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8.3 Creating compactants

A drawback with considering code and/or software as cognitive compactants is that they represent the end of a design and development process – the code is constructed and shaped to create the software that is subsequently selected and applied within an analysis. A more complete approach to understanding a cognitive artefact in this situation would be to engage with the initial design and development process as a means of appreciating the series of debates, decisions and compromises surrounding its production in advance of its application. The search for understanding digital development is also found in digital anthropology (for example, see contributions to Horst and Miller 2012) and digital ethnography (for example, Hine 2015). For instance, Kelty (2008) used historical and ethnographical methods to examine the free software movement, including the development of UNIX/Linux and allied software (and see also Karanović 2012 for example). Such approaches are not a feature of archaeological work, although recent examples of the beginnings of such an approach include a description of the circumstances surrounding Oxford Archaeology's contribution to the development of the open source GIS software, gvSIG (Ducke 2015, 104-7), and a discussion of the early conception of the Archaeological Recording Kit (ARK), including the background and theoretical leanings of the development team (Dufton 2016).

These aside, one reason for this lack of discussion within archaeology is that archaeologists rarely create their own tools – as noted above, most tools are adopted and repurposed from elsewhere. However, if the creation process behind the artefact is not accessible, an act of creation may yet apply since most computer tools will require data to be structured, prepared, and collected in a specific way prior to implementation. For example, a computer database places requirements on the organisation of the data held within it, as does a spreadsheet, and these affect both what is recorded and how it is subsequently accessed. This may have considerable implications for the cognitive processes supported by such tools (for example, Huggett 2015, 21-4). By way of illustration, ontologies structure and underpin web tools for the access and retrieval of archaeological data and an ethnographic approach to understanding their creation has been proposed (Huggett 2012b, 546-8). This would follow the development of an ontology through its initial conceptualisation, development and implementation, tracking the processes and participants with a view to understanding the decisions, policies and strategies that are otherwise embedded within the ontology and the consequent implications for its application and use (Huggett 2012b, 547). So even if the creative processes behind the construction and manufacture of the cognitive artefact are not available for inspection, ancillary acts of creation prior to its implementation and use in a specific context may well be.


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