Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The "artful practices" of interaction: Garfinkel, Goffman and Sacks

The indexical system of interaction plays a central role in ethnomethodology and is a systematic method for illustrating, through conversation, the co-operative and contextual methods participants use to create meaning and organise experience. For Garfinkel (1984), indexical expressions are accomplishments that illustrate the complex organisation of everyday life what he would call ‘artful practices’. In many ways this system when interrogated systematically highlights the complexities in context and meaning that are underneath the majority of conversational sequences. The indexical scheme is one of organisation, centrally located in specific language systems that are culturally specific. On one level indexicality illustrates the management of local context and on another is demonstrates the maintenance of localised order. It is the turn by turn accounts in communication that illustrate the tacit knowledge’s that are at play in everyday experience.
Sacks (1995:163,333) shows the use of indexical expressions in everyday language through words such as ‘you’, ‘we’,’ they’ and ‘us’. Particularly these terms for Sacks are devices that illustrate the production of membership categories through language and are evidence of the machinery of social organisation (1995:40). These categories are produced with the implicit understanding that other members or non-members will know a lot about any given category; they are inference rich:

By that I mean a great deal of knowledge that members of a society have about the society is stored in terms of these categories. And by ‘stored in terms of’ I mean that much of the knowledge has some category term from this class as its subject. And the inference rich character of these categories constitutes another warrant for their occurrence in early parts of first conversations: When you get some category as an answer to a ‘which’- type, you can feel that you know a great deal about the person (Sacks 1995:40-1).

The inference rich character of indexical expressions illustrates a conditional application of context and knowledge to the maintenance of local order through conversational sequence. Sacks uses the term ‘you” to illustrate the complex nature of identifying the different meanings attributed to ‘you’ depending on the context in which it is used(1995: 348). ‘You’ can mean the person speaking, the person hearing (or everyone present) and such understandings are implied through the utterances relationship to the speaker and the hearer. Such that the speaker will not explain what ‘you’ means and the hearer will not tell how they come to understand who ‘you’ is, but the collaboration between the speaker and the hearer brings both parties to the same conclusions. Thus indexical expressions rely on the construction of categories and activities for that category to apply specific meaning. These expressions derive their context from the order, sequence and time in which they were given – meanings as such are never context free but context specific; the example of laughter as an indexical expression illustrates such properties (Garfinkel and Sacks 1986:160-1).

Not only is laughter produced in an orderly fashion, but it appears that an occasion of laughing together is an activity in its own right, an achievement of various methodic procedures (Jefferson, Sacks et al. 1987:158)

Laughter has to be placed sequentially within a conversation in order to understand the meaning with which it is given as a turn to an utterance (Jefferson, Sacks et al. 1987). It is a strategic method for affiliating or disaffiliating with a topic or person in a conversation and is a tool for aligning conversation, topics and people in particular ways without using explicit language. Laughing is never context free, but must be understood in terms of the sequence in which it is heard, that is what came before and after the opportunity to laugh.

Inference mechanisms and indexical systems are important to the systematic ordering of conversation and progress toward social order that is driven though language systems; the devices of control are locally represented through conversation in the ways participants construct their own categories and reference points for others to agree or disagree.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Revisiting Goffman's Interaction Order (Just For Fun!)

Goffman’s (1982) Interaction Order is a probing but thoughtful paper and probably the most complete reference to his conceptual model of the interaction order, as it explicitly takes into account his motivations and impetus for practice – something he regularly hides in the majority of his academic writing. Perhaps this is because, at the time, there was contention over his initiative that this piece is so explanatory.

My concern over the years has been to promote acceptance of this face to face domain as an analytically viable one – a domain which may be titled, for want of a better name, the interaction order – a domain whose preferred method is microanalysis. My colleagues have not been overwhelmed by the case. (Goffman 1982: 2)

The Interaction order is a name given to a body of theory that was developed over a substantial period of time in Goffman’s career, but in itself it raises many questions about the design of face to face interaction and the order in which that interaction is achieved.

Face to face interaction is an inclusive reference point for Goffman who believed that spatial and temporal zones of interaction had to be taken into account to make analytical sense. The contextual implications of activities occurring ‘secondary’ to conversational interaction are central to Goffman’s argument; surrounding actions may impact on how interaction takes place. He did not presume context but forced the issue of context to interactional discourses (1981:188-91). In addition, the interaction order was a world beyond speakers and participation was not the sole requirement for membership in conversation. His position called for a greater understanding of the socially situated experiences of daily life, of cognitive states and bodily orientations(Goffman 1966).

The interaction order for Goffman is not at the will of dominant social structures, in fact he took great care to describe many processes where the social structures were dependant on face to face encounters (1982: 8-9). He felt that sociological discourse was confusing ritualised interactions with structures of power and authority in western culture. Those sociological inquiries of race, gender and hierarchy in conversation were negating the experience of face to face conversations. While he noted the importance of such fields of study he suggested that the local order of face to face interaction must be the primary goal before other issues (such as authority or power structures). His main concern was that the micro interaction would become lost in the macro discourse and local regularities of face to face communication would inadvertently be interpreted as part of macro discourse. His suggestion was to seek the micro study first, then progress to the macro discourse and marry the two concepts later.

Perhaps for Goffman it is the order, not the interaction itself that analytically means more. The presence of the interaction order is to illuminate the ‘what’ in interaction; what does a particular gathering, a particular conversation, a particular celebration allow for? What does the structure of interaction, as a collaborative activity, permit its participants to do? The interaction order provides a multitude of resources to ask questions of and provide answers to the above.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Positioning Ludic Experience in Web 2.0

The correlation between digital interactions and ludic experiences is important to a broader concept of play in urban settings (Stevens 2007). Games and play are designed into everyday life often through the structure of public space where ludic interactions are formalised through cultural spaces. For this to work an assumption must be present; public space, playing games and interactions with others (through games) is a requisite to life. This inevitably transforms social interaction, particularly less formal interactions that connect people with a mutual anticipation of ‘everyday’ ludic pleasure, where even the simplest interactions form the basis of joy, play and connection between people. Fun and play are contained within the idea of ludic activity which is described below:

Fundamental to the notion of ludic activities is an attitude of engagement in the exploration and production of meaning. Thus systems that promote ludic pursuits should provide resources for people to appropriate, rather than content for consumption or tools that structure the performance of defined tasks
(Gaver, Bowers et al. 2004 )

If we are to give this expectation a name it may be “ludicity”– the expectation of play and fun in everyday life. Such ludic expectations are not fully understood by social theory as the pace of technology and digitised connections is much faster than the theorists behind it. Beyond ludicity, the ludic is a reference that explains the transformation of cultural needs and practices of daily life that are centered around play behaviors (Cardena and Littlewood 2006: 287). It is important as a grounding theory as it rationalises two important concepts making them invisible and seemingly less noteworthy; firstly it develops play as an ordinary and expected interaction criteria and secondly it re-classifies verbal communication as a domain of play. “In play…verbal messages become typically re-classified by simultaneous non verbal messages that involve a different logical typing – a higher degree of abstraction” (2006; 207). When such ludic practices are investigated in the light of new digital technologies (here games like Second Life are intended to be brought to mind), what degree of abstraction is occurring? The focus toward fun and pleasure is demonstrated in the discrete ways such behavior collapses what it is to be a producer and consumer confusing all popular understandings of authenticity. The boundaries of both are blurred until there is no true distinction between either, this has in recent times been named Web ‘2.0’, where the cultural influence is one that makes production and consumption fluid and rather sticky (Wesch 2007). Ultimately how does theory accommodate for such blurring points of culture, the negotiation of legitimacy and the rate that culture and values change. The ludic is an influence which describes this interactivity and collaboration but is not understood with a depth and clarity which would allow researchers to make any claims with certainty.

To be more specific how is the genre of ludic re-classifying communication systems in digital play environments and to what extent can they be explained as characteristic of such environments. It is fair to suggest that for the digital sphere, ludic - with its emphasis on play behaviour - has allowed the rise in “new abstractions” that make it popular as a medium of self amusement. That is, it provides a type of passport which enables play behaviours into domains like technology that traditionally are associated with scientific disciplines (Pinch 2006). The ludic has become an expectation of everyday in a cultural world that is determined by the connections between people. The six degrees of separation is not a tangible string of relations but a fluid line of social interactivity which allows participants to express the degree to which they are connected to one another and the novelty of those connections as they fit into the everyday life of participating individuals. More significantly the intensity of those ties and connections are determined by those who contribute in a mutually understood yet rarely vocalised agreement made tangible through informal participation patterns. It is these informal patterns that are the central question of this study – and it is the intention to formalise a basis of such interaction which conceptually and empirically addresses the nature of interaction in the digital as a contingent local production.