Collaborative Process Change by Inscription - a Contested Terrain for Interaction Designers

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


Inscriptions, i.e. the result of how users write, draw, sketch, model or paint or otherwise create persistent content are an important object of study in interaction design. It is conceptualized in many different ways – as representation, externalization, reification, notation, articulation, to name a few, and the resulting conceptual plethora creates problems for advancing scientific understanding. This dissertation aims to increase the understanding of collaborative inscription and practice development and its relation to ICT artefacts. In particular, conscious inscription for attaining change is focused. The purpose is reached by theoretical research on current relevant theories of inscription, combined with action research as a second strand of research. The theoretical research investigates the concept of representation in classical cognitivism, various strains of dialectical approaches derived from the psychologist Vygotsky, and Baudrillard’s theory of value. The action research is conducted in the setting of volunteering organizations, their appropriation of inscription technologies and their developmental activity.
The dissertation results in the construction of a concept, syntonic seeds, for the interplay between inscription, collaboration and development. Further, some important situated cultural mechanisms which regulate the relation between collaboration, inscription and development are identified and described. One of the mechanisms is an application of Baudrillard’s general theory of value, which regulates how inscriptions are produced. A second mechanism is the existence of so-called chameleonic activities, activities which are hard to detect in design activity, which also can cause unfortunate conceptions in the purpose of design. The third mechanism is heterogeneity and its power to resist groupware which assumes more homogeneous user bases. The fourth mechanism is how the common conceptual basis, or the lack thereof, can cause non-appropriation. With these intellectual tools at hand, it is possible to discuss the possible futures of technologies for collaboration and development through inscription. The discussion concludes that the tendency is that the technological scene will remain fragmented between various dynamic inscription technologies and static inscription technologies.


  • Pär-Ola Zander
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Information Systems, Social aspects


  • Activity Theory, CSCL, Representation, Collaborative writing, Interaction Design, Dialectical Materialism, Inscription
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
  • Erik Wallin, Supervisor
  • Odd Steen, Assistant supervisor
Award date2008 Feb 1
  • KFS AB
Print ISBNs978-91-977186-0-8
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2008-02-01 Time: 10:00 Place: EC2:101 External reviewer(s) Name: Kuutti, Kari Title: Professor Affiliation: University of Oulu ---