Cooperation, Coordination and Interpretation in Virtual Environments: Some Thoughts on Working-Together

Research paper by L. D. Introna

Indexed on: 01 Apr '01Published on: 01 Apr '01Published in: Cognition, Technology & Work


The need for information technology-mediated cooperation seems obvious. However, what is not obvious is what this means and what social demands such cooperation may imply. To explore this is the intention of the paper. As a first step the paper performs an etymological analysis of the words telecooperation and telecoordination. Such an analysis indicates that cooperation happens when people engage in the production of a work as if ‘one mind or body’, where their activities fuse together in a way that makes the suggestion of separation seem incomprehensible. In the work they do not merely aim to achieve an outcome, they also ‘insert’ themselves ‘in’ the work in a way that makes it a human achievement rather than a mere product – this is cooperation as working-together. With this notion of cooperation in mind the paper then proceeds to analyse the social conditions for cooperation as working-together. It shows, using the work of Wittgenstein, that language is fundamental to cooperation and the sharing of knowledge – not language as a system for the exchange of information but language as a medium for the co-creation of a local way of doing, a local language, to capture the local distinctions that make a particular local activity significant and meaningful to the participants. The paper then proceeds to question this strong notion of cooperation. It argues that most cooperative activities tend not to conform with such stringent demands. The paper suggests that a cooperative problem is best viewed as a situation in which ambiguity is accepted as a structural element of the interaction. From this perspective the paper suggests that hermeneutics may be a productive way to understand the creation of shared interpretative spaces that makes mediated cooperation possible. The paper concludes with some implications for mediated cooperative work.