Human–Computer Interaction Research Needs a Theory of Social Structure: The Dark Side of Digital Technology Systems Hidden in User Experience

Human Studies 45 (3):529-550 (2022)
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Abstract

A sociological revision of Aron Gurwitsch provides a helpful layered theory of conscious experience as a four-domain structure: _the theme_, _the thematic field_, _the halo_, and _the social horizon_. The social horizon—the totality of the social world that is unknown, vaguely known, taken for granted, or ignored by the subject despite objectively influencing the thoughts and actions of the subject—, helps conceptualize how everyday human–computer interaction (HCI) can obscure social structures. Two examples illustrate the usefulness of this framework: (1) illuminating new forms of social control known as “surveillance capitalism” that influence the other domains of consciousness despite being invisible to the subject and (2) explaining how computer use tends to “hide” the ecological impacts of digital-technological systems from the attention of subjects. A sociological four-domain theory of consciousness supplements ethnomethodological HCI research by preserving the field’s long-standing focus on micro-level interactions and user experience while simultaneously drawing attention to a “commonsense ignorance of social structure”—in this case, the invisibility of the social structures behind personal computer use. Social structure can be reproduced even when actors are unaware of engaging in its reproduction.

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