sitemapMy Research: Randall Whitaker, Ph.D.
Title: My Research

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Introduction:
My Research Interests

Owing to a background spanning the social sciences, systems theory, and information technology (IT), my interests and aptitudes focus upon the intersection of people, enterprises, and technology. Generally, my research focuses on systemic approaches to human (inter-)action, human / computer interaction, and the ramifications for enterprises at all scales. My most recent work has been within the general area of computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) -- the field of enquiry addressing how IT can best facilitate collaborating actors' task-oriented communication and interactivity.

Because CSCW seeks to bridge the gap between technology and collaboration, both media and the interactivity effected through them must be taken into consideration. This work is intertwined with the areas of human-computer interaction (HCI) and participatory design (PD). HCI is the field of enquiry concerned with fitting IT to user capacities, while PD addresses the means for fitting IT to social, political, and other factors in the users' workplace. I have applied these orientations to workplace and work process (re-)design, business process re-engineering (BPR), organizational learning, and organizational (re-)design. My most recent assignment (information warfare -- IW) is aimed at analyzing cognitive engineering aspects of collaborative information management and manipulation in very high performance real-time operations.

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Research Issues and My Approaches to Them

The following is a synopsis of the main issues which I have addressed to date in my research and development work. The ordering of these issues is based on my attempt to make coherent the interdependencies among them. It does not necessarily reflect a chronological ordering of my work. If you'd like to look further into the issues outlined in the abstracts listed here, just click on the 'DEEPER...' button.

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Alternatives to Objectivism, Reductionism, and Cognitivism

I've been exposed to, and immersed within, most of the conventional approaches to human cognition and how they apply to the design, configuration, and deployment of IT support. In practice, the prevailing paradigms of objectivism, reductionism and cognitivism have generally lacked sufficient attention to subject-oriented contextuality, inter-subject communicative flexibility, and systemic coherence. I spent several years searching for a coherent and credible alternative to these approaches.

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Applying Maturana and Varela's Work on Autopoiesis and Enaction

The theoretical base I've found most illuminating and useful over the years is what I term autopoietic theory -- the body of theory and applications deriving from the work of Chilean biologists Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela. The work outlined below draws extensively on concepts and orientations drawn from autopoietic theory. If you're interested in exploring this area, I've assembled and made available what is currently the most comprehensive set of Internet resources on autopoiesis and enaction.

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Delineating the Dimensions of Human-Computer Interactivity

In my CSCW work, I have concentrated on how IT can constructively support task-oriented interactivity -- e.g., meetings for design, discussion, and decision making. One of the initial problems was sorting out the multiple and distinct domains of (inter-)action which are intertwined in IT use situations. These domains circumscribe the 'contexts' within which (and across which...) the activities of interest are realized. Differentiating among these contexts is an important first step in constructively analyzing such use situations. My approach to distinguishing among these domains of (inter-)activity is termed the venue framework .

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Outlining the Process Schema for Decision / Action Cycles

Drawing on the venue framework, I have outlined a process schema for problem solving / decision making cycles. This schema illustrates the shifts between 'real world' and representational contexts in the course of addressing a problem or issue. Observational studies of actual design and management teams have consistently reinforced my confidence in this model at the scales of both specific interactional sessions and larger (e.g., project-wide) series of activities.

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Incorporating Contextual Issues in Studies of Interactivity

The process schema outined in the previous section highlights two 'bottleneck' points at which focus shifts between the 'actual' to the 'depictive' domain. The earlier of these two points is the critical nexus at which the issue or problem is delineated and defined (i.e., 'framed') for the purposes of later work. Inappropriate or incomplete problem framing is the key failure factor in such processes, because this initial framing sets the context for all subsequent work. After exploring the background issues concerning this contextualization process, I have reformulated the objectivistic notion of 'context' into a processual notion of contexture.

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Creating Procedures and Tools Supporting Context Specification and Tracking

I have applied the results of the research work outlined in the previous sections to analyze how one might support knowledge building and discursive interactivity with attention to the vital role of contextual and conversational orientation. This applied work has led to the specification and trial of some procedures and tools designed to facilitate contexture.

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