At Culture Lab in Newcastle this week my colleague Jimmy Tidey ran a workshop with some other Creative Exchange PhD candidates in the context of a program wide symposium. I was facilitating and we had arranged between us to use the social network mapping technique to run an exercise related to more general understandings about networks. Jimmy outlined three types of network; digital, hybrid, and physical, all with different properties. He then invited participants to model networks of these types using the method designed for the Elephant Trumpets project.
Examples of the networks chosen by participants included: car sharing and community vegetable distribution networks as examples of hybridity, and the so-called ‘old boy’s network’ as an example of a physical organisation mediated by sports, clubs, social occasions, and family groups. One definition we started with was that the chosen networks should not be negotiated by monetary value but rather by social capital.
The way the cork tile mediated conversation was interesting to observe this time as groups of three or four were completing the representation together. This meant discussion within groups about the placing of pins and bands, changing the position once placed, lots of written annotation on the tile and plenty of back and forth about what the nodes and edges signify. A finding for my research is that it’s through the doing of the task that meaning is negotiated in the group. The activity mediates the emergence of meaning through series of processes including assigning categories to the pins – a bit like co-devising a coding strategy for analysis.
Vygotsky claimed primacy for this idea in psychology back in the 1920s with his demonstration that human cognition (inner representation) comes not from immanent mind structure, as Descartes might have said, but develops as a result of our interactions with artefacts in social settings. My emphasis here is with physical artefacts, mental models, and meaning making rather than with cognition in general or language as an artefact. Meaning for Vygotsky is embodied in artefacts which are activated by our interaction with them.
This idea has epistemological roots in Heidegger’s experiencing of the physical (or phenomenological) and Hegel’s dialectic whereby development proceeds by stages that critique their immediate predecessors. So engagement with artefacts shapes how we think. They engage Heidegger’s distinction between zuhanden (ready to hand) and vorhanden (present at hand). Things that are ready to hand can be used, they are utilitarian and exist in a network of relations – relations of concern – that consists of similar artefacts with related modes of completion and performance. People carry out the task of creating a network map in a group by relating the activity to a network of similar tasks, using similar tools. The job of the designer is to harness this knowledge of the network of entities in a way that creates new forms and new shareable knowledge.
We did shoot lots of video of the session, when all uploaded it should provide a great resource for analysis…