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By Tony Duff

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1007/978-1-84800-068-1_2, C Springer-Verlag London Limited 2011 31 32 2 Riding a Tiger, or Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (1991) Marx’ critique of the Robinson Crusoe metaphor is rooted in a conception of work as an intrinsically social phenomenon: Production by an isolated individual outside society — a rare exception which may well occur when a civilized person in whom the social forces are already dynamically present is cast by accident into the wilderness — is as much of an absurdity as is the development of language without individuals living together and talking to each other.

This is not because the world is absurd or irrational, as if such a proposition would make sense. Nor is it because we mere mortals, constrained by ‘bounded rationality’, cannot grasp the rationality of the world, as if it would make sense to conceive of an agent with infinite rationality. Rationality is always local simply because the production of any kind of insight, knowledge, conceptualization, theory, representation, formulae, model, principle, protocol, procedure, scheme, and so on requires time and effort and because time and effort in practice are limited resources.

Thus, by entering into cooperative work relations, the participants must engage in activities that are, in a sense, extraneous to the activities that contribute directly to fashioning the product or service and meeting the need. The obvious justification of incurring this overhead cost and thus the reason for the emergence of cooperative work formations is, of course, that workers could not accomplish the task in question if they were to do it individually, at least not as well, as fast, as timely, as safely, as reliably, as efficiently, etc.

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