Thinking through shared objects

Call for papers

Panel: Thinking through shared objects. Knowledge as social and material pursuit

Secțiune: Gândind prin obiecte împărtășite: Cunoașterea ca activitate socială și materială

We invite submissions for a panel dedicated to knowledge as social and material pursuit, within the International Conference of the Romanian Sociological SocietyAlexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iasi, 8-10 May 2014 [1]. 

Convenors: Cosima Rughiniș, Ștefania Matei, and Bogdana Humă, Department of Sociology, University of Bucharest

Please send a concise description of your work of one or two pages to by April 9. Submissions should include: title, authors’ names and affiliations, an abstract of approx. 150 words and keywords. Submissions may be in Romanian or English. Romanian language submissions should also include an English translation of the abstract and keywords.


We deal with thoughts as innermost, private phenomena – the substance of secrets, uncertainties, idiosyncrasies. Yet they are at the same time public in so many ways – emerging as replies in dialogues with others that become dialogues with self, reacting to and relying on messages from technical objects, inscripted and displayed on papers and screens, framed by genres, storylines, rhetorical moves, and technologies of creation and publication.

Thinking relies on words – which are objects with histories of their own, sometimes contested, worked up, linked and unlinked with other objects. We account for our actions through motives, which are parts of vocabularies of motive (Mills, 1940) that make certain actions understandable and plausible. Through whys and becauses, they become part and parcel of organizing concerted action. Psychological objects (Danziger, 1990, 1993) construct subjects and make up kinds of people (Hacking, 2006): people understand themselves and others, and act upon these understandings formulated through words of mind-and-body.

Thinking relies on stuff – from writing utensils to complicated technologies, serving as ‘evocative objects’ (Turkle, 2007) and equipment that constitutes people as moral acting persons  (Verbeek, 2005, 2008). People perceive and make sense of the world as a ‘person-plus’ (Perkins, 1993), distributing their perceptions, memories, reasoning across devices and things of all sorts. In many ways technologies do thinking for us – be it the explicit ‘persuasive technology’ or ‘design with intent’ (Atkinson, 2006; Fogg, 1998; Lockton, Harrinson, & Stanton, 2008) – or technologies that enable the representation of the world in actionable ways (Latour & Woolgar, 1986; Latour, 2008).

Thinking is social, occurring in interactions that are concerted through shared objects. Words and things make possible collaborations between different communities of practice, constituting boundary objects (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011; Star & Griesemer, 1989). Words and things also enable interactions within peer- and other close relationships, archiving and displaying shared knowledge.

We invite presentations that reflect on how thoughts and knowledge are shaped through the creation and use of shared objects (made of words and stuff). Some examples of questions to guide inquiry are:

-        How do people see the world through objects, take over objects in their decisions and, thus: how do objects constitute people as actors? How does our symbolic and technical equipment define our abilities and responsibilities?

-        How are certain objects through which we know ourselves and others, such as psychological or medical constructs, re-produced and relied upon? How are such professional constructs (‘happiness’, ‘depression’, ‘autism’, ‘blindness’, ‘diabetes’, ‘intelligence’, ‘heredity’, ‘old age’) formulated, linked and distinguished from other constructs, and put to use in arguments and decisions?

-        How do objects encourage particular attributions of agency and competence towards some people, relationships, collectives, while precluding others?

-        How do people use, emphasize or deny relationships between objects-in-the-world and representations? How is the truthfulness, validity, or objectivity of descriptive artifacts claimed and contested?

-        Redirecting attention to our research work: how do we write about the influence of objects on thinking and knowledge? To whom or what do we attribute agency? What verbs do we choose, and how do we formulate the relationships between people and things? How do our tools (software and templates for statistical analysis, text editing, public presentations) shape our sociological argumentation?




Akkerman, S. F., & Bakker, A. (2011). Boundary Crossing and Boundary Objects. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 132–169.

Atkinson, B. M. C. (2006). Captology: A Critical Review. In W. Ijsselsteijn, Y. de Kort, & E. van den Hoven (Eds.), Persuasive Technology. Lecture Notes in Computer Science Vol. 3962 (pp. 171–182). Springer.

Danziger, K. (1990). Constructing the Subject: Historical Origins of Psychological Research. Cambridge studies in the history of psychology (p. 254). Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from

Danziger, K. (1993). Psychological Objects, Practice, and History. Annals of Theoretical Psychology, 8, 15–47.

Fogg, B. (1998). Persuasive computers. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems – CHI ’98 (pp. 225–232). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press. doi:10.1145/274644.274677

Hacking, I. (2006). Making Up People. London Review of Books, 28(16), 222–236.

Latour, B. (2008). Reassembling the Social (p. 301). New York: Oxford University Press.

Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (1986). Laboratory Life. The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Lockton, D., Harrinson, D., & Stanton, N. (2008). Design with Intent: Persuasive Technology in a Wider Context. Retrieved from

Mills, C. W. (1940). Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive. American Sociological Review, 5(6), 904–913.

Perkins, D. N. (1993). Person-plus: a distributed view of thinking and learning. In G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed Cognitions: Psychological and Educational Considerations (pp. 88–110). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional Ecology, `Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19(3), 387–420.

Turkle, S. (Ed.). (2007). Evocative Objects: Things to Think With. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Verbeek, P.-P. (2005). What things do. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Verbeek, P.-P. (2008). Obstetric Ultrasound and the Technological Mediation of Morality: A Postphenomenological Analysis. Human Studies, 31(1), 11–26. doi:10.1007/s10746-007-9079-0