Computer Science

RELATED TERMS: Interaction; Interaction design; Taxonomy

Paul Dourish (2004) brings to attention Matthew Chalmers’ observation that computer science is based on philosophical assumptions and arguments that were prevalent before the 1930s. Dourish continues,

“Computer-science in practice involves reducing high-level behaviors to low-level, mechanical explanations, formalizing them through pure scientific rationality; in this, computer science reveals its history as part of a positivist, reductionist tradition. Similarly, much of contemporary cognitive science is based on a rigorous Cartesian separation between mind and matter, cognition and action. These are philosophical positions of long standing, dating from the nineteenth century or earlier.”

This dualist, positivist, reductionist philosophical approach has been questioned by the phenomenological approaches of, for example, Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein, as well as other 20th-century philosophers. Such phenomenological questioning informs the embodied interaction approach to human interaction with software systems.

The phenomenological tradition, by emphasising the primacy of social practice over abstract cognition in everyday activity, can shed light on the foundational underpinnings of current research on embodied interaction. Such approaches, extended through what has been called post-phenomenological research into technologies, for example as pursued by Don Ihde (2009, 2010), can be of value for the design of narrative environments, not just those which are digital or which incorporate a digital component.


Dourish, P. (2004) Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Ihde, D. (2009) ‘What Is postphenomenology?’, in Postphenomenology and Technoscience: The Peking University Lectures. New York, NY: State University of New York Press, pp. 5–23.

Ihde, D. (2010) Heidegger’s technologies: postphenomenological perspectives. New York, NY: Fordham University Press.