Dias et al., “Distributed Cognition at Work”

Patrick, Aviva Freedman, Peter Medway, and Anthony Pare. "Distributed
Cognition at Work." Cushman, Kintgen, Kroll, and Rose 199-208.

Dias et al. (reprinted here from Worlds Apart) briefly introduce the
concept of distributed cognition, which recognizes "that ‘people appear to
think in conjunction or partnership
with others and with the help of
culturally provided tools and implements’" (199). The authors lead with a
comparison of Hutchins’ research on the complexly coordinated efforts involved
in navigating a ship; Dias et al. compare ship navigation to the work of
managing economic policy done by the Bank of Canada (BOC). A brief few pages of
theorization (drawing on Lave, Hutchings and Engestrom) sets up a protracted
analysis of the activities at the BOC. Unlike the ship, however, which is eased
by routines, the cognitive load for workers at the BOC requires "extended pieces
of reasoning" (201d). Their research focuses on genre, which seem to align with
Miller’s "social action" model: "It is through complex webs of discursive
interactions and, in particular, genres that the cognition of the BOC is
accomplished distributively" (202).

"Hutchings points out that the maps used in navigation look more like
coordinate charts in geometry rather than like amps in an atlas; this is true as
well of the mathematical models and graphs guiding the progress of the BOC"
(200). This gets at the role of images, of maps, and the distinction between
geometries and geographies (like Moretti).

^See "thought styles": "the recurrence of certain lexical phrases (which
represent categories of experience) and argumentative warrants" (203c). The idea
of recurrent and shared categories of experience rings of folksonomy somewhat.
Folksonomy, in this arrangement, becomes a feature of the organization and its
genre-based activities, which include introducing "alternative scenarios" (203c)
and "decision making" (204b).

"It is a commonplace at the BOC that what is expected in writing (and in oral
presentations based on written analysis) is more than elevator economics: that
is, this went up and this went down. There must always be interpretation,
analysis, comparison with forecasts, and possibly suggestions for revision to
these forecasts" (206d).
"All in all, then, the BOC thinks and distributes its cognition through sets of
genres, each with its expected form" (207c).
"Of particular interest to our work is the role of verbal discourse in the
distribution of cognition–especially in the form of sets of interweaving genres
that are not just the media and shaping agents for the interpretation but also
the sites for both social sharing and communal creation as well as the sites for
identifying and negotiating internal contradictions" (208d).

Related sources
Cole and Engestrom. 1993. "A Socio-cultural approach to distributed
cognition. In G. Solomon (Ed.), Distributed Cognitions (1-46). Cambridge:
Cambridge UP.
Hutchings, Edward. 1993. "Learning to Navigate." In S. Chaiklin and J.
Lave (Eds.), Understanding Practice: Perspectives on Activity and Context (pp.
35-63). Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Latour, Bruno and Woolgar, S. 1986. Laboratory Life: The Social
Construction of Scientific Facts. 2nd Ed. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.