I’d like to know more, a lot more, about Clay Shirky’s project on pattern languages Pattern Language. Clay’s got a really good head for this kind of thing.
Here’s a summary of a single pattern (see the wiki):
According to Alexander, a single pattern should be described in three parts:
“context” – under what conditions will this solution address this problem?
“system of forces” – in many ways it is natural to think of this as the “problem” or “goal”
“solution” – a configuration that brings the forces into balance or solves the problems presented
Compare this with Harold Garfinkel’s ethnomethodology, which also looks at capturing and articulating the social activities. Garfinkel has some fascinating passages on instructions and instructing action. For Garfinkel the problem is still one of communication, context, reference, language, speech, and so on. Christopher Alexander is somewhere else entirely, though I’d like to understand it better I wonder whether incipient patterns, non-communicative patterns (that is, languages as Alexander means them, not as linguists mean them), are an appropriate reference point for social software?
“Ethnomethodology’s fundamental phenomenon and its standing technical preoccupation in its studies is to find, collect, specify, and make instructably observable the local endogenous production and natural accountability of immortal familiar society’s most ordinary organizational things in the world, and to provide for them both and simultaneously, as objects, and procedurally, as alternate methods. The identity of objects and methods is key. These methods are incarnate in familiar society. Therein they are uniquely adequate to the phenomena whose production they describe substantively, in material details. The competence of their production staffs consists in the unique adequacy of methods. The competence of their productions staffs is, it exists as, it is identical with, the unique adequacy of methods.
EM addresses these provisions as empirically adequate descriptions. It carries them out by eschewing methods of formal analysis. This is done without loss or sacrifice of issues of structure, and without bowdlerizing or ignoring issues of structure or changing the subject. Without sacrificing issues of structure or changing the subject? That means without sacrificing the ubiquitousness in everyday life of the recognizable and accountable, observable recurrencies of practical actions and practical reasoning in coherent ordered uniquely adequate details of generality, of comparability, of classification, of typicality, of uniformity, of standardization. These are recurrencies in productions of immortal, ordinary things—traffic jams, service lines, summoning phones, blackboard notes, jazz piano in cocktail lounge, talking chemistry in lecture format, police protection of an ambulance run, good work in Tibetan Buddhist debates— phenomena that exhibit along with their other endogenously accountable details, endogenously accountable populations that staff their production. What in the world do these things consist of? Where in the world are they found? How in the world are they found? What in the world of commonplace, endogenous haecceities of daily life does immortal, ordinary society consist of as the origin and setting of every topic of order, of logic, of meaning, of method, reason, rationality, science, truth… respecified and rescpecifiable as the most ordinary concerted lived organizationally enacted phenomena in the world?” Ethnomethodology’s Program, 124.
Of related interest is Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory:
“The ‘problem of order’ in the theory of structuration is the problem of how it comes about that social systems ‘bind’ time and space, incorporating and integrating presence and absence. This in turn is closely bound up with the problematic of time-space distanciation: the ‘stretching’ of social systems across time-space. Structural principles can thus be understood as the principles of organization which allow recognizably consistent forms of time-space distanciation on the basis of definite mechanisms of societal integration.” Anthony Giddens, Constitution of Society, 181