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The Concept of ‘Work’ in CSCW

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The scope of CSCW, its focus on work , has been a topic of sporadic debate for many years — indeed, from the very beginning in the late 1980s. But in recent years the issue has become one of general concern. Most of this debate has been taking place in closed fora such as program committees, editorial boards, and email discussion groups, but over the last few years the debate has been brought out in the open in a few publications, in particular in a programmatic article from 2005 by three esteemed CSCW researchers: Andy Crabtree, Tom Rodden, and Steve Benford. They argue that CSCW should ‘move its focus away from work’. Other researchers argue along the same lines. Taking this open challenge as a welcome cue, the present article addresses CSCW’s scope: the rationale for its focus on ordinary work. After an initial discussion of the arguments put forward by Crabtree et al. and by others, the article focuses on an analysis of the concept of ‘work’, drawing on the methods and insights of ‘ordinary language philosophy’, and, flowing from this, a critique of the notion of ‘work’ in conversation analysis. After a critical appraisal of prevailing myths about the realities of work in the contemporary world, the article ends in an attempt to position CSCW in the context of technological development more broadly. The underlying premise of the article is that it is time to reconsider CSCW: to rethink what it is and why it might be important.


Schmidt, Kjeld (2011): The Concept of ‘Work’ in CSCW. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 20. DOI: 10.1007/s10606-011-9146-y. Springer. PISSN: 1573-7551. pp. 341-401