Background

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Place and Space in Interactional Work

Many disciplines, CSCW (Computer Supported Cooperative Work) as one of

them, have taken a “spatial turn,” where geographical concepts to understand

and describe our social world are widely used. With no intent to be conclusive,

we provide a brief background concerning the concepts of space and place by

looking at computer-mediated communication (Harrison & Dourish, 1996),

organizations (Schultze & Boland, 2000) and technologies (Brown & Perry,

2002).

In a seminal article, Harrison & Dourish (1996) argued that spatial models in

computing science were preoccupied with properties of three-dimensional

structures rather than the “mutually-held, and mutually available cultural understandings

about behaviour and action” (p. 67). Instead, they proposed a shift

in focus towards the “invested understandings of place” rather than the

structures of space. It was the meanings and the activities of places that should

be the inspiration for designing computer mediated platforms for social interaction

rather than the evocative objects and the spatially constraining and

structuring elements. Thus, they defined space as the spatial structures and

place as a space invested with understandings. The challenge in this perspective

was to understand places without spaces – i.e., virtual places.1

Both Shultze & Boland (2000) and Brown & Perry (2002) provide fairly

different definitions of space and place. Shultze & Boland (2000) define space

and place as opposite concepts that are “locked into a duality whereby the one

meaning constitutes the other” (p. 216). Space stands for the possibility to

generalise: globalisation, standardisation, social independence, expansiveness,

objectivity, flexibility, perfectibility, unrestrained movement, progress, future,

continuous change; whereas place connotes boundedness: tradition, being,

restricted movement, limited change, constrained growth, situatedness, subjectivity,

presence, physicality, specialist knowledge, stability. However, one

aspect of an organization can be both globalized and bounded, i.e., that both

space and place operate simultaneously. Shultze & Borland explore how

technology workers (contractors) struggle with the dualistic tensions between

space and place within the organisation. On a day-to-day basis the contractors

were continuously negotiating the relationship between space and place, e.g.,

their situated involvement in fiddling and fixing the technologies (i.e., place-like

practise) was, by documenting the daily activities, reduced into an objective

and detached work practice (i.e., space-like practice).

Brown & Perry (2002) tie characteristics of technologies to the discussion of

space and place. The usefulness of technologies is not only a usability issue but

also a geographical issue (p. 252). For them space and place are general

concepts that “highlight features of geography and action… To call something

a ‘place’ brings attention to its located, embodied, personal human nature. And

to call something a ‘space’ is to bring attention to abstract, objective, global,

general, inhuman qualities” (p. 249). In their article, they illustrate how the

tension between these features brings out the conflict between local/contingent

and abstract/distributed. For example, maps are predominantly space-like (pp.

250-251). They are representations of a geographical space, formalized and

standardized with grids and symbols, easy to understand after learning one

map. Maps do also contain many place-like characteristics, such as that they

are read in specific places, reveal the history of places and that some places are

excluded from the maps. The tension of technologies having both place-like and

space-like characteristics helps us in exploring its use of them; the representations

through the maps helps us find our way by interpreting them to fit with the

place where we stand.

In line with Shultze & Borland (2000) and Brown & Perry (2002), we use the

tension between space and place to highlight the issues on the use of locations

in mobile collaborative work. The representation of the place, the activities

associated to the places, the mobility, the use of communication technologies

and the vast setting of their work are important when studying the workplace.

In the following we will look how place has previously been described in mobile

work.

Mobile Work

Despite the geographical distances, mobile work is heavily dependent on fixed

locations. Consequently, a large body of research on collaborative mobile

work explores different notions of geographical dependency (see, e.g., Bellotti

& Bly, 1996; Luff & Heath, 1998; Wiberg & Ljungberg, 1999; Bardram &

Bossen, 2003).

Mobility occurring within a building, a department or a process plant, has in the

CSCW literature been termed “local mobility” (Bellotti & Bly, 1996). The

resources such as scanners, meeting rooms, colleagues, etc., were located

within the site, which in turn generated mobility. People moved around, i.e.,

they were locally mobile within the building in order to talk to colleagues or to

use shared resources. Bradram & Bossen (2003) studied local mobility at a

ward in detail, where they found that mobility itself is work of trying to make

the right configuration of people, places, resources and knowledge. Places

at the ward were often specialized towards specific activities or to provide

solitude. There was also a wide selection of medical equipment and machinery,

which was stationary, such as X-ray machines or CT scanning devices. In what

they then call mobility work, the configuration of people, places, resources and

knowledge is balanced in sets of contradictory concerns; i.e., availability vs.

seclusion, mobility vs. localization, orderliness vs. flexibility. Concluding that

“[a]ction is intrinsically not only temporal but also spatial” (p. 372), they

observed that spatial dimension of articulation work has often been overlooked.

Occupational groups working with infrastructure management have a strong

geographical dependency, seeing that they need to be at certain places to

inspect and repair defective equipment. Recent studies have set out to explore

the consequences on organizations of mobile work when the locations where

they work are widely distributed. Examples of such studies are the ones on

process engineers (Bertelsen & Bødker, 2001) and service technicians (Orr,

1996; Wiberg, 2001). At a glance, the tasks performed by the process

engineers (Bertelsen & Bødker, 2001) can be seen as individual, but their

actions affect the running of the plant, and therefore also their colleagues. To

facilitate their work there is a need to share information, but not in the sense of

universal access to everything, everywhere. The information cannot be separated

from specific actions, which in turn is tied to specific places. Accordingly,

Bertelsen & Bødker characterize the environment as a common information

space, and highlight the importance of being on location to take the correct

actions. The studies describing service technicians (Orr, 1996; Wiberg, 2001)

reveal certain similarities with the process engineers. However, a slight difference

can be observed by the fact that they have to move in greater distances

between the locations where they work.

These studies show both space-like and place-like aspects of mobile work,

such as shared information spaces and mobility work. However they are limited

to local mobility within buildings, departments and locations within process

plants. In the following we will look at work in a road setting, and driving in

particular.

Work While Mobile – Driving and Working

Some of the studies of mobile work, introduced above, briefly describe how

tasks are carried out while moving (Bardram & Bossen, 2003; Wiberg, 2001).

This is a distinguishing feature of work conducted on the roads. In one of

Laurier’s (2002) studies on mobile workers, the workplace consists of a region

accomplished by the movement between the customers and the large business

company. This accomplishment is not only conducted during meetings at certain

nodes, it is performed while being on the move — i.e., they use the time in the

car, as they drive, to accomplish their work. The car is a modified workplace,

i.e., a mobile office.

However, the car is not a workplace where you can engage exclusively in work.

You have to actively attend to road use. Road use refers to multifarious use of

roads, such as driving, cycling, exercising, playing or window-shopping (Juhlin

et al., 2000). Thus driving involves many other simultaneous side engagements

and practical actions. People work while they drive; they talk in their mobile

phones; they fiddle with papers; etc. (Esbjörnsson & Juhlin, 2003). Laurier

introduces another study on an occupational group conducting sales related

work while driving (2001). He argues that the mobile workers in his study try

to make the driving hands-free rather than their use of mobile phones. They

benefit from moments of less attention on driving, to perform their office work

in the car, i.e., they work while being stuck in traffic jams.

Thus driving is an activity that, like other practical actions, requires more than

cognition. Subtle negotiations are vital in the activity of using the roads.

However, sociological studies on auto-mobility tend to leave out the interaction

and collaboration in road use and instead study the social and political

contingencies around road use. For example, when Sheller & Urry (2000)

describes the fragmentation and disintegration caused by traffic and how

drivers interrupt pedestrian interaction, or when Beckmann (2001) describes

driving by referring to Adorno & Horkheimer, stating that, “Men travel on

rubber in complete isolation from each other” (p. 601).

A study, which combines the collaborative act of driving simultaneously as

performing other type of work, is the one on the snow sweeping group at

Arlanda airport (Juhlin & Weilenmann, 2001). The participants interact with

each other locally, as well as with a remote control centre. The local interaction

concerns the collaboration with snow-sweepers in visual sight of each other. As

with the occupations described in this chapter, the snow crew is undertaking a

job where they are almost constantly on the move. The work can be termed

truly mobile work (Sherry & Salvador, 2001). Movement is the purpose of

their work and not only as means to reach a workplace. The ongoing mobility

is visible in how they communicate and the system supporting work, as well as

in the rules surrounding their tasks. For them, the positioning of their coworkers

is under constant negotiation.