submission to summer institute for the science of socio-technical systems

The Consortium for the Science of Sociotechnical Systems is holding their annual summer institute at Skamania Lodge this year. Since I’ve been leaning heavily towards actor-network theory, distributed cognition, and mangle of practice ways of looking at my data, and since it’s so close, I decided to apply. Here’s my research summary I wrote for the application:

Contributions to the Scientific Understandings of Sociotechnical Systems

I research the ecology of gaming and new media (Salen, 2008, Stevens, Satwitcz, & McCarthy, 2008). My dissertation focuses on ethnographic accounts of online gaming practice, documenting expertise development, teamwork, and collaboration in a World of Warcraft player group (Chen, 2009). Using actor-network theory (Latour, 2005) and distributed cognition (Hutchins, 1995), this work treats the group as a learning network that successfully enrolled various human and nonhuman resources to thrive in a high-stakes joint-task environment (Taylor, 2009). I find using an analytical lens that recognizes the mangle of gaming (Steinkuehler, 2006, Pickering, 1993) helps to see that distinctions between subject-object or player-game don’t adequately describe in-action learning across settings and time. Rather, a player group’s expertise trajectory is always collaborative and social, always contentious, and always drawing on both micro- and macro-level sociomaterial (Orlikowski, 2007) resources in complex, messy gaming spaces. Analyses of informal learning arrangements using a socio-technical lens are important for science and technology studies, learning sciences, and new media scholars as specific examples of the distributed nature of learning that may lead to a broader conception of everyday practice and learning with new media.

I combine this object-oriented ontology (Bogost, 2009) with other interdisciplinary ways of describing learning arrangements including how people position and are positioned into specific roles and relationships (Holland & Leander, 2004) across timescales (Lemke, 2000) in interdiscursive moments (Silverstein, 2007).

I hope to continue using these ideas to describe learning across all of life’s myriad settings (NRC, 2009). As I am just finishing my dissertation this year, I feel like my options are wide open. Possible future areas of study include continued work in online and offline gaming practices in different player communities to expanded sites of study. For example, one research interest I have is to study software and media piracy networks and the learning and expertise development within those networks.


  • Bogost, I. (2009). What is object-oriented ontology? Retrieved February 25, 2010, from:
  • Chen, M. (2009). Communication, coordination, and camaraderie in World of Warcraft. Games and Culture, 4(1), 47-73.
  • Holland, D., & Leander, K. (2004). Ethnographic studies of positioning and subjectivity: An introduction. Ethos, 32(2), 127–139.
  • Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network theory. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Lemke, J. L. (2000). Across the scales of time: Artifacts, activities, and meanings in ecosocial systems. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 7(4), 273-290.
  • National Research Council. (2009). Learning science in informal environments: People, places, and pursuits. Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments. P. Bell, B. Lewenstein, A. W. Shouse, & M. A. Feder (Eds.). Board on Science Education, Center for Education, Division of Behavior and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  • Orlikowski, W. J. (2007). Sociomaterial practices: Exploring technology at work. Organization Studies, 28(9), 1435-1448.
  • Pickering, A. (1993). The mangle of practice: Agency and emergence in the sociology of science. American Journal of Sociology, 99(3), 559-589.
  • Salen, K. (2008). Toward an ecology of gaming. In The ecology of games: Connecting youth, games, and learning (1–17). USA: The MIT Press.
  • Silverstein, M. (2007). Axes of evals: Token versus type interdiscursivity. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 15(1), 6-22.
  • Steinkuehler, C. A. (2006). The mangle of play. Games and Culture, 1(3), 199-213.
  • Stevens, R., Satwicz, T., & McCarthy, L. (2008). In-game, in-room, in-world: Reconnecting video game play to the rest of kids’ lives. In K. Salen (Ed.), The ecology of games: Connecting youth, games, and learning (41-66). USA: The MIT Press.
  • Taylor, T. L. (2009). The assemblage of play. Games and Culture, 4(4). 331-339.

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