Throughout my research, I have encountered theories and concepts that help me to understand and explain what interaction designers do. One set of theories, or field, that has influenced my thinking heavily in the latter half of this research is enaction, particularly the understanding of enaction that has emerged from the discourse around distributed cognition (Hutchins 2005, 2011, Clark and Chalmers 1998, Goodwin 1994). It is important to include here a brief overview of how I am engaging with the emerging filed of enaction, and in turn, how that applies to my research.
According to Hutchins,
“Enaction is the idea that organisms create their own experience thorough their actions. Organisms are not passive receivers of input from the environment, but are actors in the environment such that what they experience is shaped by how they act.”
A view of the world framed by enaction acknowledges that perception is an act—something that people do—not a passive event that happens to them. Put this way, these contemporary cognitive theories resonate with my understandings of Dewey’s theories of “double barrelled” perception, and experience as the perception of a relationship between “doing and undergoing” (Dewey 1934).
Another consequence of this view of experience is that it gives agency to the things and people that are involved in the experience. For instance: to recognise or see something as a representation of something else—to apprehend metonymy—is to take part in a world that “does not consist of isolated objects, but of a system of enacted understandings” created by “specific culturally shaped perceptual processes” (Hutchins 2011:429-430). The actors in this world create what is perceived through their actions. Artifacts in the world perform something, because the people engaging with those artifacts “enact their meanings” (ibid p434).
This framing of enaction; that people create meaning through actions, and that these actions can ascribe performativity to artifacts, is a useful way to think about the activities that make up a design process, and the places where these processes are performed.
Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The Extended Mind. Analysis, 58(1), 7–19. doi:10.1093/analys/58.1.7
Dewey, J. (1934). Art as Experience. New York: Minton, Balch & Co.
Goodwin, C. (1994). Professional Vision. American Anthropologist, 96(3), 606–633. doi:10.1525/aa.1994.96.3.02a00100
Hutchins, E. (2005). Material anchors for conceptual blends. Journal of Pragmatics, 37(10), 1555–1577. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2004.06.008
Hutchins, E. (2011). Enaction, Imagination and Insight. Enaction: Toward a New Paradigm for Cognitive Science (pp. 425–450). MIT Press.