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Distributed Thinking II: A symposium
University of Hertfordshire
17-18 September 2009

Categories in Action

Since distributed thinking focuses on how we do what we do in the world, it is inseparable from how we draw on categories. When interaction is the main unit of analysis, categories (whatever they are) act as crucial constraints on language, perception and what happens. In highlighting categories in action, therefore, we look beyond representationalist views. While our focus is partly motivated by theory, work in applied settings depends on just such an actional view. Pursuing this, we link our theoretical work with work on Health Interactions. Not only will this give the two days of the symposium a different flavour but, we hope, it can synergise issues by driving methodological innovation.

Day 1
In the wild, cognition exploits more than memory, perception, attention and so on. Indeed, increasing weight is given to both how we use external resources and how cognition uses timescales that are longer than those of standard experiments. Once this shift is made, emphasis falls on a contrast between real-time coupling and ways of using ‘off-line’ resources (including categories). Our concern is with how these contribute to linguistic and other cognitive tasks as, together or alone, we act, perceive and speak.
We begin with discussion of how mainstream Psychology and Linguistics conceptualise categories (led by Sue Anthony and Sune Steffensen). Next, we turn to empirical work that examines how categories impact on living subjects as they engage with each other and/or physical objects. In this way, we prepare the theoretical ground for using a DLG view of language to clarify events in health settings. We ask how, in different environments, second order cultural constructs (including ‘words’) constrain how people engage with available expertise, external resources and fellow beings.

Day 2
The DHI group are developing a tool-box for use in work-place settings. The focus is on developing new understanding of health interactions. By bringing the group together the symposium offers an opportunity to engage with others who are interested in health issues. The DHI work is currently focused on what happens in health interactions. New means of categorizing are required because, in important ways, people create and construe (inter) action while talking unpredictably. To optimise the skills of health professionals, we need to understand such events. Practically, this matters because, quite clearly, such moments influence both well-being and long-term health outcomes. In looking beyond routines and procedures, an actional view of categories is thus of practical value. In the presentations, we will contrast standard methods with new ways of examining real-world cognition. Our empirical work draws on (among other things) research at the UH simulation centre, doctor-patient interactions, and encounters in focus groups. The methods under development include ones that examine pico-scale coupling, metaphor analysis, how people (fail to) bring off pivot-events, and how focus-groups can be used to delve below surface information.

Provisional participants include:

Anthony Sue, Hertfordshire
Brands, Martien, Amsterdam
Cameron William, Glasgow
Cowley Stephen, Hertfordshire and KwaZulu-Natal
Engfer Hilke, Southampton
Fioratou Evie, Aberdeen
Fusaroli Riccardo, Arhus and Bologna
Galosia Margarita, Hertfordshire
Gill Satinder, Cambridge
Kravchenko Alex, Irkutsk
Petersen Sarah Bro, Southern Denmark
Pike Andy, Hertfordshire
Raczaszek-Leonardi, Joanna, Bologna and Warsaw
Ryder Nuala, Hertfordshire
Stuart Susan, Glasgow
Steffensen Sune, Southern Denmark
Steinhart Norman, Toronto
Valle-Tourangeau, Fred, Kingston

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