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Finding Orthogonality
“It seems that realists view ‘context’ simply as a new buzz-word for ‘environment’ –
something that can be dealt with using the old, natural sciences based, concepts,
methods, and techniques. Constructivists believe that context entails more than just a
location or task. Context is all about situational sense-making, both by humans and
interactive systems. Thus, context could be viewed as a sum of situational actions and
resources (plans, emotions, technologies, other people) about how different resources
integrate to the fabrics of given interactions between actors. Contexts emerge from
actions; they are emergent properties (achievements) negotiated in reciprocal
relationships between actors (inter- subjectivities and -objectivities) in complex
interactions.” (Oulasvirta, Tamminen, & Höök, 2005)
This is very similar to the views of context as expressed in domains such as cognitive
science, architecture, and “design.” In all three of these domains, the approach to context is
based on heuristics – with an emphasis on what works. Such a heuristic approach can be
found in Viale’s (2013) methodological criteria for the social sciences:
“1. Statistical relevance relations can act as indicators of possible causal relations, but
they cannot exhaust the need for explanation;
2. The relation between social factors and action can only be statistically relevant and
therefore, even if it can meet the requisite for predictive adequacy, it can never
constitute a genuine scientific explanation;
3. To attain a real explanation one must use a deductive-hypothetical method to
identify the causal chain linking the social factor to the action;
4. In this causal chain the crucial link between the social factor and the action is the
mental event, whose justification occurs using the inductive argument of analogy;
5. In order to construct a chain of causally linked events one of the most important
prescriptive principles is typological specificity when selecting facts, otherwise
counterfactual and subjunctive conditionals are not applicable.”
Notice Vitale’s use of such words as “possible” and “selecting” and the role of the “mental
event.” His methodology affords the scientific realist perspective to the background and the
“context,” while at the same time asserting a pragmatic constructivist perspective to the idea
of human agency and the need for “selecting facts.” This may be true for any organism
capable of sentience or reflective anticipation. According to Emmeche et al. (2000), there are
various possible interpretations of reflexive upward and downward causation. In their view,
the only non-contradictory versions of the concept are those interpreting downward causation
in terms of “formal” causation, such that the whole exerts a constraining action on its own