article (Tue Nov 20 2012)


  • #cognitivescience

I read a very interesting paper this week about bricolage and why many women tend to approach computational problems using quite dissimilar approaches. [Paper : Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete - By Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert]

The Wikipedia article describes bricoalage as "term used in several disciplines, among them the visual arts, to refer to the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work created by such a process" [source] . In the paper, the author describes the how bricolage can be attributed to the way many women attempt to correlate with computers and technology.

In the readings, using the example of both college students and small children, it was demonstrated that more women than men attempt to solve a computational problem in a non abstract manner. The approaches taken to solve problems can sometimes so radically dissimilar that it is not quite uncommon for purists of logic and black box approaches to look down upon approaches that have an appeal of bricolage.

However, bricolage is not somethign that one can feign. The author ascribes bricolage to females due to the close bond that they share with their mothers. While females can very closely relate themselves with their mothers, males on the other hand have to form a way to disassociate themselves with their mothers on a psychological level. This act of distancing continues over a period of time and gradually inculcates a new approach towards problem solving among men. Its becomes easier for them to view problems from a distance, objectively analyze them and then solve a them.

On the contrary, many women, owing to the their lifelong proximity with all things associated with relationships, tend to form a relationship with the components and artifacts of a computer programme. This closeness helps them to anthropomorphize computer systems and therefore they attempt to be 'inside' the system to think like it. Problems tend to be solved in a much more human like approach as compared to a procedural approach.

However, this closeness can later backfire as many women soon realize that they tried to form a relationship with something that was nothing but a tool. The arising conflict can sometimes lead them to think that adopting a more abstract approach like their male counterparts is the right way to accomplish their computational goals. And in spite of the lure of such a thinking, I believe that it is incorrect to give more weightage to one approach over another.

In my own personal experience, I have come to realize that getting "inside" the system not only makes problems seem much more easier, but it can also provide new insights towads probing the different dimensions of a problem. Procedural computing is something that seems like an approach only once a system is well understood from the inside. Designing a solution inside-out, rather than outsid-in usually leads to more elegant solutions, the brilliance of which becomes evident only when they stand the test of time.