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Most of the things that inhabit our social world and shape our conduct in it are created, installed, interpreted and used by humans: behind any architecture there is an architect and behind any object there is not only a design but moreover a designer provided with ideas, theories, expert knowledge, methods and creativity. Action and Agency in Dialogue. Amsterdam : John Benjamins. What these perspectives underlie is that laypersons acting and interacting in a socio-material context do not cope with humans that conceived the artefacts, nor with the Discourses with capital D; Gee Gee, James Paul.

On a daily basis, people rather cope with the meanings, ideas, constraints, possibilities, presuppositions and consequences embodied in and enacted by these artefacts.

The Role of the Reader. Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts. Bloomington : Indiana University Press. Once things has been created, constructed, installed in a social context by human beings, and once they have been delegated by humans Latour Latour, Bruno. Artefacts have agency and a human-independent existence at least post hoc : after they have being created by their authors, they enter into the social world endowed with meaning and performativity Brummans Brummans, Boris. In some sense this is precisely how the culture, ideas and even ideologies brought into being by texts, artefacts, images, technologies and semiotically arranged spaces enter the micro-order of everyday life and make it a cultural world: these meanings or discourses are re-instantiated, ratified, stabilized by people any time they interact — for another next first time Garfinkel Garfinkel, Harold.

Ethnomethodology's Program. Working out Durkheim's Aphorism. Lanham , MD : Rowman and Littlefield.


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In many respect, a theoretical perspective centred on the agency of things underlines that the understandable, accountable, justifiable character of human praxis depends upon a chain of agencies embodied in and enacted by a plethora of different entities with different ontologies Latour Latour, Bruno. Something that is recognized also by social semiotics and multimodal approaches to communication. These approaches underline that objects mediate human interaction: far from being neutral tools they are semiotic artifacts provided with meanings and condensing social discourses and world visions.

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Is there any crucial difference with analyses that take into account the communicative properties of materiality within the multimodal communication framework see Streeck, Goodwin, and LeBaron Streeck Jurgen , Charles Goodwin , and Curtis LeBaron , ed. From a social semiotics perspective, architectures, design, objects and technologies available in the social world are seen as semiotic resources or modes of communication in and through which humans both display and construct culture Aakhus Aakhus, Mark.

London : Arnod. Mediated Discourse.

The Nexus of Practice. Knowledge and habitus are, at the same time, displayed and built in social interactions through the semiotic artifacts we use, whether they are physical objects, gestures or language. In most communicative situations these heterogeneous semiotic resources are intertwined and meaning is situated in and distributed across them: none could effectively interpret a road sign without considering the social and physical world that surrounds it Scollon and Scollon Scollon, Ron , and Suzie Wong Scollon.

Discourse in Place. Language in the Material World.

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Although the role of materiality is acknowledged the more and more by multimodal approach to communication, it remains that analyses of embodied interaction in the material world still appear to explicitly or implicitly adopts a human-centred approach to interaction. In this world where cultural meanings are embodied in artifacts and materiality, these perspectives underline the active role of human subjects at the beginning e.

Depending on what we focus on in the interaction under scrutiny, we can notice that things make a difference, have effects and make us do things, thanks to us but also despite us. Does this perspective imply a surreptitious return to material or technological determinism? The constitutive i. Acknowledging also the passive dimension of any interaction, the multiple ways and circumstances in which things do things without words or we are led by things to do things, does not minimize our active role in the unfolding of the interaction: whichever are the constraints put forward by materiality, any action or reaction is actively implemented by individuals.

We may diligently follow the path traced by things, challenge their force, use them in unpredictable ways and even resist to their performativity yet in any one of these hypothetical cases things make us do something as even resistance is a re action. The Situated Organization. Case Studies in the Pragmatics of Communication Research. The very question is not whether they matter, but how they matter and for whom.

As Schegloff Schegloff, Emanuel. Whose Context? Without entering into this open-ended debate see among others Dupret Dupret, Baudouin. Practices of Truth. An Ethnomethodological Inquiry into Arab Contexts. Linguistic Anthropology. Local Knowledge. Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology. This issue is even more relevant when analysing the agency of the nonverbal and non-linguistic aspects of a given community of practices. Leonardi , B. Nardi , and J. Kallinikos , — Following an ethnomethodological perspective on the constitution of social life, these approaches assume that the material aspects of any given context are embodied in the ways people carry on and order their practices not necessarily nor always discursive.

The agency of things is assumed to be visible observable, traceable and analysable in the design of people's actions and interaction, whether members know and acknowledge it or not. Although these approaches claim to avoid a human-centred perspective, they still rely on human practices i.

View all notes do not deal with all the possible ways in which things have or may have an agency. We distinguish and discuss three clusters of empirical cases typically occurring in the field and often blurred in analysing the role and the meaning of things in a given community of practice. Members refer to i. Members show an orientation to the material aspects of their daily life in the design of their non-discursive practices i. Members do not exhibit any particular public, ostensible and traceable orientation to the material features of the setting: the spatial organization and the objects are unmarked and seem to be just part of the background.

These different clusters require crossing different, yet not mutually exclusive, theoretical stances and methodological approaches. In order to analyse them, things and places should be described or otherwise represented as with the video camera or through maps. The Construction of Social Reality. New York : Free Press.

On a minimal level they should be singled out, pointed to and labelled. In these cases, it is relatively easy for the researcher to focus on what is ostensibly relevant and procedurally consequent for members Schegloff Schegloff, Emanuel. Surely this approach respects the postulate of adequacy Schutz Schutz, Alfred. Collected Papers Vol. The Problem of Social Reality. The Hague : Martinus Nijhoff. An example from the field may clarify the point.

Members are not always, nor necessarily, aware of the agency of things and places. More commonly, they use things and move in spaces, drawing on their affordances to organize their practices in ways that are routinely implemented and become natural by the means of iteration. Consider the following episode. The Charge Nurse is describing the different areas of the ICU to the researchers, indicating the official and normative function or destination of each different section.

But right now it doesn't work this way because the elevator is out of order. This discourse exhibits the nurse's sense of the agency of things: the responsibility for how things function or for what practitioners do is attributed to the material features of the working place. When the utterances inscribed in the material disposition of the place are not aligned with the official culture of the community i. In these cases at least, matters clearly matter for them; their agency is publicly relevant and procedurally consequential for members. The same methodological requirement is also relatively easy to follow when the terra firma of interaction reveals the tracks of the agency of things.

Yet it is less guaranteed. As Cicourel Cicourel, Aaron. Goodwin , — In these cases, the analyst copes with movements, gestures and hyper-contextualised verbal interactions. His or her interpretation of the agency of things in constituting these practices is — at least partially — from outside. Following the etnomethodological perspective Garfinkel Garfinkel, Harold. Yet, even when unmarked, artefacts project certain uses over other, indicate possible courses of action and encode a given simulacrum of the user.

Artefacts convey a particular culture of action Nicolini Nicolini, Davide.

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Put simply, the fact that something is not referred to as relevant in a traceable, public and ostensible way by someone does not mean eo ipso that it is irrelevant. Whether the presence and possible meanings of things are staged embodied, incarnated, enacted by members or not, things participate i. In these cases, any interpretation or inference of their constitutive role relies on their material features and it is mostly, if not exclusively, advanced from the analyst's point of view.

Borrowing a metaphor from Nicolini Nicolini, Davide.

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The advantage consists in transforming the different forms of material agency into noticeable and accountable dimensions open to interpretation by the members themselves. This is not a necessary corollary of focusing also on the unmarked objects of a living space. In the following sections we will analyse some examples from an ethnographic study in an ICU 5 5. This fieldwork was carried out by two researchers who spent 12 full working days in an ICU, from 6.

Different tools were used: video recording of specific events and practices, field notes and a diary, open-ended interviews with several members of the community, explanatory sessions of practices and triangulation of descriptions and interpretation. View all notes to empirically illustrate how things have different forms of agency and how they can be analysed.

In the last decade, ICUs have become more and more concerned with nosocomial infection prevention and treatment. Special attention is paid to multi-resistant bacteria MRB.