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19 NOVEMBER 2013

Applying Heidegger's Philosophy to Design

"Heidegger's philosophy offers what is arguably the most thorough account of the process of human understanding available. Although his analysis of interpretation is useful if one is to understand activities like innovative design, it never addresses the realm of design directly. Heidegger discusses interpretation at a high level of generality and chooses his examples from interactions between people and physical artifacts, like the use of hammers by carpenters. He is concerned with the nature of understandingly being in the world. While a person's world includes conceptual and imaginative realms like design, Heidegger's examples primarily come from the world of physical artifacts which can be encountered perceptually. ...

Heidegger treats artifacts in the world the same way he would treat design artifacts on the drawing board. That is, he is not really concerned with them as physically present objects of perception. On the contrary, his main effort philosophically is to distinguish artifacts–in–use from traditional conceptions of physically–present–objects. For example, a hammer in use is not understood by the carpenter as an observed object with physical attributes, but is skillfully applied to the activities of the current situation. Furthermore, this skillful use takes place within the context of future–oriented plans and desires, such as the anticipation of the item that is under construction. This is similar to components of a design, which are skillfully arranged in terms of their relationships to other design components and within the context of the anticipated final design. Marks in a design sketch, for instance, are important for their roles within a network of significances, rather than for their physical properties as lines. Interpretation of both physical artifacts and designs is situated. ...

The notion of breakdown in action plays a rather small role in Heidegger's analysis of human understanding. Heidegger uses examples of breakdown in order to make explicit the network of references among artifacts that are only present tacitly under conditions of normal use. Yet, the notion of breakdown has been elevated to central importance in the theories that have tried to adopt Heidegger's analysis to a theory of design and to operationalize this theory for computer support. Thus, breakdown plays an important role in Schön (1985), Winograd & Flores (1986), Suchman (1987), Ehn (1988), Budde & Züllighoven (1990), McCall, Morch, & Fischer (1990), Dreyfus (1991), Coyne & Snodgrass (1991), Fischer & Nakakoji (1992).

The fact that so many writers influenced by Heidegger have focused on breakdown does not provide multiple independent support for this emphasis. ... most of these writers have been influenced by Heidegger only indirectly–either through Dreyfus or through Schön. If one looks closely at the discussions of breakdown in Dreyfus and Schön, one can note an ambiguity in whether they are speaking about a (ontological) breakdown in the network of references or a (practical) breakdown in action. Dreyfus is certainly aware of the ontological role of breakdown, but he is concerned to make his presentation acceptable to an American audience, trained in the rationalist tradition. For the sake of concreteness, he uses examples that stress the breakdown in action. Schön is also aware of the ontological ramifications, but he has couched his discussion in terms of action (e.g., knowing–in–action, reflection–in–action), so it often seems that his examples of breakdown exemplify breakdowns in action rather than breakdowns in situated understanding. Given that it is easier to operationalize breakdowns in action than breakdowns in situated understanding, it is not surprising that people interested in producing practical results from Dreyfus or Schön's theories would tend to emphasize the action–oriented reading of the ambiguous discussions."

(Gerry Stahl, 5 January 2004)


action-oriented reading • Adrian Snodgrass • Anders Morch • anticipation • artefacts-in-use • being-in-the-worldbreakdown • breakdown in action • breakdown in the network of references • breakdowns in action • breakdowns in situated understanding • carpenter • conceptual domain • concreteness • current situationdesign artefactsdesign innovation • design sketch • design theoryDonald Schon • drawing board • Fernando Floresflow • Gerhard Fischer • Gerry Stahl • hammer • Heinz Zullighoven • Hubert Dreyfushuman perception • human understanding • innovative design • knowing-in-action • Kumiyo Nakakoji • Lucy Suchman • Martin Heidegger • nature of understanding • network of references • network of significances • normal use • objects of perception • Pelle Ehn • philosophy of design • physical artefacts • physical attributes • physical properties • physically present • physically-present-objects • rationalist tradition • Raymond McCall • reflection-in-action • Reinhard Budde • Richard Coynesituated construction of realitysituated knowledgessketching ideas • skillful use • Terry Winogradtheory of design


Simon Perkins
06 JANUARY 2013

Science depends on interpretation, community and tradition

"The beacons of the philosophy of science include Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, and Bruno Latour who refute scientism from various angles: arguing that scientific observations are theory and value laden, science takes place within communities, science can be anarchic, etc, all suggesting that science is as dependent on processes of interpretation, community, and tradition as any aspect of the humanities."

(Richard Coyne, 2011)

Excerpted from a letter to the editor, first published in ARQ: Richard Coyne (2011). What's science got to do with it?. Architectural Research Quarterly, 15 , pp 205–206, doi:10.1017/S135913551100073X



2011anarchic • Architectural Research Quarterly • ARQ • Baruch SpinozaBruno Latour • Chris Argyris • codify • Donald Schon • encyclopaedism • externality • General Systems Theory • GST • Herbert SimonJohn DeweyKarl Popper • letter to the editor • logical positivism • Ludwig von Bertalanffy • optimistic scientism • Paul Feyerabend • Peter Ramus • philosophy of sciencerationalityresearch culturesRichard Coynescience • science communities • science interpretation • scientific knowledgescientific observationsscientific traditionscientismsystematisationsystems theorytechnology as neutralThomas Kuhnvalue ladenVienna Circle


Simon Perkins
13 JANUARY 2012

Training for Practice-Based Research: Adaptation, Integration and Diversity

"Our study was concerned with adapting existing research methods courses to accommodate practice–based research training rather than creating new programmes. Lest we are tempted to develop courses customised exclusively for practice–based research students it is worth noting that practice–based research does not present as a unified mode of studying for a PhD. There are differences between and within subject areas, different modes of study, and there are different outcomes. In the case of PhDs by Composition at the University of Edinburgh, the outcome to be examined is a portfolio of compositions suitable for presentation as a concert programme. No written component is required, other than musical notation and programme notes. ECA defines practice–based research as 'the exploration of a subject of enquiry through practical work accompanied by a related text' (ECA Grad School Student Handbook 2005–2006). The usual model at ECA is for a series of artworks or designs in conjunction with a thesis text, which may take the form of documentation, rationale, justification, position–statement or critique.

As mentioned, the strong assertion for practice–based research is that it is no different than any other kind of research, or, at least, it is as different from the rest as they are from each other. Our trial research methods course included students of archaeology, architecture, landscape architecture, history of art, visual and cultural studies, sound design, history of music, furniture design, fine art, sculpture, drawing and painting, and architecture by design. In fact student feedback singled out archaeology and laboratory–based research into architectural structures as having the least support from the course. Practice–based students also found the course content less than satisfactory to their needs, but personal attention from the art–practice researcher/tutor seemed to ameliorate such deficits, and certain lectures would at least make mention of practice–based research, even if to indicate that it may be an exception to the case under discussion. The importance of this basic level of recognition applies equally to transferable skills training. Practitioners singled out time management, scheduling and planning as crucial in the context of exhibitions and performances, involving the management of a range of conflicting variables.

We conclude that acknowledgement of practice–based research, along with every other mode of research represented in the class, is the least that can be expected in a research methods course. The minimum provision is for intellectual space for practice–based students to give voice to the issues that affect them, and an invitation to discuss the relevance of the material presented in lectures. A further level of engagement involves exposure to personnel who have an investment in the mode of research under discussion, even if that mode of research is not incorporated into the curriculum.

But practice–based research students drew attention to the need for formal practitioner input as vital in delivering insights into ways of working, particularly from those who have already gained PhDs through this mode of study. Practitioner input is to be included within the portfolio of expertise that includes historians, archivists, musicologists, technical experts and information specialists.

Whereas it is desirable to inject yet more course content to accommodate the different groups in a student cohort, this recommendation raises the issue of how to do so in the context of a diverse student cohort. Students from all areas reported their appreciation of the chance to study with students from different backgrounds and in different disciplines. Disciplines can be sufficiently different, but with common threads. In the course under study these threads were highlighted in discussions and at the student conference that culminated the course. Learning through a recognition of difference was also emphasized in the course documentation and some of the lectures and exercises. Difference, provocation and appropriation are major stimuli to creative production and can be exploited in a research methods course that supports a diverse range of students. This is abetted by an ethos of openness and conviviality within the course, identifying possible linkages, and teaching staff being open in discussion contexts. A diversity of research methods delivery is a seam to be mined in the case of practice–based research. In this, the potential eclecticism of practice–based research can provide a model for other modes of research, expanding the idea of what a PhD is or can be.

None–the–less in our trial course the issue of relevance surfaced frequently. The plan had been to deliver course material of general relevance in a lecture format, open the session to discussion and then provide break–out groups organized along disciplinary lines. In practice, the break–out groups proved too informally constituted to fulfill this purpose, and by this stage in any session the lecturers' and students' appetites for further delivery was diminished. Students wanted to discuss, often across disciplinary lines and according to other than disciplinary configurations. The discussions were regarded as extremely valuable, but not in addressing specific disciplinary needs. There is a need for some classes at least that specifically address practice–based research issues.

We conclude that there is value in providing at least one lecture/session on the problematics of research from a practice–based perspective, and involving practitioners. This discussion can also be highly relevant to humanities students whose interest in research may be more eclectic that students in disciplines with a scientific or empirical orientation. Rather than remove practice–based research students from the cohort for special attention, the alternative is to identify students from science–based disciplines, or those working with strictly prescribed methodologies, for alternative instruction. Practice–based students reported their desire to participate in debate and discussion with interested students beyond their own fields.

In summary, practice–based research students benefit from working in a diverse context and do not necessarily require their own course. In fact practitioners reported that there are benefits in being exposed to a variety of different approaches which may shed new light on their research, and the opportunity to make interdisciplinary connections. Nor did students demand their own course, just the recognition of the issues that affected their candidature, the introduction of certain themes pertinent to their modes of research, and exposure to experienced practitioners."

(Richard Coyne and Jenny Triggs, 2007)


art-practice researchercurriculum design • ECA • exegesis • experienced practitioners • exploration of a subject of enquiry • insights into ways of working • Jenny Triggs • modes of research • modes of study • musical notationPhDposition-statement • practical work • practice-basedpractice-based research • practice-based research students • practice-based research training courses • practitionersrationaleresearchresearch methods • research methods course • research trainingRichard Coyne • thesis text • transferable skills • University of Edinburghwritten component


Simon Perkins
11 OCTOBER 2009

A selective process informed by existing theories and practices

"Researchers in the social sciences generally recognize that any evidence gathering is a selective process informed by existing theories and practices (Kuhn, 1970; Winch, 1988). In a reflective research environment these theories and practices undergo revision, which influences the further gathering of evidence. The process is similar to that explained in the context of design as 'reflection in action' (Schön, 1983) and as the interpretive (hermeneutical) faculty in design (Snodgrass, and Coyne, 2006). In what follows I focus on design, and you are invited to consider the applicability of the arguments to artistic practices, composition and other modes of creation."

(Richard Coyne, 28 November 2006)

Kuhn, Thomas. 1970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

Schön, Donald A. 1983. Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. London: Temple Smith.

Snodgrass, Adrian, and Richard Coyne. 2006. Interpretation in Architecture: Design as a Way of Thinking. London: Routledge. 332 pages

Winch, Peter. 1988. The Idea of a Social Science: and Its Relation to Philosophy. London: Routledge. First published in 1958.


Simon Perkins

Self-Reflexivity: The Natural Sciences Versus The Human Sciences

"The natural sciences examine and explain phenomena which do not ascribe meanings or understandings to themselves; the natural sciences are not, and cannot be, self–reflexive; their success depends on their background practices remaining opaque to their practitioners, on their being taken for granted and ignored.[27] The human sciences, by contrast, attempt to understand phenomena which have self–referential and reflexive meanings and understandings; they are necessarily self–reflexive and concerned with their own background practices; and their success depends on their understanding and awareness of their background practices.[28] So whereas the interpretive practices of the scientist play no internal role in the formulation of theories or models in the natural sciences, those same interpretive practices play a major internal role in the human sciences. The human sciences have no reason to exist except to question the bases of human action, and this necessarily includes the self–reflexive study of the bases of their own modes of interpretation. The natural and the human sciences differ in the fact that background is external in the former and internal in the latter.[27] We follow Apel in excluding behaviourist psychology and statistical sociology from the human sciences as being wholly non–reflexive. They deal exclusively with humans as "things," and have a technological relation to practice. See Karl–Otto Apel, "The A Priori of Communication and the Foundation of the Humanities," in Dallmayr and McCarthy, op. cit., 292–315, p. 309.[28] Rorty denies this distinction, claiming that "anything is, for purposes of being inquired into, constituted within a web of meanings." In his view the meanings of actions and practices equate what their agents say about them. See Georgia Warnke, Gadamer, Hermeneutics, Tradition and Reason, London, Polity Press, 1987, pp. 141 ff."

(Adrian Snodgrass and Richard Coyne)

1). Snodgrass, A. and R. Coyne (1997). "Is Designing Hermeneutical", Architectural Theory Review Journal of The Department of Architecture Vol. 1 No. 1. Sydney, The University of Sydney, Department of Architecture: 72.


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