Pragmatic perceptions - James Gibson as a source for understanding web-based social science
Anders Koed Madsen
(Aalborg University Copenhagen)
Paper short abstract:
Paper long abstract:
The emergence of web-based social science has been a much debated topic within STS during the last decade. Projects like 'The Digital Methods Initiative' and 'MACOSPOL' have been pioneers in developing analytical software tools that make it possible to repurpose digital traces for STS-inspired research. Alongside this work, STS-scholars have introduced a series of innovative theoretical concepts that have helped to clarify the kind of social scientific insights that digital visualizations can provide their users with. Some of this work have involved looking back at the thoughts of early sociologists like Gabriel Tarde and John Dewey, whereas other have transferred etablished STS-informed understandings of society and technology to this emerging field. The ambition of this paper is to introduce James Gibson's ecological theory of perception as a relevant - yet underexplored - theoretical ressource for conceptualizing the kind of empirical sensitivity that web-based social science have the potential to deliver. More specifically, the paper argues that Gibson's concepts of 'affordances' and 'invariants' are useful foundations for understanding how digital visualizations offers a specifc 'mode of seeing' that can be a useful supplement to traditional methods in some organizational problem-contexts. The relevance of transferring Gibson's theoretical framework to the context of web-based social science is motivated through a discussion of recent uses of this methodology across organizations in both the public and the private sector.
Digital mediation and re-mediation: What prospects for a future STS?