Beki Grinter

The Role of Free Will in HCI

In computer science, empirical, HCI, ICT4D, research on April 17, 2012 at 10:33 am

I have been wondering about the role of free will in HCI research lately. It’s a statement of the obvious to say that there are many different theories that inform HCI research, and those theories make different assumptions about knowledge and truth. And sometimes when I read or listen to conversations about those theories, and the methods associated with them, I hear talk about choice. Most specifically that we can choose the most appropriate theory for the research that we want to conduct.

But can we? Can we really choose among them, is it that simple? I am not so sure. Perhaps it’s just me but I find myself drawn to theories and methods that are commensurate with values I hold. I tend to choose things that produce results (even surprising ones) that I find compelling.

I should say that I am not opposed to others using methods that do not align with my values. In fact, I find the resulting scholarship quite interesting. But I also think I tend to be drawn to those papers in ways that take the results and use them to ask questions that are answerable using methods and theories that align with my values.

As HCI reflects on its methodological and theoretical plurality, I would like the field to reflect on how it talks about those methods and theories and whether we are in fact free to choose, and how free we are?

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