Wild in the laboratory: A discussion of plans and situated actions

John Rooksby*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Suchman's book Plans and Situated Actions has been influential in HCI (Human Computer Interaction). The book is often discussed with reference to ethnographic fieldwork, sometimes being cited as if it were a field study. However, the book uses examples from a laboratory study and contains criticisms of ethnography. This article explores how and why Suchman carried out a laboratory study. Based upon this exploration, it argues that social analysis in HCI does not necessitate fieldwork outside the laboratory. More broadly, the paper argues that an appreciation of Plans and Situated Actions can help in moving towards forms of social analysis that span both the laboratory and the world outside. If there is to be a "turn to the wild" in HCI, this should not be a turn away from the laboratory but a turn away from research methods that ignore human practice. This is not to defend laboratory experiments, but to defend laboratory-based studies that explicate technology in practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19
Number of pages17
JournalACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


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