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Which clippings match 'Michael Polanyi' keyword pg.1 of 1
24 FEBRUARY 2013

Theory construction problems in design research

"Until recently, the field of design was an adjunct to art and craft. With the transformation of design into an industrial discipline come responsibilities that the field of design studies has only recently begun to address.

This transformation means that design is becoming a generalizable discipline that may as readily be applied to processes, media interfaces or information artefacts as to tools, clothing, furniture or advertisements. To understand design as a discipline that can function within any of these frames means developing a general theory of design. This general theory should support application theories and operational programmes. Moving from a general theory of design to the task of solving problems involves a significantly different mode of conceptualization and explicit knowledge management than adapting the tacit knowledge of individual design experience.

So far, most design theories involve clinical situations or micro–level grounded theories developed through induction. This is necessary, but it is not sufficient for the kinds of progress we need.

In the social sciences, grounded theory has developed into a robust and sophisticated system for generating theory across levels. A 'grounded' theory is an inductive theory emerging or rising from the ground of direct, empirical experience. These theories ultimately lead to larger ranges of understanding, and the literature of grounded theory is rich in discussions of theory construction and theoretical sensitivity (Glaser 1978, 1992; Glaser and Strauss 1967; Strauss 1991; Strauss and Corbin 1990, 1994).

One of the deep problems in design research is the failure to engage in grounded theory, developing theory out of practice. Instead, many designers confuse practice with research. Rather than developing theory from practice through articulation and inductive inquiry, some designers mistakenly argue that practice is research. From this, they claim that practicebased research is itself a form of theory construction."

(Ken Friedman, 2008, pp.153–154)

Ken Friedman (2008). "Research into, by and for design." Journal of Visual Arts Practice Volume 7 Number 2. Intellect Ltd. Article. English Language. doi: 10.1386/jvap.7.2.153/1


2008 • Anselm Strauss • application theories • art and craft • Barney Glaser • Christopher Fraylingclinical researchclinical situationsconceptualisationdesign disciplinedesign fielddesign researchdesign studies • design theories • Donald Schon • empirical experience • empirical-analyticexplicit knowledge • general theory of design • generalisabilitygenerating theorygrounded theoryHerbert Read • individual design experience • inductive enquiryinductive reasoning • inductive theory • Journal of Visual Art Practice • Juliet Corbin • Ken FriedmanMichael Polanyi • micro-level grounded theories • Nigel Cross • pamphlet • Peter Bergerpractice-based research • research by design • research by or through designresearch for design • research into design • research through designsocial sciencestacit knowledge • theoretical sensitivity • theory building • theory construction • Thomas KuhnThomas Luckmann


Simon Perkins
31 JULY 2012

Michael Polanyi and tacit knowledge

"Central to Michael Polanyi's thinking was the belief that creative acts (especially acts of discovery) are shot–through or charged with strong personal feelings and commitments (hence the title of his most famous work Personal Knowledge). Arguing against the then dominant position that science was somehow value–free, Michael Polanyi sought to bring into creative tension a concern with reasoned and critical interrogation with other, more 'tacit', forms of knowing.

Polanyi's argument was that the informed guesses, hunches and imaginings that are part of exploratory acts are motivated by what he describes as 'passions'. They might well be aimed at discovering 'truth', but they are not necessarily in a form that can be stated in propositional or formal terms. As Michael Polanyi (1967: 4) wrote in The Tacit Dimension, we should start from the fact that 'we can know more than we can tell'. He termed this pre–logical phase of knowing as 'tacit knowledge'. Tacit knowledge comprises a range of conceptual and sensory information and images that can be brought to bear in an attempt to make sense of something (see Hodgkin 1991). Many bits of tacit knowledge can be brought together to help form a new model or theory. This inevitably led him to explore connoisseurship and the process of discovery (rather than with the validation or refutation of theories and models – in contrast with Popper, for example)."

(Mark K. Smith 2003,

Smith, M. K. (2003) 'Michael Polanyi and tacit knowledge', the encyclopedia of informal education,

Hodgkin, R. (1991) 'Michael Polanyi – Prophet of life, the universe and everything' Times Higher Educational Supplement, September 27, page 15.

Polanyi, Michael (1967) The Tacit Dimension, New York: Anchor Books. (108 + xi pages). Based on the 1962 Terry lectures (Yale) this book provides an overview of tacit knowledge. He looks at tacit knowing, emergence and the significance of a society of explorers.


acts of discovery • connoisseurship • creative acts • critical analysisdiscovery process • exploratory acts • formal logic • hunchesimaginingsinductive reasoning • • informed guess • Karl Popperlogical-analytical paradigm • Mark Smith • Michael Polanyiobjectivity • passions • personal commitments • personal feelings • Personal Knowledge (book) • pre-logical phase of knowing • propositional logic • reasoned interrogation • reasoning • refutation • Robin Hodgkin • sensemakingtacit • tacit forms of knowing • tacit knowledge • The Tacit Dimension (book) • theories and models • theory building • theory validation • truth • value-free science • we can know more than we can te


Simon Perkins
10 DECEMBER 2008

A Model of Collaborative Knowledge Building

"Martin Heidegger (1927/1996) (an important recent German philosopher) and Donald Schön (1983) (an influential American theoretician of design) argue that learning starts on the basis of tacit pre–understanding (Polanyi, 1962; Winograd & Flores, 1986) (see chapter 4). Some form of breakdown in planning or in our worldly activity renders elements of this tacit understanding problematic on occasion (Dewey & Bentley, 1949/1991). The network of meanings by which we make sense of our world is torn asunder and must be mended. The resolution of the problem proceeds through a gnawing awareness of the problematic nature of some piece of our understanding. We may be able to repair our understanding by explicating the implications of that understanding and resolving conflicts or filling in gaps–by reinterpreting our meaning structures–to arrive at a new comprehension. This typically involves some feedback from the world: from our experience with artifacts such as our tools and symbolic representations. For instance, we might learn a new sense of some word or a new application of a familiar tool–more ambitiously, our understanding might undergo a fundamental conceptual change. If we are successful and the problem disappears, this new comprehension gradually settles in to become our new tacit understanding and to provide the starting point for future understanding and further learning.
The process of interpretation that seems to be carried out at the level of the individual mind is already an essentially social process. The network of 'personal' meanings ultimately has its origin in interpersonal language and culture. Interpretation takes place within language (Wittgenstein, 1953), history (Gadamer, 1960/1988), culture (Bourdieu, 1972/1995; Bruner, 1990; Cole, 1996), social structures (Giddens, 1984b) and politics (Habermas, 1981/1984). Our 'internal' thought process capabilities and structures themselves have origins in our previous social interactions (Mead, 1934/1962; Vygotsky, 1930/1978). Our personal interpretive perspective or voice is a consolidation of many perspectives and voices or genres of others we have known (Bakhtin, 1986b; Boland & Tenkasi, 1995)."
(Gerry Stahl)

Stahl, G. (2006). Group cognition: Computer support for building collaborative knowledge. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


2006Anthony Giddens • Arthur Bentley • constellationscultural signalsdialogicDonald SchonengagementFernando Flores • George Mead • Gerry StahlHans-Georg Gadamerindividualinformation in contextintegrationJohn DeweyLev VygotskyLudwig WittgensteinMartin HeideggermetaphorMichael PolanyiMikhail Bakhtinmodelnetwork • network of meanings • ontologyPierre Bourdieu • Ramkrishnan Tenkasi • Richard Boland • shared languagesocial constructionismtacitTerry Winograd


Simon Perkins

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