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On “Technomethodology”:Foundational Relationships between Ethnomethodology and System Design

Paul Dourish, Graham Button
Over the past ten years, the use of sociological methods and sociological reasoning have become more prominent in the analysis and design of interactive systems. For a variety of reasons, one form of sociological enquiry, ethnomethodology, has become something of a favoured approach. Our goal in this paper is to investigate the consequences of approaching system design from the ethnomethodological perspective. In particular, we are concerned with how ethnomethodology can take a foundational place in the very notion of system design, rather than simply being employed as a resource in aspects of the process such as requirements elicitation and specification.

We begin by outlining the basic elements of ethnomethodology, and discussing the place that it has come to occupy in CSCW and, increasingly, in HCI. We discuss current approaches to the use of ethnomethodology in systems design, and point to the contrast between the use of ethnomethodology for critique and for design. Currently, understandings of how to use ethnomethodology as a primary aspect of system design are lacking. We outline a new approach and present an extended example of its use. This approach takes as its starting point a relationship between ethnomethodology and system design which is a foundational, theoretical matter rather than simply one of design practice and process. From this foundation, we believe, emerges a new model of interaction with computer systems which is based on ethnomethodological perspectives on everyday human social action.
Human-Computer Interaction, Vol. 13, No. 4., 1998, pp 395-432.