In a recent Interactions article, “The Big Hole in HCI Research,” Vassilis Kostakos argued that HCI lacks persistent “motor themes,” based on a co-word analysis of keywords sections from the past 20 years of CHI papers. HCI as a discipline, it is argued, “simply roll[s] from topic to topic, year after year, without developing any of them substantially.”
In this analysis, motor themes—based on clusters of recurring keywords over time—are described as a critical feature of healthy disciplines. Motor themes represent commonly addressed topics that constitute the research mainstream and therefore are essential to creating a disciplinary core. Summarizing his work from a recent CHI paper, Kostakos characterizes the absence of these themes from HCI as “a very worrying prospect for a scientific community.”
These concerns seem to be echoed by events at recent CHI conferences, such as the appearance since 2011 of yearly panels or workshops on “replication” (RepliCHI), and the Interaction Science SIG of CHI 2014. While my view contrasts with the proponents of what one might label as the “scientific programme,” the emergence of increased debate about the very idea of HCI—what its work does, could, or should look like academically—feels like a valuable activity and is probably long overdue.
Here, I want to talk about two matters that are core to the discussion: the relationship between science and HCI, and, more broadly, the disciplinarity of HCI.