Interview Project Part 1: Collect and Transcribe an Interview

Goal: To learn how to conduct an interview, and transcribe an audio recording.


  1. For this project you will need some sort of audio recorder. This might be a tape recorder or an app for your phone. Make sure you know how it works before your interview, and that it will record for at least 60 minutes.
  2. Before interviewing, read Ed Hutchins’ interviewing tips and potential interview questions and read Lindlof & Taylor’s discussion of “Qualitative Interviewing”.
  3. Contact a participant in the activity from Project 2 who is willing to talk to you about the activity.
  4. Set up a time and a quiet place to talk to your informant.
  5. Obtain informed consent for interview recording from your informant using the interview consent form.
  6. Turn on the tape recorder and interview your informant about the activity you took photos of. Start with the photos you used in Project 2, but feel free to use other photos as prompts in the interview. Ask your informant to explain what is going on in the activity.
  7. Record at least 30 minutes, but no more than one hour of interview.
  8. Listen through your interview and make an index of what it contains. This should be a list of topics discussed or events in the conversation with some indication of where they appear on the tape. Then choose one or two passages to transcribe.
  9. Transcribe about 1000 words using relaxed transcription techniques. For this, you should just try to get all of the words that are said, including false starts and other disfluencies.
  10. Consider using Express Scribe, a handy transcription tool, that can be downloaded for free here Before trying it out, you should read the tutorial.
  11. Write up the index for your interview. Be sure to indicate on the index which sections of the interview were transcribed. Type up the transcription in clean form. Ed Hutchins has a really nice example of an index and transcription


Due 3/19: Turn in your index and transcription.

Part 2: Describe and Analyze Cultural Models

Credit to Ed Hutchins from whom I’ve adapted this project idea and taken some of the text for the directions.

Reminders for Class Tomorrow – Human Research Subjects

  1. Your homework is to complete the NIH Protecting Human Research Subjects training. According to the website, the course takes approximately 3 hours to complete. (It may take some of you less time. If you have already completed the training for another class or project, you do not need to repeat the training, but you do need to submit your certificate).
  2. At the end of the training, please PRINT your certificate and bring it to class tomorrow. (Alternatively, you can send me a PDF via email if you are able.)
  3. Look ahead to the Photo Documentation project which is due on 2/26. Start thinking about it now. (The informed consent form link does not work yet but will be posted soon.)

Photo Documentation of an Everyday Activity

Goal: To learn how to attend to the details of the world of everyday activities.


  1. In this project you are going to take photos of an everyday social activity. First, choose an activity. It should be something that interests you and something to which you have access. It could be something you do with your family or with your roommates or friends. It could be an activity at your workplace, or in someone else’s workplace. The people involved in the activity should be adults 18 years of age or older. You should choose an activity where you can get close to the action, one that probably has some significant cognitive aspects you can observe. If you are unsure about your choice, please consult with your Professor. You must obtain the informed consent of participants in the activity before you take photos. The procedures for obtaining informed consent are described on the informed consent page. While you are obtaining that consent, also find at least one participant in the activity who will agree to talk to you about the activity later.
  2. Look ahead. This would be a good time to make contact with a community that will provide the data for the remainder of the class projects.
  3. Observe the activity for a while before taking pictures. Get a sense for the nature of the activity.
  4. Take pictures of the activity. Try to capture interesting aspects of the activity and the social and material environment in which it takes place. Take at least 15 shots.
  5. Carefully look at your pictures and choose 2 of them that you find most interesting.
  6. Carefully describe what you see in the two photos. Stick close to the data and pay attention. Look for evidence of cognitive activity. Hopefully, you will see things in the study of your photos that you did not see while observing the event live.

I assume you will use a digital camera for this assignment. The camera in your phone will even be fine, if it has sufficient resolution and a flash (if needed). If you do not have access to a digital camera, you can purchase an inexpensive disposable camera and have the film developed at, e.g., a CVS or Walgreens.

Maximum 800 words of text. Additional figures and tables (if they contribute to the description) are not included in the word count.

Due: 2/26


Download: Informed Consent Form

Credit to Ed Hutchins from whom I’ve adapted this project idea and taken some of the text for the directions.

Informed Consent Information

All research using human and animal research subjects is subjected to oversight to protect the research subjects from unacceptable harms. In the case of research on human beings, a cornerstone of research ethics is the concept of informed consent. Your research subjects must consent to being a part of your study, and they must be informed about the nature of any risks involved. Human subjects research is reviewed by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the Office of Research Compliance (ORC).

The research activities in this class will be conducted under the terms of an application that Professor Brown submitted to the ORC. This application covers the Photo Documentation and Interview activities, as well as the optional Video Ethnography project. You must follow all of the instructions on the project page and on this page.

General Instructions

  1. You must obtain informed consent from every person you collect data from before you collect the data. You must explain to them what you want them to do, what information your are going to collect, and what you will do with the information you collect.
  2. You must keep clear records of the consent given by all participating subjects. Keep track of your consent forms. Keep a record of the total number of subjects you work with.
  3. The people involved in the activity should be adults 18 years of age or older.
  4. You will not interview subjects about their personal lives or other topics that may be socially sensitive.
  5. You will not collect any sort of data on any illegal activity.
  6. You will do whatever you can to protect the interests of the subjects.
  7. If complications arise in your relationship to a subject or subjects, report the problem to your professor immediately

Informed Consent Forms

Download and print enough of the forms to take with you to do your data collection.

  1. Photo Documentation Form – Make sure all of the participants in the activity that you observe and document sign a form, even if you do not actually photograph them.
  2. Interview Consent Form
  3. Video Project Form – Make sure the participants all sign the form before you video them. This project is optional.

Credit to Ed Hutchins from whom I’ve adapted these project ideas and taken some of the text for the directions.

Dewey’s Definition of “Cognition”?

This week in CCC we’re reading the first part of Jean Lave’s Cognition in Practice (1988). Lave is one of the major figures in the area of so-called “Situated Cognition.” This sounds to my ear a little bit like the less conservative “Embedded Cognition” approaches which emphasize that environmental situatedness is important for understanding cognition, without thinking that features of the situation are constitutive of cognition. It is clear from the get-go that this is not in fact Lave’s view:

It will be argued here… that a more appropriate unit of analysis is the whole person in action, acting with the settings of that activity. This shifts the boundaries of activity well outside the skull and beyond the hypothetical economic actor, to persons engaged with the world…

It is within this framework that the idea of cognition as stretched across mind, body, activity and setting begins to make sense. (p. 17-18, emphasis added)

I am drawn back (no surprise) to John Dewey. John Dewey says, in the preface of his 1938 Logic, that throughout the work he refers to “inquiry” where he had previously referred to “thinking.” Perhaps we could adapt his definition of “inquiry” as a definition of “cognition” for situated cognition theory:

[Cognition] is the directed or controlled transformation of an indeterminate situation into a determinately unified one. (“The Pattern of Inquiry,” Logic, 1938, LW 12).

Could be a start.

Course Policies & Expectations

Late Work / Make-up Exams

No late work or make-up exams will be allowed without consent of the professor prior to the due/exam date, except in situations where University policy requires it.

Class Attendance

While reading and writing are crucial parts of the course, the central philosophical activity is live discussion. While class will occasionally involve bits of lecture, this is merely an instrument to a more well-informed discussion. Attendance is thus considered mandatory.

Classroom expectations

You are expected to have read the assignments before class, and it would be to your benefit to also read them again after class. You are expected to bring all of the texts assigned for each day’s class, and have them available to refer to. You are expected to listen respectfully to the professor and your fellow students, and participate in class discussions and activities.

Further standard University policies can be found at

These descriptions and timelines are subject to change at the discretion of the Professor.

Alternatives: Concepts, Theories, and Methods

Conceptual Tools

These concepts will be resources that we return to repeatedly throughout the semester. Any improvements to these definitions that you can suggest are welcome.

  • Process vs. System
    • Processes are events that take place in time
    • Systems are persisting, organized, made of parts
  • Artifact
    • Material object created or modified by humans in order to be incorporated into meaningful actions.
    • Material AND conceptual
  • Mediation
    • A process by which some third entity alters the interaction between two other things.
  • Tool
    • Artifact that mediates between an agent and some object or environment towards some goal.
  • Sign
    • Artifact that mediates between person and environment or social interactions towards some interpretation or meaning.
  • Activity
    • Collective undertaking with a guiding object or motive.
    • Composed of goal-directed actions and routinized instrumental operations.
    • E.g., Healthcare
  • Activity System
    • Community organized by rules and norms, tools, and a division of labor engaged in an activity.
    • E.g., Physician working at a clinic.
  • Actant
    • Humans and non-human tools and objects.
    • Action as interaction, mediation
  • Toolforthoughts
    • Amalgam of tool and thought
    • According to Shaffer and Clinton, all tools involve thoughts and vice versa
  • C3 Process/System
    • Cognitive-Cultural-Communicative Process/System
    • Nascent notion of my own coinage
  • Ecological Validity
    • Related to external validity – generalizability across groups (populations)
    • Grounded in or reflecting real-world settings and real-life conditions.
    • Generalizability from research setting to natural setting.

Theoretical Approaches

These are the theoretical approaches to cognition-culture-communication (C^3^) that we will be discussing this semester.

The big four:

  1. Situated Cognition / Learning / Action
  2. (Socially) Distributed Cognition
  3. Cultural(-Historical) Psychology / Activity Theory / CHAT
  4. Actor-Network(-)Theory

Other related approaches

  • Sociocultural/Socio-historical Psychology/Theory / Mediated Action / Mediational Means (Vygotsky/Wertsch)
  • Enaction / Enactive Psychology
  • Embodied Mind / Embodied Cogniton
  • Extended Mind / Extended Cognition
  • Ecological Psychology
  • And MORE!


  • Cognitive Ethnography
    • Combines aspects of traditional psychological and anthropological method.
  • (Participatory) Action Research
    • Specifically aimed at improving and researching conditions simultaneously, organically.
    • Subjects of study are also co-researchers and agents of change.
  • Multi-Level Methods
    • Phylogenetic history, cultural history, ontogeny, and microgenesis.
    • Look at: Institutions, Activities, Individual Interactions
    • Methods: Evolutionary, Historical, Developmental, Ethnographic, and Experimental
  • Model Activity Systems
    • Design and implement an activity system that is sustainable
  • Actor-Network-Theory
    • Actor-Network-Theory claims to be a theoretical and methodological resource. We’ll try to understand this claim later on in the semester.

CCC Home | Week 1: Introductions

The Dominant Paradigm

These are main features of the dominant paradigm(s) that our main readings will be critiquing and providing alternatives to.

Objects of Study / Ontological Divisions

  1. Mind – Cognition (broad), Person, Agent
    1. Feeling – Emotion / Affect
    2. Thinking – Cognition / Knowledge
    3. Acting – Decision
  2. Society – Groups, Culture (broad)
    1. Culture
    2. Language
    3. Institutions
  3. Communication – Modes of interaction
    1. Media / Information
    2. Rhetoric – Writing / Speaking
    3. Organizations

Associated Disciplines

  1. Sciences of the Mind
    • Psychology, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience
    • Philosophy – of Mind, Epistemology
    • Artificial Intelligence, Education
  2. Sciences of Society
    • Sociology, Anthropology, Linguistics
    • Economics, Political Science
    • Philosophy – Ethics, Political
    • Humanities: History, Literature, Art
  3. Sciences of Communication
    • Communication Studies, Media Studies
    • Network Theory, Information Theory, Telecommunications
    • Rhetoric & Comp, Journalism

Theories and assumptions

  1. Computationalism – Cognition as information processing, formal.
  2. Reductionism – Society to Mind, Mind to Life, Life to Chemicals, Chemicals to Atoms…
  3. Functionalism – Mind and society as complex, structure system whose parts are understood in terms of how they function within and are shaped by those structures.
    • System as stable whole. Body and organs.
    • A type of reductionism
  4. Mind is deep, culture is superficial – e.g., Chomsky.
  5. Communication as thought-downloading.
  6. Learning as passive, receptive.
  7. Cartesianism – The mind is separate from the body, world. It is independent of culture. Our own mind is what we know best, because we have direct access to it, unlike the world.

CCC Home | Week 1: Introductions

Reminders & Tips for Writing Assignments

Here are a list of tips on your writing assignments, such as this week’s Cognitive Diary activity:

  1. Your job is to produce a document that makes it easy for us to see that you did the reading, thought about the issues, and did some real research.
  2. Make specific connections to the readings, e.g., in defining concept, applying theoretical ideas, making comparisons to someone’s work, or in applying methods defined or used by someone else. Always cite the author – use Chicago/Turabian author-date format.
  3. When you make a claim, especially one that isn’t obvious or commonly known, back it up with evidence that supports or illustrates it. Evidence in this class can include both ethnographic observation, images, interview transcripts, etc. as well as references to evidence in articles and books by other authors.
  4. Work on making your paper concise, communicating as much information as needed in the space allotted, use papers writing help if needed.
  5. Please proofread your papers. If possible, get someone else to read your paper and help you edit it.

Many of the points in my general Term Paper Guidelines and Helpful Hints are applicable for all writing assignments.

Term Paper Guidelines and Helpful Hints

  • Choose a guiding idea. Start with a rough version of what you’ll argue for that is a real issue worth exploring and focused enough to fit the length requirements. Don’t commit yourself so much up front that you feel stuck later, though your final paper will need to have a clear thesis/claim.
  • Pick out the relevant readings. Figure out what we’ve read that is relevant to the topic you’ll be writing on and familiarize yourself with what they say.
  • Research using reliable and appropriate resources. It’s best to use sources from an academic press. Consult the databases in philosophy and related areas at the library or on library webpage (the librarians are friendly and willing to help). Required & recommended class texts often include helpful sources in their bibliography. An encyclopedia is fine for giving you ideas for where to look for sources, but it usually isn’t to be used as a primary source itself.
  • Read for relevance. Use highlighters or pens, write in the margins, use sticky-notes, whatever technology will help you pull apart the structure of what you read. You will need to explain and analyze the ideas and the reasons the authors give for accepting those ideas (i.e., the argument).
  • Talk to people about your ideas. This includes classmates, other friends, professor. Get advice. Bounce ideas off each other. Advice is not plagiarism, but do the research and writing yourself.
  • Analyze, don’t summarize. Pick apart the argument and show how it works. Only talk about the part of the text that is relevant to your argument. Leave out useless details. Don’t just repeat in shorter form what has already been said. Your reader should learn something new about your sources.
  • Be prepared to revise or change your claim. Stay flexible. Your research may prove you wrong.
  • Every part of your paper should provide new reasons for accepting your claim. Make sure everything in your paper is clearly connected and makes your point. Focus it. Avoid rhetorical questions!
  • Provide specific evidence. Don’t speak only in vague generalities and abstractions, and don’t just appeal to personal feelings or commitments. Provide facts that actually favor your view.
  • Be creative. Bring something new to the table: a new bit of evidence, a more subtle argument, a novel application of an argument, or a new position in the debate.
  • Write for an interested but relatively unfamiliar audience. Imagine trying to explain it to your peers who aren’t in the course. Better yet, actually try explaining it to them while you write.
  • Use correct grammar and formatting, and a clear style. Consult a standard handbook such as Chicago, Turabian, or MLA for references and citations. Use a style manual like Strunk & White’s. It may be useful to consult a basic handbook of argumentation, such as Weston’s Rulebook of Arguments. Another useful resource is Jim Pryor’s page on writing philosophy papers (which is useful for more than just philosophy papers).
  • Cite every source that you quote directly, paraphrase, or rely on for your understanding of the material, including course textbooks. Again, look to a guidebook like Chicago. Don’t plagiarize! Make sure you understand what that means.
  • The following advice is inspired by Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (NY: Pantheon, 1994).
    • Write “draft zero.” Get all of your thoughts on paper, all the rough notes, quotes, bits of analysis, etc. Arrange it so that it looks sort of like an argument. Print this out and read over it. Highlight your claim with one color. Highlight all of the most important items of support in another color.
    • Write a shitty first draft. Start a fresh document, and commit to not copy-pasting anything (except maybe quotations) from draft zero. Put your argument together. Get the whole thing down on paper before you worry too much about how each part of it works.
    • Revise, revise, revise. For each draft, print it out (preferably on recycled paper!). Highlight (different colors) your (a) main claim, (b) major sub-claims, and (c) key bits of evidence. Make sure that the non-highlighted parts of your paper all work to make clear the connections between the highlighted parts or remove them. Read it again to make sure it sounds good. Show no mercy with your red pen: cross out useless words and sentences, rewrite awkward bits, add in missing pieces. Look over this draft with your classmates, professor, writing center tutors, friends, pets, roommates, significant other(s), parents, coworkers, or whoever can give you useful feedback.