Meaning Emergence in the Ecology of Dialogical Systems


This article is an empirically based theoretical contribution to the investigation of meaningmaking in the ecology of human interaction and interactivity. It presents an ecological perspective on meaning-making that pivots on how agents pick up information directly in their organism-environment-system; i.e. as an activity that does not presuppose inner cognitive operations. We pursue this line of thought by presenting an analysis of how a doctor and a nurse make a decision about a specific medical procedure (catheterisation) based on meaning-making activity. As we do not see meaning as a linguistic (symbolic) or a cognitive (representational) phenomenon external to an agent/user, but as emergent in coordinated interaction, we zoom in on how the practitioners recalibrate the organism-environmentsystem by shift ing between a multi-agentive mode and an individual mode. We use Cognitive Event Analysis to investigate how the agents oscillate between being a multi-agent-system with shared, tightly coordinated agency and a loosely coupled dialogical system where the individuals bring forth an understanding based on their professional backgrounds and expertise. On this view, an ecological approach to meaning-making takes a starting point in how local interaction is constrained by previous events, emergent affordances in the environment, and real-time inter-bodily dynamics. Accordingly, meaning-making is seen as a joint activity emerging from the system’s coordinative actions rather than as a result of individual interpretation of symbolic content.

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