After being to CHI and another gathering of HCI related people in the last few weeks, I have to share one reflection. I am not sure that my observation and definitely not my interpretation is correct or not, so comments are welcome.
The observation is that the field of HCI research is growing in size but also in scope. What today is considered to be HCI research spans a far wider area than every before. HCI today includes research that traditionally might have been seen as engineering (for instance, design and development of devices and systems with the purpose to explore technical possibilities), it also includes research that traditionally would be seen as within the social sciences or behavioral sciences (the latter has of course always have been part of HCI), but also research that can be considered humanistic or cultural studies, political or global studies. The research has also expanded in scope when it comes to application areas such as education, health care, transportation, entertainment, sustainability, etc.
This expansion of the field is of course exciting and has led to new perspectives and new knowledge that has enriched HCI. However, at the same time I am concerned by this development. It is possible to see this development as an expansion that leaves an empty space in the middle.
I would argue that a large part of todays HCI research could and maybe should be seen as research in other disciplines. For instance, research related to education should be evaluated and published in educational research venues and contribute to that field unless there is also a serious contribution to the core of HCI. This of course raises the question of what is the core of HCI.
If research in HCI do not in any sense contribute to our understand of human computer interaction in some general or universal sense, and if it is only an application of what we already know in yet another field, then it may be a contribution to that application field but not to HCI. So, if someone applies HCI theory and knowledge (whatever that is) in another field to explore and examine a phenomena without bringing back some serious insights to HCI theory and knowledge then it is not HCI research.
What this type of expansion leads to is unfortunately in many cases research that do not contribute in a serious way to the core of HCI while also being questionable research in relation to what is the standard in the "other" field. If the research really contributed to those other fields then the research should be evaluated and published in those fields.
Ok, I understand that this argument raises a lot of issues especially around the notion of what is the core of HCI research but I see it as important for our field to discuss those issues if we want to be able to produce knowledge contributions that are distinct and valuable in relation to the contributions from other disciplines. HCI research is not going to be successful or recognized by how it is doing research or by how it is able to "use" knowledge from other fields, it will only be successful if there is a core knowledge contribution that is of a kind that no other field really cares about or produces knowledge about. HCI research will not become successful by expanding the field, not by approaching and including more application areas and topics. HCI research will only be successful if we can offer something valuable at the core that constitute well developed knowledge that no other discipline has done or will do, and that can be valued by its own merits.