WORKSHOP 8: Panel: How to Use Integrative Social Robotics to Determine the Subjective Surplus in Social Role Performance

The Place of Social Robots in Social Institutions 



Johanna Seibt, Aarhus University, Denmark

Johanna Seibt is professor for philosophy at the Department for Philosophy and the History of Ideas, Aarhus University, Denmark. She coordinates the interdisciplinary Research Unit for Robophilosophy and Integrative Social Robotics, where since 2016 around 30 local and interactional associated researchers from 11 disciplines have collaborated on various projects of HRI research, using the approach of “Integrative Social Robotics” (ISR). The ISR-approach is geared to create culturally sustainable (value-preserving) or positive (value-enhancing) social robotics applications (


Social institutions have been characterized as systems of social roles, each defined in terms of a task structure, governed by rules and conventions.  Such purely functional definitions of social roles in terms of codified task structures suggest that robots may be able to perform some or all of the tasks of a role. However, humans typically import into the functional task context a 'subjective' element--they deviate in the way in which tasks are performed.  The 'subjective surplus' of human role performances can be positive or negative. The panel consists of researchers (from psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, innovation and novelty research, HRI and robophilosophy) who use the aproach of “Integrative Social Robotics” (ISR). Panel members will discuss, from their disciplinary perspectives and drawing on HRI research, whether and how ISR can contribute to addressing the ‘question of the subjective surplus’ in several application contexts, with focus on axiological inquiry (value analysis) and sociality analysis. 


Malene Damholdt, Aarhus University, Denmark

Malene Flensborg Damholdt is associate professor in psychology, at the Department ofPpsychology and Social Sciences, Aarhus University, and at the  Department of Clinical medicine, Aarhus University. She collaborates with other ISR researchers on exploring individual differences and other psychological aspects in HRI settings. Furthermore, she is interested in fostering and introducing more stringent research methods (for instance as known from biomedical research) into HRI research.

ISR and Subjective Surplus in Role Performance - The Perspective of a (Interdisciplinary) Psychologist

The discipline of psychology is much concerned with “subjective surplus”. What is it the specific individual, in and of him/herself and as a group member brings into a given social situation or role? This entails exploring sources of individual differences (e.g., personality, emotion-regulation, attitudes), personal history (for instance narratives, experiences, demographic background), determinants of group dynamics (e.g., self-efficacy, beliefs about others, locus of control) and several more aspects. The importance hereof is becoming increasingly recognized in HRI research and thus many HRI research teams include psychologists. The discussion briefly touches on what kind of knowledge is produced when psychology is added to HRI research on social institutions. Then it is explored whether and how integrating such knowledge within an ISR framework contributes to addressing the subjective surplus in social roles.  


Christina Vestergaard, Aarhus University, Denmark

Christina Vestergaard holds a PhD in anthropology and is a certified conflict facilitator; her current research specializations areconflict research and HRI. Since 2016 she has been working as researcher at the interdisciplinary Research Unit for Robophilosophy and Integrative Social Robotics, where she conducts qualitative research and co-developed the mixed method strategy of ISR.  Her publications are currently focused on conflict research, conflict facilitation with robots, HRI, anthropology of technology, and methodology of HRI. 

Determining the Subjective Surplus in Social Role Performance: the Engagement of Anthropological Research in ISR

According to ISR the anthropological focus of the ISR method begins before the conception and design of a robot that is to be introduced into an interaction context of a social institution. The anthropologist explores the daily life in the social institution via qualitative methods such as observation and interviews. This can guide the value analysis and sociality analysis that the anthropologist undertakes together with colleagues from philosophy and psychology, relative to the specific institution. The value analysis and sociality analysis prepare the guiding questions of the next step, the ideation of the application: What can a robot contribute for the role to be performed; why should it be implemented, given that it lacks the complexity of subjectivity (“subjective surplus”); and should it be implemented at all? The anthropologist accompanies the design process of the robot. Once the first prototype of the robot is introduced, the ethnographic qualitative methodsare used to explore how different groups of people in the social institution handle and interact with the robot, how they believe they will react and how they actually do it in the context of daily life. The results of the qualitative methods are not only evaluated in their own right , but they also play an important role for a triangulation of methods exploring a phenomena from different disciplinary perspectives and as such can complement fx quantitative findings. 


Oliver Santiago Quick, Aarhus University, Denmark

Oliver Santiago Quick, PhD is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Business Development and Technology at Aarhus University. His research is primarily centered around the role of social robots in creative collaborations with humans, robot moral status, and the ethics and phenomenology of empathy and sympathy in human-robot interactions. 

Analyzing the Emotional Economy of Social Role Performance Through ISR

Empathy and sympathy are not only central to human interactions in the private sphere but play a similarly important role in workplace and organizational interactions and can be understood as a form of emotional labor. Sympathy, in particular, seems to follow a complex set of implicit norms and act as an important currency within an emotional ‘economy’ that pervades human interactions. Similarly, different contexts call for different forms of empathy display, such that both empathy and sympathy represent important areas of ‘subjective surplus’. Thus, a sociality analysis such as the one undertaken on the ISR approach is necessary for understanding the empathetic and sympathetic role requirements that humans fulfil more or less automatically when acting as, for instance, financial advisors or receptionists. 


Catharina Smedegaard, Aarhus University, Denmark

Catharina V. Smedegaard is currently finishing her PhD thesis on novelty effects within HRI, as part of the Carlsberg Semper Ardens-funded ‘Integrative Social Robotics project’. She has further been a research assistant on several empirical studies undertaken by the Research Unit for Robophilosophy (RISR). Her main research interest is the phenomenon of novelty in all its contexts and expressions, within as well as outside of human-robot interactions. 

The Need for Novelty in Social Role Performance: the Potential and Shortcomings of Social Robot Novelty

One of the central tenets of the Integrative Social Robotics (ISR) approach to research and development is that social robots currently pose radical novelty within the symbolic spaces of human social activity, having the potential to significantly disrupt and alter established systems of social norms and values. In accordance with the ISR principles, I have previously argued that it is crucial to investigate how contextual, subjective experiences of novelty currently affect and form the perceptions and interaction-phenomena at play in hri (Smedegaard 2019; Smedegaard 2022). In the present talk, I will exemplify this argument by discussing how the differences between the ‘Robotic Surplus’ and the ‘Subjective Surplus’ may be analyzed with attention to different kinds of novelty. Ironically, while social robots may constitute a novel category of social agents, they may not yet be able to maintain the kind of ‘relational novelty’ (Abendschein, Edwards & Edwards 2022) that the ‘Subjective Surplus’ often entails.