Research

My work focuses on mediation, that is, on the processes through which objects and meanings are transformed in hybrid networks of interaction. In particular, I want to understand how technologies mediate interactions among individuals, organizations, and collectives. I find traditional representational accounts of such relationships inadequate and philosophically misguided. In my view, the modern digital information and communication technologies (ICT) present the latest, and perhaps the most radical, example of an historical trend in which relationships among human beings have become increasingly mediated through cultural and institutional artifacts. This turns the question of mediation into a pressing one.

Trained as an engineer, I initially approached this question by studying Artificial Intelligence (AI). That attempt led to many useful ideas but also to many questions that AI research poses but hastily tackles. AI introduced me to more questions than it could possibly answer, and that is the source of appeal and repulsion of AI to me, both of which are recounted in my book Artificial Dreams: The Quest for Nonbiological Intelligence .

My subsequent research is informed by Social Informatics (SI) and Science and Technology Studies (STS). I have found useful ideas and insights in both areas, especially actor-network theory in STS and the interactionist analysis of the computing world in SI. Drawing on these ideas, my current research spans various topics and aspects of mediated interaction that I will briefly describe below. The common thread throughout this work is its focus on what links humans, technologies, and other nonhuman actors in complex and heterogeneous networks of mediation. The diversity of these topics has led me to collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines and areas, where I have found a great deal of insight and information but also common questions and challenges. As a result, much of this work is conducted in collaboration with students and colleagues, whose names appear on my publication list:

  • Human-Artifact Mediations: Attribution Fallacy
    Human beings are susceptible to read more meaning in their artifacts than is indeed warranted, and the AI community builds on this human tendency to develop, share, and mobilizes its own knowledge claims within the community of researchers and in the society at large.

  • Technology-Collective Mediations: Quasi-Objects
    Technology mediates collective processes and activities such as those that take place in Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS) development. I use the notion of quasi-objects as immanent, hybrid, and transient entities that mediate the activities of software developers, participating in them just as humans do;

  • Knowledge Mediations: Social Regimes of Truth
    Central to dominant accounts of KM is the view of knowledge as a mental attribute of individual human beings, that is, as justified true belief. The concept of mediation provides an alternative account of KM based on a sociological understanding of knowledge as the outcome of statements about the world that function as truth;

  • Technology-Organization Mediations: Enron Networks
    Technology plays a strong mediating role in organizations technically and procedurally, but also symbolically. These multiple roles are the subject of a series of studies that I have conducted on Enron Corporation;

  • Ideological Mediations: Free Software Movement (FSM)
    The notion of reliability is a major organizing theme in FSM, which relates to freedom as another major theme in this movement and in debates between the advocates and detractors of Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS);

  • Nature-Culture Mediations: Resilience
    The hybrid networks that bring together the cultural and the natural constitute another site where mediation takes place. Ecologists have increasingly realized that ecological problems cannot be effectively dealt with in isolation from social issues hence, the concepts of resilience as a measure of how susceptible social-ecological systems are to external perturbation;

  • Spatial Mediations: Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
    GIS can be understood as a universe at the intersection of three distinct but interdependent spaces: the geographical space, the social space, and the informational space, all of which mediate human interactions.

  • Regimes of Information
    Information is not only put to use, but becomes information in the first place through situated social practice. Building on the polity model of economic sociologists Boltanski and Thévenot (2006) and their notion of "regimes of worth," I have developed the notion of "regimes of information," with the affiliated pathways of information sharing, mechanisms of trust, and orders of worth, to explain people's diverse behaviors in various situations.

  • Metaphoric Mediations
    Metaphors both reveal and conceal. That is the dilemma they create. The root of the dilemma is the limit of linguistic efficacy – the word is always smaller than the world it seeks to reveal. This creates a gap, that metaphors bridge partly, but never fully. Therein lies the power and the weakness of metaphors – hence, the dilemma.