Thursday, October 20, 2016

Do design researchers really know the work of Donald Schön?

It is well known that Donald Schön is one of the most influential design scholars in the last few decades. His ideas are often referenced and we can almost always assume that most people engaged in research about design is aware of these ideas. However, there is this suspicion that I have heard from several colleagues over the years that even though Schön is commonly referenced, researchers do not necessarily read his work carefully.

My PhD student Jordan Beck has together with a colleague, Laureline Chiapello, published a great paper in which they have examined how design researchers cite the work of Schön. The results are quite fascinating and actually confirm the suspicion mention above. From other work (Chai and Xiao 2012), we know that Schön is the most cited author in design research (at least in the venues examined). But how is Schön cited and for what purpose?

In the article "Schön’s Legacy: Examining Contemporary Citation Practices in DRS Publications" by Beck and Chiapello, it becomes clear that most citations are fairly superficial and almost none of the researchers engage critically or scholarly with Schön's ideas. After their serious examination (described in the paper) they write:

"We found very few instances of citations that function as critical engagements with Schön’s work or those that function as building upon his work. Moreover, where supporting and credit functions are concerned, we found that scholars tend not to expand on or discuss the concepts or works they cite. For example, “reflective practice” or “reflection-in-action” may appear in a text with no additional explanation or discussion" (Beck and Chiapello, 2016).

They discuss what these findings may mean and comments:

"Does a lack of critical engagement and building citations mean that the scholars publishing at the DRS conference are less interested in argumentation or cumulative knowledge building?" Based on these findings we may ask the question if this is a problem for the field or not? Personally I find it disturbing that the most cited author in the field is 'used' in this way. It suggests that there is an unwillingness to engage with fundamental theoretical assumptions. Even though I am personally someone who deeply appreciate Schön's ideas, these ideas can not be left alone. They have to be challenged and critically engaged with. Who will do that?

1 comment:

Paul said...

Very interesting work. It's sad to see this happening in many disciplines.