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Categories, disciplines, and social coordination

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Lucy Suchman's paper, “Do categories have politics,” challenges the validity of speech act theory as a basis for computer systems for workflow support. Suchman fears that the explicitiness of the theory leads to undue discipline when it is applied in practice. Her fear is grounded in a misunderstanding of what it means to use such a theory, and this paper clarifies the difference between formal comprehensive models of behavior and formal structures used in communication and recording, Explicit speech act theory, like explicit accounting procedures, enforces a kind of uniformity that is necessary in any communication situation where ambiguity and vagueness cannot be routinely resolved through direct personal contact and knowledge. The practicalities of large geographically distributed organizations makes the appropriate use of shared structuring a precondition for effective cooperation.


Winograd, Terry (1993): Categories, disciplines, and social coordination. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 2, No. 3. DOI: 10.1007/BF00749016. Springer. PISSN: 1573-7551. pp. 191-197