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A Pragmatic Approach to Context and Meaning. Pragmatism. Fosters highly inter-disciplinary work Discourages theory in isolation from application Encourages many co-existent theories. Vygotsky’s Genetic Theory. Phylo-genesis: the biological evolution of the species.

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A Pragmatic Approach to Context and Meaning

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A pragmatic approach to context and meaning l.jpg

A Pragmatic Approach to Context and Meaning

Pragmatism l.jpg


  • Fosters highly inter-disciplinary work

  • Discourages theory in isolation from application

  • Encourages many co-existent theories

Vygotsky s genetic theory l.jpg

Vygotsky’s Genetic Theory

  • Phylo-genesis: the biological evolution of the species.

  • Socio-cultural: the evolution of the society across history.

  • Onto-genesis: the psychological development of the individual.

  • Micro-genesis: the short-term learning or production of a novel behavior.

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Leont'ev's Activity Theory

  • Activities are generally long-lived behaviors by people, directed by some motive or object.

  • Objects are the set of things which are typically changed by the activity, and knowledge of whose state is important for the conduct of the activity.

  • Actions are goal-directed behaviors.

    • almost always cause changes in the world

    • generally much more short-lived than activities

    • are often hierarchical, and there is a wide range of levels of abstraction

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Activity Theory

  • “Operations” are atomic components of actions.

    • Usually short

    • Don't require conscious reflection

  • A role is a pattern of relations between a subject and the other entities.

  • A genre is a pattern of relationships between a tool or action and other entities in the context of an activity.

  • A distinction between activities, which satisfy a need, and the actions that constitute the activities.

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Why Activity Theory?

  • “Longitudinal” rather than “episodic” focus

  • Broad application over the years in many realms

  • It's a multi-level theory incorporating activity, actions, operations

  • Complementary relation to role and genre

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Goffman's Frame Analysis

  • Actions in social contexts are communicative acts.

  • The “frame” is a schema of beliefs and rules which allow an observer to “make sense” of a particular situation.

    • essential, defining elements of a particular culture

    • rely heavily on (anonymous) channels of cultural propagation

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Frame Analysis

  • the diffusion channels of popular culture

  • “language as action” principle

  • The defined activity structure requires only low-order statistical properties of a dataset, and has few parameters.

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Situation Analysis

  • Common Ground is the information shared by two or more parties to a dialog that allows them to achieve some common purpose through the dialog.

  • Grounding is how individuals establish further common ground in the course of a purposeful discourse, or joint project.

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Meaning and Intention

  • The meaning of an action in a context is the anticipated consequences of that action.

  • Context means the activity(ies) of which the action is part, the frame(s) which apply in this situation, and the further common ground (if any) that the subject and observer of the action have built up.

  • A computer, assuming it is able to observe the eventual outcomes of the action in question, can hope to learn the typical consequences of the action in context.

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Modeling Actions

  • Temporal structure

  • Hierarchical planners using predicate logic, probabilistic logic, Hidden Markov Models, Partially Observable Markov Decision Processes, etc.

  • Schank's “script” model

  • Generalized “phrase” (smoothed n-gram) models

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  • Should also be useful as a guide to designers in a variety of situations where designer intelligence substitutes for part of the automation

  • Requires very detailed elaboration of the theory, and is much more likely to expose flaws or weaknesses, or differences between assumptions about the world by the theory’s developers, and reality.

  • A social scientific instrument with which one can observe context in real situations and further contribute to theoretical development.

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