Groupware Environments as Action Constitutive Resources: A Social Action Framework for Analyzing Groupware Technologies


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Abstract

Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) is a relatively new and dynamic field dealing with the development and use of groupware technologies in organizations. Several frameworks and models have been proposed for studying CSCW, each conveying a different perspective and theoretical basis. Although these frameworks have contributed much to our understanding of the field, they can be criticized for a lack of holistic understanding of the complex social activity that is constitutive of groupwork. This often leads to the failure of otherwise well designed CSCW applications. In this paper we take up this challenge and propose a social action framework for analyzing groupware technologies. The framework is based on Habermas's theory of social action and four action categories, and the idea that groupware applications serve as sets of rules and resources which mediate group interactions. We demonstrate the value of the framework by analyzing a wide range of existing groupware technologies for their appropriateness to specific groupwork situations in terms of their espoused or implicit assumptions of groupwork, and the action constitutive resources they provide. Our analysis points out that a host of current groupware applications can be fairly easily classified and examined by the way they are configured to support different types of social action. It also suggests that, when implementing groupware applications, developers should critically evaluate: (a) the need for supporting a rich variety of action types, (b) the possible role of computer support in the specific groupwork situations, and (c) the underlying assumptions of groupwork embedded in the groupware platform. Finally, we will discuss how the framework can inform future research and development in the field.

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