Writing as distributed sociomaterial practice – a case study

Avant, Vol. XI, No. 2, doi: 10.26913/avant.2020.02.16
published under license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Aleksandra Kołtun orcid-id
Department of Philosophy
Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin, Poland

Received 25 November 2019; accepted 2 June 2020; published Online First 21 September 2020  Download full text

Abstract: Classical works on writing within cognitive science focus either on the aspects of written text production or the role of writing from a developmental and evolutionary perspective (Donald, 1991; Flower & Hayes, 1981; Goody, 1977; Olson, 1996). Studies concerning the practices of writing in real-world settings are carried out within the framework of situated cognition (Klein & Leacock, 2012; Menary, 2007; O’Hara et al., 2002), but they mainly focus on writer-writer or writer-artefact interactions. This paper provides an ethnographic account of writing that is understood as a practice that is distributed in a dynamically changing sociomaterial system. The cognitive task under study involves making decisions concerning the contents of a formal document as well as turning them into written text, both of which are supposed to take place in an informed and collaborative manner. Task performance depends on establishing a dense network of interactions that involves numerous sources of expert knowledge and people from various professional backgrounds who often represent clashing interests. The focus of the study is 1) identifying the resources employed in order to complete the task, 2) determining what functions they perform, 3) describing the ways that they are coordinated within the distributed cognitive system so that as a whole it creates incentives for some actions while constraining others. The analysis reveals how several resources contribute to realisation of cognitive operations while at the same time producing powerful effects upon the organisation of the cultural practices (Hutchins 2008) within the distributed cognitive system.

Keywords: writing; distributed cognition; sociomaterial practices; social dimension of writing; materiality of writing; external representations; cognitive artefacts


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