lspopov=bgsu.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Rolf
> xmca-l-bounces+Steier
> Sent: Tuesday, July 14, 2015 2:44 PM
> To: Alfredo Jornet Gil
> Cc: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity; mike cole;
> lchc-l@mailman.ucsd.edu
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The Emergence of Boundary Objects
> Hello All,
> I also want to thank everyone for participating in this discussion,
> and I'm looking forward to developing some of the ideas from our text.
> I think that Alfredo did a nice job of introducing the context of our
> study, so I don't have much to add. The two aspects that Mike brings
> up are also very much of interest to me, and I think quite closely
> related. I think we treat 'distributed imagination' in this instance
> as a form of place-making for a space that doesn't exist yet (the
> museum exhibition). At the same time, the place where this design work
> is occurring is also undergoing a transformation from space to place
> as the participants construct representations and begin to
> collaborate. Alfredo and I were playing with an illustration of these
> trajectories as merging, though we weren't able to bring it together -
> so maybe this discussion can allow us to flesh out these thoughts.
> I'm looking forward to the discussion!
> Rolf
> On Tue, Jul 14, 2015 at 7:38 PM, Alfredo Jornet Gil
> <a.j.gil@iped.uio.no>
> wrote:
> >  Hi Mike and all,
> >
> >
> >  thanks for recommending our article for discussion, and thanks to
> > anyone who wishes to participate. We really appreciate it! I can try
> > to say a bit about the article.
> >
> > Rolf and I did our PhD as part of two different projects that had a
> > science museum and an art museum as settings for the design of
> > technology-enhanced learning environments. Early on in the PhD, we
> > begun talking about notions of space as central in our respective
> > projects. During the last year, we shared office and had much more
> > time to discuss. We had always wanted to write something together
> > and the MCA special issue on Leigh Star seemed the perfect occasion.
> >
> > The design meetings involved many participants from different
> > backgrounds, from education to architecture and software
> > engineering, and sometimes it was difficult for the teams to advance
> > towards definite solutions. I remember watching the videos from the
> > first months of design work, hoping to find something for writing a
> > first paper. I found different interesting issues to pursue, but one
> > episode clearly stood out from the rest. It was a design meeting,
> > after many meetings with lots of disagreements and dead ends, in
> > which a discussion that concerned a wall in the museum space
> > unexpectedly appeared to trigger lots of good ideas in the design
> > team. It stroke me that something as banal and simple as a wall had
> > been important in making it possible for the participants to achieve
> > shared perspectives on the task and go on. I remembered then to have
> > read something about boundary objects, and it was then that the
> > figure of Leigh Star begun to
> be relevant.
> >
> > In this paper, the aim was to consider boundary "objects"  from the
> > perspective of the participants' "bodies," which stood out in our
> > analyses as particularly relevant for the achievement of
> > co-operation despite lack of substantive agreement. Rather than
> > shared substantive understandings, what seemed to allow the
> > participants to proceed was being able to orient towards and perform
> > specific situations that were lived-in (experienced, gone through).
> > We recur to the notions of place-making and place-imagining to
> > emphasize this per-formative aspect that has to do with inhabiting a
> > place and finding one's ways
> around it.
> >
> > We wrote the paper as we were finishing our respective
> > theses/defenses, and we wanted to do something that should feel fun
> > and free. We felt that Star's work was broad and were encouraged to
> > connect different ideas from different scholars. The schedule was
> > tight, and, although I think we managed to put together some ideas,
> > we may have taken many risks in bridging across the different frameworks.
> > I hope that those risks taken may now open space for
> > questions/comments to emerge in the discussion, and I look forward
> > to
> learn a lot from them.
> >
> > Thanks,
> > Alfredo
> >
> >
> >  ------------------------------
> > *From:* lchcmike@gmail.com <lchcmike@gmail.com> on behalf of mike
> > cole < mcole@ucsd.edu>
> > *Sent:* 14 July 2015 19:17
> > *To:* eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> > *Cc:* Rolf Steier; Alfredo Jornet Gil; lchc-l@mailman.ucsd.edu
> > *Subject:* The Emergence of Boundary Objects
> >
> >   If my information is correct, both Alfredo and Rolf have some time
> > in the upcoming period to discuss their article on the emergence of
> > boundary objects.
> >
> >  So, to start the discussion.
> >
> >  I am finding this article enormously generative of ways to think
> > about some perennial issues that have recently been on my mind. The
> > entire discussion leading up to the formulation of transforming
> > spaces into places (and recreating spaces in the process) locks in
> > directly with our current work on the 5th Dimension, which i have
> > been writing about for some time as a tertiary artifact and an
> > idioculture, but which most certainly fits the concept of a boundary object.
> >
> >  Secondly, I have become really interested in "practices of imagination"
> > and that is just how Alfredo and Rolf characterize their two
> > installations and the professional teams that cooperate to create them.
> > And they make a new linkage by referring to distributed imagination,
> > which is most certainly going to require imagination to fill in the
> > ineluctable gaps, and provide us with some insight insight into the
> processes involved.
> >
> >  Those are my issues for starters. What strikes others?
> >
> >  mike
> >
> >  PS--
> > For those of you who missed this topic, the article is attached.
> >
> >
> >
> >  --
> >
> > Both environment and species change in the course of time, and thus
> > ecological niches are not stable and given forever (Polotova &
> > Storch, Ecological Niche, 2008)
> >
> >
> >