[SIGCIS-Members] keyword: 'domain'

David Ribes dribes at gmail.com
Wed Oct 26 13:07:39 PDT 2016

Jon, Evan, Nathan -- I just wanted to say thanks much for these insights on
'domain'. You've provided a nice imaginarium of the various linked but
local usages of the term.

I've been following up on these threads and scouring the literature for
anyone who has done a synthetic analysis. Nothing yet. I did find a blip in
Suchman 1987, where she is discussing the AI/cog.sci approach to 'slicing
up the domains' for knowledge capture, but her thrust is mostly to critique
the effort to thereafter define and capture a domain for 'common sense
knowledge' (a project the ethnomethodologists/phenomenologists think is a

As a hint to why I ask: In my fieldwork today, in short, I'm seeing the
non/domain distinction being deployed very heavily in data science circles
(far more so than I saw in cyberinfrastructure), and I'm thinking it's a
key organizational principle. It seems to refer to something akin to
general/specific, where, mostly, computation/IT/modeling/visualization is
placed on the general side and 'domain' is a specific worldly knowledge or
engagement... Here is a tidy example (first sentence!):


Nathan, I'm generally not seeing anyone today referring to computer science
as 'having a domain' or efforts to define the relevant domains of CS as
with your 1960s references. I'm sure there are exceptions, but today domain
seems to be 'the other' to CS...

Comments welcome, and thanks again,

David Ribes
Associate Professor
Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering (HCDE)
University of Washington

On Tue, Oct 18, 2016 at 10:49 AM, Nathan Ensmenger <
nathan.ensmenger at gmail.com> wrote:

> David —your question about the history of “domain knowledge” stirred some
> memories and I did a quick search through my primary source documents.
>  The word “domain” occurs regularly from the mid-1960s on.  The earliest
> uses are what you might expect — narrow mathematical definitions ("what is
> the domain of this function") or broadly professional ("what ought to be
> the proper domain of the computer sciences”) — but in terms of the specific
> usage that you are interested in (i.e., the idea of their being different
> “problem domains” to which computational techniques can be applied), the
> real origins seems to have been the late 1960s.
> For example, "The expert programmer should be familiar with such modeling
> techniques and the necessary assumptions and domains of their
> applicability…” (Bruce Arden, "The Role of Programming in a Ph.D. Computer
> Science Program,” ACM Communications 1969) or "algorithms which are
> inherently known and available within a specific problem domain.” (Jean
> Sammett, "Programming Languages: History and Future”, also ACM
> Communications 1969).   The term “problem domain” seems to have originated
> with expert systems in the early 1980s.  See J. McDermott "Domain Knowledge
> and the Design Process” (1981) or J. Ramanathan and C.J. Shubra "Modeling
> of problem domains for driving program development systems” (1981).
> But leaving aside the specific words (domain scientist, domain knowledge),
> the larger debate about which knowledge/expertise was most essential to the
> successful application of computing power goes back to at least the late
> 1950s, when a discussion about whether it was best to train computer people
> in business or business people in computing became a hot topic in the
> electronic data processing literature.  They do not use the “domain”
> language, but the question of overlapping (or possibly incommensurate)
> disciplinary territory is clearly an issue…
> -Nathan
> ---
> Nathan Ensmenger
> Associate Professor of Informatics
> School of Informatics and Computing
> Indiana University, Bloomington
> homes.soic.indiana.edu/nensmeng/
> > On Oct 18, 2016, at 1:19 PM, David Ribes <dribes at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > Can anyone offer some leads on the use of the term 'domain' within
> computing and information circles? Such as 'domain scientist' or 'domain
> knowledge'...
> >
> > I've used the term for years as an in vivo category drawn from my
> fieldwork, but have little sense of its historical genealogy. It was
> already well in place by 2003 when I started fieldwork in the worlds of
> cyberinfrastructure, and I have some suspicion it may have come from
> knowledge management/business ...
> >
> > --
> > David Ribes
> > Associate Professor
> > Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering (HCDE)
> > University of Washington
> > http://davidribes.com
> >
> >
> >
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