Suchman’s Plans and Situated Actions

Lucy A. Suchman
Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem of Human-Machine Communication
Area: Digital Media

•    All activity is fundamentally concrete and embodied
•    The circumstances of our actions are never fully anticipated are continually changing
•    Mutual Intelligibility: the relation between observable behavior and the processes not available to direct observation, that make behavior meaningful
•    The goal is a machine, given some input, reacts/produces the right output behavior by simulating human cognitive processes
•    Suchman uses the terms “interaction” and “communication” interchangeable ⇒ troublesome to me…
Chapter 2
•    Turkle: alive v. not alive; machine v/ person
•    All the things one designs v. all the things with which one communicates
•    Machine operation becomes less a matter of pushing buttons or pulling levers and more a matter of specifying operations and assessing their effects through the use of a common language
•    Term “partner” or “user” in person-computer interaction??
o    “User” isn’t applied to a participant in a conversation
Chapter 3
•    For cognitive science, the background of action isn’t the world as such, but knowledge about the world.  Researchers agree that representation of knowledge about the world is a principal limiting factor on progress in machine intelligence
Chapter 4
•    Indexical Expressions: rely on the here and now
o    Example: “That’s a nice one”
Critical moments in the text
3: “I argue that artifacts built on the planning model confuse plans with situated actions, and recommend instead a view of plans as formulations of antecedent conditions and consequences of action that account for action in a plausible way.  As ways of talking about action, plans as such neither determine the actual course of situated action nor adequately reconstruct it.”
7: “Historically the idea of automata – the possibility of constructing physical devices that are self-regulating in ways that we commonly associate with living, animate beings – has been closely tied to the simulation of animal forms.”
8: “Cognitive science, in this respect, was a project to being thought back into the study of human action, while preserving the commitment to scientism.  Cognitive science reclaims mentalist constructs such as beliefs, desires, intentions, symbols, ideas, schemata, planning, and problem-solving.”
49: “A point of departure for the challenge is the idea that common-sense notions of planning are not inadequate versions of scientific models of action, but rather are resources for people’s practical deliberations about action.  As projective and retrospective accounts of action, plans are themselves located in the larger context of some ongoing practical activity. As common-sense notions about the structure of that activity, plans are part of the subject matter to be investigated in a study of purposeful action, not something to be improved upon, or transformed into axiomatic theories of action.”
50: “[Situated action] underscores the view that every course of action depends in essential ways upon its material and social circumstances.  Rather than attempting to abstract action away from its circumstances and represent it as a rational plan, the approach is to study how people use their circumstances to achieve intelligent action.  Rather than build a theory of action out of a theory of plans, the aim is to investigate how people produce and find evidence for plans in the course of situated action.  More generally, rather than subsume the details of action under the study of plans, plans are subsumed by the larger problem of situation action.”


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October 2008
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